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From the Trenches

Should Your Marketing Firm Handle Your Tax Returns?

Mike Sweeney | September 21, 2010

Excuse the obvious sarcasm in the title of this post, but I just received an interesting piece of direct mail, and I couldn’t wait to share.  This piece of direct mail came from my credit card company,  American Express.  I love American Express.  Love them for personal credit, love them for business credit, love them for the rewards programs, love them for their customer service on the few occasions I’ve needed it.

American Express Search Engine Marketing

Thanks, but No Thanks, Amex.

Now, according to this fancy tri-fold direct mail piece, American Express wants to handle search engine marketing for my business.  That makes sense, right?   At Costco, I can buy my wife’s next set of diamond earrings, a case of Sam Adams, and 24 corn dogs in the same place – how cool is that?  Why wouldn’t my credit card company also handle my search engine marketing?  Credit cards and search engine marketing go together like….like…well, like credit cards and search engine marketing.  They don’t go together.

Before anyone gets all fired up, yes, I am aware that American Express does a whole lot more than provide credit cards.  And yes, I am aware that American Express has built an entire organization around helping small businesses solve all sorts of problems.  And yes, if you read a bit further in the brochure you will find that the American Express Search Manager solution is actually being provided by one of their partners in the search engine marketing space.

This is a symptom of a bigger problem, and that is the source from which small businesses are receiving their marketing guidance.  Let’s go over some simple facts:

  • There are over 30 million small businesses in the United States.
  • These small businesses employ over half of the U.S. private sector workforce.
  • These small businesses are typically better equipped to adjust to changing economic conditions than their larger brethren.
  • Given the first three bullets above, everyone wants to find ways to generate revenue from small businesses.

There’s nothing wrong with American Express wanting a piece of the small business dollar, and there’s nothing wrong with the company offering Search Manager through a partner.  The problem lies in the companies and people that peddle these services and represent themselves as “marketing consultants” or “growth advisors” or – my favorite – “customer acquisition strategists”.  While the various licensors and publishers of the Yellow Pages made truckloads of money once upon a time, it was (and is) an advertising solution.  Many of these search engine marketing solutions are also being portrayed as just another form of advertising, when in fact search engine marketing is far more than that.  Advertising is merely one component of marketing.

To stand out in the long-term, small businesses need a marketing plan.  Not an advertising plan.  Not a search engine marketing plan.  I don’t think American Express provides a marketing planning service like this.  Maybe that’s next month’s direct mail piece?

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About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.