Photo by Flickr user Nettsu

I spent the last few weeks getting stuff ready for the Eustis Fire Department’s first annual Fire Muster in the Park.  For the uninitiated, a muster is an event that brings together firefighting teams and antique vehicle owners to compete in old-fashioned firefighting games (bucket brigade, hose cart race, etc.).

We held our event in Ferran Park on the waterfront in downtown Eustis.  We shared the park with the 7th Annual Lake Eustis Chili Cook-off – a natural partnership, in my mind – and then braced for a really wet day, as the forecast called for 60% chance of thunderstorms.

We knew the event would be enjoyable for the participants who bothered to show up in the bad weather, but we had no idea how good the events would be for spectators.  So we made a difficult decision:  we didn’t push a lot of advertising.

We ended up with about 600 visitors to watch the games, check out the antique fire apparatus and buy our famous 1/2-pound hamburgers.  And the rain held off until an hour before we expected to finish up.

Had we expected better weather, a greater amount of participants (we had just four teams this time) or more antique trucks for display, we’d have advertised a lot more and tried to turn out thousands of visitors.

So why didn’t we?

Because if the event had been disappointing (bad weather, few teams, only a handful of trucks) we would have done more damage to our fledgling “brand” than not holding the event at all.

Every new or relaunched brand needs “early adopters,” the folks who take a chance on a new product or give the new funeral director in town the opportunity to provide services.  These people can become great evangelists for a new product or refer friends to the funeral director who did an awesome job, boosting a product or service to success.

But they can also do a WHOLE LOTTA DAMAGE to a company that does a bad job or provides a crappy product.

Movie producers know this, so they like to give sneek peaks of their good movies to film buffs.  These are usually advertised in entertainment magazines and occur a week or two before the movie’s general release date.  The bad movies generally get a big bunch of advertising without screenings for buffs and critics.  The really awful ones are sent straight to video.

But what if your product is bad?  What if getting more customers just means disappointing more people?

Truth is, advertising only helps if you have a decent product/service in place.

A good/decent funeral home can survive without traditional advertising, because satisfied client families will tell others.

And for most products, advertising can’t save a bad/awful company. 

Interestingly, funeral homes serve a different kind of customer:  one who reluctantly buys services only when they’re needed, every 5-10 years.

That may be why some bad funeral homes – the ones that never serve a family more than once – can survive on a heavy advertising campaign.  But they can’t rely upon word-of-mouth, since their service is atrocious.

So yes, you can advertise before you’re good enough.  But only if you’re willing to advertise A LOT and not care how bad your services are.  Otherwise, advertising before you’re ready will just destroy positive word-of-mouth and cause you a whole lot of pain.