Starting a business is relatively easy. At least when you compare it to getting people to walk through your door, push the buy button on your website or pony up some hard-earned dollars for a subscription.

That requires a complex mix of marketing, advertising, and public relations.

Even veterans of the craft have a hard time explaining where one starts and the other ends.

So let’s try to shed some light on these three customer attraction strategies so you can stand out from the crowd and be the bell of the ball instead of the town wallflower.


It’s often said that marketing is all about making your target audience aware that you, your products and your services exist. But there’s more to it. Done correctly, marketing builds a bond between you and your customer as they come to trust that understand and care about their problem and that you are the one to solve it with the least amount of pain. Over time, they come to trust you and become, with any luck, fiercely loyal, even when your competitor tries to lure them away with more selection or lower prices. This, in turn, increases single-customer sales, lowers acquisition costs and creates secondary lead generation since your customers will tell their family and friends that they should be your customers too.

Marketing can include your website, social media posts, informational videos about how to use your product or service, emails, newsletters and traditional marketing tactics, such as cold calling and postal mailings of special offers. Another way to look at it is that every time a customer comes in touch with you, from the first time you answer a call or greet them at the door until the last time they buy from you, it’s all about building a relationship, i.e., marketing.


Advertising, on the other hand, introduces your business to potential customers, continually reminds them that you are at the ready to serve them, that you have new products and services they may be interested and that you are willing to offer them pricing, service and value your competitors can’t. Think of all the billboards, commercials, social media posts and videos you see every day. That’s advertising.

Public Relations

Finally, there’s public relations, or media relations as it’s often called. Where advertising is pay-to-play, public relations is all about news coverage that doesn’t cost you a dime. It may involve building relations with reporters, bloggers and influencers and getting them to write about you. Public relations can also come into play when a crisis occurs, such as a product recall.

Building a funnel

It’s hard to ring up a sale if a prospect doesn’t know you exist, let alone that you can fix the problem that has been keeping them up at night.

It would be easy to give you some cheap answers about how you should approach this mix of awareness, trust and sales builders. But the truth is, every business is different and each year you are in business will be different as well. The worst thing you can do is decide on a strategy and stick with it come hell or high water. Whatever you decide, make sure you establish some ways to measure its effectiveness. Goodwill feels good, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Everything you do needs to be focused on building a sustainable, growing sales funnel.

Note that we keep bringing up trust. Trust and relevance keep the sales funnel full. Nothing will kill your business faster than trying to make a quick buck with a false promise. In the old days, people talked to share experiences. Now they post. A single negative post shared all over social media can trash all the trust you’ve built up over the years.

A roux-d awakening

Cajun cooks will tell you that the secret to any great gumbo or jambalaya is the “holy trinity”—onions, bell peppers and celery. Cooked in the right proportions for the right amount of time, they combine to create a delicious roux that gives the cuisine its unique flavor. It is the foundation on which everything else is built.

Think of your customer acquisition strategy as a roux. You want to experiment with the mix of marketing, advertising and public relations until you have customers lined up around the corner.

As you perfect your recipe for success, keep these things in mind:

Target Audience

If you had the perfect customer, who would they be? What do they want or need? What are they willing to pay for it? And what do they expect in return? Do this for your primary and secondary targets. You can always build out later. To help you get a better sense of who your customers may be, you may want to spend some time on our SizeUp decision tool, which can provide you with all sorts of diagnostics for your business.


The cost to acquire a new customer is far higher than keeping an existing one and getting them to buy more. What is your objective besides making an initial sale? How can you build a lifetime customer? What do you need to do to keep them coming back, buying more, and, just as importantly, telling others about you?


How much can you commit to a marketing or advertising initiative? Buying an ad one time will not bring people into your business. You need to commit a specific amount of dollars, hopefully for a year. Don’t let yourself get talked into a “deal” with just one channel, such as a social media platform. You need to move the dollars around until you find a sweet spot where the return on investment tips to more dollars coming in than going out.


What is your story? Why, in this wide, wide world of ours, should a prospective customer care about you and what you have to offer them? People don’t buy from businesses, they buy from people. What is your unique story? What is your value proposition that people should care about? What makes a person want to grab their car keys or their credit card and buy from you and not someone else?

The big finish

Don’t think you need to do this all yourself. In this day and age, there are tons of experts out there who can help you put together a cohesive, highly effective strategy for a very reasonable fee. Thanks to sites like Upwork, Guru and Fivrr, you can find amazing talent at affordable prices, located around the world. Figure out what you need, post a job and see who offers the most value for the best price. You can even check their references and use the escrow feature on these sites to make sure your money is not only safe but well spent.