The needle, the vise… and the baby rattle

Most ventures that want to grow do some sort of marketing. And that marketing can be divided into two things that work. And one that doesn’t.

The needle uses simple physics to work. Apply pressure to a tiny, carefully selected area and you’re going to get penetration. That’s why a 92 pound nurse can give you a flu shot… the tiny surface area of the tip of the needle has no trouble slipping into your skin.

Permission marketing is about the needle. The right person, the right message, the right moment. Anticipated, personal and relevant messages that get through to the person you need to reach.

The needle doesn’t happen all at once. You need to have the right combination of reputation, product and prospect.

The vise uses a different principle of physics to work, but it works as well. The vise is about providing increasing amounts of pressure over the entire area. And because of the nature of a screw, you can create huge amounts of pressure over time without overexerting yourself. Get your hand stuck in a vise and you’ll see what I mean.

The vise approach works, for example, with Starbucks, or with the local doctor’s office or in grassroots politics. Show up often enough, be in enough places, engender enough support from one individual after another, and sooner or later, your investment in spreading the word pays off.

What doesn’t work? What doesn’t work is the annoying baby rattle.

Babies will occasionally get quite energetic in using a rattle to get attention. But then they get bored and move on to other techniques. Sooner or later, they come back to the rattle, frustrated that nothing seems to work.

Most marketers, and just about all struggling marketers, are rattlers. They try some gimmick or technique or product, focus on it for a little while, then lose interest and move on. After a while, out of frustration, they come back to re-try, just to prove to themselves that they’re doing everything they can to get the word out.

"Hey!" the blogger says, "I build a blog just like that Dummies book says, but it’s not paying off. Let’s do a podcast instead." And then on to the next thing.

The best marketers, of course, use the needle and the vise at the same time. They don’t assault, they don’t demand, instead they earn attention. And they apply their marketing pressure so consistently and in such a measured and relentless way that sooner or later, they profit from it.

One commercial website I know is spending millions tightening their vise. Unfortunately, the offer and the site design is so confused (and unappealing) that it’s unlikely they can make the system pay. If they figured out where to apply the pressure, what offer would appeal, how to reach the right person in the right way… their leverage would triple.

The ironic thing is that ad agencies have been backed into a corner and mostly do rattling. It’s the high-cost, high-profile, high-risk part of marketing, and the kind that rarely works. What a shame that some of the smartest people in our field aren’t allowed (by their clients and by their industry’s structure) to get behind the scenes and change the product, the strategy and the approach instead of just annoying more people with ever louder junk.