A New Definition of Marketing for Small Companies?

Although the textbook authors at Prentice Hall, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin might not agree, the definition of Marketing is not a static, catch-all descriptor that can be indiscriminately applied in any situation.  Marketing is a sliding scale; a moving target that changes based on industry, audience, and most importantly company size.  While larger firms can spend ridiculous amounts of money simply throwing their logo in people’s faces (a practice referred to as ‘branding’ . . . see Super Bowl for more details) small companies have no choice but to drive real and measurable results—and in many cases sales—from every single marketing initiative.

The point is, as small company owners and managers it is critical we maximize our marketing dollars by executing on initiatives that actually qualify as marketing . . . something much easier said than done.  With this in mind, a few weeks ago I took it upon myself to create a NEW definition of small company marketing; one that more accurately reflected a small company’s need to a) spend wisely, and b) receive value in return for each marketing investment.  Here is what I came up with:

Small Company Marketing: any initiative used to reach customers or potential customers that either results in an immediate sale, or directly and measurably shortens the sales cycle.

To see if my definition would hold up in the real world, I tested it using some of the more traditional, big-company things people often put into the ‘marketing’ bucket.  The ten initiatives I used were as follows:

  1. Collecting business cards in a fishbowl at a trade show.
  2. Producing a corporate video for distribution on a website.
  3. Issuing a press release announcing the hiring of a new CFO.
  4. Sending a monthly customer newsletter.
  5. Purchasing Pay-per-Click advertising.
  6. Hosting a free speaking event.
  7. Offering a free, downloadable white paper on a website.
  8. Sponsoring a snack break at an industry conference.
  9. Applying for and winning a “Best Places to Work” award.
  10. Sending a new catalog to a rented mailing list.

Based on the definition given above, were there any initiatives here that didn’t count as ‘marketing’ in small companies?  Surprisingly, there were five.  When I applied my new definition of small company marketing to the list above, I discovered that numbers 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 do not pass the test.  Aside from the fact that none of them directly result in sales, it would be difficult to claim they could even shorten a sales cycle.  Taken aback by my findings, I showed them to a (skeptical) big-company friend who demanded answers as to why—and how—things like collecting business cards and winning awards can’t possibly be considered ‘marketing’ initiatives at small companies.  Here is a portion of the email I sent her:

. . . regarding example #1, collecting business cards at a trade show might give your sales people a pile of names to follow up with, but without some sort of prequalification you can’t possibly claim these people are interested in what your company sells.  In terms of example #2, corporate videos are nice, but rarely bring potential customers one step closer to buying something. Many people consider PR part of marketing (example #3), and in some cases it can be—but your customers don’t care about your new hires.  Sticking your logo on a table tent at a trade show (example #4) is a pure branding initiative, and winning an employer award (example #5) might help you recruit better employees, but won’t generate additional business.

On the other hand, numbers 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 do indeed qualify as marketing initiatives.  Customer newsletters keep people on your list up-to-date on new releases, special promotions and upcoming sales.  Pay-per-click drives interested parties to your website for more information and can shortening the sales cycle.  Speaking events can educate potential customers on the benefits of your products and services, white papers are designed to present the challenges your products and services help solve, and catalog mailings will prompt interested parties to call, email, and ideally order something from you.

Hope this helps :-)

The fact is, small companies rarely have the money or the head count to pursue non-revenue generating initiatives.  But surprisingly, many small firms use a significant portion of their marketing budgets to do just that.  Until someone can convince me otherwise (feel free to do so) I am going to begin using this new definition of small company marketing, and will convince everyone I know to do the same.

Comments?  Questions?  Feel free to reply to this post.  Otherwise a RetweetFacebook ShareLinkedIn Share or other type of social share (handy buttons provided) would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you!

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