It Wasn’t Really a Question

What my new acquaintance actually said was, “I know it takes money to make money, but promoting my business doesn’t feel like investing, and I can’t afford too many more bad rolls of the dice.”

The implied question was, “What should I spend on marketing?”

What Does it Cost to Acquire a Customer?

The concept is simple, but the answer isn’t, mainly because it costs less to attract shoppers who are physically close to your business than those farther away.

The easiest way to explain this may be with jam, and toast.

Pretend Your Marketing Budget is One Tablespoon of Strawberry Jam

toast and jamSpread over half a slice it covers the bread with a thick, generous coating of strawberry goodness that’s evident with every bite.

On Two Slices of Toast it Starts Getting Thin

And if you wanted to spread our delicious strawberry jam over seven and a half slices of toast, well, the result will be disappointing every time.

There’s just not enough jam for a satisfying coverage of that much toast.

Strawberry Jam in the Real World

Whether you’re an esthetician, an attorney, or run a smoke shop; whether you weave custom rugs, or fit custom toupees, the concept works exactly the same way as jam on toast.

Today, let’s consider an HVAC (heating and air) contractor in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

  • Half a slice of toast in this case would equal all of the homes within half a mile of the shop – 2,132 households.
  • One slice (one mile) includes 5,002 homes.
  • At a two mile radius from the shop that number of households jumps to 20,268.
  • At five miles the number of households has grown to 74,804.
  • And within a 7.5 mile radius the household total has reached 146,585.

How Do We Reach All Those Homes?

We’re going to rely on one of the oldest forms of traditional media: direct mail. We’ll send a postcard to all of the homes around our shop promising heat when it’s cold, cool when it’s hot, and lightning fast emergency service.

What’s Our Budget?

For illustration, let’s say our tablespoon of jam would let us deliver postcards to 150,000 homes.

Hey, that’s great news! Everyone gets a postcard…

…But No One Gets a Real Taste

One tablespoon of jam spread across seven and a half slices of toast doesn’t provide any flavor. Worse yet, the jam arrived before the bread finished toasting.

You see, most homeowners don’t think about hiring a heating and air contractor when their system is working. They don’t even think about heating or air until their system breaks down and, with a loud kerchunk, the toast pops up.

If we send our mailing out in April we have to hope it arrives just as someone’s heating or air conditioning system fails. We also have to hope they become very uncomfortable very quickly. Because if they don’t have any issues until July they’ll never remember we offered jam when there was no toast.

That tiny morsel of April sweetness was effectively gone before anyone bit into it.

The Solution? Less Toast

5,002 postcards, one sent to every home within a mile of our business, will leave enough budget to print and send 144,998 more cards.

What do we do with them? Simple. We send them to the same 5,002 homes a couple of weeks later.

And again ten days or so after that.

In fact, our budget will permit us to reach those homes 30 times over the next 12 months.

Why only 5,002 Homes?

Those other households are simply too far away for cost-effective reach.

We could try to reach 146,585 households once each. Mathematically, in a single contact, we’re likely to convince them only 3 percent of the way to picking up the phone and calling for help.

But with 30 ongoing reminders we could instead reach 5,002 homes 100 percent of the way to becoming customers. (And when I show you how to get the Postal Service to deliver those cards for as little as 18 cents each? Oh, my. Life does get sweet!)

When you understand how to send your marketing dollars out into the world, and have them bring several friends when they come back home, you get to decide your own growth rate.

How high do you want your company to fly? How fast do you choose to get there?

Assume the Variables

It will become obvious that building a brand that customers think of when they need what you sell requires a different strategy than asking for that sale right now.

You need to budget differently to build that brand, too. And regardless of which strategy you choose, you’ll need to “right size” your company’s marketing budget so that every dollar contributes to maximum impact.

Can you afford anything less when you’re fishing for customers?

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Wondering how often to make an offer to a potential customer? Drop Chuck a note at Or call him at 307-207-0028.