Imagine you’re a small business owner who’s just launched a brand-new cupcake shop. Your cupcakes are the best in town. But no one knows that yet. You need to get the word out on a limited marketing budget.
On a late Thursday afternoon you receive a cold call from a friendly salesperson who mentions a great deal for custom T-shirts with your logo. Your gut tells you this is the way to go and before you know it you are the proud owner of 1,000 cupcake-emblazoned T-shirts.
In a euphoric state you forgot to consider, “How will the T-shirts be distributed or lead customers to our door? Let alone fit our branding.”
Instead of being sported by influencers all over town, they are collecting dust in your basement. Your best friend’s cousin’s boyfriend wears the shirt you gifted him, but you have no way to track the impact on your business.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Many entrepreneurs fall victim to what I like to call Random Acts of Advertising—because, without a strategic plan, all marketing and advertising is random.
Entrepreneurs are risk takers who rely on gut instinct, but an effective marketing strategy requires long-term planning and deliberation. Here are three ways to keep your emotions in check and create marketing that works.
1. Play the long game and avoid impulse advertising
If you prefer to start with the easiest task on your to-do list, then you know it’s hard to start on a big project.
Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation: How To Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Things Done, suggests our brains prefer the instant gratification of completing a simple, short task over the long-term reward of carrying out a complicated plan. Psychologists call this trait “impulsiveness,” and it’s characteristic of all humans’ executive functioning.
As business owners, our impulsiveness makes it easier to commit to small but ineffective marketing initiatives.
It may seem productive to order those T-shirts, but you’re really surrendering to instant gratification. The result is invested time and money without accomplishing mid-size and long-term strategic goals.
Instead of committing money to an individual marketing initiative—such as ordering those T-shirts—take the time to determine your marketing goals, and then devise a plan to meet them.
For instance, which customer segments are you targeting, and why? Do those segments wear free T-shirts, and if so, what colors and styles will be the most popular? Lastly, how does a customer wearing the shirt translate into sales? Don’t rely on your gut for this – talk to people or do online research to find out. Once you have a plan, define how you will measure its success.
2. Get the most bang for your buck
Let’s face it: committing money up front is daunting when you aren’t even sure it will pan out. As a business owner myself, I very much understand how that feels. We step into the unknown every day, making very expensive decisions about subjects we don’t entirely understand. Modern marketing involves a cornucopia of platforms, tools, and apps; it can be overwhelming, even terrifying, to dip a toe into that world.
Random Acts of Advertising may be inexpensive individually and make you feel like you are saving money, but the cost adds up. Just as in personal spending, shelling out a few dollars here and there is effortless, whereas making the big purchases can be stressful. But don’t be fooled: it’s easy to squander an entire year’s marketing budget on those random acts without getting positive ROI.
The truth is that you’re probably underspending on marketing. The US Small Business Administration recommends that small businesses spend 7 to 8 percent of their revenue on marketing, but in my experience, I’ve found that most businesses spend far less. So go ahead and push your marketing budget up to that 7-8 percent of revenue, even if it makes you feel uneasy. If you’re going to spend money on marketing at all (and you should), you should spend enough to make an impact.
3. Keep your eye on the prize
Being approached with a sales pitch for the first time is thrilling. But sales pitches quickly turn into a sales barrage. One salesperson promises to make you a LinkedIn thought leader while another offers you a sponsorship deal at the local parade. Meanwhile, a friend of a friend says she’ll increase your clients by 10-fold if you download her app—and pay a small fee, of course. Saying “no” to everyone becomes tiresome.
You might be feeling decision fatigue, a type of mental exhaustion that builds up a little more with every decision that you make—even if those decisions are tiny. That’s why judges are more likely to give out harsh sentences later in the day, and also why you’re more likely to give into the 101st sales pitch from a marketer than the 2nd.
Just remember: marketing works best as a system, but most sales pitches are for individual services like social media or SEO—Random Acts of Advertising writ large. As Inc. columnist Margo Aaron puts it, “It’s a marketer’s job to convince you that their specific part of the system will be the silver bullet you need to get ‘a steady stream of clients.’” Don’t fall for it. There is no such thing as a silver bullet, and the only way your marketing will deliver a steady stream of clients is when guided by a strategic plan.
Say goodbye to random acts of advertising, forever
Now that you know the pitfalls, you’re ready to go out and start mapping your company’s future. Take a deep breath and sit down and create a strategic plan, with the help of a professional if necessary.
Keep in mind that marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take long-term thinking, financial investment, and sharp focus. But you got this. As long as you remember to rely on your head instead of your heart, you can say goodbye to Random Acts of Advertising, forever.
A founding Launcher at Launch Agency and award-winning copywriter by trade, Diane Seimetz plays an integral role in turning consumer insights into breakthrough ideas. A consultant who creates, she helps clients such as Frito-Lay, American Airlines, online dating giant Match.com, Sam’s Club, Promised Land Dairy and others to craft strategic communications platforms that deliver real business results. Before going independent with partners David Wilgus and Michael Boone in 2003, Diane was a creative director at Temerlin McClain and TracyLocke/DDB Dallas. She’s won awards from The One Show, New York and International Festivals and national ADDY and Effie competitions, as well as Woman of Excellence from the National Association of Executive Women.
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