In Defense of Marketing… For Small Businesses and Mom & Pops

It’s hard to believe how many of restaurateurs, small business owners and solo entrepreneurs have told me that they:

• “don’t do marketing”
• “don’t have a website, and don’t need one”
• “don’t need professional photos because you do it yourself” or
• “are too small for professional photos”
• “only need word of mouth”
• “want to grow organically”…

Regardless of whether you have few customers and you’re struggling, OR if you have plenty of customers, and you think you’re totally fine, it may be time for you to rethink your strategy, if you hope to become profitable, grow your empire or, simply, survive.

Marketing is Essential, It’s Not a Scam

In previous posts I’ve discussed how marketing is not just a one time thing, but rather it’s effects are cumulative and marketing itself must be done continually, and, basically, all the time. This is not just me (as a marketer) telling you this for my own benefit, so you keep hiring me, and I keep making money. (That would be pretty skeezy of me… though, I’m sure there are some people that do that…) Please, stay with me, and I’ll explain why this is really for your benefit, not mine.

First, realize, the fact is, if you resonated with any of the bullet points above, and you do aim to be successful – whatever your definition, whether that means a 100% profit margin, opening multiple locations, or simply hitting six or seven figures in revenue – you must understand that these are limiting beliefs and they will prevent you from realizing your business’ full potential.

Listen, I know that there are zillions (technical number) of blogs, experts and gurus out there that will tell you that you have to do marketing, and that sometimes it can feel like it’s a complete scam – especially if you’ve tried one marketing tactic, such as magazine advertising, and it didn’t give the desired results – and, so, as a result, you might be dead set on growing your independent business “organically”…

Well, what if, like most things, marketing is really something that you can learn, do better at over time and eventually master?

What if it wasn’t something you did only once, or only when there is a problem, but something that you looked at as a constant, and something you could improve at over time? Where would you be able to take your business?

What if it wasn’t a sham? And… what if it wasn’t sleezy, but rather an useful tool and respectable thing to do?

The Myth of “Organic Growth”

Before I go any further, the first thing we need to clear up is that “organic growth” is somewhat of a myth.

Think about it. Ask yourself, “Why am I so set on growing ‘organically’ and what do I mean by that?”

I repeat, what do you mean when you say you want to grow organically?

Does it mean growing a business without putting yourself out there so that people know you exist? Does it mean not doing any paid advertising? Does it mean not paying for exposure at all? Does it mean growth only by “word of mouth”? Does it mean growing your business by not doing “marketing”? If so, why do you believe this is the right path and why do you want that? Really challenge yourself to dig into those deep-seated scripts you have about marketing and understand whether you have a negative story about it, a limiting belief or simply a lack of knowledge on the topic. Be honest.

Next, let’s define “organic growth”…

According to Wikipedia, “Organic growth is the process of business expansion by increased output, customer base expansion, or new product development, as opposed to mergers and acquisitions, which is inorganic growth.”

In this sense, yes, organic growth really happens, but I urge you to consider what it is you mean when you use the phrase organic growth, and what practical measures you will take in order to make it happen. Because, if you’re in the camp I am describing above, and it means growth only by word of mouth or without doing or investing in marketing, this is probably not an ideal strategy if you hope to actually grow your business’ net profit or sales.

…And, if we take the definition of organic growth from Wikipedia, it really doesn’t even say anything about having an aversion to investing (time/thought/energy/money) in marketing. It’s a distinction between growth by doing more work versus buying/acquiring assets. It says nothing about not marketing; in fact, by this definition, marketing is pretty much a basic requirement of organic growth, because expanding customer bases, putting out new products and expanding output all require putting in place a system to let people know about what you’re doing.

Note, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to successfully grow a business by word of mouth, but in today’s climate, it’s highly improbable that using only word of mouth tactics will create the success you desire in a timely fashion (i.e. fast enough for you to be able to actually make rent, pay debts on time and on a regular basis, etc.). But, why?

Why Your Business Probably Needs More than “Word of Mouth”

It’s simple.

First, almost every market is already saturated.

And second, human nature is such that people are more likely to remember and share stories of negative experiences than positive ones, so people are less likely to hear about a great experience at your establishment than they are about a terrible one at someone else’s. (See these articles for more info: NY Times article, Beyond Article, and Wikipedia)

Ok. Are you with me so far?

If so, then are you starting to see the benefit of marketing?

Before we go on, lets’s review a basic definition of marketing, so that we’re all on the same page. This one comes from last year’s introductory post in my Back to Basic’s series:

Marketing is the collection of any research, activities or communications done in order to create awareness, value, or a selling opportunity for the company’s offer and in order to create, maintain or enhance the company’s relationship to its audience as well as its emotional (brand) impact and overall reach. Marketing includes many tactics, such as paid advertising, promotional events, promotional sales (discounts), charity event sponsorships, market research, focus groups, customer service, public relations, loyalty programs, referral bonuses, social media, blogging, direct mail, websites, promotional materials, etc.

Ok, now that we’re on the same page, and we have a clear definition of marketing, let’s continue to discuss why it’s necessary.

5 Reasons Marketing Is Necessary – Even for Small Businesses and Solo-Entrepreneurs

1. Defensive Strategy = Beating Competition

I can hear people telling me, “but I don’t need to do marketing because I already have enough customers…”

Sure, perhaps you have enough customers NOW, but what about when the empty space down the block fills in with a business that is in direct competition to yours? Or, when the trend that your business jumped on goes out of fashion?

Even in smaller markets where you might have a monopoly on coffee shops or handmade bakery items, you have competition and the market is saturated, or quickly on its way to becoming so. It’s literally only a matter of time before competition will impact you, if it isn’t already. But it probably is. (Coffee shops are in competition with gas stations, bakeries are in competition with grocery stores, and your farm stand is even in competition with online stores.)

So, how do you combat this proactively?

First, through establishing a strong culture, unique selling proposition and brand for your business, and second, by marketing it effectively.

Having this strong foundation of culture and brand will help with the word of mouth you so desperately seek, but it will only go so far, when there are so many suitable alternatives to your establishment or product.

This is why you need to use marketing as a defensive strategy. It’s not simply about finding new or creating repeat customers, it’s about establishing a presence in the market based on your unique business concept, offer, product, experience, or otherwise. In this sense, marketing is simply communicating that offer effectively so people know about you and are encouraged and feel compelled to come to you rather than your competition. At least some of the time.

2. Increasing Customer Base = Attracting New Customers

If you use marketing strategically, in order to fulfill business goals – and not just as a defensive strategy or when there is a problem – a common goal of marketing is to attract new customers.

Why does marketing work to do this? Well, because part of marketing is gaining exposure to a wider audience of people than you had already been communicating with. This is a common goal of advertising and branding campaigns, and often a goal of public relations/media coverage tactics.

Done effectively, new potential customers will see your content and message multiple times and be interested. They may not be immediately ready to buy or even be in the market for what you’re offering, but, now they have heard of you. Then, with repetition, they start to recognize your name, and perhaps become intrigued to learn more. With a proper call to action and incentive, they could be encouraged to view your website, follow you on social media or join your mailing list.

These people are now well on their way to becoming customers, at this point, and it’s probably only a matter of time.

And, as good as this may sound, or frustrating – depending upon your view – this can also explain why droves of new customers weren’t knocking down the doors right after running a reactive ad campaign, sending out tweets or putting up a gorgeous new website (all of this leading to the view that marketing doesn’t work).

This is because, this interpretation simply ignores the facts that 1. most people don’t need what you’re offering when they first hear about you and 2. you need to build trust with people before they are ready to buy from you. Fundamentally, we can’t sell to people who aren’t interested in what we’re selling, or rather, don’t believe they have a need or desire for it.

On the other hand, thinking through a marketing plan which implements a strategy that first continually introduces you to a pool of targeted leads (potential customers) and captures their information (lead conversion), will allow you to stay in contact with them and build a relationship over time until they have a need (lead nurturing), and eventually lead to sales conversions (cashflow). It doesn’t have to be very complex, but it does need to be multifaceted and ought to be planned around a goal and targeted to specific types of customers.

3. Increasing Loyalty = Repeat Business

Another benefit of marketing is the ability to create repeat customers. This is something that all of you food businesses are probably looking to create – customer loyalty. An effective marketing system will contribute to your customer retention and future sales.

This part of marketing is less about advertising, and more about continually engaging your past customers with value and calls to action that lead them to purchase more or come back. Incentives are a great way to do this – something like a loyalty card that builds up to a free something – such as a free coffee or a free meal after 10, etc.

This is part of the marketing system and can be introduced to customers during or after their initial purchase or visit. It can be done through automated email campaigns or annual birthday or holiday promotions. It can be simple or complex, and it can be planned ahead and done strategically to increase profits. The point is, having a plan in your marketing that addresses past customers specifically will lead to more repeat business.

4. Brand Recognition = Being Top of Mind

Similar to the other reasons listed, marketing is done to create brand recognition. The benefit of brand recognition is that your company will be top of mind when a prospect is finally ready to buy the type of product or service you sell – like when they are deciding where to eat for lunch, where they should order their pizza, what kind of dessert to buy, which company offers gluten free or paleo options…

For example, your customer will think, “Gee…. Friday night is Sarah’s birthday, and she wants Italian food… which Italian restaurant has gluten free pasta or pizza for Sam (who is gluten intolerant)?” If you’ve done your job effectively – the job of promoting your unique value, attracting interested parties and getting them signed up in your system, and consistently contributing valuable and entertaining content – the next thought in your customer’s head will be, “Oh yeah, Gianni’s Trattoria!! Of course, I saw that great photo on their Facebook page of the gluten free pasta and dairy-free alfredo, which will be perfect for John, who is lactose intolerant.”

That is the power of being top of mind – the effect of continued and relevant marketing efforts. Success is not just about providing excellent customer service, an outstanding experience, a quality (authentic) product, and then hoping that people talk about that to their friends – it’s about taking a proactive approach, so that you don’t leave this to chance. And marketing is the proactive approach that leads to this.

5. Establishing Market Position = Claiming a Stake on the Market & Separation from Amateurs

And, if you’ve done all of this correctly (don’t worry if you haven’t gotten there yet, I know this can seem overwhelming… it definitely did to me when I first started learning about it, because I didn’t even know where to start)… if you’ve done it right, the marketing, branding, customer experience, etc. you’ll create your positioning in the market. You’ll become known for something and your brand will start to speak for itself. This is something that you really ought to want to have happen. It’s something that the big brands know, and that you can tap into.

This positioning is what separates you from the amateurs who are not even thinking about any of this, who are simply waiting and hoping that their businesses will take off. Achieving this gives you your own piece of the market because you reach out and claim it. You are viewed as an “expert” at your particular specialty. You are known and remembered. You are a professional.

Yes, you can achieve this. It isn’t only for the big companies. And it’s ok if your market share is smaller and niche. You don’t have to appeal to everyone and their mother, sister and brother. (Unless you aim to become another Applebees, McDonald’s or DiGiorno’s…. and if you do, then you definitely need to be putting some effort into your marketing.)

The bottom line: Marketing is what marks you as a professional in your industry, separating you from the newbies, amateurs, hobbyists and dreamers. It’s what will – if you have a viable business – give you the ability to grow your operation to the scale you want.

And, if you don’t believe me, just think about how many billboards you’ve seen for McDonalds, how many TV commercials for Cheerio’s and how many magazine ads/coupons for the Olive Garden. Do you think these brands would be as big as they are without marketing? No way!!!

Bringing it all Together

I know this can really seem overwhelming… especially if you’re new to this or you’ve been in business a while, but are struggling to keep up. It can be daunting to figure this all out when it seems like, either, you don’t have the resources to do so, or you actually don’t have them.

The key for you, as a smaller operation, is to find a way to apply these concepts from the larger companies, on a smaller scale, which will maximize your efforts and money.

This is where strategic thinking comes into play. This thinking starts with your business goals and having a deep understanding of your vision and brand. From there, you can start to think about who your “ideal” customers really are, and where to find them, how to attract them, get their attention, get them interested and connected, and finally turn them into loyal lifetime fans and paying customers.

Take it one step at a time. This is a long game. If you’re on board, remember, it’s an evolution and a journey. It’s going to take resources – time, money, energy, thought… but once you set it in motion, you’ll have a stronger foundation for your business.

If you’re feeling like you agree with me and want to get started, but don’t know what to do, you can begin by reading my Back to Basics series, in order to get started understanding the core concepts and stages. There are 6 posts, all here on my blog. This is the first one.

Then, you can read my post about branding and sign up for my email list to get my free branding guide, which will guide you through a series of questions that will help you begin to delve into your own brand and start to create the company of your dreams.

If you’re feeling ready and you want some more personalized help, or you’ve done the hard part already, and want some strategic planning, email us and let’s see how we can help you grow.

If you know someone who’s just starting out in business, or who’s struggling to grow, but they are in denial about so-called “organic growth” – PLEASE SHARE this post with them.

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