Interview with Rieva Lesonsky: Seven Marketing Myths Debunked

Even in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, many organizations still believe all they need to do to be successful is create a high-quality product or service. While this theory may still work in some industries, the truth is that businesses need to market themselves in order to get that first customer.

Join us as we discuss common marketing myths and marketing best practices with Rieva Lesonsky, who regularly writes about marketing for the Small Business Administration (SBA).



Greg Corombos: My guest at this time is Rieva Lesonsky. She is CEO and president of GrowBiz Media. She joins us today to discuss some common and potentially costly misconceptions that small business owners make with respect to marketing. Earlier this year Rieva authored a column for the Small Business Administration entitled “Don't Get Fooled by the Seven Marketing Myths” And Reva thanks so much for being with us.

Rieva Lesonsky: It's so good to be with you.

Greg Corombos: Well, on this list some of these myths are kind of long-standing marketing dilemmas and others are more specific to the digital age we now live in. And we'll get to all of them, hopefully, in our time together. Let's start with the debate over whether marketing, and spending the resources on marketing, is even necessary, since some believe the quality of a product will do its own marketing through word of mouth. So essentially it would sell itself. What's your response to that?

Rieva Lesonsky: This I think is the worst myth of them all because it’s fundamental. You cannot sell a product or service if you don't market it. Word of mouth is marketing, but how does the first person hear about that to begin with? It's all about marketing. The best example that I have is Domino's Pizza. Way back in the day, when Domino's first was created, right? They didn't invent pizza, they didn't invent pizza delivery. But they came up with a marketing slogan--we’ll get you your pizza in 30 minutes or less of your money back. That marketing slogan is what made that company billions of dollars. Nothing else.

Greg Corombos: Clearly the case. And as long as you can make good on those promises, which became a little bit of an issue for Domino's, then you're going to be getting a ton of great reviews, and then word of mouth will help. But the marketing is certainly what sparks it. Myth number two, though, Rieva, is what I think that's a little bit counterintuitive. It says the more types of customers I target, the more I'll sell. The conventional wisdom, of course, being--well, the more people who know about me, clearly I'm going to get more customers that way. But you say not necessarily. Why?

Rieva Lesonsky: Yeah, especially for small business. Small businesses don't have the bandwidth, the budget or the manpower to target a mass audience, right? And even department stores today. We see across the country that they're having a problem. Cut to retailers. Companies that do best, whether retail or not, are ones that target the niches. Because there tends to be more word of mouth, if you will, spreading in those niches. Those people have communities where they talk to one another, where they promote. Hey, did you see this product? Did you see about this service? And so start out in the niches. Best not to say that if you become successful that you can’t branch out then. Look at Amazon, right? Amazon started by saying, hey, we're going to sell you books. Want a book? Come to Amazon. But...in his mind, Jeff Bezos said that he wanted to sell so much more. Which is why he didn't name the company “Books”, you know. “Books on the Go” or “Books to Go” or whatever. But he targeted the niches until he made money, became successful, built his brand reputation, and then spread out.

Greg Corombos: What do you think--you mentioned the small budget that a lot of small businesses have--what generally gets the most bang for the buck? I guess it can vary depending on where you are and what you sell, or what kind of service you provide. But generally speaking, what's the best bang for the buck?

Rieva Lesonsky: I think today, it's obviously social media. Because it's...well, depending on your market for sure. But if you're targeting anybody under the age of 50, social media is it because most of it is free What does cost, costs tiny amounts of money. You can hone in on a niche on Facebook and Twitter, for instance, for literally $50, $100, and really target your niche there and reach a lot of people that way. One of the things that, also, I wrote about on the SBA blog a couple of months ago, that is kind of overlooked is cable TV advertising. A lot of business owners don't think they could afford TV advertising. But if, you know, if you're not in a huge city where, you know, LA or New York City, where your cable ads are going to be expensive, too. In your local market, chances are you can. And the cable TV company will work with you to help you create ads, and they're pretty effective.

Greg Corombos: They can be. I grew up in a small town, and I definitely remember some of those. Some of those are memorable in good ways, and some of them are memorable in not so good ways. I'm sure you're aware, but they definitely get the word out.

Marketing myth number three is good marketing will get results right away. We're not a very patient culture, Rieva. We put out a social media post on the personal side. And you know, a lot of times if we don't get the likes we're expecting, we start to get a little nervous. When it comes to marketing, we'd like to see responses right away, as well. First of all, how do you know that the response you're getting is directly from your marketing, and just how much patience should you exhibit before you start thinking of something else?

Rieva Lesonsky: Well, I think you, you need to be patient. And the only way you know, is to monitor and test, right? So you have to monitor your results. You know, if you're using Google, there's Google Analytics. Every social media platform has their own analytics, and they're free, right? Twitter has their analytics, and Facebook. So you should go in there and analyze your analytics all together to see if you are... Did Twitter drive people to Google, you know? How does it all interact? How is all that working? But you need to test, right? Because something could work. Something might work better than that. But if you don't test something against what's working, you won't know. So you have to do both of those things. One of the things--I don't know what the measure is in the online world. I'm not sure there even is one. But I know in my old magazine days, that the standard was consumers needed to see an ad at least three times before it registers.

And so I think that's a kind of something to keep in your mind. No one is going to, you know, have that, oh, I see it once. And now I remember. So repetition is important. And so make sure you budget that and within one medium. You don't want to take your budget and split it so wide [that] you're not repeating within one medium and one platform. You want to really repeat where you can to drive that point home.

Greg Corombos: That's an excellent piece of advice, especially when, what you just mentioned, about folks needing to see things multiple times before it really starts to register, and they start paying attention to it. Myth number four is marketing is a waste of money, which kind of jumps off of myth one and three. Because obviously, as you said in myth one, you do need to market. And number three, good marketing is something that might take a little bit of time. So it can be a waste of money, as you point out in the blog. But it's not a waste of money, if you're doing it right, and taking the time to actually have a plan.

Rieva Lesonsky: Exactly. And you have to do it. The competition is so big today. You know, in the old days, if you had a store or restaurant, your competition, particularly for a store, might be in that neighborhood. People shopped in their neighborhood. But now, people shop around the world. And so how are you going to make yourself stand out? How are you going to make yourself known? You have to market. There’s just not a question about it.

Greg Corombos: Marketing myth number five, the more money I spend on marketing, the more customers I'll attract. And so, kind of goes back to having the good solid plan and keeping track of what's working and what's not. But clearly just dumping a lot of money into it isn't going to guarantee much of anything.

Rieva Lesonsky: No. So marketing is not a standalone, right? It's not something...oh, I’ll market. Like, if you build it, they will come. It's not that. You have to have a sales apparatus in place to capture what marketing drives to you, right? So if you have a great marketing campaign, and you get customers showing up at your door, how are they treated once they walk through that door? How do your employees treat them? How do they feel? Are they comfortable in the place? Was it easy for them to find? Was it easy for them to park?

The same thing works for online. You can market, you can get people to your website. How is your website? Is it laid out nicely? Do people feel like it's trusted? Are you a secure website? That's a big thing these days. Google Chrome, which is the biggest browser there is, just changed their rules in July. If you do not have an HTTPS, the “s” being “secure”, it shows up in that browser bar as not secure. Now you may know that it's okay. But a consumer who sees “not secure” is going to walk away. So there are all these things you need to do after you get them to make sure that you can keep them.

Greg Corombos: That's a great point, especially on the online marketing. And it also goes back to reputation. We talked about at the beginning about how reputation can't replace marketing. But it sure makes a difference once you get people's attention, whether they're actually gonna go buy from you, and certainly whether they'll stay with you.

Rieva Lesonsky: You know, you're absolutely right. So really, the key to all this is… It's a cliche, but cliches become cliches because they're true. People do business with people they know, like, and trust. So marketing is how they get to know you. That's how they find you. Well, liking and trusting is by continuing to engage with people. To continue...whether that's ongoing marketing or some other program that you have. Customer attraction and retention are two separate things, and they need to separate budgets, and two separate approaches to getting a customer’s attention. Building that brand reputation so they learn to trust you, and then keeping them there.

And one of the things I just saw a couple months ago, which I thought was fascinating, was social media was really excellent at attracting customers who did not know you existed. And I think that was kind of eye-opening, because people always said social media is a great way to retain customers. And I'm not saying that it's not, but it really excelled at attracting people to your business who did not know you existed before.

Greg Corombos: We're talking with Rieva Lesonsky. She’s CEO and president of GrowBiz Media. And two more minutes to tackle here in our last minute or so here, Rieva. First of all, number six, online marketing is all you need. We've already talked about this a little bit with looking at perhaps local cable channels. I know print and certainly radio are still options, as well. So you did make the point earlier, though, that it's good to, if you don't have a lot of money, to put it in a place where you can have a repetitive presence, and people know you. And so some folks might be a little surprised then, where you say online marketing is not really all you need

Rieva Lesonsky: Well, it’s not. I mean, marketing is really about being present, right? If you have a local business, marketing is sponsoring a little league team. It's showing up at a community event and buying a booth. It is holding a fundraiser in your ice cream store. So marketing is not just about, you know, having a website, throwing an ad online, doing social media online. There's a lot more to it, which is why I think business owners need to take that kind of collective approach. Sit down, see what you can do, see how you're going to approach it, and see how much money you have to throw at it.

Greg Corombos: And lastly, the myth is number seven. If I use social media to market my business, I don't need a website. And you talked about this a moment ago with making sure it's a secure website as well. Especially if you're planning to actually give folks the option to buy right there online. But obviously, just because it's less of an innovation recently than social media, having the web page to direct folks to from social media and anywhere else is vital.

Rieva Lesonsky: It is vital. This makes me more crazy than anything else. You know, 40% of business owners don't have a website. You have to have a website. Your social media presence is not yours, right? Facebook owns your Facebook page. If Facebook goes to shut down tomorrow, and not that it's going to happen, but it happened to MySpace. Or Facebook or Twitter changed their algorithms, which they do you, there's no control. You have no control. It's your website, you control it. You have to use social media to drive people to your website. I want you to think of your website as sort of a secondary location. Either...even if you don't have a physical location, it is your location. If you had a physical location, it's your secondary location. And you need to use all your marketing tactics and techniques to drive people to the location, not to a social media platform.

Greg Corombos: I just want to repeat one thing you said. Did you say 40% of small businesses don't have any website at all?

Rieva Lesonsky: Yeah, that's an underestimation. The last number, I heard from the SBA, it was closer to like, 45.

Greg Corombos: Wow.

Rieva Lesonsky: This is not okay. Consumers are, you don't have a website, they basically don't think you're listed. That's going to check you out first. And if you're not there, they're going to go “ah. I'm going to find somebody on a website that I'd rather do business with”.

Greg Corombos: That's certainly one of my first steps is to check out any business I'm not familiar with online. I think it is for most people, as well. But apparently, the lessons not gotten everywhere. Rieva, fantastic insights, great advice. Thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Rieva Lesonsky: Thank you. It was great talking to you.

Greg Corombos: Thank you very much. Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and president of GrowBiz media. I'm Greg Corombos..

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