Working with small business owners since 1999 has been highly rewarding and also frustrating at times. Most of the time when talking with them they are at a loss of how to market their product or service after trying to do it on their own and creating marketing mistakes. In almost every case, the technology or software needed to create meaningful marketing campaigns is the biggest hurdle to them. They either rely on others to do the computer based projects needing done or they simply have peaked in their ability to figure out the technology themselves. While everyone has capacity limits in technology, some business owners and management of the company are better off focusing on areas they can make immediate impact to help the bottom line… and many times it’s better to outsource to avoid marketing mistakes.
The following mistakes are those which I’ve encountered over the years and the ones which seem to throw a wrench into potential success with marketing their brand, product, or service.
MISTAKE 1: CREATIVE ASSETS SHOULD BE LOVED BY THE BUSINESS OWNER / LEADER
It seems that any time a person is making an investment in helping their business, they want to ensure they keep their fingerprints in the creative imaging that they are paying to have done. For example, one client had a passion for the color pink. They dressed in pink attire and had a lot of pink accessories that they carried with them. As such, when discussing the options for a logo and other collateral materials, they insisted we use pink in the design. Ordinarily, if the product or service they are offering is the actual owner themselves, that strategy may work fine. If they were a real estate agent and they wanted to brand themselves to stand out among the competition, using a PINK color palette may be totally logical and helpful. However, this particular client was trying to market a very masculine product that was highly competitive in the marketplace. Using pink was not a good strategy because it didn’t align with the product or the likely buyer demographic of color preference. The male audience may notice the pink color but it wouldn’t necessarily relate to their taste in that product. The owner demanded that the creative appealed to their individual taste and preference instead of truly understanding their target buyer demographic. While I understand the need to be proud of the image that is being portrayed publicly, the reality is that your sole purpose is to attract potential buyers, not please your own eyes alone. Observing competitor logos and product marketing further supports what the market expects and will likely attract buyers. This owner refused to look at the market competition as well. When considering marketing strategies, the first rule should be to appeal to the buyer’s likely preference of what they would like to see and experience to learn about a product or service. The business owner is the not the target buyer even though they may want the product themselves. This is a common marketing mistake.
MISTAKE 2: DIY APPROACH
While DIY (Do It Yourself) is always a less expensive way to get marketing done, it isn’t always the best solution. Unfortunately, marketing today has a huge dependence on digital outlets and the working knowledge of how these outlets or platforms function can be an overwhelming undertaking. Spending a budget to formulate a cohesive and homogenous approach to marketing can pay dividends in the long run. Imagine building a house using random tools you find in your garage and materials you can scrape together. Your vision and approach will likely be based on what you have to work with in front of you versus what you need to work with to make it last and be useful. A blueprint to what you want to accomplish is the first place to start. Then, building a budget for the materials and labor is next. Then identifying the timing to execute the build is the last step. Then once you begin building, you need a plan to make adjustments if things are working as you expected. Perhaps a supplier can’t make the delivery in time for the concrete pour and that backs up your foundation being ready for the framing to begin. A marketing expert or consultant understands the reality of an entire plan whereas a business owner may only be looking for the quick hit to get a customer in the door tomorrow. (this is the next mistake made). The quality of workmanship and creative is limited to the tools or experience of the business owner. Imagine a lean-two shed versus a nice brick home. Both are structures but anyone viewing them can determine which is likely a more professional outcome. So the lesson is to focus on what you do best and outsource the rest to avoid marketing mistakes.
“When considering marketing strategies, the first rule should be to appeal to the buyer’s likely preference of what they would like to see and experience to learn about a product or service.”
MISTAKE 3: PANIC MARKETING IS THE WRONG MOTIVE
Many small business owners view marketing as a bandaid to fix sales deficits. They budget a spend of funds to offset a lack of sales but when times are good, they do no marketing at all. This is a huge marketing mistake. The rule for marketing is that it is a 24/7 requirement for business. Even McDonald’s and Coca Cola continue marketing even though their brands are well known and the product is likely vastly known. Of course their budgets are predetermined and therefore their spend is a normal part of the annual operating expenses. A small business owner doesn’t always have the cash flow to continue marketing year round, but that shouldn’t prevent them from devising clever ways to keep marketing even with little to no budgets. Many clients I’ve served over the years only spend money when their production capacity is slowing down or the economy gets tough and they need sales NOW. It seems like a knee-jerk reaction to fix their business. Then, when spending a pile of cash to quickly get new business, they find that they’ve burned a lot of cash on methods that don’t give them the results they want. Obviously, the media channel they choose and the creative will affect the potential outcome, but many times it’s just a desperation move like piling your chips on RED at a roulette table. Good marketing plans consider cash flow concerns and have contingencies to ensure you’re not absent from the consumer view. Simple things like press releases (FREE TO MAKE), social media posts (FREE TO POST), networking events (LOW COST), are all ways to keep marketing when ad buys are not in the budget. The lesson many business owners learn is that panic marketing rarely creates the desired outcomes and tends to disenfranchise the attitude needed to continue with potentially effective marketing techniques.
MISTAKE 4: NOT UNDERSTANDING YOUR TARGET BUYER
Some business owners I’ve worked for as a consultant rely on past buyer demographics to dictate their potential buyer. Unfortunately, economic conditions and market saturation may change the potential buyer demographic. Consider cell phones. When they first entered the consumer market, there were few choices of manufacturers and therefore the type of buyer would be easier to find because of limited supply. Marketing choices for that reality would be different than when hundreds of phone makers are vying to compete for a buyer. There have been business owners who didn’t adapt to market changes fast enough and end up using old marketing strategies that just don’t work anymore… aka making marketing mistakes. I’ve had clients asking me to help them with newspaper ads when their product or service was being overlooked because competition was using better methods to reach buyers. For instance, the current consumer typically spends 75% of their time researching options online before every picking up a phone or visiting a business to discuss a product. Older business owners are likely to insist their website or ads don’t disclose too much information because they want to hand-lead the buyer with their canned sales pitch. They want their website to insist they call for more information. Then, the business hours and voicemail mazes can turn away buyers quickly. These owners don’t understand the buyer’s process and therefore they are handcuffed into using methods that just don’t effectively work anymore. I’ve had clients who believe price to be the most valuable concern for their marketing plan. They emphasize everything around the premise that their product is low-cost and less than competitors. However, sometimes price isn’t the leading concern of a buyer. Sometimes quality, durability, features, options, availability, etc are more important to a buyer and the owner is not aware they are missing their audience.
“…the current consumer typically spends 75% of their time researching options online before every picking up a phone or visiting a business to discuss a product.”
MISTAKE 5: NOT FULLY UNDERSTANDING THE MARKETING PROCESS
Like any other specialized type of business, there are obvious and less-obvious realities that exist in their process. A doctor, for example, has the classroom knowledge acquired that pairs with the experiences they’ve had practicing medicine. When they are consulting a patient about what they may be feeling or having as a condition, they may not go into all the details of why they believe the course of action is the best, but rather give their professional advice presuming the patient will take their recommendation. The same as a lawyer. The lawyer gathers information about the situation and then recommends a plan of action that will likely put the client on a course of a satisfactory approach to resolve the matter. Marketing is no different. Many clients I’ve helped have some understanding of the goals, but get lost when I try to explain the details of the process to avoid marketing mistakes. It sometimes creates misunderstanding and that can cause frustration for them. The other challenge is the third party friend or peer that gives partial advice to the owner and then they make assumptions about what’s possible from that information. For example, one client was told that their site needs to show up on the first page of Google in order to get more website visits. They contacted me to talk about it and see how much that would cost. They presumed it was a flat rate fee for achieving the first page of search results for their product. In that case it was a golf pro wanting to sell golf clubs they bought for their course. It took me a while to help them understand that the online market for golf clubs for sale was highly saturated and that to earn a first page result would be very costly and there was no guarantee their investment would create enough business to offset their cost. They had no concept of how SEO worked and spent mental energy assuming it was just a flat fee, one-time investment like building their website. The mistake in this is that business owners need to see marketing as a highly specialized field requiring finite expertise to protect their investment with the hope of ROI.
Obviously there are more mistakes that are made by the average business owner but the goal is to find ways to avoid them up front in order to avoid loss of resources and having a negative experience.