22 Sep 2016

Because I grew up on the banks of the Mississippi river in Iowa, I have always been a fisherman. But when I left Iowa after college and eventually made my home in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, I became a particular kind of fisherman—a fly fisherman.

For me, few experiences in life can rival fly fishing in the pristine streams of the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina. Like most avocations, fly fishing requires a certain set of skills and a little knowledge. The skill set has to do with tying knots and learning to deftly cast a fly line. The knowledge has to do with psychology. Not human psychology, trout psychology.

Trout behavior can be described in one of two ways. To put them in the most positive light—trout are very efficient in their eating habits. To put it less positively, they are extremely lazy. What trout like to do is find a nice “seam” in the river current (where the water flows more slowly due to a rock or some other obstruction) and just rest there waiting for a fly or some other bug to come floating by in the faster current. That way, the trout can eat it without moving very much. Just like when I get a pizza delivered.

Yes, trout are lazy, but they’re not stupid. That’s where the skill of the fly fisherman or fisherwoman comes in. Here are three keys to success every good trout angler knows:

  • First of all, you have to “present” the fly right. That means it has to look believable to the trout when it floats by. If it looks fake or moves in some weird way—forget it.
  • Second, most of the time trout like to eat fresh, which means they prefer to munch on whatever bug is hatching at that time. Putting the wrong fly on the line can be like offering someone day old bread.
  • Lastly, you can’t make them work for it. If you cast your fly a little too far from the seam where a trout is waiting, it will rarely swim to get it. It’s much easier to wait for the next morsel to float by.

Maybe you’ve guessed that my reason for telling you all this is that, in my view, effective marketing is a lot like effective fly fishing. Your prospects and customers may not have gills, but in many ways they are looking for a “customer experience” that is very much like the ideal “trout experience.” Here are some of the parallels I see:

  1. Your prospects are looking for you to “present” your message right. That means asking yourself, “Am I expressing how my product or solution will solve a real problem my prospect faces in a way that is easiest for them to believe and trust?” As I discussed in my last blog post, that will require doing everything possible to keep the message simple and clear so they stay in a state of “cognitive ease.” It also means avoiding the temptation to “oversell” the capabilities of your offering, which is a surefire way to trigger skepticism.
  1. Your customers expect your offerings to look fresh. Nobody wants to pay today’s price for day old bread, which is why demonstrating that your product or service is in demand has such persuasive power. For the same reason people like to go to the restaurant where it’s hard to get a reservation, prospects will take cues about whether your product or service offers true value by what others think about it. So find ways to tell them. In the B2C world, that might be by highlighting your number one selling product. In B2B, it might be by promoting customer case studies. This is also why continual innovation is so important. Upgrades tell your customers you are invested in their continued success and are keeping your solution fresh.
  1. Finally, ask yourself, “Am I making my prospects or customers work too hard?” Apple is one company that understands this principle thanks to Steve Jobs’ marketing and design genius. No manuals, no commands, just pick up an Apple product and use it. How about your offerings? Do they require too much from your customer to deploy, integrate or use effectively? Can your customer get the help they need, when they need it? Make sure the value of your offering is bumping your customers on the nose—they don’t want to have to swim for it.

Of course, customers are more complex than trout and my comparison here is obviously an oversimplification. Be that as it may, my point is that in order to catch a trout, you have to think like a trout—and in order to win a customer, you have to think like a customer, and deliver the experience they are looking for.

Happy fishing!

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