The Art of Marketing
Last month we further investigated who your real competition might be. This month we look at starting to set aside a core budget to cover your most essential marketing needs.
A good marketing strategy is always to add your personal touch and to establish good ongoing relationships with your customers. This will give you a competitive edge over your rivals. It’s amazing the little mistakes that can keep relationships from building. Let me give you an example of something that happened recently to me and my wife. We were at a small show in Connecticut and were passing through a dealer’s booth. The dealer had a large amount of blue Staffordshire plates, and because it’s the number one item my wife has been collecting over the past 25 years, we were very interested in spending some quality time looking through everything that the dealer had. That was, until the dealer came up to us and said, “That’s blue Staffordshire and it’s from England. I wanted you to know that because I’ve found people from Connecticut don’t seem to know anything about Staffordshire.”
Being from Connecticut we could have just smiled and continued looking, but my wife was insulted and left the booth faster than a gazelle that has seen a crouching cheetah! The dealer didn’t make a sale to us that day. Obviously the dealer was venting frustrations, probably because the first few customers didn’t spend enough time looking at the nice display, but in the course of doing so the dealer lost a live customer with a deep interest in the wares, and one who was ready to buy.
For small businesses with limited budgets, I often recommend establishing a budget first and then putting together the tactics and activities you can afford. What should you be spending on marketing? What can you afford to spend? The trick for small businesses is to figure out what can be accomplished with limited resources. Many of the leading companies in the world spend 20% or more of their overall revenue on marketing and promotion.
I’m not saying that you should do that. What I am saying is that some of the best and fastest growing companies in the world understand the value of good marketing if done correctly. These are companies with very effective measurement tools in place that allow them to know exactly what they are getting out of every dollar they spend. I would advise little, if any, spending until you can come up with your strategy and measurement plan. Many companies, large and small, spend on marketing without proper investigation to understand what the spending should be netting, and they do not measure their spending after the fact.
Small businesses typically have very limited marketing budgets, if any at all. After the hard work of finding and pricing their merchandise, there seems so little time left to spend on anything else. Does that mean you can’t do any marketing? Absolutely not! It just means you have to do a little research and think creatively to get your message out.
So what should the average antiques dealer be spending money on to market his or her business? The rule of thumb would be to put about 5% to 15% of gross revenue back into the business in the form of marketing and promotional spending.
There are key activities that everyone should be doing:
Web Site: These days just about everyone associated with the antiques trade should have a Web site or be part of one. Web sites are inexpensive to set up, and they give you another “storefront,” one in the digital world. I’ll cover what makes a productive Web site in a later issue, but you must have a Web site that is easy to maneuver through, that shows good clear pictures of your inventory including prices, and that includes the ability for customers to sign up for your newsletter (yes, you should definitely have a newsletter!).
Ads: Start small in key targeted newspaper-type publications like M.A.D., Antiques and the Arts Weekly (Newtown Bee), or your local town paper. Again, I’ll address developing an ad strategy in a later issue. This is both a buying and a selling strategy.
Shows: Expanding beyond your current physical location is the key to creating awareness for your business. Here is a great way to find new customers, especially if you are doing at least one show outside your home state. In show ads, I look at the dealer’s home locations that are often listed in them, and I see that many dealers do a great bit of traveling to find new opportunities in different areas of the country. I would be more apt to attend a show that has attracted dealers from a broader area of the country.
In addition to Web sites, ads, and shows, which will cost money, there are other tactics you can employ that will cost you little or nothing.
Referrals: The most cost-effective method of reaching new customers is by referrals or testimonials of past satisfied customers. A satisfied customer telling others about your business is more effective than any fancy ad campaign you can put together. Spend time getting customer referrals whenever you can. To be effective in this area you need to set a clear goal with a timeline (for example, to get a 10% increase in referral business over the next 12 months). It can be as simple as asking your customers to tell their stories, so you can document them and use the testimonials on your Web site.
Make Yourself Newsworthy: Have you thought about “introducing” yourself to your local media? Free publicity has the potential to boost your business. By doing this you position yourself as an expert in your field. A mention of your business in the right media light can help deliver your marketing message in a low- or no-cost manner.
Be the Expert: Your local newspaper is always looking for content to print. Why not offer to write a weekly or monthly column that focuses on your area of specialty? You get to write about things you love, and it may generate interest from people who didn’t have an interest before. In so doing, you establish yourself as the expert and draw more attention to your business.
Innovation: Never allow your business or inventory to get stale. You may be in love with a particular item, but if others have not shared your interest by purchasing it, you need to get rid of it and put the money into something else. You should establish a rule that if something in inventory sits for a year or more you need to get aggressive on the pricing and sell it even if you need to take a small loss on the item. This keeps your inventory fresh. Continue to aggressively evolve your business and your inventory. This is how great companies do it, and it’s why you see a lot of the same company names in the news all the time.
A big mistake that many businesses make when spending money on any marketing is not creating a way to track the marketing efforts. Large companies that have many activities assign numbering systems to every ad placed and every coupon sent out. For small companies the easiest no-cost way to track the effectiveness of marketing activities is by simply asking new contacts where they heard about you. This enables you to see if a marketing tactic you are using is working. Once you understand the performance of each of your activities, you can adjust by doing more of one tactic or replacing it with an alternative choice.
You may have noticed that I left out a few things when mentioning the key marketing activities you should budget for. One activity on almost everyone’s mind these days is social media, which includes Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking Web sites. It’s my personal opinion that social media, because of the demographic that uses it, should not be one of the top marketing activities the average antiques dealer needs to engage in. It has been used effectively for businesses such as nightclubs and restaurants/bars where nightly specials are announced to bring in more people last minute, but it has not been proven effective for most segments of the antiques trade. In a future issue we will focus on all the pros and cons of social media.
In conclusion, what I laid out are the marketing activities I think everyone should engage in at a minimum. The costs of such activities can vary greatly depending upon whether you already have an effective Web site, and the size and placement/position of your ads, etc. If you feel you don’t have a lot of money to put aside for marketing activities, try to set aside just 5% of your annual income from the business. Then prioritize what you need to do and tackle your priorities over multiple years. The key is to set your strategy and then start moving to enact it.
If you are doing this now, do you ask how people found you? You should. It’s the only way to know if this spending is working. Before you drop the ad, start asking every new potential customer that calls your shop how he or she heard about you. You may ask this question when you are completing a purchase and note it on the receipt. If after four to six months no one says the telephone book, then go ahead and drop it. Ultimately you have to weigh the cost of the ad versus the number of new paying customers it brought you.
Feel free to e-mail me if you have potential topics you want me to cover, or if you have comments. I can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest