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A Lean, Mean Marketing Machine

Doing more with less is the premise of bootstrap marketing, which could not only save marketing dollars, but shape your business into a leaner, more efficient operation.Bootstrap marketing replaces money with ingenuity. Its cousin, guerrilla marketing, is a shadier version of bootstrapping and involves skirting the rules of decorum or even the law, according to Bruce Firestone, a professor at Carleton University’s School of Business.

For example, Firestone says, suppose a firm can’t afford an ad in The Wall Street Journal. To reach the same local readership of that publication, guerrilla marketers could print 10,000 fliers, pop $1 in newspaper-vending boxes, and slip their flier in the folds of every WSJ stocked within. Legal? Not exactly.

Although the results of guerrilla-marketing campaigns might not be easily measured, bootstrap efforts should be. Bootstrapping finds a clever, cost-efficient means of increasing revenues — and its strategies become more relevant during an economic downturn. “We’re just coming out of a period where mass marketing was common,” says Peter Zandan, a venture capitalist who sold his marketing firm, Intelliquest, two years ago. “That’s coming to an end, and we’ll return to thinking of marketing as a strategic investment, not a black hole in which to pour money.”

Bootstrap marketers follow four steps:

  1. Identify the key target audience.
  2. Focus on the decision makers of that audience.
  3. Present them with concise messages that will make them not only take notice, but take action.
  4. Measure the results to quantify effectiveness.

Identify the audience

Bootstrapping should realign you with the fundamentals of your business. You can’t bootstrap successfully unless you know exactly whom you’re targeting. And that takes research.

B-to-C. Business-to-consumer entrepreneurs need to hunt customers in their habitats to find information. Amilya Antonetti, president of Soapworks in San Leandro, Calif., created and marketed a line of hypoallergenic laundry soaps, which generates $10 million in annual revenues.

To polish her customer profile, Antonetti went directly to the laundry-detergent aisle at her local grocery store. She saw what other mothers were buying, asked what they would like to buy and what currently prevented them from making that choice. Those hurdles could be price, image, ingredients or simply that the fact the product doesn’t yet exist.

B-to-B. Business-to-business bootstrappers often use trade shows to find their niche audience. Keep in mind that you can’t be all things to all people. For example, Internet Security Systems Inc. (ISS), an Atlanta-based provider of security-systems software, attends only two tradeshows a year and does not invest in advertising other than its Web site.

Eye to eye with decision makers

Three tips to increase contacts at trade shows:

  1. Book early for the best choice of corner booths.
  2. Choose a booth along a primary circulation artery.
  3. Prioritize prospects.

Businesses devise crafty ways to attract potential clients to their booths. But free massages, food and contests won’t necessarily help prospects learn more about your company’s capabilities — or result in a contract.

Rather than trying to lure prospects, seek them out. Get out of your booth and approach attendees. George Kriza initiates an eye-to-eye talk with someone at every booth. “We take it upon ourselves to introduce our company and services to their marketing director or company principal,” explains Kriza, president of Marketing Technology Concepts in Schaumburg, Ill.

Sponsoring an off-site, invitation-only event during a trade show’s run can garner more prospects. For example, Marketing Technology Concepts has hosted cruises and dinner parties.

Another direct approach: Before Zandan took Intelliquest public in 1996, he offered pro-bono work, with the hope that clients would return for paid jobs. Pro-bono work allowed Zandan face time with clients, and he could demonstrate his work firsthand, rather than just singing its praises.

Concise messages prompt action

Determine which medium, time, rate, location and message will reach the most members of your target audience for the fewest dollars. Then massage the message until it’s crystal clear.

Example: Just beyond the entrance to one of ISS’s competitors is a billboard, which can be viewed by anyone who enters the facility. ISS bought advertising rights for the billboard and created a message that directly addressed their competitor’s major client; the billboard quickly summed up why the client should switch to ISS. ISS then followed up on the billboard by incorporating the same message in marketing materials presented at a trade show. The result? ISS won more business.

Consistency. Repeat messages across various media will reap better returns than a lone message. Research shows that to establish recognition and recall, a message must be heard nine times from different sources before it will prompt a change in behavior.

Tip: Use every opportunity to continually court current customers by putting your company message on letterhead, mailing labels, shipping boxes, fax cover sheets and e-mail messages.

Keep it simple. Don’t annoy prospects or customers with whiz-bang customer service interfaces.

Consider marketing as an investment. Its greatest dividend: prompting clients to think of you first.

Tip: Co-op advertising, a notoriously underused outlet for inexpensive coverage of a target audience, allows channel partners, such as retailers and manufacturers, to share the costs of an advertising program. Collectively, manufacturers earmark $30 million annually to help businesses stretch marketing dollars, and yet much of that money goes unused. Co-op opportunities, available in a variety of media, can be found through the Yellow Pages Publishers Association, (800-841-0639) or the Co-op Source Directory at your local library.

Keep the engine running. Don’t abandon your marketing plan. Businesses tend to cut marketing during hard times, but research shows that businesses that maintain their marketing outlay during downturns end up outselling competitors that cut back.

Beneficial by-products

Honing your audience, determining your message and its most effective delivery — with the fewest resources possible — forces entrepreneurs to analyze their businesses. Bottom line: Bootstrap marketing helps you create a leaner, meaner business.

Another benefit: Besides low costs, you can measure bootstrapping results. Figure out how much it costs to acquire a customer by dividing the cost of your campaign by the number of customers it generates. Remember, ingenuity may be the means, but getting work is the goal of bootstrapping.

Writer: Rosemarie Buchanan