THE BLOG
09/16/2014 10:59 am ET Updated Nov 16, 2014

Why You Need to Ditch Marketing Formulas

The rules of marketing have changed. So much so that it may be time to throw out the rule book and rethink how you are marketing your small business.

I've been working hands-on in marketing for more than 15 years, and have spent the majority of that working online. While social media, content marketing, traffic strategies and more have created so many more marketing opportunities for startups and small businesses, the reality is that things are more complicated than ever.

For startups and small businesses, there's simply too many decisions to make and a whole lot of noise in the market as the Internet marketing industry offers hundreds (if not thousands) of formulas, blueprints and systems to get where you want to go. Just follow this formula and in three easy steps you'll be making sales while you sleep, much like the promise of a late night infomercial.

Much like the Snuggie, George Foreman Grill or the Thighmaster, these systems may work, but they may not be right for you or your or your business.

Marketing is Art, Not Science
Time and time again, I've had companies or micro business owners come to me and express extreme frustration because they are following all "the rules" only to find their marketing isn't getting the results they expected. There's many reasons for this -- but the biggest one is that they are following someone else's marketing roadmap and trying to make it work for their business.

Marketing is an art. Not a science. It's not about applying a specific formula of mixing video with three blog posts and waiting for everything to happen. Marketing is much more subtle. It requires the room to explore what is the best fit for your audience, for your organization and your budget, along with the willingness to test and correct.

Companies with big budgets roll out marketing campaigns that fail all the time. There's a reason New Coke is still a punchline nearly 20 years later. Be prepared to fail and embrace the lessons from each failure so your marketing improves. (But let's hope you ever have an epic New Coke style fail.)

Go Old School to Nail Your Marketing Plan
As a small or micro business, there's a reason that having a system can be so appealing. The sheer number of options makes it hard to know what to focus on or how to do it, let alone figuring what what to do and when.

Instead of looking for a cookie cutter fix-all solution, start by assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It may seem old school, but getting a handle on your where you excel or there's an opportunity for movement you can quickly decide if specific strategies are the right way to go.

If you're a one woman show and you really don't like writing, that's a major weakness, and you may not want to be relying on blogging as your #1 marketing strategy. Or for a startup with no funds, but lots of press connections from previous companies, you may want to prioritize publicity over trade show appearances.

Once you understand what you have in the plus column, you can look at your customer's perspective and needs. Trying to jam your marketing into a blueprint implies that there's an intimate understanding of your clients. Your business, along with your customer's thoughts, feelings and worldview are all unique, so you can't assume that just because a strategy worked for your competitor or another business that it will work for you. Focusing on the actual needs of your audience and filling them is much more impactful.

If you've been feeling like a round peg in a square hole with your marketing, you are not alone. Ditch the marketing formulas and focus on the specific needs and assets of your business and you'll be much better equipped to meet your business goals in the long run.