Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Differentiation Can Work Against You!

In the course of business networking I have the benefit of hearing comparison positioning from many business owners in very competitive areas.  That is, positioning their products and services in large part by referencing the defects in alternative choices.

These are variations of the old "Brand X" model where a product was seen as vastly superior to "Brand X" (a thinly concealed and well-known competitor) on some carefully selected basis.  Always in these product (and service) comparisons the basis is carefully selected!

Let's start this discussion by applauding any business from doing something to stand out.  In my view, that's absolutely essential in competing.  One can't be content to trust that the consumer will identify the business' strengths.

But the very real danger is what I see too often.  There is differentiation on shaky grounds.  Either the comparisons are disingenuous ("My product is 100% safe, cheaper, and has no downsides") or begs proof ("I pick stocks better than others"), or is simply banal (the infamous pizza box claim "You've tried the rest now try the best!")   I can't tell you how many times my skeptic radar kicks on and causes me to shy away from learning more about the business.

I do have willingness to trust claims that can be provable.  For example "I was trained in France", "I buy my ingredients from local farmers", or "My product is in more locations in this city" are all easily tested.  Or, if the business has test reports, independent market research, etc. to support their claims.

Bottom Line: Especially in a competitive market, differentiation from competitors is essential.  However, choose comparisons with care.  If making extraordinary claims provide proof or a means by which the consumer can ascertain the truth for him- or herself.  Always avoid superlatives that are over-the-top, unprovable, or patently incredible.  Your brand will thank you!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Finding Print Ad Potential

Old habits die hard.  For most of the past 270 years or so businesses have relied upon print advertising to serve their foremost marketing needs.  If you were a merchant or service provider in a city or large town, you could place an advertisement in one or more local newspapers and almost guarantee being noticed by anyone with money to spend.  As the nation grew, even some magazines could serve well as advertising channels.

The 20th Century, in wave upon wave, saw the end of this easy solution.  Media were fragmented with the advent of radio, television, and then the Internet.  Now there are hundreds if not thousands of "publications" for advertisement.  Even more if you count neighborhood shoppers, Yellow Pages, coupon mailers, and performing arts playbills among others.

Yet, many businesses continue to place print advertising.  Unfortunately, this channel hardly ever works any more.  Especially for small businesses.

Last week I spoke with a small business owner who placed an inexpensive ad in a print publication that, "on paper", had attractive reach and demographics for that business.  The ad hasn't generated any calls.  And that ad followed the rules:  colorful, with a good "hook" message, and even on a page that should have attracted eyeballs.

What happened?  I did a little market research and determined that none of the readers I contacted either knew of or read the publication.  That's a bad start.  I think there are so many fragmented channels that any ad is simply swallowed up in the noise.  There is no longer critical mass sufficient to generate meaningful response rates.

On top of that, the wider the circulation the more likely it is that the target customer becomes a smaller proportion of the population reached.  ROI is farther reduced.

So can print help, even a little?  It is certainly possible but the odds are low.  Can a publication reach enough of the right people today?  And can we afford to gamble on an experimental base with those that do given reader habits?

BOTTOM LINE:  If a print publication seems plausible, do some research.  Review ads already appearing in the publication.  Spot check a few with the business owner(s) and ask what they think about the success of their investment.  Consider partnering with an allied business in order to buy a larger ad that has a little more chance of being noticed.  And ask hard questions about how well your target customer is covered by that publication.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Fun, Fun, Fun World of Contests

One of the staples of the broadcast industry (particularly on radio) is the contest.  Whether it takes the form of a telephone call, in-person enrollment, online enrollment, or text, contests have been used for many years with the goal of ginning up listener engagement.  Other businesses employ contests.  I see the "business card jar" at some restaurants, for example.

I must confess to be conflicted about contests.  On the positive side, some kind of contest or drawing is a low-cost technique to engage with customers, one that usually permits the business to obtain very valuable contact information for use in later promotions.

On the flip side, contests can be the ultimate in phony engagement.  In fact, today, I saw a presentation by a gentleman who has made a veritable science of participating in contests.  He was quite proud of the assumed value of the goods and services he won.  I was astonished at the detachment from the broadcasters.

Are contests worth doing?  Of course.  But one needs to be careful about the structuring of the contest.  Be sure to collect information from the entrant in the form of an entry blank or business card.  And ensure that entry is done at a physical location where the contestant can at least either engage with you or see your products or services, say, at a display booth or a storefront.  Don't have a storefront?  perhaps partner with an allied business that does.

Bottom Line:  Use "guerrilla" marketing techniques with care.  Always combine the fun and benefit to a contestant with hard benefits to your business.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Lessons From "Frozen"

It's a cold and dreary January day, and I enjoy finding marketing lessons even on such, and one that occurs to me is the phenomena ("film" seems so limiting) called "Frozen".  What can we learn?

One thing that stands out is the total focus on the target customer.  Disney knows that "princess" movies sell very well.  "Brave" comes to mind.  That pint-sized princess customer demands doe-eyed heroines, cute talking animals, hunky prince-types, and memorable music that parents are sure to learn to the last word (as innocent bystanders, e.g. "Let It Go").

Furthermore, the studio certainly grasps the boundless possibilities of crossover marketing and does well by sticking to the time-honored "princess" formula.  They know there is a huge market seeking to use the film's characters on everything from cereal boxes to sleepwear.  I don't approve of these licensing arrangements with respect to those seeking to exploit the film characters, but I can't blame Disney for priming the pump.

Bottom Line:  a business is always wise to focus like a laser on the target customer and respect their wants and needs.  It also makes a world of sense to avoid changes to successful product and service lines, especially if they lead to productive and lucrative partnerships.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Watch Your Social Media (Re-)Posts!

Social media is all the rage, especially for professionals such platforms as LinkedIn and Facebook.  Many small businesses I know have a page for their business on at least one of these two sites.  Some are even doing a very good job using that page to amplify their brand equity.

And some are doing less well.

A practice with which I am increasingly concerned is the "re-post" of content generated by someone else.  In LinkedIn I am seeing increases in both reposts of expert comment, and, what is more troublesome, "memes".  It seems like the walls I view are ever thicker with these dreadful memes that are intended to be motivational in some way but which merely pollute the page.  I don't imagine I am alone is saying I have "unfollowed" some pages simply because the memes and reposts have become unbearable.  Imagine what customers may think!

Customers want to see your original content much more often than anything else.  Your brand, your products and services, and your business are defined by what you say and think.  Muddying water with anything else can do harm to your brand at the end of the day.

Bottom Line:  is what you are posting truly yours?  are you strengthening your brand through your own ideas or hanging on to those of others?