I've recently been working on a project that got me thinking about some of the core lessons I learned during my in-house publishing career as a senior marketing manager.
My first in-house role was for an STM publisher with a large veterinary list. I visited their offices in Philadelphia in the early 1990s as part of an ongoing knowledge-sharing strategy within the international marketing division. Our press invested heavily in direct marketing – high-gloss brochures detailing often only one book that cost hundreds of dollars. The brochures were slick and expensive to produce, but so were the books we were selling.
Our US marketing department had sent senior management into a bit of a spin – all over a small-animal surgery mailshot that had taken a rather different approach to enticing its target market. Gone were the X-ray plates, anatomical drawings, four-colour book jacket thumbnails and highly targeted scientific copy. Instead we had Spot. Spot the dog that is – a rather adorable cartoon Dalmatian puppy chasing a piece of dead tree through eight pages of simple, straight-to-the point, widely spaced copy. Less slick and more stick in this case. And lots of white space.
This was a complete change of direction in terms of promotion. “It won’t work,” people cried. “It’s giving the wrong impression,” said others. “It’s too child-like.” “It’s cheesy.” “It’s the wrong market.” Actually, it turned out to be their most successful direct mail campaign ever in terms of return on investment. The veterinarians loved it and the direct sales proved the point.
Of course, the cries of alarm came in before anyone knew it was going to be the most successful direct mail campaign ever, but the marketing director, Rick, let the campaign through anyway. Not because he knew it was going to work, but precisely because he didn't know. That was the point – he didn't know and couldn't know unless he let his team test it.
Testing was one of the first things I learned, and no marketing director I worked for in the years that followed ever did anything but ram that point home. Testing is what marketeers do.
So when running your small business, if you are wondering which is the “right” way to promote it, put your “Rick” hat on and don’t be afraid to try different methods, different platforms, different messages. If you don’t get the response you hoped for, move on and try something different. Marketing isn't about rights and wrongs; it isn't about only this way or only that way. It’s about getting to a position where you do know by exploring what you don't.
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