Don’t just wait for customers to appear

Published 9:35 am Thursday, January 28, 2016

Far too many local businesses try to take the “Field of Dreams” marketing approach.

You know, the whole “If you build it, he will come” concept.

Unfortunately, “he” or “she” or “they” rarely do because these are just unidentified pronouns and not actual people. Real customers are often as fleeting and ephemeral as the ghosts in the aforementioned Kevin Costner film.

Having been in the newspaper business for the better part of two decades and having worked on marketing plans for everything from multimillion dollar companies to the “mom-and-pop” store with a non-existent budget, I can tell you that advertising is critically important to success.

However, the concept hinges on good advertising with a clear message and intentional approach.

We often hear that “no one reads the newspaper anymore” or that “advertising doesn’t work.” Those exaggerations could not be further from the truth and our industry has lots of testimonials to dispel this misinformation that has almost grown into urban myths.

For anyone who truly doesn’t think advertising works, I challenge them to an experiment.

Let’s run an ad in the newspaper that says your business will be handing out $100 bills for anybody who walks through the doors on a given day.

In all these years, no business owner has ever taken me up on it. Why? Because they know the line would be out the door.

So, it isn’t that advertising doesn’t work or that no one is reading the newspaper, the real issue is that bad advertising doesn’t work.

That is where our marketing experts can help.

They work with clients to consider all options, not just our products, and provide data-driven analysis of what works. Good marketing strategies are built on frequency, consistency and quality.

Perhaps the best testimonial for advertising, specifically in newspapers, is how “big box” retailers and national companies continue to utilize this medium to get their messages to consumers.

Several of the country’s largest corporations made a switch a few years ago, pulling away from newspaper advertising. Each one said they wanted to try other avenues that have lower cost and could offer a better return on the investment.

Virtually all of them have returned as they learned that, essentially, you get what you pay for. Newspaper readers are engaged with the products and turn to their local publications for information about specials, sales and services.

What is good for the Goliaths of the world also works for the Davids.

Even with a strong marketing plan, businesses still have to help themselves. Sadly, this is a point that is lost on some.

It starts with keeping consistent hours and goes to everything from offering competitive goods and services to providing great customer service. These principles help businesses go from just being good to being great.

One of the most encouraging takeaways from last weekend’s Hunter Ice Festival was how the downtown businesses embraced the event and took advantage of the massive traffic flow through Niles. Several reported record sales and others were so packed that it took hours after closing just to accommodate all those waiting in line.

Other businesses didn’t take advantage of the festival as well but, hopefully, this will change in the future and the same initiative will be applied to advertising and growing business.

Other communities across our region including Dowagiac and Buchanan have the same opportunity with upcoming events.

There cannot be a festival every weekend, but those same consumers who came to town are always out there waiting to learn why they should come support local businesses.


Michael Caldwell is the publisher of Leader Publications LLC. He can be reached at (269) 687-7700 or by email at