Marketing can be tricky whether you’re starting a new business or growing an existing one. As the owner of a performing arts business, I’ve made some terrific marketing mistakes. Yet not a single one was a total loss because I learned five vital lessons from that have changed the way we strategize marketing.
1. Don’t try to be who you’re not.
When I started our first studio, I tried to be everything to everyone. If someone called looking for a really competitive program over classes geared toward having fun, I’d say, “We can do that!” What a mistake. Despite offering free classes and other attempts at customer service, we had complaints from clients who left the studio upset. They told friends and family not to use our studio because they expected something we were not.
What we are is a fun, recreational program. We want to encourage people who are not familiar with dance to give it a try. Once I decided who we were, I created a company identity that clearly outlined our mission. Now if someone calls asking for a really intense “Dance Mom” competitive program, we suggest another company. People are shocked when we send them to the competition. But it works. They get what they want and we stick to what we do best.
2. Don’t advertise, give it away.
Someone once asked me, “If a client bought a product and they hated it, would you refund it?” Well, of course I would. That same person challenged me to rethink how I advertised. I had been guaranteeing my classes. This person suggested I let them try the class on the house first.
Giving a client a free trial or giveaway lets them sample what you’re about to sell them. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door and share your passion about the value of your product.
3. Don’t wait to ask what’s wrong.
When I first started my business and we’d lose a client, I would ask why they were leaving, and what could we do better, when they were on their way out the door. Later, we thought — and this sounds so simple — why don’t we catch them before they’ve made up their mind?
Now after someone has been enrolled in a class for a few weeks, we often give them a courtesy call or a quick chat at the front desk to check in and see how things are going. Sometimes clients will voice concerns about the class or their expectations. Because we’re catching them so early in the experience, we can often address whatever their issue is so they don’t leave. It’s an easy, inexpensive way to make your clients feel like they matter. Too many times in our rushed world, clients feel that once they hand over their money, they never hear from the company again. A few phone calls can make a big difference.
4. Don’t forget the details.
One of the best ways we market is by making sure our clients know that they matter. One way we do this is by remembering birthdays. When I first started, I forgot how important birthdays are, especially to kids, and spent a couple of awkward classes with some very disappointed birthday boys and girls. Now, we have a giant calendar where we write every student’s birthday. Each month, we highlight their names and tell them to come to the desk for a birthday surprise. The surprise is nominal — a lollypop or other treat — but the kids love it.
This won’t work for all business models, but if you put some thought into the details that matter to your customers, you can come up with a way to acknowledge them on a regular basis.
5. Don’t nickel and dime your clients.
We send yearly surveys to our customers. One year, a customer wrote that they felt we nickel and dime them. I was mortified that someone thought that way about me or my business. I sat down and looked at our payment processes, and I realized that I had been afraid to charge a larger sum up front. Instead, I was charging small fees throughout the year. Turns out, my clients would rather pay extra money up front and know what the costs are going in than be surprised by an upcharge later.
Now, instead of charging parents per purchase if they want a recital t-shirt, DVD of the show, or souvenir program—after they’ve already had to pay for tickets, costumes, and classes—I charge a set recital fee and offer a Recital Wow Package that includes everything. My competitors charge additional money for these extras, and I give them away to every family. It’s a fantastic way to end our season, and parents really feel appreciated. I have not heard the phrase “nickel and dime” in my survey since.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from marketing mistakes or triumphs?