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Erica Mills
Nonprofit Marketing Consultant
Seattle, Washington
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The Best Marketing Investment You Can Make

It's free and you've already got one. What is this mysterious, yet highly effective investment opportunity? Your brain! If you want your business to thrive, train your brain to think like a marketer and success will follow.
Written Jun 30, 2009, read 793 times since then.
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Marketing can seem very overwhelming.  I mean, where do you start?  Do you blog, tweet, attend conferences, put up flyers?  The upside of marketing today is that the options are almost limitless.  The downside of marketing today is…the options are almost limitless.

Worry no more.  If you can bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies (and if you can hold a wooden spoon, you can bake a batch of cookies!), you can be a really good marketer.  Here’s the deal:

While baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies recently, I realized that baking cookies is a lot like marketing.  An outstanding batch of cookies is the result of a simple three step process:  1) identifying what your goal is of baking an ooey-gooey batch of cookies, 2) figuring out who will be eating them, and 3) deciding how to bring together both the right ingredients and the right proportion of each to produce the ooey-gooey batch of goodness you crave. 

How is this like marketing, you ask?  Well, it turns out that successful marketing also results from following the same simple three-step process:  1) identify what your goal is, 2) identify who your target audience is, and 3) decide how to mix together the right marketing “ingredients” to ensure that your target audience takes the action they need to for you to achieve your goal.

In both cases, if you didn’t do #1 and #2 before #3, you’d be in big trouble.  If you randomly grabbed ingredients from your pantry because they were the most convenient, or the cheapest, or the easiest to pour, you wouldn’t end up with chocolate chip cookies.  Heck, you probably wouldn’t end up with cookies at all!

With marketing, if you jump right to #3 without figuring out #1 and #2, you may end up doing a whole bunch of cool things, but they won’t necessarily get you to any particular goal.   

So, successful cookie-making and successful marketing follow the same three steps:

WHAT then WHO then HOW

If you train yourself to always think about the what (what does success look like for my business and, therefore, what will be different for my business if I do X?) then the who (who is my target audience?) and then the how (how will I get my target audience to see and hear my message?) -- voila! -- you will be successful at marketing and thus successful at achieving the goals you set out to achieve…whatever they may be.

So, if marketing is so darn easy, why did you decide to read this article or any other article on marketing for that matter?  Maybe you are an architect who wants to design more houses.  Maybe you’re a real estate agent looking to close more deals.  Maybe you’re a web designer looking for more sites to design.  Your motivations for reading this article may vary slightly, but you all share one thing in common:  You know you need to get smart about marketing and you don’t have time to sift through the seemingly endless array of websites, blogs and articles devoted to the all-important subject.  No small business owner has the time!  And that’s why training yourself to think like a marketer is the best marketing investment you can make. 

How can you be sure this is true?  Because 1) I’ve seen it work time and time again (and would be happy to regale you with stories should you wish!) and 2) we are a society obsessed with – and bombarded by – marketing. 

In many ways, we are all marketing ‘experts’.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at your inbox and mailbox.  Then listen to the radio and watch the TV for, oh, a nanosecond and you’ll quickly see that you are being marketed to.  Constantly.  It’s like a swiftly moving river whose sole purpose is to scoop you up into its enchanting waters and carry you to your chosen product or service. 

And what’s more, the tools available today put the power of marketing directly into your hands.  Set up a website, create a brochure, post to your blog, Twitter about all your activities, and update your Facebook, Linked In and Biznik profiles, while you’re at it.  It costs practically nothing (save for the cost of your time, of course, which is worth a lot!).

So why then, if we are all familiar with marketing (by virtue of being constantly marketed to!) and have access to the latest, greatest tools is marketing so hard for small business owners?  You guessed it: because we think like small business owners rather than marketers. 

Why, you ask (and rightfully so!), if you own, say, a pet walking business should you think like a marketer rather than a small business owner?  You do, after all, own a small business.  Because a marketer is programmed to find opportunities that lead to more clients, customers and sales.  In short, more money.  And isn’t more money good for business?  Yes, indeed it is.

The reality is all entrepreneurial small business owners share a common asset/liability: passion.  We are passionate about what we do.  Whether it’s a line of eco-friendly, recyclable lunch bags or a yard maintenance service that’ll knock your socks off, we tend to really love what we do. 

This passion has a downside, however, particularly when it comes to marketing.  You see, successful marketers start by setting a clear goal (their ‘what’) and then they get into the heads of their target audience (the ‘who’).  They know where they shop, where and what they eat, what they wear, how many kids they have, what neighborhood they live in, what newspapers they read, what radio stations they listen to, etc, etc, etc.  Based on this, they can craft a message that the potential customer wants to hear, rather than what they (the small business owner) wants them to know. 

Here’s an example of the difference between a small business owner selling dog walking services and a marketer selling the same services:

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Message #1: I will walk your dog for one hour two times a day.  All dogs I walk get water at the beginning and end of the walk, and I make sure they have sufficient food and water to get them through the day.  If the dog has any special needs, I take care of those, too.

Message #2: You love your dog. You want the very best for her. But your job just won't allow you to care for her every need during the work day.  I can’t replace you and the love you shower on your dog, but I can get darn close! Let me take care of your precious pup when you absolutely have to be away…because we all know that a happy dog makes a happy home.

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Now which doggie walker would you want caring for your pup? #2 please!  (That was the marketer, by the way.)  Same services.  Different message. 

The marketer’s message told the potential customer what she would want to hear, while the small business owner’s said what she wanted the potential customer to know.  This is the difference between thinking like a marketer and thinking like a small business owner.  It is a matter of constantly thinking about what your customers want and want to hear, saying it how they’ll hear it and getting the message to them via their preferred method of communication.  And all of this is always tied to a clear goal.

You have to craft marketing messages, so they might as well hit the mark, right?!

I know some of you are thinking, “But I’m not good with words?!”  No matter.  You are good at knowing your business and knowing what your customers want.  When you combine this knowledge with your passion for what you do and run it through the “what, who, how cookie baking” process, your marketing efforts will pay dividends for your business.

So, if you start to feel overwhelmed by marketing, take a deep breath and remind yourself that the best marketing investment you can make is to learn to think like a marketer.  It is a matter of retraining your brain.  And if your brain forgets how to think like a marketer, head to the kitchen and pull out a bag of chocolate chips because, remember, it’s just like baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Learn more about the author, Erica Mills.

Comment on this article

  • Tax Professional and IRS Representation 
Blaine, Washington 
Bill Bradfield, EA
    Posted by Bill Bradfield, EA, Blaine, Washington | Jul 03, 2009

    Erica,

    Good article. Good message. Now I wish I had learned to cook those gooey chocolate chip cookies.

  • Nonprofit Marketing Consultant 
Seattle, Washington 
Erica Mills
    Posted by Erica Mills, Seattle, Washington | Jul 05, 2009

    Hi Bill,

    I'm happy to share my recipe for chocolate chip cookies (just made them last night) and glad you liked the article!

    Cheers, Erica