How to Flatten Your Competition

flatten your competition

Every business, big and small, has competitors, and we all want to beat them.  But what if you didn’t have to?  What if you could learn how to flatten your competition; to even make them irrelevant? That way, it wouldn’t matter what they did.

Here’s how competition usually works.  Each year, the big TV networks compete with each other to get higher ratings during “sweep” periods. They use “stunt-hosting” to pull in more viewers to their respective morning news shows.  They’re fighting over the claim to “most popular” show.

Does any of this really matter to their viewers?  Is the show more interesting? Has all that effort, and money spent really gained them anything (other than bragging rights)?

Carmakers spend millions of dollars each year on ads, trying to outsell each other.

Do the cars and trucks last longer?  Or get better mileage? Do their customers (and non-customers who are bombarded with all these ads), feel better about the companies?  It’s old-fashioned interruption marketing — lots of money spent, plenty of annoyed viewers, and not much human connection.

How to Flatten Your Competition

Instead of trying to beat the competition, why not ignore them entirely.  Do something they can’t (or won’t do). Offering something unique, or a solution that solves a tough problem can help you stand out from everyone else.  If you’re known for a speciality, clients will seek you out.

For example, circus attendance is declining, but Cirque de Soleil is thriving. Why? Because they ignored the traditional circus audience of children and went after adults and corporate clients instead.  Their shows are definitely not for children, and they charge much higher prices than traditional circuses.  Since there is no other “adult” circus, they have no competitors to worry about.

Make a You-Shaped Hole

Remember watching Bugs Bunny cartoons?  Every time Bugs went through a wall or a solid object, he left a Bugs-shaped hole.  Take a tip from Bugs (and Cirque de Soleil) and create something that’s unique to you.

Be the writer who creates annual reports that look like infographics.  They’re easier to read, more fun, and remarkable.

Or, be the photographer who travels the world solely on airline mileage points, and then teach other people how to do the same thing.

Do something unique, over the top, or simply remarkable (how about late-night fresh chocolate chip cookie delivery?), and your competition won’t matter.  They’ll simply be irrelevant.

Master One Thing

Develop expert knowledge on a particular subject that people will pay to learn or have done.  Pick something that you care about, that you could talk about all day.  Gary Vaynerchuk loves wine, and found a way to talk about it that was obvious (in retrospect) but unique.  He never mentions “nose” or “finish” or other technical wine terms, he talks about wine in ordinary language that consumers use (not the language of wine experts).

There is a woman who has a coaching practice focused solely on helping pet sitters to grow their businesses.  She helps pets sitters only, not babysitters, not plumbers, not web developers, just pet sitters.  She has mastered that one service for a particular group of people.

Become a Partner, Not a Vendor

Another way to do this is to become an essential partner with your clients, rather than just a vendor.

If you help them with their business strategy, listen carefully when they talk to you, and above all, be helpful, they will start to regard you as a key part of their business success, rather than another expense.

If you think they’re making a mistake, tell them, even if it costs you money.  For instance, I had a client who wanted to do a large mailing from a list he had accumulated over time.  I would have made money writing the sales letters, but it was a mistake.  The list was no good and the mailing would have wasted his money.

I talked him out of it. Yes, I lost that particular project, but I gained more trust from my client.  And, it was worth it to both of us.

The competition didn’t matter much after that.  I was his trusted advisor.





The Three Building Blocks of a Successful Marketing Campaign

Yesterday’s post talked about a dumb marketing mistake.  Today’s post will turn around and focus on the three building blocks of a successful marketing campaign.

building blocks

Image by nerissa’s ring via Flickr

Every campaign and every business is different.

However, every successful marketing strategy has these basic ideas in common, no matter what your business, who your audience is, or what you are trying to sell.

First, you must know who your audience is.  The more detail you have (in your head, or on paper) the better.

Next, you need to know what they are thinking: what are they worried about, what are their goals?

Finally, you have to know why they should choose you (instead of anyone else) to help them with those problems.

Who is your audience?

Who are the specific group(s) of people you want to reach? Be able to describe your ideal client, whether they are new moms who want to lose weight or owners of crossfit training centers. Give them personalities and names if you like. If you offer services to two different kinds of people or companies (say both brides who want help choosing lingerie or men who want help buying a gift), then separate them. Don’t write the same stuff for both.

What are they thinking?

Taking the example above, the brides will have different concerns than the men. The brides will want to know: will it fit? will it show under my dress? how hard is it to put on? is it pretty?

The men want to know if she’ll like it, if it’s too sleazy, is it the right size?

Two completely different sets of concerns.

Why you?

Be clear about how you’ll help and what problems of theirs (not yours) you solve. Spell out why your approach is special or different, and show your personality when you do – be the person who offers overwhelming value or insanely great service or personal advice on selecting exactly the right lingerie for brides-to-be. Detail the reasons they should hire you, rather than someone else. Pile on the value. Make buying a “no-brainer.”

So, what’s your strategy?  Are you focusing on a particular audience? Not sure? Want an opinion (I have lots!)?  Just ask.

Marketing and the Salad Dressing Rule

Thousand Island Dressing on a plate of salad. ...

Image via Wikipedia

I just read about this today on the Well-Fed Writer blog (seems appropriate, doesn’t it).

The salad dressing rule means that when you’re marketing salad dressing, you first look for people who already enjoy and appreciate a fresh, crisp salad.

You ignore anyone who hates veggies, frowns at salad and would much rather eat a Big Mac and fries.

Market to the people who want you

Spending a lot of time and effort selling snowshoes to Arabian desert dwellers is a waste of effort.

Selling design services or writing to people who don’t see the value in those things is also a waste of time and effort.

Instead, focus on those who do appreciate (and understand) the value that strong writing skills brings to a project — sometimes literally.  If you write strong ad copy for example, your architect client may earn more money from her ad than if she wrote it herself. Make sure to point that out.  If she doesn’t agree that professional copywriting is important, she’s not the right client for you.  Move on to someone else.

Why your dressing is the best (for them)

Once you find people who already like salad, then you have to make it clear why they should buy your dressing, rather than someone else’s dressing.

What do your clients want from salad dressing anyway?  What’s important to them (not you, them)?

Do they want the freshest possible dressing?  Make yours daily (and tell them that).  Or, are they concerned about pesticides or artificial ingredients?  Point out that yours is organic.

Why do people who already buy your dressing like it?  If you’re not sure, sit down and think about it.  If you’re still not sure, talk to some clients and ask them.

Of course, unless you actually sell salad dressing, your real clients are more likely to be concerned about earning more money, having less stress, or doing something hard more easily.  Find out what most worries them, what keeps them up at night.  Then structure your product pitch to solve those problems.

Once you’ve done that, go have a nice salad. 😉

Are You Marketing Backwards?

Da Vinci notebook
Image by tiny_packages via Flickr

We all know that Leonardo da Vinci wrote backwards, though nobody knows exactly why.

It may have been to keep his work secret, or because he was left-handed (and writing that way was less messy).

Doing things backwards worked for Leonardo, but it’s not a good idea for your marketing.

Is your marketing backwards?

I was just reading this blog post in the NY Times by Jay Goltz.  He owns a picture framing company and his team was doing some sales planning for next year. They were trying to think of some ways to increase business.

A brainstorming session about a hypothetical 100 people in the area who needed framing, but went elsewhere, came up with the following possibilities :

  • “5 percent used us and for some reason decided they didn’t want to come back (we have a very high repeat and referral rate).
  • 25 percent are loyal to another frame shop and have no reason to leave.
  • 20 percent consider us too expensive.
  • 50 percent don’t know about us.”

Self-focused marketing is looking the wrong way

So, they decided to increase their advertising to get the word out. Obviously, this isn’t scientific, and the author readily admits that.  However, there’s another, bigger issue.

Say they spend more on ads, radio, adwords or whatever. Now more people know they exist. Is that enough?

Do you buy from the place you heard of (along with all the other places)? Or, do you buy from the place that’s remarkable? That treats you differently or offers something the other framing stores don’t?

There are lots of places near me (this store isn’t one of them), but no particular reason to choose one over the other. It’s a commodity. I have something I’ve been meaning to frame, and when I do, I’ll just pick one.

They were focusing on themselves, not their clients

They were looking in the wrong direction. They stopped and asked themselves how to get more sales, and their solution was focused inward – we’ll advertise more!

They never asked what the customer might want, such as pickup and delivery of large paintings or faster service. Neither did they focus on building a niche – maybe focus on museums (large, high-quality frames) or hotels (mass frame purchase).

What if the experience was special or unique in some way?

Like this dry cleaner (apologies in advance for the forced commercial; Seth Godin fans look closely at 1:55).

The reason that Hangers Cleaners is doing so well is that they made it convenient and made it fun with silly signs and t-shirts. How many silly dry cleaners have you ever seen?

Marketing forwards (outwards and toward the customer has led this company to improve its revenue, while its competitors are losing money.

Which way are you marketing?

Lamborghini or Hyundai? 99Designs vs Designers

lamborghiniA-list blogger and successful social media consultant Chris Brogan posted a logo design project on 99Designs a few days ago. Then, he tweeted about it.

All hell broke loose.

If you don’t know, 99Designs is a design contest site. Businesses post a project, with a budget, and entrants submit work. If they win, they get paid. If not, they worked for free.

The small business reaction to 99Designs

Judging from the comments, small businesses love it. It’s cheap! It’s fast! There are lots of options! They think, “Hey I can get something that looks nice and I don’t need a second mortgage on my house!”

99Designs vs Designers

Experienced designers hate it. It’s spec work! It devalues my art! It looks like crap! Would you ask 50 contractors to build a new den on spec?  Or trust your operation to an amateur brain surgeon?  What about the story of your company? Or how the colors and fonts express your philosophy?

They insist that you can’t just get a logo in one format. You need different versions for larger/smaller or print/web uses.

All true.

However, railing and ranting (while immediately satisfying) won’t change anything.

How to charge more for your work

If you want to get higher prices for your work, you need to better communicate and to better educate your clients:

  • why you are worth
  • who your market is (and isn’t)
  • why buy from you
  • what  you offer that cheap designers can’t (in business terms)

Specialize – pick a specific market (a niche, more on this coming later). Focus on them. Ignore everyone else.

Brand – use some of those branding skills on yourself. Are you the Ferrari of designers? Or the Smart Car? Why do people choose you? What do you bring to the job that other designers (or that cheap designers) don’t have? How are you remarkable?

Extra value – why knowing the difference between EPS and and RGB matters. And why one logo format doesn’t work for all media (web, trade show banners, brochures, faxes). A logo that looks OK online might look like a mud pie printed out in black and white.

Copyright /Due Diligence – a designer logo is the client’s alone – not ripped off from someone else’s site or work (legal fights are scary and expensive).

Skip the “I’m a professional, I have years of experience.” You are, and you do. That’s not what matters to the client. What matters to the client is whether you give her what she wants – to feel better, look better, earn more, be more successful.  What are you really selling?

Here’s the thing. Lamborghini doesn’t really sell cars. They sell status, luxury, sex appeal, and VROOOOM.

Hyundai sells cheap, reliable, and super guarantee.

Are you Lamborghini or Hyundai? Does Hyundai care about Lamborghini’s buyers? No. Nor vice versa. They ignore each other.

Show them why a real designer is worth it. And try to understand when they want to make the logo bigger!

Share your thoughts

What do you think about this debate?   Does cheap or spec  work hurt designers?  Does it matter what the “cheap” people do? What other ways can you approach the problem?

Image thanks to omniNate