It seems all too common for local businesses and organizations in Richmond to confuse marketing and advertising. I wonder if that confusion is affecting our ability to effectively market this community as a whole. Here’s why.
Advertising is mostly about the mechanics of getting the word out. Advertising is buying space on a billboard, taking out an ad in the paper, airing a spot on the radio, or posting about sales and promotions on social media.
Marketing is more about crafting the message that you’re sending (though advertising and other means) about what you do and why it matters. Marketing is telling a compelling story that people can see themselves as a part of.
Some Richmond organizations and business owners seem unwilling or unable to truly invest in promoting their offerings. They may not think they have the budget, they may not see the value, or they may just assume that word of mouth will send clients/customers charging in. At best they have a hard-to-read sign, an outdated brochure or a broken website. Even for the ones that do invest, they sometimes don’t seem to understand that good marketing is about more than just advertising.
Very much related, there’s a dearth of professional marketing experts and services available in Richmond. If you search for marketing firms here, you’ll mostly find folks who do it as a side business to some other primary offering (usually related to technology or advertising). So even a business owner or not-for-profit director who is thoroughly committed to investing in their marketing might have a hard time creating or following through on a marketing plan without turning to experts in Indianapolis, Dayton, Cincinnati or beyond, and at a price that might feel out of reach. Most probably don’t bother, and instead rely on college interns, retired journalists or their IT staff.
(Yes, there are some businesses with great marketing in Richmond, but most of them are corporate chains that have paid lots of money for extensive help within a national or even international marketing effort. In fact, there are probably just a small handful of locally based businesses or organizations in this area that have the right amount of people, dollars and other resources devoted to their marketing. Think about a Reid Health or a First Bank Richmond and the way they’ve created strategic marketing campaigns that bring consistent, compelling messaging to their target audience over long periods of time.)
Why does it matter? What does this mean?
It could mean we have local businesses and organizations offering high quality, desirable products and services, but not enough people know about them.
It could mean we have local residents with a misperception that there’s not enough of the entertainment and shopping options they want. “Richmond doesn’t have any good businesses that sell ___.” “I wish we had a _____ here.” (Sometimes these concerns are real. But if I talk to someone who’s in that mindset long enough, I usually end up successfully reminding them of a local business, not-for-profit organization or community space that might fulfill at least some of their needs. “Oh yeah,” they say, “I forgot about that place.”)
It could mean we have a self-perpetuating cycle of not investing enough in good marketing, which leads to poor sales/turnout/results, which leads to a negative view of investing in marketing, which further reduces a willingness to invest.
And if these things are true, then this probably has an effect on our overall ability to recognize, describe and showcase our strengths as a community. If we’re not even in the practice of creating compelling marketing aimed at the people who already live here, how will we market ourselves to other businesses and individuals who we want to move here? If good marketing and public relations practices aren’t woven into the fabric of how we do things locally (when’s the last time you saw a coherent media strategy or a well-run press conference come from a local government agency or official?), how can we expect to communicate effectively in the noisy landscape of the global economy?
It’s time for Richmond to stop confusing advertising and marketing. It’s time to better value the hard work that goes into creating and executing a coherent, compelling messaging and marketing strategy. And it’s time to get better at telling the stories we want people to be a part of – whether they’re about a unique local business, a worthwhile not-for-profit organization, or the community as a whole.