Be different or die

Steve Miller, a strategic marketing expert with The Adventure LLC in Federal Way, Washington, had a question for attendees at the National Trailer Dealers Association Convention:

Would you do business with your company?

“Your first response is, ‘Sure, of course I'd do business with myself,’ ” he said. “But then, when you get asked some hard questions, you might say, ‘Well, I might have to make a few changes.’

“Why do people do business with you? Great quality, service, prices? Who cares if you have great quality, service, and prices? We all have good quality, service, and prices. So what makes us different from others? Because people perceive us to be different, better, superior in some way from others.

“If your company disappeared today, would you leave a hole? If we are totally honest with ourselves, our answer would be, ‘Probably not.’ And yet that's our objective. Our objective is to have such a strong partnership that they can't live without us.”

He said the purpose of business is to create, maintain, and grow long-term, mutually profitable relationships. Strategic marketing is the right product plus the right customer plus the right message at the right time.

“You don't want to be the first or second business a customer thinks of,” he said. “You want to be the only one.

Many of us think the same way, so it's necessary that we differentiate ourselves. I believe that for the most part, we tend to look inward within the industry for how we're supposed to behave. And that's not how you learn how to be different. We want to be seen as the only one who can be successful.

“Competition does not breed innovation; it breeds conformity. What can you do to stand outside the sea of sameness? Your customer determines your brand, so you must determine what the relevant differentiation is that you offer to your customers.”

The important questions

He said businesses must ask themselves three questions:

  • What are our most-wanted objectives?

    He said that in the mid-1970s, he was a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour and has since talked to some of the current tour members he knows to ascertain how Tiger Woods approaches the game.

    “On a par-4, the average weekend golfer reaches into his bag and picks out a driver, the biggest club in his bag, and walks to the tee box,” he said. “But a world-class golfer does not do that. They turn to their caddie and say, ‘Where's the pin?’ A caddie will take into consideration the wind, temperature, humidity, elevation. ‘What club will get me from here to that spot?’ World-class players don't play from tee to green. They play from green to tee.

    “We will all agree Tiger is a little bit different than anybody else. Tiger has the same 14 clubs available to him. He's using the same tools that all other tour players have. But he is able to reach a level that is different and better than everybody else.

    “Certainly we all set objectives, but then we go back to the tee box. What are your most-wanted objectives? For this year, for the next three years? How are you going to measure those objectives? How are you going to involve your employees, customers, and vendors to help you achieve that?”

    He said a company needs to examine what it wants to achieve, and then work backward, taking into consideration all of the conditions.

    “That's playing on the inside of the ropes,” he said.

  • Who is our most-wanted customer?

    “How many people really and truly love Barney?” he said. “My daughter was into Barney big-time when she was small. Whether you liked or loved or hated Barney, Barney doesn't care. Why? Because we are not his audience. He wants kids ages 2 to 5. Barney is very focused. He's not trying to be all things to all people.”

    To identify the most-wanted customer, Miller recommends clearly describing the target customer by type/size of company, the amount of money that company will spend with your organization, what the company's acknowledged need is from your company, and the time frame in which you want that company to do business with you.

  • What is our most-wanted branding proposition?

    “When you think of George Foreman, what do you think of? The George Foreman grill,” he said. “This generation doesn't know that he was a boxer. They know him for the grill. Southwest Airlines has their own branding proposition: fun.”

He said he saw the following branding propositions from Web sites of various trailer dealers:

We provide quality sales, service, parts, and support.

You will find our prices tough to beat.

We provide customers with personalized service along with the finest-quality products.

We are your one-stop trailer shop.

“What's different? Not much,” he said.

Your promise

He said the branding proposition is the first thing people think about when they think about a company.

“A branding proposition is essentially your value proposition,” he said. “It is your promise. This is what you're going to deliver. This is what you represent to them. That is not your brand. You cannot determine your brand. Your customers determine your brand. You can try to influence how they think about your brand. If what you deliver to them is congruent with your promise, that's your brand. If what you are to them is not congruent, they will come up with their own definition of your brand.”

Why is a branding proposition important? He said that since technological developments are leveling the playing field, everything is becoming a commodity. Companies, therefore, must determine something unique that they can offer their customers.

“If you sell on price, if you live on price, you will die on price,” he said. “If people are only buying your product based on price … what they're saying to you is you have nothing else to offer. You've given them no other reason to think you're different than the competition. It's the intangibles that make the difference. Your brand proposition is a covenant between you and your customer.

“People do not do business with companies. They do business with people. They do business with people they like, people they know, and people they trust.”

He said a company should determine the level of pain versus gain that a customer must go through to do business. If the pain scale is too high, it's unlikely that a customer will continue to do business with a company.

“Everything you do either reinforces their perception of your brand, enhances their perception, or diminishes their perception,” he said. “Even a phone call or an e-mail … every single contact with a customer gives them a perception of your brand and who you are.

“You don't have to be a Harley-Davidson or a Coca-Cola or a FedEx to have your own branding proposition. My all-time favorite quote is from Frank Perdue of Perdue Farms: ‘If you can differentiate a dead chicken, you can differentiate anything.’”

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