Duct Tape Tips on Marketing Your Business

Online business guru John Jantsch talks about how to make small-business marketing an ongoing system, not a one-time event

Kansas City (Mo.)-based marketing consultant and entrepreneur John Jantsch has earned a large following among small business owners with his Duct Tape Marketing Web site (www.ducttapemarketing.com), where he dispenses tips, strategies, and tactics to help entrepreneurs expand their businesses.

A popular blogger and facilitator of marketing workshops, Jantsch believes that "small-business marketing is a system...not an event." His ideas and thoughts have earned him nods from Harvard Business School and invitations to give seminars to the Small Business Administration as well as the Kauffman Foundation. BusinessWeek Online staff writer Stacy Perman recently spoke with Jantsch, whose book Duct Tape Marketing: The Only Small Business Marketing Tool You Need, (Thomas Nelson) will be published this fall. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

In the scheme of things, how important to a small business is marketing?

I could start with the fact that if you don't have a customer you don't have a business. Most small businesses are in the marketing business if they're successful, or they need to view their business that way -- no matter what they make, ship, or sell.

How so?

It starts with my definition: Marketing a small business is getting someone who has a need to know, like, and trust you. That's as basic a definition of marketing as there is.

How have you come to this conclusion?

From working with 10,000 business owners and owning my own business for 25 years. It appears to me that advertising itself is at an all time low for effectiveness, and businesses that really succeed are focusing on the idea of building trust and educating as opposed to selling. This is particularly true for small businesses that might not have a budget for any kind of advertising.

If you could advise a small business on a few key things that are essential to marketing itself, what would they be?

There are three things that every small business really needs to do:

One: Absolutely differentiate yourself from everyone. You have to find a way [to make] people say you're something different, whether that's to focus on a narrowly targeted market or [through] packaging. Otherwise you're just competing on price. And the line I use all of the time is that price is a really bad place to compete because there's always someone willing to go out of business faster than you.

Two: It's more important than ever, and easier and cheaper, to embrace technology, and specifically the Internet, as a tool to educate, market, and generate leads. It offers a tremendous way to automate the whole process and is a great tool for customer service and project management -- things that add value with clients. If a small business isn't taking advantage of these tools, they're giving up a great way to level the playing field with much larger companies.

Three: I always ask people how they got to where they are now. Amazingly, it's mostly through word of mouth referrals. The follow up question is: What do you do to systematically take advantage of that? One of the most powerful tactical aspects of marketing is referrals, and when it's done right, there could be zero cost.

Is there a stage, for instance at start up or when a company is more mature, in which marketing is more crucial or important to a business' growth?

One stage isn't more important [than another]. The practice of [marketing] changes depending on where you're at. At one point, just accepting word of mouth and having a good product will level out. Taking it to the next level requires a more integrated approach system and more investment on the front end.

What's the biggest misstep you have observed business owners making when it comes to marketing?

People don't like to be sold to, and they're being bombarded with more messages each day, but I say that people still like to buy. They just want to buy on their own terms. What that means is that [business owners] have to be able to provide useful, educational information no matter what they're selling and allow the consumer to take it in, in a way they want to or are used to [whether that] is e-mail, print, TV, or radio.

What's a very simple and basic marketing strategy that a small-business owner could easily deploy?

One of simplest things to do is to find a mailing list that meets your target marketing demographic and refine the list to the smallest number possible. Lots of businesses need only 10 or 12 more customers but scatter a mail program to 10,000 people. I say better to [pare] it down to 500 really qualified prospects and mail to them eight to 10 times a year.

Another low cost category is to really develop a relationship with the media in your local community. I don't mean to hammer them with press releases, but send them useful content. Read what they write and give them information that they would find useful and helpful without asking for anything in return. A small-business owner could be quoted by a journalist about their industry. This [mention] can be a strong marketing message from a third party.