Measure marketing with sales

This issue of Automatic Merchandiser includes one of the most read articles of the year — State of the Vending Industry. This year more than 400 operators participated in our survey, which is the backbone of the report, and you have my personal thanks. I couldn’t have put together the report without your honest and candid answers.

I won’t go into the specifics of the state of the industry here, since that is what starts on page 24, but there is one business strategy that isn’t covered in the report and it’s an important one — marketing. I know, I know. Many small business owners are more concerned about profitability, but marketing can play a big role in earning profits. As the saying goes, you can have the best product (or service) in the world, but if no one knows about it, you won’t make any money.

I personally know a small business owner (not vending) who felt like most entrepreneurs. To help his bottom line, he pulled back on some local ads he was running in coupon clipper books and also an entertainment magazine. He saw a 30 percent drop in sales over the next six to eight weeks. At first he couldn’t believe it was all due to advertising, but he had changed nothing else about his business. So he started advertising again, and sales began to increase. The experience changed the way he viewed marketing and now he’s always looking for new ways to advertise his business, both those that cost money and those that are virtually free.

Small business advertising

Small business marketing can be a challenge, but it can also be an opportunity to be creative and support the community. I’ll give you my top three favorite marketing strategies used by real vending operators. The first is using personalized uniforms and vehicle decals for advertising. This not only creates a professional look, but helps with brand recognition. Just like the large companies running tons of ads with their logo, small companies can use their assets to keep their logo and/or name at the top of their potential customers’ minds.

A number of operators also sponsor local events, such as marathons or walks for a cause. Whether there’s an opportunity to hand out pamphlets, hang a sign with the logo or hand out free samples with the business name, there’s great public relations as well as marketing in this strategy. A company’s reputation is an important aspect of marketing, and supporting local events shows decision makers that your operation is about more than just profits.

The third marketing strategy is absolutely free and I’m surprised more operators don’t take advantage of it. It involves contacting the local media and offering to speak as an expert on a vending, micro market or office coffee service issue that they may be writing about, or offering a suggestion for an industry related story. Automatic Merchandiser’s online brand, VendingMarketWatch, posts many news items where operators have spoken about topics from micro market implementation to healthy vending issues.

Marketing is hard to quantify, but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. Disagree? Just look at the major consumer brands — why do they continue to spend ad dollars even when they are well known? It’s because they know the big secret — marketing drives up sales.