Today I attended the Reno-Tahoe American Marketing Association’s monthly luncheon featuring local small business owners who have achieved sustainable success through marketing. From challenges, to successes, to the marketing strategies that have been the most effective, panelists Misty Young of Squeeze In, Jay Bushman of Nothing to It Culinary Center and Paul Doege of Recycled Records all answered questions from moderator John Murphy of the Reno News and Review in a question and answer discussion that was nothing short of insightful and illuminating.
One of the main takeaways from the luncheon for me was that good marketing not only requires the science of research, planning, implementation and analysis, but the art of building relationships over time, connecting with customers, matching product offerings to customer needs, and finding out what works best for one’s own particular marketing mix.
In 2006, Squeeze In was featured on the Food Network’s Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. Misty Young discussed how the show’s casting director located their restaurant via the Internet, and after an enthusiastic conversation about omelets, they decided to feature their restaurant. From there the Squeeze In began co-branding their logo with the Food Network’s logo and achieved a variety of press coverage that worked to elevate brand awareness. Today Squeeze In focuses on strategic partnerships that are in alignment with the company’s goals. Misty is a big fan of research and planning, which forms the basis of many of her decisions. With an opt-in email list of nearly 20,000 customers, it’s clear the company has built up a loyal following of satisfied customers over time – a true key to their company’s success.
When Nothing to It Culinary Center noticed a large dip in retail sales after the onslaught of the recession, they decided to capitalize on that reality by creating an ad that induced people to trade in their Teflon as a call to action for replacing their cookware as opposed to just hoping customers would show up who wanted to upgrade. This action helped them to sell more cookware in six months than they had sold over the previous 2 years. And when Groupon partnered with them to promote a heavily discounted cooking course, instead of attracting an estimated 100 customers, the Groupon ad uncovered nearly 800 customers who took action on the promotion! Needless to say, in both instances Nothing to It was able to use non-traditional approaches to locate hard-to-reach customer segments. Jay Bushman noted that finding what works can sometimes be the most frustrating aspect of a marketing plan, with so many options available in the marketing mix.
Recycled Records has been in business for 33 years and has outlasted all of the major music stores such as Tower Records and Wherehouse. Owner Paul Doege believes that his strongest marketing success has been in matching service offerings to customer needs, whether that be creating personalized music CDs, selling concert tickets on-site, or designing CD cover art in addition to selling used records, tapes, videos, CDs and DVDs. He noted that their original tagline of “we don’t suck” has managed to stick with people over the years, and that customers often associate his business with that jingle which has served as an effective piece of advertising. While Paul is not too active in the social media sphere, he noted that because he’s a “bricks and mortar” business with an older demographic of customers, he hasn’t felt it to be entirely necessary.
In short, for small businesses to be successful in their marketing efforts the approach must go far beyond designing a flashy piece of marketing collateral or producing a fancy television ad. Rather, a marketer must dive into the inner workings of a business to research, understand, and plan for how marketing can best serve customer needs, while at the same time creating connection and community in the process.