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Opinion: Why marketing is a waste of money – for some

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I’m a marketer. I’ve made a great living over the past seven years helping business owners and marketing agency owners to grow their businesses through better marketing. I give you this context so you know that it’s a bit odd for me to be writing this.

Marketing is a waste of money. And time.

All in all, marketing is a quick way to find yourself out of business.

Now, obviously there’s a catch, or companies wouldn’t spend so much money on marketing.

So why does marketing work for some, while it’s a waste of money for others?

There are two major reasons: timing and the market.

Timing
It’s no secret that most startups fail. A lot of people think that it’s due to poor marketing and, in some heavily funded cases, that may be true. However, the majority of small businesses that fail shortly after opening their doors would not have been saved by better marketing.

In fact, it’s usually a waste of time for them to focus on marketing when they should be focused on sales.

Having helped hundreds of small businesses with their marketing, I can safely say that sales is far more valuable to a small business.

I’ve seen companies grow to seven figures with no marketing beyond vehicle wraps. There are a ton of things outside of marketing that go into growing a business: excellent product/service, great customer experience, trustworthy employees, pricing and good old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground sales.

The truth is that most companies don’t need to focus on marketing at all until they have a steady and growing stream of business.

Many entrepreneurs have failed before they even gained traction because they spent too much time and money designing logos, writing blogs, posting on social media and paying for ads.

Sometimes, they know that they just need to start talking to people and are avoiding it for fear of rejection. Other times, they have trusted experts telling them how great marketing is and assume it will be the same for them.

Marketing works wonders for some and drives others to bankruptcy. If you’re in the early stages of your business and you want to focus on marketing, focus on the part of marketing that benefits every aspect of your business: understanding your customer.

The market
The second factor that causes marketing to be a waste of money is, ironically, the market itself.

The market refers to the sum of all potential customers in the world. Many business owners are savvy enough to realize they should only focus on a small segment of the global market, and even a small segment of their local market, and so they identify a target market.

Of all the savvy business owners and marketers out there who identify a target market, very few are doing so correctly. While many will describe their target market as a certain type of person, they’re only setting themselves up for failure.

If you want to set yourself up for true success in your business growth, you need to view your target market as a certain type of person who is experiencing a pain, problem or desire that you can address.

One of the largest factors for business failure, from what I’ve seen, is a failure to give the market what it wants.

In the case of marketing, this becomes obvious when your conversion rates suffer. In the case of sales, you see it when you can’t close any sales.

I run Google Ads for a lot of companies, and I can always tell the ones that are giving the market what it wants because the account hits the ground running. It’s like printing money. Those who don’t quite understand their market struggle to achieve profitability. The account requires much more money as we test different things to find what works.

What people want is an ever-moving target, and it can be influenced by marketing but not completely changed.

While it’s frustrating that you can’t change the desires of the market with good marketing, the good news is that you can learn what your market wants and adjust your business accordingly.

If you have customers, talk to them. Sounds obvious. But learn everything you can about their experiences before working with you and how you helped make it better.

Have as many of these conversations as you can and use your understanding of your customers’ lives and experiences to build empathy into your sales efforts. Then, when you have a thriving flow of sales, use that same info to design a marketing strategy.

Ryan Baker is the director of client services at StubGroup Advertising and founder of Kingly Consulting. He can be reached at ryan@kinglyconsulting.com.

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