I wish I'd thought of this. In his Marketing Catalyst blog on Monday, Bruce Allen used a wonderful metaphor that I think is extraordinarily valuable -- marketing and business development are a lot like fly fishing.
I've been a fly fisherman my entire life. I don't do it much lately, but I began when I was about 12. My father grew up in New England, home of the Temple of Fly Fishing, which is Orvis, in Manchester, Vermont. He taught me to fly fish, and among other things, passed on to me an Orvis bamboo rod, circa around 1930, which is basically a work of art. I wouldn't dare actually use it to fish. When my father died, we buried him with flies, and a friend of his, an elderly fisherman himself, read the last few paragraphs of A River Runs Through It at his funeral.
Fly fishing, like sex, meditation and a few other pursuits, is both easy and hard. It's easy to learn the basics. To become really good is extraordinarily hard.
The basic idea behind casting a fly is to imitate nature. You're trying to get a very light, very tiny object, which has been built by hand to resemble an insect, onto the water in a way that fools a trout, usually, into thinking it's the real thing. Rather than simply overpowering nature, or ignoring it, as you would with bait, with a fly, you're trying to adapt to nature. You're trying to join in.
Trout are often very fussy eaters. They will feed on a certain type of insect, which will be over the stream only at certain times of day (the "morning rise" and the "evening rise") and under certain conditions. If you are casting a Beaverkill, which looks like this: and the trout are feeding on Tan Elk Hair Caddises, you're not going to catch any fish.
How does all this relate to marketing? Allen explains it like this:
In truth a fly fisherman never really catches a fish -- the fish
catches itself. In the natural order of things the fish is really
volunteering to jump on the hook just by responding instinctually
within its own environment. That's marketing!
Marketing to me is to create, consider, experiment and keep placing messages in front of a target market until they volunteer to bite. No one message is going to work everyday or ever at all. I need to be open to changing my message or how it is delivered.
Exactly. This may be the best explanation I've ever read of how marketing works for professional services. It's important because it beautifully illustrates a central point that clients often have difficulty grasping.
The problem is that unless they're taught to think otherwise, professionals, particularly attorneys, tend to gravitate toward the transaction model. They want to view marketing as a manufacturing process -- you spend money and undertake marketing activity X, and it will produce Result Y. Input. Output. ROI. Simple.
I wish this were true. It would make my job a lot easier. But that's not at all what really happens. Instead, clients, like trout, are swimming in their own environment. It's almost impossible to know in advance what kind of message,in what environment, will result in a bite. So you try, and then you experiment, and you change messages, change environments, and try something else. Over time, you develop a sense of what works, and why, and then you do more of it.
And when it works? There is nothing like it. When you're fly fishing, and you have read the water right, and picked the right fly, and cast it in the right spot, and a trout hits it, you are suddenly holding onto a rod with something wild and alive at the other end of it, something you couldn't even see, that you have successfully tricked into going from its world into yours.
And when you're marketing, and the phone rings, and on the other end of the line is someone who wants to become your client, because they received your message, and understood it, and it was the right message, delivered in the right way, at the right time? It feels exactly the same way.