Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Picture of the Yellow Brick Road

Help your customers find the Emerald City (that's you)

We all remember Dorothy, right? She’s the girl who found herself in a very strange land, and desperately wanted to go home. Along came a Good Witch (Glinda), who told her about the Wizard of Oz, who could help her get home. And Glinda showed Dorothy the Yellow Brick Road, which would lead her to the Wizard.

That story is an amazing lesson for designing advertising campaigns. This article is about that lesson.

Designing Marketing Campaigns

Marketing has a very clear set of goals: create awareness, interest, desire, and ultimately purchase (action) for our products and services. I want to suggest that this has led us down a Garden Path and I want to direct us onto the Yellow Brick Road instead. See my article on Human-Centered Design in Marketing for a more extensive discussion, but in short, I am advocating a shift in our marketing from persuading, convincing, and bribing our customers to purchase our wonderful products and services to designing marketing that is actually useful to them.

Prospective customers are users, not targets

And that leads me to the story of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Because I think it provides a Very Good Metaphor, even a Road Map if you’ll pardon the pun, for designing marketing campaigns. But it doesn’t look anything like the way we usually think about designing advertising campaigns.

We don’t really design most advertising campaigns. Not in any way that real designers would recognize. We fashion our campaigns around our goals, not our customers’ goals. We try hard to convince our prospective customer that she or he should buy our product. We harangue them with arguments for why our product is the best, we shower them with our messages about our features and benefits, and finally, we bribe them with discounts to get them to do our bidding. 

It’s even in our language: we consider the potential customer to be the target of our marketing.

What if, instead, we design our marketing? If we apply human-centered design principles to our process of developing marketing campaigns, we would start by treating our customers as users of our marketing campaigns. And we would pay attention to their user experience at every step of the way.

Human-centered design focuses on the needs, goals, and experience of the user. Human-centered design builds a deep understanding of the needs of the people you’re designing for and designs to meet those needs. 

While it’s possible that we have designed our products and services that way, it is seldom that we design our marketing campaigns that way. My experience is that most marketers design marketing to convince customers that their products and services will meet the customers’ needs, which leads to treating customers as targets. What if we treat our potential customers as users of our marketing campaigns?

Finding Dorothy

Of course, we need to start with the right customer. The ones for whom our product offering was designed, for whom the capabilities of the product fit the Jobs to be Done for the customer. We need to find our Dorothy.

And once we find her, we need to get to know what she really wants and the help she really needs. Because Home is different for different people, and there’s no sense trying to convince our Dorothy to go Home if that’s not where she wants to be.

Showing Dorothy the Yellow Brick Road

If we find the right Dorothy, who really wants the Home we are offering, then we can show her the Yellow Brick Road and set her on her way. 

But along the way she might get Lost (after all, those evil Flying Competitors will try to steal her away) so we need to help her with a Guide. And she might get off track and fall asleep, so we need to help her with Motivation (remember the poppies and the Tin Man, who might rust but never fall asleep). And she might get cautious about trying something new, so we need to buck up her Courage along the way.

And in the end, if we’ve found the right Dorothy and provided the guidance she needs, she’ll reach the Wizard (that’s us), become a loyal customer, and Live Happily Ever After (with, of course, our product).

Don’t Convince. Guide, Motivate, and Encourage.

This is a pretty different view of what advertising is supposed to do. Advertising is supposed to convince and convert, right? It’s supposed to make prospective customers have positive emotions toward our brand so they will be more likely to choose us because they like us. 

But this approach is Not That. There’s no “convincing” here. Nobody convinced Dorothy to go to Oz. She wanted desperately to go Home, and once she believed that the Wizard was her ticket home, well, not Wicked Witches, flying monkeys, or fields of poppies were going to stop her and her friends. (Don’t miss her friends; she doesn’t get to the Wizard or Home without them. Similarly, you and your marketing communications are Very Important to your prospective customers. Take that to heart; you’ll treat them differently). 

The buying process is a series of problems and challenges that your prospective customers need to overcome in order to become loyal customers. These include lack of awareness, lack of knowledge, lack of opportunity, and lack of motivation. And that’s just before purchase. After purchase they need help too! How are they going to get the best experience from using your product without your guidance? And how are they going to find their way back to repurchase? The marketing process doesn’t end with a purchase; it begins a new phase.

It’s all a journey along that Yellow Brick Road. So build a Yellow Brick Road for your customers. You’ve got a better mousetrap, right? More customers will find you if you create a path to your door!

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