• Advice

Don't pass up a marketing opportunity

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A new farm stand / grocery store opened in my town yesterday.

That’s relatively big news, given that in doing so, they have literally doubled the number of local places where you can buy a quart of milk, pick up a dozen eggs or push around a squeaky-wheeled, metal carriage.

They’ve also expanded the job market in town, something that did not go unnoticed by my 17-year-old son, Jonathan, and dozens (hundreds?) of his fellow high school classmates. Many of them applied for a job back in October.

Unfortunately, just a few weeks ago, most of the kids – Jonathan included – were turned down. Perfectly understandable; you can’t hire everyone.

But that’s not what I want to talk with you about.

It’s not that they didn’t hire most of the kids – it’s the way they didn’t hire them: They sent out form rejection letters. In doing so, they walked right past a colossal opportunity.

Think about this. Let’s say 100 kids applied, most of whom, I’d wager, are now feeling somewhere between “slightly grumpy” and “completely indifferent” at having been turned down. Not bad, no harm done.

But what if, instead of simply “not doing harm,” the grocery store turned this job rejection situation into… a marketing opportunity (cue dramatic music)?

In other words, while from an operational perspective these kids are:

“100 people we need to turn down nicely,”

from a marketing perspective, they represent:

“100 money-spending, food-consuming humans who live in a two-(or more) person household right here in town and who have a demonstrated awareness and interest in our business.”

Do you throw these warm, already-predisposed-to-like-you, business leads whose name and address you have, back into the ocean of strangers, hoping that maybe one day they’ll wander in again?

Or, do you do a few things to cement the relationship?

(I hope you realize those were rhetorical questions.)

Things like, I don’t know…

  • Sending a personal “sorry we couldn’t hire you right now” note to each kid with a store-branded USB drive and a coupon for a free anything in the coffee shop.
  • Inviting the 100 who applied to a special, “applicants only” pre-opening event with refreshments, a group photo and an in-person thank you from the owners.
  • Holding a contest for the best song or drawing or haiku about the new store and giving the winner’s family a year’s supply of free tomatoes (or whatever).

Here’s the point. Most businesses – of any size and of any type – view marketing as an activity done by certain people, with certain job responsibilities, in certain situations.

You revamp your web site … that’s marketing. You attend a networking meeting … that’s marketing. You publish a newsletter … that’s marketing.

All true.

But the way I look at it, everything you do that is visible to the outside world is marketing. (Go ahead, read that sentence again.)

You’re marketing when you take five minutes to reply (or not) to an e-mail question from a stranger. You’re marketing when you miss a deadline. You’re marketing when you send client invoices. And yes, you’re marketing when you turn down job applicants.

Everything you do in public view has the potential to make me more predisposed to talk about and hire you, less predisposed, or neutral.

Which means that if you think marketing only happens when “you’re marketing,” you’re leaving a lot – a lot of clients, a lot of opportunity, a lot of money – on the table.

Here’s the bottom line. I have no doubt that over the next several months, that new store is going to spend thousands in local media, in the hope of getting my attention and that of my neighbors. They may succeed.

But I can think of 100 teenagers who could have guaranteed it.

Michael Katz is a Boston-based marketing consultant and founder of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service firms stand out from the pack by positioning them as Likeable Experts. Get a free copy of his report, "The Professional Service Provider's Essential Reading List - 11 Recommended Business(ish) Books," here:

Michael Katz Michael Katz is the founder of Blue Penguin Development, where he helps professional service firms talk about their work. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, above.

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