EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF PART 1: Some small business owners continue to make use of traditional media – at least to some degree – while others rely on world of mouth and having a business in the right location. But in the age of the internet, social media and mobile marketing, this is no longer sufficient for effective small business marketing, not for small businesses that wish to be prominent in their local marketplace. The local marketing environment grows more complicated and confusing with every passing day, yet harried business owners and entrepreneurs have less time and attention for keeping up, much less “doing their marketing.” This is a terrible Catch-22 for most businesses… but not the only one.
You may already be asking: “What the heck does Catch-22 possibly have to do with small business marketing?”
First, let me stipulate that the saying “business is war” actually has little to do with it, though that's an interesting metaphor for further exploration. No, in this case, it refers to the no-win situation that many “average” small business people find themselves in.
If anything, what I'm about to discuss describes more of a an internal conflict, both within a small business person himself (or herself), and within his or her organization. But in the broader sense, it could be thought of as a kind of war, since the outcome very often does determine whether the company survives, thrives or dies.
In his justly famous novel of the same name, the late, great Joseph Heller coined the term “Catch-22.” It describes a scenario – specifically, in the case of the novel, a military one – in which a person is caught up in a situation with no clear path to success. No matter what he tries to do, he can’t “get there from here.”
As described by Wikipedia in it’s article on the subject:
“A catch-22 is a paradoxical situation in which an individual cannot or is incapable of avoiding a problem because of contradictory constraints or rules. Often these situations are such that solving one part of a problem only creates another problem, which ultimately leads back to the original problem. Catch-22s often result from rules, regulations, or procedures that an individual is subject to but has no control over.”
So I’m sure you’re wondering, how does this apply to small business marketing then? Well, it’s really quite simple, and it goes like this:
The average small business person receives little or no marketing training as part of his or her business education, but then finds him or herself in a situation where marketing knowledge is not just necessary and needed, it is critically important – and at the same time ultimately unachievable!
This small business marketing Catch-22 is very common these days, just as it has ever been. It might as well be described as the small business norm. Except that the longer it goes on, the greater the chasm gets between what is known and what needs to be known!
But why does this “Catch-22” occur? In short, the average business person finds him or herself so busy working on the chores necessary to daily business operations, there is no time for “doing marketing,” must less learning about it. On top of this, there’s no time for keeping up with the rapidly changing and evolving small business marketing environment.
It’s a sad fact that most small business owners find themselves in the unenviable position of choosing between not marketing at all, or doing what they have always done. And “what they have always done” just isn’t cutting it anymore – if it really ever did!
As if this primary Catch-22 isn’t bad enough in and of itself, there are secondary Catch-22s appearing on the scene, as described below. The situation has gone from bad to worse, and it’s only getting “worser,” to use some very bad grammar.
Most small business owners rely on the traditional, time-tested methods that have been in use for decades. “Word of mouth,” networking and/or “location, location, location” are still good and valid small business marketing strategies, though they are hardly dynamic and severely limit one’s ability to grow rapidly. Then there’s the Yellow Pages, the newspaper, circulars, direct mail and the like. They’re also fine and good, as far as they go.
But the problem is that most of the “old school” paid methods are losing their impact. This is due to increasing “ad blindness” among consumers, but scarier still, the massive shift in behavior brought about because of the internet and social media. In just the last year, newspaper, magazine, TV and radio ads are down about 12% overall. Advertisers are jumping ship because costs remain high while value plummets. It's a trend which I don't believe will reverse and will probably only accelerate.
Old media is dying a slow death and, in some cases, is already dead. Think about it: when was the last time you used a phone book? How much attention do you really pay to TV ads? Do you know anybody who actually reads a newspaper anymore? I think I may be the last one among my peers…
So even as the vast majority of small business owners continue to do what they’ve always done – because they don’t know any better and don’t have the time to learn what’s better – their results continue to deteriorate. Studies show this to be true, and if you’re a typical small business owner, you may have noticed it.
This is a kind of Catch-22 in and of itself. After all, how do you fix your marketing – either by yourself (!) or by hiring the right person/firm – if you don't even know what you need?
Unfortunately, it only gets worse. We'll explore how in Part 2.