Small Businesses and Marketing

How can you be a small business and not take a good, long, close look at your marketing efforts?

Apparently that’s what 26% of small business owners said in a recent Yellow Pages Association survey about small business marketing efforts. Now, there’s alot about this survey that’s not surprising. Generating and retaining customers is the number one challenge for small businesses — not a shocker. Actually, feel free to replace “small” with “medium,” large,” or “any.” I mean, there aren’t many businesses where finding customers is not one of the most important challenges. 62% of business don’t use outside resources to assist with their marketing efforts — also not a shocker. They’re small businesses, so they’ve got small budgets and hands-on people who lead the search for customers.

But more than a quarter don’t measure ROI on marketing? Now that is astounding. If you have a small budget, and customers are challenging to find, and it’s a tough economy, and you don’t use any outside resources to help — don’t you want to be sure you’re spending your money in the most effective fashion? Don’t you NEED to know you’re finding the most customers for the most effective cost?

The survey signals a need for small business owners and marketers to ensure you’re measuring ROI the right way, and that you’re up-to-speed on how to measure ROI in the first place. Perhaps that’s the reason for the 26% who drop the ball on measuring results. Before you charge ahead with a marketing plan, make sure than plan includes looking at your results and putting your resources in the right places. That’s Marketing 101.

I Found the Marketing Bailout

A short time ago I wrote a post about how great it’d be if there was a bailout fund for marketers. Great news — I found it!

Well, sorta. Seems that a notable online marketing conference is, cleverly, spinning the whole bailout concept to their advantage as an attendence-driver. Ok, so it’s not really a bailout for any of us. But let’s laud them for the concept — and it does have some merits, they’re actually doing something meaningful to help their customers.

Every Marketers’ Secret Jobs

Hhhmmm, what could they be? CIA agent? Air marshal? F-22 pilot, fire chief, crane operator? No, nothing that involves risking lives, or saving lives, or even putting lives at risk.

However, it does involve putting your brands at risk. If you don’t embrace your secret jobs, that is.

That’s because, if you’re a marketer, you’re also a cheerleader and a trainer.

Did you ever take a good, long look at the quality of the interaction you have with an employee of a great company? They’re happy with the value proposition they share with their employer, they’re engaged, they care about customers. They provide solutions. Hell, they proactively search for better solutions, even in the most dire of cutomer service nightmares. Have your ever contrasted that experience with that of an employee of a poor company (I’ll throw a few out there…AT&T, Excite, United Illuminating, Circuit City…take your pick)? Stark difference. The kind of difference that leads to lost customers.

And so begins the “leads to” domino chain. Poor company leads to disengaged employees, leads to bad customer experience, leads to lost customers, leads to wasted marketing investments, leads to spending more money to search for new customers, leads to higher CPA, leads to…feel free to fill in the rest of the sentence, Mad Libs-style. It usually ends with “you lose your job” or back at “poor company.” Yet, for those whose choose to embrace their secret jobs, it can also end with “you’re an All-Star.” It’s like a cheat code.

By being both a cheerleader and a trainer, you can redirect the domino chain.

You need to be a cheerleader to rally your organization. Even in a poor company, you can refocus energy on things that can make an impact on customers. Because, let’s face it, as a marketer you’re the gatekeeper of customers — you spend all your energy trying to acquire and keep them. Bad things can happen in good companies too…bad quarter, competitors’ products or offers, unexpected glitches, etc. The bottom line is, if something is causing customers to leave, you better find out what it is and rally forces to change it.

You need to be a trainer to direct the implementation of that change by those forces. Optimism and motivating words aren’t enough to make tangible changes. You need to be not just the driving energy behind the change, but bring the front line substance as well. The nuts-and-bolts of how we can make this better.

For example, if the problem is poor point-of-sale service, you need to rally those POS people and give them better training on resolving customer issues. If it’s poor cross-selling in the call center, sit in a chair, take some calls and walk the team through an approach that cross-sells effectively. If it’s lack of management enthusiam that causes low motivation, you re-spin the message to your team and press their motivation buttons (and after that, you walk in to management with a plan on how and why to change their message). If it’s deadlines being missed, illustrate the implications of that and lead your team vigorously through a deadline-oriented approach.

If you embrace these secret roles in addition to your primary role as marketer extrordinaire, you’re well-positioned to charge ahead in these trying economic times. Because it’s going to be tough enough to find customers in the coming months, never mind trying to replace ones you lose.

Further Update on Targeting AdWords to Mobile Devices

Just a brief mention that Search Insider has an insightful post on the benefits of AdWords targeting to mobile devices. It elucidates some of the differences between iPhone and G1 and underscores the main points that a) the number of mobile devices is only going to grow; and b) it includes other devices, now and future, beyond the pillars we typically think of (iPhone, G1, Storm). Enjoy.

Are You Adapting to Change?

One of the biggest challenges for marketers is realizing what and when to change. For some, being objective enough to realize it in the first place can be a challenge in itself.

Time after time, marketers right now (and essentially whole businesses and industries) are being exposed for not seeing the time to change and not doing anything differently when the market around them is evolving. Automakers, financial firms, TV networks — their whole strategies and cultures are being forced into a new reality. There are many other businesses teetering on the brink of disaster in this tough economy.

The challenge for marketers in avoiding this position, yet again, is to stay close to your customers. Become uber-knowledgable about what they do, think and feel. Do research, site visits, meetings and observation. You have to see the change coming before it knocks you off your feet. Ask the tough questions, make informed yet forward-thinking risks.

At one of my events recently, we held a focus group that confirmed existing perceptions of customer needs and exposed new needs. We are making changes to address those needs at our very next event. We anticipated a fall-off in registrations for live events in the current economy, so we began webcasting our live events. Could that affect live event registrations even more? Sure it could. Yet why risk serving no customers at all, when you can reinvent yourself in a stronger position to serve them differently, according to their own needs?

It’s not an admission of defeat to change ahead and shift your strategy to leave the old way behind — it’s actually much more customer-centric (and less publicly messy) to recreate your value proposition on your own terms, than reacting and scrambling when your customers have changed it for you.

Google Continues to Connect Marketers with Customers

A terrible economy is a great time to make life easier for marketers.

Enter Google yet again. On Monday the giant announced an option that lets AdWords users target ads to mobile devices with full-HTML browsers like the iPhone and G1.

You can even target campaigns specificially to mobile device owners. And not only is Google investing time on the front end to customize results pages for the iPhone, they’re also providing broken-out performance reporting on the back end so you can take a good, long look at ROI for your mobile ads. That’s a good thing, given that impactful statistics are yet to surface on how users interact with AdWords results on mobile devices. Although one study says upward of 50 percent of iPhone users conduct searches on their devices.

There’s some Web debate over the mobile ads driving users to desktop landing pages, instead of mobile-optimized ones. And there is valid concern over that. At the same time, enabling non-mobile-savvy marketers to charge ahead into mobile search — without becoming savvy at mobile optimization of landing pages overnight — is a good thing, especially in this economy when all businesses are dying for customers. Not to mention channel-specific reporting, so evaluating ROI on mobile search is easy to do.

Where’s Your Value Proposition?

If you work for a B2B company (hell, any company that sells stuff), and you’re busy selling or marketing 2009 initiatives, please stop right now and look for your value proposition in your messaging.

Believe it or not, it’s not the customers reponsibility to do you a favor and do business with you. You need to make it clear where the value is.

Take B2B media, for example. Many times lately I’ve received messaging and proposals from publishers in my market (I buy some media to market healthcare events). And it’s surprising that, in 2008, despite all the trying economic times, marketers (and ultimately management) at these publishers haven’t put alot of thought into delivering clear value propositions. Isn’t now the time where you have to make the case more than ever why someone should give you their money?

Yet time after time, there’s just something missing. There’s audience and ad rates and frequency — yet shouldn’t the “how this solves your problems” be in there too? Hell, shouldn’t you be asking about my problems before you give me any of that other info, to know if it even makes sense to give it to me? A sales rep sent me an email on Tuesday and led off the email with pricing discounts and frequency buys, before ever even getting to audience or even my goals and needs (never asked what they were). Not a recipe for success.

Same goes for any marketer. Why should a potential customer buy your product or service if you’re not telling them why it solves their problems, how it’s unique, or why it’s the best solution? More importantly, you need to be asking them what their problems are, and what trends affect them, what keeps them up at night — take a good, long look and get to know them, and then you know how to meet their needs. Too many marketers just dont’ do it. And never mind sales people — at least in B2B media, far too many are too quick to look for the dollars and don’t focus on knowing and meeting the underlying challenges their customers face.

Let’s all make a resolution to improve that in 2009.