The Pilgrims: Marketers Extraordinaire

Perhaps it’s my upbringing on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, or my love for history, but either way, when I read the Boston Globe’s article on how the Pilgrims learned marketing, I knew I had to speak on it.

I know what you’re thinking: The Pilgrims weren’t toiling away online and creating ad boards in the office, so really, how could they have been doing “marketing”? To understand this, we need to remember the heart of what marketing is: the action of promoting or selling products or services. These products don’t necessarily have to be material objects. In the case of the Pilgrims, their product was their land.

In the spring of 1621, the Pilgrims were facing a wipeout due to disease and the harsh weather of the past winter. In order to survive, they needed to get more potential settlers to come over from England. The problem? England was 3,000 miles away, and the Pilgrims were running out of food and supplies. Their plan? They turned to the trend of how people were receiving their information. In England, literacy rates were on the rise, and Shakespeare’s plays were in full force. There was a demand in the market for new reading material, so the Pilgrims started writing.

By the time the winter of 1621 arrived, little progress had been made. While talk about the “New World” was positive, only thirty-five new settlers had come over from England (a small number when compared to those Pilgrims who had previously died) and with few supplies.

This is where the Pilgrims’ marketing efforts became influential: When their first strategy didn’t work, they tried again. They gave the British incentive, and took the time to get to know their land. To do this, they had to learn from the Indians about the land they were on. After gaining insight on the ins and outs of the New World, they gave the British what they wanted: proof. Now, the “joyful beginning land” that was headlined as “one of the most fruitful parts of the world” was covered in every British citizen’s morning paper, accompanied by the animal furs the Pilgrims shipped overseas. Visions of shellfish, fruits, fish, and rich soil filled the heads of many English folk.

The Pilgrims most daring marketing stunt: bringing Pocahontas to London. This impressed, eased fears, and convinced the British of how mystical and bountiful the new land truly was.

While we are not here to market for our survival, one thing is certain: Marketing needs to be direct, simple, and positive. When one way of reaching your target audience isn’t as effective as you thought it would be, try alternate routes. Give your target audience incentive, and most important, know (like the back of your hand) your “land.”

--Bella Walko, Blue Shoe Strategy

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