Notes from Jeff York

Small business marketing thoughts from a marketing small business owner

Posts Tagged ‘competitors

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imagesThere is no shortage of ways in which you can get your name and brand out in the public eye. Between straight spot buys on TV, radio, placement within print and outdoor, you can carve out your own slice of the medium and craft your message for maximum impact.

But that doesn’t prevent those who sell media from thinking of additional ways of getting advertisers to spend money. You can always purchase a sponsorship. You can sponsor shows on TV, holes during a golf tournament, or printed materials for a non-profit’s event. These are great ways for ad sales reps to earn income beyond the standard selling of advertisements (internally, you might hear reps refer to this as “non-traditional revenue” or NTR).

But is this right for you?

In the case of cause marketing (marketing of an event connected to a cause such as the American Cancer Society’s Rely for Life), this may be a great opportunity to generate goodwill toward your organization in the form of displaying that you care and that you are a part of the community. Selfishly, it also puts you in front of a particular segment of people that you may want to reach. Even if it’s not just cause marketing but a local event, you may also find value in your sponsorship given that your company’s brand will be seen as involved.

Through years of both sponsoring and creating public events, I’ve gotten to know what really works from sponsorships and what might not necessarily generate value for your marketing dollar. The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make is to give dollars to sponsor something and then not worry about how they will be represented. If you’re worried about maximum exposure, then make sure that your providing a banner, sign, or logo and know where it’s going. Unless your signage is truly unique, then having it placed among so many others is simply spending money to become part of an ignored background.

How many times have you been to an event and seen how many benefactors were listed in a program? How you bothered to look at every name? Have you done business with an organization because they were listed among so many others in that program? It’s likely they got lost in the shuffle. They weren’t worried enough about their placement to make their sponsorship marketing purchase worthwhile.

Take control over how you will be presented. Where will you be listed? How will you be listed or placed? How many other people will be listed with you? Is your competition also participating? If this is the first year you are participating with an event, is there something “extra” that they can do for you? All things you’ll want to think about before consenting to sponsor an event.

Have you sponsored an event that you found to be exceptionally worthwhile and enhanced your business through its participation? How you given an event sponsorship dollars only to find it was a total waste? And if so, what did you learn from the experience?

Written by Jeff York

August 22, 2009 at 9:53 am

How much is that little doggie in the (virtual) window?

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ers7lrgI love electronics. Like oh-so-many other guys, I like going into my local electronics retailer and picking up and playing with the gadgets. I may not buy them, but they’re fun to play with. I remember one year telling my wife that I was going to take my birthday as a vacation day from work and spend the morning at Best Buy.

You’ve done it yourself I’m sure. You’ve gone into a Best Buy, Circuit City, Fry’s, CompUSA, or any of the other brick-and-mortar electronics retailers and just played. You might have gone in for something specific and just got sidetracked or maybe you were just going in to have fun and kill some time. But you’ve tinkered.

Then came the Internet. And with it, ease of comparison shopping. Then the brick-and-mortar that you visited just became the playground to test out new gear. You figured out which model you wanted and then went home where you could find it online for the cheapest price from a company that you hope wouldn’t drop it too many times before it shipped.

What happened to the brick-and-mortar stores? Circuit City is gone with its brand sold to a company that maintains an online-only presence. CompUSA is gone as well. Even market leader Best Buy is reporting in 1st Q 09 a domestic segment increase of almost 1%, but comparable store sales decline of 4.9%.

What does all this mean to you, the small business owner?

You know all that overhead you endure month after month? The salarys, the building and maintenance cost? The inventory? Know how you work so hard to generate positive foot traffic so people come in?

Ask yourself, if you were in your customer’s shoes, would you buy from you?  Is there a compelling reason for someone to buy from you rather than just play with your floor models and then go home and order it?

Of course there is. You know all the reasons as well as I do. First and foremost, the item’s already in the customer’s hands. Why let them put it down and then go home? They have have it TODAY. Despite the rigors of the current economy, we’re still a nation of “gotta have it now” people. Secondly, your staff is there to support you if you need to learn how to use it, need to select a better one, or return it. No need to ship it off to some post office box. Just bring it back and you’re happy to help. Thirdly… Fourthly… Fifthly…

You know all the reasons. I don’t need to tell you. But you do need to tell your customers. Before you become a Circuit City, CompUSA, or Ritz Camera, you had better make sure that your marketing and branding all position you against your competition correctly. And don’t forget, your competition includes all those faceless retailers that don’t even have a storefront.

Are you sure the price is right?

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sprocket kitNo one can deny it. You have spent a great deal of effort and energy in determining the price of your services and/or widgets. You looked at cost of construction, pulled apart your competition’s pricing, and nailed the price points the market will bear which you will make enough of a profit margin to build and grow your business.

Enter the recession. People are thinking twice about every single purchase before they make it. They are thinking long and hard about your price point. If they don’t continue to see true value in your offering, they are going to pass. Pass on you for too long and you could no longer have any mind share within your customer base (you are still advertising, aren’t you?).

Before you head too far down this path, now is the perfect time to take another look at your pricing structure. If you’re like many businesses, you did this initial work when you introduced your business or product, but simply adjusted for inflation and may have become complacent.

Take another look at your own pricing. Are the components cheaper? Is there a new technology out there that would lower your cost per unit? Any way in which you can demonstrate additional value from your business in the current environment will give you additional advantages over your competition.

Written by Jeff York

May 25, 2009 at 7:01 pm

What do you want?

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megaphoneThere is an unfortunate saying in our business: “Just because we work in communications doesn’t mean there is communications.”

Imagine that. In the very field that we work in, we are less than expert in executing the practice ourselves. Given that, how can we expect our clients to provide us with clarity in their communications. We often get frustrated by the perceived lack of clarity in message from the client.

We are the experts here. It is up to us to spend time with the client to derive from them what exactly is the message and position they want to convey to their (potential) client base. That is something our company pledges to do for our customers first and foremost for every client on every project.

However, that doesn’t preclude you, the small business owner, from having to do some homework yourself. Good marketing firms will do anything they can to help you to fine tune your message. But you need to know what it is you hope to accomplish first. Are you looking to establish points of differentiation from your competition? Are you looking to build market share? Are you launching either your company or a new product/service offering? Most marketing firms will work diligently with you to help you to figure out what your goals can be as well as what the right message and medium would be. However, if you’re reading this blog, then I’m thinking that you are possible not in a financial position to simply turn over your entire marketing efforts over to another firm. Therefore, much of this homework falls on your, the owner, to figure out.

It is difficult to have a good objective view of your company when you are internal. This is why large companies often rely on focus groups to help them gain perspective. Given that you don’t have the budget to perform any kind of formal focus group, reach out to people that know your company the best: your customers. Ask them what they think of when they think of your company. What images come to mind. The important thing here is to allow them to respond in a way that supports openness and honesty. Give them an avenue to remain anonymous.

There is a danger here. By asking only your current (and/or past) customer base, you are restricting yourself to views from people that already know your company. Seek opportunities to ask beyond that universe. The effort to gain this additional information is greater, but so are the rewards.

Marketing in a difficult economy

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As a business owner, current economic times provide you with endless challenges and possibly sleepless nights. When you’re worried about dwindling sales and if your bank is going to pull your credit line, it’s hard to think about growth. Ever wonder what the smart business owners are thinking about during these turbulant times?

How do I grow market share?

There it is. The smart businesses around us are thinking about turning these challenges into an opportunity. They are getting the message out there about their goods and services. They are developing top-of-mind awareness in the public at a time when their competitors are pulling marketing dollars off the table. Why? Exactly for that reason. The best time to build market share is when there’s no opposition.

In the past, I’ve written about cutting through the clutter and getting your message heard. Times like these make that task much easier. Fewer messages mean it’s easier to remember yours. Put your message out there. Repeat it over and over. If you do that, what do you think will happen?

In a recovery situation, you will be miles ahead of your competition. You will have built tremendous value in your brand and increased your opportunity to gain market share.

I know it’s hard to think along these lines when it seems like the sky is falling and money is tightest. But this truly is an opportunistic time. If you’re thinking about cutting back on your marketing budget, I would caution you to perhaps examine your strategies and concentrate your efforts to maximize success. If you’re thinking about cutting your marketing budget altogether, I have a message for you from your competitors:

Thank you.

Now I’m an advertiser. What does that mean?

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This past week, I was talking with a friend whom also happens to own her own business.  Recently, she’s been thinking about putting spots on TV which she’s never done before.  One of the questions she asked me was how will that make her look.  Does being on TV make a business look “desperate?”

This is actually a very viable question and one I’ve never really considered before.  Within her business peers and competitors, she was concerned that this would impact how they would view her.  In her line of business, how she appears among her peers is important.

If she has a commercial created and puts it on the air, what does that say about her business?  What does that say about her?

Advertising means telling as large an audience as possible about you and your business.  It’s a very effective way to establish your brand and to create points of differentiation in the minds of potential customers.  Advertising means that you believe in your business enough to put marketing dollars behind it.  Since no business has 100% market share in their segment, every business can increase sales with smart marketing.

All of that said, the key has to be smart marketing.  It starts with the message.  Is it right for the medium you plan to use?  Does it exactly match the image of your business you want to portray?  If not, then you can actually damage your business by releasing that message into the public.

Let’s say you now have a perfectly crafted mass media message that will cut through the clutter.  The job is only half done.  Next is finding the right medium for delivering the message.  As I stated in my series of posts on the various mediums, there are a wide range of media to use for delivering your message:  television, radio, newspapers, Internet, direct mail, and outdoor.  Deciding which to use requires thought as to what type of audience you want to reach, the message you want to convey, and budget.  Then you have to make sure that your placement within that media works for you as well.  Is your print ad buried in the paper or did you get a good placement?  Did the TV station sell you ROS (run of schedule) and then put your spot in Jerry Springer?  Did the radio station give you first spot in break or bury you in the middle of the break?

It’s vital that you talk with a good media buyer before committing to a media plan.  Speaking with a rep from a media company will only give you the perspective of why you should advertise only on their station.  Once you’ve purchased a plan from them and started to establish yourself as an advertiser, then good reps will start to have an eye out for you on other media…and you better still be buying time/space with them.  Media buying firms have the whole picture in mind and generally can secure better rates than you can on your own.  They make their money from ad agency commissions that media companies give for placing buys with them.  If you place the buy directly, the media company keeps that commission for themselves.

The bottom line is advertising is good for your business.  If your competition is already advertising, then by not doing so you will start to lose market share.  If they are not, then you immediately place yourself above them in the public’s mind and will start to reap the benefits shortly.  You should know that by putting yourself out there as an advertiser, you should expect that other media reps will start to call on you.  It’s wise to find a good media partner (buyer or ad agency) that you are comfortable with and are confident that they have your best intentions in mind.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

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If you’re in business, it’s highly likely you either have some form of competition or you are reading this while sitting on your private beach located on your own private island.  If you’re like the rest of us, you have to keep an eye on the competition in much the same way as they are keeping an eye on you.

So, what are they doing?

From a marketing standpoint, are they doing anything different from you?  Are they doing it better?

There is true value in being the first to market with a new idea or concept.  However, not being first doesn’t preclude you from making an effort.  You might need to just to keep your current pace.  But this is also an opportunity.  Is there a way that you can capitalize on your competition’s efforts that would make your situation better?

For example, they may be starting a new campaign.  Maybe it’s a smart campaign, but they are missing one big component.  You know you can do it better.  Then do it…BETTER!

Is there another twist you can add to the campaign or concept that makes it appear original?  Sometimes the best ideas are variations on someone else’s original thoughts.

But then again, are there really original thoughts any more?

Written by Jeff York

August 18, 2008 at 3:24 am

I’ve got a website. Now what?

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Who needs a website anyway?

Ask any marketing person today and they will say if you’re in business, you need a website. Why? First, all of your competitors have one. If for no other reason than to be on the same level as them, you need one.

So, all you need to is plant your virtual flag into the cyberground, toss up a page with your name on it, and you’re done…right?

Sure! Do the bare minimum. Expect the bare minimum. Want more? Do more!

Today, busy professionals use every tool at their disposal to find out which companies are worth doing business with. Who are the cream of the crop? Who is worth their time? One of the most accessible tools today is the Internet. Look up their website. How’s it look. In a brief period of time, can you get an excellent sense of who they are, what they do, and exactly what they can do for you? If not, try Googling someone else.

Let’s say you’ve put together a nice website. The content is clear to understand. You’ve got pretty pictures. Now what?

Have you asked your website what else it can do for you?

Let’s say your website has a well written paragraph on your front page. Do your visitors want to read it? Or would it be better to have a video where your CEO can invite people into the site to explore and interact? Is your navigation consistent and intuitive? What else can your website do for you?

Time to visit your website and look at it critically. Maybe it’s time to visit your competitor’s websites as well. What are they doing that’s different and memorable? Are they gaining a leg up on your company through superior web branding? Do the websites have returnability because there’s frequently updated worthwhile information?

What do you perceive as goals for your website? What have you accomplished through a web presence that perhaps your office/store location haven’t been able to do on its own?

Written by Jeff York

July 12, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Are you being sterotyped?

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Well? Are you? Are you being stereotyped? Clearly, you are.

Let’s face it, people pre-judge us every day. People that we may have never met, that may not have heard us speak yet, have already made judgments about us. It might come from the clothes we wear or the way we carry ourselves. Hopefully, they have taken the time to talk with us a little. From what we say and how we say it, people make further judgments about us. For better or for worse, we are judged.  It’s human nature.

They stereotype us. And that can be good.

Let me explain. There are some things we have no control over. The color of our skin, hair, eyes are all items we have no control over. Whether people find us attractive or repulsive have some root in elements that we have no control over. However, essentially everything else we have full control over. From the way we conduct ourselves to what we wear conveys a great deal of non-verbal clues as to the type of person we are. Wear a nose ring and spiked hair and people may immediately discount you as unprofessional. Wear an expensive suit and people will think you are professional. Conduct yourself with confidence and people will instill a degree of trust in you and will want to work with you.

It’s all about building your image. Take a look in the mirror. Would you do business with you? Would you do repeat business with you? Do you project a degree of professionalism and confidence? If you were a business, what kind of business would you be? Are your competitors envious?

We have full control over these aspects of stereotyping that others project on us. Give some thought as to the image you want to project. Tie that into your efforts toward building a personal brand. If you’re coming up short, that’s OK. It’s not too late and today’s not too soon to start making changes.

What efforts have you made to project an image that speaks to your credibility? Have you built an image that’s helped you in your professional (or personal) life? What success stories can you share that we can all learn from?