Two Marketing Takeaways from Our Northern Minnesota Fishermen

Fishing is the activity of trying to catch fish. — Wikipedia

I currently live in Minnesota, famously nicknamed “The Land of 10,000 Lakes.” This state slogan is even on the license plates here. (Truth is, there are actually around 15,000 lakes in Minnesota.) Whether it’s 10 or 15 thousand, both numbers are a pretty good indicator as regards why there are so many bait shops in this region.

Where there are fish there are fishermen (and women). And in Minnesota they’re pretty serious about it.

Over lunch with a friend this week we got to talking about marketing and he shared the following analogy about fishing and the insights it offers to marketers.

In its simplest form marketing, like fishing, has two basic parts: preparation and execution.


After lunch I stopped to see another friend who is also a serious fisherman. I asked him to explain what’s involved in getting ready for a fishing outing.

He said, first you have to decide what kind of fish you want. This will determine what kind of bait you use. Then you want to learn about the lake. You need to do research to learn the topography and where the fish are likely to be. They sell maps for some of this info but you can learn a lot by talking with folks at the bait shops.

Next you get gas, bait, beer and other supplies. There’s a financial piece, too. You need enough money to fund your trip.

In addition to knowing the right part of the water to cast into, it also helps to know the right time of day to fish, which means understanding the behavior of fish based on weather conditions and learning how to read the environment.

Another part of your planning includes knowing what you plan to do with the fish you catch. There are ample quantities of details to think through before launching off into the deep. Have you done your homework?


While preparation precedes any serious weekend fishing excursion, execution of the plan is equally important. How many businesses have drawn up wonderful plans, even found funding, only to flounder in the execution stage.

In marketing this means — assuming you have a product that truly meets a need — casting your message into the water, and casting enough times to actually capture the attention of the fish you are trying to catch.

Early in my advertising career I was ushered into the office of “the big boss” where I was shown an ad in the tabloid-sized mag, Advertising Age. He showed me a page with nine photos of an Afghan Hound. The first eight showed the Afghan standing there staring at the camera with a blank expression on its face. Beneath each photo is the caption, “Sit.” In the ninth picture the Afghan is sitting.

Beneath this sequence of images is the point: It takes nine impressions before your audience connects with what you are saying.

This was in the 1980s, and with all the noise today that number might be 20 or even thirty impressions before you get through.

This is what fishermen learn early and can teach us as marketing professionals. You can’t (usually) just cast your line and catch a fish. The usual process is casting, and casting again. Over time you may get a nibble. And a couple more nibbles. Then, if you’ve got the right bait or lure, and the fish is ready, you’ll get a bite and hook him.

Still, sometimes even when you’ve done everything right the fish don’t bite. You cast and cast, perhaps change your bait selection or switch out your lure, and you still get skunked. On those days, it is what it is.

It may be the product, it may be the message, it may be the wrong location. Or, but it could be that you’ve got everything right, and the conditions just weren’t right for the fish.

In moments like these you need a good team whose analysis is not driven by political power aims, with no preconceived agenda, a team only concerned with what is in the best interest of the company. It might be to go back to the same fishing hole tomorrow that you failed at today. Then again, what are the fish telling you?

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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