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  • Writer's pictureTim Votapka

What Makes Marketing Work - Really.

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

So, in a lucid moment you’ve realized you need to expand the visibility and awareness customers should have for your business. Now before you get interrupted by another email or a text ping, let’s get one thing down that will prevent a great deal of wasted time, effort and money BEFORE you’ve even published any new marketing promo or campaigns.

Whether you call it marketing, advertising, PR or that thing the IT guy can do in Publisher, it’s vital – right vital – for you to understand a natural law here: it’s not what YOU think of your product or service, it’s what the customer thinks. This is the cornerstone to success and, while it may seem obvious now, you’d be amazed at how quickly and easily many businesses neglect to think with it when they smash the champagne bottle on a new campaign. Tons of examples of this are easily reviewed when you search on Google and I’ll leave that to you in the interest of saving time and avoiding rubbing any salt into the wounds of the many companies that went off the rails with their campaigns.

The main point here is to get you to start off with the right mindset and the right orientation before you embark on that great marketing adventure. And for that we turn to the following truths and tools you need to have in your mind and in your basic marketing survival kit.

Promotion Defined

There are a few key definitions to promotion one must understand. The first one has to do with action as in making things known, getting things out, getting oneself known, and getting one’s products out. The other definition is more of the what you use in the actions as in a brochure, poster, advertisement, email, postcard or social media communication. It is what you devise to publicize or advertise a product, a cause, activity or organization. The purpose of it all rests of course on achieving a communication line between your prospect/customer and your product or company.

The test of good promotion then is response, and this is where people run into a little fog at times. Some believe the power of the creativity is senior to all rules of engagement. False, and here’s why. While creativity can be fun and a relief from office routines, it isn’t the sole reason promotion succeeds. Concepts and messages must follow a line of no less than three points: attract, interest and convey message – in that sequence. Think of it as a triangle with each side relying on the other two to have a sound structure or program. Weaken one side and you jeopardize the other two, and this is what happens when people invest the bulk of their attention on one aspect alone. Advertising agencies fight this battle within their own ranks when graphic designers grab hold of an idea they insist upon tooth and nail without taking into consideration the mindset potential customers may have with regard to a certain technology or issue they may not even be ready to confront when the promo hits their eyes.

Attraction and interest work when things are designed with specific purposes and that’s best determined through pre-promotion surveys. Here too is where we lose a few folks in the fog. Any reluctance to do some surveying puts your promotion at risk of coming up short in getting people to be attracted to and interested in your promotion. You could go ahead and run with your gut and you may or may not be right. You could also try to install a well by drilling hundreds of down into the earth and miss the fresh-water mountain spring by three feet. A rather expensive investment of time and labor without much to show for it.

Frequency is key to the whole project. A bright, shiny promo piece or advertisement that goes out just once is a terrible waste. Repetition is a requisite in every campaign at any gauge whether you’re trying to get people to attend your next webinar, open house or you want to keep prospects and customers from being loyal to your competition. Never agree to any suggestion or comment that endorses the “let’s run one and see how it goes.” This is a suppressive mindset that reduces mind share. Instead, look at what can be done with frequency so that you have a promotional campaign that hits its targets over and over. This is done to drive a message home yes, and in particular because it essentially positions you (or your brand more accurately) as the go-to or at least consider resource on the day they come to realize they have a problem with workflow productivity or a they’ve reach their limit in service wait times from their incumbent supplier.

If you must divert dollars from design to fund frequency, do it because promotion without frequency just doesn’t work in getting a message across, especially when you don’t know when people are going to have an appetite for your product or service. Sure, there are times when frequency goes from elixir to poison to some, but don’t ever take that as justification for communicating less.

Years ago, I was a young business trade writer who covered distribution in the electronic components industry. One of my friendliest contacts in the market was a 40-something year old executive who had a great deal of respect among his peers older and younger alike. As we were discussing his company’s story, the challenges it faced and so forth, he said one thing that’s stuck with me years later and it had to do with time. “Many of us in this industry provide the same thing in either products or services,” he said. “But for me, it comes down to what makes us different in value, and that comes down to what happens after 5 pm on a Friday night. If I can make five more phone calls or send out five more emails to potential customers. I know that’s probably 10 more instances of a customer seeing our name or hearing our voice versus our competitors.”

The sincerity of his mindset struck me as he was a senior executive of the fastest-growing distributor at the time, one that was rapidly approaching the number one rival. And here he is thinking in terms of what just one individual could do with basic communication to garner mindshare. Frequency. Message.

Isn’t it amazing that with all the methods communication is done now, digitally, globally, socially and so on, that the fundamentals have not changed one bit? Oh, it’s certainly become more intrusive than ever, no argument there, but that’s merely an effect of the tactics involved. Contemporary marketers push their communications out to prospects at a rate that far exceeds the imaginable outflow of their predecessors just 10 to 20 years ago. The rules have not changed, however. We still must use promotion to communicate with customers/prospects and overcome any barriers or resistance along the way. We still need to influence their opinions and assessments in ways that cause them to agree to be in communication with us. Anything else is merely supply-side thinking with hit-or-miss results.

Promotion should generate an exchange. Sometimes that exchange takes time to materialize, and sometimes it may not always be measurable in a tangible manner. Mindshare doesn’t always translate into data that can be put into spreadsheet format. Goodwill is valuable so long as it precedes and leads to something more material down the road (an appointment, an inquiry or reach, an order). None of that would happen though unless a prospect has been reached and communicated to. It won’t happen without communication that is benefit-oriented and repeated many times over as well.

So now imagine it’s a Friday night at 5 pm. Your competitor has buttoned up the tent for the night. One of his biggest customers has an equipment issue he must handle before Noon Monday. On his desk there lies a postcard offering immediate white-glove service response to equipment failures. He’s received this postcard three times before today. The first time he had no issues, so he tossed the card aside. The second time it arrived, he was on the road and the card got buried. Now, it’s just arrived a third time and the problem is at hand.

He may just call right there. Promo objective completed. Well done.

Tim Votapka is the director of marketing services at Prosperity Plus. He may be reached at or by tel at 631.382.7762.


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