One idea I’ve been thinking through for a very long time is how difficult it has become to understand today’s marketing — let alone do it successfully.
I know that for myself, I’m now easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and the various formats in which you can find it: blogs, chats, e-books, e-mail, podcasts, photos / images, video, live video conversations, private groups, webinars, etc. etc. etc.
To ease the overwhelm, I’ve found it helpful to limit my media consumption. To stay focused on what’s important to me, I have a vision and a written strategy for making it a reality. To reach my goals, I’m learning to break things down into very small, very manageable bits.
All of these ideas were reinforced this weekend as I put in my herb and tomato plants.
My foray into gardening
Last summer I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s about how Kingsolver and her family moved to a farm in North Carolina and then spent the next year eating only the food they raised or what they found at local farmers markets.
I found the book quite inspirational. Given that I had always wanted to start a garden, and that I had a small sunny patch in the backyard, I decided to try my hand at growing herbs.
I hadn’t really gardened before, so starting small, with a half dozen plants, helped keep things simple. I wasn’t ready to go full bore into large-scale gardening and all that it entails: raised beds, irrigation, dealing with pests, and canning, to name a few things.
Shortly after reading Kingsolver’s book, I found tomato plants for sale at my local farmers market. Still feeling inspired, I bought one — a Green Zebra, to be precise. An heirloom variety, the Green Zebra produces green tomatoes with a lime-green stripe. Cool!
Alas, after a summer of careful tending, my plant produced all of five tomatoes — all delicious, I might add, but a trifle disappointing nonetheless.
At first I thought it was because I had situated the plant in the wrong place in the garden (not enough sunlight?), but after reading Rachel Cunliffe’s post, 3 Growth Strategies Learnt from 200 Tomato Plants, I realized I hadn’t trimmed the side shoots from the plant while it was growing — and thus, had limited its production.
The plant, in other words, had sent its energy into the shoots versus creating more fruit.
Ah! That made total sense.
So this year, armed with this crucial information and excitement due to imagining an abundance of tomatoes, I decided to go BIG! I decided I’d plant TWO tomato plants! I mean, now that I knew how to increase production, I figured two plants would be more than enough tomatoes for my needs.
It was while considering the sheer number of tomato plant varieties at my neighborhood nursery, however, that I became a little overwhelmed.
When I asked the nursery owner which plants were “non-GMO” she rustled her feathers a bit and said, “None of my plants are GMO! I’ve always sold hybrids!” Opps. After I apologized, we ended up having a great conversation about hybrids, heirlooms, and which type of tomato variety would be good for me.
And, she gave me another piece of important information I didn’t know: heirloom varieties produce fruit late in the season. Ooooh, so that’s why it took forever for my Green Zebras to ripen! Good to know!
Manufacturing marketing on the small scale
I realized, as I was preparing the soil for my tomatoes and herbs, that gardening on the small scale is pretty much the same as marketing your small manufacturing business — that is, if you haven’t done much marketing in the past.
So much noise exists now and so many options that it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and not do anything out of fear of making the wrong choice.
With that in mind, here’s my advice when it comes to stepping up your marketing game a bit if you’re not sure what to do next.
Tip #1: Create a marketing strategy for your business
When I talk to small manufacturers about their marketing, almost all say they want to “get going” on social media. I always ask why and usually the answer is because they’ve read that’s what they need to do — because “everyone” is on it.
Yet when we measure the various channels, we learn that social media has the least ROI.
This is why, instead of simply doing what may work for others, it pays to first create a strategy geared toward your business and business vision. Your strategy should answer the following:
- What are your business and financial goals for the next five years?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of your company?
- How do you already communicate with customers? Do you have their full contact information? If not, can you get it? Where do you house this information and will it easily integrate with other tools?
- Which marketing assets to do you have currently, which tactics do you want to add, and why?
- How and when will you implement your new tactics?
- How will you measure results?
Having a strategy allows you to “grow” your marketing at your own pace — and it keeps you focused and on track.
Tip #2: Start with what you have
When you first embark on ramping a new marketing tactic, be it a tradeshow, e-newsletter, PR campaign, PPC campaign, etc. you may not have all the information you need when you start. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know.
But that’s ok! It’s much better to start with what you have, such as your in-house customer list, and learn as you go by creating a simple newsletter, than do nothing at all.
Tip #3: Measure your incremental progress
Watching my tomato plant grow last summer was so exciting! First came the blossoms, then the little baby tomatoes. Seeing those “babies” meant I was doing something right.
Likewise, to determine your marketing success, measure the more visible things first: newsletter subscribers, visits to the website, phone and email inquiries. It’s these incremental improvements that build momentum over time — momentum that eventually snowballs into success.
Tip #4: Keep what works, learn from what doesn’t
In addition to my tomato plants, I also planted new herbs for this season. From last summer’s work, I learned that some herbs are perennials (mint, chives, thyme) and some annuals (basil). Others, like rosemary, need to winter indoors. I’m also trying strawberries for the first time.
It works the same for your marketing. You may try a particular tactic and learn, after careful tending and measurement, that it doesn’t work for your business. When this happens, let it go and figure out what to do next. I recommend, however, that you try something for at least six to nine months as it can take that long to build traction.
Tip #5: Take the long-term view
I think one of the biggest mistakes small manufacturers make is giving up too soon on a marketing tactic. You created the e-newsletter, for example, and only one or two people responded to it each month, so you begin to slack off on sending it out on a regular basis and then eventually stop as more pressing issues demand your attention.
This is why it helps to have a long-term view — or maybe vision is a better word. If you know where you’re going and why, it’s easier to stay in the game and ride the inevitable fluctuations.
As for me, yep, I was disappointed last year with my five tomatoes, but it’s also what pushed me to see if I could improve this year — because eventually, I do want that full-scale garden.
Which is why I left the nursery with two Early Doll tomato plants. According to the owner, this hybrid variety produces fruit within 54 days and continues to produce all summer long.
That’s good to know because one of my absolute favorite summertime foods is bruschetta. Nothing beats warm-from-the-sun, just picked tomatoes mixed with basil, sea salt, garlic and balsamic on top of toasted bread covered in olive oil. And, I’m thinking it’s time to try my hand at homemade tomato sauce. Can’t wait!
What say you? Have you tried marketing — or anything else — on the small scale? What did you learn? Share your insights in the comments section.