By Mike DuBose
Marketing is the process of informing customers about a business and its products or services. Great companies know how to successfully market to the right people at the ideal times at the lowest costs. Marketing is important because you can have the best product or service in the world, but if you don’t market or advertise correctly, you will not experience maximum success! Staff will just sit and wait for customers to come to them instead of planning and executing a well-coordinated program that reaches out to the right clients and makes the sale.
Through all our marketing efforts, staffs at my companies have learned that consumers may need something but not want it. Therefore, it is important to build marketing strategies for both wants and needs to experience maximum success. Consumers must feel that your marketing efforts will give them useful information that will be worth their time to review and that ultimately, a purchase will improve their personal or professional lives or those of the people they serve. Marketing messages should contain information that will entice consumers to try your products and services—or at least contact your company or visit your website for more information. Advertising and marketing efforts must be professional, concise, error-free, friendly, easy to read, understandable, and appealing. “Today’s consumer is so bombarded with information that you need to choose carefully what you say and how, when, and where you say it,” notes Jan Norman in What No One Ever Tells You about Starting Your Own Business.
Creating a Company Identity
Correct company branding is important to your marketing strategy. Your company’s name, website, logo, and slogans are essential to your business’ visibility and should reflect credibility and professionalism. When I formed my first company (a computer retail business) in 1981, I wanted people to immediately associate the name with what we did. Thus, I named it “The Micro Shop.” Over the years, I have named other companies things like Microcomputer Distributors, Computer Institute, Law Enforcement Training Center, The Telephone Shop, Computer Training Center, DuBose Web Group, Columbia Conference Center, and The Evaluation Group. When you hear these names, you instantly have an idea of what the companies do.
You want to select a company name that is easy to remember, reflects the nature of the business, and ideally has a matching website address (e.g., www.goldsgym.com). The simpler the name of the company, the higher the chance customers will remember your business name and either use it in the future or provide it to others. The key is to keep branding simple with the fewest possible words. Some good examples are:
- Carolina Wings
- Waffle House
- Advance Auto Parts
- Sticky Fingers
- T-Bones Restaurant
- Best Buy
- The Muffler Shop
You can have a different legal name for your company but advertise as “doing business as” (often referred to as “dba”) under another name. For example, one of our businesses’ corporate legal names was Research Associates, Inc., but we created a division that was doing business as the Law Enforcement Training Center. You can register with the IRS and your Secretary of State to officially let them know of your intentions under both company names. However, remember to advise your insurance agent about what you are doing to so that all entities are covered against liabilities and threats. Also, let customers know your correct legal name when sending them contracts and billings. They need this information if they will be issuing your business an IRS Form 1099 for reporting their payments to you.
We recommend that you register your brand and slogans with your Secretary of State to give you legal rights to them. This prevents competitors from using or stealing your branding information, but you are only protected in the state where your service mark is registered. You can receive nationwide protection by registering with the US Patent and Trademark Office for a registered trademark. Also, be sure to copyright all your marketing efforts by simply noting the copyright on your materials (for example, “© Copyright 2009 Mike DuBose All Rights Reserved”).
You have two options in developing effective marketing programs: either do it yourself with staff and consultants or employ a professional marketing firm to guide your marketing efforts. I have used both approaches and we now develop our own in-house marketing programs. If you utilize a professional marketing firm, let them interview you and your key staff, define your marketing budget, and allow them to design a plan for you. Outside marketing experts work with a lot of companies and may provide you with creative, out-of-the-box approaches and ideas for marketing your services or products. But remember that the plan should be a joint effort since you know your company’s customers and needs better than an outsider. Another option is to develop a plan, create your marketing pieces, and then let the experts at a marketing firm react to and give you advice on your plans for an hourly or (preferably) set fee. The key is to develop a well-thought-out written marketing plan that spells out exactly what actions you will take over a 12-month period. It must include measureable outcomes, timelines, and persons responsible for each action item. Then, you must monitor the plan to be sure that it is implemented correctly.
Focusing on One Product or Service at a Time
Each item that your company produces will most likely require a different marketing strategy. We recommend that you do not start with a broad marketing strategy; rather, examine each product and service and build your marketing schemes one at a time, which will eventually result in a comprehensive, diversified master marketing program. Then, develop a written document to outline your annual strategy. Be sure to take into account what the customer wants and needs and arrange your plans, efforts, messages, and resources into these core areas first. Many businesses experience dismal results because they try to sell their company first and their products or services second. We believe that the opposite should be true—when customers see that you produce consistently superior goods and services that they want and need, they will then automatically be sold on your company!
Defining Your Customer
Marketing strategic plans need to target three classes of customers: (1) existing, loyal customers who have engaged your company over time and recommend you to others; (2) new clients that have only used your company’s services for a brief time; and (3) potential customers. You want to determine the marketplace’s demand for what you sell, figure out who will buy it, and then market it the right way. According to John Jantsch, author of small business marketing blog Duct Tape Marketing, “when it comes to attracting your ideal customer you should be able create a picture in your mind as you describe them.”
First, have a dialogue with your staff about which clients will most benefit from your company’s product or service. Shy away from marketing to customers who are not profitable. They simply take up time and distract you (and others) from more profitable customers. It is important to perform a profit analysis on every customer and on each product or service you sell. Stay focused on smaller numbers of highly profitable customers instead of running for your life with many low-profit clients—in other words, focus on the big fish!
Once you have identified your customers, it is important to identify who the key decision-makers are within a customer’s organization and who are the secondary recipients (they may influence the decision-maker). For example, one of our companies, Research Associates, writes federal grants for 60 school districts and 325 schools in the southeastern US. We know the school district superintendent will make the final decision on whether or not to contract with us, but the assistant superintendent of instruction, school principals, and experts within the district may be our first line of communication. These secondary decision-makers might be asked by the superintendent to review our company’s services or make recommendations to the chief officer.
Effective marketing programs should be targeted and well-planned. They should take both a top-down and a bottom-up approach with customers to shotgun your efforts. Both the top decision-makers and those lower in the hierarchy in the area you are targeting should be informed about your services. Making this happen takes a lot of thought, debate, and input from all of your staff, particularly the most knowledgeable ones. Marketing debates and brainstorming can be fun! You should also solicit input from existing customers, marketing experts, and various media articles or other publications that may provide you with a good bit of research.
Creating a Marketing Budget
Once you have determined your target audience, establish a set amount of money you plan to spend on marketing. I recommend that your overall marketing budget begin at 10 percent of your gross revenues if your company is new (less than three years old) and five to seven percent for more established businesses. There are a variety of formal marketing methods that can be applied according to your company and its products or services. Success requires investment and the saying “It takes money to make money” prevails. Too many businesses fail or experience dismal profits because decision-makers are unwilling to invest in a variety of targeted, high-quality, and carefully-thought-out marketing programs. Even if the company has limited resources, marketing programs that are implemented correctly should yield results many times greater than the initial cost of the marketing program. Unfortunately, many businesses run scared and reduce or eliminate marketing budgets in bad times when they should actually be increasing them to bring in more revenue. Others experience dismal results because their marketing plans are not based on logic, customer research, and facts.
If you implement your promotions correctly, secure business, and deliver stellar customer service, your customer advocates will eventually become your greatest sales and marketing force, bringing you additional customers through word of mouth. In fact, “a spontaneous word-of-mouth referral is the ultimate achievement” in marketing, according to George Colombo’s book Killer Customer Care. As your customer endorsements grow, the need for formal advertising and marketing programs (and the related costs) will diminish. In 2008, research confirmed that 94 percent of our business at our Columbia Conference Center was generated from repeat business and customer referrals. A figure that high is something great companies strive for and it took a great team five years of delivering consistently outstanding customer service to achieve. However, we know that although we are nearing the top of the mountain, we could easily slip to our deaths because of arrogant, know-it-all attitudes or the idea that we can now sit back and relax. In order to maintain such high ratings, we utilize concepts from the Deming Management Method, striving for perfection and continuous improvement within our businesses. We are forever asking the question: “Can we do anything better, more efficiently, and more profitably that will lead to increased higher customer satisfaction?”
Communicating with Customers
It is important to communicate with both new and existing customers on a regular basis to maintain and nurture your relationships with them. Remember that it is easier to keep and nurture existing customer relationships than find new ones! We encourage our team members to communicate with their existing clients at least every 30 days in a variety of ways. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” is important to remember when keeping up with customers. For every month your customers do not hear from you, your influence over them declines—until eventually, they forget about you completely!
When customers are served by more than one division of a company, it is important that the departments work with each other to ensure that contact is staggered. Too much communication at once can intimidate or aggravate clients. For example, my favorite airline’s multiple divisions don’t communicate among themselves and sometimes send me many uncoordinated e-mails on the same day. I delete most of their e-mails because I am irritated, my time is limited, and I have reached the point of telling them to take me off their lists. Types of communications can vary, but messages should be spread out over the year and all contact should be carefully scripted so the customer will say, “That was useful information!”
At one of our companies, Columbia Conference Center, event managers conduct some of these low- or no-cost marketing activities geared toward their customers by:
- Calling customers personally about important news.
- Delivering fresh-baked cookies twice a year.
- Inviting them to an annual celebration with a band, great food, and drinks.
- Making telephone calls simply to wish them well.
- E-mailing clients a quarterly newsletter with valuable articles, tips, and shortcuts.
- Sending them and the local media public service announcements (PSAs) or press releases about something the company has done that paints the business in a positive light (like starting a recycling program, giving substantial donations to charity, and making the world a better place).
- Sending customers a handwritten thank-you note after they use our services.
- Mailing a brief, easy-to-complete assessment after a purchase that lets the customer know we value their opinions and strive to do our best.
- Giving them small gifts as tokens of our appreciation.
- Responding to customer inquiries within 24 business hours to send customers the message, “You are important and we are here to serve you!”
- Having a real person answer customers’ calls.
- Delivering consistently exceptional customer service and not disappointing clients.
We have developed an effective marketing strategy with a written, structured 12-month plan where our company’s staff members deliver well-timed, useful customer communications every 30 days. A customer may receive a newsletter in January, fresh-baked cookies delivered personally by an event manager in February, a small gift in March, an invitation to a party or luncheon in April, etc. Therefore, it is important to have a marketing calendar that is carefully monitored. Every staff member participates in designing and debating these marketing strategies, which builds ownership and enthusiasm. All this comes easily to our staff because they really care about our customers and view them as partners and friends versus just a money source. Having a long-term customer service vision is important—the best plan in the world will be ineffective if your employees do not have the drive and passion to provide exemplary customer service over the long haul.
The strategy for marketing to potential customers is more complicated and may vary based on the product or service being sold. For example, we employ a totally different marketing strategy to attract future brides for wedding receptions at Columbia Conference Center than we use to draw business decision-makers to corporate meetings. We vary the marketing materials that each target group receives. For example, we may market to future brides with a formal ad in a wedding magazine, the general public with a large billboard along a busy interstate, or executives with an article written for a corporate-read magazine.
Determining Marketing Avenues
All marketing programs need diversity to approach different customers in a variety of ways. Advertising methods include the following:
- Yellow Pages: Some of our companies have benefitted from advertising in this media, while others do not. Today’s Yellow Pages encompass not only the large yellow telephone books found in hotels and private homes, but online listings as well; in fact, telephone books will eventually be replaced by the Internet. I recommend advertising only in AT&T’s “The Real Yellow Pages.” Be wary of calls from imitators who may try to imply that they are with The Real Yellow Pages. Also, ensure that your ad is simple, stands out, and is written in attractive marketing language. Obtain proofs of all ads to check for typos and grammar problems.
- Newspapers: Many people are predicting that newspapers as we know them will become a thing of the past within a decade. In fall 2008, The New York Times reported that newspaper circulation nationwide fell almost five percent from the previous year. Advertising in newspapers is very expensive but some vendors, like auto dealers, continue to advertise there. One benefit of newspapers is that the information contained in them can be torn out and saved by the consumer. Otherwise, it is a one-time advertising hit that could find its way to the recycling bin pretty quickly.
- Radio: This advertising method focuses on a specific station to yield the desired results from the target audience since few stations play for a wide variety of listeners. For example, I like the “oldie but goodie” songs from the 60s and 70s and only advertisements during peak hours such as going to or coming from work capture my attention. The disadvantage to radio is that you hear an ad but cannot readily save the information as with a newspaper. Therefore, unless you have a catchy and innovative slogan or a unique and easy to remember telephone number (like my plumber, Meetze Plumbing, whose number ends in -DRIP), you have to rely on placing ads at different times of the day so consumers hear the message over and over. In addition, satellite radio stations like XM and Sirius are becoming very popular with listeners who tune in to hear their favorite songs without the aggravation of radio advertisements.
- Magazines: Advertising in this medium can also be very expensive, but magazines tend to hang around longer than newspapers. Some people keep them on their coffee tables at home and business leaders often leave them in reception areas for consumers to read. Examine any magazines you might want to advertise in, noting the types of ads that are listed. Try to make your ad stand out from theirs with great-looking graphics and simple messages. Another way to get recognition for yourself and your business is to write timely, informative articles for magazines dealing with subjects consumers (particularly, your potential clients) find useful or interesting. This low-key approach highlights your company without costing anything!
- Billboards: Large signs along highways or interstates can be viewed by thousands of motorists. Of course, the more traffic along the highway, the higher the rental costs. Billboards can be expensive and are a very popular advertising medium. Our Columbia Conference Center had to wait in line for a year before securing one! (It turned out to be a great-looking sign but did not generate any new contracts.) Signs facing traffic flow on the right side of the road are usually twice as expensive as those facing traffic but located on the left side of the road. Billboard designs should include simple text, colorful images, and contact information for your business. Yellow is the color most often used for billboard backgrounds because of its high visibility. Hire an experienced graphic artist to help you design a sign that is both functional and visually pleasing. The best signs are the bright new LED digital billboards. There are no upfront development costs like with older signs and they can switch between multiple images, meaning that several customers can share a single sign at a lower cost.
- Brochures: Brochures come in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and styles. They should be designed to inform the consumer about your company, your services or products, contact information, and marketing points that will attract customers to your company. The purpose is not to tell everything about your company, but rather to spark interest so people will contact you or visit your website. Brochures can be mailed to a targeted group, placed in homes or businesses, distributed in sales packets, and handed out or mailed to potential customers. They are particularly effective in that clients get tangible information they can refer to or pass along to friends and colleagues. The more brochures you have printed, the cheaper the cost per unit. Have a technical writer guarantee that the text is grammatically correct, obtain input from a marketing expert on which words and phrases to use for maximum impact, and hire a graphic artist to create an attention-grabbing, colorful design.
- Networking and Building Alliances: The saying “It’s who you know that gets you places” is very appropriate. Knowing the right decision-makers or those who know them can help you to succeed. Therefore, another marketing strategy is to be involved with reputable, well-known and respected businesses, charities or non-profits, chambers of commerce, and other organizations that can highlight your business to potential clients and the community. I believe that striving to help your business grow while also making the world a better place is a “win-win” situation for everyone. Think carefully about where and how you can serve in a leadership role that will provide visibility and the ability to help others. Consider presenting helpful speeches to groups but be careful not to appear that your motive is to sell something to the audience.
- Working with High-Quality Competitors: In this bad economy’s extremely competitive environment, you need all the business you can secure. We chose high-quality competitors to work with so when we cannot serve a customer, we can refer them to one of our preferred competitors. The goal is to ensure that the customer receives excellent service from someone, even if it can’t be your company. Both the customer and the competitor will remember your helpful gesture, which could result in return business.
- The Internet: This marketing outlet is quickly becoming the most cost-effective and widely used. Just look at the stock price of Internet powerhouse Google (about $300 a share as of March 2009). Millions of individuals use the Internet on a daily basis in search of products and services. In just minutes, consumers can find a variety of companies that offer the same product for sale, compare their prices, and purchase the desired product. You can also read customer comments—both positive and negative— about some companies and their products or services online. Possessing the right website is very important in marketing products and services. A professional-looking website that works adds credibility to a business, while a poorly constructed website can diminish one’s reputation. Creating an effective, attractive, and customer-friendly website that is easy to navigate and ranks highly in Internet search engine queries can be expensive. It requires the right web design company to produce outstanding work. (This area is so important that I have included a separate technology chapter on creating successful websites and utilizing other Internet resources like blogs, YouTube, and Facebook).
- Word-of-Mouth and Customer Referrals: It is the goal of every business to have existing customers spreading the word to others about your great company. In fact, some companies deliver such exceptional customer service that they do not even have to market in the traditional sense! As noted in my chapter on customer service, achieving this form of ultimate marketing takes years. It requires a mindset amongst all staff that any person within an organization who makes contact with a customer becomes a valuable marketing agent. Therefore, it is necessary to work with everyone on staff, regardless of their position, to emphasize their role in creating excellent customer interactions. This includes the receptionists, custodians, sales representatives, staff who pass the customer in the hallways, customer support staff, billing agents, etc. That is one of the reasons that the Four Seasons Hotel in Maui is so successful: on each of my many visits, their mindset has always been that all hotel staff is there to serve and please the customer. In our organizations, we believe that “the customer signs our check.” Happy customers both generate new business by telling others of their experience with you and also return themselves. Remember that it is paramount that you resolve customer complaints and problems quickly. Even if the customer is wrong, try to make it right. Denove and Power of J.D. Power and Associates found that customer “assassins” were 50 percent more likely to tell people about their bad experiences than “advocates” were to share positive experiences. Look for “win-win” situations with customers to prevent them from spreading negative stories about your business to others.
- Reaching a Human Voice: One of the most effective marketing strategies is to have a human answer your business’ telephones. In our technologically advanced society, it is rare for clients to speak to an actual person who can address their needs quickly with a friendly, caring, and customer-driven attitude. Instead, consumers often reach a computer or recording that forces them to listen to several sets of confusing menu options before they resolve the reason for their call. Many times, clients go down a list of potential businesses and the one that answers the phone first and gives them what they want gets the deal!
- Customer Assessments: One of the best marketing tools is to engage all your customers by confidentially asking them after a purchase, “How did we do?” This lets customers know you value their opinion and are a continually improving company that desires their input and feedback. When things go wrong (and they will), you must reach out to dissatisfied customers and bring them back into the happy customer fold. To recognize unhappy customers, you must first ask them for the “brutal facts” on their experience with you through a timely assessment. Keep surveys simple and very brief (one to two pages). Then, take whatever steps necessary to resolve conflicts to the customer’s satisfaction and prevent the problem from reoccurring with other clients.
- Logos and Slogans: Create a catchy slogan to go along with your business. At our grant writing firm Research Associates, we coined the copyrighted phrase, “We turn dreams into reality.” DuBose Web Group uses the slogan, “We build more than websites—we build relationships!” It is a neat way to reflect what you do and believe in and helps customers remember you in a positive way. It is also important to have a graphic artist help you design a great-looking, professional logo that will create instant recognition for your business. Who among us does not know what Nike’s logo is? That check mark says it all and was simply a stroke of genius.
- Catchy Telephone Numbers: Take your time to secure a unique telephone number. It’s a simple tactic that helps customers remember your business easily. For example, one of our staff members had their personal telephone number end with 0123. A little humor: In 2007, I secured a telephone number for my home office ending in 9292. I thought that was pretty neat until people starting calling and asking me to play their favorite songs—apparently, a local radio station’s number had the same last four digits. I then changed my number so that it ended in 1010. It seems that number is very close to Pizza Hut’s, because my home office phone has been ringing off the hook with delivery orders! I give up!
- Flyers and Inserts: Some organizations create advertising inserts that are placed into newspapers or magazines. (I am sure you have opened a magazine to have a marketing card fall out before.) Others use flyers that are passed out to customers. Flyers can also be delivered by newspaper carriers or mailed via a bulk mailer to certain routes.
- Postcards: A popular strategy is to mail large, colorful postcards to targeted businesses or certain zip codes and postal carrier routes. They are inexpensive to print and you can use a professional mailing service to bulk mail them if you have more than 250 pieces. Of course, you are limited in the amount of information that you can include on the cards, so your message has to be simple and brief. The key is to design colorful cards with appealing graphics and simple messages. Then, carefully study the zip codes or postal carrier routes that you want to deliver the cards to, sending them to areas where your customers are most likely to reside. Always mail your advertisements on Monday so your recipients will get them mid-week. Bulk mailers prefer to mail on Friday, but if you allow this, your audience will receive them along with tons of other mail on Monday when they return from the weekend and may not be in the best mood.
- Incentive Clubs: Companies like hotels and airlines employ frequent user clubs to retain members. Individuals can sign up for membership at little or no cost. Then, as the member uses the services of the company, they receive rewards, bonus offers, and preferred services like upgrades. For example, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts often sends out promotional offers to its existing customer base (for example, “Stay for four nights, get the fifth night free”). I am a member of several of these clubs myself, and because I have built up frequent flier miles and hotel points, I tend to stay loyal to certain companies. Plus, clubs offer members special attention, upgrades, customized services, and special telephone lines when they call for assistance. Even small businesses like ice cream shops, restaurants, and bookstores offer these memberships, often using punch cards so that the customer gets a free item when he or she has bought a certain amount at the store. These clubs also give companies access to helpful marketing information like purchase history, e-mail and mailing addresses, and other personal information.
- Television: This is an expensive way to advertise—especially during peak viewing times—but it is another tool in your marketing bag. Television advertising was once very popular because there were only a few channels in a local area, which meant that you were guaranteed to reach some of your intended audience. Now, because of satellite and cable television, there are hundreds of channels to choose from, which diminish television advertising’s marketing potential.
- Business Cards, Letterhead, Envelopes, Note Pads, Thank You Notes, and Business Folders: All of your business materials should be first class, colorful, visually pleasing, and constructed with high-quality paper. As with other marketing materials, be sure to use a graphic artist, technical writer, and someone with marketing skills to help construct business stationery items. It is a good idea to keep a file of marketing materials you receive through the mail as examples to draw on for your future needs. Our vendor, Gurney Adams with Professional Printers, also provided us with many samples to look through when we were constructing a recent mailer.
- Customer Newsletters: Customers like to feel special. By going the extra mile to relate to them, you can show that you value their business. Businesses use newsletters to keep their clients informed, but they are usually sales-focused or do not really give valuable information to the customer. Thus, many newsletters are deleted or thrown away before they are even read. We like to send simple, quarterly newsletters that include personal and professional information with links to more details if clients desire them. For example, I may write a blurb on employing outstanding staff with a link to the full article on my personal website. My staff reads multiple publications so they can pass good information along to customers through the newsletter. We also include brief details about important happenings at our business like volunteer work our employees have contributed to the community. Send customers both electronic and hard copies in the beginning, then switch solely to electronic to lower mailing and labor costs. Sometimes, we deliver a personal, signed one-page letter to customers by mail to stand out from the competition, which usually only employs electronic communications.
- Trade Shows and Conferences: These programs are often attended by decision-makers who are encouraged to visit vendors’ booths. You will need a simple, professional-looking display that is colorful, graphically pleasing, and shows diversity. Think about the location of your booth and register early to obtain a location with high traffic exposure. Send your sharpest staff to attend these shows since you want to shine and show off your best talent.
- Charity Events: Customers like companies that are socially and environmentally conscious (see book chapter Giving Back to the Community for more information). In addition to being the right thing to do, it provides positive exposure for the business to dedicate some of the company’s profits and employees’ work time to charity. It also helps your business stand out among competitors. For example, you might allow charities to use your building for meetings, donate door prizes for fundraisers, mentor the less fortunate, or hold drives to collect hygiene items for the homeless. Forming an employee community service committee is a great first step.
- High-Exposure Events: Think about activities that draw big crowds whose recognition your company could benefit from. Then, offer to cosponsor or assist with the event so your business name is displayed in the promotional literature and advertising.
- Be an Expert: Many consultants and business leaders share advice through articles or blogs to engage their customers. These methods provide enough information to draw the consumer to their website or book.
- Cold Calling: This marketing approach is the least preferable and generally irritates business staff, especially when there is a visible sign on the front door that says “NO SOLICITING!” Your staff should be trained to screen and stop these folks at the door because their pushy sales speeches can become distracting. I believe that cold calling is a waste of time.
- Others: Since the economic downturn in 2009, businesses have come up with all sorts of innovative and creative advertising ideas. Some that I have observed include:
- Signs: Some are located in great places like the side of business building on a busy interstate. The best signs use flashy graphics to attract your attention, like the one I noticed along Interstate 20 that just said, “EAT!” in huge, simple letters.
- People Holding Signs: A business named Liberty Tax Services hires people to dress up like the Statue of Liberty and stand near heavily-traveled intersections waving at passers-by. Other businesses attract interest with sign holders dressed up as a gorillas.
- Bumper Stickers: Businesses develop catchy or clever sayings that make people laugh and promote their business when people see the stickers on other cars in traffic.
- Refrigerator Stickers: Small magnets with businesses’ contact information are given to customers, who often place them in prominent locations (like on the refrigerator).
- Placing Flyers on Cars: Some businesses will design eye-catching flyers and place them on the windshields of parked cars in mall or other high-traffic parking lots.
- Handouts: Friendly employees will give handouts to customers walking by in busy locations or in front of their business.
- Highway Signs: The Hilton Garden Inn scored a marketing coup at a busy Interstate I-26 exit with a green SC Department of Transportation sign indicating they were responsible for cleaning a portion of the interstate.
- Signs at Intersections: Some business owners buy cheap signs to post near busy intersections where many people are stopped waiting for lights to change.
- Yard Signs: Businesses like landscaping and remodeling firms will place signs in current customers’ yards to let nearby residents know that they are working on the home of a trusted neighbor. Builders will also place large signs in front of homes or commercial buildings being built.
- Flyers in Mailboxes: When a business is working on a house, they might pass out flyers within the neighborhood saying something like, “Ron’s Landscaping is working on Mike and Debra DuBose’s yard. Stop by, check out our high-quality work, and call us for a quote on your landscaping!”
- Signs on Cars and Trucks: Many businesses display signs and contact information on their company vehicles. Others pay to have their information featured on large trucks, buses, etc.
- Wild Specials: The International House of Pancakes (IHOP) received lots of national recognition for advertising a complete breakfast for one cent.
- Sending a Caring Message: Hyundai Motor America has offered to take back their cars from anyone who loses their job within a year of buying one.
The list is endless, but the common objective is standing out amongst your competitors. You can develop unique strategies by:
- Brainstorming with staff.
- Riding around busy business districts and observing what others are doing.
- Reading local magazines and newspapers or listening to radio and television for ideas.
- Reviewing books and articles on marketing.
- Checking the Internet for marketing tips (there are hundreds of sites offering this information!).
- Reading the Yellow Pages for local and other metropolitan areas.
- Calling business owners located outside of your target area. It is a great way to learn from similar firms who do not compete against you.
Effective marketing is critical to building great companies. You need to have a written, well-thought-out marketing strategy that keeps you in front of existing customers and appeals to potential new clients. Your marketing materials should go to different groups of potential clients at different times to avoid your message becoming stale. As Norman explains, “You must periodically re-evaluate your niche and adjust because customer needs and markets change.” Continuously thinking outside the box is necessary for successful marketing.
Reach out to all forms of media to secure research, marketing information, and pricing scales before making a decision. Let sales representatives educate you on what options are available. Keep in mind that statistics can be manipulated to encourage sales, and every advertising sales rep will try to convince you that their form of marketing is the only way to go when trying to lure you into expensive contracts. When you have chosen the medium in which you want to advertise, try it for at least three (preferably six) months to assess its effectiveness. Don’t expect to run a single ad and be inundated with telephone calls the next day. It takes time for advertising to sink in.
Also, consult local sales representatives from printers and professional mailing services. These businesses do a good bit of work with all kinds of print media for hundreds of companies and their staff can give you advice on what is popular. Professional mailing services also have a variety of updated mailing lists you can rent.
Assessing Your Marketing Effectiveness
Carefully collect information about all customers who have made a purchase from your company. Most food stores like Kroger and Bi-Lo carefully monitor customer purchases through the cards you use as part of their rewards programs, which track spending patterns and geographical locations where their clients originate. If you think they aren’t monitoring you, check the back of your grocery receipt after your next purchase—they often try to attract you back into the store by offering you a coupon on something you normally buy!
Don’t focus your marketing efforts around every client that calls your business, but rather those who make a purchase. Some advertisements will generate inquiries (we call them the “tire-kickers”) but no signed contracts or purchases. We did not realize the importance of measuring marketing effectiveness until one of our company division’s revenues began to decline after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We had been sending out hundreds of thousands of brochures as part of a well-planned national marketing strategy. Everyone kept asking me what the effectiveness of the campaign was (how many customers were making a purchase compared to the number of brochures mailed). My response was, “I don’t know, but we are making a lot of money, so it must be working!” The simple fact was that I really had no idea. Since then, informal surveys I have conducted have shown that most business owners do not know their strategies’ effectiveness either.
After noticing the division’s decline in business, I carefully studied our marketing tactics. One of my findings was that I had been sending thousands of brochures into one state at the cost of $10,000—and this mailing had only generated $700 in sales! I was stunned and knew that I had to do a better job of assessing each marketing strategy to determine its effectiveness. Assessments must be accurate, factual, and cannot be based on “what we think is effective” but rather “what we know works.”
Then, I began gathering valuable information by asking every customer that called, “How did you first hear about us?” We have been using this tactic at my companies ever since. As we gathered more and more answers, we learned that certain strategies we had been using were very effective and others that we had perceived as being effective had little or no value to us. A second significant finding was that the marketing strategy that generates the most telephone rings or website hits does not necessarily result in the most sales or signed contracts. Therefore, you have to carefully study your marketing and budget only for targeted approaches that result in profits for your business. This not only saves a lot of time, but also allows you to invest solely in targeted advertising modes that you know will bring in customers and profits.
At our companies, we try various forms of marketing annually and then have a good dialogue at the end of the year about the results. We use the facts from our findings to prepare the next year’s marketing plan and the campaign’s budget. Keep in mind that just because a certain strategy did not appear to work, you should still continue to invest in a variety of media because of passive advertising. For example, a person may see an ad in a magazine and give it to a friend who makes a purchase from you and reports to you that they first learned about your business from a friend. In essence, however, it was the magazine ad that initially generated the interest. I recommend allocating 70 percent of your budget to marketing that you know works and 30 percent toward passive advertising that you suspect works.
Great companies have well-planned, diversified marketing strategies that work. Marketing agents within these companies know that the marketplace is steadily evolving and what works today may fail tomorrow. You cannot sit back and wait for business to come to you! The key is to design great services and products, market them the right way, measure what works, and exceed customer expectations consistently. Then, you have a good chance of succeeding!