Steve Martin describes in his autobiography an anecdote that captures an important lesson for businesses and organizations working to market or promote themselves.
As an upcoming comic, Martin writes, he was thrilled to be asked to perform on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In the 1970s a shot on The Tonight Show was a one-way ticket to stardom. Or so Martin thought. He writes:
There was a belief that one appearance on The Tonight Show made you a star. But here are the facts. The first time you do the show, nothing. The second time you do the show, nothing. The sixth time you do the show, someone might come up to you and say, “Hi, I think we met at Harry’s Christmas party.” The tenth time you do the show, you could conceivably be remembered as being seen somewhere on television. The twelfth time you do the show you might hear, “Oh, I know you. You’re that guy.”
What Martin came to appreciate—and the lesson for any organization seeking to promote itself or its services—is that breaking into and remaining in public consciousness requires a sustained effort over time. While there are always exceptions, one media story or one advertising campaign probably won’t do much.
Well-known brands are well-known for a reason
This is why even iconic brands like McDonalds, Coke, and Nike spend heavily on marketing and communications. They understand that it takes many messages, delivered through multiple channels, over an extended period of time, before your messages will begin to sink into consumer consciousness.
This is not to suggest that an organization lacking Fortune 500 marketing resources should just throw up its hands. The multiplicity of communications channels today (digital, TV, radio, print, outdoor, direct mail, etc) and the ability to target those communications to your most likely customers allows even smaller budgets to have a positive impact. You might not achieve superstar status like Steve Martin, but with realistic expectations and a well-devised plan, you can increase awareness and preference for your product, service, or organization.
As for Steve Martin? He writes later in his book about finally having what he felt was his breakthrough performance on The Tonight Show:
This was my sixteenth appearance on the show… The next day…I walked into an antique store on La Brea. The woman behind the counter looked at me.
“Are you that boy who was on The Tonight Show last night?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Yuck!” she blurted out.
The book is called Born Standing Up, and it is a tremendously entertaining and insightful read.