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Friday, October 30, 2009

Marketing, quality and value

Home Shows can be truly effective in supporting referrals and word-of-mouth. If you have a great reputation, people will 'rediscover' you at these events.

We all appreciate the power of positive word-of-mouth advertising.

In fact, the absolute power of word-of-mouth is so great that many generally successful businesses think that advertising, promotion and marketing is beneath their dignity. In good times, especially, they receive enough work through referrals and repeat businesses they have to turn away business they don't like.

Conversely, many people perceive a negative correlation between quality of services generally chosen by word-of-mouth, and advertising. Is the lawyer with the biggest ad the best? As a consumer, are you more likely to trust the renovation contractor who buys full page ads and attends all the home shows, than the work done by the contractor at your neighbour's home -- when your neighbour raves about the "find" of such good service?

My wife, for example, is using the services of a woman to help around the garden. She learned about the service provider from one of her good friends, who is really good at finding bargains and good value. Now that this person is working on our garden, two immediate neighbours have also signed up with her.

Finally, I have a (nearly) absolute rule about hiring. I will never hire anyone (outside of a sales rep), who uses "marketing and sales" techniques on me. And I don't really care about how good the resume looks (marketing) except to validate other impressions. In other words, if I feel potential employees are presenting themselves with assertiveness in looking for work, I offer them the opportunity to take the sales evaluation test, but I will never hire them to be writers, or designers, or administrative assistants.

The reason: I know the best employees and the ones who ultimately will be the least expensive, will be the ones who are passionate about their craft, not their sales or marketing ability. (Obviously these rules are somewhat inverted when I'm hiring sales representatives!)

But here is an irony, which you should consider carefully. If your business is so good at word-of-mouth in good times that you think you will never need to market or advertise, you will ultimately be much more successful if you build marketing and promotion into your mix.
The reason is that you can stabilize your business volume and usually raise your prices more than enough to pay the actual marketing costs. (Certainly you can provide repeat client discounts, of course.)

The challenge is that it is hard to make the switch to advertising and organized marketing. The reason: You need to spend time and money on this stuff, not your actual work, so you have a cost to pay.

Added to the challenge, some people, most likely in your immediate orbit of potential clients, may feel the same sense of disconnect between advertising/marketing and quality. You are fighting against your perceptions and those of the people closest to you.

Here are a couple of ways to get around these challenges.

Focus on media/publicity rather than conventional advertising

Great media publicity is almost like magnifying word of mouth. You will earn credibility and respect. You cannot of course control when and how the media reports on you, and you need to learn some basic public relations and communications skills.

Advertorials are often the soft-entry to media publicity

These are largely our business. You have much more control over the content and delivery time, and (at least as part of our service), we'll take some time to show you how to manage your media relationships.

Organized referral/thank-you and relationship building programs make sense

Instead of relying on word-of-mouth, encourage it through organized referral programs. These may simply be to provide your current clients with discounts on future work (and discounts for their friends) for referrals, or you might set up "Thank you" or networking events for your current and potential clients.

Finally, of course, you should not sacrifice the quality of your service and the word-of-mouth you've earned when moving into the advertising and marketing space. A high referral/repeat rate will still most likely be your best sign of business success.

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