Single-Use Marketing Programs

Last week, rap group Wu-Tang Clan announced a never-before tried launch program for its new album later this year. Called The Wu: Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, the collection of songs will be sold to one — and only one — person, after touring museums and galleries, where you will be able to buy a ticket to listen to the album for $30 to $50, according to this piece by Ilan Mochari in Slate.

It’s a cool idea, and it’s definitely innovative. It might work and sell lots and lots of other Wu-Tang stuff, including copies of the album they’re going to release this year in a more normal way, with more than one copy available. Will it work? Who knows? It’ll be fun to watch.

But what I can tell you for sure is that if someone else tries this again, it won’t work nearly as well. And a third single-copy album promoter? No one will even care. Like Jay-Z’s Samsung tie-in last year and Beyoncé’s surprise album release back in December, this might strike a note that spikes interest, which leads to success.

Being audacious, novel or just cool and unique leads to attention, which leads to sales. Once it’s been done, though, you can’t do it again because it’s not audacious, novel or cool and unique. It’s normal.

But that’s OK. These are single-use marketing programs. Most marketing should be repeatable and have a long life. Get good at search engine optimization or content marketing or making TV ads or using social media to drive conversations, and you can keep those going for a long while. Some campaigns last years and keep delivering good results.

Other campaigns are one-timers. They’re like fireworks in that they put on a heck of a show and get you attention, but they also burn up and fly away, making it hard to use them again.

Sometimes, though, that’s exactly what you need. A single-use marketing campaign that redefines your show/venue/company forever and that you can build on. I tell this to groups of budding entrepreneurs all the time: not everything has to scale. Translating from tech talk, that means not everything has to work when long term and when it’s bigger. Some things need to do their job, like a booster engine on a rocket, getting you some place you couldn’t otherwise get to and then being jettisoned back to Earth.

The challenge is to recognize the moment when you need a single-use marketing program, do it big and don’t try to repeat yourself.

You can’t launch a rocket twice!

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