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Ecosystem Marketing: Where One Plus One Equals Three

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com. Please find it here.

Leadership author and retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has suggested, “Many leaders are tempted to lead like a chess master, striving to control every move, when they should be leading like gardeners, creating and maintaining a viable ecosystem in which the organization operates.”

This holds true when applied to a company’s marketing efforts as well.

However, what if you’re thinking too small in regard to your company’s marketing ecosystem? What about the larger network your company exists within? Are you missing out on being part of the conversations in your industry’s overarching and permeating ecosystem? Taking a step back, what is a business ecosystem anyway, and why should you care? How can thinking about business ecosystems help you, and how can an agency help to get there? Put on your favorite gardening gloves and read on.

What Is Ecosystem Marketing?

The idea of a “marketing ecosystem” has become a hot term recently, referring to the creation of a connected system of analytics and content with you and your website serving as a central hub.

In this view, the idea of an ecosystem web — featuring aspects like social media feeds, hosted blog posts and SEO efforts — replaces the concept of a lead funnel. Let’s call this a small-view ecosystem.

While this approach is indeed useful, narrowing your scope this much to only your business’s own ecosystem of channels can result in missing the industry forest for the marketing trees. What happens when we take a broader, richer look at what a marketing ecosystem can be?

In “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition,” writer and advisor James F. Moore describes the idea of a business ecosystem:

“Business communities, unlike biological communities of co-evolving organisms, are social systems. And social systems are made up of real people who make decisions; the larger patterns are maintained by a complex network of choices, which depend, at least in part, on what participants are aware of. As [anthropologist] Gregory Bateson noted, if you change the ideas in a social system, you change the system itself.”

Applying Moore’s concept of a business ecosystem to marketing efforts, we are forced to ask ourselves how our organization’s small-view marketing system fits into the larger industry one. This larger ecosystem is less of a market and more of a community. It’s earned media, paid media and owned media. It’s onsite, offsite and offline. It’s customers, competitors and categories. It’s individuals and organizations. It’s platforms, agencies, suppliers, distributors, providers, vendors and other related and adjacent parties — together and interdependent.

How Ecosystem Marketing Fits Into Your Marketing Strategy

The function of marketing ecosystems are many and varied: They connect stakeholders, spread knowledge, expand consumer choice and uncover new discoveries.

Devoting resources toward increasing your involvement in a business ecosystem can be a savvy marketing strategy. You could post a persuasive article on your company’s website and promote it through your own channels, or you could contribute an informational piece in an industry publication. The second option contributes to the community while heightening your organization’s visibility. You could host your own promotional webinar, or you could participate in a third party’s educational panel. The latter increases your audience and allows you to interact with them in a more meaningful way.

By envisioning your brand positioning in terms of a business ecosystem, you can leverage multiple channels, individuals and companies working together to engage industry audiences in new ways and spaces.

Establishing leadership boosts your marketing effectiveness across the board. As far as how collaborating in an ecosystem can help you, it is a vehicle to build others’ confidence in your company’s promise and position. As authors Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler put it: “Trust is the currency of ecosystems. In fact, it is the future of your brand.”

Finding Marketing Opportunities Within a Business Ecosystem

So, you’re convinced that you need to adopt an ecosystem perspective for your marketing efforts. What now?

Like all communities, there are gatekeepers and barriers to entry. Not all parts of a business ecosystem are open or connected from the outset. This is where a great PR and marketing agency can come in. A firm specializing in your sector should already be well connected in the ecosystem and willing to act as an intermediary on your behalf. Tapping into existing relationships with the analysts, editors and management behind your sector’s outlets and events can be priceless, as can a Rolodex of the industry thinkers, speakers and players who exist as the interlocutors and mouthpieces of some corners of the ecosystem.

A particularly robust firm may have its own ecosystem channels you can plug right into. Even with a sharp internal team of creatives, strategists and practitioners, many in-house teams lack this kind of industry knowledge and relationships to people and publications. With your in-house team working together with a strong PR and marketing firm, you can link your messaging to the hubs of an industry ecosystem.

Further, using firm channels and connections to integrate your brand into an existing business ecosystem can enhance your ability to create and grow your company’s own small-view ecosystem. One plus one can equal three.

Fully developing your organization’s reach will require stepping outside your garden to engage with the greater network of industry voices. Marketing teams need to tend to their garden: advertising, email, search, social — these are all vital to a company’s success with external messaging. However, it’s worth considering whether your garden is in touch with the neighborhood outside of your backyard.

 

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