Why Do So Many Small Businesses Get Marketing Wrong? Redefining definitions of promotion, outbound and inbound marketing.

I recently spoke with the CEO and owner of a small business. The point of the conversation was to discuss how WebriQ Goes Mad could help them improve their overall web presence. I mentioned that websites are an integral part of marketing.

We immediately arrived at an impasse. The conversation couldn’t go forward. The owner talked about marketing as if it was only advertising, billboards, and radio commercials. She would not allow marketing to be more than promotion in her opinion.

I was floored. This was a larger sized small business. I knew they had over 70 employees and through contacts within the sales department I also knew they had annual revenues well above $10 million. How could such a successful business misunderstand the total concept of Marketing.

We did not agree on the definition of marketing…

I tell this story because I believe many people have the same reaction. Too often I hear businesses refer to marketing as simply advertising dollars. Marketing is so much more than a string of direct mailings and sponsored Facebook posts. If marketing was just advertising I could understand why so many business owners don’t have a marketing budget.

To take my consternation one step further. I attended a start up week in Colorado Springs. I sat through numerous classes on “Marketing” and the pernicious idea that marketing is merely promotional activity was taught by many different speakers. Power point slide after power point slide maintained that marketing was simply promotional activity.

I was dismayed. However, I understand why so many people associate promotion with marketing. I remember my first day in Marketing 101 when my perceptions were forever changed on marketing.

The professor placed the following definition in front of the class.

“The management process through which goods and services move from concept to the customer. It includes the coordination of four elements called the 4 P’s of marketing:

Identification, selection and development of a product.

Determination of its price.

Selection of a distribution channel to reach the customer’s place.

Development and implementation of a promotional strategy.”

Looking at this definition you can see that marketing is the whole process of bringing a product or service to market. It is a holistic process that ends with promotion.

If you forget the first three P’s, promotion becomes so much harder. In my humble opinion this is why so many people are loath to discuss marketing. It is really hard to build a pyramid without a foundation. Sadly this is how so many folks approach marketing.

Why do so many businesses misunderstand marketing?

I think so many businesses don’t see marketing as anything other promotion because they are multi-generational businesses or owners working within a defined business model. The struggle of product development, pricing and distribution is old hat and they are simply following tradition.

We have a problem within business of simply doing what everyone else is doing. This quasi herd mentality allows us to put ourselves into predefined boxes. We find ourselves following the crowd and therefore working in the business rather than on the business.

The problem also persists within the business support network. Promotion is what everyone focuses on. If your audience is obsessed with promotion so too will all the books, classes and consultancy services. It is a self propagating cycle.

There is a ton of value to your business by realizing that marketing is so much more than promotion. However that value is way too much to describe within one article. If you want to find success with marketing you need to look at all 4 P’s. Because, as I mentioned earlier, promotion is what everyone is interested in I am going to focus on that P for the rest of this post.

Let’s dig into promotion

Now that we realize most people define marketing by the last section of the definition; we can see that the promotional aspect of marketing has taken over the rest of the definition. Marketing, as I keep saying, is so much more than flashy graphics, advertising and slogans. Sure those are important parts of marketing, without question, but if you forget the other sections your promotional activity could be wasted.

Returning to my original anecdote you’ll remember that me and the CEO couldn’t agree on what marketing is. They defined marketing solely as advertising and sales. I define marketing as the entire strategy used to bring a product or service to market. Our disagreement lead me to write this whole article.

So what is promotion?

Well, let’s define it!

“The management process through which goods and services are promoted and sold to the customer. It includes the coordination of four elements called the 4 T’s of promotion:

Clearly define and target your audience.

Find and engage with quality traffic.

Test your messaging.

Learn from your success by tracking your results.”

Looking at promotion this way, allows us to remove it from the marketing wheel house and focus on the activity of actual promotion. Under this definition promotion is entirely focused on communicating with your customers. Finding where your customers are and then delivering the right messages to them.

Put another way, promotion is all about meeting the demands of the market by driving buyers to a buy decision. In the world of sales it is about creating opportunities for a close. This is referred to as the top of the funnel or building a pipeline.

But looking at promotion from this view point doesn’t provide us with the actual methods or practices to have this happen. The 4 T’s are theoretical.

Again if promotion is the only part of marketing we are looking at how do we break it into methodologies that work? Theory is great and all. In fact, good theory helps us in actual practice but eventually the practical must be done.

If action is the next logical step than let’s examine two major methods of promotional marketing. There are a lot more than 2 methods but for the purpose of delivering a good starting point I am going to look at the macro examples of inbound and outbound promotion.

These two are often referred to as marketing; but, as you are well aware, marketing is much more than promotion. However, for the purpose of maintaining consensus with the main stream vernacular I’ll call them inbound and outbound marketing.

What is outbound marketing?

Let’s begin with a definition:

“The management process through which sales activity and advertising drive demand for a product or service.It includes the coordination of four elements called the 4 P’s of outbound marketing:

Develop a prospect database.

Push your sales language to the customer.

Use pressure to engage in a sale.

Close the sale with the power of persuasion.”

Many B2B businesses know the importance of prospecting for customers. I have always loved the visual of a haggard miner panning for gold in a cold mountain stream in tattered overalls and a malformed hat. Prospecting seems to be an enormous effort especially when your tools are cold calling be it in person, on the phone or over email. Anyone who fields the endless unsolicited emails, phone calls and visits knows how annoying this approach is.

Yet this very approach is what has been the norm for nearly a century. The reason is quite clear when you remove the internet. How can someone buy your product or service unless you tell them about it. Thus the prospecting and push mentality of marketing was born. For years it worked. People shared information personally over the phone and through facsimile. Buyers used catalogs and consumers were advertised to through print, radio and television.

Products and service were sold through these methods and if the customer had doubts one could always rely on pressure and persuasion to close the deal. The CEO I met with viewed marketing in this light. No thought of the internet. Marketing was something you did offline.

This mentality leads to a problem in the age of the internet. Buyers and consumers have vast amounts of knowledge at their finger tips. They can make up their own minds and educate themselves on the products or services they need. If you are simply pushing your messaging at them it is very hard to present value.

Put another way, outbound marketing is a great way to build a relationship with your customer that is all about price. You can see the logical progression. If price is the sole way to sell then it is a race to the bottom. The cheapest service is sold and everyone looses.

Thus the rise of inbound marketing.

What is inbound marketing?

Again let’s begin with a definition:

“The management process through which a website and social platforms deliver relevant content to the customer. It includes the coordination of four elements called the 4 I’s of inbound marketing:

Use the internet to reach your audience.

Inform your visitors with relevant content.

Create an interactive online environment for your users.

Help customers introduce themselves to you.”

The internet has changed the way the world works. I know that is a grand and also obvious statement, but the amount of disruption caused by the age of the internet is astounding. Back in yesteryear people had to own encyclopedias, visit libraries and communicate in person or on fixed lines through an archaic switching house manned by actual operators. Today the internet brings the world to you.

A quick Google search and you can begin reading and engaging in hours of relevant information to your query. Perusing though Facebook or Instagram can introduce you to a product or service you need. Inbound marketing is all about using the internet to your advantage.

Inbound marketing begins with a digital platform. This platform may be a social media page, an application or website. More than likely it is a grouping of all those things. To return to my anecdote. My conversation became difficult when the simple concept of a website and social media as marketing was disagreed with. We could not begin with a discussion on digital presence as a pillar of marketing and therefore we could not even start developing a strategy to improve it.

Building a digital presence takes time and thought. It is the bedrock of all your activity online. Working on building a presence becomes much easier when you have a plan. That in nutshell is how one begins a inbound marketing plan.

The most common element of any business’s digital presence will most likely be the business’s website. What will the site look like. How will users interact with it. Once the website is live how does one measure its performance and improve its functionality. You can learn more about how to begin measuring website performance here.

Once you have a website your task really begins. Inbound marketing is all about content. By providing your customers with relevant information not only do you help guide and inform your customers decisions but your initial interactions are not salesy.

The customer will begin to see you as a thought leader in your industry and the relationship is about education. By informing your customer and providing an interactive space for them to engage with your company you’ll find that customers introduce themselves to you.

Putting Everything Together

I hope this article gave you more perspective on marketing. I also hope it helped to refine your thoughts on how promotion relates to your overall marketing strategy.

Reading through my opinions on promotion, outbound and inbound marketing you may think I am not a big believer in outbound marketing. That is not true. I believe any marketing strategy must include an aspect of both inbound and outbound marketing.

Here at WebriQ Goes Mad we believe that using an inbound strategy to begin the relationship with your customer changes the situation when you do use outbound marketing to reach them. Customers are more willing to engage with pushed sales language that they have requested after browsing and learning from your website.

By using inbound marketing your outbound marketing is no longer unsolicited and therefore that much more appealing to your customers.

Need additional assistance?

We help our customers everyday build inbound marketing systems and leverage outbound marketing tools. Our philosophy of Web Design as a Service is all about helping small and medium businesses find success with our Do-It-With-Me approach to websites. Feel free to visit our website or Facebook page and request more information.

I love the intersection of sales, marketing, product and finance. I am the Mad Growth Officer & Co-Founder of WebriQ Goes Mad. I love living outside.