Marketing by Guesswork

Confused about your marketing?

How Do You Choose Your Marketing Tactics?

A colleague of mine is besieged by advertising opportunities. Each week she receives a call or email from one or more of the local free suburban newspapers, the paid-for regional daily, a local radio rep, online directories and apps, all attempting to persuade her to advertise with them.

She feels overwhelmed by all the choices and doesn’t know what opportunities to agree to. Worse, she doesn’t know if those she says yes to give her much or any return.

Stories like this are not uncommon. Those running a small business rarely have the time to delve into the detail of marketing. Instead, they do what my colleague has been doing – taking each advertising offer as it comes and making ad hoc choices that may have no bearing whatsoever on the target market she is pursuing.

But advertising makes her feel like she is doing something. And for many business owners, that’s the most they can manage given all the other claims on their time. Sometimes it’s better than doing nothing, sometimes it’s not.

In my writing business, by the time a business approaches me with a task they want doing, they have often chosen their course of action. They might have decided on a case study (or series), my LinkedIn marketing programme, an advertorial in a trade publication, setting up a newsletter, distributing a press release, or uploading blogs to their website.

Yet, those making these decisions may not always know the best way to get their message out there. At best, they’re taking a guess. And they don’t have the time or the expertise to do otherwise.

So, they decide based on factors that make marketers apoplectic. For instance, they may be offered a “one-time-only opportunity” to advertise, manipulated into a listing in the area’s annual school diary, persuaded into being the “only business in their industry” to appear in an online directory or to sponsor a local fundraising event. Or, it may be a vanity project – something undertaken for prestige rather than results. Time-sensitive, scarcity and ‘support local’ tactics abound, often successfully convincing business owners or marketers to part with their hard-won cash.

The results of this are almost always disappointing. There is a well-known quote in the advertising industry that says, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”.

These days it is possible to measure almost every aspect of your marketing from clicks on your website (which page they went to, how long they spent there, where they came from immediately beforehand), visits to and engagement on your social media accounts, views of your blog posts and – if you ask them – direct from your customers.

Fortunately, in the case of my colleague, she had been keeping records on her inbound inquiries. But she had not correlated that with her expenditure and when she did so, her eyes were opened.

How Your Customers Find You

It is imperative that you know how your customers are finding you. If you don’t, you will continue to spend money on tactics that may not work.

Mostly, it is very easy to ask your customers how they found you. Simply set up a file (or a notebook if you’re old school) and when a job enquiry comes in, ask how the person found you and make a note of it. Also, add a question into your website enquiry form that gives people a few options (including Other, and prompt them to explain where they heard about you).

At the end of each month, total up the number of enquiries and their sources. Keep a monthly tally for a year and analyse whether the money you are spending on marketing is getting results or not.

Now, some caveats. Your business may not be the kind that makes this easy or even possible. It wouldn’t work in the queue at McDonald’s, for instance.

Accuracy requires the inclusion of all incoming leads, not just those arriving by phone. Include email and website enquiries and any other source unique to your business.

When asking a customer how they found you, they may struggle to answer. That’s because the internet has made it possible for you to be found in any number of ways. Via social media, through your website after a Google search, word-of-mouth referral (still the best source of leads where I live), the Yellow Pages or online directory, or through your local church/Rotary/school. Even this list is not exhaustive. With online advertising, search for red cats with three ears just once and you will be flooded with adverts from sites selling red cats with three ears for weeks to come.

Given the number of ways a person can find out about your business, they may not remember how they found you. Or, they may have researched you in multiple ways. Someone might have mentioned you at a barbeque so they decide to check you out online. They could find your LinkedIn profile, Facebook page or website. They might look at all these before deciding to approach you. When asked how they found you – what do they say? One of these, several of these, the first time they heard about you or the most recent thing they saw? In these situations, you need to look at the larger trends, rather than the detail and take into account the margin of error.

Recently, a potential client contacted me through Google, using a search term I didn’t know my business was optimised for. Now, that might have been a one off and not worth thinking too much more about. But if next month another new enquirer says the same thing, a pattern is starting to emerge.

Of course, this is only helpful for measuring past and current results. It doesn’t help you decide what new tactics to use in the future.

And that takes us back to how business owners decide what to do. Because it’s more complicated than ever with choices between online advertising and the more traditional

offline, the myriad social media platforms available, whether to go for ‘push’ advertising or ‘pull’ marketing, add ‘content’ to the mix – or any one of many other options.

It is much easier simply to take the line of least resistance and either stick with what has previously been done or take up the time-sensitive, scarcity offers that continue to roll on in.

Business owners are often unaware that were they to ask, marketers like me would be able to offer advice as to what works and what doesn’t, gathered over many years of working with diverse clients. We have worked with those who have tried every tactic there is, and can suggest ideas and hone them to perfection before implementing them.

There are significant advantages to this. First, as in the case of my colleague, we can look at the past and make recommendations on future marketing expenditure. We can look at the bigger picture and align the marketing with both the target market and the company’s overall goals. Objectivity is much easier from outside a business, rather than when involved with the daily minutiae of keeping it running. Anyone who has tried writing about their company’s point of difference knows that it’s not as easy to do as it sounds.

The second advantage is that it saves the business money. Admittedly, there is a cost to hiring a marketer, but if budget is being spent on tactics that don’t work there will be savings when that stops plus increased revenue when the results of more targeted activities roll in.

A third advantage is in the experience a marketer brings to the table. They will have likely worked with many clients on different types of marketing projects and will have watched closely the level of success achieved – or not! They can bring that knowledge to the table, allowing the business owner to consider new and different tactics.

Now, it is fair to say that marketing is changing extraordinarily quickly. This is giving rise to many sub-niches, for instance social media, and it is rare for someone even with many years of experience to be an expert in everything. But marketers know other marketers and experts in the fields they are not so experienced in themselves. An example of this is called ad ops – or ad operations. This is the relatively new field of online advertising – those ads that follow you around the net – and requires considerable technical skill. It is quite outside my area of competence so when discussing this as a strategy with a client I will suggest early on that we consult an expert for advice.

Knowing their limitations and where to go to get help are two key traits of hireable marketers.

What other traits should you look for? Someone who can listen. Someone who understands your business and has a sound knowledge of the terms used and the target market. Someone with a strong track record, a good LinkedIn profile (essential in my opinion) and a willingness to consult and to learn. Collaborative marketing seems always to work better than the silo mentality.

My final words on the subject; know where your market hangs out and how they found you. Always compare lead sources with marketing expenditure. Get outside help if you are not an experienced marketer yourself and always be open to new ideas.

For help with your marketing, talk with us! We’ll happily give you some suggestions for marketing tactics we know will work!