The word “marketing” conjures up images of a written plan, slick print materials, and a dynamic website. But there is another side of marketing that’s far more important than the most compelling advertising campaign. It is the unspoken messages that your organization sends out every day to its existing and potential customers. This type of marketing speaks more loudly and can do greater good or damage than any paid advertising message. When we invite guests into our home, we clean the house, prepare good food, shower and dress nicely and try to put our best foot forward. In other words, we “put our house in order.”
We need to do the same things with our businesses. The first and most critical step in developing a marketing plan is “putting your house in order.” To accomplish this, you need to identify and eliminate problems within your organization that create a negative marketing image. These problems can include everything from gossiping employees to peeling paint. When you have internal problems they can seriously damage your image with your external customers. They need to be fixed before you embark on a marketing campaign.
Here are examples of negative marketing activities that I’ve personally observed over the past few weeks:
- While sitting in my car at the bank drive-through, two employees came out the back door, slouched against the wall, and lit up cigarettes. Then they started loudly complaining about their boss and a co-worker. Their tirade went on for about five minutes and included obscenities. I had to close my car window so my son wouldn’t hear their vulgar language.
- As I paid my money to the clerk at a fast-food drive-through window, I noticed that he had excessively long fingernails that were ragged and filthy. His nails were so long that he scratched my hand as he handed back my change. I lost my appetite.
- A family-owned grocery store in an upscale neighborhood is known for its excellent quality meat and produce. The quality is high but so are the prices and they attract a wealthy clientele that is eighty-percent female. So I was dismayed when I used their only restroom. The floor, sink, soap dispenser, and toilet were dirty. The walls had peeling paint, the wastebasket was overflowing and the paper towel dispenser was empty.
- I asked an employee in a jewelry store if she could give me that store’s website address so I could do some additional shopping from the comfort of my home. She responded, “I don’t know if we even have a website. And if we do, I sure don’t know the address!”
- A local grocery store ran an ad in the Sunday newspaper to promote a special on gallons of milk. They did not have enough of the advertised brand on hand and sold out of the product before noon. Although they offered “rain-checks” after they ran out, they angered many customers and did more damage to their image than if they had never offered the special in the first place.
Need I go on? Every one of these scenarios sent a powerful negative marketing message to the people who keep these organizations in business—their customers. It is pointless to develop a marketing campaign designed to bring in new business if customers are going to be met with:
- Poorly trained employees
- Negative attitudes
- Employees who are inappropriately dressed or have poor hygiene
- An unkempt or unattractive environment
- An inadequate supply of advertised products or services
Before you design a marketing plan or invest money in advertising campaigns to bring new customers through your doors, you must first address the issues that are harming relationships with your existing customers. In other words, “put your house in order” before you invite new guests!