From the January 1999 issue of Startups

The road to business failure is paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, there's no marketing road map for start-ups, with signs posted along the way that warn "Beware Steep Slope" or "Sales Dip Ahead." But to help you avoid the hazards on the road ahead, here's a quick list of the eight most common marketing mistakes new entrepreneurs make--plus tips for how to steer clear of them.

Mistake #1:Marketing only in the slow times. To grow your business, you need an ongoing, targeted marketing program you can manage year-round along with the day-to-day demands of your new business. One mistake start-up entrepreneurs often make is to put marketing on the back burner and focus exclusively on the few customers they've got--at the expense of marketing activities that continually reach out to new prospects.

Marketing only during the slow times dooms you to living on an economic roller coaster. Since customer attrition is inevitable in any business, without an ongoing marketing program, your clientele will shrink until you're forced to close your doors.

Mistake #2:Failing to focus. Often, start-up marketers fail because they try to tackle too many types of prospects on a limited, start-up budget. Going after everyone who will listen is a shortcut to failure. On the flip side, when you narrowly focus your marketing efforts on a qualified target audience, you'll get spectacular results. Create a profile of your best prospects, and make them the focus of all your marketing efforts.

Mistake #3:Overlooking testing and research. So you think millions of people will want to buy your product or service. What makes you so sure? Before committing lots of cash to launching your new business, do some market research. The Internet is your best source of published information. You can use chat rooms to get instant feedback and input without spending a dime. Or you can test the market using surveys or focus groups among members of your target audience. Testing can keep you from making costly mistakes based on false assumptions about your product, service or customers.

Mistake #4:Relying on just one or two marketing tactics. It's only natural to rely on the marketing tactics you're most comfortable with. If you like meeting and talking to new people, you may focus on networking. If you're shy, on the other hand, you might rely solely on direct mail. Such single-mindedness is a major marketing mistake because it prevents you from exposing a full range of prospects to your message. When planning your marketing program, choose from a variety of tactics that reach prospects no matter what stage of the sales cycle they happen to be in.

Mistake #5:Underspending on marketing. It's just as important to set aside marketing funds as it is to budget for computer equipment and other tools you're going to need to run your business. If you go to a bank for financing, you'll be expected to show the banker your marketing budget--because without marketing, there's very little chance you'll be able to repay your loan. Even if you're funding your company without help from a bank or other lender, you need to follow the same guidelines and set up a marketing budget that's sufficient to meet your annual sales objectives.

Mistake #6:Failing to present a professional image. Your marketing materials sell your company image to the world. To be successful, you need a cohesive family of tools that stand up to those of even your largest competitors. If you hand out shoddy, poorly produced marketing materials to prospects, don't expect to be picked for plum jobs.

Also be aware of how your company "sounds" when prospects call. Using voice mail, recording a professional-sounding message and returning calls within 24 hours go a long way toward creating that professional image.

Mistake #7:Ignoring current customers. As your business grows, you may become so focused on getting new customers that you overlook current customers. That is a major mistake, since it generally costs more to win a new customer than to "resell" to an existing one. Keep a database of customers, and be sure your marketing plan includes tactics aimed at reaching this important group.

Mistake #8:Overlooking what technology can do for you. Contact management software and broadcast fax programs are just two types of inexpensive software packages that can streamline your marketing efforts and improve your productivity. Without a good contact management program, business contacts may be lost and call-backs missed. Don't overlook these valuable tools that can help your business grow.

Whatever stage of business you're in, success means continually searching for new and better ways to communicate with both prospects and existing customers.

All The World's A Stage

By Rachel Balko

When you think of industries with a huge media presence, what comes to mind? Movie studios? Soft-drink companies? Anything owned by Bill Gates? Chances are, your first thoughts don't include live theater. Well, the folks at FourFront Press & Marketing Inc. in New York City are trying to change that.

Owners Evan Shapiro, 31, Kevin Gerstein, 32, and Elizabeth Barhydt, 37, make it their business to increase consumer awareness of Broadway and off-Broadway shows. Lauded for bringing a fresh, unique approach to theater advertising, the three have landed huge accounts for successful shows such as The Lion King and the national tour of Cabaret. What can their creative marketing approach teach you? Plenty.

  • Don't reinvent the wheel. "A lot of what we do has been done in other industries but not for theater," says Gerstein. For instance, food and beverage manufacturers have long advertised their wares on hot dog cart umbrellas, a feature on every New York City street corner. So FourFront decided to advertise Grease on the umbrellas; the move proved so successful, companies like Microsoft have since followed suit.
  • Try "live marketing." Action creates interest, as FourFront found out when it sponsored a "fence-off" in Times Square, in which Olympic fencers competed for a chance to appear in the dashing musical The Scarlet Pimpernel. Apparently, there's nothing like young men in a potentially dangerous competition to draw a crowd.
  • Use the element of surprise. Everybody hands out fliers to passersby. But not everyone hands out fliers to late-night partiers celebrating Wigstock, an annual event for drag queens. That's what FourFront did to encourage interest in a live theater performance.
  • Create a buzz. FourFront convinced the producers of Stupid Kids, a play about high-school kids, to lower ticket prices for teens on weeknights. The discount strategy lured an audience that wouldn't ordinarily go to the theater--and got them spreading the word to friends. Offering a discount may cost you a few dollars at first, but it could build a client base that more than pays for itself in repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising.

Mirror, Mirror

Are you struggling to make the sale? Get on your prospect's good side with "mirroring," a tactic sales superstar Ralph Roberts shares in his book Walk Like a Giant, Sell Like a Madman (HarperBusiness, $25, 800-331-3761).

Here's how it works: Whether you're interacting with customers in person, by telephone or by mail, be sure to mirror the customer's verbal style or body language. "If a customer is loud and brash, then I am, too," Roberts writes. "If the customer is timid and shy, then I'm also quiet. If a customer communicates by short written notes, then I'll write short notes back."

The result is a rapport that gets you closer to the customer . . . and closer to closing the deal.

Contact Sources

FourFront Press & Marketing Inc., (212) 714-1550, http://www.fourfront.com