I’ve noticed a problem. But, rather than complain about it, I hope to be part of the solution. And don’t worry – I’m guilty of it too. But I’m trying to change.
Here’s the problem:
Small business owners complaining about not having enough customers, saying that marketing doesn’t work, and that they can’t afford to do marketing because they don’t have enough customers, don’t have the time, etc.
But which came first – the chicken or the egg?
Which came first, the marketing or the sale (paying customer)?
Do you see the real problem here?
It’s not really a problem of which came first, because honestly, it’s not possible to have made a sale without having done SOME kind of marketing first (even if it’s just the sign on the wall or spoken words that let the customer know about an available service or product).
In other words, people can’t buy something if they don’t know it exists to be bought.
So, the real problem is not that marketing doesn’t work, but that business owners are reacting to a lack of customers by trying a random marketing tactic, on a single occasion, and then witnessing it not having much, if any, effect on growing their businesses, and therefore proclaiming that marketing does not work.
But, what really happened?
They approached it backwards. They tried to solve an immediate problem (no customers) by doing something random, which they call marketing (and is really just a random tactic), in a last-ditch effort to get a customer. And, when it didn’t work, they assumed that, because that the one thing they tried, once, didn’t work, that marketing doesn’t work in general.
Why is this a problem?
Well, it demonstrates that these business owners have a fundamental misunderstanding of what marketing is and what function it has in a working business. It also illustrates the lack of a strategic plan and understanding of what an integrated marketing plan is and how to use one – rather than trying one thing every time there’s a problem and then and having it not work. (Or worse, having the random thing work on a small scale, so it gives the illusion of being effective.)
So, with this post (and the next few as well), I am going to go back to basics. By sharing what I’ve come to understand marketing to be; what function I understand it to have; and the relationships I understand marketing to have to branding, advertising and sales, I hope to help you to begin to see the bigger picture of marketing and begin to create your own marketing plan for your business.
If you are someone who’s guilty of doing this (like I am), I hope this post will help you gain a deeper understanding of how to use marketing more effectively. I hope it will help you open your mind and perhaps change your perspective on marketing.
If you are already a marketing expert, or are a marketing director of a company, I hope that you’ll get some new insights that could help you in your job. Perhaps a new framework, or idea, that may help you see your job in a new way.
(And if not, it’s still always valuable to revisit the basics every now and then. I’m coming to really appreciate this truth, as I am getting back into dance as an adult and am revisiting the very basics of correct placement. It’s very useful, since I have a new understanding of how my body works now and how to move it and where I feel different stretches/etc. versus when I was a kid and didn’t really understand what correct placement felt like.)
First Things First: Defining the Terms
Before I can talk about the implications of marketing, how it fits into the bigger picture of a company, or ways to approach it, we must all be on the same page about the definitions of certain terms.
Here are my definitions – based on experience, observations, books, podcasts, blog posts, webinars, seminars, courses, Googling, Wikipedia and About.com. In no particular order…
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.
Sales is the exchange of value. Typically this means a customer pays money to receive a product, service or experience from the company to whom they are giving the money.
Advertising is a tactic many companies use in the promotion of its particular offer. In other words, advertising is one component of a larger marketing plan. Advertising involves ad creation and placement, and encompasses a set of promotional techniques companies will use in order to, over time, build awareness (branding) or generate actual sales (promotional) of whatever it is selling. Examples of advertising are: television commercials, print ads in a magazine or newspaper, or display ads, like billboards. Typically, advertising costs money. Note: advertising is a marketing tactic, not marketing itself.
Branding, as illustrated in other posts on my site, is the identity of the company. It’s what the company stands for, how it is perceived, why it exists, the experience it offers and the values it has. It’s what makes a business feel more personable, and what differentiates one company from another that offers a similar product/service. Branding is what the company is known for. (For more details on the basics of this, see this post.)
A Strategy / Strategic Plan is the organized method, or collection of steps, one uses to achieve a goal. In marketing, a strategic plan is the use of multiple specific marketing-related activities/tactics in a planned/structured, intentional and particular way, in order to achieve a marketing goal, such as increasing visibility, sales or numbers of followers/fans on social media.
Integrated Marketing Communications is the use of a strategic variety of traditional and modern marketing methods to communicate a consistent brand message in order to benefit from the unique advantages of each channel, reinforce each other and to connect with people in a variety of contexts.
Marketing… why it’s a long-term relationship, not a one-night stand
Now that we’re all on the same page about the definitions of these terms, let’s get back to the problem at hand: using miscellaneous marketing tactics (for example: promotional events, advertising, social media) as a reaction to an immediate problem (for example: no customers).
This is an issue because in effective businesses, marketing is a collection of activities, not just one thing promotion or campaign, done over time. The reason the methods that the businesses above are using are not actually helping is because they look at it as a “one and done” thing, only necessary to do when there aren’t enough customers.
But it’s not.
It’s something you have to do ALL THE TIME. ALWAYS.
And I learned this lesson the hard way.
In my first year in business, I didn’t do any marketing or sales-building activities. I had one client that was keeping me busy. I was basically working 1-6 days a week for this particular client (an online news organization). It was great… and it didn’t occur to me to do marketing.
Until one day, I was on assignment for this client, and, just as I was about to call my editor to ask if I should file my photos before heading on to the next assignment, my phone rings… It’s my editor telling me that the newspaper is no longer in business and to submit my final invoice.
And just like that, it was over.
No prospects in my sales funnel.
No prospects on my email list. (What email list?!)
No unemployment to collect, as an independent contractor…
#%(*$%@#! What do I do next????
Clearly a random blog post, email campaign or tweet was not going to help me. Even offering sessions at 50% off wouldn’t help… because 50% off of what price? Who was I even looking for as a client?
Clearly if I’d have tried any of these random tactics, I’d have had 0 results. Why? Because no one knew who I was and those who did, didn’t care.
And besides, the real value of doing marketing comes over time. Why?
Because most people aren’t ready to buy the first time they meet you.
Therefore, we need marketing, not only to attract prospects, but also to help nurture or engage them until they are ready to buy. In other words, we need marketing to support sales.
…So, what did I do?
I got back to basics. I worked with a consultant, and a coach, to help me get confident in myself and to determine my values, mission, message and target markets, offerings, etc. I took courses and webinars, went to conferences… Attended many networking events… In other words, I invested a lot of time and money (that I didn’t have) into building my network, learning about marketing, branding, sales, etc. in order to create a strong foundation.
And now, I may not have the hugest following or as many clients as I’d like, but I’ve definitely come leaps and bounds in my understanding of multi-channel/integrated marketing, strategy and sales funnels. I’ve started building my email list and social media, and, most importantly, I understand what function each of these things has in my business and have specific reasons for each of the tactics I am using. And, each of the different things I’m doing is contributing to creating and fulfilling the larger vision and missions of my business.
And I hope that my experiences will help you be able to do the same.
So, that’s why over the next few posts, I’ll continue exploring the differences in these concepts, why small businesses need them and how to apply them. Stay tuned… And, hopefully, we can tackle this problem together.
Until then, what has been your experience with this topic? Comment below to share your opinions and then share this article with someone you know who might benefit from it.