I grew up in a tiny, isolated town in Northeast Pennsylvania. Not much to see and not much for a teenager to do besides get in trouble.
However, the region did contain a number of novelties: a nearby town that’s been on fire for over 250 years due to an underground coal mining incident, Amish folks, covered bridges and more. But perhaps the best attraction for the youth trapped in this place that time forgot is an amusement park in the middle of nowhere. It, too, is pretty old.
Free parking and free admission makes Knoebles Amusement Resort the hot spot of summer fun. They have everything: swimming pools, water rides, a haunted house and some very fast, very slick, state of the art roller coasters.
Taking a Seat
But the ride that everyone loved most (or feared most) isn’t state of the art at all. Fast, but definitely not slick. Old as the region itself, the Phoenix sprawls across the park in all its wooden glory.
As a teenager, I would wait in line with my friends, all of us stuffed full of hot dogs, cotton candy and soda, eagerly anticipating the adrenaline rush/near-death experience we knew was coming.
When we finally reached the front of the line, we argued and clambered over each other to get to the front car first, usually to find that it was already occupied. So, we would race with the speed that only 16 year old boys possess to the next best seat — the very last car.
Usually this was also taken. The long line of people continued to pour into the remaining seats, the middle cars. But not us. We waited for the next train car because any self respecting 16 year old wooden roller coaster enthusiasts knows that the best seats are either all the way in the front or all the way in the back.
Marketing in The Front Seat
Roller coaster marketing is not just about choosing the ride. It’s about choosing the right seat.
On the Phoenix, your ride is way more exciting in the front seat because you experience everything first. Every turn is a surprise and you are leading the way.
The cart all the way in the back isn’t quite as exciting, but there’s something you may not know about riding old wooden roller coasters; they’re a little loose. That’s why they are so great. The cars in the middle are anchored to each other in the front and the back, while the cars on each end of the train car have only one other car attached. This allows for more movement, more brushes with death, and more fun.
Marketing trends are very similar. If you jump in at the beginning, you are in a good seat. Not just for the fun and adventure, but for very practical reasons as well. There is less competition, less noise, less distraction, less everything. I’ll give you an example.
My wife knows nothing at all about marketing, but a few years ago she fell in love with a new social media site called Pinterest. She was a pioneer in digitally organizing her every want and desire into clickable images. She now has over 12,500 followers. It may not seem like much to some of you, but keep in mind she is not a brand and has no marketing intentions whatsoever. Her followers are simply the result of early adoption.
The other side to my wife’s story is that she has recently seen the number of new followers slow down to barely a trickle. Why? Because she is now sitting in the middle of the roller coaster. The train car is crowded, heavy, noisy and not much fun.
As Gary Vaynerchuk often says, “Marketers ruin everything.” Don’t get me wrong, Pinterest is still a good place to build a brand and get your marketing on. There’s still value to be had, but it’s much more difficult than it used to be.
Marketing in the Back Seat
Let’s look at the back seat. I think traditional snail mail is a good example of this. The mailbox went from being exciting to being a chore. People used to love getting mail. Early marketing professionals took advantage and made huge bank … until they ruined it.
Our mailboxes became over crowded with junk. People got smarter and the methods quit working. So, marketers quit using it.
Now, my mailbox is mostly empty again. It’s not crowded anymore. The mailbox has now become the backseat of the roller coaster. It’s much easier to stand out in a mailbox these days than it is in an email inbox.
Is There Enough Value in the Middle?
People still enjoy riding roller coasters no matter where they sit.
Some value is better than none at all. But the savvy riders know where they can get the most out of it. My advice? Be an early adapter and capitalize on the fact that not everyone has jumped on the bandwagon quite yet but also don’t ignore those old school marketing channels just because your competition is. A little creativity goes a long way in a less crowded space.
If you find yourself only riding in the middle seat of the roller coaster, ask yourself: Is it worth the ticket price or should you wait for the next one?