How to Attract New Customers – Neville Stein

That old business adage which suggests that ‘it costs five times more to get a new customer than it does to keep an old one’ certainly rings true when you analyse just how much companies spend on advertising in a year. Typically on average businesses spend 1.5 to 3 per cent of sales on advertising, depending of course upon the stage of the business One naturally would expect that at the start up stage a young business would spend a high proportion of the sales on advertising in an attempt to build market share, whilst a mature business with a strong market share would spend less.

Alan Sugar, star of the UK TV series ‘The Apprentice’ famously remarked that he had written books on advertising – that is, ‘cheque books’. Sugar was making the point that he knew all to well that advertising is an expensive yet necessary element in any marketing plan. Faced however with the fact that advertising is an expensive and a complicated discipline requiring a high degree of expertise, many small businesses shy away from doing anything at all, or at best take a half hearted unplanned approach to the subject

Many of us would indeed be critical of the advertising industry. However good advertising does work. Correctly planned advertising can reach a large number of people with a particular message. On the flip side however, there is a lot of wastage with advertising, which means that there are an enormous amount of people who will see the advert yet not be interested in what is on offer. The other problem is that consumers are becoming a more critical and perhaps cynical audience. An advertising campaign that impressed or grabbed attention five years ago may now be seen as manipulative or devoid of truth or ethics. (Take for example the use of women or ‘sexual symbolism’ in adverts for the motor industry.)

Is there a better tool than advertising to attract customers to a business? Singularly no, but publicity as a marketing tool if used in conjunction with advertising and other promotional tools is a very powerful way of attracting new customers to a business. What then do we mean by ‘publicity’? It is simply the act of promoting a company or its products and services by planting favourable news stories in the media, which are not paid for by the company involved. The important point to note here is that the public have a high degree of belief and respect for news stories. They carry a lot of credibility as the public believe they are a neutral body so do not feel manipulated or ‘sold to’ in the way they might should the message be coming straight from the business featured Because of this publicity is a marketing tool that should be more widely embraced by the business community. It also has a high persuasive impact and can enhance a company’s image but used in isolation it is not as effective as when it is used to support, enhance or augment other forms of communication. It can be described as very broad marketing tool essentially involving press releases, press conferences, photographs (which often speak volumes!), letters to papers and of course editorials.

The good news about publicity is that it is often free. Granted, there may be management costs in planning publicity and hiring the relevant experts to carry out your publicity campaign but aside to all that it is incredibly easy to get some press coverage in a local paper.

How then can you get some local press coverage and thereby raise awareness of your business which in turn should attract new customers? The first thing to do is to scan the local press and identify the kind of news stories that they frequently run. Having done that inevitably a news story will get published if it depicts new or unusual events, innovations, improvements in working conditions, new store openings – anything that is important to the local community. If a news story is dramatic, emotional and has a human-interest element then it stands a good chance of being published. ‘Dog Bites Man’ may not be a very interesting story whereas ‘Man Bites Dog’ hints at an unusual event that has a high degree of human interest. Secondly a news story is more likely to get published if it adheres to the guidelines of the local paper. Invariably the news story should be directed to a specific person in writing. It is also important to know the copy deadlines and of course to include contact details and any other relevant information. The inclusion of professional photographs should also help ensure publication of a good news story.

Many people choose to organise their own publicity rather than hiring a professional PR company. If that is the case then it is essential that the basic rules of setting out a news story are adhered too. A good news story will include details of who is involved, what are they doing, where and when did (or will) the story occur, why did it happen and how did it happen. In order to encourage journalists to read the story and indeed publish it, there needs to be an eye catching ‘hook’ in the first paragraph. Ensuring that the news story is on headed paper and that contact details are included at the end will help to maximise the chance of it being published. Subtlety and restraint however should be exercise in the wording and description of the event. If you describe your business in rapturous tones, and your event akin to a Red Cross parcel drop you risk loosing the newspapers credibility and they may not publish. They cannot be seen to be unconditionally endorsing a business just because it involves and event of interest.

In many instances news stories just do not exist when they are needed. Hence It is often the case that a news story is created as apart of an overall marketing plan. For example, the organising of a charity collection point for old gardening tools destined for the third world at a garden centre is a marketing campaign that has merit as a news story, and something that can be timed to suit the business involved. It contains human interest, appeals to the emotions and of course presents the owner of the business in a good light. Coverage in the newspaper, plus the need to donate old tools at the site should result in increase foot all. Do not however submit a press release like this every week or month. Over exposure can lead to over familiarity and cynicism about your motives

Look at any local paper or magazine and one can quickly see that publicity works. The beauty is that it is often free, carries with it a high degree of respect amongst consumers and can present the business in a good light. These factors alone surely mean that as a marketing tool it should be more widely used to support other marketing strategies. One only has to witness the growth of the PR industry to see how effective publicity has and can be.

Publicity Guidelines…

1. Know the print deadlines for the papers and magazines

2. Generally write, dont call

3. Direct the news story to a specific person

4. Make personal contact after you have sent the story

5. Dont badger jouralists or editors

6. Use the word excusive sparingly

News Story Ideas…

1. Sponsor a “why i love my garen” creative writing contest with your local school. Arrange certificates and “sought after” prizes for the winners and runners up and ask your local papers to print photographs of the winners.

2. Host an “after hours” behind the scenes tour of your garden center to show what happens outside of the public gaze. Finish the tour with a free “give away” and refreshments.