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Making slow-market profits

By Staff | Apr 17, 2009

Providing outrageous customer service and using the right marketing mix are some of the keys to small business success, esepcially in a down economy, said Patrick Combs, who spoke recently at a marketing conference in Storm Lake.

STORM LAKE – Running a small, rural business in a slowed economy means reviewing one’s marketing strategy. It’s more critical than ever to get the most return from one’s marketing dollars.

“Many small businesses don’t have a marketing strategy and feel like they’re just throwing advertising dollars at the wall, hoping something sticks,” said Patrick Combs, from NRG Media, in Omaha, who spoke at a marketing conference in Storm Lake on March 18. “In fact, experts estimate that 90 percent of small businesses are dissatisfied with their local advertising efforts.”

Unfortunately, it’s harder than ever to capture the mind of the consumer, Combs added. Today’s consumers are very skeptical, have unprecedented access to information and are turned off by cliche advertising. “The average American is exposed to 3,000 to 5,000 advertising messages per day and most are just noise.”

Build the marketing bridge

There are proven strategies, however, that can motivate one’s market, said Combs, who offered the following tips:

  • Understand the two types of customers. The transactional client is motivated by price, is always looking for the best deal, and has very little loyalty. The relational customer is interested in long-term business relationships.

“These customers want outstanding service, are motivated by trust, are the highest profit customer, and are usually customers for life,” Combs said. “Most advertisers cater to the transactional clients and don’t pay enough attention to the relational clients. The transactional advertising may get clients in the store, but the relational aspect will keep them.”

  • Analyze your business. How does a business look and feel to the market, including transactional and relational clients? Consider the company’s logo, advertising, yellow page ads, Web site and other marketing materials. Would these appeal to the target customers, or could they be more effective?
  • What are company’s unique selling propositions, or “brand nuggets?” Customers want to know how their life will be better by doing business with your company. Determine what sets the company apart from the competition, and promote the “brand nuggets.” “Don’t just say ‘service, selection, and people,'” Combs said. “You have to dig deeper, because everyone says they offer the best service or they have a good selection of merchandise.” He cited the example of a furniture store in a small northeast Nebraska town that was having trouble competing with Nebraska Furniture Mart, a retail giant located 90 miles away.

When the small-town furniture store owner began promoting the store’s one-hour delivery guarantee and its experienced staff who can offer interior design tips, sales took off. “Now that’s an advertising campaign that motivates your market,” said Combs who noted that the store’s sales increased 11 percent in 2008, while national furniture sales plunged more than 18 percent.

  • Create a brand statement. Think of powerful positioning statements from national advertising campaigns and national chain stores, such as “Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner” or Home Depot’s “You can do it – we can help.”

Local companies can create successful brand statements, too, Combs said. “If your business is called the “Straw Horse,” that doesn’t tell people what your company does. Create a tagline or slogan that explains what you’re all about in two or three seconds.”

Combs shared the example of Nebraska’s Payne-Larson Furniture, which upgraded its “Quality Furniture Since 1953” slogan in favor of “Payne-Larson Furniture – Turning Houses into Homes for 3 Generations.”

  • View your Web site as an extension of your merchandising. While a majority of businesses have a Web site now, most need to be upgraded. “You should take your Web site very seriously, because it should be an integral part of your marketing,” Combs said. “To become a resource for your customers, be sure to keep your Web site current. Don’t leave up an advertisement for a January special, for example, when it’s March.”
  • Put a premium on personal selling. There are no little jobs in a small business, whether the task involves answering the phone or waiting on customers.

“In most businesses, the people who make the least amount of money have the biggest impact on your bottom line,” Combs said. “Your employees must be sincere, helpful, knowledgeable about your product and willing to explain the product benefits.”

  • Provide outrageous customer service. Not only will outrageous service keep customers coming back, but they will refer new customers to your business. This can significantly boost the bottom line, Combs said. “If you don’t know how much one customer is worth to your business, you should. If you run a grocery store, for example, one good customer can be worth $5,000 a year.”
  • Consider guerilla marketing. Get creative with your promotional strategies, from offering to speak at local civic groups to partnering with other small businesses. If you run a bed-and-breakfast, for example, team up with a local restaurant to share the cost of advertising and promote each other’s businesses, Combs said.
  • Don’t give up on marketing in a tough economy. While businesses tend to slash their advertising budgets when the economy slows down, this is a big mistake, Combs said. “Advertising should be one of the last things you cut, because it’s ridiculous to stop inviting people to do business with you,” Combs said. “Plus, if you keep promoting your business, you’ll be in a better position when the economy recovers.”

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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