If memory serves me right, it was in early 2009 that my old coffee truck guy took over a long-empty storefront on a block of Broadway right near my busy subway stop. It was a dream of his to get out of that 2x3 tin can, move indoors, and run a proper deli. Six months later, his steel roll-up door rolled down for good.
When he opened, I told him half-jokingly that I’d be his marketing guy, and he could pay me in coffee. He didn’t take the bait. And, like the millions of other small retail businesses I talked about back in 2008, he didn’t think about marketing from that point forward. Sprinkle in a craptastic economy, and my coffee guy’s dream was sadly crushed.
Any day that I’d take the subway, I’d pass that big steel door, a twice-a-day reminder of the vicious cycle of small business: I can’t afford to do any marketing because I don’t have enough money because I don’t have enough customers because I can’t afford to do any marketing because…
Then one day, about a month ago, the steel door was raised a couple of feet, to let workmen pass underneath. A revival must be at hand! Sure enough, in a couple weeks’ time, the “Mexican Deli” opened.
They built it, but not many are coming. Mis amigos don’t have muchas sustantivos. The vicious cycle of small business begins anew.
But we have to forgive the small businessman’s refusal to consider investing in marketing, because after a billion years we still don’t know how marketing works. Or more to the point, we don’t know why people buy what they buy. What really influences their decisions? We don’t know, because we still don’t know how, after all these years, to ask them to tell us what happened.
Case in point: a survey released in mid-July for Restaurant Outlook by a firm called Market Force Information, examining customers’ patronage of coffee shops and restaurants (Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, McDonald’s, et al.).
First, an interesting finding – only 4% of those surveyed said they had tried a new place in the prior month. Then, we step backward a billion years. Market Force asked those 4% what drove them to try a new place, letting them pick just one of eight options. And the dopiest option won, coming in at 31%: “I drove by the restaurant and decided to try it.”
Do I need to tell you that none of the marketing communications choices came in higher than 5%? Or that our friend the billboard came in at a puny 1%, just like we saw back in our digital out of home post in April?
Meanwhile, the quest to prove the effectiveness of marketing, the totality of all the touch points, marches on. This Market Force survey tells me the quest shall last another billion years. At least.