Talking to a small business owner the other day, I asked where most of their business came from. “Oh, you know”,came the airy reply, “word of mouth mostly”.”So you don’t do much marketing then?” “Well no, none”.All this with a cheery confidence-nonchalance even.
You hear it all the time:”The phone usually rings”. Except when it eventually doesn’t. Like in a recession; or when all of the ‘contacts’have been finally milked dry. Or both.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the power of networking (though many of the people I’m referring to don’t even do that in any concerted or organised fashion); and I do accept that many of the traditional methods of communicating features, advantages and benefits to target markets are changing radically, with the ever-growing influence of digital media.
But just relying on word of mouth is like a golfer lugging his golf bag round the course with just a putter in it. Not much use when you’re in the rough.
There is of course much detailed market research (if you’d like a sample, e-mail me and I’ll send you the links) which demonstrates unequivocally that businesses which continue to invest in marketing during a recession come out at the end of it hundreds of percentage points in front of rivals who cut spending. The big brands have learned their lessons from the last two or three recessions, on the whole.
What, though, of small businesses?Â I get the distinct impression that many still treat marketing as an expense rather than an investment to be tested and measured for cost-effectiveness over time,and adjusted and amended accordingly. An expense that seems like an easy option to put a red pencil through when cost cutting is on the agenda.
All the evidence of course points to such action being a self-fulfilling prophesy: failing to plan is planning to fail, as the saying goes, and marketing planning is the most vital of all.The businesses that survive and thrive during a recession are those that maintain good business habits and practices, whatever the prevailing economic conditions.
There’s no particular magic about marketing: it is essentially a numbers game, like most of business. The more people know about your products or services (and their respective unique selling points), the more the phone rings. Nor do you have to invest huge sums to make a big practical difference to your business.Â But you can’t just sit on your thumbs and wait for the phone to ring “like it always has done”. Because one not so fine day, and particularly during a recession, it will stop, and so will your business.