It’s tempting for a small business or professional practice to hand off its marketing to a national or regional firm that specializes in one specific industry. These marketing firms often have packages of materials that you can purchase and mark with your logo and contact information to help promote your business. Some of them only do marketing for medical practices, or health-food stores, or real estate agents.
As an independent design firm that carefully considers each client and what makes his or her business different, we are frustrated seeing small business owners go this route. It rarely pays off because it lacks effectiveness – your message simply doesn’t come through in this age of marketing and advertising messages everywhere you turn.
And as we enter an era of social marketing, where we’re looking to make connections with our customers and potential customers, generic marketing materials don’t help forge a relationship.
In many cases, choosing an industry-specific marketing firm has its drawbacks.
Your website and marketing materials look exactly like those of other, similar businesses. They are mass produced and have your logo and contact information in one small corner. “That’s OK,” you say, “there are no other businesses located in this area that are using the same marketing materials.” But when you use a website, brochures, and posters with only your logo marking it as your own, your customers can tell. There’s nothing about the marketing that sets your business apart, or tells a story unique to you. That stock photo of the older, happy couple shopping? Or the smiling child chasing a puppy? They look fake, and they don’t do anything to help your potential customers make a connection with you.
You can’t easily rework the marketing materials. You usually can’t, for example, modify ads or flyers with your own images. You can make some changes depending on the website template you pick, but you can’t truly customize the way your site looks. Most of the websites or newsletters that the company offers look the same – you just add your logo and possibly change some colors. This may sound easy. It does keep you from having to think very hard about your marketing message, but it also takes away your ability to market your business the best way you can.
Your website content may be the same as on many other sites. Many of these marketing firms have libraries of information – articles, how-to information, recipes, etc. – that any of their customers can use on their websites. But when you have several dozen or a couple hundred websites all using the same information, none of it shows up very high in searches. Search engines like Google do not like to see the same information repeated over many different sites. Sites that do this may be penalized when compared to websites that don’t use the same code and content as many others. To avoid this, you need a plan for creating your own, specialized content and information.
The company may be good at design but not at SEO. Most small business owners don’t know the ins and outs of search engine optimization, so they need to have a web designer who does. A pretty design doesn’t do much if no one can find it. Many companies that do marketing communications know how to make something look nice, but they don’t have the technical know-how when it comes to the web.
Something more to consider: When a marketing firm is competent at SEO, how can they do anything special for your company if you’re just one of hundreds in the same industry that they work with? How do they determine who shows up in the first page of Google results for common keywords and phrases in your industry?
You don’t have a local face to assist you. National firms provide material for you to read or customer service by phone, but you don’t have someone who can come in and brainstorm with you. You don’t work with someone to come up with the perfect, custom solution to your issue. While you don’t need to have frequent face-to-face meetings with your marketing team, it’s nice to have a personal relationship with someone who can help.
Industry-specific marketing firms can entice you with promises to save you money by being more efficient, or offering specialized knowledge. But in truth, tailoring your marketing to the things that make your business special is going to provide a better return on investment than buying a package of marketing designed for you and all your competitors.