Despite its technological complexity, content marketing boils down to a basic idea as old as commerce: To promote a business, you need to know your audience. Stories are best told to people who want to hear them, which is why I’d like to tell you a story about wildebeests.

Everybody loves a good story about wildebeests, right?

Of ecology and marketing

The wildebeests of the Serengeti plain sit in the middle of an ecological pyramid. At the base of the pyramid are plants, the system’s producers. They provide the Serengetti’s herbivore population, including wildebeests, with food. At the pyramid’s top sit the predators, like lions and hyenas.

With the food pyramid in mind, ecologists characterize wild animal populations as being regulated from the top down or the bottom up. The size of a top-down population is determined by predation: far more individual deaths result from toothy beasts eating their fill rather than lack of enough grass. In a bottom-up herd, the opposite is true: predators are a relatively minor problem, while food supply decides life or death on a large scale.

On the Serengeti plain, most wildebeests (over a million of them) are migratory, moving with the rains to areas where their favorite grasses grow best. A significant advantage of migrating is that predators don’t follow along—their biology prevents it. Instead, the food supply determines how many animals live or die. In short, the migratory herd is a bottom-up population.

But not all wildebeests are road warriors. Small bunches of them, around 5,000 in all, stay put. These resident wildebeests often get turned into snacks long before they starve in the dry season. Theirs is a top-down population.

Stretching metaphors to the breaking point

Imagine your business makes hats for style-conscious wildebeests. (Bear with me.)

As a kangaroo headquartered in Perth, your understanding of wildebeests is limited to second-hand information. When you close your eyes and imagine your hats on one million wildebeest heads, lions are the first thing (after profits) that come to mind. “Surely, all my customers are afraid of lions,” you think.

The koala intern suggests you should instead focus your marketing on how good customers will look while eating grass or swimming across an alligator-infested river. But, of course, like any sour kangaroo, you reply with a “Humph!” 

So your first email marketing campaign launches with a barrage of stories about how much sleeker a young wildebeest will look running away from lions wearing one of your hats. 

Regrettably, your anticipated sales never materialize. Only a few hundred customers place orders. A few of them post dapper selfies of themselves wearing your hat while they run from the local pride. But the vast herd of wildebeest you’re trying to reach isn’t showing much interest. 

After you hop over to Tanzania to get a look for yourself, the truth dawns: the intern was right. Hats might be cool amongst the resident wildebeests, but the migratory herd—the audience you cared about—is thinking about grass, not lions.

Get down into the weeds

The difference between you and your prospective customers may not be as great as between a kangaroo and a wildebeest. Nevertheless, trusting too much to instincts can be a big mistake.

Seasoned professionals are most likely to fall into this trap. After working in their industry for decades, they’ve seen everything and talked to everyone. As a result, they are confident in their knowledge of what customers need.

Thinking this way can leave opportunities on the table for two reasons:

  • It often fails to consider how shifting buyer demographics, complex global markets, and new technologies change how your audience thinks.
  • It leaves strategies inside a well-established box that often doesn’t encompass a big herd of potential customers.

This is not to say that the perspective of experience is worthless; far from it. But marketing strategies also need a healthy dose of objective data. The good news is that this data is readily available from commercial services that comb the web to build actionable customer profiles. Using analytics, a business can identify prospects who are outside the box and craft messages that will address their real pain points.

No more guesswork.

Run ahead of the herd

For years Red Mallard’s approach to content marketing has emphasized organic strategies over reliance on analytic technologies. We’ve recently started to work more regularly with databases to find our clients new growth opportunities. Though we’re going to stay true to who we are—empathetic communicators—the results of a mixed approach speak for themselves.

Is your marketing strategy chasing the wrong wildebeest? Red Mallard can help. Get in touch with us to get your marketing ducks in a row.

To learn about how the growth of the wildebeest population impacted other species in the Serengeti, you’ll need to watch this video.

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