Branding for Referrals: Think Networks Instead of Markets

Scott Degraffenreid of Necessary Measures and author of Embracing the N.U.D.E. Model: the New Art and Science of Referral Marketing has a interesting perspective on niche marketing for referrals.

He contends that markets and market segments are no longer the best way to define marketing targets. Now, with the Internet and wireless media accellerating, a more precise and functional way to approach the marketplace is by identifying, and then identifying with, networks of like-motivated people.

It’s not just a semantic thing. There are real differences between a market as traditionally defined and a network.

Defining “Market”

A definition of a good market has always meant to me, at the consumer level, a group with demographic and psychographic similarities that meet four criteria:

1) The group is large enough to be profitable for me and my competitors.

2) The group has a desire for products/services in my selected category.

3) A major part of the group has the means to buy my offering.

4) I am able to identify and reach them economically.

Using this set of criteria I begin to define a market by the members’ age bracket, income level, family size, geographic location, abode type and special interests.

The market segments based upon special interest in a particular activity or event, i.e., golfing, gourmet cooking, first-time parenting or owning 10-year-old luxury cars, may only have that special interest in common with others. If so, you’re getting closer to marketing to a network of like-minded people. Here you’ll likely find both formal and informal gatherings and communications around shared interests.

Let’s take golfers. First, they play together. They also network in club houses, pro shops and clinics. Because of their common golfing interest they are likely to pass on referrals for my stroke-reducing gadget – if it meets Scott’s N.U.D.E. model of Novelty, Utility, Dependability and Economy. They also have tons of sources of information available including magazines, TV shows, and most importantly lately, the Internet. And they’re willing to share it, to help other network members.

Major Difference Between a Market and a Network

Here’s the big difference between a network and a market: Members of a network have opted to be part of the network whereas marketers dictate who will comprise their market(s).

If you are seeking out and immersing your company in a network, you are in a sense practicing “permission marketing” even though it may not be exactly what Seth Godin had in mind when he coined that phrase and book title.

The thing about networks is that if you’re an active part of the network, you belong. You will share common interests and concerns. You will not be an outsider attempting to “sell them something”.

Networking Implications for Branding

So as far as branding is concerned, There are three major considerations if you wish to before a marketer to network members. This is particularly applicable to the local, service-oriented business, but by breaking your organization into networking groups at local and regional levels, these precepts will apply.

1) Build relationships. The main objective is to become a relationship-building entity. Your people, whether it’s only you or a whole division of sales reps, need to become part of the network. Your people need to share info, participate in conclaves and tournaments, contribute to forums, volunteer to lick stamps, provide a venue, sponsor an activity.

2) Personalize the brand. Bring it down to local personalities. In a larger organization, this may mean finding and hiring only certain personality types (within the law of course) that will both represent the brand by being a spokesperson and by genuinely conveying the brand personality through their own personality. Honesty and relationship-building needs to replace “salesmanship”.

3) Walk the walk. A level of openness with employees and with prospects needs to emanate from “headquarters”. There must also be a “brand story” that is simple enough for every employee to convey with ease. There must be a code of ethics and a deep understanding that in effect, the brand is the individual employee. All these efforts must be honest and true. Management must “walk the walk” as well as employees. Finally, the branding activities must make it easy and natural for employees to take on and express the brand persona. 

Now with that said, there are still basic branding tenets to be observed, the most important of these is consistency. Every decision should be filtered through the “how will this affect the brand?’. Also, the traditional branding elements need to be in sync with the brand story and personality. There should be no disconnects or confusion. This is way a brand platform, brand story and code of conduct need to be integrated and communicated to all.

Okay, I’m stepping off my soapbox now.

I hope that thinking of branding for marketing for networks will begin to pervade your branding thought process. Please let me know how you’re changing the emphasis from internal constructs of market segments to serving networks of living, breathing souls.

Martin Jelsema

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