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Marketing Self-Storage Religiously ... Are You an Atheist, Agnostic or Believing Marketer?


By Randy A. Smith

No, this isn't a treatise on religion in self-storage, it's a short discourse on the prevailing marketing philosophies in our industry. In the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of certain types of marketing in this business, I listen between the lines to ascertain the assumptions people have when it comes to marketing self-storage. Almost everyone falls clearly into one of three camps. To borrow some theological terms, I call them the atheist marketer, the agnostic marketer and the believing marketer.

The Atheist Marketer

The atheist marketer is someone who doesn’t believe in marketing. His philosophy is, “If you build it, they will find it and rent it. So why should I waste a bunch of money advertising it?” Thankfully, this is a very small group, and we all see the error in this way of thinking. I won’t spend any time debating this mindset.

The Agnostic Marketer

By far the largest camp is that of the agnostic marketers. This is the most dangerous camp to be in. Whereas the atheist marketer doesn’t believe in marketing, the agnostic marketer doesn’t care where his marketing message appears or how customers find him—only that they do. The agnostic marketer’s main (if not only) consideration is cost-effectiveness. If it generates a rental at an acceptable cost, then he’ll do it.

Herein lies the danger. These marketers are not giving thought to their ways. They’re pursuing a philosophy that in essence says, “If it feels good, generates a rental at a good price, do it!” This is a shortsighted outlook. There is no pause to consider the long-term implications of certain choices by the agnostic marketer.

Let me give you two examples, one wild and the other very close to home. Let’s say you’d consider adding skywriting to your marketing mix if it would produce rentals at an acceptable acquisition cost. You call the local Sky-Writers-R-Us and find it will guarantee 10 rentals for a $500 investment (two hours of time sky-writing your facility name over your city). You think, “$500 for 10 rentals equals $50 an acquisition … I’ll do it!”

You sign up, and the next day is a beautifully sunny, cloudless Saturday with thousands of people outside. The plane takes off and fills the sky with your facility’s name and phone number. It also manages to write “move-in special.” Everyone in town has their eyes glued to the sky. You’re at the office expecting calls and they start rolling in.

But wait, now there's an angry voice on the other end. What’s that they’re saying? “Destroying the environment … carbon footprint … irresponsible … air pollution …?” It’s hard to discern all of the conversation due to the quantity of expletives. Then you get another angry call, and another and another. At the end of the day, you did manage to get those 10 rentals, but you also offended three quarters of the town’s population because your only consideration was cost-effectiveness.

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