Marketing oldies but goodies
By Dan Heilman, Finance & Commerce, February 20, 2012
Social media might be trendy, but don’t forget tried-and-true methods
Most small-business owners are forced to function like a one-person band, doing multiple tasks such as purchasing, inventory and sales by themselves or with minimal help. Add marketing to the mix, and it often becomes lost in the shuffle of more pressing day-to-day duties.
Marketing is important, and over the past few years, a new wrinkle has emerged in how small-businesses market: social media. Outlets such as Facebook and Twitter give business owners a cheap, easy way to get their company’s name out there and to gather like-minded potential clients.
But some marketing experts caution that embracing the new modes of marketing can come at the expense of more tried-and-true methods of reaching prospective customers. They say that using some old-school methods along with a sprinkle of the new can provide a potent marketing mix if done right.
Steve Volavka, a partner at Ensemble Creative and Marketing in Lakeville, said sticking with established marketing tools can be especially important if you own a company that sells primarily to other companies.
“A lot of our clients are B-to-B, and they depend even more on traditional marketing,” Volavka said. “If they’re trying to target clients who are, say, middle-age men, the vehicle they use to market to them has to be something that’s acceptable to the target, whether that’s direct mail or marketing sales materials packets.”
Though it might be seen as old hat in some circles — especially given the struggles of the U.S. Postal Service — direct mail is still a medium that marketing veterans say has a lot of value.
“One thing about direct mail is that it’s still a great way to keep existing clients happy and stay in front of them all the time,” said Kristina Murto, Volavka’s partner at Ensemble. “Some companies are so worried about getting new clients that they forget about maintaining a relationship with existing customers. The most overlooked form of marketing is what you do with a current customer.”
Even with digital dominating the conversation, few marketing techniques can be more effective than praise from current and former customers. Angie Hughes, owner of Angie’s Creative in Prior Lake, teaches a marketing class on behalf of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and says she never fails to mention to her students the importance of customer endorsements.
“The standard practices I still teach are things like testimonials,” Hughes said. “Using testimonials in your collateral material can push other clients to offer testimonials, too. What other people say about your business can add up to a lot more than what you say about it. That’s one reason social media has become popular — it provides that direct feedback from outside sources, but it brings both the good and the bad.”
There’s also no replacement for plain old marketing. Attending Chamber of Commerce or trade group meetings, or joining a fellowship group, can pay dividends, Murto said. “Rotary members love to buy from other Rotary members,” she says.
Dan Joyce, a sales and marketing executive at Honeywell International and president of the Business Marketing Association’s Minnesota chapter, also recommends making the most of your current client roster. The clients who are really behind you, he said, won’t mind speaking to others on your company’s behalf.
“You can often get more profit from growing your best existing customers because not only do you already have them in the fold, but they can provide valuable word of mouth,” Joyce said. “Find ways to make your best customers your advocate.”
While social media has its uses, one thing it’s not great for is helping business owners understand what they do and what their goals are. A flurry of tweets won’t help anyone — least of all the business owner — understand the goals and objectives of the company and make sure that’s consistent across the board in your marketing, Hughes said.
“Take time to define your key messages and why you’re unique or different, and take care to use that wisdom in your marketing,” she said. “You might know why intuitively, but it’s a good exercise to develop a way to explain that to other people. What makes your brand stand out? What makes it unique? What services do you offer that your competitors don’t?”
Social media outlets such as Twitter also pose the risk of causing you to lose your grip on the public conversation taking place about your company. “There’s also a danger in not being able to control your message and how people respond to it,” Murto said. “If someone is unhappy with your service, they’ll let the world know.”
“Big companies have internal resources to disarm those negative responses,” Volavka added. “Small companies don’t.”