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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Conrad Black in Wal-Mart. Never.

Which marketing effort is most effective for you?

This is an intriguing and important question. It is easy to answer "it depends" and of course there is some truth to that response -- because the marketing effort results will depend, ultimately on the characteristics of your market.

But I'm going to take a risk and suggest a general but highly specific response to this question -- one of the responses to our online survey.

It is: Can you connect with your current clients so well that they will:

a) buy more from you;

b) encourage others to buy from you -- best of all, even without your 'knowing'

c) share their insights and observations about where the market is heading?

The rather crucial point here is that your current clients ARE your business -- their satisfaction, respect, and interests will tell you much about who you are serving and what they want. Assuming you have a close enough relationship with them -- and you should -- they will also be able to tell you where the market is heading; and allow you to adapt your business in that direction.

If you give me the answer: "I'm just starting out and don't have any current customers" I'll respond: "That's BS. If you truly don't have any customers at all, you are not in business; you are dreaming. Surely, in the early going you have some clients -- you aren't going to pour thousands of dollars in time and effort and not know of anyone ready to pay for what you offer...."

If you say: "I'm not making any money from my current customers", then you need to look more closely at the customers you find profitable, and find more of them (and jettison the ones that aren't profitable.)

Good marketing services and consultants will always explore your current clientele before structuring marketing programs to attract new business for you. The reason is simple -- prospective clients are likely to be similar to your current ones. You wouldn't expect for example (at least at present!) Conrad Black to set foot in a Wal-Mart. (This example may only be relevant if you are following a somewhat arcane criminal trial in Chicago.)

One example of a marketing failure that still rings close to my heart is the failure of the Eatons' Department Store in Canada. This had been the biggest retailer -- its founder captured mail order and client service in its era; and years ago learned how to attract and retain the very best retail clerks around.

But the stores went into decline, as successive family member generations focused on their country estates and horses rather than the quality of the business. The clientele aged, and business declined. The company filed for reorganization, and its managers set out to 'reposition' the business to appeal to the 'next generation'.

You guessed it... the older people, alienated by all the changes, left, and younger people did not respond to all the expensive marketing. A much smarter approach would have been to look more closely at the older clients' needs and build in processes to have them share their experiences with their (now adult) children. I think the stores would be thriving now if they did.

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