The Importance of Marketing

Commentary2.jpgIt used to be that simply having a good product was enough for success; word of mouth would automatically grow sales. Those days are long gone. There’s so much noise in today’s world that “waiting to be discovered” is a recipe for starvation.

Helping my college students find jobs for the summer or to start of their careers after graduation has me thinking a lot about marketing – what works, what doesn’t, and how this applies to the rest of us who are established in our careers and looking to grow our business.

First, though, two definitions:

These two activities are not the same, nor should they be approached the same.


Marketing starts with self-analysis: what do you have that’s unique and that customers would be interested in purchasing.

I used to get hung up on this “unique” business, as it could easily be argued that there are very few unique ideas in the service business many of us find ourselves in. That is, until I remembered the analogy of “The Campers and the Bear.”

Imagine you are camping with a group of people only to awake one morning to distant sounds of crashing and roaring. Poking your head out of your tent, you see an angry bear running in your direction. Realizing their lives were in jeopardy, all the campers start running; but the bear was faster. To save your life, it is not necessary for you to be a world-class sprinter and be faster than the bear. All that’s necessary is for you to be faster than the other guy.

That’s what I mean by unique. What do you have that is unique, compared to others in your “neighborhood?” This could include:

NOTE: A really good way to find out what your unique attributes are is to ask friends and clients. All of us have a blind side to our good points, we tend to focus on our weaknesses. A lunch meeting with a client can provide a wealth of eye-opening suggestions.

You don’t need to create commercials for the SuperBowl, for most clients all you need is something that “the other guy” doesn’t have. And, more often than not, that difference is surprisingly trivial.


Once you have a list of attributes that make you unique, you now need to tell the world about them. That’s the process of marketing.

Marketing is strategic, goal-focused and long-term. It looks at ways to tell your potential audience your unique skills so they want to learn more about you. It uses phrases like:

Marketing is story-telling – something we are all good at. We are telling the world stories about ourselves. These stories need to be consistent, they need to reinforce our unique attributes, and they need to be focused on the kinds of customers we want to attract.

The worst thing you can do is have marketing that starts and stops, lacks focus, changes direction, tells new stories, or, worse, contradicts the stories that you’ve told in the past. Another trap is to tell your stories to your existing audience. This is a waste of time – they already know you. Yes, they like hearing from you and knowing what’s going on, but your marketing needs to focus on the people that HAVEN’T heard of you yet.

NOTE: It actually makes sense to have two separate marketing efforts: one to reach new customers and one to keep in touch with existing customers. My weekly newsletter is specifically designed for this second group.

For this reason, one of the first people I hire is a marketing person – someone who focuses exclusively on crafting a consistent message, then telling that message and finding new audiences to tell it to. It is critical to have a solid, steady, consistent push extolling your virtues; and I find it much easier to hire someone to do that than to do it myself.

There are lots of vehicles you can use for marketing (listed in no particular order):

Anything, in fact, that puts your message in front of people who haven’t heard it before.

For students, and in fact, for most of us, our business is locally generated. This means that while it is great to have a vast social media presence, friends in Rumania are not going to hire you if your business is selling post-production services in Des Moines.

To this end, the more you expand your social network locally, the more business you are going to generate. Not by tomorrow, but over time.

I tell my students to build a network by talking to a friend, who refers you to their friends, who refer you to their friends – NOT to ask for work but to ask opinions about what their needs are, how their business works, the problems they are having, and the types of people they need to help them solve them.

In almost all cases, we get work from the people we already know, or who are referred to us by the people who know us. The bigger our personal network, the more likely we are to generate work.


Sales is the process of closing the deal. The problem is that until we have a large network of people who know us, there’s no one to close the deal with.

Books have been written on the art of the sale, but, for me, it boils down to listening to the potential client, hearing the problems they are trying to solve, then asking: “What can I do to help?”

That simple request is enough. Once they consider you a partner in their efforts to solve a problem, they are not likely to desert you if someone else comes along with a lower price. (Yeah, there will always be the turkeys that dump you at the drop of a hat, but you don’t need those people anyway.)

Our goal, on the sales side, is to be viewed as providing a solution to their problems, not simply another expense item. Members of “the team” are treated differently than “outside contractors.” You want to be part of the team.


Marketing is an on-going, focused activity designed to introduce you to people that haven’t heard of you and get them to learn more. It needs focus, consistency and, ideally, building a network of people that you can go to for advice and support.

Marketing needs to focus on where you are likely to make money. For example, I sell products around the world, so I need to participate on a global stage. Others may sell production services in a smaller local area, so they need to concentrate their marketing on their area of service. Or you may offer products for a specific group, say lawyers, so you need to hang out where lawyers hang out. Sure, its great to expand, but cover the basics first.

Then, sales leverages this new, larger audience that marketing generates to convert interest into dollars; or, if you are a student, into a job.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.


Here’s a link to a page of articles, blogs and webinars devoted to finding work and running a creative business.

4 Responses to The Importance of Marketing

  1. Peter Phillips says:

    A very clear and helpful summary — which is what always delights me about your blogs and training, Larry!

  2. stu aull says:

    Nice! Thanks Larry, for jumping into an aspect of biz that goes beyond the technical. And of course for us freelancers, it’s must. There are valuable bits here for any of us (I know, for e.g. that our marketing sucks and I need to do more. After 27yrs at this we have gotten lazy).
    I think, if I may, that for new-starters, in addition to all you have noted, the most basic thing that seems lacking is selling themSELVES. I mean by this: beyond the skill-set or previous experience. Fundamentally, I mean you as an individual. A company is not just buying your skills and experience, but also “you”.
    My point is, if they don’t buy-in to who YOU are, how YOU seem as a person, the interview (yes, it is a JOB interview) is over. In my work, I have had a lot of opportunities to work with some very sharp, very talented Young Guns who, either because of how they were dressed (yes! important.) or how they presented themselves, made me wonder if ANY one ever had sat them down and outlined basic Interview etiquette. My (belabored, sorry) point is, if you can’t sell the client on YOU, then all the skills you may have are mute. It is the Person (you) the client is going to be working with, not your gear or techniques. You may know you have the skills and vision to deliver a great video, but if the client doesn’t ‘click’ with you first, nothing is going to happen.

    This seems obvious. But I am constantly reminded by colleagues I run into, how this first, simple, important criteria is either (gads!) unknown to these business newbies or they just don’t grasp it’s importance. Its a life-skill for ANY job that does not seem to be taught right out of high school.

    Stu Aull

  3. Beth Ross says:

    Thanks Larry for this succinct summary of sales verses marketing. Very helpful thoughts on what to deal with first.

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