Is it Time to Throw in the Towel? Five Questions to Ask When Your Marketing Efforts Aren’t Working

Image Credit: evilerin on Flickr

Image Credit: evilerin on Flickr

Marketing is equal parts art and science – and sometimes it feels like there’s a secret formula that you’re missing, especially when what you’re doing doesn’t seem to be working. It’s a frustrating prospect, and the question of when to give up or how to tell if it’s time is a tricky one. But who hasn’t wanted to throw in the towel every once in a while?

So what do you do when it’s not working? When do you stop spending time reaching out to a specific audience, implementing a specific tactic or strategy, or taking action on a plan that seemed solid? And how do you know that it’s time to reassess? Here are five questions to ask about your marketing plan to help you determine your best course of action.

1. Where are you in your sales cycle?

Unless you’re selling quick-grab, low-cost items (think about the candy, soda, and periodicals in the checkout lane of the grocery store, or the local scout troop selling hot dogs in the parking lot), your sales cycle is likely longer than it takes to make that initial contact. How many times does your ideal client need to see you, hear about you, be exposed to you before they are ready to buy? Depending on your industry and product or service, you may need to connect with clients three, four, five – even a dozen times, over the course of weeks or months (or years!) before they’re ready to buy. If your current marketing efforts create a single point of connection, it may not be enough to make an immediate sale – but it’s still an important part of  your sales cycle, resulting in a long-run sale.

2. Are you tailoring your efforts?

Does your social media campaign equal “post to Twitter every time there’s a new blog post” and not much else? Are you sending out postcards to an outdated, un-targeted direct mail list? Putting up flyers at the local independent coffee shop when your ideal clients are hitting the coffee chain drive-through? In order to connect with a target audience, every action needs to be focused, tailored, and custom-created just for them – a pitch or campaign designed to reach out and grab them and speak to their needs, wants, and desires. (Go watch Mad Men. Specifically the episode where they pitch Lucky Strike. Draper may be a drunken cheating sleaze, but wow, can he pitch.)

3. Are you actually reaching the people you want to reach?

You can throw fish food into a sandbox all you want, but it’s not going to make it to the fish without some serious effort. Are you actually reaching your target audience with your efforts? Are you posting on Twitter when your potential clients only use Facebook? Are you advertising in the Yellow Pages when the audience you want to connect with is looking things up online? It’s important that your message be targeted, but it also needs to hit them where they already live. Spend some time with your ideal client profile, and determine where they spend their time – then check that your campaigns are connecting with that space.

4. Are you filling a need in that niche?

You might have a strong desire to sell cat collars to large dog owners, but how much of a market is there, really, of dog owners who need cat collars? If your targeted message isn’t reaching people within the range of your sales cycle, this is the next place to look. Can you shift slightly, perhaps to owners of small dogs? They may have a bigger need for cat collars than, say, owners of Bernese Mountain dogs. Or maybe dog owners who also have cats? There’s a market for almost everything (including civet poop coffee!), but it’s important to check that there’s a true need for, and desire for, what you offer within your target audience.

5. Is this still your target market?

There are always going to be forks in the road. Your product or service will change. You’ll be drawn to work with a different community. Technology will advance. Needs, wants, and desires will change. Trends happen. Be prepared to roll with the changes, and adjust accordingly. Borders went out of business, but Barnes and Noble is rocking e-books (and now tablets). Netflix made us crave little red envelopes, and then shifted gears to streaming video. Does your ideal client still need you? Do you still have something for them? Or do you need to change your product or service (or your target audience) to account for changing trends?

The end of the road

Keeping an eye on your ROI is always a good idea. It keeps you from wasting time and money on ineffective marketing, something that’s all too common. But be wary of making too many changes too quickly. A week, two weeks, a month, is rarely long enough to feel the effects of a solid, clear, and targeted strategy.

About Dani Nelson

Dani Nelson is a geek, hippie, writer, and business strategist who helps entrepreneurs and accidental business owners make their businesses more awesome. (With tea. Tea is always good.) She blogs, teaches, and consults worldwide from her home in Buffalo, NY (and, for a month every summer, from a tent in the middle of nowhere.)