Rich Karlgaard:  The era of mass marketing is over, which should surprise no one. Mass marketing peaked in the 1960s. That was after TV sets had penetrated most American households but before we had anything to watch that wasn’t doled out to us by the three major networks. Marketers such as General Motors and Procter & Gamble knew the score, and they knew exactly how to reach us.

Then along came cable television. Then the Web. Media options for today’s viewer/reader/surfer are exploding, and markets are fragmenting. Or vice versa. Best to let the social scientists figure out which is cause and which is effect. For most of us, the more pressing issue is to get our message across ever changing and proliferating media and somehow reach buyers. But how?

Don’t rely on branding, writes marketing expert Greg Stielstra in his new book, PyroMarketing (HarperBusiness, $21.95). Branding is "overvalued and badly misunderstood." A study cited by Stielstra found that 96% of consumers would dump their favorite brand if a competing product offered more value at the same price.

How do you reach today’s fickle customers? When budgets are tight? When your CFO sees marketing as a cost?

Stielstra says the marketer’s dilemma–fragmented markets, proliferating media–is like that of the man lost in the freezing wilderness. He must start a fire to survive. Which of the fuel options available (branches, brush, etc.) should he choose? And what if his tightfisted CFO gave him only one match? "Picturing a single match is a reminder of the finite nature of your marketing resources," Stielstra writes. "No matter what they are–money, people or time–you only have so much. Opportunity costs are critical. How will you use your match? What will you touch it to? What tactics will deliver results? Use it wisely by building your marketing fire according to proven principles. You may only get one chance."

Staying with PyroMarketing‘s fire metaphor, Stielstra recommends four steps to take to build a successful marketing campaign on a shoestring budget … or a single match.

Gather the driest tinder. "Selling SUVs?" Stielstra asks. "Don’t think about a prospect’s income or age. Instead, try contacting people whose cars were recently rescued by tow trucks from a snowbank." People, that is, who need your product now.

Touch it with the match. "Give [people] an experience with your product or service." A nutty but effective example: In 2002 Procter & Gamble promoted its Charmin toilet paper by supplying high-end toilets called "Potty Palooza" at events such as Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest and at the Super Bowl. As Advertising Age wrote: "On one side, a row of typically wretched public toilets at last year’s Oktoberfest in Cincinnati. On the other, squeaky-clean, tractor-trailer-mounted ["Potty Palooza"] bathrooms complete with running water, wallpaper, faux wood floors and plenty of Charmin toilet paper. The feedback was instant." In one year Charmin, er, touched 2 million people in Potty Paloozas, and Charmin sales went up 14% among those who used the facilities.

Fan the flames. Turn your first customers into rabid evangelists. The minister Rick Warren sold the first 400,000 copies of his book The Purpose-Driven Life for $7 each to ministers and other churchgoers. Study groups were formed to discuss the book, and sales boomed. The Purpose-Driven Life has sold 26 million copies to date and is the bestselling hardcover book in history.

Save the coals. Keep a database of your customers. Then you won’t have to start the next marketing campaign from scratch.

If your goal is to create killer marketing campaigns with few resources, PyroMarketing is a good guide.