From time to time, we run across people who seem to be convinced that there is a secret arsenal of marketing know-how that can deliver droves of customers at little (or even no) cost. That there’s something that big-company marketers know about that they hide from the little people.
All they have to do is discover it, like secret pirate treasure.
Unfortunately, this is akin to Magical Thinking, and often equates to people saying urban myth-adjacent things like “well, when so-and-so launched [Name of Software Company Deleted to protect the innocent] he told his marketing team they could spend absolutely nothing”, and then going on to talk about how that company went on to become marvelously, stupendously successful through “growth hacking”. But the truth of the matter is, of course, that the company in question really has spent a ton of money on search, social, and traditional media channels. Oh, and “growth hacking” is just a fancy way of labeling what good marketers should be doing every day… but more on that later.
Of course, myths like this cause people to stubbornly cling to the idea that there’s some magical beast out there that will grow their business to the multi-million dollar range overnight, with no marketing spend. You may have had that hope when you opened this article.
At Urban Sherpa, we’ve come up with a name for this magical beast; we call it the Magical Marketing Minotaur™.
(Yes, we like alliteration.)
There are many variations of The Magical Marketing Minotaur™ out there, and people with minimal marketing mastery are quickly seduced by the promise of a cheap, easy, and supernaturally effective way to grow their business.
Examples of too-good-to-be true marketing tricks:
- Growth Hacking: Before we get a bunch of hate mail on this one, there are legitimate tactics that end up under the growth hacking umbrella. Content marketing, podcasting, influencer marketing, and social media channel building are among them (and as I said, good marketers are always thinking of creative ways to game the system, especially when working with small budgets). The problem isn’t so much with the channels themselves, but rather with the expectation that they will somehow instantly produce stellar results and transform your business overnight. The fact is that most of the things that fall under the Growth Hacking umbrella are long-term, brand-building tactics that take time to begin producing results, and many require some hefty marketing dollars behind them to get them to take off.
- SEO: Once the Holy Grail of Marketing Minotaur™s, SEO is now largely a “cost of entry” sort of thing. Your site definitely needs to be optimized so that your organic rankings are as strong as they can be, but the days of “secret tips and tricks” that will rocket you to the top of Google’s listings for given keywords are gone. In fact, many of the “tips and tricks” in this category will land you in trouble with Google these days. SEO is effective, but it’s predominantly a science, not an arcane art. You can read more about SEO here.
- Viral Marketing: Possibly THE quintessential Magical Marketing Minotaur™ is the idea that you can cheaply create a viral campaign that circles the world and gets you a bazillion followers overnight. The simple fact is that no one can determine which campaigns are going to “go viral” and take over the internet; although there are some tips and tricks that will help a campaign gain momentum, there is no formula that can be applied that will insure a viral response. The proof in this is that if there WERE a way to ensure that a campaign would catch fire and run wild, people would be doing it every day. Also? Many of those famous viral campaigns (think Old Spice and the Dove Beauty Sketches campaign) took a heck of a lot of money to get rolling. Yeah, not cheap, folks.
The sad fact is that The Magical Marketing Minotaur™ is, like its namesake, mythical. Please do not spin your wheels hoping to find it. There is no secret tactic that can rocket your business into the stratosphere overnight for cheap. Like an old teacher once told me, “the only place Results come before Work is in the dictionary.”
Real, effective marketing is actually a lot of work. There are no shortcuts, no “get rich quick” schemes, no snake oil solutions. And those fancy campaigns that get bandied about actually took enormous resources, both of time and money.
So what DOES work for the small business on a budget? Tried and true methods, backed by the time and effort to optimize, test, and tweak them into fully functioning, if less showy, workhorses.
The three marketing channels that work best for small business:
- Paid Search Marketing (SEM- Google and Bing Ads): The cool thing about Search Marketing is that it’s also the Great Equalizer – small businesses that are highly relevant in their space can effectively compete with mammoth competitors. (We once ran a campaign that beat out Walmart…)
- Social Media Marketing: With the amazing targeting possibilities of these platforms, you can extremely cost-efficiently serve paid ads and promoted posts to the people who are most likely to be looking for your product or service.
- A great website: A great site speaks volumes about your business, adding legitimacy, increasing your page ranking, and helping instill confidence in your business. And a great site will also help you convert customers more effectively, driving down your cost per acquisition and conversion numbers.
All this said, don’t feel bad if you’ve fallen prey to The Magical Marketing Minotaur™; practically all of us have, at one time or another, wanted to believe in something that was simply too good to be true. Plus—and we mean this—we like to see people thinking outside the box and testing all the angles. Great small business marketing requires creativity and flexibility… as long as you also remain grounded in reality and an understanding that there is no free lunch.
In other words, please do not sacrifice an effective (if boring) marketing campaign in order to chase something that doesn’t exist.
And if you need a Theseus to help guide you out of the Minotaur’s Maze, let us know. We’ll bring some heavy-duty string to mark the way out.
Happy small business marketing!
Theron & Katie
At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer marketing advisory, strategic planning, and implementation services for small businesses and startups. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing advisor, 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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