This guide is aimed at creatives who own their own small businesses. If that’s not you or you want more detailed advice, I would strongly suggest that you stop reading this and pick up one of Seth Godins books.

His advice will be far better for you than my humble effort.

What is marketing?

Seems like a pretty simple question doesn’t it? Quite often the complexity of the answer what trips people up.  The other factor is that many business owners have a general disdain for what marketing actually is believing instead that it’s some sort of scam activity. The reason that marketing gets such a bad reputation is mostly from bad marketing. The spammy, over the top, shouty crap nobody likes. That stuff looks cheap, makes people feel dirty even just looking at it and it usually promotes bad products or bad services that really help nobody. It’s the fake countdown timer you sometimes see on websites. Going out of business sales that never end. The instagram post that says ‘which do you prefer A or B?.  That’s bad marketing.

Have you ever heard the phrase "Guns don't kill people, people kill people"? Marketing is exactly the same. It doesn't lie to people, people lie to people.

The result of marketing

When I’m teaching people about marketing I’ve found that it’s often easier for them If I start by telling them what the result of good marketing is. if I explain the results first it’s often easier for them to understand and implement good marketing in their business. So I’m going to start by telling you what the result of good marketing is. To illustrate this I’m going to use an example that I’ve stolen from Seth Godin.  If David Ogilvy was the godfather of 20th century advertising. Then Seth Godin is (in my opinion) the godfather of 21st century marketing.
“If Nike opened a hotel I think we would be able to guess pretty accurately what it would be like. But If Hyatt came up with sneakers we’d have no clue. Because Hyatt doesn’t have a brand they have a logo.”
I’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels and If someone swapped the signs of a hotel at that price point I wouldn’t have any clue. I wouldn’t know where I was. Seth goes on to say;
“The problem Hyatt, Hilton, Marriot and the rest have is ‘sort by price’. Finding a hotel is really simple so why would I pay 200 pounds to sleep two streets away?”
Nike is a brand built on 21st-century marketing ideas. Those hotel chains are built on 20th century advertising ideas. Nike don’t focus on advertising their product they focus on honouring athletes and great athletic achievements. They tell stories about what’s done with their product. Whereas those hotel chains simply tell you that they’ve got the softest bed, the biggest flatscreen television and free coffee. Which is of course exactly the same as every other hotel.

You don’t have a brand you have a logo

Let’s put that into the world of tattooing for a second. It’ll be easier to understand I think. In the Nike vs Hyatt example their are two different marketing models at work. Let’s start with Hyatt’s model as it’s the most common in tattooing. Hyatt (or any of the hotel chains) are essentially no different from their competitors. The product they offer is at the same price point, is in a similar location and of the same quality. So when you or I choose the hotel we’re going to stay in for say, a convention. We don’t pick it based on it’s name. We choose based on location and price. That’s why businesses like this offer reward schemes. They have to incentivise you to return to avoid you ‘sorting by price’. Sound familiar? It should its a Tattoo shop in a high street.
Their are three high street tattoo shops in my local town. All competing in exactly the same way the hotel chains do. Offering the same product to exactly the same audience at a similar price, location and service. With zero brand loyalty (retention). High Street tattoo clients don’t care who the tattooist is. It’s Saturday and they’ve decided to finally get that little black star tattoo they’ve always wanted. They already decided how much they want to pay and how long they’ll wait for it. The High Street business model is controlled by the consumer. If the good people of Bromsgrove decide tomorrow that tattooing is worth £10 per hour all three shops will be forced to adjust their prices to survive. They’ll also have to employ the exact same tactics as the hotels to retain those clients. ‘refer a friend’, ‘2 for one’, ‘flash day’ etc etc

There’s no upside

I guess you’re expecting me to balance this with the upside of this business model? Sorry, there isn’t one. These companies are simply paying the highest rent and taxes for the least loyal and lowest quality customers. Because they still believe that the best place for a tattoo shop is between a pub and a brothel! And that hasn’t been true for at least 20 years.
The Nike model, on the other hand, is very different. I wear Nike. Not because they’re the cheapest or they’re the most convenient. I suspect I wear them for the same reason that many other people wear them. They ‘feel’ like they fit ‘my style’. But why? Nike have positioned themselves in the market, not by telling me about the features of their shoes. They’ve told me about what they stand for and who ‘Nike people’ are. They have built a brand.

Building a brand

Building a brand is far more difficult than just designing a logo, making average stuff for average people and just shouting about it loudly so they can hear you. But a brand comes with responsibilities. It’s about doing work that matters for people who care. If you have a brand you’ve made a promise to people. They now have expectations of your brand and you have to live up to them.
The fact that just about everybody else on planet Earth knows the Nike brand so well is the because they have a brand. The fact that the same people have zero preference when it comes to hotels is because they have a logo.
Marketing is not your logo. It’s also not advertising. Marketing is a major business function it’s made up of lots of different sub segments:
  • PR
  • market research
  • social media content marketing
  • Search engine marketing or search engine optimisation
  • pricing and pricing psychology
  • direct response or direct response marketing

Communicate Value

Back in the day, One of the first things you’d learn in your marketing course is the four P’s of marketing. Product, Price, Place, Promotion. The economics of the 4 P’s assumes that peoples buying decisions are rational, logical and with perfect information. But this is rarely the case. We as humans are emotional and often highly illogical. We don’t really have the full set of facts when were making our decisions. This goes some way to explaining  why marketing is so important and so powerful. If we made all of our purchasing decisions based solely on logic, utility and the value we would get from these products then the entire luxury goods market wouldn’t even exist.
I prefer a simpler definition. Marketing is communicating your brands values. Finding your audience and figuring out how to make things better for them. Not for you but for them. If you can make things better for them then you’ll get a chance to do it again. If you keep doing it and making things better, earning trust and turning attention into a promise. That promise will become a brand that matters.

And a brand that matters will outlive any 'perfectly average Hotel' with a nice logo.

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This is the written version of an Affinity Session.