Small steps for a giant leap
There's a Japanese expression and approach that many Western business leaders have started to use: Kaizen*. I think it's also invaluable for small tourism business, especially those with tiny marketing budgets and no time.
The Kaizen approach is based on the idea that small continuous steps and tweaks build up to more substantial improvements over time.
Kaizen is good news for all of us for three reasons:
1. Small steps are easier, especially when you don't have a lot of time;
2. It costs practically nothing to make small changes and tweaks to your marketing;
3. If you'd like your business to be around for a long time, you need marketing activities with longer term impact.
Over the years I've seen so many flashy, expensive marketing campaigns that may grab attention for a short while but once the advertising disappears so does most of the impact. I've seen some businesses be really 'shouty' and pushy and they might grab the limelight for a short while but then don't follow through. Others waste large amounts of marketing money by splashing their cash on all sorts of scatter-gun activity.
When you run a small business it's easy to feel a bit inadequate watching these flashier activities, wondering if you should do the same. Sometimes the step-by-step, one tweak-at-a-time approach feels lonely and insubstantial. 'Plodding along' isn't seen as a particularly positive thing to do. And yet...
I'm often asked 'what one marketing tool can I use, or what one thing should I do to make my business better?' The answer is that there isn't one. Tourism marketing is about building a profile, building understanding of your visitors' needs, building their awareness of what you do, building activities and experiences that please people, building a reputation. It's about small reminders, frequent little steps and activities that you need to repeat and repeat to get attention and build credibility.
It's about being consistent and just moving forward. You might think that marketing is something only larger organisations can do, and that larger companies are the only ones that can gain traction but that's not true. Small simple steps, constant little improvements eventually build a business. Each action layers over the one before, layer upon layer of experience, knowledge and small activities that lead to a more successful future.
When you think that you're not doing 'enough' or taking big enough steps forward or not being loud enough when your competitors seem to be constantly shouting 'look at me', remember Kaizen. It's the small constant actions that make the difference in the long run.
Think about how children learn and develop. They don't go into school one day and come out the next as rounded adults ready for the world. They take tiny steps forward, tripping up and making mistakes along the way. And gradually, step-by-step improvements add up to a strong foundation ready for the future. Most sustainable businesses aren't so different from children.
*Kaizen is a bit more complex than this, but taking the Kaizen approach, this simplistic explanation is just a start...
What do you think? Have you ever felt inadequate plodding away in your own small business while others seem to shout and splash cash? Or have you noticed that some organisations make a big noise but don't really have much impact on the ground? Or maybe you've already seen for yourself how small steps do make a difference in the long run?
Great article--delighted it gave me the answer to a clue in this week's FT crossword!. Many thanks!
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