Network-Based Marketing

A different lens, perhaps.

Fooocus + "A lonely outsider is connected to a root system that connects him to the rest of humanity. A group of warm, welcoming people beckons the outsider."

…every man is tabernacled in every other and he in exchange and so on in an endless complexity of being and witness to the uttermost edge of the world.

—Cormac McCarthy

What would it look like to think about marketing's #1 goal being: expanding a network [1]?

Most non-professional buyers discover agency-shaped solutions via their social network [2]. This might lead us to think about marketing primarily as the work that expands our professional network and makes us more discoverable, memorable, and referrable within this network.

The ideas we are familiar with -- digital marketing, content marketing, and so forth -- become methods by which we can pursue the #1 goal of network expansion and enrichment. They are not, and never were, strategic goals or standalone systems that completely address our needs. Furthermore, these methods need to be applied in ways that are coherent with the strategic goal of network growth and enhancement.

Thinking of marketing as the work of expanding a professional network might change how we approach the work. While we might use impersonal words like "node" or "density" to simplify talking about our network's structure and quality, we will also start to think of marketing more as the act of cultivating (possibly digitally-intermediated but ultimately) human connections with the right people and less as the act of building a large list or audience.

Setting aside the ways in which a professional network can provide for us emotional benefits, the ideal professional network would have these characteristics:

  • Positioning: All nodes of an ideal network would correctly understand what kind of client and/or problem our business addresses.

  • Respect & Trust: All nodes would respect our expertise and trust our professionalism. (This way of thinking about things comes from the book "How Clients Buy".)

  • Mental Availability: All nodes would easily remember us in every situation where it would benefit them and/or us to do so.

  • Shared Benefit: All nodes would derive at least emotional value from referring us any time there is the opportunity.

  • Competition: An ideal network would include some competitive and some complementary service providers. (Go deeper on this idea:

  • Opportunity: An ideal network would include many nodes who are buyers -- ideal buyers, even -- for our services but the network would not be exclusively or even majority composed of such nodes.

And so perhaps the real work of marketing is: starting with the professional network that you have right now, creatively & generously finding & executing ways of enriching it, and persistently enlarging it along the lines suggested above. This work may involve the tools of digital marketing, direct response marketing, brand marketing, community-building, education, service, or yet others.

What do you think about this idea? Comments are open. -P


  1. I only write about marketing in the context of unlicensed or licensed professional services, not products.

  2. I need to figure out more specific and useful terminology here. When I talk about a buyer's social network, I don't just mean their Twitter or LinkedIn followers. I mean every bi-directional connection they have with any other human. In short, everybody they know. And in the specific context of them seeking an agency or developer-shaped solution to a problem they have, it's everybody they know and might query as part of their discovery process. But for now, I'll just say "social network" to refer to this stuff.

  3. Sometime around 2022 I stopped trying to be an authority or thought leader on... anything. A pure advisory business worked OK as a hobby for me but not-great as a business. Likewise, this email list works better as an outlet for what I'm currently thinking and speculating about than as marketing for my business or ready-to-implement recipe-style guidance for you. Even knowing that, perhaps you'll continue to find value in these periodic essays. I hope so.