Advertising Doesn’t Equal Marketing

Article by C.J. Hayden“I asked a new client recently what he had been doing to market his professional services. “Everything,” he said. “I’ve been running pay-per-click ads on the web, I paid a copywriter to write a sales letter and mailed it to a list of local companies, I have a display ad in the Yellow Pages, I’ve even been posting flyers around town… and I still have almost no business.”

“Ah hah,” I replied, “I think we’ve uncovered your problem. You actually haven’t been marketing your business. What you have been doing is advertising.”

It’s a common mistake for professional service providers to make. You don’t have a background in sales and marketing, so when you try to figure out how to promote your business, you copy what you see. You look around at what other businesses are doing and you see ads everywhere, so you think you’d better have some, too. But what you’re seeing is not the whole story.

Advertising is only the tip of the marketing iceberg. The much bigger picture of marketing is underwater, much less visible. When you view other businesses on the surface, you may not even see all the different marketing strategies they are using behind the scenes. If you want to copy their success, you’ll have to copy their marketing, not just their advertising.

Marketing is everything you do to get people to buy your services. In its broadest definition, it begins with defining what your service is, who will buy it, and how much you will charge for it. Once you know those things, the main focus of marketing becomes finding people who might become your clients, letting them know what your service can do for them, and building their awareness and trust to the point that they choose to do business with you.

For a professional service provider, marketing might include activities as varied as having lunch with a colleague, giving a talk to a trade association, writing an article for a magazine, participating in a leads group, publishing a newsletter, posting a helpful reply to a message board query, and calling a former client to say hello.

All these activities that you may never know about build on each other to form that professional’s “marketing iceberg.” The classified ad you happened to see that person run in an industry newsletter is only the tiny tip.

It’s easy to be persuaded into thinking that advertising is more effective than it really is. For one thing, people constantly try to sell you advertising. Every one from Internet pay-per-click services to Yellow Pages salespeople will tell you that ads are essential for the success of your business. Direct mail experts suggest what you need is a killer sales letter, conference organizers insist that a display ad in their event program will produce results, and so on.

The reality is quite different. Most successful professionals in fields like consulting, coaching, training, design, business and financial services, accounting, law, real estate, and healing professions report that they get more clients — and better clients — from activities at the opposite pole of the marketing iceberg from advertising. The real focus of their marketing is on building relationships, getting to know people better, and serving as a resource in their area of expertise.

You may not always see all that these professionals are doing to get clients, but if you could look over their shoulders in a typical week, you would find them going to networking events, asking colleagues for referrals, meeting with influential people in their industry, speaking at conferences, writing tips for newsletters, participating in online communities, and more. They may be placing ads or posting flyers, too, but these ads are only a small part of their overall marketing campaign.

Just because advertising is what you see the most doesn’t mean it’s the most effective. The next time you’re tempted to substitute advertising for marketing, perhaps you should remember these words from Bob Dylan:

“Advertising signs that con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on all around you.”

Successful marketing consists of a blend of not-always-visible activities that are going on all around you every day. Don’t be fooled by the ads.

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