By John Graham
Out-marketing competitors is easy if done right. It calls for a combination of work and savvy, but the results can be positive. Quite frankly, the competition often makes it unusually easy for you. They talk about what they're going to do, but they never get around to doing much. They're successful at missing marketing opportunities.
But not everyone is this way. For example, one 44-store dry cleaning chain responded to requests for submissions for a family business of the year award and a community service award. They submitted detailed proposals and took top honors in each category, which brought them widespread recognition and additional opportunities.
While the possibilities are limitless, here are 22 marketing ideas that can help you out-market your competition.
1. Put your marketing under the microscope. Review everything, and that means all your various marketing activities, whether advertising, letters, memos, e-Bulletins, newsletters, press releases, and more. Ask, "Is this about our company or about our customers?" The focus should be squarely on "them," not "us." If it isn't, change it!
2. Get a grip on the customer. This means thinking like a customer. Seems obvious, doesn't it? If you were selling something, why wouldn't you try to get inside the customer's head? After seeing recent General Motors ads, you might wonder what they're thinking. Chevy ads focus on interior space, mileage, and OnStar, while Buick highlights a smooth ride. Is all that on target? If the "Cash for Clunkers" program is any indication, it isn't on target. Consumers want value for their dollar. By the way, GM isn't alone.
There's just too much stuff that keeps us from seeing the world through the customer's eyes.
3. Watch out for no-appeal perks. Giving things to customers, including most so-called value-added "stuff," can backfire. It may send the message that you don't really understand what they want. If it doesn't have value for the customer, don't do it.
4. Get the emotions going. Facts can be helpful, but they don't translate into action. Reebok gets the message across in its recent cable ads for women's EasyTone shoes with a compelling message, "Better legs and a better butt with every step." The ad has both men and women talking, a sure sign that it hit an emotional target. Skechers' Shape-ups for men aim at the same "hot spot" with the "Get in shape without setting foot in a gym" campaign.
5. Be ubiquitous. "Daimler AG's two-year effort to win over U.S. drivers with a thrifty, plastic-clad minicar is running out of steam…" writes BusinessWeek. After a hot start, ForTwo sales stalled. Was it the car or an inadequate marketing budget? The ForTwo smart car was a new concept that needed to be seen and promoted in every metropolitan area. It's an example of how underpowered marketing will get you nowhere.
6. Power up your social media skills. Look for sites that fit your objectives and focus on one or two to start. Join the groups that are right for you on the sites and expand your connections. Then stay with it and make yourself part of the community by posting helpful information regularly.
7. Seek presentation opportunities. Organizations look for presenters who can offer timely information and who won't serve up an infomercial. If you're an interesting speaker capable of delivering an applause-worthy presentation, you have an edge and there are opportunities for you. This is a great way for prospects to get acquainted with you.
8. Piggyback on hot news. A law firm that specializes in divorce responded immediately to the Tiger Woods story with a "local angle," just what the press was looking for. More than 40 media outlets across the country picked up the story. This is always a small window, but you need to act quickly.
9. Develop a prospect database. An inadequate prospect database thwarts the marketing efforts of most companies. It's impossible to communicate with prospective customers and actively cultivate them, unless you have complete and accurate contact information.
10. Communicate consistently in a variety ways. No business can depend on one or even two ways to communicate with prospects and customers today. The goal is to bounce as many balls as possible: phone, e-mail, texting, print and electronic newsletters, blogs, and seminars. Not all at the same time, but in more than one way.
11. Sponsor a community relations program. Go beyond just giving money. Identify a community need and make it yours by integrating it into your marketing plan so that it becomes an extension of your brand. The goal is to align your company and its resources with your community relations program.
12. Stick with facts. Much of what passes for marketing is mere opinion shrouded in "puff and fluff." Third-party surveys and solid research help build credibility by dispelling doubt.
13. Give your Web site a redo. Old Web sites never die, they just stay that way. Ill-conceived, poorly designed, and company-focused, Web sites need to be filled with excitement and customer appeal.
14. Share your knowledge. Every business possesses expertise, but few share what they know with customers. Yet it's your knowledge that helps set you apart from the competition. Sharing what you know has the power to pull in customers.
15. Build your brand. What does it stand for? How do customers perceive it? What do they think about when they think about you? What value does your company bring to your customers? And how do you know? Guessing isn't good enough. Give attention to what makes your company unique.
16. Create a marketing calendar. Marketing plans are important, but the place to start is with a marketing calendar — what's going to happen each month, week, and so forth. Use it as a road map to stay on track.
17. Follow up on sales leads. Lead accountability is essential, since studies show that follow up fails with 30% to 80% of leads that come from inquiries, requests for information, telephone calls, and so forth. They're ignored, thrown away, dismissed as unimportant, or fall through the cracks.
18. Avoid trite words and phrases. When everyone uses certain words, stay away from them. Watch out for these: "value" (prove it), "We have great people" (who says so?), "We care" (words are not reality), "Your business is important to us" (is that why you give out 25 cent trinkets?), and "We provide solutions" (what does that mean?). Such words are "high level abstractions" that don't mean anything to customers. Be descriptive and tell stories. That's what grabs customers.
19. Market bylined articles. Well-written, thoughtful, and informative articles (not self-serving) that meet an editor's requirements are in demand for both print and online venues. These are a great way to demonstrate your ability to communicate successfully.
20. Avoid subterfuge. The e-mail message is clear: "Ask for our free white paper on…" Then when someone "clicks here" to get it, up pops a form, which instantly devalues the white paper. In fact, it's no longer "free," since the "price" is providing contact information. This sends the message to prospects that you're not an upfront business. If it's free, let the visitor get it now.
21. Understand male and female shopping styles. Anyone who goes to the supermarket knows men and women are different. Men go down an aisle with speed and determination. They grab what they want, almost without slowing down. Women, however, take their time, check possible purchases, and carefully check the differences before making a decision.
Researchers point out that in prehistoric times women were the foragers, spending their days carefully looking for the best foods, while the men were making plans for which animal to kill and how to go about it. When ready, they went out, made the kill, and came home with the prey. Nothing has changed. Recognizing the differences is a key to successful marketing.
22. Why does your company deserve more business? Ford takes this question seriously by challenging itself and coming up with far reaching changes in its thinking and operations, including moving to smaller vehicles and a truly global platform. Your actions let customers know what you really are.
If you've thought of other marketing activities to add to the list, that's good. Continually expanding our marketing horizons is what it's all about. It's the best way to out-market the competition.
John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He writes for a variety of business publications and speaks on business, marketing, and sales issues. Contact him at 40 Oval Road, Quincy, MA 02170; (617) 328-0069; [email protected]. The company's web site is grahamcomm.com.