One of the courses I was required to take in junior high (or ‘middle school’ as they call it now, and as I think they’ve always called it here in my newly adopted homeland) was simply called, ‘Electricity.’

I’m not sure why it required a special course, frankly — we discussed electricity in our science classes every year, and we’d all had some hair-raising times with the Van de Graaff Generator by the time we were in seventh grade (and don’t forget ‘The Electric Company’!)

(To this day, I am very handy with a light switch.)

Several times a week, we’d gather in a classroom to learn about charges and currents and magnetism and potential… and a bunch of other things I don’t remember. What does stand out in my memory (besides the experience of electrocuting myself once a month or so during experiments) is the discussion of series circuits versus parallel circuits.

Here’s the sum total of my understanding of this concept: in a series, the current through the components is the same, and the voltage across the components is all the voltages across each component, combined. In a parallel, however, the voltage across all the components is the same, and the total current is the sum of the currents through each component (okay, I got part of that from Wikipedia, but only because my explanation had the word “thingy”.)

The classic example that comes up when you discuss series versus parallel circuits is the type of ‘stringed lights’ many people put up during the winter run of holidays (and around here, usually take down in March (April? May??), when the snow melts):

These lights used to be based on series circuits. If one of the bulbs burnt out (thus eliminating a ‘component’), none of the bulbs would glow red or green. This, of course, was the cause of many a breakdown at the tops of frosty ladders, precariously balanced on roof edges — not to mention despairing sighs indoors when plug met outlet, and nothing happened except… dark.

Nowadays, many stringed lights are based on parallel circuits (which means a broken bulb only creates problems for obsessive-compulsive folks like me, who will notice the tiny dark spot before they see all the pretty lights.)

So why am I dragging you back to the seventh grade (and possible electrocution?)

I want to ask if your marketing plan is a series or parallel circuit.

Ideally, when you set up an integrated marketing plan, you spend some time to figure out where your potential and current users eyeballs and ears are, where they’re actually hanging out, and how they want to interact with you there. You figure out where to disseminate what content, and how often. Then you connect it all with consistent messaging, consistent visual elements, and a consistent level of output and response.

But what often happens — either because of the natural bent of the people implementing the plan, or the ease of a particular platform — is that focus ends up in one venue, and the lion’s share of time and attention ends up going there.

Maybe you’ve got an SEO nut in charge, and all their time goes into Google AdWords, and optimizing your site for the search engines. Maybe you’ve got a crack blogger who loves sharing ideas and facilitating discussion. Maybe you’ve got a social media junkie who loves to talk to your customers on Twitter, or post links to your Facebook group. Maybe you’ve got a PR pro who believes the key to success lies in getting a mention the New York Times.

And those are all good things. For now.

But what if your primary platform stops getting results? What if all the buzz and conversation aren’t translating into actual leads for your business? What if you discover a portion of your audience hanging out somewhere else — somewhere you haven’t even made a dent? What if the main keeper of your marketing torch moves up… or moves on?

Are you agile enough to transition to a new focus? Are you keeping an eye on the best marketing platforms for your industry — rather than just the ones you know best, or the ones where your favorite friends and colleagues are lurking? Are you responding to your community where they spend their time?

Or in other words, if a bulb burns out… will your plan still shine?