On the principles of Adventure Marketing

Honestly and reliably solving problems.

I’ve been in the field of marketing for over a decade. During that time, there has always been something that has bothered me. When applying the exact same marketing tactics, the results would be inconsistent. Sure, some tactics produced predictable results. SEO could get you to the first page. Pay-per-click ads generated conversions. Email blasts would conjure up warm leads. But those were quantitative in nature; shortlived gains that could only be sustained through continued use. Qualitative tactics, like giving talks or creating content, was where the real traction was. Nail it and you could go viral.

No one’s ever heard of a viral banner ad.

Not that a viral anything is strictly the goal. But why did certain things have more of an effect than others? Was it a timing thing? Some NLP effect being stumbled upon?

I started reviewing every marketing tactic I knew, from sign spinning to Superbowl commercials. I compared their structure to similar behavior outside of marketing. What I found surprised the heck out of me. Nearly every tactic was similar to something out of a con artist handbook. Only a bushel full could be considered sound. As it turns out, every long-term, successful marketing strategy had at its root at least one of these worthwhile tactics.

Better still, these tactics followed naturally from businesses that focused on three principles: value, transparency, and reputation. These worked together to generate the only type of marketing outcome that matters. Word of mouth.

Solving a problem provides value.

A business is created to solve a problem. Seems like a pretty obvious first step, right? Yet while we all know that’s what a business’s purpose is, we each have had experiences with businesses that miss the mark completely. Here are two of my favorite kinds of value failures.

Missing the Forest: When a business confuses its proximate objectives for its ultimate one. You see this when a company spends more effort in marketing their product instead of refining their product.

American Idolling: When the problem a business claims to solve has little to do with their behavior. A classic example of this is planned obsolescence where a company designs its product so that it eventually needs to be replaced.

There are a ton of these types of mismatches. They stem from the business not valuing value as very valuable. Properly focusing on improving the value proposition of a product is far more important than we are generally taught.

Telling the truth shows transparency.

Transparency can be a tricky concept. Telling the truth in this context doesn’t mean “the whole truth and nothing but”. It means being honest with yourself and your clients about what your priorities are. Where you’re headed and how you want to get there.

For a business to be transparent it must satisfactorily answer these two questions:

  1. What ideal are you subject to?
  2. Are your future actions easily predictable?

The reason transparency is so tricky is that the answers to the above questions don’t necessarily have to be pleasant. What they need to be is clear and consistent.

Take a car salesman as an example. They may suggest that you buy a particular car and even offer good reasons for doing so. But you might be dubious as to whether or not they have your best interest at heart. Do they have a quota they need to fill lest they be fired? Do they get a larger commission for selling this car versus that one? Do they have my best interest at heart? Not very transparent.

Now consider choosing a personal trainer. Say they made it clear to you that they train because helping someone get fitter inspires them to continue exercising themselves. You might be far more likely to hire them (and less likely to quit).

Being reliable builds reputation.

Reputation is the interplay between history and sentiment. What a business has done in the past matters to its reputation only so far as people have an opinion about it.

What’s interesting about reputation is that it’s not particularly useful in predicting future behavior. A company may behave completely differently than it has in the past when faced with things like recessions, new competition, employee mistakes, and other hardships or uncertainties.

So why is reputation important? For one thing, it shows reliability. That “you can do a thing”. It doesn’t mean that what you’ve accomplished in the past is good. It’s simply an acknowledgment that you can complete something. Degrees, as an example, demonstrate reputation. Getting a degree in civil engineering is not a guarantee that you’re a good one, but it does prove that you have some sort of history and didn’t pop up out of the blue.

To complement that, if the tone around your history is a positive one, then you now are leveraging other people’s reputation. A letter of reference is a classic example. The letter isn’t promising that you’ll do well at this new task. It’s one person saying “Hey, they were good enough for me,” and gifting you a bit of their reputation at the same time.

Word of mouth proves your worth.

This holy trinity of principles work together to create word of mouth. Word of mouth. Glorious word of mouth. The brass ring every marketer wants to obtain. Word of mouth means that someone is compelled to speak favorably about your enterprise. The sometimes aggravating truth about it is that it cannot be bought.

Sometimes people fall into the trap of thinking that they can cultivate word of mouth. They try all sorts of ways. Soliciting reviews, incentivizing purchases, implementing referral programs, hiring influencers, and a host of other misguided tactics ostensibly proven to stimulate or synthetically produce worth of mouth. Absence focus on the three principles of adventure marketing, they do not provide sustainable results.

As far as I can see, this confusion stems from our use of the idiom instead of what it represents, which is “worth”. A thing’s worth is measured by what you would trade in order to obtain it. So when you decide to buy a meal at a restaurant, you’re saying that it’s worth a certain amount of your time, money and effort. And when someone praises a good or service, they are saying that it’s worth a certain amount of their credibility to do so. This is why if someone gets anything other than credibility for lauding a product, it isn’t actually word of mouth.

Real word of mouth is the metric of success for an adventure marketer. Yet they don’t bother targeting it. Instead, they focus on providing ever-improving value while reliably staying true to a clear ideal.

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What is Adventure Marketing?

Adventure Marketing is a constructive set of principles that offers a reflective framework for marketers which has at its core meaning instead of metrics. These principles are value, transparency, and reputation.

Tom Hartman