The secret of successful marketing on a tight budget (and it’s not more tweeting)

At the end of most projects I ask the question ‘how could we have marketed it better?’ This was a major reason behind studying for an MSc. in Strategic Marketing – I wanted to find answers. Working as a consultant in the arts and third sector, reaching more people is a constant quest.

The answers I get from the team always revolve around the same things:
‘more social media’, ‘more posters’, ‘leaflets through the door’, ‘put adverts on buses’, ‘advertise through Facebook.’

As the years go by, I’m less convinced.

Every audience survey will tell you the most likely reason for someone attending your event is ‘word of mouth.’ But the important question is: how did the mouthy person find out about it in the first place?

So here’s the secret of marketing on a limited budget:

Marketing & consulting with young people


Connectors are those amazing people who love their networks. Malcolm Gladwell describes them in his brilliant book The Tipping Point (2000) as ‘people with a special gift for bringing the world together.’

Gladwell tells the story of the fascinating experiment by the controversial social scientist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. Milgram gave packages to 160 people on the west coast of the USA, asking them to get the package to a particular stockbroker in Boston. They had to do it by sending the package to someone they knew who would be likely to get it closer to the stockbroker. Progress was recorded and Milgram found that the packages got across the country in about six steps, reinforcing the growing concept of Six Degrees of Separation.

But here’s the point: Milgram found that the packages gathered in the hands of a few people. Indeed, half the packages came through just three people as they reached the stockbroker. Gladwell calls these three people Connectors.

What’s my evidence that this works?

I’ve just run two youth consultation events for the Arts Council of Wales. We wanted to know young peoples’ views about the future of the arts in Wales. I had about two weeks to get the message out there and zero marketing budget. I would have been delighted if a dozen turned up at each event. We had 29 in Cardiff and 42 in Bangor.

My zero-cost actions were:

  • Facebook events
  • Facebook postings on the RawFfest page
  • Emails sent directly to about 150 people in the youth and youth arts sector –  individual emails, mind you, not bulk.
  • Emails to three organisations who run e-zines.

But I focussed  on the young people I knew would be interested and tell other people. I emailed, texted, phoned and Facebook messaged the ones I know are connectors.

Can we do away with the posters, flyers and endless social media? Probably not. As John Wanamaker famously said more than a hundred years ago: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Even though I’m pretty sure at least half the adverts, flyers and social media postings are a waste of time, I don’t know which ones are useless.

More importantly, these ‘mainstream’ methods may help my Connectors – and Connectors deserve all the support we can give them.

I think tweeting is unlikely to get anyone through your door. But if we value our Connectors enough, if we make sure they know they are appreciated, then they are going to carry on telling their friends and getting people to engage.

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