The Essential Simplicity of Marketing

If you can understand how simple marketing is, you might just know more than a college graduate who has studied what they call “marcomm” – Marketing Communications.

There’s a man named Kenneth Clow who is supposed to be one of the geniuses of our age when it comes to marketing. He wrote a well-known book about marketing communications. I’m going to give you just one sentence from this book: “The communication process is sender-encoding-transmission device-decoding-receiver, which is part of any advertising or marketing program.” Oh my word. I can just imagine a college freshman who dreams of being an effective marketer sitting in one of his classes and hearing something like that. I imagine that young man or woman would be running off to declare a new major before lunchtime.

It’s so much simpler than that. You have a product or service. You are going to offer that product or service. You are sure that product or service is wanted and valuable enough for people to want to buy it. Then you let them know in volume. You use a clear message and channels of communication they can easily receive messages on. And then you are prepared to give them a great product/service for a good price and do so.

OK, now you are a marketing expert…

This essential simplicity applies to an auto repair shop, a health clinic, a spa, and restaurant, a cell phone service provider or a cruise line. The scale may vary, certainly. Some products are delivered to a radius of just a mile or two around the business and others are delivered around the world.

So now you know this simple foundation. Now, there are effective methods of making sure what message you should be delivering to potential customers and what methods you should use to deliver it. Experience and training provides enormous benefit when it comes to these steps.

For example, how do you make sure people want what you are selling? How can you know what message about your product they most want to hear? What should your pricing schedule be like? What media should you use? Experience is valuable in these areas.

You very likely will hire experienced marketing people to help you carry out this research or prepare messages for delivery to your potential customers. But as these projects roll out, keep in mind how simple marketing is in its basics. This viewpoint can enable you to see the simplicity shine through in any surveys or research that are done on your behalf.

Another Simple Way to Think About Marketing

Think back to what marketing was like some hundreds of years ago. In those days, the marketplace was the courtyard of the castle. Some people’s wares were nicer than others – maybe one vendor’s produce had fewer bruises or looked fresher. One fish vendor yelled louder and had more appealing messages about his fish. Maybe the clerk behind the booth selling fabrics and thread was prettier than the others. These methods helped get the message across more quickly. But in the end, it was mostly about selling the items that were needed the most, at an attractive price.

These ideas may help you keep the simplicity of marketing in mind as you take your products and services to the marketplace. But don’t try to tell a college-educated “marcomm” expert how simple it is! He (or she) may never believe you. 

Nothing Beats Listening to Your Clients or Customers

There’s a lot of experts out there and they will give you every piece of advice imaginable – some great and some not so great. But you know who will give you the best advice of all? Well – I already gave it away in the title. It’s the customers or clients who keep your business alive.

Every business owner gets inspiration from time to time and can get carried away by their own bright ideas for their next phase of expansion. Some ideas will be winners and some won’t. The best way to find out on these matters is to ask your customers.

Sometimes you have to use some subtlety in your questions to get the right answers but in other situations, you can just ask straight out what you want to know.

Restaurants, Salons, Contractors – Anyone Can Use this Technique

Here’s some ways that a business can use this idea to get the right data out of their customers:

Want to change your hours? Ask what hours your customers would prefer. Give them choices or ask them to fill in the blanks.

For example, a restaurant just open for dinner had better find out if their most loyal customers are even in the neighborhood at lunchtime and if they are, what they want to eat.

On the other hand, a sidewalk survey, walking up to people who walk by during lunchtime, will help you find out what you need to do to attract new business. What do they want to eat for lunch? What price do they want to pay?

Here’s Where a More Subtle Touch Was Needed

Here’s a more subtle example. Think you need to make staffing changes? Ask your customers to vote for their favorite employees and comment on the service they received that prompted the vote. Then review the performance of the staff who didn’t rate high in these reviews.

Wonder if you need new items on a menu of dishes served at a restaurant or services provided at a salon? Ask which items are their favorites and which ones they would like to see added. This can be done with a response card left at the cashier desk but even better would be sending out a letter to every customer – ones you’ve seen and ones who have not been around in a while. This little survey will help remind the ones you haven’t seen in a while how wonderful you are.

Even a contractor can do this kind of survey among his customers. Get some cheerful young person on the phone to ask past customers what their biggest home repair concerns are or what home improvements they would most like to make. Then work out a few special offers that you launch over the next few months.

A word of warning, though. Sometimes people will give you answers that aren’t necessarily true. Here’s an example: A small restaurant wants to expand its menu so it asks customers for the dishes they would like to see on the menu. A postcard mailer brings in the response that 35% of their customers would like to add liver to the menu. For real? You’ve got to use common sense in these matters and realize that people can get an idea in their heads that they will never follow up on. In this case, it turns out that Oprah Winfrey just featured a nutrition expert on her network who heavily promoted the benefits of liver in the diet. Well… those folks are never going to actually EAT it but they’ll say they want it. So use common sense.

In addition to finding out what people want to see among your product or service offerings, you empower your clients by asking for their input. This can build their sense of loyalty.

So it’s a win-win – they get to feel included and you get some intelligence from the field on how you can tailor your offerings to your customers’ needs. Add a dose of common sense and you can have the guidance you need to expand.

Time for Some Fun!

For some people, the last time they set out to have fun just for the sake of having fun was when they were young, before family, bills, taxes and other concerns absorbed all their attention. In today’s blog post, we’re going to talk about the image below and how this is related to having fun.

There have been various versions of this idea circulated around the internet – it’s not even possible to track down originators or artists to give him (or her) credit. This image is presented here as an authorization and suggestion for you to have the fun of creating a little magic.


The magic of creating something new and exciting may be outside your current comfort zone that might have narrowed down to managing the day-to-day business. Keeping up with overhead, accounting, employee issues and legalities may have resulted in a cramping of your originality, creativity and the pure magic of dreaming a more ideal future and then seeing it come to fruition.

There are two simple ways to capture some of that magic back without stressing out your comfort zone. The first way is giving yourself time to just daydream. Daydreaming is underrated. We’re talking about pure imagination, letting yourself wander unrestrained down avenues of fancy. Daydreaming is so often discouraged when we were children but here’s the funny thing. If you let yourself fully indulge in daydreaming once in awhile, you may just find yourself living that imaginary reality two, five or eight years down the road.

Make notes, keep a journal, three-by-five cards or whatever record-keeping you want, so you can look back on your past daydreams and draw fresh inspiration from them.

The second way to infuse your future with magic is by involving your employees. Include all of them or select out a special team, whichever you are more comfortable with and that works with the type of staff you have. Supply some refreshments, close the doors and open the table for bright ideas. Establish some ground rules, such as you are looking for expansion ideas or a new business plan or marketing angles. Make sure everyone knows that there are NO BAD IDEAS. This is very important. When your staff really get this, they will be willing to voice a half-formed idea that might never work in its current form. But that unworkable idea could spark something in someone else’s mind that turns out to be brilliant. Assign a secretary to note all the good-bad-and-indifferent ideas for later review.

This type of exercise is great fun and is also a team-building tool as it allows everyone on the team to feel included in building a future. When ideas from that session are implemented, those who originated or added to the idea also have the pride of contributing to expansion. Those staff are more likely to feel an increase in loyalty because they want to stick around and see the idea succeed.

Someone must work as a chairperson to prevent this creativity session from becoming a gripe session. It should be expressed that this is a time to envision a bright new future, not address and solve problems in the present.

It’s not necessary to feel that you must implement ideas from these imagination or brainstorming sessions. You may simply use these ideas as inspiration to guide your day-to-day decisions. The most important thing is to grasp the freedom of imagination, decision and creation that is truly yours as a business owner. That alone may steer your path toward new horizons without challenging your comfort zone.

A Time to Change, a Time to Stand Fast

There’s times when innovation is right and there’s times that the right thing to do is to continue what’s working. A famous story about William Wrigley, Jr. (of chewing gum fame) is often used to illustrate the second half of this statement. The man was reportedly riding on a train at the height of his success, when a woman asked him why he continued to advertise when he was already hugely successful and his gum was so widely popular. The story proceeds like this:

Wrigley: How fast is this train going?

Woman: Probably seventy miles an hour.

Wrigley: Well, that’s fast enough. Why don’t they unhook the engine?

The point was that he needed to continue the formula that made him successful. If advertising got him there, then he needed to continue to run the ads. It pays to take notice of the pattern of advertising, promotion or even service that are in effect when income and delivery roar along at a good clip.

But there is another factor that needs to be taken into account. Times change. If a company or owner gets too confident in his current strategy, that might just be the time that change pulls the rug out from underneath him.

Like in this example. A small auto repair owner was very successful for a couple of decades. Then, two of the three office buildings across from him lost some of their major tenants. The third and largest building was emptied out completely as it began to be converted from offices to condominiums.

Then the real estate market tanked and the large office building sat empty. The construction company even declared bankruptcy and took away their trailers and equipment. This was terrible news for the owner who had drawn most of his business from these three buildings.

It wasn’t even possible to continue the successful formula that had kept him successful. A couple of years later, he was worried about even being able to stay in business after so many years of coasting on a healthy, predictable income.

A business owner with marketing savvy knows that a market can change at any time. It is vitally important to keep an eye on the environment one’s products are delivered into and foresee changes before they affect profits. If this business owner had at least made some changes as soon as the buildings across the street started losing tenants, he would have been in better shape.

In this case, the owner’s strength was the quality of his service. He should have solicited testimonials from his most faithful clients and broadcast these far and wide to the residents in his zip code. Possibly just a postcard with the testimonial and a headline like “Can You Say This about Your Mechanic? See us for a $20 oil change so we can get to know each other,” could have done the trick. The influx of new blood would have helped him ride through all the changes in his marketplace.

It might be a lot to ask – to keep one eye on the future while you’re dealing with the present. It is a necessity from a marketing viewpoint. If things are going well, it might help you find opportunities for expansion and should the marketplace start going through drastic changes, it could be the only thing that enables you to survive. 

The Role of Innovation in Promotion and Marketing

Whether you’re a small business or a large one, a mistake that is often made in promotion and marketing is limiting innovation.

This does not mean, however, that one should compulsively change something that is working well. A campaign or ad or pattern of offering specials or reduced prices that works should be continued as long as it is getting good results.

But there is a principle in direct marketing that applies to many other activities. Direct marketing occurs when a business sells its products directly to the public, as through mail order or telephone sales. In direct marketing, you can directly see the results of your promotion. A good ad brings in so many orders for a particular book, for example.

When a direct marketing campaign works very well, it sets a certain standard. While that campaign is being continued, the new job of the marketing people is to now break through to a new, higher standard with a new promotion. So they continually test new messages, new ads, new mailing lists.

While minimizing risks and cash outlay, a small business can test other promotional messages and tactics to see if they will be more successful than the existing promotions. If the new promotion tests well, it can sometimes be run alongside existing promotions or perhaps can replace them.

Surveys, interviews and other methods of testing the pulse of the public can, of course, guide these tests.

For example, suppose a family restaurant offers a deep senior discount on Thursday nights. This brings in big crowds but other weeknights are emptier. Simply by putting a little survey card and pen on the table with the check, other offers could be asked about and most popular one could be tested. The public could be asked about Children Eat Free, awards of free dinners for good grades, three courses chosen from a limited menu for one set price or other offers. There is no limit but one’s imagination, tempered by one’s common sense.

Whichever choice gets the most votes could be offered on a limited-time basis on one of those nights that is emptier than Thursday.

Whether you do your own promotion or you have someone working for you, consider the value of innovation, while not rocking the boat of successful promotional actions. You may end up finding something new that works far better than your old tried and true – and very tired – promotions!

If You Make Promotion Fun, You Attract Attention

There’s a lot of glitzy promotion out there, some in which the message is virtually lost in the over-the-top creativity of some agency. Some of this promotion fails to even provide basic product benefits. In fact, sometimes it’s even worse than that. With some ads, it’s hard to be sure what is being sold at all. Shoes? Purses? The resort you see in the background?

Here’s a slightly different look at what can make promotion successful. It’s fun. Fun attracts people’s attention.

Here’s a couple of examples of promotions that offered fun but kept in mind the fact that they needed to be profitable. Both involved trade shows – one huge and one tiny, but they can be adapted to any type of business.

First, at a huge telecommunications trade show, one vendor had the entire booth set up as a corral. All the staff were in western costumes. There were hay bales to sit on. But the real draw in the booth was apple bobbing. If you’re not familiar with this party game, there’s a lot of apples floating in a big washtub of water. An apple bobber holds his hands behind him, gets on his knees and tries to grab an apple using his teeth only.

It’s very old fashioned but all these corporate types in suits were standing in a long line to get a chance to bob for apples. It might have been the pure nostalgia of seeing this long-gone entertainment come to life again. It’s very likely that many of these folks had never bobbed for an apple before.

The point of the exercise was this: The staff in the booth had ample time to chat up the people waiting for the apple bobbing and find the real prospects in the crowd.

Here’s the other example. At a very tiny trade show for air conditioner technicians, there was one booth that had set up a beanbag toss game. The exhibitor provided air duct cleaning, so a visitor to the booth had a chance to throw the beanbag through a small hole (a dirty, clogged duct) or a big hole (clean duct). The winner got a candy bar. Every person who wanted to participate had to fill out a simple form that provided contact information and enough other information to determine if they were a prospect or just someone’s wife or bored kid. All the prospects were then slated for follow-up. Here too, there was a line of people waiting to play because there was nothing else happening at this show!

When you engage people’s imaginations, let them guess the number of jelly beans in the jar, name the new team mascot or get involved in some other creative or imaginative way, you will attract attention. See if you can think of ways to wrap your product or service message around something fun and watch that promotion attract attention from the right kind of potential customer.