Why most of the marketing advice you’ve been given is either wrong or irrelevant

The Marketing Advice You’ve Been Given Is Mostly Wrong - Ethical Marketing Dublin

The internet is awash with marketing advice (of varying quality). There’s probably more marketing advice online than porn, although I have no way to prove this. Not because marketing deserves to be written and talked about more than any other topic (it doesn’t, there are a thousand and one more important topics), but because marketers, by definition, have the skills, creativity, and inclination to pump out massive volumes of marketing content daily.

If you run a small business and are going online to try to untangle your marketing issues, you’re actually in danger of making everything much worse. There’s a lot of advice thrown around, but marketing principles and approaches are not universally applicable. You love the simplicity of ‘Just Do It’? You love how Lidl does reactive marketing on social? Me too, but neither of these just happened on their own. They took massive, sustained investment, guided by solid strategies.

Marketing is much more simple and much more complex than you think

If you’re one of the 99% of businesses in Ireland classified as an SME (yes, that number is correct – 91% of companies here are micro businesses (0-9 employees) and 7.5% are small businesses (10-49 employees)) you don’t have a Just Do It budget. Copying these approaches is not an option. You need a whole new playbook – one based on your business, your customers, and your market. Your context, not Nike’s.

If you don’t have much of a budget, you’ll probably be thinking of doing almost all your marketing yourself or splitting it with a business partner or employee. Marketing agency fees look insane on the face of it, and there are plenty of examples of funky DIY marketing initiatives becoming overnight viral sensations. If Mattress Mick can do it, how hard can it be?

Actually, extremely hard. The percentage of social media posts that go viral is infinitesimal. Even well-known brands are lucky to get a handful of likes on a social media post, despite having teams of people posting every single day and doing all the algo-friendly things. Companies that have invested heavily in SEO can wake up to find their traffic has fallen off a cliff following the latest Google update.

Unknown unknowns are affecting the quality of your output

I see a lot of small or local business that are struggling. They are randomly carrying out marketing activities without thinking things through or taking the time to develop an underlying plan, hoping that something will stick but not thinking to measure the results so that they know if it does. It’s like buying a puzzle, pulling out a few of the pieces and hoping they will connect to form an image. If you don’t know why you’re doing something or how to tell if it’s working, you might as well save yourself the hassle and not do it at all.

Social media is a classic example. Lots of the business owners I talk to have several social media accounts and are posting content there semi-regularly. But when we start working on the strategy, it becomes clear that social isn’t driving any of the business goals they have set for themselves. They launched social media accounts because the internet said to. And they have been diverting their precious time away from real, impactful work on the business to do it (or they have been paying budget they don’t have to an external social media person).

There has been some high-profile brand flouncing from social in past years. Patagonia and Lush are two companies often referenced for leaving social media. But just saying you shouldn’t be on social media isn’t the answer, either. You should be where it makes sense to be, and that means that you are comfortable being there, you have the resources to be there, and you can achieve results there. Maybe Instagram is the only place you need to be. Maybe it’s the one place there’s no point being.

Hopefully, the above has shown you that good marketing starts with intentional choices. If you focus on what drives the business and get support with that, you WILL get the return. Identify what you need to do based on your context, not generic advice blogs. Think about your choices (when I work with clients, I’m constantly asking “Why?”) and make a plan that will actually move you forward. Avoid the compulsion to do things without a good reason. Don’t Just Do It!

Spending on marketing = investing in the business

Marketing is an investment, not an overhead! Yes, working with an expert will cost money. But you cannot overestimate the difference in output between non-marketing people guessing what to do and a seasoned marketing person taking your raw knowledge and turning it into a coherent online presence. If you buy into the process and give that expert all the resources they need (access to what you think, see, and know), they can grow your brand exponentially.

Focus your time and effort into the inputs, not the execution. Unless you have real-world experience delivering the kinds of marketing strategies your company will require to grow, you are not the right person to be doing it. Arguably, you still wouldn’t be the right person because you have enough to do building the business and there is too much likelihood of marketing slipping to the bottom of your to-do list.

There’s a running joke in the graphic design sector about how much easier it is to do great work when the client trusts you to do it instead of trying to cut costs, let their ego run wild, or other limiting factors. You may have seen a version of the ‘price list’ that aims to negate this effect. Marketing is no different.

Humourous price list shows the cost of services increasing the more the client wants to be involved.

Find a marketing partner with the experience and skills you need and then trust them to steer the ship. I’m all for self-reliance, but unless you intend to seriously build and maintain a wide toolkit of skills in marketing, you should not be doing this on your own. Otherwise, your marketing risks functioning on a cause-and-effect basis rather than growing into something strong and sustainable.

If you’re a small business owner wondering how to make your marketing budget go further, here is my advice. Don’t think in terms of activity, but quality. Do less; but get help and do it really well!

If you’re looking for a partner to help you build impactful, sustainable marketing strategies that align with your brand values, get in touch.