Marketing Your Business

      Assessing the value of various types of advertising and marketing tools. 1998.

by Anthony Noel

From the humble business card to a site on the Internet, learn which marketing tools will help you reach the most customers.

In this third installment of our series on marketing, we're going to turn the focus to specific media and ways to maximize their usefulness in making potential customers aware of what our businesses have to offer.

To recap briefly, we've established that marketing is different from sales in that marketing is concerned with our approach to potential customers - it's the methods we use to capture their imaginations.

Certainly, before you can sell anything to anybody, you need to let customers know you exist. But to make a lasting impression - to convince them that yours may be the best shop to do that entertainment center they've always wanted - requires more than a handshake and saying, 'I hope you'll give me a call.'

In the last article, we showed how even that most basic element in a business' stockpile of printed matter - the business card - can become a key part of an integrated approach to marketing. We also talked about consistency in presentation, both aesthetic and substantive.

But beyond business cards and stationery lie other possibilities, such as brochures, direct mail, TV and radio, a dizzying assortment of print mediums and even the Internet. And let's not forget portfolio presentations.

Which ones work best? Which can you afford? Which will reach the widest audience of potential customers?

The last question should be your first concern. Potential customers are people who are now or may soon be in need of the specific services you offer. It's no coincidence that TV commercials for sleeping pills air at 3 a.m. Or that lawyers seeking injury cases make their pitch in mid-afternoon, when most people who are able to work are doing so, as opposed to people who are watching TV at that time, possibly in a hospital room.

Promoting a specific product or service to a specific audience is called 'target marketing' and for custom woodworkers, developing the ability to discern between well and poorly targeted marketing approaches is especially critical. That's because we tend to operate at some pretty low profit margins.

Where a lawyer might be able to get away with charging upwards of $100 an hour (and therefore have more money for a mass-marketing program), custom woodworkers do not have that luxury. The good news is that we don't need it, either.

If we consider the above-listed marketing options in terms of whether they will reach the potential customers we are seeking, deciding where to invest time and money becomes somewhat easier.

For example, which sounds more likely to reach that retail customer who wants the custom entertainment center: A site on the World Wide Web, where the chances of that particular customer browsing over to the site are about a zillion to one; or a simple, inexpensive ad under the heading 'Custom Woodworking' in a publication the prospect probably subscribes to?

Which would be easier to initiate? To afford?

This example is meant to illustrate two things. One, we sometimes have a tendency to become so enamored with the technology of the moment that we adopt it often to the exclusion of common sense. Second, there is almost always a vehicle already in existence which is tailored to the marketing needs of any business, however specialized it may be.

This is not to imply that the Internet may not one day become a valuable marketing tool for small companies working in a limited or regional market. In fact, depending on the product, the Internet may already offer you a viable marketing outlet.

For example, a nearby funeral home has sold items to customers in Hawaii and the Midwest despite being based in Pennsylvania. By finding unique items and combining them with their superior judgement of what those in mourning might be in need of, this business has already benefited from the Internet.

While in general, custom woodworkers are not so much about offering products as we are about providing things which are not available already, there are examples of places in the woodworking universe where the Internet could be of value. Maybe your company is a big moulding manufacturer looking to have your profiles specified by more architects. Simple direct-mail cards to AIA members informing them of a Web site could produce a surprising number of 'hits.' Put your whole brochure on-line, however, and you will likely find competitors knocking off your products.

As with any marketing approach, the success you have on the Internet rests heavily on how you decide to use it.

Print marketing - ads in newspapers and magazines - tends to be easier to target to a specific audience. There is a specialty magazine catering to just about every conceivable market segment or business discipline (CWB is one of them), and you can use such outlets to your advantage.

For example, I've run an ad in a specialty newspaper with a wide readership among residents of an affluent suburb of Philadelphia repeatedly over the years. Appearing in the classified section under 'Custom Furniture' it reads:

CUSTOM IS OUR MIDDLE NAME

We design and build fine furniture and cabinets. Your neighbors are our references. Call to arrange a consultation and review of our portfolio. Noel Custom Woodworking.

Of course, our phone number is included. The ad is nothing fancy, but the appointments it has produced have made it one of my best marketing investments. Since most of those responding to the ad already have an idea about what they want, I review my portfolio and pricing policy when I visit them (see A Selling System), take some measurements and head to the drawing board. I return with the drawings and a ready-to-sign contract, and I usually leave with a deposit.

Let go of the commonly-held notion that you need a big display ad to get attention. Find out what people read and where they look. Then use a simple message to introduce yourself.

Your portfolio should be a key element in your marketing arsenal, but that doesn't mean it must be fancy. Mine is a simple manila folder with 8-1/2-inch by 11-inch leaves, each containing photos of a project or two and a brief description of the work, along with a notation about who designed it - sometimes we did, sometimes it was an architect or designer.

The photos themselves are simple color prints from a point-and-shoot 35mm camera. You can spend a fortune on certain marketing vehicles, and the same is true of photography for your presentations. There are 'architectural photographers' out there who take wonderful, distortion-free shots of casework and other interior details. In certain instances, they are a good investment. But for me, at least so far, I've been able to accurately showcase work without them.

Again, the decision ultimately depends on your judgement and on your potential customers. (For example, a homeowner may not need to see as sophisticated a presentation or photograph as an architect or designer may want to see.) But whatever you do, have some kind of portfolio and update it regularly to include a variety of the work you have done. Few things impress prospects more than a shop's versatility.

Next month, we'll wrap up the series with a little more about direct mail, radio and TV, and we'll talk specifically about how to be sure your message is consistent, whatever media you use to spread it.

Anthony Noel writes, consults, and teaches woodworking and journalism, along with doing an occasional custom job in his shop in Macungie, PA.

Have a business related question? Visit WOODWEB's Business Forum. The Business Forum is co-sponsored by ISWonline and is moderated by Anthony Noel. All business topics are welcome, from sales and marketing to dealing with difficult customers.

This article is reprinted by permission of Custom Woodworking Business Magazine.



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