Small Business and Startups: 5 Marketing Myths

Marketing is simple right? For every dollar your company spends on it, you should see over a dollar in the sales generated in return. In other words as long as the ROI is positive any marketing effort can be considered a good effort and any effort that does not come with measurable, positive ROI should be discontinued as soon as possible. But what about efforts that are difficult or even impossible to to measure? What about marketing tactics that are designed to build awareness as opposed to sales? Should these tactics be executed even if the net cash received is less than the tactic costs? In part, it is this tension that supports the concept of the marketing mix. In other words, a solid marketing plan should include a variety of tactics some of which will drive convertible traffic to your store, your website, or your product display, as well as others those that serve simply to spread your company’s name along with the good word about who you are and what you sell.

Marketing can be especially difficult for small business – budgets are small, capacity is strained, and customers can often have a difficult time perceiving the differences between your product and your competitor’s. The trick is to experiment to find what works for your business and to try lots of different things until the mix is working for you. So when you read about a famous marketer, and they insist that their way is the right way, remember to take it with a large grain of salt; what works for another company may not work for you, and vese-versa.

So many of these truths about small business marketing are spouted every day and many of these ideas, some of which are commonly accepted, are downright dangerous for companies planning their own marketing strategy. Like so much in life, there is no one right way to accomplish something and every business is different and every market unique. I believe that there is only one meaningful rule in marketing: I think of it as Define, Measure, Evaluate.  In other words, define specific goals for your marketing plans and for each individual marketing tactic; gather data to measure the results; and, finally, evaluate whether the plan or tactic helped to meet the overall goal. If a strategy or tactic is working, keep going. If not kill it, move on, and try something different.

Here are 5 commonly held truths about marketing and why I believe you should ignore them all:

1. Some companies don’t need to market themselves. One of the most persistent myths around marketing is that it is a luxury that can be done without, especially when times are good. True, marketing budgets can and should be fungible – sometimes a product might not need as much support as others – but this does not mean that a company or product will survive long in the market with no support whatsoever. And while you may be flying high right now, that does not give you (or your competitors) permission not to market at all. Every company markets – whether through direct sales, prominent signage, customer retention, word of mouth, or web and social media presence – every company engages in marketing and if anyone tries to tell you that they do none at all, just smile and list the 4-Ps. I guarantee that they are using at least one of them and marketing in spite of the fact that they claim not to be.

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2. Marketing = advertising. Advertising is a tactic and is one among many in a healthy marketing mix. Advertising as nothing other than purchasing space or time to promote a message. For many companies advertising is a crucial component to their overall marketing plan and without this support sales will decline. But for others, paid advertising is a waste of money; a negative-ROI sinkhole into which hard-earned budget dollars disappear. For small companies with modest marketing budgets most traditional advertising will be out of reach, but there are plenty of other tactics which will help to build awareness and drive traffic.

3. Sales is not marketing. Wrong. Sales is marketing and marketing is sales. A commonly held misconception is that marketing simply supports sales and is just their to assist the sales organization. The goal of marketing is to spread the message about your company or product, the goal of sales is to get orders placed. Let your marketing educate and identify your customers; let your sales team get to work building strong relationships, closing deals, and retaining customers! One supports the other, because they are both aspects of the same thing: marketing!

4. Some businesses are too small to market. Wait, what? Just like the Fortune 100, even the smallest of micro businesses must market to survive. The person who made up this silly rule must have a very narrow view of what marketing is (see #2 above). ALL companies market themselves, whether by handing out a business card to your seat mate on an airplane, maintaining a Twitter account, or placing an ad in the local Yellow Pages. A great example of a teeny business and the importance of marketing? Walk into your local supermarket and check the bulletin board by the door; how many babysitters, piano teachers, and lawn care specialists have pinned their cards up? Plenty. And why? Because they need to market in order to survive/

5. In advertising, ROI is not important. Seriously? Where do people come u with this stuff? Any marketing tactic that involves the outlay of cash must justify itself or should be immediately discontinued. But ROI does not always have to be measured in dollars; sometimes the return on your investment is something other than sales. For instance, a company that sets a goal of receiving 1,000 ‘Likes’ to a Facebook post might spend money placing advertising designed to drive traffic to their Facebook page. In this case the return on the cash investment would not be cash sales, but rather the ROI would be positive if they achieved the goal of being ‘Liked’ by 1,000 visitors to the page. Marketing costs money, and a marketing effort that does not bring with it a positive return should be discontinued as soon as possible. The trick is to set those clear and measurable goals and define your ROI against those; ROI is positive if your stated goal is met and it’s negative if it is not.

Image: Sámi mythology shaman drumWikimedia

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