Is different enough?

Without a doubt there is a conversation happening with marketing teams around the globe as I write this post trying to nail down differentiators. The more aggressive marketers might even be searching for “core differentiators” as if being different isn’t enough. Now we have to be different right down to our core.

Different is not good or bad. It’s not valuable or invaluable. Different is just, well, different. Who places a value on whether different is worth something extra, or worth something less?

Identifying your differences – or core differentiators – is a complete waste of time, money, and effort without first truly understanding your potential buyer. After all, who are you trying to appeal to with your differences?

Instead companies tend to begin on the inside rather than outside. Meaning, we tend to take the path of least resistance. Sitting in a conference room pontificating on why we’re different, and how much better we are than others does not get the job done. No. In fact, putting yourself in the market to truly listen to your buyers, and becoming vulnerable is what leads to innovation and disruption. Companies that do this well have no interest in being right….just in getting it right.

Does your buyer want different? What if all they want is better? Perhaps no one wants to relearn something entirely new. Perhaps all the buyer wants is for the “thing” they are currently using, to work better, or perform better. How do you know? Have you asked them? Have you asked enough of them to have a dependable sample size? Have you truly listened or did you embark on that research with a predisposition or set of biases? Were you tempted to skew the results to fit what you have in place?

In my book The Customer Mindset; Thinking Like Your Customer to Create Remarkable Results, I share an easy to implement process to map your buyers journey, starting with engaging your buyers and ultimately solving for the “so what?”. Yes, different can be better. The question is how much better, and does your prospective buyer care enough to pay for it?

When you look at your core differentiators, don’t forget to ask yourself (and your team), “so what?”

Advertisements

Presentation Matters!

Jewelry

Recently I was killing time in one of the country’s largest department stores as my wife did some shopping.  As a passionate, yet at times geeky marketer, I enjoy going to the mall to look at how merchandise is marketed and how consumers interact with that merchandise as they consider their purchase.

I’m often baffled by how some stores seem to be quite comfortable with messy racks and shelves.  You know the ones where all the sweaters are thrown all over the place, sizes mixed together, shirts are on the floor, and forget about the socks section.

As I wandered through this major, national, department store I stumbled into the jewelry section.  In fact, I quite literally stumbled as I noticed the sign for a pair of diamond earrings for $3,200.  It wasn’t the price that caught me off guard.  It was the horrible presentation.  The jewelry case looked like a disaster.  I actually snapped the photo above as my brain tried to reconcile the price of $3,200 with a case that looked like it had been through the war and back.

How could a retailer that is one of the most iconic in the country allow one of their stores to present merchandise like this?  Could their executive team even be aware that they are trying to sell jewelry for thousands of dollars in this manner?  I could never imagine a mall jewelers case to looking like this.  You’d never see a presentation like this in Nordstrom or Bloomingdales.  So my question is simple…

If this is the only way you’re able to present merchandise should you do it?  Is it worth jeopardizing your brand’s image? Is it worth the risk of destroying its value?  Further is this the image you expect of your brand? Crusty, cracked, faded, and dirty? Would any of this company’s executives spend that kind of money anywhere else where the merchandise was presented this way?  I’d bet not.

This got me thinking.  I wondered just how expensive jewelry displays actually cost.  Maybe, just maybe they were really expensive. So I went to http://www.nilecorp.com which sells jewelry displays.  I inventoried the displays in the case and priced out replacements.  NEWSFLASH: To replace the faux suede displays in this picture would cost a WHOPPING $50.00! Seriously?  Kind of makes you wonder just how far out this capital expenditure has to be budgeted for. Sense the sarcasm?

The morale of this story (blog) is that a multi-million dollar brand can be tarnished for under $50.00.  And whether your company is a local small business, a national retailer, or a luxury automobile manufacturer your brand is open for business 24/7. So if you’re not paying attention to these kinds of details guess who is?  Your lost customers.

And remember this…while diamonds may last forever, their display cases don’t.  Pay attention to the details.

3 Quick Ways To Understand Your Buyer

stopwatch

What’s better, simple or easy?  If you buy a product that is easy to use is it better than if it were simple to use?  Is there a difference?  Or does simple sound insulting.  We had to make it simple because we didn’t think you could figure it out on your own.  And so the dilemma arises for marketers around which word to use.  Select the right one and buyers respond, chose the wrong word and you can find yourself on a path to nowhere.

Understanding your buyer is the first step to learning what words or phrases will resonate the best.  Once you have the words down you can design and develop content, or campaigns, that speak the words that buyers find most engaging.  Here a few quick tips for identifying the best words or messages that will drive a positive (lead generating) response from your prospects:

  1. Survey.  Do a quick survey of your existing clients using e-mail, SurveyMonkey, or phone.  Ask them to provide you with words, or a description, of what comes to mind when they think of your company.  Leave it general.  The more parameters you place around the survey the more constrained their responses will be.  Allow them to think freely and simply react to your question.  Remember playing word association when you were a kid?  I say blue, you say sky.
  2. Key Word Test.  If you have a company blog, focus on testing key words in your titles and then throughout the blog piece.  You’ll find that the view and/or response rates will provide good insight into the words, topics, phrases that are most engaging to your audience.  Of course you should keep records to track responses when using certain words as this data will allow you to adjust future topics, titles, etc.
  3. Councils.  Both b-to-b and b-to-c companies use councils.  Customer Advisory Councils are mechanisms or tools you can use to gain quick and direct insight into your buyer.  Depending on the size of your company and the type of offering you are selling I would recommend no more than 11 Council members, always having an odd number.  Why?  The most effective and productive Councils I have been a part of, involve their members.  Council members are engaged under an NDA and have access and input into new ideas, strategies, and tactics the company is considering.  Often times a vote is involved, hence the odd number requirement.

Once you have deployed some or all of these ideas you must document and record your findings.  The data set you will create is your road map for developing your messaging.  If your customers refer to you as “easy”, you now know that there’s a good chance easy will resonate.  Likewise if the feedback you receive suggests “you are the simplest X,Y, Z to work with”, then your message should revolve around simple.

The fact is it’s up to you to find out what the right and wrong words, or phrases, are when marketing your product or service.  And the only one that truly knows what will work and what won’t is your customer…so ask them…involve them.    Once you do you will be on the road to creating a value proposition with supporting messaging that will engage the audience and generate lead response.

Buyer Personas. The Key To Sustained Growth.

Who

In my prior blog, 3 Philosophies of a Great Company, I wrote about the importance of knowing your customer.  We’ve all heard this expression before but many companies still struggle with the essence and simplicity of its meaning.  Knowing your customer involves having a thirst for knowledge, the ability to confront reality, and dedicated resources including time and dollars.  Those that embrace this strategic component are those that excel and succeed.

Using a buyer persona process is a great way to get to know your customer.   Companies like Sirius Decisions and HubSpot have invested countless resources in the development of creating a buyer persona process that drives new customer growth while improving the retention rate of existing customers.  When used effectively, buyer personas can become a powerful P&L management tool.  How?  Buyer Personas help to:

  1. Improve target marketing by aligning your product or service to the right audience.  If your product is geared toward SMB (Small-Medium-Business) or enterprise-size companies, your buyer personas will provide critical insights into the buyer behaviors of these specific segments.  Having a deep confidence in knowing your customer helps to avoid wasting precious time, and money, spent marketing to the wrong prospect group.
  2. Provide granular detail around how your prospective buyer thinks and gathers information.  How do they make their buying decision?  This information helps improve your ROI on marketing investments by knowing what to say, where to say it, how often to communicate your message, etc.  Keep in mind that each business could have more than one buyer persona.  A CEO, CFO, Office Manager, General Manager, all make decisions differently.  Why?  Because each have their own perspective from which they process information.  This becomes extremely important when determining where each of these individuals go to find information.  Sirius Decisions concept of “watering holes” illustrates the importance of knowing where to place your message – where your customers and prospects spend their time.
  3. Convert your value proposition into a high-impact message.  The strength of your value proposition is dependent upon how well your message aligns to the needs of your customer or prospective buyer.  You cannot succeed if your value proposition is disconnected from the buyers needs.  Therefore, having a completed buyer persona allows you to take your value proposition and craft it into a specific message that addresses the needs or pain points of that buyer.  Being able to demonstrate to the buyer your understanding of their needs, builds their confidence and, ultimately leads to their conviction to select you as their provider of service.

Think about the companies that really seem to know what the customer wants.  Companies like Apple, Toyota, Cadillac, Samsung, Proctor & Gamble, and Victoria’s Secret are all companies that have taken a buyer persona approach to growing their market share.  They invest heavily in knowing their customer.  They understand that what worked yesterday may not work today given internal or external influences to their market.  The key is change.  Seek it, drive it, embrace it, demand it.  Change is what drives innovation and innovation, if done correctly, drives growth.

3 Philosophies of a Great Company

Greatness-vs.-Mediocrity

You work for a great company, right?  You know what your customers want.  Your product, your service, your company has got it.  You’re the best out there and you know it.  You’ve built things from the ground up or possibly revamped an existing infrastructure to improve your sales effectiveness and efficiency.  You installed a sales CRM tool, you’re looking at a marketing automation system, and you just bought a prospect list that will help you focus on where to fish.  You’re ready.  You’re set…and off you go!

But wait.  You’ve spent months focused only on the internal aspects of your company.  You’ve developed plans based upon a certain set of assumptions, all of which, are best guesses based upon what you know.  But herein lies the problem, it’s not what you know that presents the risk of failure…it’s what you don’t know.  And  right now you’re missing the biggest piece of your success equation – what does the customer want and how do they want it?

Most companies still operate from an inside-out viewpoint.  What do we sell?  Why are we the best?  What makes us different?  Why is our product or process better?  This is why we’re special.  This is why you’ll love our solution.  And on, and on it goes.

So what separates average companies from star performers?  While there are many things that go into creating a great company I’d offer the following three philosophies as perhaps the most critical:

  1. Outside-in view.   Placing the buyers needs first is crucial to a company’s growth and success.  This requires dedicating time and resources to studying and understanding your prospective buyer.   Sirius Decisions, an expert in the integration of sales and marketing, developed a proven process that companies can use to identify and define their various buyer personas.  These personas provide deep insight into the buyer, who they are, how they operate, where they go to gather information, and their preferred methods of absorbing information.  Without this deep understanding of your prospective buyer, your sales and marketing efforts will continue to produce disappointing results.
  2. Thirst for knowledge.  Great companies are also learning companies.  They apply different techniques to deepen their awareness and familiarity of the marketplace.  Leadership gurus like Noel Tichy have introduced various methods for gaining and using this knowledge, inside of large organizations, that can also be applied to small businesses.  Tichy’s Virtuous Teaching Cycle, introduced in his book The Leadership Cycle, provides clear steps for how to gather, assimilate, and cascade knowledge throughout an organization.  Companies that commit to this quest for knowledge are better prepared to take the lead when the opportunity arises.
  3. Commitment to talent.  It’s no wonder that the companies on the list of Fortune’s Great Places to Work have some of the strongest performance results around.  For years, we have read the studies and seen the data that prove a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and high performance.  Today, we see companies like HubSpot, Zappos, and Square2Marketing providing benefits to employees ranging from “unlimited vacation time” to “pet friendly work places”.  Companies are beginning to see the benefits of providing more control and accountability to their employees.  Brian Halligan, HubSpot’s CEO said, “we hire very smart people who focus on the growth of our company and we expect them to use common sense”, and they have done just that since this HubSpot’s unlimited vacation policy was introduced in January 2010.