If you are a new small business owner, chances are you may not have quite the same level of marketing experience as some of your direct competitors, and this can often be a daunting proposition to face. One of the things we’ve found to be most empowering for the success of a business, is to seize every opportunity to derive higher understanding from every situation.
Sometimes though, learning comes at a cost. Whether your latest marketing initiative was a total bust, or you didn’t quite achieve the level of customer participation in your latest campaign as you’d hoped, it is incredibly easy to fail at marketing. Luckily for us, failure is where most of the lessons about marketing your small business can be learned. In this article, we’ll discuss how to recognize a failing marketing initiative, and ways to turn it around for the better.
The first and last thing you’ll ever do in a successful marketing initiative is analysis. If you are not assessing your current marketing environment before you start a new marketing project, then you have already created your own first failure. I get it. When you’re scrambling to do a million important things in your new (or existing) business, it can be easy to forget to take a step back to plan out exactly what needs to be done, and instead just jump in and do it. Every step in the process of planning, crafting, and executing your marketing project should have analysis incorporated within it to some capacity.
Let’s take the example of a local bake shop. Understanding that you need to invest in marketing to build customer traffic for your business, and also recognizing that you love to make cupcakes, you decide to venture into a marketing project that involves a customer contest based around your special cupcake recipes. Now you already sell a lot of cupcakes, but you want to sell many more! At the end of your contest, you realize that customers aren’t flocking to your business as a result of your increased efforts, and you’ve just spent hundreds of dollars spreading the word about your contest with little to no results. This is a typical learning situation that many business owners will face.
There are many problems with the scenario I just laid out for you but the majority can be summarized under the following five categories, which you may recognize from common goal-setting curriculum:
What was the specific goal of the marketing project? Recognizing and identifying what the goal of the marketing initiative is seems quite basic, but often businesses don’t think quite specific enough. Simply having a goal in mind to “make more money” isn’t going to give your project the definition it needs to be successful. Furthermore, your specific goal for the marketing project needs to be rooted in resolving an existing conflict in your business. In this analogy, the conflict is “we’re not selling as many cupcakes as we would like”. From this conflict, we can identify the specific goal of increasing cupcake sales, but there are also additional goals that we can identify and include as performance indicators as well.
Furthering this analogy, let's also look into what drives the conflict behind your business goals. Maybe your business is not selling as many cupcakes as you’d like because your overall customer traffic is low. Or maybe your customers don’t see your business as a purveyor of cupcakes, but rather specialty donuts. Or maybe worse, your customers are not fans of your cupcakes because they don't fit well in the market, or there are simply too many other options for customers looking for businesses who sell cupcakes in the area. Understanding the why behind the conflict will help you with the critical analysis of your goals, and whether or not you may need to adjust your goals to best fit your business.
It is worth mentioning while on the topic of specificity as well, that not all businesses are good at all things. Even if your business can do other things really well, should it? Just because a sandwich shop also has the capability of making really good pizza, should a sandwich shop sell pizza? Consider for yourself what underlying message your business offerings are saying to your clientele, and also consider for a moment whether being a champion of a more specific (and less generalized) offering of services could do for your business.
Not only do you need to set proper specific goals for your marketing plans for them to be successful, but they also need to be goals that can be quantifiable. Being able to understand what qualifies as a successful marketing campaign requires that Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) be identified at the outset. This process also ensures that you’re actively thinking about measuring success when you plan your marketing initiative. Sometimes it can be incredibly challenging to incorporate KPIs into a given marketing plan, and for the marketing rookie, these are the types of marketing initiatives to avoid. There are many ways to build in measurability into your campaign that also serve additional benefit.
Consider incorporating social media activity into contest entries by making retweeting, reposting, sharing, or liking targeted social media content part of the participatory expectations of contest entrants (ex. “like and share for a chance to win”). You can also take it a step further by making the contest based on customer-generated content (ex. Customers post on social media and some voting process occurs either by other customers or by owners/managers of the business selecting their favourite post). If your marketing initiative involves an offer or discount, structuring the promotion in such a way that your Point of Sale system captures promotion-related transaction data so it can be analyzed at a later point can be impressively powerful. There is also nothing wrong with going back to basics and using the all-too-cliché king of marketing: the almighty coupon.
While there is debate among marketers as to whether discounts truly build loyalty or whether they merely attract customers who are loyal only to the discount, there is always something to be said for marketing momentum. Creating a promotion to make sure that all the seats in a sit-down restaurant are full during busy times of the week (if they are not already of course) can help a restaurant build momentum based on dining psychology. (versus the antithesis, where diners are hesitant to engage with your restaurant brand due to a starkly empty dining room)
Not only should your marketing efforts be measurable, but so too should your marketing goals. If your goal is to sell more cupcakes, how many more cupcake sales are you anticipating your marketing initiative will bring in? Understanding the relationship between the various marketing mediums and their average Return on Investment (ROI) is something that comes with time for most business owners. Being able to quantify the success of past marketing initiatives is incredibly important for sustainable business because businesses cannot survive repeated marketing failures forever! Knowing which marketing initiatives perform with the highest positive ROI for your particular business can help you form educated and sound business decisions and will also give you a clearer picture of what results can reasonably be expected from a given marketing campaign.
Making specific and measurable marketing goals that are achievable is primarily based on an understanding of how your customers will reasonably respond to your promotion. For example, continuing the cupcake analogy, if your cupcakes regularly retail for $2.50 each, you can reasonably estimate that a promotion offering them at a “special reduced price” of $2.49 is not only not going to give you an additional 100 customers through your doors, it is also likely not to have a positive effect but rather a negative one instead. Further to this, let's also consider target market as an aspect of realistic expectations. If your business is looking to attract younger demographics (let's say because the older demographic is already visiting your business), you have to consider ways in which younger demographics are easily approached with brand messages. Advertising in newsprint might not be the best tactic to use when advocating your brand's message to younger demographics, just as marketing to seniors probably wont be very successful if you are marketing exclusively on new technologies like smart phones. It is true that there is an ever-increasing population of seniors that have adopted smartphone technology in their day-to-day lives, but it still remains true that these types of campaigns are not as successful as their traditional medium counterparts for this demographic.
Realistically-speaking, a marketing initiative has to have sufficient incentive for a customer to engage with your campaign. For a contest based on customers posting on social media as entry, this incentive would of course be some sort of prize being awarded to the favourite or highest-voted post, but what is the incentive in your campaign if you're not offering some form of reward or discount? Creating compelling content that goes "viral" is not easy to do and the chances of it happening for your business out of the blue are even starker chances. Curating marketing content that spreads a message that others want to share with their friends and family is the holy grail of marketing. Your brand won't get there without help, but the good news is, it can be done. But we don't give away all our secrets, do we? Otherwise you wouldn't really need us!
Every marketing initiative has it's time and place. Your restaurant's patio probably isn't going to be the happening spot in town in the dead of winter, so logically you're not going to launch patio promotions in December. But more than that, your marketing campaign needs to be sensitive to the time it takes for customers to engage in your brand. This is why you don't ever see (or shouldn't anyway) one-day coupons at restaurants - because if the restaurant truly wants to attract a large influx of customers, they know that they best way to do that is to spread out their campaign's success across several days. Your marketing campaign hits a ceiling of potential success if your restaurant is packed and your staff cannot possibly serve more customers. The best thing any restaurant can do for their success is to gain momentum with customer traffic all week long. Your rent doesn't cost any more or less depending on what day or time your customers visit, so making use of every day of the week to it's fullest to chip away at your rent payment and spending the weekend making your profit is essential to long-term restaurant success.
Let the Magic Happen
Not every business owner is going to have a team of experts in their pocket to handle every possible marketing situation. More often than not, small businesses must rely on the help of staff that are not professionally-schooled on a given subject matter. This can be especially true in the case of family businesses. The most important consideration to make in these circumstances is not necessarily that one person needs to direct all others, but rather to let every person on the team contribute their best work. This is what we like to call "letting the magic happen".
Your team needs to know that it is not the end of the world (or their jobs) if they make a mistake, but that mistakes are okay as long as honest learning is occurring as a result. Your team is the best chance your marketing initiatives have of being successful. If you truly believe your business can be successful, you need to make room for others to believe in your business as well. Developing brand recognition is a long process filled with hard work, and allowing yourself to be surrounded by people that care as much about your business (hopefully not more though sometimes that does happen too) as you do is an important part of building a successful marketing team who will support long-term brand recognition and positive growth.
Letting the magic happen sometimes also means letting others make some of the decisions when it comes to marketing. As a business owner, if someone else is willing to take care of a job that you don't absolutely need to be doing yourself, consider that a tremendous gift! (Providing that they are doing the job relatively well of course) Creativity will only thrive within your marketing team if it also coexists with empowerment. Build trust with your team by giving them the power to make micro-decisions. You may not like it, but there is no place for micro-management in a truly successful business.
Any day where you or your team doesn't learn something new is a day of failure. Every day should be spent analyzing what works, what doesn't work, and learning ways to make things work better. By setting smart marketing goals, and surrounding yourself with a team of people that truly care for your business, you'll be poised to take on the challenges that small businesses face in today's marketing environment. If you're like me, every day when you came home from school as a youngster, you'd be asked, "So, what did you learn today?" Without even knowing it, your parents were teaching you the most important aspect of success in marketing. Never forget to ask yourself, "What did I learn today?" Maybe what they say is true... Everything you ever needed to know, you learned in Kindergarten.
If there ever was one solution to solving a failing marketing campaign, it's this: "Am I asking the right questions?" If you truly don't know whether you're asking the right questions or not, how you respond to that revelation is the key to success. Surround yourself with others who are also similarly invested in seeking a successful result, be open to criticism and feedback, and seek to answer questions that remain unanswered. The answer to your failing marketing campaign lies not in an answer, but in a question un-asked.