This posting may surprise you. It certainly puts to shame the advice I’ve been dispensing for the past five years because it relates an experiential concept: The more certain types of businesses need to market and promote themselves, the less likely they are to get my business, because I know they are likely NOT to deliver genuine value and satisfaction.
This circumstance is most powerful with restaurants. Not chain, fast-food joints, which serve predictable and standard fare (even the upscale ones). I’m describing the independents. If they need to advertise to get business, they are bad. Period.
I’m afraid this more marketing/less quality concept is also relevant for trades and services for homeowners. Now I’m stretching into an area of thinking that could hurt my own business (which earns 95 per cent of its revenue by selling advertising). But it is a painful fact — if we make our decisions by listening or reading ads, or marketing materials, and not actually obtaining word-of-mouth references, trouble looms.
We’re going through a bad experience now with a home service contractor we selected largely because of price and marketing, and not (alas) from valid and direct word-of-mouth references. I won’t name the business here, in light of my policy never to negatively identify specific businesses and organizations in this blog. But I wish I had spoken with our neighbours and chosen based on their recommendations. And I can assure you that our neighbours are hearing the name of the contractor who failed to do things right.
We are giving him an opportunity to make good, of course. This story will have a happy ending (for us) because instead of relying on subjective assessments, we’ve determined exactly where the contractor screwed up and documented everything independently — and most importantly (and fortunately) he only has half of our money.
Conversely our best experiences have been with contractors and service providers who you will never see advertise because they are so small not to have structured systems, and they are so busy because word-of-mouth is carrying them forward 100 per cent. Are they under pricing themselves? Sure. But here, I’m the purchaser, not the seller, and I’ll take great value every day over just a fair deal.
I expect my thinking stretches to the ICI area. Do you choose your architect or engineer because of how well they promote themselves? Will you select a general contractor or subtrade just because of their marketing?
Despite the tone here, my thinking is obviously not totally against marketing or advertising — or I wouldn’t be in business. Possibly the highest and most effective marketing model is subtle and 100 per cent client-centric. You focus on creating a great client experience, obtaining those testimonials and referrals, and your business thrives. Alternatively, especially in the business-to-business environment, you focus your marketing on activities that help your clients develop business — in other words, you push your marketing budget upstream.
As an example (and the lifeblood of our business), we publish feature profiles about contractors, subtrades and others within the construction industry in our publications. We sell most of our advertisers to the suppliers of the profiled businesses. I don’t see this advertising as a waste. If it enhances your client relationships, you have a win. If the publicity helps your client sell more, you have another win (because of the flow-through to you.).
Another example can be allocating marketing dollars effectively to community service initiatives and charities. You need to be careful to do this right to not turn out to be cynical or manipulative, but by allocating your resources to the greater good, you enhance your reputation, build contacts and community beyond your business, and create alliances with influential community leaders, who can steer business your way. Just take a few minutes to look at who serves on the boards of community and charitable groups.
The point here is that your marketing should primarily be focused on your product/service quality and client experience. You don’t want to end up like the contractor who chose to provide a service for our home, completed shoddy work, and then asserted that we were just seeing things when we noticed initially that something wasn’t quite right.