Have you ever heard of the Drake Equation?
Probably not. But you might’ve heard of the movie Stardust, based on the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman. Here’s how it starts:
“A philosopher once asked, ‘Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?; Pointless, really…’Do the stars gaze back?’ Now, that’s a question.”
Ok, I know what you’re thinking: It’s all ridiculous. Who cares if the stars are listening? But before you tune out Stardust and Gaiman, one astronomer and astrophysicist back in the middle of the 20th century really cared. His name was Dr. Frank Drake, and in 1960 he was looking — and listening — to the stars.
It wasn’t a harebrained idea, it was calculated. Unhappily for us, Drake wasn’t a reader of Gaiman. But he had been inspired by an article written just seven months prior arguing that current radio telescopes were sensitive enough to pick up transmissions broadcast into space from civilizations orbiting neighboring stars, so he started a systematic search for those potential transmissions.
Did you catch that? He was systematically searching for the transmissions of civilizations orbiting neighboring stars. He was convinced that the stars weren’t just hanging out and looking back, but that they could be talking back.
Let me phrase it to you a different way: He was looking for aliens. That’s a far-fetched idea even now, but back then, it was really off-the-wall.
After all, how does one conduct research on something that no one believes is out there, with tools no one is sure works at such a magnitude, all the while making the measurements understandable enough to repeat?
You start with what you know, and then you consider all of the things you don’t know. Drake went looking for something pretty impossible, but the result was a method that made a lot of the things possible. Here’s where he started:
1. How many stars, solar systems, viable planets, chances of life, chances of evolving intelligent life, changes of responding, changes of radio communication, are there out there?
2.What is the chance that there are civilizations out there trying to listen?
3. What are the chances that they’re listening to the right part of the sky?
4. What are the chances that they’re listening to the right part of the sky, at the right time?
5.What are the chances that they’re listening to the right part of the sky, at the right time, in the right frequency?
It’s a lot of “ifs” (and there’s more where that came from if you’d like to explore). But, when you think about it, so is marketing. This might work if what we know about this is actually true.
You’re about to tell me that there’s NO WAY that this could have anything to do with marketing. But just like Drake’s naysayer’s during his day, you’d be dead wrong. Here’s why: You have a message you need to get out. And just like Drake, you might not know exactly who needs to hear it, where they are, or if they will even reply. Take out “space” and “aliens” and you’ve got a much less exciting project, but you’ve also essentially got yourself the same situation.
Here’s the truth. We live in a world of too much information — the internet these days is a veritable galaxy of digital messages trying to land with audiences — and it’s sometimes a shot in the dark trying to reach the people you’re hoping to engage. There’s a lot out there at any given time, and what you know about your audience (in the beginning) might be very little.
You don’t have to call it space advertising, or extra-terrestrial marketing, or any other far-fetched idea, but it’s essentially what Drake was getting at: He wanted to know what was out there, how to reach them, and what he needed to be doing process-wise so that he could track his progress and make it repeatable. If that doesn’t sound like marketing, I don’t know what does.
But instead of getting set up with the Drake Equation to figure out how to attract an audience, marketers these days just need to consider the basics:
1. Is your audience even out there?
2. When are they listening?
3. When are they most likely to respond (if ever)?
4. Will you be listening for a response when they do?
Luckily, your audience isn’t made up of aliens (or maybe it is, who am I to judge?) and your message isn’t a complicated radio frequency getting blasted into actual space. Hopefully, your message is one that’s going out to people pretty similar to yourself. The key is to get in the right mindset, and really listen to what’s out there. From there, you can figure out where your audience is, when they’re listening, and then you can hone in on what they’re looking for. That’s how you’ll get buy-in, and trust me, it’ll be a lot easier than trying to make contact with aliens. You, unlike Drake, already have a little bit of insight into how your audience thinks and also what sparks their interest.
So take a step back, weigh your data and what you know, and use it to find your aliens. Maybe they’re at work surfing Facebook at noon on Mondays, or at the coffeehouse checking their emails at 6 AM on Thursday mornings, or perhaps, they’re out there rotating around the brightest star in the Milky Way blasting “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” waiting for you to notice them. You’ll never know unless you grab the tools in your marketing toolbox and start listening.