Marketing on a Beermat

There are many characteristics that are common to most successful entrepreneurs, including vision, confidence, ambition and drive.

But a common feature of all the ones I know and like is that they care passionately about the people who use their product or service: their customers. This, I discover from Chris West’s book, Marketing on a Beermat, is the ‘marketing mindset’. And I thought it was the prerogative of sales!

Chris’s book is not about the kind of marketing you would find at a large organisation, with endless research, obsession with brand values and a fortune spent on advertising. It’s about marketing for start-ups, where the competitive landscape is only partially understood, budgets are small or non-existent, and decisions are based more on gut instinct than exhaustive research.

To write the book, Chris drew on his own experiences in marketing and PR, but also took advice from experts such as Louse Third, author of PR on a Beermat, internet marketer Peter Bennett, and Graham Michelli, who started his own marketing agency after spells at ICI and Kawasaki.

Small businesses have to rely on relentless street-level activity, encouraging word of mouth referrals and gaining free PR wherever possible. Proper branding will come later; for now, more important is the personal brand of the entrepreneur themselves, and how convincing they are that people should buy from them rather than another supplier.

Advertising is one area where small businesses can get things horribly wrong. Led on by ‘brand-building’ ads on TV, they waste money ‘promoting the brand’. This is what Graham Michelli calls ‘coo-ee advertising’. If you are a car company, you can afford to do this (or could, before the recession, anyway). If you are a start-up, you cannot. Ads must contain a specific call to action from the target.

Instead, try getting free publicity… it can be done, and the book shows how. There are many publications, on- and off-line, desperate for copy, but what they are looking for is stories, not just a list of product features.

Alongside the essentially intuitive ‘marketing mindset’, the key to good marketing is to have a clear, reasoned understanding of who you are and where you fit into the market. All businesses should ask themselves Chris’s ‘Five Questions’:

What pain do we solve? This usually relates to money, time or effort.

Who for? You must have a target market. Entrepreneurs often think their product is ‘for everybody’, but nothing is for everybody.

Where, among people you can reach and who have money to pay for your offer, is the pain most acutely felt?

What are we going to do about it? This has to be expressed in terms of products, which Chris defines as ‘clearly specified and priced bundles of benefits, which can be sold repeatedly and profitably’.

Give one good reason why people should switch to you: that old marketing regular, the ‘USP’ (Unique Selling Point).

And finally, ‘Says who?’ – establish your credibility.

These questions form the basis of your strategy – a word that Chris says is often assumed only to refer to huge corporates (and to imply Harvard Doctorates before you understand it), but is actually common sense and highly applicable to businesses of all sizes.

Marketing may not be as arcane as some of its proponents like to claim, but it is many-faceted. To illustrate this, Chris presents a ‘cast list’ of model businesses, taking them all through the issues he discusses, to ensure that the book presents the right kind of marketing for a range of enterprises, from a self-employed consultant to a high-tech start-up with global ambitions.

The book, which is admirably succinct despite covering a lot of ground, ends with ‘The Ten Commandments of Marketing’. They are all solid gold, but for me, the final one is the most important: ‘your most valuable resource is the goodwill of your existing customers’. If you communicate your benefits clearly and treat your customers well, they will do much of your marketing for you, by far the best option.

Chris West is a professional writer. He has written fiction, including a quartet of crime novels set in modern China, and travel, but is best known for his work on entrepreneurship. He is co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur. He is also an experienced marketer and author of Marketing on a Beermat. Chris can be contacted at

Graham Michelli’s career has focused on new business and new brand development both as a consultant to a wide variety of companies, from tiny to huge, and as a serial entrepreneur in his own right. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors.

This article is a chapter from ‘This Is How Yoodoo It’ – a collection of Financial Times columns written by Mike Southon. You can buy this book in hard copy and in Kindle version here:

About Mike Southon

Mike Southon is a serially successful entrepreneur, best-selling business author, mentor and one of the world’s top business speakers on entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and sales.

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