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I think I will never forget the moment when my grandfather, like any other retired grandad with the fruits of his labor already gathered from the garden, got angry every time his favorite bedtime show was interrupted by a commercial:
“What’s with all the ads? These guys only advertise products that don’t sell.”
Little did grandpa know back then that I was preparing to graduate in, guess what, advertising.
According to the old man’s words, I was headed for a career where I had to advertise products that did not sell. I was doomed. How do I make sure that my clients, who put all their trust in me to avoid bankruptcy (in Grandpa’s opinion), will succeed in this crazy race for survival?
My surprise came when in my first college course our teacher asked us bluntly: “So before you came to college you thought that advertising was done only for products that don’t sell?”.“Yes, that’s right.”, we said in unison. But what did we, the first generation of advertisers, know when Facebook just barely came out? I was shocked. Did my grandfather know more about this industry than I did? Should he have been in my place on the faculty benches? Should I have found another career?
Fast forward a few years, and my grandparents were sitting next to me to take pictures of their beloved granddaughter who had just graduated in Advertising. And from that moment began the long line of questioning related to my job. “What do you do for a living? … (pause) …Uhhh, advertisement.”. Luckily (or unluckily) for me, they weren’t the only ones who put me in this predicament. Soon came the parents, relatives, friends and just about everyone who had nothing to do with the industry. And it is not over yet.
We recently introduced a new marketing term.
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So, Grandpa, this article is for you, although you probably will not read it with your non-existent internet access, but at least the next time you ask me what I do for a living, I’ll be able to explain it more to your understanding.
Think of it this way: all your life you have worked at the furniture factory in Târgu-Mureș. In your free time, when you did not have to work in the garden or go shopping for the ingredients used to make grandma’s famous “tree trunk” cake, you still made crafts at home in your own workshop. You started small, making a bed, a wardrobe or some chairs for your own home. Basically, you saved some money and worked on what you liked – theoretically you could bring an additional income to the family by doing so. Which you did. And, unconsciously, you were also marketing it. But you did not know what it was called or what the principles of this process were.
Perhaps, visiting your neighbors, you noticed that one of them has a table with 3 equal legs and one which is shorter, or that another one needs a more comfortable bed. And you took notice, because you were a specialist, and you started offering to repair their furniture or, why not, to make something from scratch. Thus, you discovered a potential market in your village and you got to work. At first it was for the price of a chicken or a duck, but it didn’t take long before you gained money. Now, if we had already met back then, you would have come to me and said:
“Reka, I found that there is a shortage of carpenters in my village and I want to start a business. There are not man furniture stores in the area, and people need repairs and new fixtures.”
With my marketing knowledge, I would have asked you some questions based on which I would have developed a marketing strategy covering several aspects. Among those would have been: how to attract new customers, how to make sure that the neighbors come back to you for new products, how to promote your two discovered niches (repairs and production). Moreover, if I had Valentin on the team, we would have made a business strategy to optimize costs, production, and other aspects.
We would have probably put a sign on the gate to advertise the services that you offer, printed a few flyers with more details and put them in the village mailboxes, and because you probably did not have a significant amount of money at your disposal, we would have placed an ad in the Sunday paper.
That would have been the launch phase of your product or service, when not many people knew about you, you had no sales, you did not know what the right price was for the services you offered and you did everything yourself: procured the raw material, worked alone and managed the resources as you could.
After you start getting more orders and your neighbors recommend you more and more to their neighbors, you entered the growth phase. You co-opted grandma into the business, helping you sew all the materials for the furniture, thus reducing the cost of the textiles you had to buy. But you could also offer a better product because you could make custom furniture. In short, you perfected the original product.
Consequently, you started investing in the workshop, thinking about how to develop and how to optimize the workflow. But you also noticed that your colleague from that factory in Târgu-Mureș, the man you used to commute with every day, started doing the same thing as you and telling his neighbors that he makes furniture to order. You could not do anything about that. Not having a ”big name” in the village, it was normal for competition to appear.
And I would have loved to help you think of a strategy through which we can retain existing customers, improve the services offered, do a little research related to your competition and see what your assets are and how can they be used.
Using current marketing tactics, I would have put a bench made by you in the train station, so that people can try your product, we would have sent flyers to the neighboring village and you would have written a very nice article in the Sunday paper.
By doing all of the above, you would have reached maturity. You already had a customer base and the world knew you as the one who makes quality furniture. Word of mouth helped you to develop, to have a bigger workshop and enough orders so that you can provide your family with a better living. You reached a point where you were satisfied with what you were doing, how people saw you in the village, but also in the neighboring villages. The competition increased a bit, another fellow commuter of yours opened a new workshop and he had the advantage of having a car with which he could transport the furniture. But you managed to keep your customers because you always invested in quality and long-term relationships, trying to satisfy your customers.
I would have loved to help you at this stage too and I would have suggested that you open a workshop a few villages and get a few employers, make new furniture for the children at the orphanage and open a small showroom with your products.
And after many years in which you were an exceptional carpenter, you entered the decline phase of the business for several reasons: you could no longer work alone and the people in the village began to buy products of worse quality, but at smaller prices. Grandpa, you should have adapted to this phase and opened your own furniture factory or slowed down and opened your learning center where you could pass on your expertise.
Even though you did not do that, you taught and helped me understand how to fix my own little problems around the house. And now you are back to the stage where in your 70+ years you have a hobby that keeps you fit and young. And on top of that, you made a very happy little girl who got a wooden swivel chair when she was little, a desk just like she wanted, and a bed with a built-in wardrobe like you could not find in any store. And that is exactly what your customers have received over the years, a pleasant experience, which is why you have lasted so long in the field.
You see, grandpa, all these years you did marketing too: you identified a need, developed a product, offered adjacent services, did up-selling and cross-selling (you sold them 6 chairs instead of 4 or a table that goes with the chairs), you talked to your customers and asked them for feedback (if they liked the product or if they would change something about it, if they were satisfied with the working times), you improved the workshop, you brought extra people to the team, learned about the competition and promoted yourself through different channels (adapted for those times and your location).
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You have even gone through the entire life cycle of a product. And you understood, unconsciously, that in marketing it is important to have a direction from the beginning and adapt it according to the demand. After all, you could not endlessly use your bicycle to transport the furniture around the village. 😉