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Become a Marketing Marvel

Boost your business with these marketing how-tos.
January 1, 2001

Everybody has their marketing forte. Perhaps you're a networking extraordinaire or a PR whiz. But everyone has their weak spots, too-and that's why we've created this marketing FAQ, courtesy of our current and former Experts. Whether you need to brush up on advertising basics or improve your market research, you'll find the information you need here.

Research to Find Out if There's a Need for Your Business

Q: What's the best way to determine the market for my business and whether it's in demand?

A: Whether you're just starting a business or have run one for years, ongoing research is vital both to determine the market for a new product or service and to stay abreast of changes that affect your market and target audience. Research will help you identify who your best prospects will be, what they need and expect from you, the way they get their information about your type of product or service, how and when they buy it, and what they're willing to pay.

There are two types of research-primary and secondary. Secondary data-information you get from an outside source-is the easiest and least expensive to obtain. You can purchase studies from research firms and locate published information in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet. Make a habit of reviewing the publications your targeted prospects read for information on what you offer. Don't forget to scan the ads as well as the editorial content for new competitive products and services. Search the Internet regularly for published studies and articles that relate to the buying habits, preferences and changing demographics of your target audience. You'll find a database of secondary research at And join Internet discussion groups frequented by your types of prospects to stay up-to-date on trends and issues.

Primary research refers to studies you undertake directly, including focus groups, telephone surveys, polls of consumers at malls, surveys of current customers, Internet surveys and geographic market analyses to evaluate potential retail locations. The costs can range from several hundred dollars to send a postcard survey to current customers or to pay for the price of hors d'oeuvres and soft drinks for an informal roundtable focus group, to tens of thousands of dollars for a national telephone survey. To find a qualified research firm by location or specialty, visit -Kim T. Gordon

Do Market Research for Less

Q: How can I determine if there's a need for my business idea in my local area? I've been conducting my own market research by asking local people about my idea, and I've gotten a huge positive response. I think there's a large market for my idea, but I'm not sure how to begin the process.

A: Your hunch about the need for your idea may be right on. However, your research efforts shouldn't end here. There's more data you can uncover to support your expectations about a business's success as well as to uncover any potholes in your thinking.

You should cover the bases more thoroughly by examining a variety of information sources. Once you've squeezed out more details from both conventional and unconventional sources, then you can confidently move ahead. Here are more strategies to consider:

Go through these additional steps, and you'll be on your way to business success! -Kimberly Stansell

Set Up Your Marketing Program

Q: As a one-person enterprise, what would you say would be the best way to attract clients?

A: The key is to set up an annual marketing program you can manage along with the daily operations of your growing business. You should expect to spend about 40 percent of your time every week on marketing and sales-and more if you're just starting your business. All businesses have three kinds of prospects-cold, warm and hot-and it will take multiple contacts with most prospects to move them through your sales cycle from cold to hot. To create an effective annual program, plan activities that reach out to all three types of prospects on an ongoing basis. Here are some tips:

Market Your Business for $4 a Day

Q: How do I market my business to prospective customers on a daily basis with a shoestring budget?

A: You're right on target in your desire to market daily. Research shows consumers need to hear a message at least three times for them to have name recognition and recall, and nine times before they become a customer. One-time or sporadic tactics are ineffective in increasing awareness, acceptance, preference and demand for your product. You can create more marketing momentum with daily action. One way to do this is to use a $4-a-day marketing program.

The basic strategy is to contact 10 clients, prospects or contacts each day, five days a week. You can contact them by phone, fax, e-mail, letter or postcard. You can send out press releases, sales or follow-up letters, brochures, special offers, information sheets or thank-you notes. Your cost is about 55 cents to print and mail five letters for a total of $2.75. The telephone calls or faxes cost about a quarter each for a total of $1.25. You do the math. If you're communicating by e-mail, your costs will be even less. Your goal is to create a combination of daily activities that help you communicate with existing as well as potential customers.

Here are some effective contacts and programs you can set up with just $4 a day:

Remember: You must be consistent and do something every day for this program to work. It's easy to manage, inexpensive and potentially lucrative. So get going! -Kimberly Stansell

Which Advertising Methods Will Work for You?

Q: Do some kinds of advertising work better than others?

A: All types will work if they're used properly and not just "tried." The fact that the various forms of media utilize each other illustrates that no one kind of advertising is superior. Radio stations promote themselves on television and bus cards, TV stations list their programs in the newspaper, and newspapers use outdoor billboards to increase circulation. You've probably also noticed the large number of ads by dotcom companies in these traditional forms of media. To use advertising correctly, the following four requirements must be met:

1. Demographics. You must be able to define your customer base according to the standard age and gender groups used by the media to define their audiences.

Your customer base can shift with the opening and closing of other local businesses, universities, military bases, or just the natural aging of people in your community, and you need to keep track of these changes. This step is critical because it's the basis of every advertising decision you make. If you're not absolutely sure who your customers are, you can waste money advertising in the wrong places. Which leads us to...

2. Location. Ask your radio, TV or publication reps to define the primary demographic audiences they reach, and spend money only with those that match the demographic groups you've identified as your customers. Never buy advertising according to your own personal taste or because you like a particular rep!

3. Message. You have precious few seconds to tell your story, so squeeze the language. You wouldn't say "Send assistance as soon as possible" when you could yell "Help!" You also need a hook-a reason for someone to come to your location instead of a competitor's. Ask your media reps for copywriting help. Many stations and publications employ copywriters, but a creative media rep can do a great job. Your newspaper, magazine and direct-mail reps will also be happy to lay out your entire ad.

4. Frequency. Without enough frequency, your customers won't see or hear your message. Radio, television and print are three distinct critters and require detailed explanations regarding schedule placement. It's better to place a substantial schedule on one station or in one publication than to spread a small budget out and not achieve effective frequency anywhere.

Whatever you decide to do, don't just try advertising. Use it to get results -Kathy Kobliski

Creating Effective Advertising Materials

Q: I created a flier and sent it to everyone on a 400-name mailing list I purchased from a direct-mail company but saw no results. Then I bought a small ad in a trade magazine and, once again, got no response. How can I get a better response?

A: It's a given that any mailing list has a certain percentage of outdated or invalid addresses. People move, die or change their surnames through marriage. For whatever reason, no list will be accurate by the time it's typed, let alone printed and sold to you. Normal response to a good direct-mail piece is only about 1 to 2 percent, so there's not much point sending out to only 400 pieces to start with. You didn't tell me what your product is, but unless you're selling a really high-ticket item, you just can't recoup the cost of renting your list, printing the piece and postage, let alone make a profit with that small of a list.

You had no response at all, which indicates that one (or more) of the following bloopers was in play:

If you used the same ad in the trade magazine, you probably had the right audience that time, so the ad itself, both in the magazine and in the direct-mail piece, may be to blame. Ask yourself these questions:

Next time, consider all the information above, then think about the ideas below:

Take another look at your advertising materials, follow these tips and you just may see more customers knocking at your door. -Kathy Kobliski

PR on a Shoestring Budget

Q: As a sole proprietor just starting out, how much of my capital should I realistically allocate to public relations? How can I secure regular PR opportunities on a shoestring budget?

A: Ah, the shoestring budget. Most of us entrepreneurs know it all too well.

Even if you don't have much to spend, take heart. There's no rule of thumb on how much capital you should allocate to PR. Besides, you can more than make up for a shortage of cash by promoting yourself creatively, and if you're doggedly persistent, you'll sell more products and services than if you spent thousands of dollars on advertising.

Here are some guidelines that should help you and other start-up entrepreneurs determine where to spend your PR money and energy:

Keep doing what works and stop doing what doesn't. Then look forward to the glorious day when someone says, "I see your name everywhere!" -Joan Stewart

Get More Press Coverage From Your Local Newspaper

Q: My competitor, the owner of a gourmet catering service, has had four stories written about her in the past year in various sections of our local metropolitan newspaper. What should I do to get the same kind of coverage she's getting? Or should I assume the newspaper isn't interested in me since they haven't called?

A: It sounds as if your competitor has mastered the fine art of tooting her own horn. From where you're sitting, it probably looks as if the newspaper is playing favorites. But I'll bet your competitor is busy cooking up story ideas about her business, keeping in touch with the food editor, and piggybacking her ideas off holidays and seasonal events.

It's time for you to create your own recipe for publicity success. The most important thing you can do is place the media's needs first. Help them do their jobs by giving them timely, compelling story ideas or photo opportunities. Don't assume they aren't interested if they haven't called. Reporters don't like to keep writing about the same people or quoting the same sources.

Here are nine strategies you and other small-business owners can adopt to claim your share of news space:

1. Introduce yourself. Call the reporter who covers your industry and invite him or her for coffee or to tour your business. In your case, that would be the food editor, a food columnist or reporter, or the small-business reporter. Let this person know the areas in which you're an expert. Encourage him or her to call on you for background, commentary or story ideas about the food industry and catering.

2. Get to know local freelancers who write about food and small business. If you're not sure who they are, call the publication you want to get into and ask.

3. Ask what information your media contacts need and then provide it, whether it's a source for another story or a suggestion for Web sites where reporters can find statistics about your industry. Position yourself as such a valuable source so that the next time the reporter is looking for a story, your name will come to mind.

4. Tell the reporter about a trend you're seeing. Are more customers calling on caterers to prepare and serve family dinners during the week because of hectic lifestyles? Are people hiring you for their children's birthday parties?

5. Suggest yourself as the local angle to a national story. If the price of fresh tuna has skyrocketed, for example, and you've created recipes that help make tuna go farther, let the media know. Be sure to share the recipes.

6. Piggyback on a holiday. Are people hiring you to serve mom breakfast in bed on Mother's Day? If the newspaper doesn't want the story, they still might want a photo.

7. Talk about your business problems and how you solve them. For example, if you use clever recruiting strategies to find employees during a labor shortage, share them.

8. Discuss your mistakes and what you've learned. Reporters crave sources willing to share free advice that will help their readers avoid the same mistakes.

9. Write letters to the editor and opinion columns. When I worked as a newspaper editor, I often assigned reporters to cover stories that were brought to my attention through a letter to the editor.

Now get going. Somewhere out there is a reporter who's just waiting for your call. -Joan Stewart