What you think is marketing isn’t really marketing (and what that means to you)

A week or so ago, we were chatting about the importance of marketing with a business owner, and it became apparent that sometimes the idea of “Marketing” with a capital “M” seems a bit daunting—and even perhaps irrelevant—when you’re dealing with the day-in, day-out challenges of keeping your business running profitably. And sometimes the basic underlying purpose of marketing gets lost in the translation, when agencies and so-called experts start to pontificate on the importance of “building your brand”, “developing your voice”, “identifying your target audience”, or any of a million other mystifying technical terms that are often, frankly designed to scare you into opening your wallet.

It brought to mind something I hadn’t thought about in years. Back in the early 90’s, I lived in Southern California and was trying my best to make it in the music industry. I had a day job in marketing (and since I’m writing this blog, you know which one of those paid off…)

Bear with me, I promise there’s a point coming.

Some of my musician friends hung out in Newport Beach, and they turned me on to what is likely the coolest restaurant I’ve ever visited. The chef was absolutely amazing; in fact, to this day, I haven’t had a better steak anywhere in the world. It was dark with a funky, cool vibe, located on a side street somewhere north of Pacific Coast Highway, definitely not on the beaten track, and I couldn’t find it again if my life depended on it.

You see, this restaurant had no name and no sign indicating it was even there. If you didn’t know someone who was wise to its existence, you weren’t getting in. Looking back, it was a perfect example of the most powerful type of marketing in action: word of mouth.

On the flipside, it was never full. You certainly never had to wait to get in.

If they’d wanted their business to thrive and grow, what they needed wasn’t some fancy marketing plan. They already had a brand, whether they knew it or not (it was, “amazing, world-class food in a hip atmosphere served by cool people”). They didn’t need to “establish their voice” or “develop a brand standards manual”. They didn’t need a promotional strategy and long-range marketing plan. They needed MORE CUSTOMERS.

And that’s the main purpose of marketing for small businesses. Driving more customers. Bringing in incremental revenue. Growing the business.

Many agencies will tell you how many awards they’ve won, and point to their clever ads. But in our opinion, they’re completely missing the point. If your marketing efforts aren’t driving more business, then they’re not the right efforts. Period.

All marketing needs to start with a solid idea of what the results need to look like for it to make sense in the first place. We’ve seen a lot of proposals that sound really cool, but just don’t make sense when you try to attach some reasonable set of expectations around results. “Reach thousands of people on our network – TV advertising is the answer!” “Buy an ad in our paper!” “Billboards are the way to go!”

Maybe they’re good ideas and will drive business, but we’ve learned to approach ideas that smell of marketing hype with a healthy dose of skepticism. If it’s not readily apparent what the end result of investing your hard-earned dollars and time will be, then we suggest asking questions until it looks like you can reasonably expect that cool idea to have a proportionate and highly positive impact on your business.

So if you’ve been putting Marketing on the back burner or ignoring it altogether because it seems irrelevant or too esoteric, we’d encourage you to take a minute and think differently. Just remember a few things:

  1. “Marketing” is really just an umbrella phrase for any activities that attract customers to your business and help it grow. And you’re probably already doing it, when you talk to people at a meet-and-greet, by the fact that you have a website (or even a sign outside your business), or if ask people for reviews. And if you’re already doing it, shouldn’t you take the time to do it right? 
  2. “Marketing” (maybe we should call it “driving business”) doesn’t have to be complicated, or mysterious, or part of a massive complex strategy. In fact, for many small businesses, marketing can be as simple as adding one new way to reach new customers. 
  3. Don’t be distracted by shiny objects. Focus on small, incremental steps (ideally that you can test) to attract new customers. 

After all, unless you’re an awesome restaurant with amazing food and incredible word of mouth, you actually do need this thing-formerly-called-marketing. Even then you probably need it if you want to be around in 5, 10, 20 years or so.

Happy small business marketing (or whatever you want to call it),

Theron & Katie

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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