When it comes to the plethora of advertising and marketing choices available to you, most of them don’t matter nearly as much as they would have you believe.

“You’re losing business because you don’t have a Google My Business account.”

“Your business can’t be found in the top 10 Google listings.”

“People aren’t hearing from you on Facebook.”

“What? You don’t have an Instagram account? How do you stay relevant?”

Yeah? So what, I say. There are more important things you can be doing in your business.

Like what, you ask?

Like making a difference in someone’s life. Being really useful. Remembering why you chose to do what you’re doing, and then doing your best to do it.

I hate the new-age blah-de-blah about “living your truth” and that kind of stuff, but it’s only because there are so many days where I don’t feel I’m doing it. It’s an inconvenient reminder of my shortcomings.

As a business owner, you probably get this sentiment really well. You are responsible for EVERYTHING, and if something doesn’t happen, it’s YOUR responsibility. It’s incessant, and it’s permanent for as long as you own your business. 

But, I digress.

Most of what passes for online marketing is really just advertising based on interruption. Some random person on Facebook who likes chocolate sees an ad for a chocolate bar. They’re being interrupted, albeit with something they’re into. Is this useful? It can be. If that person buys that brand of chocolate bar then the chocolate company wins, and hopefully the bar is good so the consumer wins as well. The interruption will pay off for at least one of them.

What having reams of data about masses of people means for businesses is that they can be more effective and efficient at how they interrupt a consumer. Facebook, Google, and dozens of other mass-data companies know so much about the masses that they can help you reach them more efficiently. To interrupt them with your ad which, because they’re vaguely interested in your market category, will hopefully not FEEL like the interruption it is.

There’s a better way. Of course, it’s harder, but it can be more sustainable in the long run. It’s called caring about what you do so much that other people care about you too.

An example of this is a local company called Beechwood donuts. I have never been there. I’m not sure if I’ve ever eaten one of their donuts, but I know about them. I’d also wager a good chunk of the population of Niagara and the GTA knows about them. It’s a donut shop. Why are they special?

All I know about them is that they make vegan donuts that many people feel are over-the-moon delicious. From pictures I’ve seen, the donuts appear quite large and are visually appealing. Big, sweet, tasty, “healthy” (because they’re vegan, so they must be healthy, right?) donuts. All created with the finest ingredients and love and warm fuzzy feelings by people who care about the world.

How much do you think Beechwood donuts spends on advertising to bring attention to what they do? The word of mouth (and mouse) their customers generate for them is huge. Heck, huge enough that our prime minister dropped in to buy donuts from them. That was in 2016 and people still talk about it.

I’ll give you another local donut shop example. Country Fresh Donuts & More is known for donuts and . . . wonton soup. Seriously. Ask someone in Niagara about “the donut shop that serves wonton soup” and people will at least say they’ve heard of it while many will be able to give you directions. How much money do you think Country Fresh Donuts & More pays for advertising? How expansive is their online presence?

On Facebook, CFD&M has a COMMUNITY PAGE. They have no official page of their own. They don’t have a website and I’ll wager they haven’t advertised in any media in years. Why? Because they don’t need to. They built something special, people love it and they keep coming back for more.

Can you do that in your business? If you can, you should, because it will be amazing. More importantly, you will never need to pay for advertising again because your customers’ evangelical raving about you will be what perpetuates your business.

Chances are, you’re not there yet. Don’t worry. 99% of businesses aren’t either. That’s why websites, social media, and other forms of marketing are so important to the rest of us. Ultimately though, as business owners we should be focusing on improving our customers’ experience so they are excited to do business with us and that they tell all their friends about how working with us has changed their lives.

I might seem like a strange advocate for not marketing. After all, I make my living creating websites and helping companies market themselves online. Why would I want people to stop using my services?

Let’s be honest. Most companies aren’t going to go out of their way to improve their customer experience so much that they don’t need to advertise. It’s easier to advertise than it is to create an exceptional customer experience. However, for small businesses, I honestly think this is the only way to survive.

I think it’s important to have a website, a social media presence, a strong email database and all the other pieces of a strong online marketing campaign. I think it’s more important to transform your business into one that’s sought out by people eager to do business with you. Your online presence can evolve from one based on interruption to one based on that capitalizes on word-of-mouse communication of just how amazing you are. Your customers have easy access to multiple platforms where they can say great things about you. All you need to do is give them reasons to do so.

And sometimes, you need to ask. People are lazy, forgetful, busy, and otherwise distracted. Chances are your business isn’t making so much of a difference in their lives that they feel compelled to tell everyone about you. This is especially true if you’re in the service industry (think accountant, lawyer, web designer) where people need you but deep-down wish they didn’t. Even if you go above and beyond your customers probably won’t continuous rave about how great you are for long. Asking for some customer love can generate lots of word-of-mouse and testimonials you can use to reinforce the good choices your existing customers made to work with you and help convince those who’ve heard about you that you’re worth their business.

If your business isn’t “selling itself” so to speak, you’ll need to rely on marketing and advertising to survive. And, don’t get me wrong, these techniques work. Flyers, newspaper ads, radio, TV, websites, social media advertising, and other forms of marketing can be effective. My challenge to you (and myself) is to make your customers so happy with your business that your reputation is what brings in the majority of your business. Your online presence can then reflect and reinforce how people feel about you instead of having to convince or coerce people to do business with you.