Changing the mindset and approach to marketing your business
By Michelle L. Cramer
Every business, whether a one-man-show or a national corporation, has three major areas of business organization: sales/marketing, manufacturing/production and finance/administration, according to Sean Doyle, founder and strategic planning and management consultant for FitzMartin in Homewood, Alabama, and author of “Shift Marketing: 19 Practical Business-Driven Ideas for an Executive in Charge of Marketing but Not Trained for the Task.” He says many owners of small businesses — who may be running all three areas themselves — focus on sales over marketing, not realizing how cohesive they are.
“Marketing tends to follow the owner’s whim instead of a strategic marketing plan,” Doyle says. “The marketing looks more like what the owner wants to do and is seen as an investment or a hobby instead of a necessity.”
When Mark Stevens opened Georgia Spa Company in 2004, he and his now general manager, Josh Kemerling, handled the marketing. “We had no real, dedicated strategy and tried different things depending on what looked good and what we could afford,” Stevens says. “We would go to a conference and then come back and try new things, and tweak what we were currently doing.”
Scott Clark, managing member of The Spa and Sauna Company, with stores in Nevada and California, says he too started without any formal training in marketing.
“You get busy running your company, and you forget to place those calls to book more time on TV or build an email blast, whatever it might be,” Clark says. “When you’re trying to help run the company, it’s harder to do everything. [Marketing] was an afterthought. We knew when things needed to happen, but the implementation and execution would often fall by the wayside.”
Connecting Marketing to Sales
Before any steps toward a marketing strategy should be taken, Doyle says business owners must begin to rethink the discipline. “The most common scenario that led me to write [“Shift Marketing”] was business owners who think about marketing as lipstick on a pig instead of a serious business tool that they can leverage,” he says. “A successful business owner sees the connection between marketing and sales.”
That starts by understanding what customers are looking for, Doyle says, further explaining that everyone has three types of pains in their life: financial pain, strategic pain and personal pain. The key to creating sales is marketing your products and services as a solution to those pains. The financial pain for someone, Doyle explains, might be paying for the hot tub. Strategic pain could be the homeowner overwhelmed by the many kinds of hot tubs or installation logistics. The emotional pain is possibly a desire for more time with a spouse or fear of a big purchase not working out because of a previously bad customer service experience.
“Everybody has these pains,” Doyle says, “so every business should provide value to address them.” In the scenarios Doyle provided, the value for the financial pain would be providing options for payment on a hot tub purchase. To address the strategic pain, do an in-home consultation with a prospect to determine the best hot tub and optimal installation. The emotional pain can be addressed by providing a guarantee and feedback from other customers. “Demonstrate it — declare your proof,” he says. “Show examples of the happy couple in the hot tub, the hot tub built on the deck, the person whose bank account is happier.”
Planning and Implementation
There’s still more to do even when you understand your customers’ needs. Doyle says business owners tend to jump into marketing without developing a strategy or message. “There are a lot of free resources online that can help in understanding how to structure this marketing stuff but, more so, how to make it effective,” he says. “And that almost always comes down to identifying some kind of unique position.”
However, as Clark learned, that takes some time and experience — and funds. “Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of industry guidelines for what the marketing budget should be based upon a percentage of sales,” Clark says. “[In the beginning], the vendors were telling us to spend a lot and the advertising companies were trying to sell a lot. And really, at some level, it was like throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks.”
Over time, Clark recognized The Spa & Sauna Company’s marketing strategy needed more dedicated attention. Around 2011, he hired a marketing firm to build a website and manage the company’s search engine optimization. About a year later, he hired marketing consultants to help build a CRM program for lead follow-up. In 2015, Clarke hired a full-time marketing manager, followed by a second person in spring 2018 to handle digital marketing and video.
Stevens’ marketing strategy is also totally different versus the early days. “We focus on having a consistent message across multiple forms of advertising and many platforms,” he says. Georgia Spa Company also has two full-time marketing managers on staff and an outside agency to manage the digital presence. “We have a marketing plan, and we spend a lot of marketing dollars to drive our success.”
Clark recalls a panicked approach to the marketing strategy at first. “It used to be April and we’d say, ‘Hey, we’d better work on the marketing calendar because the spa season’s here,’ ” he says. “It’s hard to practice good forest management when you’re trying to save a tree that’s burning. We try to practice much better forest management now as opposed to the brush fire management we used to do.”
That forest management approach for The Spa and Sauna Company’s marketing strategy is much more involved now — with the 2019 marketing calendar planned in November 2018 during a team brainstorming session in what Clark calls the ‘war room.’ They line three walls with large whiteboards, spending each brainstorming session on a different area of the business and deciding what they want to do in the year ahead. Then they narrow it down to the two items on the list they know they can accomplish in the next 12 months.
Clarke says the company has seen more than 200 percent growth in just over five years, and he attributes much of that to the company’s implementation of a marketing strategy. “Part of it is admitting you don’t know everything and letting someone else take control of it,” he says of getting a dedicated marketing staff to carry out the management team’s plan. “Many small businesses don’t think that they can afford [to hire an expert], but they can’t afford not to market their company,” Stevens says. “It was told to me another way: A business without a sign is a sign there is no business. Our sign today is represented to the public [through a clear cut marketing strategy] in various forms in both traditional and digital advertising.”