Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Can Expansion Hurt the Brand?

Not long ago I had a conversation with a business owner who is actively expanding the business into entirely new areas.  Not only that, but quite rapidly as well.  What is interesting is that the business owner is seeking to move aggressively into service areas that are almost completely outside the business' original brand footprint.

I won't get into the tactical questions that arise in this case study.  But I am very interested in the brand issues.  We have a business that has built its existing image on a certain menu of services.  Assuming they are done well, does it confuse the customer to substantially shift or augment those services?  Is there too high a risk that any disappointing outcomes in the new areas will damage the brand?  What happens if the business is spread so thin that all services fall off in quality?

Obviously, some businesses do quite well moving into other areas.  There may be excellent perception that a market is changing and the business must adapt to the changes, or there may be synergies that make the brand stronger with a greater collection of allied services.  But I think these are the exceptions.  Too many businesses take the risks and roll snake eyes.

The takeaway: think very hard about expansion into new products or services and be mindful that brand can suffer if things move too quickly or carelessly.  Don't take the old mix too lightly and absolutely ensure that service quality remains high for the older lines.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

We Can't Search Everywhere

It is wonderful how some one-on-one conversations spark discussions of marketing tactics.  My latest involved a small business owner who runs a specialized shop.  He is optimized, I think, in terms of social media, but had a very ambitious plan to list his venture on search engines.  He wasn't satisfied to come up strong on the usual suspects (Google and Bing and DuckDuckGo) but keep going, as time permits, on a good many more.

I don't think this a productive strategy.  There are many, many search engines and not all of them rank very highly in terms of users.  Spending valuable time becoming listed (and high-SEO ranked) on a search engine that draws under 1% of search consumers is by definition a poor return on investment.  I prefer identifying the top five portals and stopping there.  That should mop up the vast bulk of all search traffic.  Spend other time working on higher-gain marketing, like building indexible content and SEO.

Bottom line: time is precious.  As it has been said (by Voltaire, I believe) "perfect is the enemy of good".  Do what is necessary to cover the largest part of a marketing channel and then move on.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Have a Difference, Make a Difference

I visited yesterday with a professional opening a new practice, and left greatly impressed by the care he had taken to set his practice apart from the many (and in this case, very many) competitors.  He invested heavily in special diagnostic equipment and special furnishings and did so on the basis that these would help him define himself in ways the competitors could not or did not.

This is a step too few business owners take at any time, and it is really the most important aspect of positioning a business.  Think of how many highly competitive markets you know (e.g pizza bakeries, dry cleaners, sandwich shops, chiropractors, etc., etc.) and how hard it is for the typical consumer to tell one from another.  How devastating is it for a small business owner to hear that "they're all the same."?  Taking time to set a difference will make a big difference.

I'm not a big fan of the pizza box model and saying "you've tried the rest, now try the best".  That's lazy brand positioning.  Look at specific services and products you have.  Are there specialties that you can emphasize?  special source materials?  years of experience?  state of the art equipment?  look hard at the business and list all the things that could potentially make yours stand out and then pick those that would most attract the attention of a discriminating consumer.

Also, look at how the competition is positioning themselves.  Perhaps you will be lucky and find that they are not trying to differentiate!  but knowing what they say may help you direct your own positioning statements.

Bottom Line:  Take the trouble to stand out.  Help the customer pick you!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Chambers of Commerce: Not All The Same

I haven't talked very much about networking as a marketing tactic, but after this week I may need to reconsider!  For this week I was engaged in a networking conversation with a new business owner and a more experienced one and the subject of Chambers of Commerce arose.  Both the longer term business person and I had some experience with these entities, and our thoughts were amazingly parallel:

First, Chambers of Commerce have very different personalities.  One, in a given municipality may be relatively friendly to small business.  Another may be relatively unfriendly.

Second, Not every Chamber offers equally effective programs for small business networking.  One we have in these parts offers monthly get-togethers but I found them to be all about food and drink and entirely absent "shop talk".  Contrariwise, not all offer expos or B2B exposure events.

Third, Chambers price themselves in very different ways, and as a result many are incredibly expensive for very small businesses.  Be wary!  an entire ROI evaluation is needed to establish whether even "inexpensive" ones offer a good return.

Bottom line: use Chambers of Commerce with care, and take advantage of visitor or guest opportunities to size up friendliness, program strength and quality, and return on investment.  Talk about them with peers who may be able to share all of the pros and cons.  CofC is not for every small business, but there may be the right one for the right small business.