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Successful Marketing: An Interview with Eric Gilboord

By CO Staff @canadaone |

What are some of the most common marketing mistakes that entrepreneurs make? To find out, we interviewed Eric Gilboord, author of Just Tell Me What to Do: Easy Marketing Tips for Small Business.

COEric, it's nice to be talking to you. To get started, tell us a bit about your background in marketing and sales.
EGIt's really a little over 25 years in marketing. Starting with large international ad agencies and then specialty shops and then my own company, SOHO Marketing, which started June '94.
COHow did you get into this field?
EGThe real answer is that when I was about 12 years old I used to watch Bewitched and Darren Stevens was in advertising, that's the real answer.

The business answer is that I have strong creative skills in writing and speaking. I like the idea of learning about people's businesses and the variety of different businesses and just being able to work with a whole bunch of different people and different companies gave me a very good business education.

COWe're hoping to uncover some of the most common mistakes small business owners make. Do you find that people generally have good instincts when developing marketing tactics, or are there some common pitfalls people hit?
EGThe reality is that most of these folks, at least the successful ones, are really good at their business, so they may be good operations, financial, or management people. They're experts at making widgets, or whatever product or service they produce. Any marketing they do comes from a gut level. In most cases they know who their target group is, and what they need to tell that target group. Where they have trouble is articulating that in marketing terms. So if someone sits down with a marketing professional like myself, we can help them translate into marketing terms. If not, they end up trying to do something or only executing something halfway. Or they sit down and say they need an ad without asking themselves what they are trying to accomplish because it might not be an ad. They jump into the execution and it a lot of cases they aren't necessarily right.

The key for most businesses is luck, hit and miss, or trial and error. They'll be at a networking function where they'll run into someone who says they did a particular type of campaign and that you should do that too. It could be totally wrong for you but you jump.

Marketing is seen as time consuming, expensive, and overwhelming. What's the easiest thing I can do to take care of marketing? That's what it really comes down to. They end up doing half an effort.

COThere seem to be a lot of different perceptions among small business marketers. One is that it's important to reach as many people as possible, and we're seeing a lot of unsolicited emails from people in this group. Is this an effective tactic?
EGIt's a complete waste of time. In fact it's going to cause you harm because you're making people angry.
COWhat are some other common misunderstandings about the best way to market a small business?
EGDon't have a clear idea about what it is they're trying to communicate, so they try to say too much in a given marketing piece. They haven't really focused on who it is that they're talking to. The essence of marketing is very simple. It's saying the right thing to the right person at the right time. In a lot of cases people haven't stopped to think about these things.

This doesn't apply to everybody, there are some that are very successful at it. Like in any endeavour there are some that are good and some that aren't.

For the most part when I look at marketing materials I see things that are not taken as far as they can. I see things that are at the beginning stages of an idea yet it's a finished brochure or post card. It will not work as hard as it could. It takes the same amount of money to print a four colour postcard with a good image or message as it does for a bad image or message. It doesn't necessarily have to cost more.

People don't use marketing professionals to help them. Big mistake for two reasons. One is that they don't use marketing professionals to help them and the second is that they use the wrong marketing professional.

Somebody might take a copywriter and anticipate that that person can do the whole job. I've often said to people that I can tell if a brochure was created by a copywriter, a designer, or a printer.

  • If it's created by a copywriter in all likelihood has a lot of copy, very few pictures, and probably not a great strategy.
  • If it's created by a graphics person it has lots of nice pictures, very little copy and probably not a lot of strategy.
  • If it's created by a printer it will have a fifth colour for no apparent reason. The copy is a hodge podge of crap that clients put together and somebody that thinks they're a copy writer maybe tried to do. The graphics are pretty pictures but have no connection to what's really happening. There's no strategy, but it's pretty with the fifth colour and it looks really fancy, but it's useless.

What you have out on the market place right now is a pile of people offering marketing services who are unqualified. This proliferation of unqualified marketing people out there who should really and truly not be presenting themselves as a marketing supplier.

COWhat makes a good marketing professional?
EGA good marketing professional is someone who is well rounded and experienced in a lot of different areas. They are like a contractor.

Let's use home rennovation as an analogy. If you're going to build an edition onto your house you have two choices, you can find the plumber, electrician, and try to co-ordinate the whole thing yourself. Anyone who has done these rennovations can understand how painful it can be. Or you can bring in a contractor who understands this area of expertise, who understands how to put the whole package together. He may not be an expert in all of those areas, but he has a strong enough experience in all of these areas and he has the ability to tie all of these things together.

If in this same analogy you said to your electrician that you want them to coordinate each job in the project, how do you think he's going to do? He's probably not going to do a whole lot better than if you did it yourself.

So what's happening is that people are saying to their copywriter is: You're my marketing guy because you know somewhat more than I do, that makes you an expert.

Everyone has a nephew who is a computer genius because he can do one more thing than you can on a computer. Or everyone has a nephew who can build a website because he's a computer genius. Have you ever seen any of those things? I've got a section in my book about working with marketing suppliers. I've got a list of questions you should ask a marketing supplier, questions a marketing supplier should ask you.

So where things go wrong is that people bury their heads in the sand and decide not to do marketing. If they do it they try to take the quickest route possible. They don't think things through and they don't work with decent suppliers because they don't know any better.

COSmall business owners are used to wearing many different hats in their business. Do you think that this also extends to marketing?
EGI'm not sure. Some might think that they can and some might just want to save money. The other interesting thing is just because you have a typewriter doesn't make you Hemingway. Just because you have publishing and media software, believe me, this doesn't make you an expert. People don't have a marketing plan. They're doing things haphazardly ad hoc.

That's another huge thing people do. They do things on an ad hoc basis. You can save yourself a pile of money and aggravation by thinking things through. That's what I try to do in my own business. I start by thinking things through and putting pen to paper.

It's not perfect, you can't think everything through to the very end. Most of the time when you're actually doing creative development you start by putting pencil to paper and sketching out a few pictures. You could end up someplace completely different. But it's much easier if you have a clear vision in your head of at least what it is that you're trying to say. How you execute that can come out lots of different ways. But what's the one message? What are you trying to say to someone?

I've targeted a guy who's the owner of a multi-million dollar business. He's successful, doing well, probably a strong operations or financial person. They've done well for a variety of reasons. They're doing marketing, spending money, on the surface it looks okay, on the surface it looks like a glossy brochure. But when you look at it with a trained eye you recognize that it doesn't have strategy and was probably created by the printer. It could easily be upgraded. There's lots of those people out there who will continue doing what they're doing and frankly having some success until they run into someone who points out adjustments that could make it better. What these people have been doing is working with their printer.

I might do a marketing campaign that asks: Is your printer your marketing guy? That expresses it more clearly than anything. Somebody who is using his copywriter as his marketing department is probably frusturated. If your graphics designer is your marketing department, chances are, you're upset, but you don't know how to articulate it.

COWhat about the corporate image and graphic design. A lot of small businesses feel that this is something for larger companies, and they quickly put something together on their PC. It this a good strategy?
EGNo. It's not a good strategy.
COWhy not?
EGHere's another analogy. Let's say you were going out for a meeting. Would you put on one brown sock, one blue sock, and a pair of Bermuda shorts, and a tuxedo jacket?

That's what you're doing if you're doing the ad hoc marketing. You're not representing yourself well.

An even simpler example is, if you're running a no frills kind of a business does it make sense to have four colour expensive looking marketing tools? Conversly if you're running a high-end business, would you have a two-colour instant print looking brochure? Probably not.

What I'm suggesting is that you do what is appropriate for the image and the message that you are trying to send out. I don't think that many people are qualified to create their own marketing materials. In fact, what I would suggest is that you use a professional to create the materials and then you go ahead and produce them in small quantities on your printer, maybe you customize them. But initially, get the right help.

It's like using an architect to do a blueprint. You might have some sketches for what you'd like the house to look like but an architect is better qualified to put those plans together. Then you can take the plan to someone else and execute it, but that's how people build on it.

At the first inkling of an idea, that's when you should start thinking about your marketing.

COWhat should small businesses be doing when they sit down to plan out a marketing approach.
EGThey should be using a professional to help them. Seriously, that's the key thing and it's like the difference between doing your own taxes and working with a financial planner. It's not a whole lot different.

If you're really comfortable and confident in your skills, then great, go ahead. Most people aren't. I would strongly recommend employing a marketing professional.

COEric, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. Good luck with your book and seminars!
EGI would also like people to know that I'm also a speaker and a consultant and those are the two things that I really would like to promote. If I could communicate something. I would like to encourage people to visit my site for a free excerpt from the book.
COOk, thanks Eric!
Editor's Note: As a regular contributor to CanadaOne Eric also has a bio on our website.

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