For Businesses, Every Day is Election Day

By Beacon Staff

Your SD5 education tax dollars were well spent last week.

Remember the Beacon story that talked about Kalispell School District 5’s failed levy?

Just in case you missed it, here’s the reason why your tax dollars were well invested:

“Such a request had never failed before, so School District No. 5 didn’t spend any money advertising what the levy pays for, and why it’s needed.”

That I say your tax dollars were well invested isn’t an irony-filled slam at SD5. I say it because rather than educating Kalispell’s kids, that quote is a lesson to every business owner and salesperson in the Flathead.

You’ve heard the old saw about “ass-u-me”, so I’ll leave it at that. Just don’t assume. Ever.

When you assume that people know what a tax levy is for, it’s no different than assuming that your customers are aware of what you do, what you sell, what specialty skills you offer that they can leverage, etc.

Call 10 of your customers and ask them something about a significant part of your business offering (in your mind at least). Chances are they either won’t know a thing about it, won’t know the major brands you carry or won’t know something that you will find shocking.

Seen it happen too many times.

Years ago when my office was in Kalispell, I drove past a specialty retailer’s place every day. Sometime during that period, I joined the owner and 10-12 other people in a group discussion about positioning, marketing and customer service.

We were going around the room here and there and talking about assumptions. One of the challenges was to name products or services that others in the room sold. This group had been together for months as part of the course they were taking.

I asked the other folks in the room what this business sold. The one thing that no one guessed (or knew) until I got to the other instructor was the thing that had been painted on the front windows of the store for the past few months – in 3 to 4 foot tall letters.

They thought they knew what this retailer sold, but they missed an entire high-end product line – and it just so happened that the line was one that had been heavily promoted in recent months.

There isn’t anything wrong with that, it’s simply something to work on. The point is really that you can’t assume that everyone knows what you do.

Despite having a blog, a radio show, this column, clients all over the country, speaking gigs, a print and email newsletter and so on – I *still* get the occasional incredulous “So…what do you do anyhow?”

The lesson? You gotta tell them when you have this cool new thing, or that dependable old thing. But you’ve gotta tell them because they’ll forget – if they even knew in the first place.

They have more important things to remember.

In the case of the levy, it’s probably annoying to spend money on educating the public about the levy (intentional low turnout strategies notwithstanding), but educating the public is necessary when you want to educate the public’s kids.

Even taxes have to be sold.

I’ve seen efforts elsewhere that went so far to remove doubt about where tax money was going that they put up project-specific signs on location. Not temporary banners, but permanent street signs.

At each project site, there would be a sign describing the project, its estimated completion date and budgeted cost. After the election, the sign was changed to say thank you and included a projected start and completion date. As each project was completed, that project’s sign was updated again (“Progress as promised”).

Those signs were seen daily by people driving to school, work, etc. They served as a blatant reminder of the public promise that town was making.

Assuming everyone read the paper, read the bill, read the law, understood the project… that wasn’t left to chance.

Likewise, you can’t afford to assume everyone will know/remember your products, services, business hours, experience, expertise, location, brands, staff and so on. Remind them, and do it wisely.

For your business, every day is Election Day. Their purchase is their vote.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him via email at mriffey at flatheadbeacon.com.

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