Trial and Error: There's No Silver Bullet for Marketing

I’m not sure what words I’d most like to hear coming out of my 25-year old son’s mouth, but I’m pretty sure these are not them: “That may be the most ‘old guy hobby’ on Earth.”

Last month, I came upon a combination padlock in the basement. It had four dials on it, each numbered 0-9, and it was locked. Toss it in the trash? I considered it. With 10,000 possible combinations, unlocking it could take a while.

But it might also be kind of interesting. So I set the lock to 0-0-0-0 and began my journey, counting up, one number at a time. I told Evan about it, prompting his snide—but, I suppose, accurate—reply. As of this writing, I am at 4,060, with the lock still unopened. But I keep fooling with it: at breakfast, while watching TV, before I fall asleep.

Why? Because I find it satisfying to know that there is in fact one correct combination—that sooner or later, I’m going to pull on that lock and it will open.

You know what isn’t at all like this? Marketing.

In marketing, there are no rules. There is nobody in charge. There is nothing that works for every situation or business.

With that in mind, here are a few recommendations on how to find an approach that works for you:

Only do things that make sense to you. Can you explain why you use Twitter? Or Facebook? Or Instagram? Or any other marketing tool? Either find an answer to that question or stop doing it. The fact that everyone else is doing it is not a marketing strategy; it’s a third-grade birthday party.

Only do things you enjoy—or, at the very least, don’t hate. Small business marketing requires time, effort and consistency. It might be free-ish—thank you, internet—but for the most part, you have to get personally involved.

If you hate it, though, regardless of how effective a given tactic may be, you’ll never do it. Like exercise, showing up regularly matters way more than which activity you choose.

Think relationships first. People like us live in a word-of-mouth world; the best clients come through referrals. To that end, I live by a simple marketing mantra: “Stay in front of the people you know, over and over again, in a way that positions you as a likeable expert.” The more you can make that happen, and regardless of which specific tactics you choose, the more effective your marketing will be.

It would be nice if marketing had one simple answer—one combination you could use to unlock all the clients you want. But that’s never going to happen. The best you can do is develop a simple, understandable, easily repeated set of tactics that work for you—and then apply them every day.

Michael Katz, founder and chief penguin of Blue Penguin Development, specializes in helping professional service providers talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling.