Duct tape has helped save the day for Apollo 13, countless broken taillights and TV's MacGyver. Now some Twin Cities entrepreneurs are exploring what duct tape, metaphorically, can do for their businesses.

In this sense, duct tape refers to the fix-all spirit approach to getting more customers and more sales that John Jantsch, a Kansas City-based consultant and author, proposed in his book "Duct Tape Marketing" and has expanded on in the new "Duct Tape Selling: Think Like a Marketer, Sell Like a Superstar."

Jantsch, the keynote speaker at a National Small Business Week event that U.S. Bank hosted for 250 invited small-business owners last month in Minneapolis, advises taking a systematic approach to marketing. He emphasizes guiding customers on a journey that builds loyalty and referrals, in large part through online and social media connections integrated with traditional marketing.

Jean Hanson of Twin Cities-based Marketing Concepts by Design said Jantsch's philosophy has resonated with her for more than a decade. Hanson, who has used Duct Tape Marketing principles in operating a commercial cleaning company with her husband, also uses it in consulting with cleaning company clients.

"John makes marketing practical and simple," said Hanson, who attended Jantsch's recent appearance and last year became an authorized Duct Tape Marketing consultant. "It helps business owners systematize their marketing so that it's repeatable. They know the steps to take to be successful and get people who are cheerleaders referring their business.'' "

'Strategy before tactics'

Jantsch's "strategy before tactics" approach is particularly valuable, Hanson said. "One thing I find people struggle with is what makes them different from their competition," Hanson said. "They haven't come up with a strategy that hits the right people with the right message. This helps them get focused on who their ideal client is and what's their core difference."

In "Duct Tape Marketing," Jantsch introduces the marketing hourglass concept, contrasting that with the classic marketing funnel model. Using the hourglass, companies offer customers opportunities to get to know, like and trust them on the way to becoming repeat customers.

Jantsch dismisses the "marketing event of the week syndrome" and regards the funnel concept, and its emphasis on generating sales leads, as outdated.

Creating content to educate and build trust with customers, material that they will share online, is critical, said Jantsch, citing a recent Corporate Executive Board study finding that 57 percent of customers made business-to-business purchase decisions before contacting a supplier.

"If you're that sales person out there that's trying to find deals, a lot of that's going on in some way without you," Jantsch said in an interview. "You have to find a way to inject yourself into the conversation or into the journey that buyer or prospect is going on before they know they have a challenge you can solve. So you're building 'know, like and trust' with them because you're producing content or connecting with them in social networks."

Like its flexible, sticky namesake, Duct Tape Marketing is adaptive and flexible, said Matt Clark, a business banking client manager at U.S. Bank who has recommended the system to clients, including Jason Hammerberg, founder of Hammer Made, a men's clothing boutique with locations at the Galleria in Edina and the Mall of America.

Among other principles, Hammerberg follows Jantsch's model in using Twitter and Facebook to guide customers through the marketing hourglass, not just to amass "likes" or followers, Clark said. (Hammerberg could not be reached for comment.)

"John encourages you to take the next step, to not only have your customers know you and like you but then most importantly to turn that into referrals, which is done by building trust, driving trial and then creating that buying opportunity that then repeats itself, hopefully, and allows for referrals," Clark said.

Nick and Saray Beaudry began working Hanson in November to apply Duct Tape Marketing principles to their business, Carter Cleaning Co. in Elk River.

"It's helped us really focus on our local market and start getting phone calls from our local market," Nick Beaudry said. "It's getting a systematized plan together rather than random marketing, throwing some money here or there to see if works. It's paid for itself already."

The expert says: Michael Porter, director of the master of business communication program at the University of St. Thomas' Opus College of Business, said Jantsch distills sales and marketing concepts familiar to seasoned corporate sales and marketing executives into an easily approachable format for small business owners.

"It's putting it into everyday terms for people and that's why it's been well received," Porter said. Jantsch's hourglass concept offers small-business owners a broader perspective on customers and controlling the buying process. "They're not a customer just in that moment that they buy your product," Porter said.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.