Thinking about loosening the strings on your marketing budget in 2005? Experts believe that many small companies, sick of holding off expenditures and armed with increasing cash flow, will do the same. Roger Sametz, president and founder of communications and branding consultancy Sametz Blackstone Associates, certainly expects his business to pick up next year. But when entrepreneurs come calling, Sametz recommends that they do some holistic business thinking -- even before they dust off their marketing "to-do lists." Sametz spoke recently with Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
Q: When entrepreneurs decide to spend money on branding and marketing, what do they typically want to spend it on?
A:When people are feeling optimistic and they try to solve some pent-up demand to market their companies, the first thing they want to do is update their brochures or their Web sites. Sometimes they decide they need a new logo. Their mindset is always task-oriented. They want to buy new things and check them off their lists. The problem is that people rush in and do the wrong things. And just because it's technologically possible or everybody else is doing it, doesn't mean it's right for their company.
Q: What's the right way to go about it? What if your company really does need a new brochure?
A:What we try to do when we talk to new clients is encourage them to adopt a different mentality. We want them to start thinking about marketing with a holistic approach. Yeah, you may need a new brochure, or you may not. They're expensive and not everybody needs one!
Stop and think about what you're trying to accomplish with your marketing efforts as a whole. Why do you need a new brochure, or a new Web site or a logo? What does your brand mean to your constituents? I mean, optimism comes and goes, but almost everywhere there are fewer people doing more work. That's today's reality. That means every employee at your company has to get on board the marketing machine.
Q: How do you get every employee to start thinking like a marketer?
A:You have to train them, you have to talk to them, you have to build a company-wide culture around marketing. It gets down to the smallest things, like how your employees represent the company when they're sitting next to someone on an airplane. Like how well-designed and easy-to-follow your instruction manuals are. Like how long it takes to navigate your Web site or whether a confirmation e-mail actually shows up or not. Like the first impression the world gets of your company when your receptionist puts a caller on hold for four minutes. Everything matters! You might lose that caller forever - and not only that one person, but everyone that person talks to about this negative experience.
What I'm telling people is -- don't make change externally just for the sake of doing it. And when you do have more cash flow or more money in your marketing budget - don't blow it! You have to change from the inside-out, and make your customers and potential customers perceive you better. Once you've got a plan in place to do that, you can think about how - and whether - the external pieces of your brand need to change.
Q: So what you're talking about is prioritizing and being strategic with your clients' money.
A:Absolutely. For instance, just because a client has wanted to do something for two years and now he's got the money to do it, doesn't mean it's still the right thing. I mean, two years ago, everyone wanted e-newsletters. They were innovative, and many times they were welcomed by clients. But today, an e-newsletter might be seen as another piece of annoying spam -- it might turn away potential clients, not bring them in.
Another thing we see is people who want to develop a new logo. They want to refresh and brighten their identity. But it's tough to scrap your company's entire identity. If you do that, people are going to have to learn all over again who you are and what your company stands for. What's often more cost-effective is to adjust the meaning of your logo or your materials. You can brighten up your company's image by putting your logo in a new context, with a new, fresh marketing campaign or a new e-mail signature. That way, you're updating your company without losing all the equity you've put into that logo or mark or brand over the years.
Q: And without redoing all that stationery!
Q: You're giving out some great advice, but since you're in the business of designing and logos and branding, aren't you talking yourself out of a job here?
A:Yeah, we get asked that a lot. But actually, the company has a long history of making our clients self-sufficient and teaching them to do this stuff without us. It goes back to when we were founded in the late '70s. What we find is that we end up being valued more for imparting knowledge and increasing our clients' productivity and helping them improve their bottom lines than we would be for just creating a nice brochure for them. And there's nothing wrong with creating a nice brochure. We just want to make sure that it's strategic and effective and a good use of the money. Otherwise it will sit around and not get the job done.
When clients remember your work and value what you've done, they want to keep working with you. I mean, the Boston business climate has sucked for the past couple of years. But we kept on underwriting charities and we kept up our image, we kept investing in creating buzz and branding ourselves. Because when you do that, people want to work with you and they remember you when they get some money and they can hire you.
Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.