Are you building bridges or moats?

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/BridgesAndMoats.mp3]
Leeds Castle
Creative Commons License photo credit: raindog

Look closely at your business and think of each thing you do that interacts with other vendors, competitors, customers, prospects and your community.

For each interaction, consider whether it builds a bridge or a moat:

  • A bridge allows someone on one side of a chasm or river to get to the other side. Bridges are welcoming (toll gates notwithstanding) and encourage interaction and cooperation.
  • A moat keeps others out.

A moat says “I’m scared of what’s out there, it might get me.”  Moats are often built by companies that fear the future, if not the present.

Moat builders often think in terms that are the antidote to improvement – and that “C word”, change. Their moat makes it appear that they fear change and the future because the future often brings changes to “the rules” (you know – “the rules that got us here”).

Working together

Many companies design interoperability features into their product.

In other words, they make their product easy to integrate with other products or standard services. In the software world, interaction with systems like Growl (a universal notification system) or SOAP (a web-based way to send data in the context of a description of that data) are a good example.

They make their product “talk to” and/or “listen” to other products.

Interoperability (making stuff work together – even with *competitor’s stuff*) is a bridge.

Others are in their own little world and refuse to interoperate, or do so far less than most. They sometimes ignore standards or recreate their own because they think they know better (and sometimes, just sometimes, they *do* know better – but do they share that knowledge?).

In most cases, refusing to make your product interoperable is a moat.

Communities have bridges and moats too

When the investment in participating in user communities becomes so frustrating that it isn’t worth it anymore, who suffers?

The company. Long time community members. New members of the community. Everyone, really.

Without a community tie-in, there’s less inertia to keep you from trying other products, much less switching to them. Kennedy talks about “putting an iron fence around your herd” – meaning keep your customers close by doing things that prevent them from even *considering* using another vendor.

Community is a big part of that.

Different companies handle this in different ways.

These days there are web forums, community-building environments like Ning.com, social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, old-school newsgroups, Google groups and many other options that allow you to build a place for your customers to meet and talk shop.

Once you get them there, then the challenge really begins. Do you encourage it to take on a life of its own, or do you spin it, control it and stunt its growth? Are the members of the community like a herd of cows, moving where you drive them, or are they gazelles?

Enable and Empower

Back in my software biz days, there was no social media other than BBS systems or email lists. Most customers were non-technical and spending more time on the computer didn’t interest them (there were exceptions, of course).

We saw a substantial uptick in sales, referrals and hard-to-measure/value “customer goodwill” when we started having day-long training sessions at trade shows. We’d just stick everyone in a room and go over what was new, what the group wanted training on and more often than not, the day also turning into a rich interactive resource for everyone in attendance.

There were benefits for us as well, but that’s not our topic for today.

How you manage – no, no – how you *enable and empower* your user community to become an asset to themselves, your services, your products and your business is critical. How you view that asset (the group/community) and how you nurture it says a lot about your company.

It’s not just a community for now, it’s a sales tool, a testimonial and many other positive things…if you allow it and encourage it to be.

What’s yours?

In your world, is that asset being used as a bridge or a moat?

The mindset of digging a moat around your business infects your staff, your services and your products with thoughts like “We know better”, “We don’t need you (or them)” and “We can do it all ourselves.”

Even if true, the deeper and wider the moat between you and your customers become, the easier it’ll be for someone else to convince those customers to head for a bridge.

The problem with moats is not just that they keep others out, but that they keep you trapped inside.

King for a Day: Verizon

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/KingForADayVerizon.mp3]
Waiting For an Important Call
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

I‘d like to introduce a new series called “King for a Day“. For the acronym-challenged, you might see me refer to it as KFAD now and then, so don’t assume I’m talking about a local radio station.

King for a Day is a series that will discuss some steps I’d take or issues I’d address if I was to become what else… “King (of a particular business) for a Day”.

The idea is to use big companies that many are familiar with and allow you to extrapolate from there to your business – whether its a good or bad thing they’re doing.

You should expect the discussion to center around the consumer for what I hope are obvious reasons.

If you’d like to nominate a business, add a comment and I’ll add your suggestion to the list.

I’ll be publishing KFAD on the first Friday of the month, so stay tuned for future episodes. Because these posts might get a little long, I will also podcast them. You might find a little bonus content in the podcast, so subscribe via iTunes, Google Reader or whatever you use to listen online.

One last thing to repeat before we start this exercise. This is not really about the companies that we discuss. All of this is just another way to get a point across that it’s about you, your company and most importantly, your clientele.

When reading the stories in KFAD, you should expect to:

  • Search for parallels in your business
  • Identify takeaways.
  • Implement change for the good of your clientele – which will bring good things to you.

So let’s get started …

Focusing on the wrong thing

While it would be easy to start this out by being the King of the Airlines, I’ll mellow on that just long enough to give Verizon the treatment. The reality is that most of my comments would fit any cellular carrier, but Verizon is the one I’ve used for the last 5-7 years and thus am most familiar with.

Negative consequences

When I find a business in trouble, or simply annoying the heck out of me, it almost always seems to come down to them focusing on the wrong things.

For example, Verizon recently announced they would double their termination fee. How does this help their customers? Is it about punishing the customer? That simply won’t work.

Focusing on negative consequences completely ignores the customers who stay – and aren’t they the really important ones?

In fact, it marginalizes these customers because you’re clearly focusing on things they aren’t even doing. You’re focused on things you don’t want to happen instead of the things you *do* want to happen.

So not only do you tick them off, but your business is focused on the wrong, wrong, wrong thing – which doesn’t serve your customers.

Engage me in a Cinnabon-inspired lovefest

If I’ve made up my mind to leave you for an iPhone, a $300 termination fee isn’t going to stop me. In fact, it’s likely to tick me off and incentivize me to ramp up the goodness that I plan to milk from my new strategic communications device (no, it’s not just a phone).

Think about it: If *I’m* willing to put up with AT&T, I must have a *really* good reason to do so.

Instead of threatening me with doubled cancellation fees, you should be giving me a reason to stay. Give me lots of compelling ones, in fact. Give me things that make me want to write long, lilting caramel-covered blog posts about you that are as sickeningly sweet as a slightly under-cooked airport Cinnabon with extra frosting.  Hint: A good start would be to make it possible for me to buy a Verizon-compatible iPhone.

Focus on making changes that make your service so valuable that I *cannot* leave you. Don’t focus on things that cause you to waste management and technology resources – such as new ways to punish people who are likely leaving you anyway.

A man’s got to know his limitations

I have a 400 minute call plan. Rarely do I go over, but over the last 2 months, I’ve gone way over. I didn’t find out that little tidbit until the $400 bill arrived.

Any cell company that was interested in keeping their clients happy would tell me before that happened.

Any cell company that really cares would do what is reasonable (or do MORE than is reasonable) to see that their customers don’t make mistakes using their product. Common sense says that providing good customer care includes telling your clients when they are approaching an overage. Even banks do that.

Need a revenue source focus for this conversation? It’s a great opportunity to ask someone to upgrade their plan, even if only temporarily. Imagine that, getting paid for taking proper care of your customers.

Perhaps you might have a 3 day/week/month “Bump” plan that gives you an extra 100 minutes a week for when you’re out of town unexpectedly. Perhaps you could turn it on by dialing “*bump” and then go about your business.

When you do this, Verizon would automatically add the charge and 100 minutes per week (month, whatever) to your plan. Likewise, it would automatically terminate it after the 3 weeks/month/days or whatever.

No doubt, someone might say “we don’t have the ability to upgrade your plan, or sell temporary “bumps”, because our systems don’t allow for that”. I say – that’s an easily solvable problem in your billing system.

Same idea for text and data plans that near overage points.  (apologies to Clint for the heading)

Data plans (required)

Recently I took my 17 year old to the Verizon store to get him a new phone. His last one met with an unfortunate end of life scenario and this time, he was buying the phone himself.

Unfortunately, out of 20-30-40 phones (however many they had), only TWO could be activated without a data plan.

Now tell me, what 17 year old really *needs* a data plan? Can you justify $30 0r $60 a month additional for that? The salesperson’s line is that they aren’t allowed to sell the phone without a data plan.

For an iPhone, I get that. For a smart phone that is designed to be totally integrated with email such as a Blackberry, I get that. For a regular old cell phone, whether it has lame web capabilities or not, the customer should have the ability to get service without requiring an additional $400-$700 a year data plan – particularly for a teenager.

The iPhone (the official line vs reality)

Every time I go into the local corporate Verizon store, I ask when they are getting the iPhone.

I do it mostly to see what kind of response I get. Clearly they’ve been indoctrinated by corporate, because I get the same response every time. It’s something along the lines of “We don’t want the iPhone. It’s putting AT&T out of business and making their network too busy. Have you seen AT&T’s stock lately?

Yeah, whatever. Have you seen AT&T’s churn rate lately? It isn’t because they offer the best service and customer care in the business.

Advice to whoever is training these folks: Get over yourself. You *want* your network to be hammered. Sure, you want it responsive, but you want more, more, more demand. You want the problem AT&T has, ie: “How much capacity can I build this year?” The more demand, the less likely you’ll ever lose them.

The source of the “Why would we want the iPhone?” attitude might be Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg himself. In 2008, Seidenberg’s childish response to iPhone question included calling the iPhone’s success a “conspiracy”.

Late in October 2009, it seems that 2 billion app store downloads and a 1% AT&T churn rate might have tempered Seidenberg’s attitude a little, as he responded to questions about Verizon selling the iPhone by noting that they were certainly interested and that it was “exclusively up to Apple“.

Disabled GPS chips

With the exception of the Storm and the (new) Droid, Verizon disables API (programming) access to the GPS chips in phones – *except* for their extra services/products. For example, you can’t use certain Google’s Mobile Maps features because Google can’t get to the GPS chip to say “Hey, where am I?”  How is that customer friendly?

It isn’t. You should be.

You get the idea by now I hope: It isn’t about you, your products or your services. It’s about all the things those products and services can do to benefit your customers.

Update: Karmically enough, the same day I post this, Apple Insider reports that a Verizon iPhone is on the way. That would keep me on Verizon.

Update: More on the topic from Digital Daily, including a reaction from Verizon.

Boat anchors are bad business. Sharing is good business.

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/BoatAnchorBadSharingGood.mp3]
time
Creative Commons License photo credit: Robb North

Over the last month or so, I’ve been playing phone tag with someone at the local bank’s office.

I use this national bank primarily because they offer some electronic banking services that local banks don’t bother to offer (such as a real-time, seamless interface with QuickBooks), despite my repeated “encouragement” to do so.

Some have noted that the cost to provide this QuickBooks interface is substantial – yet I get interesting wrinkled brow looks when I remind them that I pay $15 a month to use this nifty QB service because it saves us hours per month. Until the fee got to the point where the time was more valuable, I’d pay it. But I digress…

Anyhow, we’ve been talking with someone there about a refi and a combination of my schedule / travel and her schedule /travel have made it difficult to get into the same room at the same time. Not their fault, just one of those things about a busy summer.

This last time I called, the person I’m working with was out of town for several days. I asked the person on the phone if they could put me on their appointment calendar for the week after they return.

My calendar! Mine, mine, mine!

Astoundingly, the answer was no.

Yes, the folks at this large national bank, the same ones who are advanced enough to have their accounts seamlessly talk to my QuickBooks, do not allow or cannot manage to let their employees see their appointment book or schedule an appointment for someone else.

Insane.

I have a feeling it might be related to worries that someone might raid someone else’s appointment calendar for plum prospects, but there are ways of showing only open dates. Even so, that shouldn’t be necessary.

If you can’t trust a *bank* employee to access a co-worker’s appointment calendar, tell me why you trust them to work at the bank in the first place – cuz I don’t see it. But that trust thing is a topic for another day.

Unseen Value

Now we get to the point where you see where this affects you and your business: Are there resources (like an appointment calendar) that your staff should be able to share so they can help each other serve your clientele?

Back in the photography software days, it was a huge deal for new users of our product to finally get off that paper calendar at the front desk. It allowed anyone to see which photographers / camera rooms / salespeople / presentation spaces were booked and make an appointment no matter where an employee was when they answered the phone.

Sounds completely obvious, but many businesses simply couldn’t do it because they were still tied to that boat anchor – the paper appointment book.

Big, heavy and “somewhere in the warehouse”

Another market I worked with manufactured expensive custom items that were big and heavy. They stored them in the warehouse once they were finished.

The information about the build status and storage location of these custom-ordered items was kept on a set of clipboards on a line of nails in the manufacturing area.

Sometimes the info on those clipboards was out of date or missing because someone forgot to write the build status or location down. An order might get lost / forgotten until a customer called for it – and then you might find out that it hadn’t been built yet.

Now imagine that you are a receptionist in the front office and you’re all alone over lunch hour or during a big sales meeting. When that big customer calls to ask about their 27 piece, $57000 order, you have to put them on hold (or tell them you’ll call back), run back to the clipboards, flip through the orders manually, find the order and run back to the phone.

If the clipboard is missing because someone has it at a manufacturing station, or it is on the manager’s desk (or car seat), you know nothing.

If the data on the clipboard wasn’t filled out, you get to run back to the warehouse and look on dozens of shelves from floor to ceiling for an item that has a little paper tag on it showing the customer name.

That’s a boat anchor.

The alternative? A system that integrates customer information, orders, build status and delivery information together. When the phone rings, you can look up all of a customer’s orders, find the status of any of them and tell them right then. The items are barcoded as part of the manufacturing process so most status and location info is automatically updated. Depending on your situation, “most” could be “all”.

What’s your boat anchor? What can you share to get rid of it, enabling your staff to be more helpful and more productive?

Ron Clark: Everything we do is personal

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/ShippingIsPersonal.mp3]

As some of you know, my wife is a junior high school teacher.

6th grade to be specific.

Know what that means? Hormones. Drama. Lots of change. Who knows what else.

People think it’s amazing that I’m a Scoutmaster for a Scout troop, but that’s easy compared to being a teacher.

Instead of having to be on my game 5 days a week with 25 6th graders (not all of whom want to be there), I spend 90 minutes a week with boys who want to be in Scouts. Once a month, we go camping for a weekend (and I don’t try to teach them math and history).

Back on topic – Having a teacher in the family also means something else: We watch every teacher movie ever made.

Last night, The Ron Clark Story was on. It’s a true story about a teacher who takes on an inner-city elementary class in Harlem and turns it into a high-performance environment (you knew that, since they don’t make movies about crappy teachers).

Just before the big standardized tests are taken, the kids are trying to explain why they didn’t do well on a test they took while Mr. Clark was out sick with pneumonia.

“It’s nothing personal”

One of the students says “Hey man, it’s nothing personal about you, we just cant pass these tests.”

Clark comes back and tells them “Everything that happens in this room is personal. Everything we say to one another is personal.” (and he goes on from there)

It works the same way in your business.

Everything you do for (or to) your clients.

Everything you say to (or about) your clients.

Shipping is personal

Yesterday, I had a conversation with some folks about shipping.

Like Coke vs. Pepsi and Ford vs. Chevy, this one was one of rivalries.

This time is was about Fedex vs. UPS.

During the conversation, I reflected about the service my company received from a Fedex driver who has been the only driver in Columbia Falls for 10 years.

We used them because their shipping quality was a reflection upon us. We didn’t want the very first thing we shipped to be reflection of our service.

Fedex vs. the post office or other services is always a no brainer, in my experience.

Tim our CFalls Fedex dude picked up almost every one of those packages. He still picks them up for the folks who own the business now.

These days when I have a package or I see him in a store around the Valley, he calls me by name.

If you think about it, it’s not that big a deal. After all, during a delivery, my name is on the package.

Kinda obvious, don’t you think?

Yet not one UPS driver has ever called me by name.

If your entire staff turned over today, would anyone notice?

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/StaffTurnover.mp3]
on a mission
Creative Commons License photo credit: llamnudds

And would they care?

If a long time customer (2 years, 5 years, 25 years, whatever) walked into your business today and all your staff was different from their last visit, would they notice the change?

Why do I ask?

Engagement. Relationship. Stickiness.

IE: Buzzwords that answer the question: “Why the heck should I come back?”

Think about it.

  • Have your employees engaged your customers in conversation, or just sold ’em something?
  • Have they worked to create a relationship that causes their customers to gravitate to them or ask for them by name when they call?
  • Do your customers go to their assigned sales rep because that’s who they’re assigned to, or because they know they’ll get the help they need from someone who knows their situation better than anyone?
  • Have they established a substantial level of trust with that customer to encourage repeat visits?
  • Have they exerted the effort necessary to learn as much as they can about the customer in order to serve them better?
  • Does your staff take ownership of their clients and their situation?
  • Do your clients ask for a particular waiter when they come to your restaurant?

Is 2% the only difference between you and them?

If your staff hasn’t taken the steps I described above, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to go elsewhere to save 2%?

How are you insulating yourself from that?

The Cure for “The Culture of Cant”

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/pollyannaprinciples.mp3]
Droopy dog

It’s not unusual for small business owners to be involved in community organizations, so in that spirit I have something a little different from our every day discussion here – yet still completely applicable to your business – no matter what that business does.

Rather than Friday’s normal Hotseat Radio show, today I had the pleasure of interviewing Hildy Gottlieb, long time friend and author of the newly released book “The Pollyanna Principles“.

Hildy is a nationally-recognized consultant and President of the Community-Driven Institute in Tucson AZ, and has been called “the most innovative and practical thinker in our sector”.

That sector is what folks in Hildy’s business call “non-profit organizations” – which unfortunately describes exactly what those organizations are NOT.

One of Hildy’s missions is to change the mindset inside these organizations is to encourage them to call themselves “Community Benefit Organizations”, which describes what they are and do. The result of that subconsciously takes the “Droopy dog” attitude out of the picture.

You may feel that this is outside of the normal bounds of BIP, but in fact, it strikes at the core of it: business fundamentals, attitude and a number of the other things we talk about here on a regular basis.

You need to run it like a business

No doubt you’ve heard people say “non-profits need to run like a business” – and in fact we examine the pros and cons of that assertion, why it’s true, false and doesn’t necessarily mean what you might think.

After listening to my conversation with Hildy, I’m hoping you’ll grab a copy or 3 of her new book and provide them to the orgs that you support and believe in.

No matter what you do to encourage (convince, coerce, etc – you make the call) your favorite board member to read The Pollyanna Principles, the ultimate goal must be to make it happen. Hildy has created a great piece that organizations can use for motivation, strategy and like it or not, to arrive at the real long-term, more than a calendar quarter away, community-changing vision and a roadmap to get there.

Profit is evil? Horse Hockey.

The temptation by some in these organizations might be to ignore the great business books and their strategies, simply because they are supposedly all in the name of profit and thus not applicable to the charitable organization.

The fact of the matter is that neither assertion is true.

Still, if you prefer to stick to strategic books about the charitable sector rather than crossing over that supposedly evil profit line, then The Pollyanna Principles will be right up your alley because it was written just for you – because it’s all business. Your business.

Buy The Pollyanna Principles here

Please accept my apologies for the audio quality. We had some volume dropouts, an odd hum here and there, as well as some cool coffee shop environmental noise as I spoke with Hildy from a coffee shop in Missoula (Break Espresso, if you’re taking notes). Hildy and I have what appears to be several sessions left before we are “done” discussing her book, so I will make sure we have better infrastructure in place for those sessions.

What makes the phone ring in any economy?

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/HowDoYouMakeThePhoneRing.mp3]
Princess on the Phone
Creative Commons License photo credit: Yogi

There are no secrets around here.

I am busy as crap. Some weeks, so busy that I’ve had to let the blog slide a bit (Horrors!)

I’ve made it quite clear that I expect “well-behaved” readers to be contacting their clients, customers and prospects at least once a month – and not simply to say “Whaddaya wanna buy?”

I’ve also shown that I do this in a number of different ways, using a number of different media.

Why different media?

Different strokes for different folks

Because some people like email, some like using Google Reader, some prefer audio podcasts, some prefer video (still working on that one), and still others prefer direct mail. And so on.

Likewise, some of media is about access and exposure.

Not everyone has (or wants) access to radio or RSS or email or whatever. Are you willing to give up an awesome new client because they aren’t into Twitter or RSS feeds or email?

I’m not.

Just the other day, someone emailed me to ask me about doing some work for them on a big project they’re working on.

They don’t read my blog. They don’t get my print newsletter. They don’t listen to my radio show (or podcast) on iTunes. They didn’t find me on Utterli.

They found me through my newspaper column.

Their comment was this: “Though we are strangers, I feel Iâ??ve gotten to know you fairly well through your weekly articles”.

I’ve never met them, never talked to them, yet they feel they know me.

How much of advantage do you think I have over competitors that they don’t know?

Ideally, my competition just sits around getting splinters from the bench. They never get a chance to take a swing at this work if I have anything to say about it.

The Temptation

The temptation with communication like this is to depend solely on email because its cheap.

That’s a big mistake.

Why? Because cheap only reflects your cost. It doesn’t reflect the results. Cheap ignores the return on investment (ROI).

If you want cheap and you don’t care about results, you can get yourself 50 million email addresses for $30, but you probably won’t make a sale to more than 50 of them (depending on what you sell). Worse yet, by emailing them – you’ll end up on every email blacklist there is.

If the result is your focus, then you should be thinking “I only want to use the media that have a great ROI”. In that case, I might suggest some slight adjustments (ie: don’t use just 1 media regardless of the ROI), but otherwise you’d get no argument.

The lesson

A long-time client of mine recently switched from printed newsletters to email (still using my service, just a change in media). I suggested *adding* email, not using it as a replacement.

One of the first response emails he received from a client and good friend was “I don’t have time to read another email every week”.

That same person has demonstrated (through their actions/responses) that they do have the time to read a 4 page printed newsletter once a month, yet an almost immediate reply email said they just don’t want more email.

I made note of that irony to the client, pointing out that his client’s reaction to yet another email is a great illustration of why printed newsletters just plain work.

His reply: “No kidding.”

What makes your phone ring?

Where do your customers/clients/prospects get their information? What do they use to consume the news? That’s how you should be providing info to them.

Warm chocolate chip cookies and the big difference between you and them

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/WarmChocolateChipCookies.mp3]

Almost every day, I stumble upon someone looking for a way to differentiate their business from their competitors’.

Far too often, they try to compete almost solely on price.

Since I’ve beat the dont-compete-solely-on-price drum in the past (eg: all those WalMart posts), so today we’re going to take a different tack.

Is it the steak or the sizzle? Or maybe something else?

Ever been to Sizzler, Western Sizzlin’ or Ryan’s Steak House?

Likewise, have you been to Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Charley’s, Shula’s or Chicago Chop House?

Which would you prefer if you had a coupon for a free meal, or if someone else was buying?

My money is on Charley’s (followed very closely by Ruth’s) – though I have to admit I haven’t made it to Shula’s as yet.

Why? Because everything about the place is simply amazing. The steak, the experience, the service, and so on.

One of the best moments I’ve had with my dad was after a photography trade show (yeah, back in the software company days), where we found ourselves sitting at the bar in Charley’s near the Tampa airport.

If you eat at the bar (almost no one seems to), you get to watch the chefs fire the steak – away from the quiet luxury of the dining room – and you still get incredible service, quite possibly more attentive than the service in the dining room if that’s possible.

What about retail?

Over the last several months, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the CPSIA situation.

Despite widespread knowledge of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act by some store owners, I see very few of them using it as a competitive advantage.

Maybe they’ve been too busy spending time trying to get their Congressional reps/Senators to change the bill. OK, maybe that’s a reason, but it isn’t an excuse. You know the difference, right?

Here’s an example: If you have a newborn and you walk into an upscale handmade baby clothing store and see a sign that says “All of our fashions for babies are tested and certified safe according to the CPSIA”, isn’t it obvious that it plants a seed in the mind of the persnickety shopper?

IE: “Shouldn’t everyone’s stuff be tested and certified safe?” Hmmm. Remember, in a store like that – the persnickety shopper is absolutely the one you *want* in your store.

If you wanted to get really aggressive about it, add “…Do the other stores you frequent care as much about your baby’s safety as we do? Ask them about the CPSIA and their testing and safety certification of the fashions they offer for your child.”

Fresh from the oven

If you have a choice, do you want warm, soft chocolate chip cookies made from scratch that are fresh out of Grandma’s oven, or do you want generic store-brand “chocolate” chip cookies that you know might have been baked a month ago?

I’d bet that you’d prefer the warm cookies from Grandma’s oven.

What about your business, product and service can create a chasm that wide, making it *that* easy to make a decision between your product/service and theirs?

Make a point of focusing on it. Educate your clientele to call attention to it so that they expect exactly what you do/sell if they find themselves elsewhere. You want to be the standard that everyone else has to meet.

Competing with Bullwinkle

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/CompetingWithBullwinkle.mp3]
Tender eyes...
Creative Commons License photo credit: FlyNutAA

The other day, one of our dogs chased a huge moose out of the yard.

Who cares, right? Maybe. Read on.

If you haven’t ever seen a moose, they aren’t quite as friendly as Bullwinkle. In fact, they have a reputation for being pretty mean once provoked.

Readers of the Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet series will remember a scene where the moose attacks Brian in a high mountain lake, almost drowning him.

If you remember past posts, you might assume that Blondie, our 85lb+ Golden Retriever/Alaskan Husky mix might be the one who chased the would-be Bullwinkle out of the yard. Even though Blondie can fill the back seat of a Suburban, you’d be wrong if you assumed she was the moose chaser.

It’s an understandable assumption. After all, a full-grown moose typically weighs between 800 and 1300 pounds and stands 6-7 feet high at the shoulder. You’d assume it would take a big noisy dog to scare off something that big and that mean, right?

The trouble with that theory is that Blondie is really of the species doggus fireplacus-snoozus, meaning she’d rather lay in front of the fireplace and snooze.

The dog that chased off the moose? Our Bichon Frise, Gigi (no, I didn’t name her<g>). That isn’t her in the photo above, but the dog in that photo looks just like her.

Gigi weighs all of 8-9 lbs and stands maybe 6″ tall at the shoulder. So I’m looking out the bathroom window into the back 40 and I see this little white wanna-be tasmanian devil yapping her brains out and this moose trotting off while looking over its shoulder looking like it wishes it were in another county.

Here it comes

Yeah, there’s a lesson there. You knew it was coming.

The assumption is that the big competitor can’t be made to blink – or in the case of the moose, can’t be made to take their marbles and go somewhere else.

Many times, that assumption is made because the competitor is “too big to fail”. Bet you’ve heard that a lot lately.

In the case of the moose, that would be my assumption as well. The likely reality is that the moose realized that this little yappy white critter coming after it with fangs bared and a maniacal yap (is that even possible?<g>) not only wasn’t scared of it, but wasn’t going to back off.

Suddenly, whatever brought the moose into the yard simply wasn’t worth it anymore. Trust me, I have those days with Gigi from time to time myself:)

The dirty little secret is that if the moose got close enough to Gigi, she probably would have run for the hills, but coming to that one particular spot just wasn’t attractive enough for the moose to chance it.

The moose doesn’t know what Gigi is capable of, much less willing to do in order to win the battle. Because it really doesn’t need this little corner of Montana in order to survive, it leaves.

Like Gigi, your ability to compete against a large, entrenched competitor is largely up to what’s inside of you.

Do I mean that you can sell more insulin or diabetic socks than Wal-Mart? Probably not.

On the other hand, in your market, you might be able to create a great success selling diabetic supplies to the right market by selling better than they do – simply because of delivery, service, insurance handling, convenience and so on.

Even Wal-Mart has weaknesses – some by design

Ever seen a drive-up window at a Wal-Mart? Ever seen a Wal-Mart delivery vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway?

Even in a market with a large, entrenched competitor, you’ll find things that your competitor is unable or unwilling to do. Things that the customer would be happy to have you do for them as part and parcel of delivering your product or service. There are *some* customers that will gravitate to you because of that.

Others wont care about delivery, drive-up, or whatever you use to differentiate. Let them go. Assuming that everyone is your ideal customer is a great way to bore the market to death (the death being that of your business).

Focus on the clientele who revels in or depends on the differences you offer.

What would your competitor simply hate to find you doing in “their” market? What could they do if they wanted to that would really please their customer – but they wont because of their compliance department, laziness or their business model?

Be the Gigi of your market. Defend your corner of the yard like a maniacal, fluffy little dog that is convinced it cannot lose.

Even Disney’s doing it – treating customers on their birthday

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/DisneyBirthdays.mp3]

You know, we’ve talked about this before. 

I’m speaking of the marketing value of keeping track of your customers’ birthdays. 

I know, I know. People won’t give them to you. If so, it’s because you aren’t asking the right way – or you aren’t making the sale.

This is a sale as well. If you told them they were getting something of value as a gift in exchange for telling you what month they were born, most people will sign up. You don’t need the day or the year in order to give them something special for their birthday. 

Don’t waste energy worrying about the ones who don’t join your birthday program – spend your energy on making sure your offer is doing a good job of illustrating the value of the birthday program. 

In the past, we talked about the restaurants (for example) that use this to fill their reservation calendar. Even if you don’t take reservations, you can use this strategy. 

These days, even Disney is doing it

Recently, Disney started offering a free day pass to their parks on their guest’s birthday. If you’ve been to Disney or looked at their pricing, you know that this is not a cheap gift. A one day pass to Disney World is $75.

So why would they do this?

The same reason you should be offering a free dessert or entree or buy-one-get-one (or half or whatever) to your customers on their birthday – because almost no one eats alone on their birthday.

If your family of 4 goes out to Uncle Ralphie’s Gourmet Pizza for dinner tonight for dad’s birthday because dad gets to eat free – you’re still going to buy a meal for everyone else at the table.

Obviously you have to know your numbers to make the right kind of offer, and you might have to tweak it over time, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be a profitable event on average.

As for Disney’s reasoning – it’s no different.

Who goes to Disney World by themselves? Sure, there are exceptions. Do you make decisions based on the actions of the 1% or 99%?

Speaking of… happy birthday, Russ. (See, that wasn’t so hard)