The good, bad and ugly of marketing advice

July 06, 2017

Over the last few years, we’ve been having a few conversations with business owners about marketing. Well maybe a little more than a few. Ok, over 10,000 conversations.

Not all face to face mind you. Not enough hours in the day. But I have personally spoken with hundreds of business owners, and presented to and surveyed more than 10,000 in total.

You see I’m passionately interested in what business owners have to say about their marketing – is it working? what works? what challenges they run into? the successes and failures they’ve had.

In a business sense, I can’t think of anything more exciting to discuss than the strategies which are helping businesses achieve success, and of course the challenges that are preventing them from reaching their goals.

When I hear a win, it’s another story or idea that adds to my knowledge, and when I hear a challenge well naturally that presents an opportunity for me to help a new customer who needs our help.

Now, we can’t help all business owners, and we don’t try to. For instance, there is no point in a business owner engaging us if they already have a successful marketing strategy. There are certain industries we won’t work in for ethical reasons. Some we don’t have the skills or knowledge to help either. And we avoid working for business owners who think they know how to do it themselves, or who are failing in their business but not willing to accept advice or suggestions on actions to take. We also have a no dickhead policy so that takes out a small percentage too.

But putting aside who we can, can’t or choose to work with, I’ve become increasingly worried about the state of marketing – particularly in SME businesses – over the last 10 years or so.

Marketing is a discipline that could be overcomplicated or made to seem difficult. But in reality it’s a fairly straightforward process – one which requires you to step by step develop an understanding of your market, your customers, your competition and yourself, and then through strategic decision making – consider and then decide on a pathway or position that you want to take in a market. Your success or failure will be how well you ‘own’ and ‘communicate’ that position to your customers and comparatively how well you compete in terms of offering valuable solutions to the problems that your customers want to solve.

I’m not worried that business owners aren’t planning their marketing. That has always been the case. Most SME business owners aren’t trained in marketing, so they rarely have written plans. But many do well because they are passionate and they work out what works by trial and error and because they have great products and they like their customers(amongst other things).

What worries me is the increasing availability and dissemination of bullshit advice being foisted on SME business owners.

* I’m defining bullshit advice here as bad, ugly and self interested advice.

You see when you benchmark more than 1200 business owners in a deep marketing survey and when you have more than 10,000 responses to other marketing and business surveys you get a close understanding of the challenges that business owners face.

For instance in a recent survey we found that over 80% of business owners – mostly small to medium – were on social media(it was the most common marketing channel used by a wide margin) – and yet on average they rated the effectiveness of their marketing at 4.36 out of 10. In other words, their marketing choices are not working.

When we explore this more deeply in conversations with business owners, we find they are terribly confused about their marketing. Over 40% say their biggest challenge is knowing what marketing to do. Over 40% say they are confused. Less than 20% say they have a plan.

Where do they get their advice? Can you guess? They are getting their marketing advice off social media!!! Yep. They are being told by ‘experts’ on social media, that their marketing MUST include social media or they are simply not competing where customers are choosing and deciding on what products and services to use.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Talk about putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank!!!

Before I go any further, I’m sure some social media expert will tell me that just because business owners are on social media, doesn’t mean they are doing it right. Fair point, but that is not the problem.

If you look at the state of business owners ‘minds’ about marketing they either don’t know what to do, or they are following advice from people that make money out of the social media channel to ‘BE’ on social media or die.

Now, here’s a fact for you that is undeniable. Every business owner should have a marketing strategy. This is simply not negotiable – it is like the keystone in a building. Without a strategy or market position, it all falls down.

Here’s another fact. The only marketing that a business should do, is what works to build their business reputation, awareness, turnover, # of customers etc etc. Or in other words that helps them reach their goals.

I don’t know about you, but a business owner group who rate their marketing at 4.36 out of 10 are clearly not being served well by that marketing.

And the problem is bad advice, ugly advice. Bullshit advice that is given by self-interested suppliers, and those who believe dogmatically that you simply must have an online presence to survive in today’s global world.

But here’s the rub – there are plenty of businesses out there who survive incredibly well dealing in the real world, with real customers, who get real service, and then refer real friend and colleagues who then repeat the cycle to a successful business.

Just like you don’t HAVE to run a TV ad, like you don’t HAVE to do letterbox drops, like you don’t have to discount your product and compete only on price. You don’t HAVE to be on social media or have a website.

The selection of marketing tactics comes after the preparation of a strong marketing strategy. The final choice of long term marketing tactics comes from testing what works for your business, in your location, to your customers, in the context of your competitive market place.

I’m aware of the irony of this. But my advice to business owners is stop listening to self interested advice from people who make money out of any channel you’re thinking about marketing/communication through. I know I’ve picked on social media here, but that’s not my point. I could easily be talking about Yellow Pages, or letterbox drops, or email marketing, or advertising, or sponsorship or promotion, or coupon companies.

Stop listening to them. Instead listen to your market, to your customers, be aware of what you offer that is better than or more valuable than your competition.

And judge the marketing you do based on what works to help you reach your goals.

Here’s a beautiful thing. When I communicate the essence of what I’ve said above, I see immediate relief in the face of the business owners I talk with. In the faces of the businesses we help plan marketing strategies.

You know why? Because they knew something was wrong about this situation. They feel confused and they don’t want to. They know their marketing wasn’t working.

They just needed someone to call out the bullshit advice for what it is.

Thanks for reading my rant. I hope you feel a little less confused as a result, and have a feel for your next steps in getting your marketing right.

Enjoy the weekend.

Hunter