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Ten Modern Marketing Myths Small Business Tend to Buy Into
In nearly 40 years of working with small businesses, especially start-ups, I’ve found inexperienced marketers, because of their lack of background in marketing, often buy into common myths about marketing. And, unfortunately, will make ill-advised decisions based on these myths, at best wasting limited resources and at worst putting their business at risk.
A myth is a traditional story used to explain a custom. These myths get repeated from business to business, from generation to generation, until they take on a life of their own that may or may not have any basis in today’s marketplace reality. Over the years I’ve collected what I call my Ten Modern Small Business Marketing Myths.
#1The Rational Buyer – As business people we’re trained to approach decisions rationally, gathering relevant facts, analyzing trade offs, looking for alternatives, including cost, and then deciding on the best course. We assume everyone else makes buying decisions based on the same rational basis.
The reality is that while some consumer buying decisions are indeed based on rational thought, most
are influenced more by emotions, convenience, peer identification or fashion. Using a promotional strategy based on the Rational Buyer myth — for instance, stressing reason and logic instead of emotions in your ads — may be missing a large portion of the potential market.
#2The Magic Answer – This is one of my favorites. It holds that in any given situation there is a Magic Answer that will solve all problems.
The Magic Medium is a common variation. It assumes there is one advertising medium that works for everybody in all situations. It usually focuses on television, since it is the most visible and glamorous — “If we could just afford to be on TV, we’d have more customers than we could handle!”
While TV is certainly the advertising medium of choice for some businesses, for many small, narrowly focused businesses, it could be the worst choice.
#3 The Knockout Punch – This myth goes something like: “If we could just find the right opportunity (Magic Answer), we could really take a big chunk of market share away from the competition (deliver a Knockout Punch).”
The “nobody” who has an idea, pursues it with vigor — and is also fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time — and hits it big (i.e., takes the competition by storm), is a common “hero” among entrepreneurs. But they are also rare!
If you look at the big picture, you’ll see that most businesses succeed not by a breakthrough (a Knockout Punch) but by doing dozens and dozens of small, day-to-day things just a little better than their competitors.
#4 We Have No Competition – A business that believes they do not have competition is living in a fool’s paradise. For decades, mighty Sears, Roebuck refused to believe they had competition, until they were on their knees, staring into the pit of extinction.
Whether we’re talking about the worldwide marketplace mega-corporations compete in, or the narrowly defined, more or less local marketplaces in which most small businesses operate, the reality is today’s consumer has far more product choices to choose from and far more places in which to buy those products than they can ever possibly use.
#5 The Better Mousetrap – This one has lots of variations:
• “Just invent the better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”
• “Our products are so good, they sell themselves.”
• “Our reputation is our best advertising.”
The truth is today’s marketplace is filled to overflowing with mousetraps. They are available in virtually any store and at practically any price you want to pay. So that, even if you could actually come up with a better mousetrap, chances are the marketplace will greet your astonishing invention not with a thunderous stampede to your door, but with a disinterested yawn.
#6 Everyone Is Our Customer – The basic belief here is that every living person in a given market area is a potential customer. When, in fact, the demographics of the area, the products that are offered, the price of the products, the location of where the customer can find the products and the presence and relative strength of the competition in the marketplace… All tend to define and limit the potential customer group.
A business that understands this and learns as much as possible about their customer group will spend advertising and promotion dollars much more effectively.
#7 Price Is Everything – The only reason most people buy anything is price — they will go where its cheapest. Therefore, the only way to compete is to cut price. That’s the basic reasoning behind this myth.
There’s no doubt that pricing is important. The growth of Wal-Mart and other price oriented mass merchandisers is ample proof that consumers love a bargain, or what they perceive is a bargain.
However, for the small, locally owned business to try to cut price to keep up with the big boys is a fool’s game they can’t win. There is always someone willing to make it a little more cheaply or accept a little less markup. What the small business must do is find ways other than price — for example, serving a small, specialized niche — to compete.
#8 We Don’t Have To Promote – This myth is common among well-established business that fall into the trap of complacency. They believe they “own” their customer group and don’t have to go out after new customers or do anything to hold existing customers.
In our over-promoted marketplace, if you’re not talking to your customers or potential customers, reminding them of what you have to offer that the competition doesn’t, you can be sure that someone else is telling them what they have to offer that you don’t.
Certainly customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth are two of the most powerful competitive advantages any business can enjoy. But by themselves they may no longer be enough to assure a business’ continued success.
#9 Just Make More Sales Calls – The assumption here is that marketing is a numbers game. It holds that all you have to do is make more calls and you’ll sell more product, perhaps ignoring the fact that your product line hasn’t been updated in a decade.
A variation is that if you just run enough ads, things will turn around, again ignoring the fact that the competition has recently remodeled and expanded their store and is now open evenings and weekends.
#10 How Can We Do It On The Cheap? – I make a significant distinction between spending limited resources wisely and simply looking for the cheapest way. Some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen that grow out of buying into this myth are:
• Choosing an out-of-the-way location (i.e., low rent), when your business depends on walk-in traffic.
• Picking the cheapest advertising medium in the market, even though its audience doesn’t really include many of your customers or potential customers.
• Hiring only inexperienced, minimum wage people, when the high tech nature of your products demands a knowledgeable sales force.
Did you find yourself identifying with one or more of these myths? Don’t be embarrassed. It’s only human nature to look for nice neat explanations for what we see around us. That’s how myths get started in the first place.
Mine is the Magic Answer Myth. I still want to believe that if I could just read enough books, go to enough seminars, get enough experience… That I could “know everything.”
The important thing is to recognize that to one degree or another we all buy into myths about marketing. And through this recognition, not allow myths that are no longer valid to influence our decisions.
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