Well, it's safe to say that both of those strategies rarely pay off.
Let's start with the first strategy as this one is the most baffling of the two.
1. My product/service is amazing, we'll do fine if we generate word of mouth
The notion that you can start a business and assume that customers will find you on their own is one that won't serve you well. There is a well-known quote in advertising that goes, “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does” (Steuart Henderson Britt). As time has gone on, that quote has become more and more relevant.
How do you expect to generate that prized word of mouth if no-one ever buys your products or hires your services? Unless someone is specifically looking for your exact business (and I mean exact – they search for your business name, you, your location etc.) then your competitors, and you will have many of those, will attract your customers a long time before they ever spot you, even if you are their best option.
The simple fact is you need to market your business and therefore you need to set aside a budget to do that. But you also need to take your time and market it well. There are a myriad of options out there and not all will be suitable, which brings me nicely onto bad strategy number two.
2. We need to market our business everywhere, if we throw enough money at it, we'll get a return
This is the shotgun approach to marketing your business. No attempt is made to highlight or target a specific audience (ie. your target demographic), so what happens is you end up wasting a lot of your budget on inefficient methods that don't net you the best possible return on investment.
The other issue is that, with this sort of strategy, people want to see instant results. However, when it comes to marketing your business, you should always be aiming for a long-term return. Any form of marketing needs to generate some level of trust between your consumers and you before they have the confidence to buy from you, and this can take time to develop. You should look at your marketing return over a period of 6-12 months, rather than 6-12 days.
Using the shotgun method will probably earn some return, of course, but why not get the most cost-efficient and effective return by taking some time to work out a proper marketing strategy that works for today's consumers?
So what is that strategy, you ask?
Well, I call it the 80-20 strategy (I know, I know, I'm not the only one...)
In this day and age, every consumer is far savvier than they used to be. Only putting out run-of-the-mill TV, print or digital ads in the hope that your audience will notice you, remember you and buy your products doesn't work anywhere near as well as it used to (although we're not saying it's without any value). Why? Because our lives have become saturated with traditional interruptive advertising. We're practically immune to it, and we tend to ignore it when we see it unless it does something truly amazing.
No, what will truly make you stand out to your consumers is creating a memorable story that keeps your audience interested. We humans love a good story, whether it's told in 30-second segments on a television or over 3 hours in the cinema. Keep it compelling and people will remember your brand.
You could also position yourself as the expert within your industry - a business people can go to for answers. Use either of those, or both of those methods to make your business memorable, and you'll find that this 'soft-sell' approach can work wonders.
There are two excellent quotes that perfectly encapsulate how advertisers should be thinking these days.
“We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in & be what people are interested in.” – Craig Davis
“Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.” - Howard Luck Gossage
Of course, you shouldn't completely abandon traditional advertising, and that's why we use the numbers '80' and '20'.
The idea behind this strategy is to make 80% of your “advertising” content interesting, educational and informative. Create some informative blog posts, or write a regular article in a magazine where you can show off your expertise. Run a YouTube channel or create a series of videos that give your audience the answers they're looking for.
Tailor this content to your industry and make people see your business as the go-to-guys for answers, or keep people thinking about your brand by telling a story over the course of a few months, or even a few years (just look at the success 'Compare the Market' have had with those bloody meerkats!).
The remaining 20% of your promotional activity can be based on traditional advertising - print, digital, television, event sponsorships etc. There is still value in advertising this way, you just have to be cannier with it, and understand that it works better as a supplement to your other activity, to reinforce your brand's message.
And remember to make sure you spend some time finding out where your consumers are, and where your key influencers are, before you start a campaign. Which magazines do they read? What is their favourite television programme? Which events do they attend? What websites do they regularly visit? Find out this key information and you'll be halfway to creating a great 80-20 marketing campaign.