Marketing not working? Six ways to troubleshoot

If you are a small business and you don’t feel like any of your marketing works… well, let’s just say you’re not alone. I hear this over and over, and often not just from small businesses. I’ve heard the infamous, “marketing doesn’t work for us” line from businesses ranging from one employee to fifty.

And the reality is that they aren’t wrong. But they also aren’t right.

Don’t worry, I haven’t lost it. The truth is that at the very most basic level, every marketing strategy has one goal: bringing in more business. And if someone’s marketing isn’t actually helping them bring in more business, then it’s not working. So, they are right: their marketing doesn’t work for them. Where they are wrong is assuming that all marketing will be equally dysfunctional. Marketing isn’t at fault here; bad marketing is.

Or, more accurately, misaligned or misdirected marketing is at fault. You can put together the most brilliant ad ever, but if it’s not speaking to the right people in the right places, it’s not worth a darn. BUT put together even a super ugly ad that yet does speak to the right people in the right places, and you might very well have success.

Which brings me to the subject of this guidepost. If your marketing isn’t working to bring in new business, what can you do? How do you fix it?

  1. Start with your ideal customer and your promise to them. (Targeting!) If you haven’t already, do some serious thought on your target customer. If you have done so, but it’s been awhile, do it again because things may have changed. Think about what you have to offer to those people, especially the things that your competition doesn’t or can’t offer. Try to break out of your “we’ve always done it this way” habits, and take a good, hard look (sometimes getting an outside opinion is a big help). Be brutally honest with yourself, and really think about what you do offer and who would want it—instead of what you’d like to offer, and to whom you’d like to offer it. If, for instance, your price point has had to creep up in the last few years to cover costs, you may have moved into a new customer demographic, whether or not you are still emotionally invested in being the low-cost option for college kids. 
  2. Take a good look at your website. When was the last time you updated it? Does it look like 2005? Do you make it easy for people to contact you, submit a lead, or buy something? Is it easy for your customers to find the information they need when your advertising directs them to your site? Is your last blog post from two years ago? Do all your links work, especially those that are part of your lead funnel or sales generation funnel? (people—especially super busy business owners—often put up a site but rarely visit it themselves; it’s a good idea to go over your site every month or so to check for functionality). Do you have landing pages for your advertising that help connect your ad to your business? Trust us, a bad website (or a dated website, or an overly complex and confusing website) can be the kiss of death for a lot of businesses. And, much like my knees, they have a tendency to age and start to wreak havoc if you’re not on top of them. 
  3. What marketing initiatives are you doing, and why? Do you have a strategic reason for the advertising you’re running? Now that you’ve taken a fresh look at who your customer is, are you sure that you are targeting them where they will see the ad? A perfect example of this is a business that has “always” run newspaper ads, but now they find that they just aren’t working anymore. Perhaps their target customer no longer uses a print paper as their main source of news, and a switch to digital media may be in order. If you’re doing digital advertising, go in and check your audience targeting again. Sometimes, if it’s been a while and you’re still using old audiences, you may find you need to make some updates. 
  4. Does your advertising clearly state the benefit you’ll give your customer? Do you have a really compelling call to action (CTA)? Again, using the “people just don’t care” rule, try and look at your messaging and CTAs from the perspective of your customers. They may not care that you want them to buy from you, but they sure will care if you’re having a sale or can offer them something that will make their life better and easier. 
  5. Are your links live?  Do your sign-up forms work? This may sound nit-picky, but links get broken and emails get sent to spam all the time. And nobody is going to work to try and figure out what you want them to read. You have to make it easy, or they’ll leave. Go through and check. Make sure your links are good, AND THEY GO WHERE YOU WANT THEM TO. I can’t tell you how many old digital campaigns I’ve seen that go to broken links. 
  6. Have you waited long enough? Depending on the type of advertising you do, and the type of business you have, some marketing strategies can take months (and even more) to bear fruit. We have a client that got a lead from a person who had picked up a brochure for his services at a conference almost two years before.

It’s also helpful to think about troubleshooting dysfunctional marketing programs as a bit like testing plumbing to see where the leak is. Look at the performance of your ads. Are they working? Do people click on them, or open your emails? If not, your problem is with your outbound messaging and/or your ad targeting. If, on the other hand, you’re getting a ton of web traffic but no sales or leads, then you can be pretty sure that your problem is something to do with your website—either your website messaging is off, your website isn’t helping customers get the information they need, or it isn’t prompting them effectively to contact you (or buy).

Of course, there are other factors; we’re assuming your pricing is right for your market and people actually want your product… but that’s the subject of a whole ‘nother blog.

Happy small business marketing,

Katie & Theron

At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer marketing advisory, strategic planning, and services for small businesses and startups. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing adviser, or even your phone-a-friend marketing lifeline. We specialize in building efficient marketing programs to grow your business without blowing the bank.

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