Applying Network Theory to Marketing

It's all about connections.

Network Theory

One of Apiarity’s underlying principles is network theory. While some agencies and consultancies focus on Inbound and creating “buyer personas” of the typical person that would buy your product, reaching individuals with similar characteristics is unsustainable and unrealistic. Network theory is concerned with the relationships between people. As you might realize in your own group of friends, you’re all different. You’re a motley group of characters! However, you still influence each other with recommendations, gifts, and by asking “where did you get those awesome shoes?” 

Visualizing a network

Network theory is actually a theory applied to math, which is why it isn’t a part of mainstream marketing practices. Math is one way to describe the world around us. Network theory is the study of systems and the interactions within them. Usually you see visualizations or graphs of these systems. LinkedIn introduced network theory into social networking when they offered to visualize a map of people’s connections. They showed that a person’s connections isn’t one cloud of points surrounding the user, but a few clusters (k-modes) of which the user is a part. When the user is operating within those clusters, he is contributing to the influences and also being influenced. 

The limitations of demographics and psychographics

Demographics are easy to market to (pick an income level or an age group), but it isn’t an effective way to communicate your product because you are choosing to blast a message to everyone singly. Psychographic is better: you’re focusing on people who have a similar attitude, such as “busy all the time” or value, “quality over quantity,” or interest. However, it’s dangerous to simplify a complex human identity into one or two qualities. You might say that a person cares about quality over what’s “quick,” but what if that applies to everything they do except for one type of product, where quick does matter to them more? There are few people who are black and white about their attitudes, preferring quality over speed in ALL or NO products in their lives. 

What can be observed more truthfully are relationships. Be it weak or strong, a connection between two people—and through groups of people—shows the opportunity to influence one and therefore many. 

Influencer marketing

One strategy that stems from network theory is influencer marketing. You could try to re-invent the wheel and try to reach every individual potential customer from scratch, or you could reach out to an influencer, who is already connected to those people and is influencing them. This is relationship-focused marketing. For example, perhaps you sell haircare products and you know an influential blogger, Mark, who already tells his network about up-and-coming haircare products. You could put a billboard near the demographic you’re trying to reach and hope for the best, even with a nice slogan to take a specific psychographic into account, but if you work with Mark to reach his audience, you’ll have better luck. 

A network is not always reached through influential bloggers, however (and this is often the only example people can think of when they think of influencer marketing). Another network could be an association of financial planners. They all get together twice per year for a conference, they know each other and their work, and often influence each other’s software choices. You could reach out to the association lead, or conference planner, and offer to give a presentation of your financial services software. 

It’s all about connections 

Networks may form around a similar interest or a demographic, but using network theory, the focus remains on the relationship. We often see a chart of people that are interconnected and focus on the nodes. We want to define those nodes and what they can do for us. Often, the connecting lines go unnoticed. Now that you know a little bit about the importance of networks, you’ll hopefully notice those lines. 

I believe that when you reach the right one, you reach many.

What networks can you identify that will help you reach more customers?