Why Marketers Need to be Farmers not Hunters
PLANTING THE APPLE SEED
By: MIKI Yoshihito
When we create marketing strategy we face an internal tension between the immediate need to hunt sales and
the long term business case to farm relationships.
It’s a tension Apple faced back in the 90s, but thanks to a clear vision of where they needed to take their brand,
the right approach won the day.
Apple’s success today is the result of nearly 20 years of clear, consistent brand building; a process that required
as much discipline to say “no” to short term demands as it was “yes” to new ideas and innovation.
Apple had to sell the idea of marketing to a low-spend category of customers (students and teachers) as opposed
to high end road warriors. Apple had to sell a vision that would take years to effect with its K-12 education
strategy, summer camps at Apple Stores and student discounts.
But that forfeit paid off.
When I graduated University back in the 90s, everything was PC. Mac users were left handed architects and
designers. Fast forward 20 years and the situation has flipped on its head. Students graduate, bring their Macs to
work with them, become IT managers and the beachhead grows.
Who could have called it back then?
Rather than face these awkward decisions most brands would rather “watch the birdie” and concentrate on the
window dressing of Apple’s success, factors like “design thinking” than look at what really goes on behind the
I believe this is a distraction that keeps most brands committed to hand-to-mouth hunter existence of building
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HUNTING vs FARMING
Hunters chase their quarry.
Farmers sit and wait.
In industry terms, hunting is far
sexier, carries far more appeal
and glamor than simply sitting and
waiting it out.
We like to pick up our spears and
go chase down the next big thing,
that one killer app, that insight,
that silver bullet that will change
The problem is endemic: we are
an industry of hunters by training.
We live in a world where people
would rather spend their money
on a quick-fix diet, learn Chinese
in 15 minutes a day or hack their
way to a happier life.
When our back is against the wall
and we need to get numbers for
the next quarterly review, we go
hunting: we commission viral
videos; we ask the social media
agency to push this link out to the
It’s easier to outsource the whole marketing plan to a funky award winning agency who’ll jazz up your design
philosophy than it is to sit down and develop a clear vision of where the brand needs to be and go within a
What hope is there for long term relationship building when most brand managers are lucky to get 2 years in their
role at the company?
DOING THE WORK: THE CASE FOR FARMING
In reality, most brands are 80/20 in their marketing activities. They spend 80% (and up) of their budget on
Successful brands, however, are 80% farming, 20% hunting, if not more.
Perhaps the reason most brands don’t farm is because farming requires doing the work.
In marketing terms, “doing the work” means going out to the community, building a presence at the frontline,
growing an organic brand.
Doing the work means making a choice between what’s important long term and what’s popular right here right
1) Building your own retail store vs treating retail as a sales channel
2) Building your own organic community vs paying a social media agency to hijack Facebook
3) Creating your own event vs buying headline sponsorship at someone else’s
4) Nurturing athletes in your scene vs buying celebrity endorsers to pretend they use your products
In these 4 examples, doing the work means you can’t simply pick the hottest, agency du jour and tell them to
come back when they’ve finished your campaign. You have to be part of the creative process, if not the owner of
The other reason most brands continue to hunt despite the obvious benefits is short-termism. When I talk about
farming relationships, clients sometimes say “well, that’s all well and good but I need results tomorrow, how do I
There isn’t an easy answer to this question, at least one that some clients are willing to hear.
It’s the same question I used to hear years ago as a financial adviser when clients would protest,
“I can’t afford to save $100 a month!”
What I found was that either people saved or they didn’t. These aren’t skills you can train people to understand,
these are world views deep rooted in their psyche and formed at a young age. Let’s just say, it comes down to
whether they “got” the story about “3 Little Pigs” or not.
A CULTURE OF SHORT-CUTS
In the absence of clear leadership, hunting always wins: business gravitates to the lowest common denominator,
marketing opts for the line of least resistance.
Subway sandwiches built a student brand over 20 years using stories like that of Jared Fogle: the guy who lost
100lbs on the “Subway Diet”. But like many brands, Subway got greedy and took shortcuts. The most famous
example was the ad campaign showing how big their baguettes were. It’s only when somebody pointed out that
the girl holding up the baguette in the ad was actually a midget* that customers realized they were being tricked.
Nokia built one of the most recognized brands in the world. Much of the brand’s appeal lay in the foundations it
grew in the youth market and the fan base of enthusiasts they won over through the ground-breaking 3 series.
Check out the countless homages to the indestructible Nokia on Youtube. But, like Subway, in the face of
competition Nokia became impatient and tried to short cut its success. Rather than farm the numerous real world
relationships it had built organically it employed shills like Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga to launch the Lumia.
WHY MARKETING IS NO LONGER A DEPARTMENT
When the success and failure of the brand is down to how deep and far you can sustain the hunting, marketing
becomes little more than a business function you can assign to a department.
This is how it used to be. As a function, marketing is easily outsourced.
But, when you realize that marketing isn’t a department but the r’aison d’etre of business then the organization
lives to support the marketing, not the other way round.
Steve Jobs (Apple), Nick Woodman (GoPro), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Tony Hsieh (Zappos) and Mark Hall
(Monster) are all marketers, long term visionaries and farmers.
When you have the guy at the top buying into this philosophy you also have a culture that has both time and
space to farm relationships.
And the time to start farming is now.
Farming is an investment in long term relationships. Like all investments, you can’t expect results tomorrow.
Like saving, start small and start building the internal business case for the approach. Once you have
demonstrated success, bang the drum to assign more hunting resources over to farming.
As the Chinese Proverb reads, “The best time to plant a seed is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a
seed is today.”
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*Sorry, I don’t know what the PC term is these days, so I guess somebody’s going to predictably call me out on