Small Business Greatness

Transform Your Small Business into “The Greatest Show on Earth”

P.T. Barnum has been celebrated as a marketing genius. He was overwhelmingly successful at creatively publicizing his exhibits and shows at a time when sending and receiving information was notoriously slow and unreliable.

If you’re a small business owner feeling like you’re still missing the mark when it comes to targeting your audience and focusing your message, here are a few pointers borrowed directly from the man who made millions off the Bearded Girl:

Attract them in a BIG way.

Barnum’s circus wasn’t just “The Barnum & Bailey Circus.” It was The Greatest Show on Earth.

What differentiates you from your competitors? Are you calling that out to your audience? Do they realize how your products and services are the GREATEST of those they’re shopping for?

The truth is you don’t have to discount your products and services to the point of no-profit. If people are willing to spend a few hundred dollars on a new iPhone or high-definition TV, they’re still coveting an impulse buy or two.

The question is: Are you showing your own savvy in reaching them? You have to work a bit harder to impress upon your public how much value your business has. What problem does it solve? What makes your products better? How will they benefit by working with your team of skilled professionals over those other chimps … er, chumps? It’s more important than ever to blast your message out there in a big way.

Just because it hasn’t worked yet doesn’t mean it hasn’t worked at all.

In his autobiography The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written By Himself, Barnum quotes a French writer as saying:

The reader of a newspaper does not see the first insertion of an ordinary advertisement; the second insertion he sees, but does not read; the third insertion he reads; the fourth insertion he looks at the price; the fifth insertion he speaks to his wife; the sixth insertion he is ready to purchase; and the seventh insertion he purchases.

Many small business owners will test a marketing strategy only once or twice – or for only a brief period of time – abandoning it as a failure before it’s truly had a chance to catch on. You should be testing and trying multiple strategies simultaneously and for enough time that you can study how each is doing. 

Use social media, email marketing, and pay-per-click ads to draw in leads to your website. Test a few different promotions, each with their own landing pages to capture visitors’ information. Offer a freebie white paper that can only be accessed when someone registers on your site.

Don’t just set it and forget it. Barnum was the motivating force behind nearly every marketing effort he tried. He contrived the ideas and monitored how each affected his business. It’s crucial that you do the same.

“The public is wiser than many imagine.”

We’ve all felt the affects of the economic downturn of the past few years. As customers have become more cautious and methodical about spending, small businesses have felt the loss of the impulse purchase, the “let’s just put it on the credit card” spender.

Part of Barnum’s success was due to his keen understanding of his audience. He stated, “The public is wiser than many imagine.” Times have changed, but this statement holds true. Customers nowadays are immensely tech-savvy: They use the Internet for networking, gathering information, and purchasing and reviewing products and services. They filter through promotional emails to find the best deal, learn about the latest products, and connect with professionals. They spend hours on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Are you sure you know and are hitting your 21st-century target audience? It’s important that you put your business out there in as many different places as possible to draw in leads. (It helps that most of these are completely free!) Spark conversation or conduct a survey to learn about your audience. Charm them online in the same way you would to make a sale in person or on the phone.

It’s time to rethink what you know about marketing. P.T. Barnum was celebrated for his ingenuity and longevity as a showman. Take a wider, more creative prospective to pull in new leads and make sales. Generate conversation and learn who it is you’re selling to. And always be thinking of different ways to use the Internet to make your business seem like it’s The Greatest Show on Earth.

Management consultant and brand strategist for small teams. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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