By: Michael Cooney
Last time we looked at defining your target market and how to best reach them. After you do that, you can focus on what to say to them.
The second key to an effective marketing plan lies with differentiation. In a nutshell, you’ll want to answer these questions: What is different (and better) about my product or service? How do my offerings compare with those of my chief competitors? Why should a prospective customer or client choose me over my competitor?
Answering these questions may involve a lot of research followed by careful contemplation, but it is worth the effort. If you don’t stand apart from the competition in the eyes of your target market, then they have no reason to choose you.
In fact, every print ad, radio spot, commercial, sales letter, brochure, website, white paper, case study, and press release you create must present a valid reason for choosing you. If your promotional materials don’t accomplish that, your money is being wasted.
Before you can differentiate yourself from your competitors, you must first know them well—at least the top three. You’ll want to find out all you can about their product or service line. How they are marketing it. Where they advertise and what they say.
How are they positioning themselves? As the cheapest? Best selection? Best results? Fastest? Most powerful? Most economical? Greatest value? Most prestigious? Friendliest staff? Most convenient locations?
Compare what you learn with your practices, and with your customer’s experience with you. Somewhere in that list is an area where you stand out. And therein you’ll discover your opportunity.
Within most industries, you’ll find a great similarity in advertising approaches, and not much differentiation. It’s because businesses within each industry tend to copy one another. And yet that’s just the opposite of what you want to do.
In fact, when asked “What makes your business unique?” most owners tend to say “Oh, not much.” Well, it’s true that your products or services are likely available elsewhere. But that’s not the point. Somewhere in your labyrinth of products and processes are things unique to you that are valuable to your customers and to your marketing efforts.
Look at most auto dealership’s advertising. Often it’s a contest to see who can scream the loudest “Here I am! Over here! Buy from me!” But why? Why should I buy from them? Just today I heard a radio spot from one urging listeners to visit them because “…we’re better than the others!” Such vague generalities are meaningless nonsense. Imagine—someone inside an ad agency actually wrote that! And got it approved!
Do you recognize WIIFM? It stands for “What’s In It For Me?” That’s the question your prospective customers are asking when they look at your promotions.
Why does most advertising fail at answering WIIFM? It’s usually because management is too close to the business to really understand what it is that motivates their customers. What seems interesting to you may in fact be irrelevant. It’s what’s important to your customers that you need to understand. Maybe you should start asking them “Why do you come here? Why do you buy from us?” Think what you may learn!
Somewhere there’s something you are doing that your competitors aren’t. There’s some benefit you offer that they don’t. When you discover that, then you have something to exploit.
You’ve probably heard of the Unique Selling Proposition. The USP encapsulates what is unique or special about you. A well crafted USP, prominently used throughout your promotional mix, will give you a good start in differentiating your company from your competitors. And it will help answer WIIFM.
If you owned a hardware store and your USP was based on large selection, you might say: “Most stores carry 11 or 12 types of hammers. We carry 82 varieties from 14 different manufacturers.” Targeted to the construction industry, that would quickly tell them you are THE place to go for hammers. And while they’re there, you might even make them a package deal to boost the per sale volume.
The key is to be specific. For powerful differentiation and an effective USP, specifics trump generalities every time.
Now that you have a better idea how to differentiate yourself from your competitors, you can combine that with the points made in Part 1. First, identify your best segment of clients or customers. Research and analyze how best to reach them. Then integrate your differentiation message and USP into all the ways you communicate with them. If you’ll put this into practice, you’ll find yourself with an effective basic marketing plan.
Michael Cooney, co-founder, Global Development, a marketing and advertising consulting group