It appears that many small businesses believe in the age-old adage that says, “Build a better mouse trap, and the world will beat a path to your door.”

In the real world, this little piece of wisdom does not hold true.

Unless you have invented a totally unique product or service uncommon in the marketplace, it is very likely there are tens or even hundreds of businesses out there that are similar to yours.

Each day, the average American is bombarded by an average of 100 television commercials, 30 radio spots, 194 newspaper ads, and up to 10 direct mail solicitations.  This doesn’t even include telemarketers!

Competition for your customers’ money is fierce.  If you want to win the battle for their hearts and money, you must first prove that you understand them, and then you must find the right vehicle to “connect” with them.

Let’s talk about the fundamentals of marketing. It is getting the right message to the right people via the right media. Marketing means: “market first, message second, and media third” – in that order!  I often refer to them as the 3 Ms. Let’s look at each.


Not every product appeals to everyone.  That’s why marketing is so vital; it is the process by which potential customers are identified and “targeted.”

Your target market is one that has high probability of purchasing your products or services and which you have selected for focused marketing activities. Unfortunately, most small-business owners get to their best prospects randomly – by throwing out their message to everybody and letting the right people find it.

This is like getting a message to your uncle in Manhattan by dropping 100,000 copies of your letter out of an airplane as you fly over New York. I refer to this as “blind archery.” Imagine launching 100 arrows while blindfolded.  You might hit a target or two, but think of what else you’ll hit along the way!

And arrows are one thing. A limited supply of dollars is another. If you market wisely, you’ll hit the target, and you won’t waste money.


Your message is the words that crystallize or articulate the “uniqueness” of your business.

Why is your business unique?  What sets it apart?  What is that “something special” you can offer that no one else does?  How you answer these questions matters very much to how attractive your business will be to potential customers.

This can be identified as a “unique selling proposition,” or USP.  The USP is the heart of your business, and as such it should be the heart of your marketing.  All in all, your USP is the most powerful marketing tool you have.

The USP for Federal Express is “When it absolutely, positively has to be there.” They based it on a promise of delivery reliability.

Domino’s based their slogan on the fact that most pizza eaters don’t care how much stuff is on their pizza, but that it is hot, fresh, and delivered quickly. Their slogan goes as “Fresh, hot pizza in 30 minutes or less.”

Once you have defined your target market and your message, you are ready to move to the third M in Marketing, “Media.”


Your marketing medium is the communication vehicle you use to deliver your marketing message. It’s important to choose a marketing medium that gives you the highest return on your marketing dollar. This means you want to choose the medium that delivers your marketing message to your targeted prospects at the least possible cost.

What I have seen most small-business owners do is market their product or service through one marketing medium only. So the florist will place a Yellow-Page ad and do nothing else to promote her business.

The auto mechanic will place an ad in the newspapers and not explore all the other marketing media available. The small-business owner must instead test several marketing media and use them in their arsenal of marketing media.

The fact is effective marketing is more an art than a science.  Don’t believe for a second that many of these techniques are obvious to everyone – they’re not. Only a few know and understand them. As one of those few, you’ll not only learn how to make your small business stay alive and thrive, but you’ll learn to dominate your marketplace.

For more on this topic, please check out my book “Secrets of Small Business Success in the San Francisco Bay Area“.