As this year’s edition of the Tour de France is entering its final week, it’s time for my annual non-poetic rambling on the Tour as marketing metaphor (though I know most of you have them committed to memory and posted on your refrigerator, if you want to catch up on my previous entries, you can see them here and here).
Probably the number one thing I find myself explaining to the non-fan is that, though the Tour de France is indeed a three week race around France concluding in Paris, it is also a series of 20 or 21 individual races called stages. And the ultimate winner of the Tour isn’t the rider who wins the most stages, but rather the cyclist who completes all the stages in the shortest elapsed time.
As it meanders around France, each Tour de France also features three distinct stage types: flat stages, mountain stages, and time trials. Flat stages generally go from point A to point B, allow the cyclists to stay together as a pack, and most often favor the rider who excels as a sprinter (one who has explosive power and the ability to go really, really fast to blow ahead of everyone else at the finish). Mountain stages, obviously, take place in the Pyrenees and the Alps, and favor the cyclist who’s proficient at climbing and, secondarily, descending those same steep hills. Finally, time trials feature riders racing alone against the clock and are often won by the cyclist who can generate the most consistent speed and aerodynamic position for the duration of the stage. In addition, there are races within each stage, awarding points or time bonuses for the first rider to reach a certain point or plateau on the course.
It’s not unusual to see a Tour de France sprinter win several stages, yet be nowhere near the podium (first, second, or third place) at the end of the race. Converesly, it can often happen that the rider who wears yellow on the Champs Élysées (the yellow jersey indicating the leader of the race) does so without ever winning a stage. Hence, the sprinter who wins today’s stage by five milliseconds or the climber who wins by five minutes may win the day but, at the end of the race, they’re forgotten behind the Tour de France champion, the cyclist who can both climb and time trial to ultimately reach Paris in the least elapsed time.
I bring all this up, because over the years, I’ve encountered an untold number of clients I could call “sprinters.” And, given that their primary objection goes something like, “We spent big bucks to advertise on the radio for three weeks and it didn’t do anything. Why should we advertise more?” the comparison to the sprinter or climber who might win a stage or two but not contend for the overall title is fairly apropos.
When it comes to advertising, anyone can “win a stage,” in that you can spend money on a radio flight, newspaper ad, direct mail piece, or email blast, and make one big splash. But when your customer reaches the finish line and decides to act on his or her need, will your business still be in the race? Will that message you sent out six months ago still resonate in his buying decision? If you’ve only advertised, in any form, once, then the answer is likely “no!”
As a general guideline, remember the Rule of Seven, which says that you need to make at least seven impressions on a potential customer before they act on your message and buy your goods or service. When you consider the noise most consumers “hear” these days, from email, banner ads, mobile app ads, TV, radio, direct mail, and more, as well as the fact that most prospects likely aren’t sitting around waiting for your ad, following the Rule of Seven is even more important.
Another crucial factor in following the Rule of Seven is to remember that, like the Tour-winning bicyclist who excels in every discipline, you need to advertise in more than just one medium. An email blast may work in the short term, but too many of the same messages may get tuned out, or filtered to spam, by your potential customers (especially if you buy an email list!). Instead, vary your message by adding another tool or two to your marketing tool box, be it radio, TV, direct mail, email, or even social media like blogs (information marketing), Twitter, and Facebook.
Finally, remember that successful marketing is a race to the finish that’s won by a well executed, 12 month plan. Advertising only “when you have the time” means your customers may not have your business top of mind when it’s time for them to buy. Yes, it takes time but, a consistent marketing plan will build a solid base of impressions (and trust) with your customers and prospective customers. And that can keep your business rolling all year.
Just as you need to be a well rounded cyclist in every stage to win the Tour de France, it takes a diversified, year long marketing plan to crank out your message to your customers through every stage of the year. If you stop pedaling a bicycle, ultimately the bike stops rolling. And if you stop peddling your business, sales stop rolling in. Hence, think of your marketing and advertising as a race that’s always running. Anything else will just leave you spinning your wheels.