A Lesson On Staying Relevant
I've been a fan of superheroes since the age of four. I'd watch the tv shows, read the comic books, and then act out my own adventures in the backyard. But a superhero isn't a superhero without a mask and a cape which is where my mom came in. Mom was a Jacqueline of all trades and, above all, she was a master seamstress. Now, knowing this and believing Mom could do anything, I asked her to make me superhero costumes. Her first was a Batman cape and cowl when I was four and her last - and perhaps greatest - was Iron Man armor when I was 12. All she had to go on was her son standing next to her with a comic book pointing and saying, "That's what it should look like." She never disappointed in what she created from scratch with no patterns other than a comic book drawing. Looking back on it all, I marvel that she was able to craft what she did almost out of thin air and realizing she should have been given sainthood for putting up with my "requests". But she didn't just create my superhero costumes. Mom sewed my clothes. In fact, I didn't have a store-bought pair of jeans till I was a Senior in high school.
Sew - sorry, couldn't resist - what does this have to do with my lesson on staying relevant? Enter JoAnn Fabrics. Can we agree that Home Economics is a thing of the past and that fewer and fewer women are sewing? Shouldn't they be nervous about their customers eventually dying off and them with it? Maybe not.
JoAnn Fabrics - in an era where they could be in danger of disappearing from existence - has embraced cosplay (or Costume Play for the unfamiliar). JoAnn's not only has how-to books on their shelves but they have signage in their stores proclaiming them as "Cosplay Headquarters". When I first saw this signage and did a little investigation, I was dumbfounded on many levels.
First level - the genius of JoAnn Fabrics in seeing how they were uniquely positioned to take advantage of a growing segment in our culture who are proudly making costumes of their favorite pop culture figures - whether it's superheroes, movies, video games or anime - and want to custom make their costumes to look as authentic as possible.
Second level - being able to pivot without alienating their base sewers/crafters. That's a tough trick for any business segment. And history is replete with businesses who crashed and burned trying to do so. Kudos, JoAnn Fabrics.
Third level - realizing that Mom and I were OG cosplayers. She didn't live to see JoAnn's pivot and would have gotten a laugh at how we were cutting edge in her sewing room all those years ago.
The lesson learned here is that "old school" doesn't have to mean outdated. What societal or cultural trends can your business adopt to keep yourself relevant with a new segment? Once you figure that out you open yourself up to new revenues but, more importantly, you open yourself up to a new generation that allows you to stay in business. Remember, JoAnn Fabrics didn't change their business model nor attempt to create new product lines, they found out with a simple messaging pivot they could attract an audience to use and to experience their products in a slightly different way that keeps their cash registers ringing. Whoever came up with that idea should get a gigantic raise.
Oh, and yes, the picture below is that of me just after Mom finished my Iron Man armor. No patterns, just a kid with a comic book standing next to her at the sewing machine. She was amazing. And I was one incredibly lucky son.
Marketing is not a short-term endeavor. Marketing, like a marathon, is done over the long-term with a commitment and a strategy. You should be marketing and advertising for as long as you plan to be in business and, yes, sometimes marketing and advertising does not yield immediate results. However, in economic times like these, business owners look at their bottom lines and want immediate, instant results. For many business owners who may look at flat as the new up, the now is more important than the future. But it shouldn't be.
You should be marketing and advertising for as long as you plan to be in business
Recently, I saw a blog by marketing guru Seth Godin who wrote about 7 marketing sins business owners make. I thought it was worthy of sharing here. As you read the 7 marketing sins, ask yourself how many marketing sins are you guilty of committing and what you're willing to do to correct it/them.
1. Impatient... great marketing takes time. Doing it wrong (and rushed) ten times costs much more and takes longer than doing it slowly, but right, over the same period of time.
2. Selfish... we have a choice, and if we sense that this is all about you, not us, our choice will be to go somewhere else.
3. Self-absorbed... you don't buy from you, others buy from you. They don't care about your business and your troubles nearly as much as you do.
4. Deceitful... see selfish, above. If you don't tell us the truth, it's probably because you're selfish. How urgent can your needs be that you would sacrifice your future to get something now?
5. Inconsistent... we're not paying that much attention, but when we do, it helps if you are similar to the voice we heard from last time.
6. Angry... at us? Why are you angry at us? It's not something we want to be part of, thanks.
7. Jealous... is someone doing better than you? Of course they are. There's always someone doing better than you. But if you let your jealousy change your products or your attitude or your story, we're going to leave.
Of course, they're not marketing sins, they're human failings. Humility, empathy, generosity, patience and kindness, combined with the arrogance of the brilliant inventor, are a potent alternative. Are you the brilliant inventor who does marketing with a passion, a plan, and a purpose, or are you flying by the seat of your pants and hoping things will improve? Examine your marketing strategy and see if you’re committing any of the seven sins. If you are, re-evaluate and implement a new strategy. If you need some help. I can help you as I have helped others.
As a business owner or marketer you want your current and future customers/clients to know what you do and that you’re good at it. While that is important, it’s not what the function of your advertising/marketing message should be. The function of your message is twofold: become known before you’re needed and to be the first option when their triggering event occurs. Two mistakes advertisers make are: 1) they talk about them-selves and; 2) their message is a laundry list of the products and/ or services they offer. Boring...and not what the consumer wants to know. Do you know what the consumer wants to know? “How are you Business X, going to make my life easier, more comfortable, less expensive, more enjoyable?” If you as a business can answer that question in your message, you’ve just increased your odds of getting a crack at their business.
The function of your message is twofold: become known
before you’re needed and to be the first option when
their triggering event occurs.
Unfortunately, most messages—maybe even yours—go some-thing like this: “At Business X we’ve served this area for fifty years with quality products, great service, at fair prices. We’re conveniently located and we’re ready to help you. Please call us, email us, stop by, see us…” Ugh. Awful. Why? Because consumers don’t care about you and because, in most cases, buying is an emotional decision. Are you talking to your customers’ hearts or their brains. If it’s their brains, you’re in trouble.
Harley Davidson is a terrific example. They sell motorcycles, right? WRONG. Harley Davidson sells a lifestyle. In their marketing H-D talks about you being able to get some “wind therapy on their meditation machines.” It’s brilliant because Harley Davidson understands it’s not about motorcycles, it’s about the experience the people in the Harley Davidson family will have. How are you communicating the experience of your product or service to the end user? If you can do that, your message goes from boring to compelling. And if your message is compelling, chances are you are on a path to form a connection with those you wish to business with and on the path to turning a prospect into a customer.
3 Things You Must Accomplish With Your Marketing (or you'll hand customers to your competitors)
I see it every day. Every day I see local businesses trying to be cute or entertaining with their marketing or advertising and it leads to costing them business. There is a local coffee shop in the city where I live that has on its large coffee cup-shaped sign their name and their tag line which is: "Open Till We’re Shut". do they really think that's a good idea? Keeping with that logic, it’s going to be sunny till it’s dark. I’m going to be happy till I’m sad. What this business is communicating to me is that when I make a special trip to go there (the coffee shop is out of the way and not in a prime location), they may or may not be open. Guess who doesn’t go there? Me. I’m not taking the chance that they’ll be closed when I get there. Where do I go to get my coffee? Caribou. That’s right, a chain. But I like their product and I know when I can get it. The local coffee house lost my business because they got cute...they got too creative with an ambiguous underlying message of unreliability.
"As a consumer I need trust and reliability from those I do
business with. If you can't give me that, then I'm moving on and so are other consumers."
Then there’s an insurance company in the area who, in their television advertising, proudly proclaims that we’re: "The Home of the Secret Phone Number". Better yet, that same slogan is on the huge sign outside their business. If you are an insurance agent, why on earth would you think proclaiming having a secret phone number is a good thing? If I suffer a loss or get into a car accident after hours, do I really want to take the chance with an insurance agent that has a "secret phone number"? If I’m thinking about switching insurance companies, does that slogan indicate they’re easy to get in touch with? No. Again, as a consumer I need trust and reliability from those I do business with. If you can't give me that, then I'm moving on and so are other consumers.
There are three things you need to accomplish with your marketing and advertising:
1) be top of mind at the consumers' triggering event;
2) make it as easy as possible for people to connect with you and;
3) get people to walk in your door. That’s it.
Your advertising and marketing message isn’t about being cute or entertaining or even interesting...it’s about delivering your message in a compelling way that makes you the only logical choice to do business with when people need what you have to offer. That’s it. Simple. Not cute, not creative. Simple.
When you get cute in trying to be memorable or entertaining with your advertising or marketing message you can send an-other unintended message to people: don’t do business with me.
Social media has given businesses more platforms and more opportunities to put them in front of the people with who they'd like to do business. The big problem/challenge/obstacle for businesses and social media is how to attract more customers and make more sales, right? Wrong. Social media is not necessarily for customer acquisition but to strengthen and broaden relationships with existing customers/clients/fans. People on social media aren't there to be sold by you so if they choose to like you or your business on social media - especially Facebook - is because your business/product/service fits into their lifestyle. In your social postings speak to the relationship and lifestyle between you and them and help them in additional ways that strengthen their affinity for you. Here are some tips:
"Someone liking you on Facebook doesn’t mean a loyal customer."
Brands must give users a reason to "like" them. Someone liking you on Facebook doesn’t mean a loyal customer. Is there a perk such as a coupon, a code for free shipping, or a discount, only available to Facebook fans or other techies? Courtesy ofRetail Wire, Molly Garris, director of digital strategy at Arc World-wide, outlines eight examples of how retailers can use Facebook and mobile technologies to drive their sales efforts:
1. Help shoppers prepare: Consumers are creating and storing lists on their phones, but some retailers are givingcustomers even more options. Target's app tells shoppersif the product they are looking for is in stock and, if so,where to find it.
2. Invite them inside: A new app from Shopkick not only shows customers the stores that are near them, butprovides them incentives for entering. Example: When auser opens the all for American Eagle (a ShopKick partner) and walks into American Eagle retail outlet, he/she earns points for deals and coupons. American Eagle shoppers alsogain extra points for trying on clothes.
3. Show them around: One "anonymous" superstore has a "Find It" app that lets shoppers enter what product they are looking for, and then provides directions to the location. Another app that helps customers find products is Aisle411, but a retailer must partner with the company to upload its maps into the system.
4. Help them decide: For customers who are undecided a bout making a product purchase, a smartphone can helpthem compare items inside a store rather than searching for them on competing sites.
5. Encourage them to share: Macy's developed an "augmented reality experience" app that allows shoppers to point their phones at a specific place on the floor, thus getting characters to pop up. And a Converse sneakers app lets shoppers take a photo of shoes, see it in a variety of colors and styles, and then instantly text it or send it to Facebook.
6. Make the transaction easier: C Wonder, a store in New York, lets employees equipped with iPods and iPads handle transactions from anywhere in the store. Customers no longer have to wait in line to purchase a product.
7. Make sure shoppers are satisfied: Home Depot has an app that gives customers tips on do-it-yourself projects, includ-ing "how to" videos, while a Kroger app gives its shoppers grill-ing tips and recipes when they purchase a specific brand of char-coal.
8. Invite them back: Several pharmacies send text alerts to customers when it's time for them to refill their prescriptions.
You always want to be acquiring new customers to grow your business but social media gives you a wonderful opportunity to "touch" your repeat customers often and remain top of mind with them. It will also provide a powerful way to remind them why they liked you (off and on-line) in the first place.
My brother-in-law Tres is a wine maker in Napa, California. He is an outstanding wine maker and he has taught me a lot about wine since I’ve known him. He has impressed upon me the importance of a sommelier—or “smelly air” as he jokingly pronounces it. The sommelier is a wine expert who guides you on the best choices based on what you’ll be eating that evening. A sommelier is also, almost by definition, a winemarketer. It’s the sommelier’s job to create a fantastic experience for the customer so that the customer buys more wine. What does a sommelier have in common with your marketing message and customer experience? A good sommelier does five key things you should adopt in your business:
"It’s the sommelier’s job to create a fantastic experience
for the customer so that the customer buys more wine."
1. The first step is to shape the customer experience
It’s not a simple matter of “only stock good wine.” Yes, it has to be good, but there are endless definitions of that. Just as important as quality, the wine has to be the right fit— for your clientele, your neighborhood, the food you serve, the price point you’re working within. As a marketer, your first task is to choose what you’re going to market — and to make sure that’s the perfect fit for what your customers are looking for.
2. Your personality matters, too
A sommelier whose wine list is at the intersection of his/her own passions and the desires of his/ her customer is a sommelier who’s going to sell a lot of wine. If he/she can tell a great story— about the wine or the winemaker — so much the better. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge, your passion — even to geek out a little. That’s infectious. Tell a compelling story.
3. It’s not your job to tell people what they want
Good sommeliers know they’re not in the wine business … they’re in theentertainment business. It’s their job to create diversion and pleasure, not to inflate their own egos or intimidate customers into worrying about whether they like the “wrong” kind of wine. Let your customers tell you what they want and then give it to them.
4. Know how the customer’s going to drink this wine
Develop as clear an understanding as you can of how your customer will consume your product or service and make sure you’re offering something that really works for what they need.
5. Make the most of your raw materials
Every business needs to understand this … the “raw ingredients” you have to work with. If you’re wise, this will become the foundation of your winning difference or unique selling proposition — the unmistakable thumbprint that distinguishes your business from everyone else’s. What is unique about you that your competitors’ can’t offer or match?
If you can market your product or service as a sommelier does a fine wine, you sell more. It’s really no more complicated than that because it’s not what you do or offer that’s important, it’s how what you do or offer lines up with the experience the customer/client has with your product or service inside of his or her lifestyle.
When I consult with and advise business owners on their marketing strategy and subsequent campaigns, I make one thing very clear: don't have sales. Sales speak mainly to transactional buyers - those who are the least loyal consumers because their only loyalty is to the lowest price, not you. What my clients get is a healthy dose of from me is to focus on their value proposition and a competitive price, not the lowest one. My clients who have taken this to heart have been very pleased with the results they've seen over time.
Of course, there is one exception to my "no sale rule" and that is if there is one time of year that a retailer is known for doing a sale - "Crazy Day" or a "Clearance Sale" when on that one time of year can consumers get that deal and none other, then a sale is fine. But a sale should never become a habit because sale after sale after sale only trains consumers to shop you only when you have a sale and to wait you out till your next sale when there might be an even better deal. The other exception to my no sale rule is Black Friday. Black Friday is that one day a year when people are expecting to get the deals and when they know they have to act to miss out. Sadly, the Black Friday phenomenon as we knew it no longer exists.
Granted, what I'm about to put in front of you as to why Black Friday will never be the same is not the only reason for the lack of Black Friday punch this year. Certainly the economy and greater shopping online have and will have an impact on people's level of spending on Black Friday well into the future. However, as it relates to consumer attitude and behavior, what I'm about to tell you will explain why Black Friday is no longer the special event it was, why it will never have the power again it once had, and how business owners screwed it up. That's right. I'm blaming the decline of Black Friday on business, not consumers.The warning signs were plain to see in March 2014.
One Saturday afternoon I was watching television when I saw an ad for Home Depot that announced you could get "Black Friday savings in March". The hair on the back of my neck stood up. First, Black Friday is a post-Thanksgiving event (note the word "event" because we'll come back to that). Second, if Home Depot is trying to use Black Friday as a hook before their Spring season begins, you know they're worried about revenues and people hanging on to their money. It's desperate and harmful to the Black Friday brand.
How is that? Think of the Super Bowl. It's one day when the country stops to watch football, watch commercials, and have parties. It's one day that when it's over does not come around till the next year. It's SPECIAL. Get it? Special (I'm looking right at you, Home Depot). If the NFL and their television network partners said throughout the playoffs, "Enjoy Super Bowl feelings and fun for the next six weeks" then the Super Bowl would cease to be a national phenomenon because you wouldn't have the one opportunity to be part of it. There would be no urgent, compelling reason to have parties and watch football because a weekly, the event itself and all that goes with it would be "just another weekend of football". Want to know how powerful the Super Bowl is? The television networks asked the NFL to move the game from the last Sunday of January to the first Sunday in February so it would fall into the Nielsen ratings period. Television networks get it and our retailers - largely - don't.
Most people who tune in for the Super Bowl, who go to parties to watch commercials don't do it because of who is playing or even because it's football - it's because of the experience they have on that one day. The Super Bowl is one big national party...and there are some who advocate making the Monday after the Super Bowl a national holiday. Retailers need to understand Black Friday was not just about the amazing deals, it is about the experience that came with it and it's now an experience that is no longer special because it's no longer just one day.
In 2014 we saw a November where you could get Black Friday deals BEFORE Black Friday as retailers panicked to get the holiday shopping dollars instead of their competitors. Why brave the crowds and the madness when I could get a better deal on the same items two weeks before when all is calm? Why wouldn't I do that? And, thus, Black Friday has become synonymous with just another sale that is no longer special because it isn't just one day anymore. Furthermore, Cyber Monday has become Cyber Week for some businesses (I'll give you a hint: it's initials are H-D and I'm not talking motorcycles) in an attempt to cash in on what should be a one-time event. Instead Black Friday and Cyber Monday have been turned into just another sale. Nothing special.
And our retailers will not be better off for it.
When is a sale not a sale?
As I was driving Downtown the other morning I saw this upon getting out of my car. I shook my head and then took this picture. I shook my head because the intended message and what the received message is are very different. My belief is that this business (which I've made purchases so I'm inclined to like it and spend money there) is intending to let people know that they will always find prices that are friendly to their budget. This type of messaging speaks to the transactional shopper who is only as loyal as your lowest price. Not only that but if you train people to only shop you when you have a sale then they'll wait you out until they think they can get the best deal and your sales cycle looks something like the outline of a roller coaster.
In my shopping this furniture store, I have found that the items carried are not only fairly priced but of high quality. This business should be devoting more of its time, energy, and marketing budget to talking to relational shoppers who want quality at a fair price (not only the lowest) with people they like and trust. Not only that but relational shoppers allow you to - gasp! - keep your margins. With transactional shoppers your margins are in a game of Limbo - how low can you go? - and that's not a healthy long-term business model.
The problem is that most businesses spend 80% of their marketing budget to transactional shoppers - those shoppers who aren't loyal and kill margins. As a business owner, you need to flip that. Spend 80% of your marketing budget on people who will create a lifetime value for your business who will only do business with you because they know you, like you, and trust you.
Back to my original question - when is a sale not a sale? When it's your regular price. Always on sale means that is the price you will come in and find day after day. And there's nothing special about that.
I understand that there are more than a few people to whom the above statement will be fighting words. But you read correctly and I am absolutely serious and intentional in stating it that way. Wal-Mart is a friend to your business, if you’re doing your marketing correctly. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Recently my wife Julie and I were cruising through Wal-Mart getting some groceries. We happened upon a couple who are friends of ours. As we walked up to them it was not difficult to see they were very agitated. After an quick exchange of hellos, we asked them what was the matter. “We came here to buy a flat screen tv and we can’t find anyone here to help us or answer our questions!” the wife of the couple said in outrage. I laughed, which didn’t endear myself to them. I said, “You’ve obviously come to the wrong place. Wal-Mart sells low prices and that’s it. Don’t ask Wal-Mart to do what it isn’t designed to do and don’t get mad at them for not doing what they’ve never said they do. If you’re seeking answers or advice, you’re better off going out the door and heading to a locally-owned store, Target, or Best Buy.” My answer – and certainly not my attitude – didn’t comfort them but as a business owner or marketing professional it should comfort you.
Let’s be honest, there are a lot of local businesses who quake in their boots when Wal-Mart comes to town and they shouldn’t. What happens to most businesses who lose to Wal-Mart is because the local business chose to fight Wal-Mart on Wal-Mart’s terms, not vice versa.If you try to fight Wal-Mart on price, YOU WILL LOSE. But here’s the good news for you…in today’s economy price is a consideration but VALUE is the most important factor in buying decisions. We no longer live in an economy where we have the luxury of throwing something away and buying it new again.If consumers buy something today – say a DVD or Blu-Ray player – that thing better last awhile because their discretionary income isn’t what it was before 2008. There is no longer a guarantee they’ll have the money to replace an item if it breaks down sooner rather than later.
In addition to the economy dynamic, at the point where they are considering buying from one retailer over another, consumers are asking, “What am I getting for that price?” Wal-Mart sells low prices and that’s it. That is their business model. It’s not a good business model, it’s not a bad business model but it’s their business model. Where you win is if your business offers a COMPETITIVE PRICE with a value above and beyond anything Wal-Mart refuses to offer because of their business model.Show consumers that dollar for dollar your value exceeds what Wal-Mart’s price offers and see how the customer responds. Don’t get scared that you can’t compete with Wal-Mart’s price, celebrate the fact that Wal-Mart can’t compete with your value proposition. Can our local businesses win with value in this economy? You bet. I’ve seen it again and again. What is the value proposition your business offers that your competitors can’t? Identify that and then don’t let anyone forget it.
Dr. Eric Shoars shares key marketing insights to help business owners make their marketing more efficient and effective.