Friday, September 17, 2010

If you want to learn marketing, do marketing

In a blog post this month, Seth Godin writes:

If you want to learn to do marketing... then do marketing.

You can learn finance and accounting and media buying from a book. But the best way to truly learn how to do marketing is to market.

There is nothing like putting theory to practice. The past couple years I've been putting my ideas to the test while trying to rent out a family property. Some things have worked, and many ideas haven't.

I started by just listing the house on Craigslist, but didn't get real traction through that avenue until I also build a website for the house. The website was worth the time investment - it seems to give people confidence that we are legitimate.

That has been about the only success I've had so far; most of our rentals have come through Craigslist.

I tried listing the house through various vacation rental sites. While they promise millions of visitors to their site, it didn't result in any inquiries that panned out.

I tried search engine marketing, with paid Google ads. I got a few hits this way, but no rentals, and mainly succeeded in making Google just a little bit richer. One mistake I made was allowing my paid ads to get put on websites as well as show up on the right hand side of organic search. I think there must have been some click fraud, because the organic search ads at least resulted in some inquiries, but with the ads that appeared on other websites, my budget always got used up but no inquiries even came through.

I tried advertising in the local newspaper. This was expensive and resulted in exactly zero inquiries.

I tried printing up a thousand business cards and putting them on windshields during a football game (my target audience.) I thought surely, these are people who will probably come back this fall and normally stay in a hotel. Perhaps they haven't thought of renting a house instead of a hotel room, so they don't even see my ads on Craigslist. After $100 of cards, and three hours walking up and down the rows of cars parked in a cow field, no inquiries.

I've kept the contact info of every person that expresses an interest in our place, and then sent out an email newsletter via Constant Contact. I thought, surely people that have been interested enough in the past to submit an inquiry on my very own website will be a great resource. But so far, even though I've built up a list of 100 names, none of those that expressed an interest in the past have expressed an interest this year when I reached out to them.

Still, Craigslist keeps working. I've learned that I need to keep reposting the house regularly, because many others have discovered that Craigslist works well, so it is a bit of an arms race. Last year, in State College, PA, there were perhaps 5 houses listed per day as available for Penn State game weekends. This year there could be 20 or more listings per day. If you aren't in the most recent 20 or so listings, I've found, potential renters won't reach out to you.

This is all very valuable learning for a consultant. It is one thing to recommend obvious solutions. It is a different thing to find solutions that actually work.

As an aside, I'd suggest that you can't actually learn finance or accounting from a book either. Yes, of course you can learn the rules of accounting in class, but learning to apply those principles in the messy real world requires mentorship and practice just as marketing does. In the Navy we called it "time on the pond."

The essential point of Seth's post is that you don't need to wait to get a job to start professional training. Seth suggests, if you want to do marketing, then sell some books or concert tickets.

As a corollary, I'd add, "If you want to do consulting... then start doing consulting."

If you want to be a management consultant, then find someone who will accept your advice for free. Find a local restaurant owner and help her staff more efficiently or reduce her purchasing costs. Help a doctor improve the patient experience by streamlining the number of forms patients fill out. Develop a list of target customers for the small business of a relative.

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