How many decisions do you make based on hunches or gut feelings?

  • Did you just drop $30K on that new car because you had a “hunch” that it was everything you wanted, needed, and more? Or did you do some online research first, maybe even listening to the recommendations of friends and co-workers?
  • What about that new fridge with the LED lights, humidity controls, and water and ice through the door? Did you lay out a couple of grand because it “felt” right, or did you check out reviews online and maybe even get a free trial subscription to Consumer Reports so you could get the skinny on a particular model or brand?
  • And when it came to getting a new job, did you just leap at the first opportunity that came along, or did you engage in a process of aligning your needs and desires with a particular employer’s reputation and values?

I’m guessing—no, I’m hoping—that if any of these examples pertains to your situation, you took the planful approach, did a little research, checked some facts and figures, sought some reliable word-of-mouth . . . and avoided making any life-altering decision based merely on a hunch.

Sure, some decisions require fast action and thinking on your feet, but when you make snap decisions, are you really just going with a hunch, or are you coming to decisions based on experience, weighing the odds, and knowing what’s worked and what hasn’t in similar, prior circumstances?

Making decisions based on a hunch is like taking a shot in the dark, a wild guess. Such an approach might be OK, even a little fun, for picking your lotto numbers for that $1 ticket—but is it really the way to make important personal or professional choices?

It’s been my experience that many small businesses, from one-person entrepreneurial concerns to those employing 10, 20, or more workers, will make numerous strategic marketing decisions based on hunches and guesses . . .

  • Who should we serve?
  • How should we position ourselves?
  • Where should we be located?
  • What should our brand identity be?
  • What message will customers and prospects respond to?

. . . rather than going through planning and decision-making processes designed to identify and evaluate various options supported by data. Sometimes the guesses are right; often times they are not.

At the heart of the matter for most small business owners are the age-old beliefs that:

  1. Anyone can do marketing (therefore anyone who owns a business must be good at it)
  2. Market research is a luxury and too expensive (and therefore not worth the investment).

First of all, if “anyone” could do marketing, launching a small business would be a sure bet, rather than a fifty-fifty proposition at best (the U.S. Small Business Association estimates that only about 1/3 of all small businesses EVER turn a profit, and that half fail by year four of operations). Granted, not every business has a product or service that’s in demand, but if marketing were so easy, we might expect to see small business success rates a bit higher . . . which leads us to dispelling #2 above, the “cost” of market research.

In my book, the real cost of market research is the cost to your business of NOT doing any. Many businesses are pennywise when it comes to market research, but pound foolish when it comes to survivability. They fail to realize that without effective marketing based on actual market research, their products and services—no matter how beneficial or valuable—will fail to find an audience . . . and that will spell certain doom.

So what’s a small business owner to do?

  • If the resources are there, work with a marketing professional or team. Just as you would hire an IT specialist to set up your computers and networking; just as you would hire an accountant and/or tax expert to handle your books and finances, hire a marketing specialist to work on collecting market data, strategic planning, and execution. Many marketing experts work as consultants, part-time, or on a contract basis, making the financial outlay for your business much less than bringing an FTE on board.
  • Identify key staff on your current team and make marketing a dedicated part of his/her/their job functions. When you make someone accountable for a particular job or function (for example, getting the company Web site built or updated, or developing and implementing a market survey), that area of focus tends to benefit—individuals take ownership, experience is gained, goals get set, and work gets done. Otherwise, when no one is truly responsible for marketing, it remains an elusive, nebulous “something” that should be gotten to, but rarely is.
  • Network with other small business owners/entrepreneurs. Plug into the professional expertise that’s likely surrounds you every day. Many communities have active networking and professional groups, and many of these groups feature marketing experts more than happy to share their expertise, their insights, and their two cents on the local market and other do’s and don’ts.
  • Turn to the Internet. Much of the information that only a decade or so ago would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to access is now there for the taking. You only have to look. Go online to see what your competitors are up to. Take a look at what others in your industry are doing and saying. Find out what’s working or not working, and use what you find to inform your own decisions. Join an online community, participate in relevant social media, subscribe to blogs—make catching up on industry news and trends a part of your daily routine.
  • Generate your own information. Reach out to current customers and leads lists with an online survey tool to gather information important to your marketing efforts: What are your customer’s pain points? How satisfied are they with your service or product? Etc. Engage customers and prospects by setting up a Facebook page for your business. Listen to what others have to say about your products and services.

Marketing is a critical business function—too critical to be left to hunches and guesswork.

What have your marketing experiences taught you? What’s worked, what hasn’t worked, and what do you wish you could do over?

Share your lessons learned here.