Posts tagged ‘competition’

SWOT your competition

dead_flyHow well do you know your competition? I’m not talking about whether you have a laundry list of your competitors, but rather if you have real insight into who they are and what they do well. I’ll bet your answer is, “I have a pretty good idea, but I’d like to know more.” Good answer.

There are a million different ways to conduct a competitive analysis, but instead of focusing on the nitty-gritty details I’d like to give you some advice from the 35,000 foot level…

  • SWOT your competitors – no, I’m not advocating violence. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Analyze them, and yourself. You’ll gain remarkable insight into how you match up. You may find that you aren’t focused in the right areas, or there’s an oversaturation in a market or, if you’re lucky, that there’s an untapped area of the market just waiting to be cultivated.
  • Focus on your strengths and differentiators – once you have an understanding of what you and your competitors do, you can more accurately refine your strategy to maximize your strengths while exploiting the other guy’s weaknesses.
  • Good understanding = short cycles – a solid competitive understanding is essential for moving quickly and staying ahead. When it comes to business, you’re either ahead or you’re behind. In the immortal words of Ricky Bobby, “if you ain’t first, you’re last.

You get the idea. A SWOT analysis is one of the big secrets to unlocking your company’s true potential. Like most marketing activities, they aren’t easy, but they are definitely worthwhile. If you need help, contact me and we can come up with a solid strategy.

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October 4, 2009 at 7:51 pm Leave a comment

“Me too” marketing – develop your own Unique Selling Proposition

I’ve seen it happen a million times. A company sees their competition do something that’s different, and they immediately jump on the bandwagon. After all, if our competitors are doing it, they must know something we don’t, so we better get in on the action before it’s too late! Sigh… alas, copycatting is not a strategy. And the sad thing is that your competition probably doesn’t know any more than you do. Congratulations – you’ve just fallen for the oldest, least disciplined trick in the book and turned into a “me too” marketer.

You can see this happening everywhere you turn. Do the terms green, whole grain, sirloin, organic, and hand-crafted sound overly familiar? They should, because they’re everywhere, used for products ranging from food to shampoo to cars. If words or phrases or overused, they (and their associated products) suffer from commoditization. In other words, the message loses its meaning, and all the products in a certain category are perceived by the audience as being the same. Once this happens, customers no longer have brand loyalty, and the only differentiator they care about is price. A great example of this phenomenon is gasoline. How often do you choose gasoline based on additives? Or the ability to eliminate knocks and pings? Chances are you buy your gas based solely on its price. This is commoditization as its worst.

How do you avoid this pitfall? The best thing you can do is create your own Unique Selling Propositions (USP). Every company has strengths and weaknesses. Capitalize on your strengths by developing a messaging strategy that separates you from your competitors. Determine how your products and services can be presented to your audience in a unique, informative, entertaining, and compelling manner. Make sure that you’re clear, concise, and consistent in your application of the message. And above all, take the time to let your USPs develop. Like a flower, marketing is a process that needs a lot attention, a lot of love, and the patience to allow it to come to fruition.

Follow this advice and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can separate yourself from the “me too” herd!

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June 23, 2009 at 12:50 am Leave a comment

Your business’ secret to success: do one thing and do it right

Colonel Sanders was a master of business. He took a product that virtually everyone in the south made for themselves — fried chicken — and decided to sell his own version. The Kentucky Colonel outfit, the secret recipe, the bucket, and his self-promotion all contributed to his uniqueness and aura. However, his true secret to success was a simple philosophy: do one thing and do it right. He made better fried chicken than anyone else, and he focused all his efforts on building the business around his flagship product. His plan was to start small, gain a reputation, and establish a toehold in his local Kentucky community. From there, he wanted to conquer the fried chicken world, and use his market dominance as a springboard for other complementary products. Of course, we all know the rest of the story; his plan worked to perfection and the chicken industry has never been the same.

What’s the lesson that other companies can learn from the Colonel? Determine what your biggest strength is and focus your efforts on that. Perfect your product/service, establish a great reputation, use your revenues to invest in the company, and build your empire. Many companies try to become jacks-of-all-trades, but instead become masters-of-none. This mistake goes back to a previous discussion about market sizing vs. market segementation. It’s better to dominate a small market and branch out into other markets in time, rather than become a bit player in a larger, more competitive market. This approach will focus your internal resources in the places that maximize your profit potential, put your marketing communications plan on a path towards great success, and send a message to competitors that you have your priorities straight.

Don’t let the goatee fool you… Colonel Sanders was a brilliant businessman and a master marketer. Now go out there, focus on the one thing at which you’re best, and fry the competition!

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June 22, 2009 at 12:23 am 1 comment

Boost your customer base by lowering, not raising, prices

This is a tough time for most business. Many companies are losing a lot of customers and having trouble meeting revenue commitments outlined in their 2009 budgets, which are usually created in the previous fall season. This is happening, of course, because most people did not realize that the economy would fall into recession in 2009. Executive management teams are meeting in their boardrooms every single day, trying to figure out what to do to stabilize customer retention. Chances are good that two prevailing schools of thought are being bandied about:

  • School Of Thought #1: Since we are currently losing customers very quickly, we need to make up for that shortfall by reducing costs (which has probably already been done), while at the same time increasing our prices in order to achieve more revenue per customer. If we have lost 10% of our customers, and raise our prices 10%, we could probably close the revenue gap.
  • School Of Thought #2: We’ve lost several customers during the first half of the year, and we need to focus on keeping those customers while obtaining a few new ones. Along with reducing our costs (which has probably already been done) we need to reduce our prices, providing an incentive for current customers to stay with us and encouraging prospects to become customers.

As a marketer and ardent capitalist, I believe in School Of Thought #2. It looks at the marketplace as a non-finite tub of potential revenue, even during recessionary times. It also views an increase in price as a form of taxation on current customers, which is a bad idea during good economic times and an even worse idea now. I’ve seen many struggling companies adopt School Of Thought #1, only to see them descend into a business death sprial. As customers balk at higher prices and bail out, this leaves an even smaller customer base to provide the revenue stream necessary to maintain operations. The cycle of higher prices and fewer customers seals a company’s fate and failure becomes inevitable.

From a marketing perspective, it’s an even tougher sell. We’re always looking for unique selling propositions (USPs) and differentiators, and I’ve found that raising prices kills off great marketing each and every time. It poisons the fragile relationship with the customer, leaving them bitter and resentful. Another aspect to consider is the fact that, nowadays, customers don’t go away quietly. They use social networking and forums to voice their displeasure, and most of the time it ain’t pretty.

Before you pull the pricing lever, be sure you’ve fully analyzed your pricing model and exhausted other options. After all, if you make the wrong decision, it may be you that ends up paying the price.

(If you need help with pricing, or you have other marketing needs, contact me at Aximum Marketing. I’ll be happy to help.)

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June 17, 2009 at 11:19 pm 2 comments

Capitalize on your brand equity to gain market share

Frank Sinatra had a Vegas-inspired song called “Luck Be A Lady.” One of the lines in the song is:

“Stick with me, baby, I’m the guy that you came in with.”

In many ways, marketing is like Lady Luck that ol’ Blue Eyes is singing about, especially when it comes to branding. This is one of the trickier subjects to explain to someone new to marketing. In a nutshell, branding is the sum total of experiences and perceptions that a company has with its customers, competitors, and marketplace. The tactical elements of marketing — websites, brochures, advertising, etc. — are physical manifestations of branding. There’s also something called brand equity, which is not only a perceived value of a brand, but it can also be a tangible value. In fact, many organizations carry their brand as an asset on their balance sheets, with an actual dollar amount attached to it. Google has the highest brand value in the world, which is estimated to be worth more than $100 Billion. Software giant Microsoft has the second highest rated brand in the world, worth over $76 Billion.

There’s a reason why I mention these two examples together. You’ve undoubtedly noticed the “Bing” logo at the top of the entry. You may also be asking yourself, “what the hell is Bing?” As it turns out, Bing is the newest incarnation of Microsoft’s search engine, renamed from Windows Live Search. In my opinion, Microsoft made a big mistake and squandered a golden opportunity. They took one of the most high-profile aspects of the Internet (search engines), went up against the 800-pound gorilla, and didn’t take advantage of the Microsoft brand equity. Even worse, when you go to the Bing home page, the Microsoft name is nowhere to be found, so they can’t springboard their new brand off the established Microsoft name. How can you realistically pit a $100 Billion brand against a brand with zero equity? Frankly, you can’t. Microsoft doomed Bing to the ash heap of history before it even launched, just like another one of their infamous failures. The rest is just an exercise in futility.

What’s the lesson here? The Microsoft branding team should have told the Bing team, “stick with me, baby, I’m the guy that you came in with.” The only thing left is a roll of the dice and the hope that Lady Luck is on their side. I wouldn’t bet on it.

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June 15, 2009 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

Leads and prospects and customers, oh my!

(Sung to “If I only had a brain” from the Wizard of Oz)
I’d could use my time much better, create a great newsletter
And plant some prospect seeds,
I could share our comp’ny vision
Help them make a ‘buy’ decision
If I only had some leads.

Yes, it’s another original adaption from yours truly. I’m willing to take full credit because, heck, nobody else wants to claim that crap as their own.

I’ve noticed a lot of people using the terms lead, prospect, and customer interchangeably, so I thought I’d take today to explain the differences between them. Once you speak the language, and understand the differences, it makes a lot more sense. It is also another way for me to build the kumbaya bridge between sales and marketing. Here we go:

  • Suspect – not a generally used term, but a suspect is defined as a person that may be in the market for the types of products and services your company (and your competition) produces. Is is essentially a superset of all your potential customers. You may not know who they are, and they may not know who you are, but they are out there, waiting to be discovered. You need to connect with suspects, or have them connect with you, in order to convert them into leads.
  • Lead – this is someone who is in the market for the types of products and services your company produces. They may specifically know about your company, you may know who they are, or both. They have expressed either a specific or general interest, and have provided contact information about themselves. Depending on their needs, budgets, and timelines, leads are traditionally classified as cold, warm, and hot.
  • Prospect – defined as a lead who has passed the initial qualification (in other words, they are a real person who exists) and is currently being engaged in some way, depending on their needs. In sales/CRM terms, if an ‘estimate’ or ‘opportunity’ is created for a lead, the lead becomes a prospect. The level of contact a prospect receives ranges from an occasional email or phone call to an in-person demo or pilot project.
  • Customer – occurs when a prospect makes a purchase decision. Once a company receives money (or, in sales/CRM terms, a ‘sales transaction’) from prospects for their products and services, those prospects are officially converted into customers. Bring the money, honey.

I’m taking some badly needed vacation time this week, so I won’t be writing any blog entries until next Monday. Until then, have a great week, thank you for your continued support and comments, and we’ll start fresh on Monday. Hasta luego.

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May 31, 2009 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

Success is not defined as the absence of failure

Recessions can bring out the best in people. I know many successful entrepreneurs that started their businesses during recessions, and they said it’s the best decision they ever made. Some have developed companies that generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Admittedly, though, a lot of those people say their companies are surviving, but not thriving. Many will chalk it up to the economy, or changes in the marketplace, or the cost of raw materials, or increased competition. Some of these factors may be true, but after consulting for several of them I realize that there are reasons why they haven’t achieved the level of success they wanted. Here are some of those reasons:

  1. Not knowing your limitations. We cannot know everything, nor can we do everything. Realize that you have a well-honed set of core skills, and focus your efforts to take advantage of them. Here’s an analogy that all you baseball fans will instantly understand: have you ever seen a National League pitcher try to swing a bat? It’s one of the more painful sights you’ll ever see, because it’s beyond the pitcher’s limitations. Let your batters do the batting for you while you focus on your pitching.
  2. Not understanding the difference between market sizing and market segmentation. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew. You can read all about this from my previous blog entry on the subject. Business is hard enough without trying to conquer the whole world all at once.
  3. Not seeking help from experts. Whether it’s a marketing company like Aximum Marketing, or a full-time employee, recognizing the need for a particular skill that your company doesn’t have is not a sign of weakness or ignorance. Not only can experts give great advice and a different point of view, but they can free you to do what you do best. Again, whether you buy a piece of equipment, or office space, or specialized experts, they will all maximize your return on investment.
  4. Not avoiding the temptation to act in haste. It’s easy to get ‘happy feet’ when you’re not achieving the results you want. However, it will be best to fully think it through before pulling the trigger. Having fellow experts (see #3 above) can act as sounding boards, enabling you to make better decisions.
  5. Not understanding that marketing is an investment, rather than a cost. “I can’t afford to spend money on marketing right now.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard this, I’d have a boatload of nickels. I’ve spoken to many clients who initially look at marketing as a cost, but after I help them focus on their goals and run some numbers with them, they soon realize that all quality marketing activities have an expected, measurable, positive ROI. If you could invest $100 on marketing activities, and receive $1,000 in revenue, how much would you be willing to invest? Every penny you can get your hands on? That’s the beauty of an investment.

Success is most assuredly not defined as the absence of failure. We all work hard, and we deserve to maximize the reward for the effort we put forth. If you avoid the five pitfalls listed above (and I’m sure there are many others you can think of), you’ll unleash your potential and take your business to new heights, whether it’s a startup, a small business, or a multinational corporation. Aximum has some great success stories that illustrate this point very well, and we’ll be happy to help you thrive, too.

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May 26, 2009 at 1:42 am Leave a comment

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