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Introduction to Hub Marketing

(excerpted from my eBook Hub Marketing)

When I was in my early twenties, I had a private meeting with Vicente Fox, who wasn’t yet the President of Mexico but still the governor of his home state of Guanajuato. 

I hadn’t intended for it to be a private meeting.

I was running the youth portion of something called The World Social Forum in San Francisco. Vicente spoke and I was very moved by what he had to say. And, in my youth, obsessed with the spotlight of fame and desiring to be anywhere near it and convinced that this man would become the President of Mexico one day, I began wondering about how I could have a conversation with him.

I was friends with Claire Garrison, the wife of Jim Garrison who ran the forum. I didn’t think Vicente would agree to meet with me, but he might agree to meet with myself if the other young people were there and if Claire, who I knew he was close to, was there. 

So, I approached Claire and said, “Claire! All of the youth are having breakfast together tomorrow and we were wondering if you’d like to join us!” She was delighted to be invited. 

The rest of the youth knew nothing about this, yet.

I turned to Vicente, “Mr. Fox,” I said. “The youth and Claire are having breakfast tomorrow and wondering if you might join us.” 

“Well, I wouldn’t have long because I have a flight to catch but certainly I could spare half an hour.”

“Wonderful! Let’s meet in the lobby of the Fairmont at 9am.”

The deal was struck and I marched off to convince the rest of the youth in this program about what a fine idea this all was. They mostly nodded and agreed to be there. “This is great!” they said. “Thanks for setting it up!” they said. Some declined and a few pointed out that it was the last night of the Forum and this meant it was a big party night and, well, they’d have to see how they felt in the morning.

But, after an evening of hustling, I felt confident that I’d rustled up enough young people to make it worth everyone’s while. 

The next morning, I made my way to the Lobby to see Governor Fox waiting for me with no other young people around. And Claire was nowhere to be seen either. After a few minutes, my stomach dropped as I realized the truth. I told him, “I am so sorry. I think everyone is hung over. I think I’m it.” And so we sat and talked for thirty minutes about leadership and the world. I wish I could say I remember any of it. Towards the end, as the good Governor was leaving, Claire arrived and we wandered off to breakfast together.


“Where do I find clients? Where do I advertise?” Ahh. This plaintive cry is all too often heard by people in my business.

Of course, all of this starts with your niche which I’ve written about extensively in my book The Niching Nest. Your niche is this strange constellation of what you do, how you do it and for whom. It’s your role in the community. One of the central questions that niching asks of us is: who are your people? Until this is identified, the above questions remain impossible to answer. 

In the world of word of mouth marketing, we have a name for the places where you can find your people. We call them ‘hubs’. Why? Well, the hub of the wheel is the only point on the wheel where all of the spokes connect. The hubs to market to are the only places where your target market hangs out and connects. They’re the center of your niche’s world. They are very, very important.

Hub Marketing is one of the core things that I teach in my marketing workshops. 

Out of everything that I teach, it’s one of the pieces that when I ask at the end, “What was most useful to you, most practical?” it’s the piece that people tend to come back to. Hub marketing is one of these approaches to marketing that it not only is cheaper, sometimes free, it’s more effective than other forms of marketing, and not just like 10 or 20% but sometimes two, three times, ten times more effective as an approach to marketing.

It feels better to do it but it also feels better to be on the receiving end, and it’s one of the magical things about marketing that is a good question to ask of our marketing as my colleague George Kao suggested, whenever you’re about to do an approach, some technique, some tactic, to ask yourself if everybody in the marketplace used this approach, what would happen to the marketplace?

Of course, we can see the results of that all around us, the ways that we mistrust certain people, and even within this conscious business scene, there’s a certain mistrust and a certain suspicion because certain techniques get used a lot. There are consequences to what we do. This is an approach that if everyone did it, the marketplace would actually in my mind be a much more trustworthy and safe place for people to be in.

It’s a big thing, this whole idea. I don’t know why this isn’t taught more. I don’t know why this isn’t one of the core pieces of content in every marketing training there is because I just feel like it’s the center of everything, and to give credit where it’s due, this whole notion of hub marketing, originally I had heard notions of it from Jay Abraham. The way he talked about it was host parasite marketing but it was strategic ventures, are there businesses you could partner with that are already connected to your people.

Then another fellow was Dominic Canterbury from Seattle who was one of the first people to use that word and say it in a way that really landed for me differently. This idea of hubs and creating hubs, and using them in marketing but also in social change is something that I’ve done my whole life. It’s just been a very intuitive thing for me as well.

Hubs and Niches:

Here’s the thing. When I say the hub is the center of a wheel, it’s where all the spokes connect, you can’t be a hub for everything. That’s an important point to get. There’s no such thing as a hub for everybody? Yes, there is. It’s called planet earth.

Hubs circle around where they are the center of a very particular niche or community. 

Here are some examples of how this works and why it matters. 

In direct mail, if you sent out 100 salesletters to people who had never heard of you, you’d be lucky to get 5 responses. Five responses would actually be considered pretty good. But, if 100 people got a letter from their dear and trusted friend endorsing something relevant and valuable to a problem they were experiencing – you might see 20, 40 or even 60 responses.

That’s Hub Marketing. Hub Marketing works better. 

People don’t trust advertising. They don’t want to talk to salespeople. They love buying, but they hate being sold to. They want to find something perfect for them, but they don’t want to be pressured about it. They want to receive information in a no-pressure way so that they can make their own decisions about whether or not something is a fit. And they would, ideally, like to receive the introduction from a friend they trust.

But Hub Marketing isn’t always so formal. In his book, The Great Formula, Mark Joyner asked the question, “If you had a hamburger stand and were only allowed one competitive advantage, what would it be?”

And, of course, the ideas immediately come: best sauces, 100% organic, vegetarian focus, local, pasture raised meats, best service etc. But, he points out, there’s only one competitive advantage worth choosing if you can only choose one: to be right next to a hungry crowd.

Think about the girl guides who sell their cookies outside of a bong shop. Or taxis who wait around outside the bars at 1am. Or the coffee shops in bookstores. This is also Hub Marketing.

Finding a complimentary business can be a great example of this dynamic. Here’s some simple mainstream examples of businesses that are a natural fit and could benefit from working together.

  • Pizza place and video rental store
  • Accountant and financial planner
  • Toy store and fast food chain
  • Dry cleaner and clothing store
  • Paint store and tile business
  • Jewelry store and wedding supply
  • Girl guides selling their cookies outside of a bong shop. 

Why do they work so well together? They have the same customer. The ‘common customer’ is the center of the joint venture marketing concept. It’s the center of this notion of hubs. Where else – besides your business do your ideal clients hang out? Well, your customers are also customers of other businesses that sell related products. 

Another example might be this: suppose that you are a personal sports trainer. You help your customers get and stay healthy. Most likely your customers also purchase products and services from:

  • athletic shoe stores
  • athletic apparel stores
  • athletic equipment providers
  • fitness centers
  • health-related mail order catalogue
  • health related magazines and books
  • health food and nutrition stores
  • sports events
  • health related television providers

If you were a chiropractor. Then hubs for you could be:

  • orthopedic doctors, 
  • massage therapists, 
  • physical therapists, 
  • family physicians, 
  • local gym owners and managers, 
  • outpatient placement coordinators, etc. 

Think also about…

  • event planners who partner with venues, 
  • chefs and caterers partnering with someone who rents out very unique antique China sets for parties
  • the acupuncturist focusing on rest/rejuvenation partnering with yoga teachers and nutritionists
  • a mentor for ‘mothers and daughter pairs’ partnering with girls after school and summer camps and other youth program leaders 
  • a bodywork/massage teacher partnering with pilates studio that trains teachers
  • a birthing teacher partnering with doulas, pre-natal yoga instructors, midwives
  • a business coach partnering with professional organizers and money coaches and bookkeepers and web designers
  • a teacher/tutor of cosmic science classes partnering with home school community

What would happen if you actually set a meeting with hubs in your network to come up with potential promotions that you could do together? The payoff could be tremendous.

And what would happen if you could find a way to be the first person in their mind when someone comes to them looking for what it is that you offer? We’re going to explore how to do just that.

Welcome to Hub Marketing.

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