One of the first questions I always ask a new client is “What makes your business special?” More often than not, the reply is a blank look. This is a shame because every business is unique in some way. The differences may not be obvious at first glance but they’re always present.
My definition of flawed marketing is any marketing that is costing too much and/or not having as large an effect as it could have. One of the biggest problems I see with most marketing is that it’s all about “me”, the business doing the selling, and not about “you”, the customer. Combine that with uncertainty about what makes the advertising business unique and you’ve got the recipe for some seriously flawed marketing efforts. The truth is that customers only care about you to the extent that you satisfy their wants and needs and require a compelling reason to give your business a try.
How do you go about go about creating customer-focused marketing that shows off how unique your business is?
It’s actually quite simple.
Begin by getting out a fresh sheet of paper. On this sheet, list every conceivable benefit customers receive by doing business with you. Don’t confuse features with benefits. What’s the difference? A feature is a specification or what we call bells and whistles, while a benefit is the end result of said bells and whistles. For example, “250 gigabyte hard drive” is a feature and “holds up to 150,000 songs” (numbers made up) is a benefit. In short, list every last thing your customer can expect to get out of patronizing your business. The key here is to be absolutely brazen and shameless. This is absolutely not the time for modesty!
Your completed list contains all of the reasons why your company is a good one to do business with. I hope it’s a long list packed full of meaningful and valuable benefits. Take a few moments to look at this list, both to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything and to congratulate yourself on the fabulous job you’re doing for your customers. You’ve worked hard to build the business behind this list and deserve every bit of credit for your efforts.
If your business is alone in its field, then your job is done. Unfortunately, competition is all around you. Your next step must therefore be to research your competition. This may sound like a daunting task and possibly even a depressing one but fear not. Information is power and the more you know about the other players in your field, the better off you’ll be.
Researching your competition is a two-step process. First, you need to identify the specific businesses who are competing with you. How? Look around you. Ads, Yellow Pages, the Internet, newspaper ads, direct mail pieces- your competitors are probably doing their level best to make their presence known and should be very easy to find when you go looking for them. If they’re not, then either you’re looking in the wrong places (bad for you) or your competition may not be doing a good job of marketing (good for you, if true).
Now that you know who the other players in your field are, your next step is to visit each one. This need not be done in person. Look at their ads, marketing collateral, Web sites, etc. What benefits are they advertising? What other unadvertised benefits do they provide to their customers? Compare each competitor benefit to your list. If any competitor offers a benefit that you offer as well, cross it off your list.
What if your competitor lists a benefit that you don’t offer? Write it down on a separate list. We’ll come back to this in a few moments.
After crossing off all of the benefits that your competitors have in common with your business, sit back and take a look at what’s left. Those benefits that have survived the culling are what sets your business apart and what makes you unique. Those benefits are your competitive advantages or what marketers call your USP or Unique Sales Proposition.
Take a long hard look at this list. Are your competitive advantages truly valuable to your customers or are they meaningless fluff? If you can identify at least one of the former, you’re OK. If you can identify at least three meaningful competitive advantages, congratulations: Your business is a true standout. If you have more than five solid advantages, you might consider emphasizing different combinations of benefits in different marketing campaigns. We’ll talk about that later when we talk about identifying your target audience(s).
Now look at your competition’s advantages, those benefits they offer that you don’t. For each item on that list, ask yourself the following question: Does my competitor have a serious edge over me, is this benefit just fluff, or is this competitor targeting a different niche of customer? If the former, you need to evaluate your own offerings to mitigate or eliminate your competitor’s edge. If any of the latter options, don’t worry.
The completed list you have in your hand contains your competitive advantages, those unique benefits that your and only you provide to your customers. Memorize this list. Grok it. Live it. Why? Because this is where you’re going to hang your marketing hat.