This article was written by John Pietro, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor
As we counsel small business owners, we are often asked this question, how do we promote our business on a very limited budget? The small business owner contemplates various forms of media, usually print or on-line media as a means of getting more customers. This is a tactic driven approach that seldom works.
What the small business owner needs to think about is a more fundamental long term approach to getting customers. This process can start with a “feet on the street” approach to building your marketing plan. Specifically, I am referring to your feet on the street. This process begins with you, the business owner, visiting all the competition in your trading area. For most retail businesses, 80% of your sales come from a three mile radius around your store. For the on-line marketer, who are the competitors that occupy the same space as you on Google and Facebook? Your feet on the street are actually your fingers. What can you learn from this exercise? First and foremost, who is the target audience for your product or service? The target audience is defined as those people who buy the most of your products and services and they buy these products and services most often. Your competitor’s customers will look quite a bit like yours. Be observant and record what you see. How old are they? Are they married or single? Do they bring their families shopping? What are they buying? What products does your competitor offer? Which doesn’t he offer? What does the competitor price his products? What does the retail location or website look like? How was the service you received?
I always recommend making a purchase, so you can get a sense of their approach to customer service. By visiting as many customers as you can, you build a very useful arsenal of information and insights to use to attract customers to your business. What can you learn from feet on the street marketing?
1. Insights and information on who the target audience is for your products and services.
2. Insights into pricing and merchandising.
3. Insights into customer service.
4. Insights into consumer buying patterns.
The goal of marketing is to develop products and services that are different and better than the competition. Products that achieve this outperform those that don’t because these products provide more benefits and solutions for the customer. What is the cost of feet on the street marketing? A much greater investment of time than money. With this information in hand, you are much better prepared to market your business.
A long time friend and client of mine has invested in this approach for years. He operates a small chain of fast food restaurants. He and his Operations and Marketing Directors visit as many competitors as they can once a month. They want to understand who is doing what. They really want to identify the specific competitors they need to outperform on quality, price, service and cleanliness. With this information in hand, they tailor their food offerings to do just that. Their average store volume is about the same as McDonald’s. They spend about 10% of the money that McDonald’s does in marketing. However, they compete well at the moment of truth, when the customer tastes their product. That’s the power of feet on the street marketing.