It opened as a cute little store with enthusiastic owners who had put their life savings into remodeling, buying merchandise and opening the doors. Within a year or two it was gone. How many times have you said “Wow, that was such a neat place, how come it went out of business?” The answers could be anything from lack of capital to incompetence, but it’s usually a lack of effective marketing.
What is marketing? When we decided to get married in Las Vegas over 10 years ago, there were decidedly mixed reactions from the friends and relatives. Vegas didn’t have the cachet it does currently. For every person who was excited about the swimming pools, the glitter and the vacation, there was another worried about sleazy chapels, Elvis impersonators and smoky casinos. Not one of these people had ever been there, and each had a preconceived notion of what it was like.
Realizing their reluctance to attend, I sent each guest a full-color hotel brochure, beautiful photos of the wedding chapel, and a nicely done invitation describing the wedding and the champagne reception to follow. Suddenly, everyone was calling their travel agents. Nothing had changed except their perception of Las Vegas. The packet I sent was a marketing device. It was an enticing invitation to a great party.
Marketing a small business is done exactly the same way. You can have the greatest soup, the finest clothing or the best widget in the world, but if you don’t tell people about it, you’ve wasted your efforts.
Here are some important keys to remember:
Words are powerful. If someone says let’s go to the “bookstore cafe” or “the mall,” a set of preconceived images appear that may be positive or negative. Business owners are usually so wrapped up in running their businesses, they forget to let people know the positive images they should be selling. You must be consistent and accurate in the words that describe your business.
How old is your business? If it’s less than 5 years old you need to spend a lot of time letting people know you even exist. A business that is long-established needs to keep reminding people that they are still there and have new and interesting things to look at. Don’t give up advertising because you think everyone knows where you are and what you do. Create an annual plan and stick with it.
People get bored. They are inundated by thousands of images daily, and you must be clever to keep their attention. Your business must be a growing, changing entity just like a living thing. New merchandise, remodeling, new menu items, staff training, anything to keep things fresh without losing the sense of what made you a success in the first place. Customers will notice subtle decay, lack of interest in customer service and stale product. Business will begin a downward spiral from which you may never recover.
Marketing is more than running ads. Running ads isn’t secondary, it’s what’s going to bring people in to see that old merchandise and unpainted walls. Start by having something good to advertise and then tell people about it. I knew a restaurant that ran the greatest TV ads. The food looked appetizing, the restaurant was classy, and people came in droves. Unfortunately, the ad was a lot better than the food or the service, and people never came in a second time. Be sure before you start your campaign that everything is in order to build repeat customers.
Set up Marketing Plan. Having goals and a budget will make you focus on which form of advertising is best for your business (since you obviously can’t afford to do everything), and whenever a salesperson comes in the door, you won’t be swayed simply by their sales technique, but by whether it’s already in your plan.
Consistency is the key. People need repetition to get the message across. This is why advertising in various mediums is so important. Choose the mediums that will reach the customers you want to hit. The message will be reinforced if seen and heard in several places.
Style is Important. A funky, little cafe can do a homemade sign, but a fine dining place needs something completely different. Logos, signage, ads, all have to match the style of your business.
If you’re terrible at design, hire an ad agency or a marketing student to do some work for you. The results will pay for themselves. Don’t try to save money on the things that are the most important for your image.
Marketing is the invitation you offer to your customers. It’s the last thing you can let slide.
Taimi Dunn Gorman is the founder of the Colophon Café and Doggie Diner. She teaches seminars at WCC and for the Small Business Development Center, and does marketing consulting and publicity. She may be reached through gormanpublicity.com