Do-It-Yourself Marketing for Small Companies is Risky Business

Marketing today is overwhelming and confusing. Small businesses are a diverse group but tend to have one thing in common: a modest level of marketing expertise and technological know-how, according to an eMarketer report, “Small Businesses as tough B2B Customers: Shaky in Their Own Marketing, Critical of Marketing Aimed at Them.”

They know they need to get the word out and promote their products and services. In fact, what keeps 76% small business owners up at night is “how to attract new customers,” based on a 2012 survey by Constant Contact.

Owners often don’t know where to start because they don’t know the basics of a good website, social media, blogging or search engine optimization. That’s probably why three in ten small businesses still do not have websites (Ad-ology research). The reality is that, unless you have a large staff that can help you tackle all of the important areas of marketing effectively, trying to do it all yourself is likely to be a waste of time and money.

Bus Tour Ad

Wow, that is an interesting business–offering bus tours but expecting the customers to provide the buses!

Here are the reasons why most small business marketing efforts fail:

  • Lack of clear objectives. If you don’t have a destination in mind, how will you know you’ve arrived? Decide whether you want to acquire new customers, generate leads or drive new revenue—whatever the goal, describe how you will know when your marketing is successful.
  • No marketing strategy. This is how you plan to achieve the objectives above and the tactics you’ll use. Will you conduct email campaigns, go to trade shows, network with an industry association, sponsor race cars, etc.? Map it out with the steps you will take.
  • Missing metrics and measurements. What results will justify the time, energy and expense of the marketing effort? The outcome you expect will vary based on the investment but, if you don’t determine this, you will never learn the best tactics for your business and might end up throwing money away.
  • The wrong kind of help. if you have decided to get help, you might not have the basis to judge whether you hired the right provider. Use references and referrals at minimum and get clear commitments of deliverables.
  • A do-it-yourself approach. Outside marketing help seems expensive when there are no guarantees. But well-defined programs should pay for themselves and generate profits.

Whether it is developing a strategy or implementing a campaign with copy and design, marketing may look from the outside like a game anyone can play. Marketing is perceived as fun and everyone wants to be involved. People know “good” creative when they see it and assume they can do it just as well.

Chinese Food Menu

If your drivers are skimming from the dishes before delivering them, I don’t think you want to publicize it.

But it takes highly-skilled and experienced experts to do it well. Savvy companies understand that you can’t pretend to be a marketer any more than you can pretend to be an accountant. Both disciplines require specific skills and the context that comes from experience. Dave Thomas, president and CEO of ThomasArts, notes: “When people mess around with their marketing dollars, they don’t understand that they’re playing with their revenue, not an expense.”

However, there is no shortage of business owners deciding to whip up websites, create direct marketing pieces, dash off email campaigns and design brochures with absolutely no background in these practices. They take the leap because they fall into one or both of these traps:

  1. No one knows my business better than me
  2. I don’t have money to spend on outside help

It is hard to staff writers, designers and marketing strategists in-house, outsourcing costs money and the economic slowdown made homespun marketing more enticing. But in a era when anyone can sell products and services from anywhere, the intangible asset known as brand, identity or image is best left in the hands of experts.

The specific areas you should avoid taking on yourself are:

  • Don’t develop your own marketing strategy. Do-it-yourself marketers often fail to cover the basics: who will buy, where to I find the highest concentration of those people and what do they need to know or hear about my product to prefer them over alternatives. They should hire agencies to develop strategic marketing because, without sound plans, any tactics will be hit or miss.
  • Don’t do your own media buying. With “easy” options on Google and Facebook, the lure of playing marketer and creating ad campaigns is more compelling than ever. But it is more complicated than in the past because the old standbys of television, radio, print and outdoor are now joined by digital media. Mastering the language, requirements, strengths and weaknesses of all of these media is a full-time job, not a hobby.
  • Algonquin AdDon’t write your own ad copy. It seems so simple and intuitive when it works that a second grader could do it, right? And if you’ve written business plans, proposals, emails and other longer forms of content, you probably think you can master ad copy quickly. The reality is that it takes a special skill and quite a bit of practice to drill down to a few words that communicate.
  • Don’t do your own creative work. The proliferation of software has made a designer out of everyone. But it is harder to hide bad design than even bad copy. The purpose of marketing design is to evoke emotion that causes action. If it is substandard, it will be lost among all the other noise in the marketplace. Good design requires an artistic sense as well as technical skill. Shoddy work will negatively impact your brand and a lack of consistency means it will not resonate with customers.

Ultimately, if you are building a permanent asset like a website, a video or a landing page, or if the asset represents your business in any kind of meaningful way, you should hire someone else to do it. There is peace of mind that comes with using professionals who do all of these things: guarantee results, implement their own expertise, capture your voice, trade/barter for ancillary services and finish projects on time.

Target Ad with Three Arms

Even big companies can make mistakes. This Target ad featured a man with three arms.

If what I’ve said so far is not convincing enough, here are five reasons why do-it-yourself marketing can actually hurt your business.

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know. Reading a couple of books or attending a one-day conference does not compare to working with a qualified team or a consultant with significant experience. Without intending it, you might create a tagline that sends the wrong message or you might produce a video that is so unprofessional that it works against you.
  2. Business owners can’t be objective. You may think your complete absorption in your business is an advantage to marketing it but a degree of objectivity is important to think about customer problems and aspirations versus pushing the features of your business.
  3. The best marketing is not about a system or formula. There are numerous companies, tools and gurus online with exorbitant claims. But every business is different and a cookie-cutter approach is not the best way to market.
  4. Great marketing requires talent. As Kriti has noted, marketing is science combined with art. Successful professionals are rare but they understand both to effectively communicate messages and persuade.
  5. Do-it-yourself doesn’t really save money. It’s not what you spend but your return on investment that counts. Solid marketing delivers far more than the committed budget. Plus, you should consider what your time is worth and the opportunity cost of what you are not doing all those hours while you are dabbling in marketing (e.g., overseeing service delivery, selling new accounts, raising capital, etc.).

“Business success is all about finding the right outside service providers and using them wisely. You can’t do it all yourself,” says Anita Campbell, Founder of Small Business Trends.

Swiffer Ad

Another big company made a misstep when they used a symbol of female empowerment (Rosie the Riveter) to sell cleaning products.

We can all understand why entrepreneurs and small business owners would try to do the marketing themselves. Small business owners don’t tap lines in institutional budgets. Instead, “When they spend money for their businesses, it’s like pulling money right out of their own pocketbook,” as noted by Mark Schmulen, general manager of social media for Constant Contact. But it takes time to learn the wide variety of concepts and even longer to master them (let’s not even talk about how fast things change in marketing today). Using experts will get you invaluable assistance and guidance from experienced marketers.

What examples of bad do-it-yourself marketing have you witnessed?

About Kelly Glass
Kelly has been vice president of Marketing at Affinity Express for nine years now. She drives company strategy and all marketing activities.

2 Responses to Do-It-Yourself Marketing for Small Companies is Risky Business

  1. Pingback: How to Design Effective Coupons | Affinity Express Blog

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