To play on a famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, believing you build the best cabinetry, doesn’t necessarily mean customers will come. Keeping the pipeline full requires some form of marketing. In the internet and digital age, there are more marketing tools, avenues and opportunities available to you than ever before — from your website to Twitter and Pinterest; to Google Adwords; to referral marketing; to traditional direct-mail marketing and print ads. The challenge is figuring out the right marketing mix.
“There are a lot of tools and the biggest problem you can have is trying to use all of them,” says Craig Lund, president of Marketing Talent Inc., a consulting firm in Charlotte, N.C., and immediate past president and secretary of the American Marketing Association. “If you only spend 10 percent of the time on all of the tools, then you might as well spend zero percent of the time.”
Not only does marketing require a time investment, it also takes money. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) suggests that if your business is small — with revenues less than five million dollars — you should be earmarking seven to eight percent of your annual revenue for marketing. The SBA says this should be split between brand-development costs — your website, brochures, etc. — and promotion costs such as events and advertising.
And if you think of a marketing budget as a “nice to have, but not necessarily,” think again. What you may think of as strictly a marketing expense, is really an operating expense.
Your shop’s website is your digital front office and a marketing tool — making it an operating expense, not a marketing expense.
Art Enns, president and partner of Enns Cabinetry in St. Catharines, Ont. says he is coming around to thinking of his website as an operating expense. Enns well knows that people are doing more of their searching online, even for such high-end purchases as new cabinetry. For Enns, the biggest challenge is conversion — that is, getting people to make an appointment and visit his physical showroom after they’ve been on his website.
“That’s always going to be a challenge,” says Lund. He says the key is giving potential customers an incentive to come in. “I’d suggest something along the lines of a promotion. Email marketing can be really effective for that, and building your list.”
Today, you have to have a website. But is your website effective? Lund notes that businesses fall down with their websites because there’s no call to action. If all you’re doing is telling people about your business, he says, showcasing a few photos of fine cabinetry projects you’ve done and telling potential customers how to contact you, you’re not going to get much return on your website investment.
“Drive them to a page where you’re going to capture something, where you want to get an outcome,” Lund says. “When you’re making custom cabinetry, linking your website to a Pinterest and an Instagram account makes perfect sense. People plan their renovations through tools like these, so it makes sense to take advantage of these kinds of things, especially when writing may not be your strong suit. You may not be a writer, but you can take a great photo of a beautiful piece of cabinetry that you’ve done.”
LET PICTURES TELL YOUR STORY
With your website linked to Pinterest and Instagram, Lund notes, all you have to do is post the photo and it is automatically seen on your shop’s site. Even if it’s just with photos, you have to tell the story of custom manufacturing and reinforce why you’re the person to work with.
The internet reaches people everywhere. So does investing in digital internet marketing make sense if most of your customer base is just local or regional? For Lund, the answer is yes. That’s because with such tools as Google Adwords, you can customize your reach so only people online in your area see your ad. “Digital tools are very relevant for localized target advertising,” says Lund.
The questions you have to answer before you invest in any marketing tactic are, “Why am I doing this? and What do I want to achieve?” says Lund.
If a particular tool isn’t right for your business, then don’t use it. Enns says he was once approached by a local radio station to take out radio ads. The advertising representative had even put together sample spots to show Enns how they’d sound. “It was going to cost me $400, and it just wasn’t right for me, so we didn’t do it,” Enns says.
“Everyone wants to find the magic bullet that’s going to get people flooding into their businesses,” says Keith Aichele, a speaker and author known as America’s business health expert. “So how do you determine which marketing activities are most optimal for you? The answer is simple…track them and compare.”
USE THE RIGHT TOOLS
Digital marketing is all the talk and rage these days. Maybe you think it’s not for you or your shop because your business is built on relationships. Lund points out, however, that digital marketing can go hand-in-hand with the face-to-face approach. “Face to face is certainly important and it’s not going away,” he says. “Digital will just facilitate and allow more opportunities to have those face-to-face meetings.”
The key is using the right digital and social media marketing tools effectively to get more of those face-to-face meetings with prospective customers.
Says Lund, “If you spend 100 percent of the time marketing on Twitter, you’re going to get a lot more value than spending time on five or six tools that aren’t necessarily relevant, just because you’re trying to see if they work.”
Adds Aichele, “In a quickly evolving technological world, with hundreds of possible marketing channels to reach consumers, it’s critical that you find the best way to reach potential customers before your competition… You cannot afford to let your marketing dollars go to waste. The longer you wait to maximize your marketing efforts, the more likely it is that your potential customers will land with your competition.”
Each marketer will have his own idea what constitutes best. For example, “The best marketing tool you can have is a truck with your name on it,” says Enns. “That’s because your truck is seen all over town by potential customers when you’re out picking up supplies or making deliveries.”
Maybe you think you don’t need to do a lot of marketing because your business is based on referrals — but think again, stresses Lund, because you need to have a referral marketing strategy. “When you do get a referral, make sure you’re capturing that person and make sure he goes into your lead funnel, and onto your email list, and you have a program to touch those people regularly. You’re taking the word-of-mouth and creating a program around it, and leveraging those referrals.”
According to Lund, “a lot of people forget about that, and it leads to the biggest missed opportunity.”
EVENTS ARE POWERFUL
You are also missing opportunities if you don’t explore targeted event marketing, says Lund. It can be much more effective than paying for a booth at a local, regional or national trade show. “Trade shows are really getting turned around on their heads,” says Lund, “especially in business-to-business. They’re getting hammered by marketing automation and other tools that are far more effective than some shows.”
Participating in a home show is still very effective, as long as you know what your desired outcome is, says Lund. “Otherwise, you’ll just end up there saying, ‘Look how pretty my stuff is.’ It’s so easy to lose money at a trade show.”
If, for example, your shop does a lot of work with local designers, Lund says, “It would be far more effective for them to have an event to which they’ve invited all the interior designers in their local market. You could spend a fraction of what you’d spend at a tradeshow. If you get 12 to 15 of the right people there, versus going to a tradeshow and no one signs up.”
You could, for example, hold a wine-tasting event to show off the latest cabinet-making techniques and technology in your shop, and auction off a piece of art by a local artisan, says Lund. Or, he suggests, you can get even more creative with marketing: have a customer who has had you create a kitchen for them, host an event. This is a good referral marketing tactic, says Lund, because they’ll invite their friends, who are potential customers. “When customers have had a good experience and they really like the product, they’re happy to refer,” says Lund.
A REAL-LIFE DESTINATION
Even your shop and showroom location can be a marketing tool. In St. Catharines, Enns’s cabinetry shop isn’t easy to get to. The street it’s on is divided by the Queen Elizabeth Way. The way the surrounding streets are laid out, it’s a circuitous drive to find Enns Cabinetry. “That’s actually by design,” laughs Enns, “Because we want our business to be a destination. We’re not catering to people who decide to pop in and ask about a kitchen while they’re out running errands on a Saturday.” The shop sees customers by appointment only, which is another deliberate marketing tactic.
There are four crucial marketing tenets, says Lund:
Get down to the primary core: “They need to know what their primary channel is, and build their programs around that primary channel. If they get 80 percent of their revenues through interior designers, then they should be schmoozing and dining those interior designers.”
Set your sights on the target: “Spend a little more on fewer people, and be very targeted. Don’t spray and pray.”
Shift gears if necessary: “Whatever you’re doing, know what your outcome is, and if you’re not getting that outcome, you need to make a change.”
Follow through: “Follow through in the capturing of a lead. When you’ve got those people, you need to do something with them.”
If your customer base is relatively small, there’s no excuse for not engaging in one-to-one relationship marketing with them, says Lund. But, he advises, remember that sometimes in marketing, less is more. “Don’t exhaust people with too many emails, or too many asks,” he says.