Achieve Marketing Excellence: Kick It Up a Notch!

Vince DiCecco is a dynamic and sought-after seminar speaker and author, with particular interest in business management/development and marketing subjects. With over 20 years experience in sales, marketing and training, he is presently an independent consultant to businesses looking to sharpen their competitive edge. Vince addresses a wide range of topics focused on nurturing customer loyalty while improving profitability. He may be reached via email at

Many small businesses incorrectly use the words “marketing” and “advertising” interchangeably. While one can say that all advertising except for those efforts that flop is marketing, marketing is not solely advertising. There are many different marketing vehicles that can be used to promote something be it a product, service, person or entire company. But when you do decide to spend marketing dollars advertising, are you planning for, measuring and realizing a profitable return on that investment?

In very broad terms, you can separate marketing into two categories the kind that builds brand-name equity and the type that commands direct response. When Goodyear Tire Company commissioned its first blimp in 1925, its intention was to have potential customers think of Goodyear when they were in the market for new tires. The helium-filled airship barnstormed the United States as a traveling billboard grabbing the attention of any American casting his eyes skyward to catch a glimpse. It was brand recognition advertising at its basic level but it also cost a bundle.

Besides being expensive, brand-awareness advertising can be risky, its effect difficult to measure, and it lends itself to being confused with other competitive offerings. When a company pays a celebrity to endorse its products, it takes the chance that the star’s image could fall out of favor with the targeted customer Hertz’s choice of O.J. Simpson and McDonald’s selection of Kobe Bryant, to name a few. And I can’t tell you how many people mistakenly think the Energizer Bunny is hawking Duracell instead of Eveready batteries.

While prospective customers won’t know that perfect laser-etched plaque or gift exists or, for that matter, that you exist without advertising, it shouldn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to market it. Instead of foregoing your marketing efforts, take a hint from Chef Emeril Lagasse and promote your company with the “nothing-goes-to-waste” resourcefulness, the bold creativity and the unabashed passion this world-famous culinary master exudes on his television cooking show.

Now, more than ever, is the time to let the market know what you do best and why you are exactly what the people want. When it comes to promoting your business, now is the time to kick it up a notch! You can accomplish this and still stay within a reasonable budget if you don your innovative thinking cap.


When Chef Emeril sets out to whip up a mouth-watering meal, he starts with quality ingredients, invokes then refines proven recipes, prepares each item with precision and panache, and creates a work of art through their presentation. Why not employ such a philosophy as a guide to sculpting your company’s marketing plan?

Ironically, half of all businesses in the United States do not advertise on a regular basis. And many of the ones that do fail to measure the effect of advertising against the design objective of the piece, be it a television or radio spot, print ad, Yellow Pages listing, whatever.

When undertaking a new marketing project, set specific, measurable goals for the campaign. Do you want to stimulate sales? By how much and by when? Do you just want to raise awareness of your unique value proposition in the minds of your target clientele? How will you measure that before and after the promotion?

Avoid the temptation of trying to accomplish too many things at one time, changing the success criteria in the middle of development or, worse, changing the objective after the marketing effort is launched a common practice of management with a case of the jitters when the bill hits their books and they have to justify their decisions.

Once your business has decided to regularly advertise via a particular medium, stay the course and don’t cancel ad placements randomly just to save a few bucks. Instead, retool every marketing piece to meet the six components of direct response marketing listed below, and ask yourself the same questions your target audience will be asking:

  • Lead with a clear and eye-catching headline : At first glance, do I know what the company does and what it’s best known for? Do I want to stay tuned, read on, learn more? Will I remember the company when I am ready to buy?
  • Describe an obviously good value : Does the offer present benefits that outweigh the cost? How do you satisfy my strongest need in a way that is different from the competition? Do I like and trust this company?
  • Have a logical reason for the offer : Do I know why the ad is being run at this time? Is now the season to consider such a purchase?
  • Need for immediate response : Will the offer expire? Will supplies last? Is there a rebate, discount or free premium if I buy sooner rather than later?
  • Give understandable directions to action : Where do I go? Who should I call? Will I find doing business with this company convenient and enjoyable?
  • Emphasize your unique value proposition : Does this company do or make something that no other can? Do I see the exclusive benefit of throwing my business their way?

The reason your unique value proposition is so important is that there is a veritable sea of businesses competing for dollars in the awards and engraving and custom gift markets. Often it is hard for customers to tell one from another. By creating a niche identity, one that is yours and yours alone, you give them a way to remember you.


If your company is one of the many that have not yet taken the plunge into the world of advertising, don’t fret. There are many ways to pump up your business’s image without deflating your checkbook.

Harvey Mackay, author of Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, is an outspoken proponent of stepping out of your comfort zone and networking within your local and industry’s community. Introduce yourself to neighborhood TV stations, newspaper editors and columnists in business publications. As a prominent business owner, offer to be quoted in one of their feature articles. At very least, seize the opportunity to barter something you do, make or sell in exchange for free advertising time and space in their publication or along their TV and radio airwaves.

Offer to be a guest speaker at groups such as the Rotary Club or local Business Association. Join networking organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and take an active role in the group beyond simply attending the meetings. And don’t forget subtle touches such as writing a well-deserved compliment of your dining experience on the back of your business card and presenting it to a restaurant owner who may someday need the promotional items, gifts or engraved awards you sell.

Become a newsworthy enterprise. Approach your school board or church council and invite students in for a day of fun and learning as they design and produce their own awards, trophies or gifts. Take pictures of the event and include them in a press release to newspaper and trade-magazine editors.

If you are unsure how to write a press release, hire a freelance public relations writer. Such a person may not have all of the resources of a high-caliber ad agency, but will be able to write news releases, company backgrounders, brochures and other elements of your marketing campaign, at a fraction of the cost charged by an agency.

Host an open house for your good customers and prospects. Admittedly, planning, coordinating and pulling off such an event could be a huge undertaking, but if you start modestly make it by invitation only prepare the refreshments yourself, and ask your vendors to help by donating door prizes and/or demonstrating how they contribute to the quality of the finished products you sell, everyone wins and the goodwill that abounds is priceless.

Consider bringing in a featured guest speaker. I have been honored by being invited to conduct seminars at several such events. Each time, I’ve met some of the nicest people, engaged in some of the most productive conversations about the challenges of running an awards or custom gift business and, hopefully, been of help to many business owners. I make it a point to thank the sponsor of the event for allowing me to speak and ask attendees to show their appreciation by supporting their host.


What else can you do to step up your marketing efforts that will be effective, yet won’t cost you an arm and a leg? How about “cloning” your best customers as well as inviting back some old friends that you haven’t seen for a while?

Make a list of all of your customers from the past six months and start calling them. Ask them for a referral to a new, prospective customer, or a testimonial letter touting all the great service you’ve shown them and how the last job you did for them was exactly what they wanted. Keep a list of the best referral sources prominently displayed on your desk or office wall, so you are reminded to call them periodically.

Call on former customers that you haven’t heard from recently. Ask them to meet you for coffee to catch up on how they’ve been doing. Ask them if you can keep in touch by adding them to your mailing list for newsletters or promotional announcements.

Given today’s fragile economy, you may find that your niche can no longer sustain the amount of business you need to bring in to remain profitable. Consider broadening your geographic service area and increasing the pool of prospective clients.

Make cold calls. All right, so you haven’t had to do that since the earliest years of your business, but challenging times call for innovation and sometimes innovation takes the form of returning to a previous strategy that proved effective. No, I’m not suggesting you go door-to-door or make random telemarketing calls. Instead, take calculated risks in terms of which doors you knock on and which phone numbers you dial. And always try to have a name to ask for when introducing yourself.

Finally, launch a frequent-shopper program. Airlines do it, hotels do it, coffee houses do it, pizza joints do it. Why not your company? One way of welcoming back old customers is to credit their past orders when you kick off your loyalty program. That way they are closer to earning a significant discount or free products or services. You don’t have to establish a complicated computer system to keep track of your customer’s buying history. A simple punch card may do the trick. The intention here is to cultivate repeat business.


I read once that there are no principles of marketing, only books entitled “Principles of Marketing.” So what is marketing? It’s anything you do to promote your business, get your name remembered and generate sales. It includes print and commercial advertising, direct-mail campaigns and promotions, a Web presence, giveaways, publicity and public relations, signage and anything else that causes you to stand apart from your competition.

Whatever marketing tools you choose, shape them to capture the undivided attention of your target audience, make it conversational as if you want to invite and nurture a personal business relationship, and expect quick, measurable results. That’s what direct response marketing is all about.