Last week I was hanging with the CEO of a company that sold internet marketing services to SMBs. We were dining at Redbones, a restaurant that had been advertising with their service for about two years. The owner of the restaurant came over and the CEO asked how the service was working for him.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” was the answer, and he happily went back to bussing tables (the place was packed – apparently the marketing was working).
Now the owner did have a marketing person and presumably she would have had an idea, but the response just underscored how difficult it is to get SMBs to understand the value of your service, even when they are already paying for it.
4 Response Comments
Redbones has been an institution for at least fifteen years, and in my experience it’s always packed. I heard about them via word of mouth, and I suspect that’s the case for generation-after-generation of students and young professionals living and working in and around Somerville. For Redbones to advertise with CitySquares (I assume that’s who it is, based on the location and the URL), I’m going to guess it fell into the “sounds cool, why not?” category. Not to disparage CitySquares in the least, as I’ve been pretty impressed with what they’ve done. Nor to disparage Redbones, which consistently churns out outstanding BBQ in a funky atmosphere.
I think the problem with SMBs advertising online is one of attention. If they are big, like Redbones, they probably dominate a category locally, and are more worried about things like supply chain logistics and PR than they are about directory marketing, even if they have a dedicated marketing person. If they are small, on the other hand, they probably don’t have the time to learn about and understand new marketing vehicles. At least not while they still have a YP rep coming to their door 1-2x/year, holding their hand.
If I recall, part of City Squares’ strategy has been to focus very locally and to build those relationships. I only hope for their sake that the expense of doing that does not become overwhelming before the returns make it worthwhile.
Using Redbones as the example was probably a weak choice because they clearly have some WOM mojo going on, but when I heard the owner talk about web marketing in a sort of bemused way it just underscored the response I have heard from so many others.
Redbones is fortunate that they don’t need to rely directly on web advertising, but I have seen plenty of other types of small businesses that are quickly seeing their customers migrate to the Web, know they need to do something about it, but have way too many other priorities.
I would have to second Andrew. It takes a hard pitch to make a small business owner appreciate what they are getting… and when they do, they only want to commit in small amounts – which makes it tough to show them the amazing success they really want.
I’ve found that by giving business owners some basics in marketing – “advertise where the consumer is” + “how much demand is there for your service locally” (google or wordtracker pulled up on the spot) + “how much do you make off of every single customer” = “Good Sale”.
This is obviously much more applicable in the high end services market, where there are demonstrable numbers of searchers. Restuarants in particular are a much rougher sale. They have a low amount of revenue per buyer, and it’s more important to have happy consumers than good marketing. Their value is in repeat business. So, I leave restuarants to directory companies to deal with…
Funny coincidence, but, in college, I sold Redbones an advertisement for our humor magazine. As you can imagine, it was really hard to sell our ads to local businesses but they were always willing to buy. When it came to marketing, they are definitely one of the more aggressive SMB’s I encountered in the Cambridge area.