Kissing the cows.

Marketing is a funny thing, every company has their definition of what it is and how it should be used, but one thing is for certain, you can’t run a business without it.  That being said, just because you are marketing doesn’t mean you are a “smart marketer”.  So many companies throw good money after bad money trying to make a campaign successful and each time they write a check their ROI is just getting pushed lower and lower into the gutter.  So many companies spend their marketing dollars chasing the customer without any real plan or strategy.

There is an old saying about two bulls, one old and wise, one young and inexperienced sitting on top of a hill overlooking a bunch of cows that are grazing in a field, and the young bull says to the older bull, “lets run down there and kiss one of those cows”, the old bull says, “no lets walk down and kiss them all”.  I have cleaned up this saying a bit for the sake of this article, but you get my drift.  Marketing is sort of like this, if you run after your potential customers, without thinking things through, you are bound to catch some of them, however if you take the slow and easy approach and think about what you are doing,  instead of just going off half cocked, you are bound to create more customers.  Marketing is not just a way of advertising, which is just a small part of it; marketing is about strategy, about planning what you are going to do in advance in order to create the best possible outcome and getting the best bang for your advertising buck.  The young bull represents advertising without thinking it through, just throwing money out there and hoping someone responds, the old bull represents the marketer who takes his time and creates a strategy that will best serve the company and that will maximize his marketing dollars and bring in the most business.

Marketing is all about strategy, without it you are just chasing a bunch of cows hoping to catch one, when what you should be thinking about is catching them all.

A girl, a goat, and a stamp collection.

Have you ever called a business and got an automated answering system that made you sit through what seems like an eternity listening to the various options they have, none of which have anything to do with what you called about, they might as well have asked you to push 1 for a girl, 2 for a goat, or 3 for a stamp collection because that makes about as much sense as the menu they offered you.  I recently called a company and after listening to their long introduction and menu which was about nine different options, none which applied to the reason I called, I pushed 0 thinking I was going to get the operator.  But no, I got to listen to the entire recording all over again, I then selected one of the options just to get out of the main menu, and had to then listen to another long list of menu items, and them randomly selected one of them and finally one of the options was to speak to a customer service agent.  It honestly should not be that difficult to speak to someone.

Don’t get me wrong, automated answering systems are fine, we have one at my company, but when you call, you get a simple menu and you have the ability to talk to someone with one simple press of a button, we don’t make you jump through hoops just to get someone on the phone.  It is obvious that companies that do this just don’t want to talk to you, they are trying to force you to use the automated self help system, and this really irks people and creates a very bad image for the company.  People want to be able to pick up the phone and with ease talk to a real live person.  Let that person figure out what you need and transfer you if need be, but making it difficult to get someone on the phone is just bad for business.  People call your business because they want to talk to a real person not an automated system.  PayPal has taken a lot of heat on this issue and many of their customers have complained that they are not able to talk to a live person very easily, and they are not alone, many companies are like this, and obviously the reason is to save money, but I say that this savings is at the expense of losing customers and in the end this is the opposite of what the goal was.  Customer service should be a top priority to any company and it should be an easy transaction for a customer to obtain customer service at any level.  Remember as a business you only exist as long as your customers find value in what you have to offer, so keeping them happy certainly is beneficial to any company.

Not having a business strategy is recipe for failure.

Being in the marketing industry I have experience dealing with just about every type of client there is and one of the biggest problems that I have seen with small businesses is that they are often unorganized, they are not goal oriented and they went into business without any solid goals.  It doesn’t matter what size your business is it is absolutely imperative that you have a strategy, a strategy that should be created prior to opening your doors for business.  I have seen too many people decide they were going to go into business and let’s be frank, anyone with a hundred bucks and a ball point pen can start a business; you go down to the county recorder’s office, you fill out the paper work for a fictitious name, you pay the fee, you go to your bank and open up a bank account and Ta Da you’re in business.  If only it was that easy, it’s not.  Below are the statistics of small businesses that started and businesses that closed between 2000 and 2004.  These were years prior to the recession when the economy was in decent shape.  As you can see nearly as many businesses close their doors each year as new businesses open their doors.

Starts and Closures of Employer Firms, 2000-2004
Category 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
New Firms 574,300 585,140 569,750 553,500e 580,900e
Firm Closures 542,831 553,291 586,890 572,300e 576,200e
Bankruptcies 35,472 40,099 38,540 35,037 34,317

e = Estimate.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of the Census; Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

I have dealt with hundreds of small businesses over the years who want to advertise and when asked what their marketing budget is they answer that they don’t have one, or ask what their quarterly or yearly sales goal is and you get the deer in the headlights look like I suddenly started speaking Latin. If you do not have a strategy you will very likely fail. Period. Having a business without a strategy and aimlessly spending money without any structured goals is like buying a car without an engine.  It won’t work.  Think of your business as a large piece of machinery with many different parts, all those parts need to be oiled, tuned, and maintained and before plugging it in and flipping the switch; engineers need to calibrate it and make sure everything’s been done right.   The biggest mistake that I see from small businesses is the lack of a strategy, including a marketing plan and budget.  Regardless of the size of your business it is important to create a roadmap of where you are, where you are going and where you want to end up and then to create a plan for getting there.  Without this you are just bouncing around without any direction hoping that something works, and don’t get me wrong sometimes people get lucky, sometimes, but the majority fail because they did not plan ahead.  In business, planning is everything.