What “Fear the Walking Dead” Taught Me About Marketing Strategy

Yes, I’m talking about zombies again.

As a fan of the AMC series “The Walking Dead,” I’ve also enjoyed its spinoff, “Fear the Walking Dead.”  For those of you not immersed in zombieana, “Walking Dead” started a few weeks into a zombie pandemic while “Fear” started just before the event.

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Your tax dollars at work!

What do all these living dead shows have to do with marketing strategy?  Simple.  “Fear” has reminded me of one of the key elements of marketing strategy: work around what you don’t know and with what you do know.

In “Fear,” we see people struggling to make sense of a world in which they realize they don’t know a lot of key things.  At the start of the show, they don’t know how to kill zombies (hint: aim for the head).  They don’t know how zombies behave, something we’ve come to learn in “Walking Dead.”  At the very beginning, many people simply think the zombies are in the grip of drugs or some terrible virus.

So, what do they know?  They know something very important, something that also pertains to marketing strategy.  As Satre said, “hell is other people.”

In season two of “Fear,” the protagonists have escaped to a huge luxury yacht owned by a mysterious swindler who does not initially disclose his plans to seek sanctuary in Baja California, Mexico.  Along the way, they find themselves mostly evading other survivors.

As we all know from pop psychology that people have one of two responses to danger: fight or flight.  Thus, every other group of people the protagonists have no intention of helping them: they’ll either try to kill them or run away.  So it follows: avoid other (living) people.  Keeping relations with other humans simple allows the survivors to focus on the less solvable problem: the zombies.

Marketing strategy can work much the same way.

Without reading too much into my choice of examples, let’s look at customers and prospects.  Any company with reasonably good data can get a sense of what customers will do in normal conditions.  How will they react to a price rise?  What do they buy in the busy season or the slow season?  What product features interest them the most?

That leaves your prospects as zombies (not judging!).  By definition, you can’t know as much about what they will do.  As a result, it makes sense to spend substantially more time thinking about and working around them.

By the way, this kind of thinking goes beyond customer groups.  For instance, a brand may not know much about their customers (think a manufacturer with no direct to consumer sales), but they do know about their distributors and competitors.  Or they understand legacy markets but not new markets.

Use your knowledge to take shortcuts.  Don’t waste too much time re-establishing what you already know.  Focus on what you don’t know.

And always aim for the head.

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