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Why Marketing or Advertising “Doesn’t Work”

As a representative for my business, I frequent several networking groups in my community. Usually these groups consist of independent business owners, sales reps for small and medium-sized businesses, and multi-level marketing affiliates of various industries. These are the types of people and businesses that my company works well with, people with growing businesses and some establishment with their customer base. Many are relying on word-of-mouth marketing and referrals, which is why they or their employees are attending these events.

When I tell people what I do, which is website and brand design, most people ask me how I got into the industry and whether or not websites, social media, and SEO are really necessary. These are good conversational questions that I enjoy answering, however from time to time I’ll get a response something along the lines of:

“Marketing doesn’t work.”

This seemingly abrasive and generally assumptive statement, while not the most pleasant thing to hear while speaking about one’s line of work, brings up an excellent point; It echoes a sentiment that some may be too polite to voice, especially in a manner which interrupts a professional’s statement, but still turn over in their minds as they listen to marketing professionals talk about their services.

“Why pay someone to tell me how to market my business?”

When I encounter a statement like “marketing doesn’t work,” I usually detect something deeper – a past experience, perhaps, or the experience of a colleague or relative where an advertising budget yielded little to no additional profits. A situation where someone got burned.

Let’s break down what marketing really is.



  1. the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.

Like most things, success in marketing can be attributed to two fundamental building blocks: time, most importantly, and money. A small business starts with more time than money available for their marketing, and if they are successful the balance shifts to eventually favor money instead of time. These results can take months, even years to change, though, and therein lies the problem for a small business which has an 80% chance of failing within the first two years: marketing needs time, and small businesses don’t have it.

So what is a small company to do when both time and money are in short supply? Here are some ideas:

Define Your Brand

Your brand is more than just your mark (the name and/or logo). Your brand is who your business is. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What values does my business espouse?
  • How does my business speak to its customers? What is the tone, the language used to create a connection with the customer?
  • What problem is my business solving for the people it services? Business to Consumer (B2C) companies clearly deal with people directly, but owners of Business to Business (B2B) companies must remember that what they offer affects the people at the center of the businesses they are selling to. Business always comes down to people.
  • Why should customers buy from my business instead of my competition?
  • Who, exactly, is the ideal client for my business? Create a profile of your best customer, in as much detail as you can imagine.

The answers to these questions should give you some initial guidance into your marketing strategy, although this is simply the tip of the iceberg.

Assemble Your Brand Look

With your brand defined, you can assemble your Brand Style Guide. This should include:

  • Your brand name (and any variations)
  • All acceptable variations of your logo (black & white, full-color, vertical layout, horizontal layout, etc.)
  • The colors your business will use for the logo, the website, business cards, and all other visual media representing the brand
  • The font/typeface choices the business will use for print and digital media

The Brand Style Guide will give you a basic template for your creative team to work with to create a consistent message to your customers. This is important because…

Consistency Breeds Trust

Think about the brands you buy from every day: Starbucks, for example. When you visit a Starbucks, no matter where you find one you can expect a similar experience each time. You find consistency in the taste, the atmosphere, the menu options, and the service. Whether you consciously realize it or not, if you’re a frequent customer of Starbucks, when you see their iconic green and their logo cross your Facebook feed, or when you drive by one of their signs, your mind connects that brand identity with the perceived quality of their services. This is true for other massive brands, such as Nike and Apple, however it is equally true for local businesses you interact with and buy from regularly. This is the type of connection your business must make with your customers in order to survive.

“But What About Advertising?”

I like to think of advertising and marketing as a bridge between potential customers and your business. What kind of bridge are you building with your ideal customers? Is your brand strong and consistent, clearly projecting with its logo and voice a quality product to create a safe and stable, steel and concrete ‘bridge’ to the new relationship? Or is a cheap design and incoherent stream of thoughts, riddled with grammatical errors, creating a shaky and questionable rope bridge with missing planks?

Without a clear and trustworthy brand as a destination, advertising is time & money down the drain.

You can spend hundreds, or thousands of dollars in your local paper, Pay-per-Click digital marketing (PPC), or membership in your local business organizations, but if you don’t look like you can do the job, someone who doesn’t know you will chose someone who does – and those advertising dollars and effort will go to waste.

Good News: Marketing CAN Work For You!

To the business owner who has lost confidence in marketing professionals and advertising techniques, I say this: Your efforts are only as good as the quality they project.

If you have a quality product or service, you can clearly communicate its values, and your ideal customer has been thoroughly identified, then you stand a much better chance of making any of your marketing efforts successful – whether you spend money on them or not! What matters most is setting your brand up for success at the very beginning, allowing you to leverage every dollar, every moment, every breath you spend to spread the word about your company.

Find that clarity today, and watch your business succeed.


  • Set aside an hour today to answer the questions listed above, and reflect on the answers every morning this week.
  • Write out your value statement in a post on your business Facebook. Share that post with your personal Facebook to your social network. Include an image to improve your exposure!
  • Get coffee with a graphic designer, copywriter, or brand strategist this week to inspire your vision for your business voice and brand style.