How to develop an ideology-based business marketing strategy.

So you think you’re going to publish a newsletter?

Hey, that’s not a bad idea!

If you make it an e-mail newsletter — like the one you’re reading now — it’s a particularly cost effective exercise. Your distribution costs are nil. Your publishing costs are equivalent only to the time you invest in producing content.

And just think what your newsletter will achieve.

Your newsletter will keep your organisation ‘top of mind’ with your clients, potential clients and centres of influence.

Your newsletter will establish you as an expert in your field.

And your newsletter will enable you to maintain an enduring and intimate relationship with your marketplace.

Or will it?

How do you know that subscribers will actually bother to read your newsletter? They are busy people, after all.

What’s to stop them hitting ‘delete’ each time your periodical arrives in their inboxes? Or worse still, pressing ‘reply’ with that dreaded ‘unsubscribe’ word in the subject line?

It’s one thing to publish a newsletter. It’s another to produce a publication that will be avidly read, respected and even awaited by subscribers.

Of course, when it comes to publishing a great newsletter, content is the key. (The same applies to running a great event.)

But what’s the mark of great content? How should you select this content? How should you package it? And how can you ensure that you can keep producing quality content after the second, the tenth, or the one-hundredth edition of your newsletter?

Religion is the key!

Our belief is that great content is more than simple information, education or instruction.

Great content flows from a higher cause … an ideology.

The presence of this ideology adds an overriding purpose to all of your communications, supercharging their effectiveness.

Ask yourself, would Permission Marketing, Seth Godin’s runaway best seller, have been the hit it was if it had just preached textbook marketing practices?

Would upwards of 25,000 stockholders attend Berkshire Hathaway’s Woodstock-style annual general meetings if it weren’t for value investing, Warren Buffet’s counter-intuitive investment methodology?

Or would CRM (customer relationship management) have ever captured the executive share-of-mind that it has if it weren’t for Peppers’ and Rogers’ long-term one-to-one marketing crusade?

In each case, this higher cause has transformed what would otherwise have been an interesting concept into a religion (at least, in the more general sense of the word).

As a marketer, the notion of a starting a religious movement should be an intriguing one. And there’s a simple reason why.

When a concept becomes a religion it becomes infectious. In other words it self-propagates, like a virus! (It’s interesting to note that Seth Godin’s second book is called Unleashing the Ideavirus — it’s all about what he calls viral marketing.)

The real significance of this infectiousness is the impact it has on the ROI (return on investment) of your marketing activities. If you can successfully ‘start a religion’, the return on your marketing investment will increase exponentially over time. This is in contrast to the diminishing returns we see from most product-centric sales processes in mature markets.

So now you understand the importance of ‘getting religion’, how do you go about the process of starting a religious movement? And how does this concept of ‘religion’ relate to our Relationship-centric Marketing methodology?

Starting a religious movement

We’ve created a simple six-step process you can follow to start your own religious movement. The starting point for this process is your basis for communication.

If you’ve attended one of our seminars or workshops, you’ll have heard me introduce this concept. Your basis for communication is the content platform upon which the relationship with your marketplace is built. You can find your basis for communication in the area of intersection between your market’s interests and your expertise (and credibility).

Typically, your basis for communication consists of expertise that you have acquired as a by-product of the delivery of your core product or service.

For example, an office furniture retailer may establish relationships with its marketplace by sharing its workplace design expertise with clients, potential clients and centres of influence. (This firm’s market may not have an enduring interest in our office retailer’s range of workstations but it is likely to have an ongoing interest in improving workplace productivity.)

Once you’ve identified a basis for communication, you’re ready to go to work starting your religious movement!

Step one: identify ‘a better way’

It seems there’s always a better way. No matter what industry we consult to, we always hear the same thing: ‘standard practice is fundamentally flawed’.

In fact, one of the special benefits of being a consultant is having the opportunity to learn the truth about furniture design, industrial air conditioning, merchant banking, aerial mapping and myriad other industries.

Your challenge is to look at your basis for communication and describe standard practice.

Once you’ve done that, you can outline your better way.

Godin does this beautifully in Permission Marketing.

Godin refers to traditional marketing as interruption marketing. Every advertisement or promotional campaign is an unrequested intrusion. The marketer views the potential customer as an opportunity for a short-term relationship (a one-night-stand).

The permission marketer views the potential customer as an opportunity for an ongoing relationship. While she may use interruption techniques to initiate this relationship, she then attempts to exchange value for increasing levels of customer permission. (Godin refers to the highest level of permission as intravenous permission — that’s the kind of permission you give to a surgeon when you submit to general anaesthetic!)

Your better way can describe the optimal process. Alternatively, it can describe the process that should be followed in order to design the optimal process.

Step two: create an ideology

For your better way to be converted into an ideology, it needs good packaging.

And the first step in packaging a concept is to assign it a name.

It’s interesting to note that, neither Ricardo Semler (Maverick) nor Michael Gerber (The E-myth) gave their management methodologies names. I suspect their methodologies would have been more infectious had they taken this next step.

As well as naming your better way, you should also assign a name to the standard practice. (You can see how Godin has done this in the example above.)

You’ll find that it is easier to sell your better way if you position it against standard practice.

While it may seem manipulative to use polarisation as a selling tool, the reality is that you are selling only an intellectual position. (You may have noticed how ideological arguments tend to assume extreme opposing positions: ‘pro life versus pro choice’, ‘political left versus political right’, ‘salvation versus eternal damnation’, etc.)

Once your ideology has a name, it needs a model. A model is a simple diagram that provides a portal through which complexity can be viewed.

Your model can be a decision-making tool like a two-by-two matrix or investors’ economic clock. It can also be a process diagram, like our own Relationship-centric Marketing model.

It’s also worth developing your own terminology (when appropriate). When I attend meetings with potential clients, I often notice that they use Relationship-centric Marketing terminology. They do this because they have become sold on our ideology as a result of their exposure to AdVerb and our events.

We once received a request for a proposal from a potential client where the project brief was sprinkled with our own terminology. This document had been circulated to two or three other consultancies. Our potential client was kind enough to provide a link to our Website to enable our competitors to decipher the brief! Needless to say, we won the work.

Step three: write a manifesto

Now that your ideology has a name, a model and its own set of terminology, it’s time to commit it to print.

Your manifesto can be as simple as an eight-page discussion paper or as complex as a traditional book.

The purpose of your manifesto is to argue the case for your ideology. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Your manifesto should build a bulletproof case by contrasting standard practice with your better way. It should then present evidence in the form of real-life case studies. While it’s nice if the subjects of your case studies are your own clients, it isn’t absolutely essential.

If you do a good job of producing your manifesto, you will find that it rapidly becomes your most valuable communications tool. In fact, we often recommend that our clients produce their manifestos in place of a corporate brochure. The fact is, your manifesto will do a much better job of selling your organisation than a traditional corporate profile ever can.

While the first evolution of your manifesto is likely to be a discussion paper, it’s well worth ultimately turning it into a book. If you can get your book onto the shelves of bookshops around the country, you have just created a self-liquidating, perpetual promotional machine!

One of the best manifestos I have ever come across is a book called The Goal, by Eliyahu Goldratt. The Goal is a gripping ‘business novel’ about manufacturing process design. It does a superb job of selling Goldratt’s contrarian process design methodology, the Theory of Constraints. The Goal has sold over two million copies, a remarkable feat for any business book — particularly one about manufacturing process design.

Step four: start a movement

Now that you’re armed with a manifesto, it’s time to start spreading the word.

In reality, this undertaking isn’t as ominous as it may sound (no, you’re not required to don a suit and spend Sundays knocking on doors!)

You simply need to redirect your promotional resources from the promotion of your organisation to the evangelism of your ideology.

And there are three good reasons to do this:

  • It’s easier to sell an ideology than it is to sell a product or service.
  • If you can sell your ideology, you end up selling your organisation by default.
  • Each time you sell your ideology you have an opportunity to recruit a disciple — an assistant in the propagation of your ‘religion’. (Of course, this is the key to the viral growth of religions.)

If you’re familiar with our Relationship-centric Marketing methodology, you’ve already got a pretty good idea of how to go about evangelising your ideology.

Step one is to attract ‘followers’ with the offer of your manifesto. And step two is to build an intimate relationship with ‘followers’ by subscribing them to an automated communications program (consisting of regular newsletters and seminars).

Acquiring ‘followers’

You’ll find that a magical thing happens when you begin promoting your manifesto. People actually respond to your promotional campaigns!

While campaigns that promote your organisation are unlikely to yield much of a response, an advertisement for a discussion paper that advocates a new, better way can easily generate one hundred or more replies.

Accordingly, your advertisements, direct mail and other relationship-acquisition campaigns should be re-configured to offer respondents a complimentary copy of your manifesto.

Now, if you’re worried that this promotional approach will fail to deliver the brand building benefits of traditional campaigns, you shouldn’t be. The reality is that the promotion of your ideology will do more for your brand than traditional self-congratulatory advertisements ever could!

Turning ‘followers’ into ‘disciples’

Your ongoing communications should offer your subscribers assistance with the application of your ideology to their businesses (or their lives).

Each communication should focus on one facet of your ideology and explore its implementation in detail.

As previously mentioned, the presence of an overriding ideology will multiply the effectiveness of your communications. Rather than being isolated points of contact, each communication with your subscribers will be a part of an ongoing dialogue.

If you can succeed, over time, in converting interested subscribers into ardent believers (or even activists), you win in two ways:

  • Your subscribers are almost guaranteed to turn to you for assistance with the implementation of your better way.
  • Your subscribers will join you in your efforts to spread the word!

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that your search for compelling newsletter content has lead to the development of a complete marketing program. You could call this marketing program an ideology-based marketing strategy — or you could simply call it getting religion!

Before I leave you with your quest to identify an ideology worthy of religious fervour, let me briefly introduce you to the two final steps in starting your own religious movement.

Step five: make your ideology the industry standard

The idea of making your ideology the industry standard seems counter-intuitive. This is because I’m advocating that you give it away!

Specifically, I’m suggesting that you encourage channel partners — and even competitors — to join your religion.

In practice, as long as you’re recognised as the originator of your ideology, you will always have the most to gain from its growth.

Ask yourself, would Stern Stewart & Co have ever been able to make their Economic Value Added (EVA) the financial standard that it is today, if it was the only consulting firm to advocate it?

Step six: extend the standard

This last step isn’t really about starting a religious movement; it’s about extending the life of your movement.

You can extend your standard by showing your followers how your ideology can be applied to other areas of their businesses or lives. I mentioned the Theory of Constraints (TOC) previously. Although this theory initially related just to production, Goldratt has subsequently applied it to finance, project management, marketing, management and other business functions.

It is important not to extend your ideology until it is firmly entrenched as an industry standard. To do so would be to divert resources from what should be your number one marketing objective.