Sean D’Souza is a brilliant marketer & cartoonist. I have known him for quite some time & have received great insights from him for my business from time to time. I am glad he agreed to get interviewed by me on some relevant personal & professional questions. He has shared his ideas in immaculate detail. You might just end up saying eureka after reading it!
Q. Please tell us something about yourself.
I started out in advertising as a copywriter in Leo Burnett (one of the world’s largest ad agencies). I became a full time cartoonist, before finally starting up Psychotactics.com in 2002. I have written and published hundreds of articles on the topic of why customers buy and why they don’t. Our Psychotactics newsletter carries small business marketing ideas and psychological insights into the marketing process.
Q. Why do small business marketing ideas have to be different from the typical marketing ideas?
Large businesses have relatively larger budgets and resources. Small businesses rarely do. So they have to use completely different marketing strategies and tactics. But let’s talk about resources to begin with. A small business might have as few as one person working on several projects, whereas a big business might have a team of 20 people or more. So the resources are already in place for a bigger business and so is their budget. A small business has to rely on an extremely low-budget, and make sure that they get a similar if not equal impact as a large business.
Q. How should small business owners choose their marketing ideas?
A small business owner should always choose their marketing ideas based on how long they can sustain that idea. The problem with marketing today is that there is too much noise in the marketplace. But even if you go back 50 or hundred years, the same principle applied.
This principle is one of being able to sustain a marketing idea over a long duration of time. So for instance, at Psychotactics.com, we’ve had to work with strategic alliances as they have been the biggest source of clients — an extremely high quality clients. So you have to focus on a single idea and keep going with that idea over a sustained period.
If you keep chasing after every idea that pops up in the marketplace, then you simply do not have the resources to manage all of those ideas. As a result, almost all the ideas fall apart and the marketing comes to a standstill. So whenever you choose an idea, the first question to ask yourself is: can I do this for the next 10, 20, 30 years? If the answer is yes, then that is the kind of idea that you need to choose in your marketing.
Of course you may wonder if it is a good idea or if there is a better idea coming up along the way. The point is that pretty much any marketing strategy will have a good impact if you sustain it. Almost every marketing concept has been tested for hundreds even thousands of years, so we know that the ideas work.
You don’t have to choose a brilliant idea, you just have to make sure that you sustain the pressure and get results from that one idea. Once that idea has gained momentum, you can add a second strategy to it, and then a third. But often you don’t need more than a couple of them to keep a business very successful. In fact if anything, a business that chases after half a dozen or a dozen ideas is the one that loses out.
Q. Do you think small businesses should only look at free or cheap marketing options? Why?
This is an interesting question. Marketing options may seem cheap, but they are not always successful. In our experience, it’s not so much the execution that matters. So for instance if you were to create a brochure or a website, it’s not always very expensive as a marketing option. However, the learning process is expensive. So to get an outstanding brochure, you have to learn how to create elements of persuasion that drive the customer to your business.
This learning process takes time and often costs a lot of money — especially if you go to people who know what they are doing and do it extremely well. A small business would need a reasonable mastery over article writing, website components, copywriting etc. All of these elements help the business surge ahead as they don’t have to then depend on outsourcing all the time.
Often a small business has to get moving very quickly — and this is the prime reason why they need to have the skills. There is nothing wrong with outsourcing, but it takes a lot of effort and time. Even if you get a skilled copywriter, article writer etc.
A small business owner has to often move extremely quickly and there is no time to go through an entire process of contacting a professional, giving them a brief, seeing drafts etc. Everything may need to be done in a few days, and having mastery over these skills — or at least a huge amount of control over the skills, becomes the more effective option. So yes, it’s not cheap or free to begin with, but as you get more control over the skills it becomes cheaper in the long run. And more importantly, you have huge control over what you are doing as a small business owner.
Q. What are some things that small businesses can do better than their larger counterparts?
One of the best things that a small business owner can do better than their larger counterparts is to drive home their uniqueness. Today we think of Google as a massive company, but remember that Google was tiny to begin with. Yes they did things differently, but it’s their uniqueness that got them into this position.
They communicated their uniqueness to their audience and people switched over from Yahoo and other search engines that they had been using for years. Google did it all over again with Gmail. People had been using Hotmail and other email providers for years, and yet Google created a uniqueness factor. Small business owners can learn from this uniqueness factor. Even if you are an extremely tiny business, you have huge advantages that larger businesses cannot cope with.
For them to get the uniqueness message out, they would have to sit in a board meeting and go through several weeks or months of deliberation. A small business owner can create and promote their uniqueness in a matter of days — and then drive that uniqueness home time after time. This would enable that small business to be extremely successful even in the face of incredible odds. Customers don’t choose products based solely on a brand, but more so on how that product or service satisfies their specific need.
Large business tries to get everyone and is often vague (think of a bank marketing, for instance). A smaller business on the other hand, may have greater disadvantages in terms of resources and revenues, but if they drive home their uniqueness, they can pick up customers at will.
For instance, we have an article writing course that we conduct annually. If you look on the Internet, you will find both big and small businesses that may have a course that is similar to ours. Well, it looks similar to ours to the customer anyway. However, we have a uniqueness of our course being “the toughest writing course in the world”. Before we put that uniqueness in place, it would take weeks and even months to fill up the course — and at half the price that we charge now.
We have more than doubled our prices and yet the course fills up in less than an hour — once we have made the announcement. There are several marketing elements in play when you consider filling up a course, but uniqueness plays a big role in getting the customer to buy your product or service even when there are cheaper products of service around. And so in this way a small business can do better than their counterparts — and the counterparts are never able to catch up.
Continue to page 2 for more scintillating ideas on small business marketing, cartoons, Sean’s books and more.