Monday, February 2, 2009

Metaphors, Mental Models, and Nurture Marketing

Neil Davidson from the Business of Software blog had an interesting article recently on how your choice of metaphor guides how people think about a problem ( This reminded me of a conversation I was just in with Mike Zavershnik, where we were thinking through what the right metaphor is for nurture marketing.

If you look at a very simple case, like a 30/60/90 day communications program, it seems like the right metaphor is a "timeline". At the 30, 60, and 90 day "points on the timeline", communications are sent out. But, the more robust it gets, and the more you have different nurture paths, rules, and loops, the more the metaphor changes. Now marketers tend to think about it as more of a "machine" or a "structure", ie, I have a "nurture marketing campaign" that I "add people into" - like putting quarters in a vending machine.

This presents an interesting challenge in software product design because it's all about matching the software to the way that a marketer thinks about the task. From our conversations with Eloqua clients so far, it almost seems like the mental model "flips" at a certain point as the nurturing campaign gets more robust. Very simple nurturing is thought of as a "timeline", more complex nurturing is thought of as a "machine".

It's an interesting challenge, and there isn't any definitive right answer.

Still, it's what makes building software for marketers fun, interesting, and challenging. Mike and I ended our lively discussion on the right metaphor without coming to a conclusion, interrupted - as many good discussions are - by the start of the next meeting.

I would love to hear any marketers thoughts on how they think of nurture marketing - "timeline" or "machine", and how complex the nurturing campaigns they are running are.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
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Rich Gaasenbeek said...

Hi Steve,

I think of it as neither a timeline or a machine, but as a program - which has elements of both. Of course, my thinking is tainted... :)


Chad H said...

Steve - good discussion. One thing that Heather Foeh reminded me today was to start off keeping things simple in her post "Don't be a marketing overachiever".

You can have a very "simple" timeline program that is sophisticated becuase the contacts flowing into it are highly segmented.

Rhonda said...

Personally, and how I see many clients use it, is as a machine. A machine that drives conversion, using the appropriate timeline for effectiveness... whether it's simple or complex.

Steven Woods said...

Thanks Rich, Chad, Rhonda, great points. It's been an interesting thing to wrestle with. I wonder if the model flips in one's mind as you become more of an "overachiever" - and on to the "machine" metaphor as it gets more advanced.