What many business owners fail to realize is that everything is marketing.  (That’s marketing with a small “m,” not a large one. )

I’m not proposing that marketing should be the most important among your responsibilities or departments (if you’re lucky enough to have “people” to do marketing activities for you), but I am suggesting that you might need to change the way that you think about and define “marketing” in your small business.

Set aside  preconceived ideas and perceptions you have when you think of the word “marketing.”  It’s not a department.  It’s not activities related to promoting your business.  It’s not your website or Facebook page or Yellow Pages ad.

To understand why everything about your small business is marketing, you need a new definition.

In reality, “marketing” is anything and everything you do to attract, engage, retain or motivate customers and it encompasses everything that in any way impacts the customer experience, at any touch point, for better or for worse.  And therefore, everyone within your company is ‘in’ marketing.

Not convinced?  Here’s what I mean:

  • The dust left on products, the half-cleaned spill, the dirty bathroom or overflowing trash cans left by your cleaning staff says more to clients about how much you care about them and how proud you are of your business than any words you can say.
  • The clutter of disorganized shopping areas and cardboard boxes left unpacked in the aisles represents obstacles to your customers that may prevent sales. Clutter and disorganization also makes some people feel so uncomfortable that they might not return at all.
  • The “breaking news” on your website that is months old tells customers and prospective customers that you aren’t savvy or concerned enough to keep it updated.
  • That since no one in your company actually knows your corporate mission or vision, each interprets it in their own way (if they think about it at all).
  • Your employee culture is characterized by cynicism rather than enthusiasm when it comes to corporate goals and objectives. In fact, one or more of your staff members resists change at all costs, rather than embracing change and pursuing continuous improvement.
  • Employees are scolded (or worse) for going above and beyond on behalf of a customer in violation of even minor policies; with the result that no one is willing to think creatively to solve customer problems.

But those are fairly obvious, aren’t they? How about these:

  • The sign taped to your cash register by your accountant announcing a new financial policy that effectively tells all of your customers that everyone is going to be ‘punished’ because one person failed to be honest.  For that matter, when was the last time you looked at the invoices being sent out to customers – do they include more negatively toned rules and disclaimers than the paperwork you signed to get your last business loan?
  • The sign posted on your door telling customers that their kids aren’t welcome inside.
  • The new check out protocol that gives your purchasing department more information but represents confusion, delay and frustration for staff and customers at the cash register.
  • The memo sent by human resources to your employees noting that since the cost of insurance is going up, their benefits are going down, resulting in a loss of morale.
  • The loyalty and rewards program you launched that never really rewards the customer or is so ridiculously complicated that no one bothers to try.
  • The manager you have in place who puts obstacles in the way of others, who resists and pooh-poohs the ideas of others and who territorially hoards contact lists, passwords and other information as a way to maintain perceived power.

And it’s not always the things that you do, sometimes it’s what you fail to do:

  • Some of the contact information on your business card changed, but instead of ordering new business cards, you crossed it out and wrote corrections by hand so that you wouldn’t waste a few dollars worth of business cards. You not only demonstrate a lack of concern over your presentation to customers, you might even be telling them that you’re so unsuccessful that you can’t afford new cards or that you’re so temporary that they might as well wait and see whether you’ll still be around next month.
  • You asked customers to subscribe to emails but never sent one. You started a blog but never posted. You launched a Facebook page but never revisit the page.
  • You’re notorious for launching new initiatives among employees with no plan for measurement or accountability… every month.
  • The lack of orientation and training for new employees resulting in poor customer experiences while staff learn “on the job,” using customers as guinea pigs.  And the employees who don’t know (and can’t be bothered to learn) how to properly direct customers outside of their own job or department.
  • You never ask for, incentivize or in any way solicit referrals.
  • Your failure to genuinely and frequently acknowledge, recognize and thank your employees.
  • Or worse, you left the culture and climate of your business up to chance (or up to others), with the result that your employee culture is rife with gossip, jealousy, insecurity and in-fighting – sometimes even in front of your customers.

I’m not suggesting that the Marketing Director should be the real CEO of your company, or that you need a degree in Marketing in order to succeed in business.  But I am saying that everyone in your organization, from the CEO and ownership on down, must cultivate a customer-centric mindset, a “marketing mindset,” if you will.

There’s no part of your business and no staff member within your business whose activities and functionality does not impact the customer experience, whether directly or indirectly.  From the policies set to employee morale to the appearance of your brick-and-mortar or online business sites, everything affects the customer perception about your business, for better or for worse.

If you’re ready to build an organization where each member of your team seeks to provide the best possible experience for customers at each and every touch point, Hurrah!  You get it!  Take time to revisit the mission and vision of your company. Working with staff, create a customer bill of rights and ask staff members to commit to upholding it.  Make sure that each member of your team understands how the role that they play impacts the customer experience and how it specifically works toward fulfillment of your corporate mission and vision statement.  Tie incentives and evaluations to the customer experience. Solicit customer feedback. Embrace change and continuous improvement.

Everything about your small business is marketing – it’s going to be a great year!