Monday, June 13, 2011

The Marketing of Marketing, or Why You Won't "Be Wildly Successful if you Just Hire The Right Guru"

I'm from Alberta, a province where young families tend to make a boatload of money thanks to the oilpatch & other industries where skilled trades make 6 figure incomes without blinking. While these families are growing, they want to spend their disposable income on their children, buying them clothes, toys & accessories from businesses selling mainly online & at trade shows. This means we have more than our share of start up businesses aimed at that demographic, with new ones opening daily.

Way back in the day (2006!!), when my partner & I opened our business, there were a handful of local stores where you could purchase a few brands of baby carriers & cloth diapers from, as well as a handful of online Canadian stores. As quickly as we grew, the marketplace did too & there are now more than 20 (at my count) Edmonton-based businesses selling those items.

What's really grown exponentially are the hand made accessories & the trade shows they're sold at. Again, where only a few years ago there were a handful of major trade shows, craft fairs & local markets where companies selling baby & childrens products could exhibit, there are now dozens in the area.

I realise these are local examples, but I think they illustrate the trend really well. No one is making a living doing this because the market is so saturated, so when solicitations for marketing pop up (we get offers weekly!), they're totally tempting to small business.

"Hey Mompreneurs, want to increase sales while looking fabulous & having the dream life you've always dreamed of?!? Subscribe to my blog/e-book/website & attend my momseveningout/wine&cheese/fabworkshop & learn all my secrets!!!"

For no charge, you can often glean some ideas or tips; for a pretty small fee, usually a few hundred bucks, you can hire a marketing consultant to help build your brand. What annoys me as a small business owner is that the marketing of the marketing seems to take precedence over the substance of evaluating the viability of growth of your business.

The tips provided essentially boil down to:

-Network, network, network, at gatherings, trade shows, etc. Get to know other business owners & make sure they know you.
-Tweet, Facebook & Blog so you develop a big fan base

These aren't bad suggestions & they certainly reflect the business plan of most small companies these days. The problem is that to charge for your advice, you should be able to establish that these strategies work. I want to see hard data- increased sales volume, sales to a new customer base, increased market share, etc. Hiring marketing help can be a great use of money, if they can provide results- but I don't think the marketing of marketing offers that. Time & money spent on this kind of marketing is likely wasted, save it for a company with legitimate experience in your industry & ability to prove their effectiveness with increased sales.

Legitimate marketing takes a look at your product, the market, your pricing, customer base etc & establishes a concrete & realistic plan for advertising and growth. It does not suggest you spam other businesses by posting your links on their Facebook wall. It does not see "networking" with similar local businesses competing for the same share of the same market as key to your growth and success.

There's nothing wrong with being a small business, making a nice product and earning income you're satisfied with. There's nothing wrong with dreaming big, either!! In a market like ours, though, where it's quite saturated & we're all fighting for pieces of a shrinking pie, a reality check is needed. At the end of the day, I think we as business owners need to stick to what we do best and avoid the fluffy marketing/happiness/lifestyle gurus. Simple concepts like knowing your customers, listening to their needs and providing them with what they're asking for are what builds business long term.