A Definition of Madness…

You Don’t Learn From Experience…

When you run your own business you get into a groove.  With small business marketing, your groove becomes a track that you are stuck in.  It’s not written down anywhere, but you do the same things in the same way every time. If your groove is going in the same direction as your goals, that’s great.  But I’ll bet it’s not…

Brian’s In Denial

Brian runs a small business here in Cambridgeshire.  We’ve known each other for a few years.  Recently we were discussing small business marketing ideas and he told me his radio advertising has been great for lead generation.

As we talked, we looked at his customer information system to see exactly how many customers had come from his radio spots.  From his own data, it was obviously not cost-effective.  His radio advertising campaign was costing him thousands and only making hundreds in return. 

Yet Brian persisted in his belief that this was the best way to bring in new business.  He then started to justify himself by explaining that his own data must be wrong.

From his own data, the bulk of Brian’s new business comes from word of mouth marketing and referrals, which do a great job for him.  When he explained this away by pointing out that radio ads reminded people to come back to him, his pride had taken over from logic and his business was being run from the groove rather than his head.

Common Sense Bludgeoned Into Submission

Even though the data was right in front of his eyes, Brian bludgeoned my rational argument into submission through brute force of emotion.  His denial of the figures from his own systems was a brilliant example of emotion beating logic. 

Until he wakes up to the facts, he will hold his small business back forever.  On the bright side, his business gives good service and so will probably keep growing gradually thanks to word of mouth.  In fact, in a year or two I’m sure he’ll tell me how brilliant it is that he’s added another 20% to his profits since we last spoke. 

At least that will serve to stroke his ego and support his position about radio advertising

On the other hand, his goal of expanding into more sites will be held back because he worries about getting enough new customers for them.  The groove he’s in does not lead him to his goals, but it’s more comfortable than trying to get out of it…

Business Madness

This brings me to my definition of madness, “Madness is when you keep doing the same things, over and over again, while expecting to get different results”.  Brian spends thousands on radio ads to make hundreds from new customers.  He’s a small business and this is just plain wrong.

It’s easy to see the futility of his behaviour, yet Brian persists because he doesn’t want to change his actions or beliefs.

In the end, it comes down to comfort zones.  Brian finds it easier to say “no marketing works better than this” instead of asking “how can I get a better response?”.  We get comfortable with the bit we know and hang onto it like a rock in a stormy sea.

If Brian wants to get different results, his first step is to get out of his groove – more like a wartime defensive trench – and get curious instead. 

I love the idea of approaching problems with the curiousity of a small child.  That open-minded, inquisitive state that makes childhood learning so powerful is precisely the same thing that can get you amazing new results in your business.

Hundreds Of Small Business Marketing Ideas

There are hundreds of different ways to generate leads for your small business.  You’ve just got to get out of your comfort zone and become curious.  Try new things and measure the results.  Keep learning and working on it until you get a breakthrough.

Once you understand something, it stops being boring and becomes “common sense” instead.

Don’t let your pride get in the way of your profits.

If you have an open mind and want to learn to grow your business, perhaps a small business marketing coach would be a useful investment to make…


  1. radio_lounge on July 28th, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Great article. I whole heartedly understand. I will say that Brian should not have been put in that situation. Shame on the radio station for continuing to take his money. As a business owner he should have looked at the data carefully. He should have known it wasn’t working and he and the person who sold him the radio advertising should have figured out a way to make it work.

    M. Bruce Abbott
    Creative Director/Partner
    Radio Lounge

  2. Lee on July 29th, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Hi Bruce,

    Thanks for your thoughts – I would agree with you entirely – I think the problem is that we post-rationalise a lot of things, so that whatever the data says, we avoid feeling stupid by telling ourselves that it’s worked anyway.

    I think the way that some marketing is sold is very heavy-duty. Yellow Pages sales people have a particularly bad reputation for driving up your spend with little or no evidence of the ad working.

    Like in every situation where you are buying something, the saying caveat emptor comes to mind, “let the buyer beware”.

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