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Wasting half your money on marketing a small business?

Marketing dollars down the toiletMy business day started with a note from a favorite client about a radio ad campaign he recently ran. He terminated the 6 month campaign after just one month, because the cost was high, and there were no discernible results. The radio station had promised him visibility on their high-traffic websites, but there was no indication that visitors were interested in his offering.

One of the many things I truly admire about this client, is his willingness to invest in different ideas for growing his business, and the quickness with which he can learn a lesson and move on.

To make him feel a little better about this particularly expensive lesson, I shared this quote from John Wanamaker, considered by many, the father of traditional marketing:

“I fully believe that half the money I spend on marketing is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Okay, so other people have wasted money on marketing campaigns too. But aside from making my client/friend feel better, his story is instructive for many small businesses that are growing in the age of the internet.

Wanamaker's aphorism (look it up) comes from a time well before the internet - when the media was primarily print, and later evolved to include radio and TV. Marketing was a one-way proposition with the marketer broadcasting their message over these media to create awareness and spur prospective customers to come to the store. The bigger the budget, the bigger the audience you could address. But it was hard to track just which sales came from which medium or campaign the marketer invested in.

Along came internet search, and eCommerce, and the pendulum came swinging around to a point where marketers could focus an ad campaign like a laser on people searching for a specific product or service. You could track which sales came from which campaign, and even see where prospective customers abandon your buying funnel, so you could "optimize" your campaign.

This was a god-send for small businesses. A great equalizer. A small business could create a targeted Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or search engine ad campaign with a limited budget, directed right at their niche buyers.

Smart owners of small and start up businesses leveraged the heck out of this capability, while big business was late to the game. They continued spending huge amounts of money on their broadcast campaigns, and lagging on internet search. Small business folks were elated, and rather proud of their nimble, and astute adoption of new media. And consultants like me have made a decent living helping them do so.

So what does all this have to do with my friend/client, and his expensive radio campaign?

Just this: search engine marketing is great, but if you want to grow, you will need to expand your marketing skills - and patience - to include creating awareness well before the prospect is ready to buy. I am all for doing that online with banner advertising, and content advertising.

But if you are just getting into this area, be aware that these types of advertising have more in common with traditional marketing, than they do with search engine marketing. Your goals should reflect a longer range perspective, and need to use different measures to see if they are being effective.

So work with your expert advisers to distribute your budget to a broader strategy, and then go grow your business!

I gotta go call that client...

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