Circular Digital Web Design Aesop

Several years ago back in my 20’s I landed a job interview at a local Advertising Agency. I was pretty excited as it sounded like an awesome opportunity.

I put on my best outfit and arrived early. We went through the standard job interview questions and it was going along swimmingly. That was, until it was my turn to ask the questions.

I thought of a great question and turned to the Agency Owner and asked… “so, what advice would you give a client who is launching a new business?”

Her response: “Oh, I just tell them to copy Woolworths….I tell all my clients to copy Woolworths…”

What the F!!!!!

I was absolutely gobsmacked. What did she just say?

I could barely hide the look of horror on my face…

Me. (The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch)

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m no marketing expert. But if you’re going to charge for a service, then you should know your shit.

This is probably the worst marketing advice you could give small business. The worst!


I’m glad you asked…

Here’s why you should never, under any circumstances copy the marketing strategy of a national retail conglomerate.

Circular Digital Web Design Woolworths Mass Marketing
Woolworths - for anyone that doesn’t live in Australia, Woolworths is an Australian supermarket/grocery chain store.
You have vastly different priorities

Big business has very different priorities when it comes to marketing than small business does. These differ vastly from yours.
The priorities of a large business could be to satisfy the board of directors, remind customers they still exist, communicate weekly sales, win an advertising award, reduce carbon emissions or keep their shareholders happy.

The priorities of a small business: make a profit.

As you can see there is a world of difference in the marketing priorities of small and large companies.

You don't have the same budget

According to Wikipedia, in 2018 Woolworths generated over $56 billion in revenue. Billion.

If you have an advertising budget of let’s say $20 million and 5 years to get a profitable result, then you’re going to use a very different strategy compared with a small business needing to make an immediate profit with a budget of only $5,000.

Using a big business marketing strategy, your $5,000 is going to be a drop in the ocean. It will be totally wasted and ineffective because you’ve used the wrong strategy for the scale that you’re operating at.

Strategy changes with scale.

You don't have the same target audience

Founded in 1924, Woolworths along with Coles forms a near-duopoly of Australian supermarkets accounting for about 80% of the Australian market (Wikipedia). Australia has a population of approximately 25 million. Last time I checked most people consumed food… so 80% of the 25 million people living in Australia, is roughly 20 million people.

Are you trying to target 20 million people? Or would you be happy with just 20?

Your target audience is going to be much more refined than ‘everybody.’ For example, you may want to target people in a specific geographical location or by a particular gender, or people with a specific interest. Targeting a specific market will give you the most bang for your buck.

Big business use a blanket approach, you need a more targeted approach.

You're at a different business life cycle stage

The vast majority of big business marketing is called ‘mass marketing’ or ‘brand marketing’. If you’ve seen ads from Coca-Cola, Woolworths, McDonald’s or Apple they are most likely ‘mass marketing’ campaigns. The objective of a mass marketing campaign is to remind customers about your products and services and generate revenue from existing customers. The reason large companies use this strategy is because they have a large target audience and have been around for decades. Most customers already know about them, have purchased from them or are loyal customers. This can be an effective type of marketing. However, it’s also very expensive, takes a lot of time to achieve, requires an army of staff and requires you to saturate various types of media – TV, print, internet etc.

If you’re starting a brand new business or have a small business most potential customers don’t know you even exist yet. So it would be pointless to use a mass marketing campaign to remind your prospects of your products or services, when they’ve never heard about you before.

If you try to use mass marketing it’s going to be nowhere near enough to reach your target market. You’ll simply be drowned out and see no return on your investment.

There are 5 business life cycle stages – launch, growth, shake-out, maturity and decline.

Each different business life cycle stage requires a different strategy.

The right advice

This is how she should have responded: If you’re a small business you would be better off focusing your efforts on a direct response marketing campaign. A direct response marketing campaign is a type of marketing that is designed to evoke an immediate response and compel prospects to take action. For example – sign up to your email list, contacting you or making a purchase from your website. Direct response marketing requires you to track each piece of your marketing material for its return on investment (ROI) with regard to the bottom-line metric that matters most: sales. Not Instagram followers, list sign-ups, or other vanity metrics. Sales.

The beauty of direct response marketing is that it’s trackable and measurable. No longer will you need to gamble with your marketing dollars. You can measure exactly how effective each ad is. If it isn’t working, you stop it. On the other hand, if it is working your keep on using it.

If you’re following a strategy that has different priorities than you, a different target audience and different budget, then it’s highly unlikely it will generate the kind of results you’re hoping for.

Copying the marketing strategy of a large company is the fastest way to kill your business.