"How many of you are business owners? Raise your hands."
"How many are CEOs or managers at your company?"
"How many of you are afraid?"
Thus began the keynote speaker at the Bellevue Chamber luncheon on a Wednesday in August.
Frank Catalano of Intrinsic Strategy and marketing and guru of the Greater Seattle business community for nearly two decades spent the next half hour speaking about, "Marketing Myths In An Economic Downturn.”
The entire time my mind channeled the words of FDR,
"The only thing we have to fear . . . is fear itself."
Like an Independence Day rocket blazing across a dark July sky most small and medium businesses have begun with an explosion of passion about their core product or service. The eager new entrepreneur has been exceptional in some larger corporation’s IT department, service firm or retail store. They understand the business. They have the customer contacts. They know how to do it better.
That’s the most important leg of a stable three legged stool called a successful business.
But, how well balanced is a stool with only one solid leg?
Eager new entrepreneurs very often know little about two other very important legs which not only balance but also support the business. Accounting and Marketing.
In my thirty years of working with thousands of small and medium sized businesses one thing has loomed like a scare crow in a rotting vegetable garden. Most business failures do not come because the owner does not know the work of the business. Most business failures come because of poor bookkeeping and even worse marketing practices.
Perhaps it’s because we all see thousands of advertisements every day, everywhere. Because we know what we like and what we don’t. But somehow, intuitively, nearly every business owner seems to think they, themselves sufficiently understand marketing. Making the cost of professional help unnecessary or only needed at a minimal level.
Small business owners are by nature, confident and knowledgeable. Particularly in the area of their own core business activity. When it comes to marketing, however, a little stone may overturn a confident Goliath.
When financial challenges, like crocodile eyes, peak above the unknown waters of business the instinctive reaction of most owners is fear! They stop all marketing before the beast explodes from the depths and locks them in a death roll.
But isn’t getting new customers the solution?
Isn’t that what good marketing is supposed to do . . . get you new customers?
If it’s only about cutting costs why aren’t you turning off the phones?
That’ll save you a couple of thousand dollars this year.
I’ve asked that question a thousand times and the response is always,
“But the phone is how my customers reach me.”
The same is true for good marketing.
If yours isn’t working, you’re doing it wrong. Even in a rough economy some people are going to buy. You just have to figure out how to reach them. Real estate sales may have been only 75% of what they were the year before but that still means thousands of homes sold!
Reaching the right people, with the right message, at the right time is the key to marketing success. Being willing to adjust your business methods is critical.
To paraphrase Catalano’s first and most important principle, “Don’t slash marketing.”
If you pull a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” on your advertising plan your customers will think you’re “gone”. They’re accustomed to your presence in the market place reassuring them that they’ve made the right decision to buy from you.
You will also lose “Top of Mind” consideration to your competitors. McDonalds is a brand known worldwide by every human above the age of three. And they want to keep it that way so they constantly market.
You will lose market share to more aggressive competitors. Many years ago, one of the companies I owned was a professional limousine transportation company. One year during a recession nearly all our competitors cut their marketing in half while we doubled ours. The result was a four-fold competitive gain on our competition that propelled our company to become the 3rd largest limousine transportation in the Puget Sound region.
Our marketing decisions during a down economy made that possible. Business challenges only exist to keep competitors from stealing your success.
It's much wiser to improve your marketing plan. Surgically reduce costs while improving effectiveness. Use a scalpel not a chainsaw.
Three simple principles apply here.
First, keep or switch to what's cheap. If it’s $50 or $100, do it. (Unless that’s a lot of money to your business.) If it’s free, do it. Network, Network, Network.
Second, keep or switch to what's most effective. Let’s say you’ve always advertised with yellow pages (or any other traditional medium). You always do it because you’ve always done it. Now is the time to get serious about finding out if it’s effective. You won’t know how to do this. You’ll think you do but you don’t. A good marketing professional will. (Hint: asking your customers, “How did you hear about our business?” is the wrong question).
Three, cut out the questionable and eliminate ego advertising. If it doesn’t serve the purpose of bringing you new customers, save the money.
So now what?
The most important thing to do is to understand that good marketing is a skill as difficult to master as the core function of your business. And just like with your business, without training and experience it’s impossible to do it well.
- Get professional advice. It’s critical that you must begin to get input.
- Establish a relationship with a real marketing professional. It can be a compensated advisor or a complimentary one from a business network but be sure they have experience in more than just one marketing arena.
- Ask them to build or help you build a marketing plan for the next 12 months. This should include both permanent, foundational elements and discretionary options you may execute depending on business circumstances.
- When it’s complete show it to and get a second opinion from another marketing professional.
- Remember the final decision is still always yours.
Making your company’s marketing plan an effective one is a serious challenge.
A challenge that often fills hearts and minds with fear.
It is your responsibility. What are you going to do about it?
I suggest the answer lies in the words of Emerson, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain”
Take action now and by this time next year your success will be the proof that as Joe Rogen says, "Fear is NOT a factor for you!"