When is "doing nothing" the most effective small business marketing activity? Simple. When we can't honestly measure the effectiveness of the things we are doing.
There are so many things we do, or feel we should be doing, to market our businesses. There are Facebook posts to create and comments to respond to, ads to run, newsletters to send out, Instagram posts to produce, and even brochures and signage to consider. But too often we lack a proper understanding of why they're the right actions for our businesses.
In this article, I will argue that instead of DOING all those things when we have no authentic means for measuring their effectiveness, the best thing is to DO NONE OF THEM until we've STOPPED and done some strategic thinking and planning.
For example, I was talking to a baker on the weekend who was adamant that one of his competitors was making a killing because he was on Facebook all the time. He was shocked when I told him that when we analyse where leads come from for many, many businesses, social media channels are right at the bottom of the pile with the smallest impact you can imagine.
Similarly, a tourism operator in Darwin recently asked us to "just start running Google Ads" and not get bogged down in too much preparation work because they'd seen competitors advertising that way. As you can imagine, the dilemma in launching paid ads without truly knowing who you're talking to (in specific terms) and not having a solid sense of customer value (so you can work out what sustainable marketing spend can be supported by product profit margins), means you are paying good money to get in front of people who may have little or no interest in your products/services and whose clicks just drain money from your account.
And we're all guilty of falling for the "shiny new toy" of doing something perceived as new or sexy, or being caught out by the "emperor's new clothes" syndrome of doing what others are doing because others are doing it.
That is, we're all susceptible to erring on the side of activity when instead we would make better use of our time and have longer term prosperity if we held off from "action" and invested some time in "thinking".
One of the most haunting and helpful memories of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People is more pertinent now than ever before:
If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.
So, how do we find the right wall and the right ladder?
It's actually not rocket science, it's just a matter of taking a strategic approach to our marketing efforts.
Three effective small business marketing tools that help us help you
In our workshop, Marketing You Can Measure, Michael Shanahan and I explain how to start making marketing efforts accountable by demystifying the value and usage of Google Analytics against a backdrop of using some simple tools that keep our planning discussions focussed and strategic.
As I reflect on every one of the 8,000+ small businesses I've interacted with over the past 20 years, I wish I'd had this set of tools in my toolkit because it would have made my work even more effective and satisfying. It's not that there's anything new in these tools. Their power lies in the structured way they tie the elements of marketing together.
On top of that, these tools that Michael distilled and advocated for here at Talked About Marketing are incredibly useful because they take a "stump jump plough" approach to working with clients. We have a path to follow BUT we can choose to spend more or less time on each step in the process, and even skip some, when their questions or considerations are not applicable or already known to a satisfying degree.
This is how our approach to marketing should be; dynamic, thoughtful, and ordered.
Let's take digital marketing strategy as an example.
Effective small business marketing in this digital realm demands we need to have a foundation or worldview that is based one that has been shown to work over time.
In this case, our first tool is the Digital Marketing Typical Formula in which we can see there is an order for "getting things right":
- Develop or update a website to make sure it has content that is relevant to your audience (this is crucial for helping your website get found)
- Make sure visitors to your website can interact easily with you (this is crucial for helping your website convert visitors into leads and customers)
- Blog (this supports visibility because Google does favour specific web content in search results compared to general or generic content, and blogging also supports you in deepening your understanding of and relevance to your audience while producing a library of sales tools and social media content for later use)
- Build a database of interested people you can connect with directly through a newsletter (nothing beats this for small business - direct access to interested people when you need it, without relying on "algorithms" or paid ads to spruik a message)
- Advertise when you have specific needs or timeframes within which to work
- Make use of social media for building awareness and engaging with relevant communities
By adopting the principles of what is considered a typical formula for digital marketing, we can be reminded that our urge to pump out some Instagram pics or shoot off a quick blog post, might not be the smartest use of time if we haven't completed step 2 (making it easy for visitors to "convert" or enquire after we've piqued their interest).
But before we rush to item one on that list, the second tool, the Content Strategy Flow Chart, urges us to hold our horses and work through some very important considerations so that when we "throw together" a new page on our website, or "splash" some power words and pretty pictures onto a page, we are doing so knowing our ladder is against the right wall.
The first stepping stones in our flow chart cover research. This is the bit considered "doing nothing" by most of us who are afflicted by the busyness bug.
I know there is a lot of cynicism among small business owners when they hear marketers preaching about their various marketing strategy systems because, sadly, they've been stung by consultants with flashy suits and shiny cars (or is that shiny suits and flashy cars) who've taken their money in return for documents full of word soup, platitudes, and very little in the way of guidance (documents that look suspiciously like documents they'd just sold to a different business after swapping out names and places).
Once a business person has been burnt by these processes and paid a lot of money to have a document that gathers dust, it rightfully erodes their trust in the process.
You can still have a practical focus while adopting an earnestly strategic mindset
It is rarely too late to slam the brakes on, draw breath, and take stock of where your business is heading.
Over the past year, I've been gradually unlearning the bad habits of jumping straight into doing, without a strategy to measure whether it works or not, and am working with our clients to reconnect activity to strategic goals.
The key for all of us is to not lament our old ways of "just doing" but rather to don our Sherlock Holmes mindsets and harness our energy and drive into the curious pursuit of searching for clues about:
- what it is "exactly" that we are selling
- who is going to care the most and be most willing to buy from us
- where and how we can make sure our paths intersect
You can see that if we start with clues and "data", we can then proceed to tactics that can be measured. As the master sleuth said to Watson:
It is a capital mistake to theorise before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.
This brings us to a third tool we use, the Digital Measurement Plan.
Once we have settled on the tactics being used to achieve our objectives, then we can measure our progress and make informed changes as the need arises.
Hence, marketing measurement is more than just putting Google Analytics code on your website. Michael's great gift in strategic measurement has been to help our clients fully use Google Analytics' inbuilt facilities of Goal Tracking and Value Measuring, to chart progress towards the objectives at hand.
So, if your objective is to build advocacy in the marketplace, in other words, deliberately cultivate Word Of Mouth recommendations about you, then we'd be measuring a nuanced set of metrics from Google Analytics and other data sources, compared to a client whose objective is lead generation.
Doing marketing properly is not a slap dash, ad hoc venture. It takes time and thought and with trusted advisors by your side working within your constraints of time and budget, judicious decisions can be made to cut the suit to fit the cloth.
At the end of the day, skipping (or lightly addressing) some steps in our full suite of marketing planning is okay, if we've all made that decision with eyes open and we are happy to risk outcomes not reaching their full potential, due to other considerations.
Happily, even doing just a few steps of marketing strategy planning, actually sets us in the top 10 per cent of small businesses in Australia because our "she'll be right" optimism emboldens us to follow our passions and get things done with great gusto but little forethought.
What hindsight ends up teaching some of us is that our headlong rush into action robs us of many rich rewards and insights along the way.
After all, that's why Sherlock had a magnifying glass and kept his ears open for the sounds you don't hear. If he were part of the Talked About Marketing team, he might even quip that this most effective small business marketing activity of "doing nothing" is elementary, my dear Watson.
If you'd like to learn more about these tools, get a PDF download of the strategy, and stay in the loop with helpful articles, just contact us and/or sign up for our monthly newsletter.