Cargo cult marketing

friday, 23 march of 2012

Cargo cult marketing

by Linda Julian

There remain widely held beliefs among partners and senior managers of many law and other professional service firms which are best described as "cargo cults".

Cargo-cult marketing is the belief that alliances, international firm associations, interstate tie-ups, memberships of referral networks, subscriptions to business interest groups, and sponsorships will deliver vast benefits in terms of new clients at premium fees.

Undoubtedly, well-conceived alliances, associations, networks, and connections can lead to worthwhile outcomes. The trouble is, too often, these are formed or pursued based on:

  • misconceptions
  • search for prestige and success-by-association
  • overselling by enthusiastic advocates
  • unrealistic estimation of likely benefits
  • overoptimism about timing
  • lack of any clear purpose
  • and even a cargo cult mentality.

Occasionally, it's a champion's own relief from day-to-day boredom, a quest for external fame and glory, a quick deflection from unwelcome realities, or downright selfish interests (such as lots of interesting overseas conference opportunities) which may drive otherwise level-headed professional firms to join the cargo cult.

Disappointment is palpable when the great new hope either doesn't deliver at all, or when returns are miniscule compared with energy and resources expended.

The biggest danger is that you and your firm invest so much expectation in these connections for work that scarce business development time and money is squandered while other more dependable avenues to source work wither through neglect.

There are many fine professional networks and associations with interests and value well beyond exchange of work and clients.

To make certain you're making the right connections, rather than getting involved in a cargo cult, apply these tests:

  • what is the reputation and standing of the organisation ?
  • how will my/our profile be improved by association ?
  • do we have high relevance to the target association ?
  • is it a "natural fit" ?
  • aside from any expectations about getting work, is there a sufficient business case to join ?
  • what motivates others to join ?
  • if we have work to refer, are these the people and firms we'd want to send it to ?
  • do we have sufficient work to refer for the recipients to sit up and take notice ?
  • if overseas conferences or interesting events are part and parcel of the connection, when the time comes around to participate, will we have the availability and still feel it's a good use of our money ?
  • how will we keep the connections active between meetings ?
  • do they want me/us as members and why ?

Size up these opportunities and avoid a dangerous cargo cult, which looks like marketing but lacks marketing efficacy.

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© Trey Ryder

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