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Marketing Leprechaun?

October 1, 2000

6 Min Read
Marketing Leprechaun?

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Marketing Leprechaun?

No, silly, it's lexicon

By Harley Rolfe

A baffling aspect of marketing is the absence of specific language or terminology todiscuss it. Even sports have a technical language all their own. But marketers use commonlanguage--just plain, everyday words and terms--to express their work.

Language is supposed to facilitate communication, but because we marketers borrowcommon words and attach special meanings to them, we confuse many people who are new tothe marketing game. The term "marketing" is itself problematic. We have allheard and used the term--it's what we do at the supermarket. Sales? That's what we did asBoy Scouts, selling grass seed door to door. Media? Well, it has something to do withthose ads we see on TV or in the newspapers. Market research? That's what big companiesdo. Positioning? Not sure what that is. Segments? Niches? No idea. These are common words,but what do they mean in a marketing context? All of these terms and practices should bean integral part of self-storage strategic-operative thinking.

Engineers, lawyers, doctors and computer nerds don't make the error of using commonlanguage to discuss their trades. To hear them talk is like listening to a foreignlanguage. But they know precisely what they mean and communication among them isunambiguous. Because of that, we laypeople rarely make the mistake of thinking we know howto perform those specialties. Their lexicon serves them well.

Lawyers sometimes step over the line into common-language use, but they at least have alabel for it. The terms they have adopted are called "words of art." Becausemost professional language is technical, we common folk are careful when we encountertheir words and don't trip over their common use. Within the marketing arena, however, alltechnical ideas are expressed using common language.

Beyond the use of special language/ terms, many other professions also insist onadherence to a specific process to earn the right to cite accomplishment. They mustdemonstrate that they have observed a certain method and met a certain proceduralstandard. These procedures have developed over the years to ensure the highest probabilityof success and accuracy. In law, for example, certain steps are followed in settlingdisputes. Only then will a judge sanctify the result and render it enforceable. Inscience, the expression "scientific method" defines a careful process needed foracceptability in that professional community.

Marketing is a Process, Too

The first thing one should ask when inquiring about a marketing program is about thestudies or research that form its foundation. Program effectiveness cannot exceed thequality of its groundwork. How can one take dead aim at a specific audience unless thereis definite knowledge of its demographics, size, growth, use patterns, etc.? That's thefirst step in the marketing process.

But newcomers may be justifiably confused and disrespectful of the need for disciplineand procedure in the conduct of marketing activities. Given the familiar language, it allseems like commonsense. Common-use terms trivialize and seem to obviate the need forcareful process.

You may think I'm overstating here. I run into this reaction whenever I suggest that agiven self-storage operation may not be engaged in marketing. The reaction is often,"Oh, yes we are (you self-important bozo)! We've advertised in the Yellow Pages fromday one!" Then I'm stuck. I know that use of media is only a small part of theeffectiveness of any marketing program. But I can't protest my point. If an operator sayshe's marketing, who am I to say otherwise? He's the only one bearing the consequences.Still, I know the chances for a good result based on such minimal effort are slim to none.And "marketing" will take the rap for being both impotent and probably costly.

Bass Ackwards...

It's natural. Media is what folks encounter in their day-to-day lives. When they thinkabout marketing, that's what they're thinking of. When they encounter a personal businesssituation that seems to call for marketing, they skip process and go directly to media.They seem eager to spend the big media bucks, but neglect the small process bucksnecessary to guarantee impact.

Universal use of the Yellow Pages doesn't help. It's virtually a knee-jerk action--andit's costly. Advertising in the Yellow Pages contributes to owners' feeling that they areengaged in marketing. But marketers don't start their program with media--they end withit, and only after they've done the preceding stuff. Only after they identify the audienceand the appropriate message do they consider the use of media, which may be the mostexpensive, but isn't the most important factor in obtaining results. Without the process,media is likely to fail in its job of distinguishing a facility from the rest of the pack.

Telltale Marketing

So what is the telltale sign that a marketing program is at work? When a facilityrecognizes, measures and individually appeals to the various segments of its market, it isclear that management is on course. Segments are the building blocks for a marketingprogram. Each has its own common interests. Each should be approached according to itsneeds. Each approach will likely be different than that used with other groups. Oncesegments are identified, the rest of the process comes naturally.

Many think that since the self-storage offering is pretty simple (a bunch of emptyspace), that the market is simple as well. This is not the case. The needs and interestsof a person moving his household goods in no way resembles that of a lawyer storing hiscase files. There is a myriad of separate uses of self-storage, and those uses are thesegments. Taken together, they are the "market." Marketers address the marketonly as segments and never as a whole. The plan, then, is to address each one byfashioning a unique approach that recognizes its individual needs. That's the process.

A Bunch of Lucky Stiffs

Self-storage operators should be thankful they have segments to work with. Pity theagriculturist whose only sales channel is controlled by "exchanges," the primaryrole of which is to make all suppliers adhere to straight price competition. Farmers andranchers have no choice. They must take whatever the market gives them. Self-storageoperators have a choice, and it's the key to independence.

Many operators are faced with a marketplace that is not responding the way it once did.The ambiguous marketing lexicon may deceive operators into believing that because theyengage in marketing-like activities, that they are practicing the real thing. Thus, theycome to believe they are realizing all the fruits of marketing when they are really onlydabbling.

Missed some previous issues? Check the web at www.hardnosed.com.

Harley Rolfe is a semi-retired marketing specialist whose career includesexecutive-level marketing positions with General Electric and AT&T. He also ownedlodging and office facilities for more than 20 years. Mr. Rolfe holds a bachelor's degreein economics from Wabash College and a master's degree in business administration from theUniversity of Indiana. He can be reached at his home in Nampa, Idaho, at (208) 463-9039.Further information can also be found in Mr. Harley's book, Hard-Nosed Marketing forSelf-Storage.

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