Experts: marketing is crucial to business success

Three speakers at the March meeting of the South DeKalb Business Association agreed that marketing is crucial to businesses seeking to grow and that marketing is a job for professionals. Kimberly Morris Allen, owner of the Morris Allen Agency, Lord Edward Hester, CEO of W.G.F.S. Promotion and Marketing, and Sharon Macaluso, area director of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, were featured speakers at the March 27 business forum.

An effective marketing campaign, Allen said, helps businesses identify their target audience. “If you ask most business owners who they are trying to sell to they will say their audience is everybody. But that’s not really true; a product may be more likely to be bought by women than by men or it may be most often bought by people in a certain age range. We help them narrow it down to who is most likely to be interested in their product.”

There also should be a strong, consistent message, she continued, adding, “It’s also important to repeat that message often. We know that a person on average hears a message 3.5 times before it gets his attention.” Allen asked an audience member his favorite song and whether he knew the lyrics to that song. He said that he did. “And how did you learn the lyrics? You heard the song over and over until you knew the words.”

Allen described a consumer decision-making cycle that starts with awareness. “Unaware consumers cannot become customers,” she said.

“From there, the consumer will consider and evaluate your product. If the person decides to purchase your product, your relationship shouldn’t end there. You want loyalty. You want the person to not only be a repeat customer, but to be an advocate who will speak well of your product and your company to other potential buyers.”

“When you fail to market, you set yourself up to fail,” Hester said. “You may have an excellent product, but you have to have an effective way of putting information about that product in front of people. That’s been true since the first person sold a rock to another person.”

While Hester said “there’s nothing new under the sun,” he added that technology has made the world smaller in terms of product sales. “It used to be that products were usually sold to those within five to 10 miles of a retail store. Now, you can make a product in Macon, Ga., and sell it in Japan.”

“Marketing is not a do-it-yourself undertaking,” Macaluso said. “Some business owners make the mistake of thinking they can save money by doing their own marketing and advertising, but if you don’t know marketing and advertising, you’re not saving money, you’re wasting money. You shouldn’t think in terms of what you’re spending, but in terms of what you’re investing. If you spend $300 in marketing and it brings you a $3,000 sale, you got a significant return on your investment.”

Macaluso also advised business owners to be careful in choosing a marketing firm. “You may decide you want to use social media to promote your product and hire someone who knows social media, but unless that person also knows marketing, you may be disappointed in the results,” she said, explaining that while her office is not a marketing agency, it does provide a no-fee service to help businesses analyze their needs.

“You need to look at what about your business will make a consumer want to choose you rather than with a competitor. People often will say, ‘we give excellent customers service’ but what does that mean? Unless you can quantify it in terms of how you serve customers better than your competitors do, it’s just another business cliché,” Macaluso said.

She reminded the business owners that competitors are not just others offering the same product or service. “Those are direct competitors, but there are also indirect competitors,” she said. She told of a travel agent who talked to a potential customer about an anniversary cruise he was considering as a gift to his wife. When the customer didn’t come back, the agency owner asked whether he went with another travel agency. “The man said, ‘No, I decided to give my wife a special piece of jewelry instead.’

The travel agent had never thought of a jewelry story as a competitor, but anyone with whom a consumer might spend his money instead of spending it with you is a competitor. You should keep that in mind as you make marketing decisions.”

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