Marketing to the Taliban

What the hell is a market these days?

TalibanAs an adjunct instructor of marketing communications writing at NYU, I am compelled to raise the question continuously throughout the course. Why? Because the answer seems to change by the day and a viable answer is needed to give writers a point of entry for communicating successfully.

Sure, the market can be a place, like a supermarket, or an industry, like automotive, including dozens of sub-categories within them.

But today markets are all about human beings – smaller and smaller sub-groups of people with something in common – identified and characterized in detail (for better or worse) thanks to the Internet. We can find out how people identify themselves. We can learn about their politics. We know how they search for information. We know about the information they discard. And of course, we learn what people buy.

So, now we can isolate groups like senior women who like to skateboard. Pre-teen boys who are avid gardeners. Late-era baby boomers born in 1960 who like accordion music. Ex-hippies who joined the Tea Party. Members of the Taliban.

Wait. Did I just say members of the Taliban? Yup, but for a reason.

In the Kumar Province in Afghanistan, the Central Asia Institute is running a thriving school for teenage girls in a Taliban-controlled area. The problem: the fundamentalist Taliban don’t believe in educating girls after they’ve reached puberty. The school survives for two reasons. It’s run by the Imam of the local mosque (not an outsider), and he overcomes Taliban protests by calling the school a madrassa. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff explains, “that’s less alien to the fundamentalists and gives them a face-saving excuse to look the other way.”

To Make a Long Story Short…

We business writers can talk about demographics all day long, but we have the best chance of being persuasive if we REALLY know our target audience…real people, quirky and difficult to categorize in traditional ways.

Even if they are a bunch of dangerous thugs in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Writers write. But if you’re in the business of influencing or persuading groups of people, writers need context. Words written in a vacuum have no power or resonance.

In my next blog, I’ll address another key question that give writers a framework to guide them. And as you’ve seen above, storytelling is key.

3 comments on “Marketing to the Taliban

  1. Seems simple, yet many writers, and bloggers, do not begin by clearly identifying their target audience. This is especially important for blogs, as the more specifically you target your readers, the more focused your blog posts will be. The more focused the posts, the more likely they will be picked up, not just by Google bots, but by real people–ideally one’s target audience.

  2. Well…you sure know how to get attention. Edgy way to make an important point. Thanks for provoking thought. Peter

  3. Nice job and a very cogent argument.

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