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Nobody Talks About Boring Businesses

Marketing podcast with Bernadette Jiwa

Perhaps one of the most primary objectives of marketing is to get people talking about your business. Sure, you actually want them to buy from you, but when there’s buzz, when people think what you’re doing matters, there will be sales.

boring

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

To me there is no more important job than building your business in a way that allows you to stand out from everyone else.

But, how do you create something that will get people talking? How do you build a story that people want to share and become a part of? How do you not be boring?

Not being boring doesn’t mean you have to create controversy or fanfare, it means you have to do something in a way that others don’t. It means you have to do something better, faster or with more soul.

There are two parts to beating the boring equation – first you need a value proposition that allows you to both stand out and deliver something that no one else is. And then you need a story to carry your value proposition.

What most of us are really trying to do in this world is build a loyal community and few things build community like a story worth sharing.

The first element, the value proposition, however, is actually the harder part to get right.

So often we want to tell the world about our product or our service. These might be nice things, but the reality is they don’t build community. Community forms around ideas, process, common language or what I’ve come to call “Method.”

In order to truly tap the power of a value proposition you must fully develop your way of doing business, your method for standing out and delivering value.

When you get this part right, the story people tell and build practically creates itself out of the common language of the community that forms around your unique method.

And that’s how to not be boring!

To expand on this notion I visited with Bernadette Jiwa, author of Make Your Idea Matter: Stand out with a better story for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast.

Jiwa’s book is a tremendous resource in arena of storybuilding and making your business one that people can’t live without.

7 Essential Elements to Small Business Growth

Business plans are great, useful even, but the planning process and a growth oriented plan of action is where it’s at for the small business.

A growth strategy planning approach forces you to focus on customer based strategy, high priority objectives and measurement of the things that actually impact your ability to reach your growth goals.

Every business that has growth in mind should make quarterly planning the practical and useful vehicle that it is.

The following seven elements and associated questions make up the foundation for brainstorming, questioning and organizing your growth planning strategy sessions.

growth strategy planning poster

Divide a white board into seven segments and pass out post it note pads to all participants involved. Then, just start asking questions. Let everyone vote with their ideas in private then start posting and discussing the thoughts as a group.

1) Ideal customer (IC) – How would someone spot our ideal customer? What do they look like, what do they think, where do they live, work and play? How do we locate them? What is their pain? Is there a behavior that signals they are ideal? What triggers their desire to solve their problem? What do they get when they hire us?

The goal of this phase of planning is to complete a picture of the ideal customer – one that values your unique approach. Look to your most profitable clients that also tend to refer business for clues.

2) Value proposition (VP) – Why do people buy from us rather than our competitors? This is a hard one for some companies to nail and you might have much better luck spending some time asking your customers why they buy from you, stay with you and refer you. Listen very carefully to the stories the tell for clues to your value proposition. There are a handful of proven value propositions, but the key is for you to find and commit to something that clearly differentiates.

3) Strategy Hourglass (SH) – Where are our gaps in customer engagement? I believe that process of growing a customer centric business lies in developing a mindset that focuses on the act of logically moving customers and prospects through seven stages of engagement – know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer. The Marketing Hourglass is a tool I’ve used with hundreds of business owners to help create a focus on customer engagement.

4) Primary objectives (PO) – What are our 2-3 highest priority objectives for growth? One of the things the derails growth most often is too many goals and objectives. Most business can only focus on a couple of initiatives at any give time. You must identify and commit to no more than three priorities and then go to work on creating the projects and tasks needed to pull these off. And, you must say no to the idea of the week that shows up to knock you off course.

5) Revenue streams (RS) – How can we create more streams of revenue? There are only three ways to grow: add more customers, increase the average transaction size, increase the number of purchase per customer. It’s actually easier to sell more to existing customer than add new customers. What services or products could you add? What packaging, pricing or promotion could you realign? What new markets or segments could you enter?

6) Strategic relationships (SR) – What relationships do we need to develop? This is probably one of the greatest untapped opportunities for growth. What marketing partners could be motivated to promote and co-market your business? What joint ventures would allow you to tackle new work? What vendors or suppliers could help you grow? What competitors could become cooperative partners for new venture, markets or work?

7) Key indicators (KI) – What metrics impact our growth most? Most businesses can tell you how much revenue they did last month and how much money they have in the bank. By tracking things like % or leads converted, % or business via referral, cost to acquire a new customer and % of customers likely to refer you can take control of the things that actually impact your growth in near real-time. Here are 7 key indicators that I believe should be part of the picture.

When asked to come into a business and evaluate it for growth or help develop a marketing plan – this is where I start because this is where all the answers reside.

How To Discover Your Perfect Value Proposition

This is part two of a three-part series on Finding Strategy. Each post includes a free template.

So, I’ve been preaching this one pretty hard for a bunch of years and see no end in sight, because it’s just that important.

Core Difference SurveyFind a way to differentiate your business, one that matters to somebody, or you’ll be forever doomed to compete on price.

Get really, really clear about the single-minded point of difference that some narrowly defined ideal client cannot live without and you’ve got the secret to marketing success. Seems pretty simple, right – then why do people fight it so?

I’ll tell you why, because to be unique, you have to actually be different and that scares the heck out of most business owners.

But let me tell you the most important lesson I’ve learned in all my years of owning a business – your customers and prospects want you to be different, they require you to be different.

If you want to succeed in business you have one job – find a way to propose that you are completely different in a way that a market wants and values, exploit that difference in every word that you compose and watch your profits soar.

This is the essence of the elusive marketing strategy so many companies long for.

Okay, enough preaching let me teach you a simple process I’ve used for many years that often helps business owners nail the core difference and value proposition that matters most.

Identify your ideal client

The first step is to identify your ideal client. I wrote about The Secret to Finding Highly Profitable Clients here. You know you have an ideal client in mind when you can ponder how great life would be if you have a dozen or so more just like them.

Create a list of six to eight of your current ideal clients and commit to sitting down with face to face or over the phone for about fifteen minutes. You are going to conduct an interview of sorts that may lead to some fabulous revelations.

Ask them these questions

Once you have your client’s attention pose some variation of the following questions.

A word of caution here, you’re not looking for scientific data here, you’re looking themes and stories that offer clues to what really does make your firm unique. In most cases you will need to use follow-up statements such as – “Okay, we provide great service, that’s awesome, but tell me a story about a time we did.”

  1. Why did you hire us/buy from us in the first place? (Here you are looking for clues to what helped them decide to buy, what build trust, what resonated in your marketing and sales processes.)
  2. What’s one thing we do that you love the most? (Stick to one thing and help them get as specific as possible)
  3. What’s one thing we do that others don’t? (Again one thing – this may sound a lot like the second question, but what you are really trying to do here is get some industry comparison going – you might get some stories of how others have failed them in the past and there offer some interesting opportunities.)
  4. If you were to refer us what would you say? (This is your chance to have them describe what you do best as though they were telling a friend. This point of view can be very powerful and this answer might actually turn into a testimonial. In many cases that’s precisely what I’ve done with answers to this question.)
  5. Can you tell me about three other companies that you love? (This question does a couple of things. It allows you to better understand what they think best of class looks like and why and it helps you build a list of potential strategic partners. Think about it, your shared client thinks you both rock!)
  6. Bonus: If you can pull this off, have them conduct an online search and simply ask them to type the phrase they would enter if you were no longer around and they needed to replace what you do for them. (I like to try to have them physically do this. It’s amazing what you learn from watching what people really do to find things online. Experience tells me you might not be optimizing your content for the same terms your prospects are looking for.)

We’ve created a handy tool that you can use to record your client interviews – Download our free client survey template here

Work with themes that matter

From your interviews you should have some rich themes to work with. Don’t underestimate the power of simple things. Quite often your clients value the little things you do that are special. Resist the temptation to dismiss them as unimportant enough to use as your core point of difference.

I once worked with a remodeling contractor that felt their superior craftsmanship was the key and while their clients acknowledged this they admitted that it was an expectation because the company was also higher priced than most. What they didn’t expect was how thoroughly their people cleaned up the job site every day. That idea was unique and using it in all of their marketing created a dramatic shift in strategy and sales.

In the final part of our Finding Strategy Series we’ll cover how to turn your point of difference into a core message, value proposition and something I all Your Talking Logo.

7 Competition Crushing Value Propositions

Page one of Warby Parker's infographic laden annual report

One of the biggest challenges that any small business faces in the area of marketing is standing out from everyone else that say it’s doing what you’re doing.

Until you can firmly offer a solid reason for why you should buy from or hire us over everyone else, you’ll compete on price.

As you develop a marketing strategy for your business you must proactively create the value proposition of “why us” and build all of your marketing messages, products, services, processes and follow-up communication around supporting that proposition.

This is how you use strategy to dominate your market. This is how you define value in terms that matter to those you are trying to attract.

Below are seven ways to think about defining and refining your core value proposition.

1) We know you – So many companies try to serve mass audiences. This is tough for any organization, but can be next to impossible for a small business just getting started. One very powerful way to create a point of differentiation is to carve out a narrow segment of a market and explain through every communication that you are the experts in serving that market.

Divorce attorneys that specialize in representing men are an example of this type of approach. Obviously, you won’t attract female clients, but a man going through a divorce might feel you have specialized knowledge and experience that other, more generic divorce attorneys, don’t possess.

2) A better way – Creating a product, service or approach that clearly offers a better way to get a result, particularly a result I desperately need to get, is another strong way to demonstrate value and promote a business.

Pretty much everyone struggles with processing too much information. Many have developed all kinds of systems to remember things, track things and keep to do lists under control. Evernote created a better way to do this and made the process simple, accessible and manageable on the devices that millions already used, so it’s value proposition offered a very recognizable way to do something better and the company has grown measurably because of it.

3) One of a kind – Some segment of just about every market craves things that are custom made. The more markets are inundated with mass produced items, the more opportunity exists for things that are made to order or made by hand.

I believe the popularity of a platform like Etsy is due in part to this need for some to find and possess things that are one of a kind or made just for them.

If you can find a segment of your market that values this approach it can be a highly profitable proposition. I asked the owner of a men’s clothing shop I frequent about the market for suits these days and he said there are really only two segments left. The low end off the rack suit and the very high end custom tailored suit.

4) Access – Another interesting value proposition is to take a market or demand that already exists and disrupt it by creating access that isn’t generally available.

Peter Shankman founded a service called HARO or Help a Reporter Out, based on this proposition. PR professionals and marketers had long paid thousands of dollars a year to gain access to a pool of journalists looking for sources to specific stories.

HARO built a database and service based on this concept and made it available to anyone that wished to subscribe for no cost. The service became so popular that it began to attract significant ad revenue and Shankman later sold it to another industry disruptor Vocus.

5) Savings – Offering a market ways to save money or lower risk will always be a strong way to differentiate a business. Now, understand this is not the same thing as offering a lower price. The key to this proposition is to demonstrate how your product or service will clearly allow them to save money through the use of what you are offering. A version of this proposition is to show them how they can lower the risk of losing money as well.

Many of the cloud based Software as a Service offerings such as Dropbox do this very well. Dropbox allows many people to more easily share and store files without the need for server hardware and eliminates the risk of losing data by automatically offering backups.

6) Convenience – Come up with a product, service of business that makes it more convenient to do something that people are already used to doing and you’ve got the makings of a winning value proposition.

I read a lot a books and the Kindle device for me is flat out the most convenient way to find, buy, read, store and carry lots of books around.

7) Design – Great design is actually very hard to do, but when you invest in it as a core value proposition, it can actually be a tremendous way to stand out and attract a market segment for whom form and function are equally important.

Apple has entered and dominated several markets in which they had no history, mp3 players and phones, using their design value proposition.

Building a business model and marketing strategy based firmly on any one of these proven proposition will allow you carve our your place in the market. However, if you can combine several of these propositions you’ve got the foundation for something downright disruptive.

A collaboration between four close friends, eyewear maker Warby Parker was conceived as an alternative to what the founders felt was the overpriced and bland eyewear available today.

According to Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO, “We just didn’t think a pair of glasses should cost more than an iPhone.”

Warby Parker’s obvious innovation was to go direct in an industry full of middlemen, big name designers and licensed brand names.

The company designs their line of glasses, works directly with the manufactures and sells it’s line of prescription and sunglasses directly to the end consumer.

In an effort to take on an entrenched $16B industry, they created a fixed price of $95 for all styles, ship out up to 5 pairs for no cost test drives prior to purchase and donate a pair of glasses to those in need for every pair sold.

The company was featured on CBS Sunday Morning and in the New York Times in 2011, sold over 100,000 pair of glasses and grew to over 50 employees according to its 2011 annual report – another innovation as it was delivered in a series of infographics rather than the typical dry corporate report.

Savings, access, convenience, design and a better way all rolled into one value proposition.