Genghis and the Modern Merchant

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In the 13th century, when Genghis Khan made his devastating march through Jin China, he was preparing to follow his usual playbook: kill everyone. Literally, his management team felt the natural endpoint of conquest was genocide. Yelü Chucai gently nudged him to reconsider: “Genghis, buddy, if we kill everyone, who will pay the taxes?”*

To avoid confusion in this story, you, the retail marketer, are represented by the Jurchen Jin not Genghis Khan. You are the one who is allowed to survive not out of love or humanity but because of what you will yield.

Every day you pay increasing taxes to giant media entities for whom your company’s existence is a slightly irritating byproduct of your ability to pay your media bills. Your products are a way to populate search results or fill a sidebar ad or populate a newsfeed. They are not the result of your brand’s creativity, passion, and endurance. Your programmatic media spend is a tax that is algorithmically designed to keep you alive, barely, so that you can pay your next month’s fees.

Genghis doesn’t care about you.

To relieve you from this grim metaphor, know that your brand is excellent and that your products are too. There has never in history been more innovative, unique, well-made products, both digital and physical. I can literally select from 100s of backpacks, most of which are designed with passion and purpose. You work hard to please customers, and your customers like you.

Consumers need you to win, want you to win.

So this year, 8 centuries from the desolation of the marauding hordes, lets make a pledge to spend more money with our customers and less on programmatic. Make the 10% commitment – set a goal that 10% of your new customer acquisition will be from rewarded referrals from your existing customers.

That’s right, instead of paying a toll to the troll under the bridge for the courtesy of not being eaten, reward a real person who really likes your brand. Your advocates are doing the same job as your media, only better.

Can you get to 10%? It will probably comfort you that it is not only possible, but it is incredibly rewarding. Having a smoothly running referral and advocacy program will not only allow you to acquire customers at a reasonable (and morally defensible) CPA, but the customers you acquire, and the advocates who do the referring, will be more loyal, will spend more, and will refer more frequently than those you got through any other channel.

It is time.

The customers you acquire, and the advocates who do the referring, will be more loyal, will spend more, and will refer more frequently than those you got through any other channel.

Or you can keep doing what you are doing. But remember that even though Genghis and his sons came around to the idea of exploiting rather than exterminating the Jin, the Khans’ taunt to Chucai was, ”Are you going to weep for the people again?” It is time to work with people who will care about you, your people, your customers.

*This is not a precise translation, but reflects the spirit of his comments in the “Southern Song”


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Author: Chris Duskin

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