Advertising & Marketing Are Megaphones, What Are You Amplifying?

Advertising & Marketing Are Megaphones, What Are You Amplifying?

Since the day the first group of enterprising cavemen got together and created the first business (let’s assume for the sake of this article that it was a fire pit sweeping service, shall we?), there has been a need to get the word out to potential consumers, in order to increase sales and sustain the business.

I’ve often thought about these hypothetical primitive business owners, and how they might have tried to market themselves. Without the benefit of the internet, email, television, radio, postal service, or even newspapers, what methods would they have found successful to build their customer base?

Would they have stood on the nearest hillside overlooking the village and beat their chests, shouting their offers to the villagers below? Would they have wrapped the company mastodon with a banner fashioned from tree bark, and paraded it through the community? After all, selling to hundreds of potential customers all at once has always been a lot more efficient and cost-effective than going door-to-door.

Regardless of the era of history we examine, it would seem that wherever there is a person marketing a business, there is a megaphone of some sort in his hand. But even early marketers soon discovered that mass marketing could cause their business to grow explosively, but it could just as quickly cause it to fail.

Why? The answer is a simple one, but it may surprise you nonetheless.

Mass Marketing: The Impartial Megaphone

Most business owners think of marketing as an inherently positive activity. The logic goes that if you market your business, hire marketing experts, and engage in marketing and advertising activities, then you will get more work, people will happily pay you for your products and services, and your business will grow.

Maybe. But this is not an entirely complete way to think of marketing or advertising.

Marketing is an impartial, transparent amplifier of the best and the worst of any business. Market a business that has spent countless hours getting their standards of customer care as high as possible, and the results can be amazing. Take the same marketing budget and apply it to a business with deep internal management issues, and those issues become even louder, larger, and more apparent to the public.

Because of this transparency, it doesn’t really matter what you say in your marketing message, or even how you say it. Marketing isn’t a way of cosmetically hiding failing business models, or white washing lazy, unethical business practices using fancy language and tactics of misdirection.

When it comes right down to it, you can spend thousands of dollars saying you are a clean, professional, timely, and reasonably-priced service, but if your customers experience something different, then you’ve just wasted a lot of money and loudly announced to your potential customers that you would rather lie to them than serve them well.

Whatever the state of your business when you advertise it, THAT is what gets amplified.

What are you amplifying with your marketing? Is it good for business or bad?

You’ve heard the phrase, “Whatever you feed grows.” Marketing is an investment in your business. It’s like feeding and watering a garden. If you have weeds in your garden when you feed and water it, well guess what? Those weeds are going to grow, too, and may even rob the essential nutrients from the plants you really want to grow.

The broad tools of mass marketing are like garden sprinklers: you can’t feed and water just the best parts of your business. The whole garden gets watered, which means that marketing causes the good and the bad to grow.

You cannot hope customers will ignore the sloppy-looking techs at their door, and tell them to only focus on the good deal they are getting. You can’t market the beautiful masonry work you do, and expect customers to overlook the huge mess you leave behind. And you certainly can’t keep selling the fact that you are prompt and courteous if you fail to call ahead or show up for the job on time.

Just like feeding and watering a garden, marketing a business works indiscriminately. So make sure you are pulling your weeds out by the roots before you feed and water your business with marketing.

Measuring Tape Marketing

Measuring Tape Marketing

I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “If all you have is a hammer, then every problem you encounter ends up looking like a nail.” It’s a funny thought, but there’s a lot of truth to it. We rarely think about a challenge we face with anything other than the usual solutions in our toolbox. The more familiar the solution, the more it seems to appeal to us.

We could even take this analogy further and apply it to business marketing. If a business owner has always relied on ValPak, then ValPak may be the only thing he’s willing to invest in — even if it no longer packs the same value it once did. (See what I did there?)

To another, the answer may still be Yellow pages advertising, because the answer for him has always been Yellow Pages. And when it doesn’t work as well as it used to, the answer is to double down, doing even more of the same thing, hoping for a different result.

I bet you would expect a digital marketer like me to follow those statements with something like, “You should really be using online marketing instead, because that’s the sharpest tool in the toolbox,” right? Wrong.

Surprised? Let me explain.

The most important tool in your marketing toolbox is feedback. Information. Data. It’s your measuring tape. Without it, you’ll never have a clear idea of what marketing mix your business truly needs to grow. It may be that in your part of the world, direct mail circulars really are the most cost-effective means of reaching your target market. No one would be as surprised as I if that indeed turned out to be the case… but stranger things have happened, and you’ll never know for sure unless you measure.

Are You Using the Spray & Pray Method?

As a consultant, I am amazed every time I talk to a small business owner who doesn’t know where his core business is coming from. There is usually a vague sort of sense of what may be working, but when I ask for the numbers, there aren’t any to be had.

Nothing.

No actual measurements were made, no tracking implemented, no periodic evaluations of the marketing budget. Just year after year of high-dollar spending — literally throwing money into the air and hoping the wind doesn’t come sweep it all away before any of it has a chance to take root and do any good.

I call it the “Spend and Pray” model of marketing, and any business owner who employs it is succeeding despite himself, if he is succeeding at all.

The truth is: the only way you will ever know if a marketing tactic is bringing you back more than you are putting in is to measure results. This does require patience and diligence, but you’ll be rewarded with the kind of competitive intel that others only dream about.

How Do You Measure Your Marketing?

You can get as high-tech or as old-school as you like on this part, but start with the six little words that you should say every time you talk to a customer for the first time. These words come right after the word “Hello,” and they are: “How did you hear about us?”

Of course, it’s not enough to simply ask the question. You must record the answers. Keep a pad of paper next to every phone and computer in your place of business. Make it a part of your religion to ask and record, and soon you will have a much more accurate understanding of how people are finding out about you. It’s a start.

For the record, I’m under no illusions about online marketing. It’s not a holy grail (queue the angelic choir), and it’s by no means the only strategy you should be trying. But the reason I love online marketing so much is because it is so easy to get meaningful feedback very quickly.

With web site tracking tools, I can know within minutes or hours if a new tactic on a website is going to perform well. And if not, I can make adjustments the same afternoon. By the following afternoon, I can measure again. Try that with magazine advertising. I thought so.

Still, there are ways to track the effectiveness of your offline ads and marketing, too. Much of the time the measurements will be made via those six magic words, either over the phone, or a web site contact form: “How did you hear about us?”

What Should You Measure?

When gathering up all of this glorious data, the temptation is to simply count up the number of times a particular marketing source is mentioned, and then jump to the conclusion that this is the one thing that is working out the best for you. But you’d be doing yourself a real disservice if you chose to stop there.

With a little extra work, you can track the actual customer through your system, from first call to paid invoice. This is where the real enlightenment begins.

In my experience, when a business owner pulls this information together for the first time, they are shocked to learn two things…

First, the best source of new business is rarely what the business owner has always assumed. And second, there is usually a big surprise when it is revealed which marketing source brings in the best kind of business (the kind of customers who spend more, and remain loyal).

By measuring not only how many customers are coming from a particular source, but also the quality of customers you are getting from each source, you are now equipped to make some business-altering decisions. You are finally able to stop wasting money on the ineffective kind of marketing, and to start applying your resources to only those activities that are showing you the kind of return on your marketing investment you deserve.

If you approach every marketing opportunity with a measuring tape, you’ll never be disappointed in your results. In fact, every new marketing tactic you try will yield exactly what you need it to: information. Knowledge about what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t.

Never again will you be even remotely tempted to allow that pushy salesperson to talk you into a big premium package, not unless you already know it’s working for you. And that’s what Measuring Tape Marketing is really about: empowering YOU to make business decisions with confidence.

What Can Google Ads Do For You?

What Can Google Ads Do For You?

We get asked all the time if we manage Google Ads, and if so, what we think of it as an advertising platform. The answer is yes we do manage Google Ads, and what we think of it depends on your goals. In order to be successful with Google Ads, you must evaluate where it fits in with your overall online marketing strategy and end goal, and be realistic about what the platform can and can’t do for you.

#1 Drive Traffic, Increase Conversions & Brand Identity

Google Ads can be an incredibly useful tool to drive traffic to your website, increase conversions, and boost brand identity. Because Spark Marketer serves local service businesses, we concentrate first on driving traffic to your website. We have seen consistent traffic increases of around 25 to 30% and as high as 45% in a few cases. This is mainly due to a focused and more directed approach, rather than the shotgun approach that we often see. We look for opportunities for increased exposure where visibility might be low, and try to identify strategies to increase clicks to your website.

#2 Reach Out of the Way Locations

Clients often want more search visibility in specific locations or service areas where they don’t yet have a good organic presence or an office that can rank on the map. Because Google Ads has the ability to target specific areas down to zip codes, it is a good viable way to reach those locations. Data research from Google and various other sources suggests that location targeting can be incredibly useful, be it to a very select audience. This can also makes your advertising management more complex as you add more areas. That said, you can’t use ads to show your map listing in an area that is way out there. Google still follows proximity with maps, so you can only target out of the way locations with text ads.

#3 Promote Specials & Sales

Two of the biggest uses for Google Ads that often get overlooked are special promotions and sales ads. These type of ads not only get great exposure, but they also get the most clicks and best click-through rates. It is hard for some people to pass on a good deal if they see one, and Google Ads are a great way of getting that deal out to the public. Again, you do have to make sure it is a good enough deal for your customers, without losing your shirt! Either knowing the item is a loss leader or has enough built-in profit that you are not losing money in the long run accomplishes this. Ads with early bird specials and manufacturer’s promotions can be great during less busy times. As long as the deal is simple and a good value, the clicks will come. But remember, every click in Google Ads costs, even if the searcher doesn’t contact you.

There are things Google Ads can do for you and things it cannot. It is not a place for PR and long-form type exposure. It is direct, targeted, and takes a fine aim and a direct approach to reach your audience and meet your advertising goals. So when deciding whether or not to include it as part of your strategy, make sure you think things through and talk with someone who’s experienced with the Google Ads platform. We’d be happy to help!

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month: Are You Safe?

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month: Are You Safe?

Each year we have dozens of clients who tell us that at least one of their online accounts has been hacked. Often, if it happens to an email account or social account, we are able to spot the hack before they are!

Still, some of these hacks have cost our clients thousands of dollars to clear up theft and fraud issues. Not to mention the fact that they have had to explain to their clients that certain sensitive information of theirs might have been stolen from company computers. And the #1 reason for getting hacked? Insecure passwords!

Since October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, we felt it would be a good idea to issue this reminder to all of our clients, to make sure you review your passwords, change the ones that matter most, and make all of them much stronger!

In order to help you do this, we created a simple worksheet that walks you through a fail-proof way of creating unique, strong passwords for every single online account you have. Please don’t be the next victim of cyber crime. Take a look at this worksheet (PDF) now available at the link below, and make this a priority today.

http://bit.ly/SparkMarketerPasswordWorksheet

One last quick tip: It only takes about 30 seconds to go into one of your online accounts, click the settings tab, and change your password. 30 seconds that could save you hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars by preventing you from being one of the unfortunate ones who gets hacked this year due to an insecure password.

Be safe out there!

P.S. If you have shared passwords with us so that we can access certain accounts on your behalf, please call us to let us know you’ve changed your password so we can update our records, too. Thanks!