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Marketing is an Invitation

How many invitations have you created or received so far in your lifetime? I don’t just mean formal invitations that come in the mail, or even convenient email invites that allow you to RSVP with a few clicks. How many texts have you received to join a group for drinks? How many times have you asked a friend to see a movie with you, or meet at the park for a picnic? Have you ever invited your toddler to snuggle on the couch with you, or invited your dog outside for a walk?


Every invitation prepares someone for something that is to come. And the invitation itself conveys far more information about that coming experience than most of us ever think about.

When you receive that text invite, for example, you probably expect something casual. When a toddler sees his mom open her arms wide, he knows he’s going to get a hug. The very same invitation from dad, however, might mean he will be tossed high up in the air rather than snuggled. When you receive a wedding invitation in the mail, you’ll register multiple clues to help you determine how formal the event will be.


An invitation is never a standalone experience. It is always one step in an experience process. The invitation confers agency onto the receiver to make choices about their next step in that process.


Marketing Invitations Request a Response

Marketing for your business works exactly like an invitation. In the past, I’ve defined marketing as “it’s a conversation,” which I still believe is true, to some degree. But through the years of working in marketing for a variety of organizations, this idea of marketing as an invitation really seems to nail it down.


Your marketing will invite an audience to experience something next.

As an invitation, your marketing will give the audience several clues (both apparent and subtle) about what to expect. Your Call to Action (CTA) is a request to RSVP, or to make a decision about your invitation. They will RSVP, or make that decision, based on the information in the invitation.

formal invitation

An RSVP is one step of commitment in the invitation or marketing process. Whenever people are considering a purchase, they go through a decision-making process. Someone who delivers an RSVP of yes is making a commitment to the experience, but they still need to actually get themselves to it. A no is a committed refusal of the invitation, but it does not always include an explanation. Sometimes a no is about availability rather than desire. A non-answer is a commitment to not engage with the invitation, but that does not tell you what they have decided about the experience. We all know someone who never answers the text invite, but always shows up at the activity.


In some cases, like a planned dinner or a wedding, the RSVP is vital to the experience. It’s an isolated event, and the decision is technically permanent. Sometimes, it’s just general information that does not affect future invites at all. A person is not available that particular day, but may have attended otherwise. Sometimes it’s helpful information that helps you tailor future invites. Your friend with severe seasonal allergies is never going to join you at the park in May.


In marketing, think of the RSVP as the potential client’s decision to take the next step. Just as you wouldn’t send an invitation without some sort of RSVP (whether implied or explicit), you should never put out a piece of marketing that doesn’t include a CTA. This CTA could be clicking on a link to a blog on your website, clicking “see more” in your truncated LinkedIn post, entering their email address to download a resource, or registering for an event. Very rarely is an RSVP the step that leads immediately to a purchase. Outside of impulse buys at the grocery store cash register, most people do not hand over their money after a single invitation.


Tailor Your Invitation to the Expected Experience

Your marketing is not one single invitation. Just as you have sent a variety of invitations for a variety of experiences over the course of your life, you will develop all kinds of invitations to different experiences in your business. What is consistent about your personal invitations is that they all come from you. Everyone who receives them understands something about the experience just by connecting it to you. Your business branding will be the common thread in all of your marketing invitations.


When I planned my wedding, I decided to work with a professional graphic designer for our invitations. My wedding was about my fiance and me as a couple. We have our own unique style, values, and aesthetic. We wanted to plant the seed for what guests could expect from our entire wedding experience by creating an invitation that matched us perfectly. 


Every invitation involved with your brand will build on your audience’s understanding of what they will experience with you. Those who are attracted to the invitation will enter into the experience looking for continuity of their initial impression.

wedding invitation
My real (original) wedding invitation (before COVID happened and we rescheduled).

If my wedding guests had arrived on our big day and found the style, formality, and aesthetics to be drastically different from the invitations they received, they would have been surprised and distracted from the overall event. It’s like if the invitation had said “Casual Attire” and the guests dressed so accordingly, but when they arrived the event was black-tie, they would most likely feel embarrassed - not how we’d want to make guests feel. The goal of our invitation was to initiate their familiarity with the impending event so they had an idea of what to expect. 


When a potential client accepts your invitation, they have expectations based on that initial information. Your branding, content, and follow-up invitations should all be consistent with what they gleaned from the invitation. There is a psychological effect when you create continuity of experience by utilizing the same fonts, colors, imagery, and language in the invitation as the subsequent event.  Doing so helps you build trust with your audience and helps them digest information much more easily. 


In professional marketing, we pay attention to the people who keep accepting a business’s invitations. They are the ones who should eventually become clients. If they don’t, then we will explore the possibilities of why they are not accepting that final invitation to become a client. Sometimes it’s because that particular invitation is actually missing or not clear. Sometimes it means that we are inviting the wrong audience, and we need to do more persona research. And sometimes, we discover that the experience does not match the invitation, and we need to make some changes to the overall content.


When Invitations are Refused or Ignored

A common marketing mistake business owners make is to invite anyone and everyone to their experience. Rather than target the audience who fits the profile of their ideal client, they try to capture clients from a non-specific audience. Then they are surprised when very few people accept the invitation.


This would be like mailing our wedding invitations to everyone on a random postal route, rather than specifically addressing each envelope to a chosen guest. Why would a group of people want to attend a stranger’s wedding? Perhaps because of the free meal and open bar, but most people would just feel awkward or be too busy to go. Our guest list was limited to special people who know and love us. 


Your marketing will be most effective when you tailor your invitations to the right audience. I help my clients identify this audience through research, persona identification, and strategy planning. Then we build both invitations and experiences that are designed to attract and connect with that audience.


This is one of the most difficult steps for business owners. These are the most frequent objections:

  • Everyone can benefit from our services.”

  • “I don’t want to miss out on business.”

But hear me out - the more generic you make your marketing activities and message, the less people will pay attention.

Your message gets watered down and doesn’t stand out against all the noise. If you really want people to notice and respond you have to speak directly to them, using their language, talking about their pain points, and offering up something that is truly valueable to them.


Where marketing invitations differ from personal invitations is in the delivery. I controlled exactly who received my wedding invitation. In marketing, more often than not, we aren’t specifying the exact people who receive the invitations (this can happen in specific circumstances, but not for most types of marketing tactics).


We target our activities to the groups of people who are most likely to be our ideal clients, but the group will include many of those who we know are right and some who may not be right for the experience. Our goal is to design the invitation in such a way that those who aren’t the right fit will excuse themselves by answering no or not engaging at all with the invitation.


There are people from the target audience who will also RSVP no or give no answer at all. We might pick them up with a different invitation that better fits their availability, interests, or needs. 


There were people who could not attend my wedding because of very valid reasons. They still received our Christmas Cards and invitations to our Open House or other events, and we still maintained relationships with them. They were interested in us, so we continued engaging with them by extending new invitations.

Persistence in your marketing plan means continuing to send invitations to people who are interested in your brand. They will accept the invitation when it is right for them.

This is why it’s important to keep in mind the persona journey, understanding that people are at different stages of that journey.


What Is Your Business Inviting People To?

One of the reasons I use this invitation analogy for marketing is that I want to drive home the point that marketing is not the end game.

As business owners we don’t do marketing just for the sake of marketing; we do it to achieve a goal. Ultimately, yes, marketing is about supporting sales, but many, if not most, marketing activities are not about directly producing sale. In fact, most marketing activities are not about making the sale, especially for service providers.


someone handing an invitation to a person

Marketing invites people into your experience. It gives them information about who you are, what you are like, what you know, how you can help, and what they can expect when they engage with your content. As they enter the experience, they will learn more about you, accept other invitations, and move deeper into the experience before they decide to become your client. This might sound long and drawn out. Sometimes it is. Some sales cycles take time. Others may only take a matter of hours or days. This can vary from business to business, or even from service to service within the same business. The process might be quick for selling your online course but long for signing a one-to-one client.


Part of the research that goes into designing your experiences and invitations will involve identifying the rhythm and timeline of your sales cycle. I challenge you to review all of your current marketing assets in the perspective of this concept of invitations to experiences.


If you’re not quite sure that you’re inviting the right people in the right way to the right experiences, I’d love to help you revise your strategy. Get in touch to book a discovery call.

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