Finding Passion in America

Navigating by Word of Mouth

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As I type up this entry, I am sitting in a hotel room in Memphis, Tenn. This year's annual vacation has taken my other half and me on a great American Road Trip to happens to coincide with the 60th Anniversary of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."

Noelle Weaver Noelle Weaver
Unlike Jack, we're doing ours by car, and our trip is taking us east and south. We started in Chicago and went down through Indiana to Kentucky, Tennessee. Then it's through the tip of Georgia and the Carolinas before we end up in Charleston before heading home. Where we're headed we don't know. We're letting the road take us there -- trying as best we can to use secondary highways and local roads where and when we can and relying on word-of-mouth from the locals on where to stay and the best places to eat.

If there's one thing this trip taught me and my marketing mind it was the great amount of passion people can hold for things. And as we've made our way along, I have wondered several times if we understand or tap into these passions enough.

In Indianapolis, we saw the passion folks have for auto racing when we stopped over for the U.S. Grand Prix. (Go Alonso!) Some come for their country. Some come to cheer on a specific driver Some come just for the love of the sport. The man we sat next to, who was in his early sixties, had lived in Indy since he was a boy and tried not to miss a single race at the track. He loved cars and especially cars that went fast.

As we traveled along, we pointed the car towards bourbon country (which won't come as a surprise to some of you). I'm not sure I found the perfect glass (although you Southerners sure do give a generous pour) but at the Vietnam Memorial in Frankfort we met Beverly and KaBar Alexander. They've spent the last 14 years of their lives helping educate the American public about American prisoners of war and raising funds to build a memorial to those killed in action in Vietnam. We ended up going to dinner and drinks together to learn more, and KaBar, understanding our own passion for bourbon, brought us a mason jar full of 44-year-old Old Taylor from a wooden barrel he had discovered when tearing down one of their aging barns several years ago.

After seeing Graceland, eating some ribs at the Blues City Cafe and walking down Beale Street, we spent the night in Memphis. Today, we're assuming that we will discover a passion for barbecue as we head towards Lexington, Tenn., where we've been told holds some of this country's best pulled pork.

I know I'm "preaching to the choir" on how important it is to understand your target audience. And "niche" marketing is not a new term to any of us. But traveling the roads and byways -- listening to the stories of folks along the way -- I wonder how often we as marketers stop to really dig under the skin of our audiences and get to know them. Do we take the time to talk to them? Spend time with them? Get to understand what makes them happy and what really ticks them off? Or are we, too often, relying on data and secondary research to tell us a statistic or fact that we can latch on to that drives a campaign. People are emotional beings. Not numbers.

The second thing I was reminded of on this trip, is just how powerful a tool word of mouth can be. But it can't be forced. It can't be fabricated. It can't be overly complex. It needs to be simple to understand and natural to the community at hand. And it has to be something they want to see, learn, know more about.

Some may argue that concentrating on small audiences is a dangerous thing and won't provide enough ROI for clients. I've also had folks tell me that tapping into niche groups creates such a small target that they can't substantiate media buys with all of their fancy databases.

At some point during this trip, we were walking through a parking lot and I saw a small boy throw a rock into a mud puddle. Tapping into these audiences was a lot like throwing that stone. If your message can find the center of your audience, the passionate bull's-eye if you will, through word-of-mouth it will ripple and spread further and create bigger impact the further it spreads. Let's not forget just how powerful that can be.
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