My business coach is a huge advocate of the claim that marketing isn’t the thing that books you business.
And I agree with him.
I know that’s not what I’m ‘supposed’ to be writing in a post with this title, but there it is.
And before you get too frustrated with me, let me explain:
I’m a B2B service professional. My target market is pretty small and rather well-connected (especially compared to those of you in the B2C space), so for me to get booked solid, networking actually does work a lot better than marketing.
The thing is, though, not all businesses operate on the same model as mine.
In fact, I’d venture to say most don’t.
I provide a service that most of my customers already know they need before they even come to me, so in comparison to those of you selling “unneeded” things, my job is really easy.
And for those of you who can’t land enough business just by chumming up to people in your network, I want to talk for a little bit about why marketing is so crucial important to you.
I might not need to do marketing for my own business, but I still do because I know how beneficial it is for the long-term.
I’ve also done it for my employers before and I continue to do it for my clients who don’t have the same business model as me.
So in this post, we’ll talk for a little bit about what marketing does (and what it doesn’t do), and why—for most of you reading this—marketing is so important.
What Marketing Does
Marketing, at its core, exists for the purpose of getting the word out to a select group of people (your target market who you want to eventually buy from you).
You probably already know who your target market is, but the problem every single business faces is getting the people within that target market to buy so the business can stay afloat, grow, and thrive.
But before anyone’s going to buy from you, they actually have to know about you first.
Which is where marketing comes in.
Marketing, unlike networking, lets you connect to people and let them know about who you are and what you offer at scale.
When you’re networking, you can only do that for one person at a time. Which, when you only service 3-5 clients at once, is totally fine. But when you need 20 people buying from you every day, it doesn’t tend to work so well.
You need something with a little more oomph behind it… which is what marketing is.
What Marketing Doesn’t Do
While marketing can do a lot to create awareness around your brand and what you sell, it won’t ever actually do the selling for you.
You can automate your sales to attach seamlessly onto the end of your marketing, but that’s another post for another day.
And because marketing doesn’t sell is why service professionals like me can be successful without it—we still have our sales process, but with networking instead of marketing beforehand.
As long as you understand that you need to think about sales separately from your marketing, though, you shouldn’t have any problem using your marketing to help prompt those sales.
(I know you do, you’re smart.)
Okay, so on to why marketing is so important:
1. You Use it to Convey An Image
Remember in high school, when the store your shirt came from, the color of your hair, and which jewelry piece your wore with that outfit mattered a lot?
It’s a juvenile example, but it’s how we act at that age based on the human need to feel like we’re seen and truly understood by others.
If they see us the way we want to be seen, then (our brains reason), they understand us the way we want to be understood.
Kind of like marketing our own individual, angsty personal brands.
As a company, though, especially a company that serves the public at large, you need to be hyper-focused on how people are perceiving and understanding you.
When you proactively do your own marketing and make sure your image is out there in front of your target audiences in places where they’re already hanging out, you have the influence over how they perceive you and think about you.
But when you choose not to do marketing, you leave your image in the hands of other people.
If no one bothers to write about you online, that’s fine… until you get an outrageous, unhappy customer who’s hell-bent on trying to image-smear you.
When people do this, they aren’t in a calm, rational state of mind and will go out of there way to post nasty things about you on multiple websites, doing the best within their power to talk about how terrible you are.
But just because you have one bad customer experience doesn’t mean you’re a bad business. Statistically, it’s bound to happen to everyone.
But if you haven’t done any marketing to establish your company’s brand and image online before an outrage like this takes place, the potential customers who search for you online will see the outrage but none of the other wonderful things there are to say about you.
In contrast, though, if you’re engaging people on your Facebook page, have asked happy customers to leave reviews, and take ownership over your Google listings, one rotten apple won’t detract too much business from you.
2. You Can Appeal to Customer Needs, Wants And Pain Points
Love, sex, and money.
It’s crass, but honestly, those are the three boiled-down reasons why people buy anything.
(Safety and security are big ones too.)
Beyond just getting your message out into the public like we talked about in the point above, marketing also lets you agitate and appeal to customer pain points.
In the B2B world, it’s almost always about making more money.
It could be about safety if you’re selling legal services, but it usually boils down to keeping a business afloat and bottom-line results.
In the B2C world, it’s a lot of belonging and sex.
Judge me for being crass if you want to, but most people don’t seek out weight loss solutions just for the sake of a lower number on the scale.
Instead, they’re after feeling sexier so they can have more confidence… and therefore more and better sex.
Or maybe their doctor gave them a health scare, so they want to lose weight for their own personal preservation. (Which, in this case, is safety from the danger of dying or a sub-par life.)
You might not like the crudeness of my examples saying we’re all after sex, but I bet if you press yourself, you can find the real benefit behind why people would buy from you is either love/acceptance, sex, money, or safety.
And when you know that, you can use your marketing to talk about those things with your target audience, reminding them of their underlying, driving needs, boosting their possibility of paying more attention to you and buying from you.
3. You Establish A Reputation in Your Niche
Even though as a service provider I can get booked solid without marketing, I still find marketing really useful.
And here’s the main reason why: with it, I can differentiate myself from the competition I have within my niche.
Yes, I’m a copywriter. Yes, I’m a marketing consultant. And yes, I help people with their branding.
But there’s sooo many kinds of copywriters out there that I think it’s dangerous to just label myself that and call it a day.
There’s sales-focused copywriters, lead magnet copywriters, email copywriters, niche-specific copywriters, bloggers-for-hire, and copywriters who are jacks-of-all-trades.
And I’m sure there’s similar dividing lines in your niche too.
If you sell soaps, for example, you can sell all-natural soaps, PETA-friendly soaps, soaps that smell so good you want to eat them, frontier-style soaps, or commodity brands. (Among many other types of soaps.)
No one type of soap business is better than the other, but you’ll have a hell of a time selling to your right target audience if you don’t differentiate yourself from others in the soap-selling niche.
If you sell all-natural soaps, people shopping for commodity brands will scoff at your pricing. If you sell frontier-style soaps made with animal fat, you’re not going to do so well amongst vegans looking for PETA-friendly soap.
So with marketing, you can state who you are and what you do in a “loud” and profound way that automatically targets the right people and kindly excludes the others, making sales a lot easier for you to manage.
4. You Drive Demand
Like speaking to your target audience’s pain points, marketing lets you drive demand for your products and services in a way networking doesn’t.
Networking exists so people can know about you or refer to you when a need for your services comes up.
Marketing, on the other hand, proactively creates the need so you don’t have to rely on pre-existing market needs to drive your business.
For example, let’s say you run an accounting firm that likes to specialize in small business taxes.
Every small business owner knows that they’ve got to do their taxes once a year, and they usually do their best to save their receipts, track their income, and note their expenses before they come in for a meeting with you.
But as someone who’s in the “inside” of the industry, you know that a small business who has regular appointments throughout the year with an accountant not only does a lot better come tax time, but also is usually much smarter with their money—sometimes even earning more of it.
This is where marketing comes in.
You could wait around until tax time and run your business on the needs the market knows it has, or you can actively market your business and bring in more clients for more, better, year-long services if you market the idea of those services to them.
By using marketing as an educational tool, you can show your prospects what having a year-long accountant on their side can do for them, and let them come to you with the requests that you’ve created out of your marketing efforts.
(In other words: marketing your services makes you more profitable.)
5. You Learn Your Metrics
Especially with online marketing, metrics are easily available.
Almost every single service or software you buy these days has some sort of reporting dashboard to show you how well your campaigns perform.
These dashboards are a constant source of new ideas on what to maximize, what to minimize, and what to A/B test.
They’re also incredibly upfront about whether or not your messages and your efforts are working at all with your target audience… so engaging in marketing just to know your feedback is a great way to know what works, where it works, and who it works with.
But beyond dashboards for online marketing, there are programs that will help you assign specific codes or special phone numbers to brochures so you know which pieces of physical marketing work best and who they work with.
Metrics are more than just annoying numbers you have to sit around and crunch all day, they’re the things that help you predict if your business will succeed or fail on its current path. (Which, if you ask me, is a pretty big deal.)
They also tell you whether or not a pivot was a good idea, and whether or not you should re-pivot or stick with the change you’ve just made.
For example, heat map software Crazy Egg helped a company called Softmedia identify page elements that were distracting their visitors from completing the call to action.
With that data, they removed the distractions and increased their conversion rates by 51%, which is nothing to cough at.
6. You Can Build an Email List
I love, love, love my email list.
Every serious online marketer I’ve ever met swears that there’s money in the list, but to be honest with you, I haven’t sold a thing to my email list yet.
But I love them because they’re loyal readers of my blog, help me spread the word about new posts I publish, and, when I do decide to sell something to them, I know a percentage of them will convert.
But you know what? While a handful of them did come from my networking efforts, the vast majority of them came from my marketing.
Which is part of what makes marketing so beautiful: even if you’ve got enough business for now and the next quarter, you can keep up some small marketing efforts to keep your list building.
They’re a great source of referrals, and you know that if you do find yourself in a rough spot in the future, they’re loyal enough that some of them will buy from you if you offer them something.
There’s a Seth Godin quote I love that sums this part of a marketing strategy up perfectly:
“One way to sell a consumer something in the future is to simply get his or her permission in advance.”
When someone gives you permission to get in touch with them by joining your email list, they’re also giving you permission to sell to them at some point in the future, if you choose to.
7. You’ll Make Mistakes
Finally, one of the best reasons why marketing is important—at least in my opinion—is because you make mistakes doing it.
You spend hours writing the perfect guest post for a popular blog with 300,000 subscribers that gets you exactly zero subscribers to your own list in return.
You run an ad campaign that totally bombs.
You hire an assistant to do outreach for you and realize that, at least for now, you’re the only one who can effectively do your outreach—at least until your brand does a better job of speaking for itself.
The mistakes suck, but at the same time, they’re lessons you would have never learned if you didn’t get involved in marketing when you did.
And, coincidentally, they’d be lessons still waiting for you to learn when you do decide to market.
And, as the saying goes, the taller they are, the harder they fall.
Which is why, even though I can get totally booked solid without marketing, I’m still a total fan of marketing anyway.
I’d rather make mistakes and learn from them when my business is in the small and growing stage instead of when my business is larger and has a lot more at stake.
Plus, it’s been hugely important in helping build a bulletproof brand—because even if I’m not actively selling to my target audience via marketing, I still have data on what they respond well to and what they don’t really care about. (Which, by the way, are not things I could have guessed on my own just by reading marketing advice. In fact, some of the results have surprised me quite a bit.)
Conclusion: Try Your Hand at Marketing
The good thing about marketing too, is that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and you certainly don’t have to do all of it at once to benefit from it.
If all you feel like doing is Pinterest marketing, that’s all you have to do.
If you just want to do AdWords + email autoresponders, that’s all that’s necessary for you.
If you think your best bet will be via newspaper and radio ads, give those a try and nothing else.
You’ll still get the kind of data and feedback you’re looking for, but you won’t have to burn yourself out with a huge, robust marketing plan.
If you need help, consider hiring a branding consultant to make sure you’re conveying the right message to the right people in the right places.
But other than that, trusting your intuition is always a good place to start. It may not turn out to be the best place, but at least that’s something you’ll learn after a bit of trial and error.