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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Marketing: Question and answer

The question:

Hi Mark,

I'm a big fan of your writing. It has proved invaluable as a resource to me and the company I work for. Thing is, I'm kind of at a standstill right now. I work for a company that fabricates steel framing - floors, walls and trusses, and we've been pretty prevalent in the industry to the point where we are now considered one of the (if not the) market leaders in Ontario.

When I joined the company two years ago, we were running at about $2.5mil turnover, which now has been increased to over $5mil through E-mail newsletters, improved product literature, architect/engineer visits, press releases and trade shows among other efforts. I have literally had no budget for this - it was approved on a case-by-case basis. My boss does not agree with print marketing, nor does he feel that trade shows bring us much in terms of exposure to new potential clients, so we've ceased those.

I'm constantly racking my brains for promotional ideas that are cost-free (or at least minimal cost) and give us maximum exposure, but as sales coordinator too, I have to balance my time. Should I just demand a budget from my boss, or plough on? I'm obviously doing something right, but I feel that forward momentum will be finite if we carry on under these circumstances. I also feel that my own progress is being hampered somewhat. We've just moved into a new facility which has obviously compromised working capital to a degree, but the resources are there, I'm sure of it. Is my boss being cheap? What can I do?

Thanks for any help, feel free to publish (minus the name) if you think there is any mileage in it.
My answer:
You are doing much right here, and so is your boss. At this scale of business, however, a marketing plan and budget are appropriate and rational. You may wish to draw up your own budget/plan. Keep it simple -- one or two pages max, with target objectives, (lead conversion etc) and reasoning. Does your business have an organized planning/meeting cycle? If so, you can rationally include this into that process. (If it doesn't and you are flying by the seat of your pants, I wish I could offer more support but that it is outside of my power/mandate!)
Your boss is probably right about print media, even though my business continues to earn 99 per cent of its revenue from print advertising! The reason we succeed is because of our relationship-centric approach. Your business, based in Ontario, may be highly suitable for a special supplier-supported feature. It won't cost you (or your boss) a cent, and while we will encourage your suppliers to support the initiative, they will be treated with respect. As you may know, this blog in fact started as a client service initiative. the resulting feature becomes a really useful link off your website, and attachment to relevant emails -- in these contexts, print converted to online is both effective and economical. And you won't need budget approvals.
Nevertheless, print media and trade shows can be very expensive. One manufacturer told me a couple of years ago, that he couldn't measure any lead generation from expensive glossy architectural magazines, and his cost per lead for trade shows was about $75.00. He said he was shocked when he tried online lead generation methods, such as AEC Daily, and discovered his true cost per lead dropped by an order of magnitude, to $7.50. He got these results b doing some sponsored advertising/section referrals from that website -- I'm not pushing it or recommending it to you carelessly; I've not used this site/service myself, nor have I validated these numbers with more recent results. But you can see that some of the verticals for AEC marketing online may be helpful and useful, and, yes, you will need a small budget to develop them.
Finally, check with your boss and which trade associations you belong to. Most of them have some marketing resources and services, and you may be able to connect with (non competitive) peers to gather ideas and insights. While it may be a budget stretcher to attend relevant conferences, I've found some relationships developed this way have been exceptionally profitable for my business. But you can also connect by phone and video link if necessary and that is less expensive. I hope as a marketer you are also engaged with trade associations at your client level; I know of few ways to more effectively develop relationships and widen your influence. Again, you'll need some budget resources here and your boss will need some patience; it can take a while for the relationships to fully mature into business trust -- but when things happen and go right, the payback is immense. (I'm still amazed how much business I've received in the past few months either by receiving or sending a few phone calls or emails from these association connections).
If you have construction marketing questions, please feel free to email me at or phone 888-432-3555 ext 224.

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