Come in. We're Open.Recently, I was contacted by a small business owner who was facing what appeared to be an insurmountable slump in sales. The business owner was a wreck. He’d opened his store in a part of town that no longer received much foot traffic since a new overpass was added to a major intersection. Sales were dismal. He had a good product, but there were stores that were more accessible with similar products at a comparable cost.

One day, the business owner decided to try to capture more sales through new marketing techniques he’d heard about from a friend of a friend. This person swore by his methods and the business owner had nothing to lose, so he figured, “what the heck, why not!”

The first step was to re-arrange his shelves. His products were usually grouped by category, but his friend had told him that instead of keeping all of one product category in a single location, he should move these products to other parts of the store. This would make his customers search for the different products and stay in his store longer.

The second step was to call a press conference each time he stocked a new product on his shelves. Press conferences are a great way to get noticed, so he decided to contact the local media each time he added a new product.

The third step was to hire part-time workers to visit the other local stores that sold similar products. During their visit, they would strike up a conversation with the patrons of that store and casually mention his store, so they knew about him.

The fourth step was to also hire part-time workers to talk to others about his business. He would give a dollar for each time they brought up his business and products in a conversation. He would also hire a big team of people to drive around town telling everyone they saw about his company. They were not to use any negative words, just positive mentions of his brand, products and even his name. Now, others would see that everyone talked about him in a positive way.

The fifth step was to stop using his current point of sale tracking and fulfillment software. He’d been told that the manufacturer knew how much he was and wasn’t selling because of this software and they might make it difficult for him to market their products if they noticed his new sales methods.

The final step was to put fliers up around universities and government buildings, because he knew smart, affluent people visited there. He wanted them to see his business and associate it with those organizations.

The business owner was eager to see his new sales approach in action and once it was setup, he knew this would lead to immediate success.

Can you guess what happened to the business owner?

  • With the new, cumbersome product display, customers became frustrated and left the store before making a purchase.
  • The local media stopped paying attention to him because they were constantly being flooded with news that wasn’t really news. And, the publications that picked him up were so low-quality that he didn’t capture many sales from them.
  • Once the other local business owners caught on to what his part-time workers were doing in their stores, they told them to leave and banned them from coming back.
  • With so many people being paid to talk about his business, the community lost trust in his brand.
  • He switched to the new point of sale software and it was good, but now he didn’t have the data that he usually relied on to make informed business decisions.
  • The fliers didn’t seem to work at all.

The new marketing methods were a disaster. He was losing sight of why he’d gone into business and was on the verge of closing his doors. All of the time and money he’d spent on this new plan had been a waste. He realized that what he should have invested in instead of a quick fix was:

  • differentiating his products or customer experience from his competitors.
  • surveying his current customers and non-customers to discover what they really wanted and thought of his business.
  • communicating the purpose of his business to the community.
  • training for his employees to increase their knowledge of his products and customer service.
  • researching the area to see how he should market himself to his local customers while being respectful of them and true to himself and his company’s brand.

This story was inspired by a post published yesterday on Mixergy, which summarized “how to rank on page 1 of Google (even if you’ve never heard of black hat SEO).”


About the Author

Rhea Drysdale

Rhea Drysdale is the Chief Executive Officer of Outspoken Media. When she isn't fighting for the SEO industry, she's She-Ra on Twitter. Connect with Rhea on Google.


9 thoughts on “The Secret to Good Marketing: Good Business


  • David McCormick on said:

    What an awesome way to drive home the fundamentals Rhea! It’s sad when people look at marketing methods as magic problem solvers. What they can forget is that the marketing is really just a story to tell about what really matters; great service that gives people what they want and makes them feel good.


  • Chris Pritchard on said:

    Hi, I’ve been paid by a competing blog to tell you about xyz.com . . .

    j/k – It’s funny that I’ve never really thought about doing regular marketing the same as SEO marketing, but this article does a great job making that obvious to me. I actually read this article before I saw a tweet saying that it was a response to a black hat SEO article.


    • Rhea Drysdale on said:

      Thanks Chris! I love putting things into “real life” terms. Always makes the Internet feel more absurd and like the wild west. We wouldn’t do half the things we do online in-person.


  • Lyena Solomon on said:

    Nice story, Rhea. Good conclusions too. For some reason, small business people look in all the wrong places to boost their business. They think they need better tools, or bigger ad in Yellow Pages, or if only they had money for radio advertising. Instead, they would be better off studying their own customers and improving shopping experience. This change is the hardest.


    • Rhea Drysdale on said:

      Lyena – exactly! How many businesses would rather buy a billboard than train their team on how to provide better customer service so they KEEP their customers?


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