A few weeks ago I found myself sitting in a local coffee shop a few blocks from my house. I was surrounded by nine other people who owned and managed small businesses. We were there talking about marketing, specifically, how to improve our marketing without necessarily spending a fortune.
Two things caught my attention.
One was that, as busy as these people were, they still took time from their already full schedules to come here and talk about marketing. They understood the importance of doing it well.
This is a big deal because too many small business owners think of marketing only when an advertising salesperson calls on them. Or, they think about it only after everything else has been taken care of. It’s often treated as a luxury or an afterthought. So I applaud these people for making their marketing a priority.
The second thing that got my attention was how much time we spent talking about the wrong things.
At one point, someone asked the question: "What types of advertising have worked for you?" This sparked a lively discussion about what things people had tried and what results they had experienced.
People wanted to know what worked well because it might also work for them. This might help them get better results and learn from the "mistakes" of others. Or, so the logic goes.
The problem is, this does not work. Planning your marketing is not like buying a stapler or a copier. One size does not fit all. One type of marketing could produce fantastic results for a certain company and be a complete flop for another one. This is true, even if the businesses are in the same industry.
All business are unique. Even businesses that are in the same industry are unique. The goals, attitudes and skills of the owners are different. Their resources, employees and customers are different. No matter how similar they may seem on the outside, they are unique.
Also, most small business owners really do not know what their results are from any given marketing activity. Some are trackable to a certain degree, like a coupon. But, most of the value you get from marketing is impossible to measure. It’s like trying to measure an iceberg without looking under the surface of the water. What you can see is only a small part of the whole. And it’s usually not the important part!
If you’re doing your marketing well, your customers are getting your message from a variety of sources. This helps them remember who you are and become comfortable with you. Remember, people need 8 to 15 repeated exposures to something new before they remember or trust it.
But, they’re not going to tell you about every time they heard or saw your message. They don’t remember most of them. Why would they? They have plenty of their own things to think about. Your advertising is not something most people will take time to remember.
Here’s a way to think about marketing that most of us can relate to.
A couple years ago I tried the Atkins diet to lose weight. Initially it worked and I lost a few pounds. And I knew the weight loss was a direct result of the diet.
But, I hated the diet. It forced me into a routine I did not like. I didn’t consider it a healthy routine. In the end, it didn’t work because it was not something I could sustain. And, it did not change the things in my life that caused me to weigh more than I wanted.
Later, I tried HerbaLife with essentially the same result. Quick weight loss but not sustainable for the long term. And it also failed to address the underlying causes.
Now, I have a better plan. I eat better foods (more fruits and vegetables, less processed foods) and I exercise more. I don’t limit myself to just a few foods or just one type of exercise. I maintain a variety in both. And I do both almost every day.
After several months of eating better and exercising more, I found my weight dropping. I also found I felt better, slept better and had more energy. Rather than just losing weight, I was getting healthier!
Your business works the same way.
If your only goal is to increase sales, then you have a lot of options. And many of them will appear to work in the short term but they fail miserably in the long term. Things like sales, coupons, specials and other one-time promotions are like the fad diets that are so popular. You get fast results but they don’t last long.
Like they say. Easy come. Easy go.
Rather than focusing on increasing your sales, focus on making your business healthier. Decide what that means to you and your business. What are your "healthy business" goals?
Then create a marketing plan to accomplish your new goals. Make it a long term plan you can sustain. Marketing, like healthy living, should be a regular part of your daily routine. It should be automatic. Your marketing should be as much a part of your routine as turning on the lights when you get to work.
So, instead of asking what has worked (or not worked) for someone else, ask yourself the right questions.
Ask yourself what you want from your business. Ask yourself what it means to have a healthy business. What would that look and feel like? Then set some goals to make that happen.
We will continue to talk about this but for now, just ask yourself these questions. And let me know what answers you come up with.
Thanks for reading!