Why you should sell air

Ninja portrait

As I noted yesterday, my current survey here at Business is Personal asks “What’s your biggest marketing challenge?”

Yesterday, we discussed why 25% of respondents have said “Making time to do the marketing” and how they should go about fixing that.

Today, the next largest group (a very close second) is those who said “Differentiating my business from competitors” or offered a response that effectively means the same thing.

Consider “adding air” to the product or service you sell.

What I mean by air is something that:

  • Adds substantial value – from the customer’s viewpoint – to what you sell.
  • Doesn’t add substantial (or any) cost to what you sell (this is why people call it “air”)
  • Competitors haven’t bothered to add to their offering, so your product/service looks better/more complete, has a higher perceived/actual value.

The net result is that you can ask a higher price. You’ll stand out from the other guy.

Hopefully by now, I don’t have to say “Air is not lame, low value puffery”.

Example Air

Let’s say you sell premium brand house paint. Every hardware store and home improvement box store sells premium paint.

How in the world would you stand out? You can’t likely compete on price (thankfully) because they buy more in a month than you buy in a year.

Rather than try to meet the local box store’s price, talk about the time your customer will waste driving into town, dealing with traffic and talking to paint people who maybe don’t know paint. Sure, this means YOUR paint people will actually need to know paint, but they should anyhow.

Still need to add some air? You could negotiate with a local painting company to include drop cloths and stir sticks with the paint crew’s business name and 24-hour emergency number. Oh and print “Tired of this? We’ll finish the job.” on those items. Who hasn’t gotten 20 feet up on a ladder (or bit off more than they could chew) and wondered why in the world they didn’t get a pro to do the job?

Oops, I forgot a stir stick

Think about the last time you bought something that required additional pieces/parts. Doesn’t it annoy you to get home and find out you forgot something? Shouldn’t the sales / register staff where you bought that something take low-key steps to make sure you’ve got all the stuff you need?

Almost everyone complains about not having enough time to do (whatever), so go out of your way to save your customers’ time – and make note of it. How long would it take to drive from your premium paint aisle to the paint aisle at Home Depot? Put up a sign in your paint aisle noting that and thanking them for supporting a locally owned business.

Sell some air. Stand out. Be the best paint store in your county. Be the ONLY choice for someone who needs a can of premium paint, not because no one else sells it, but because no one else sells it and takes care of paint customers like you do.

After doing all that… your biggest marketing challenge WON’T be “Differentiating my business from competitors”.

A bus of a different color

Post-Katrina School Bus
Creative Commons License photo credit: laffy4k

When I say “bus travel”, I’m guessing that many / some / most of you think of things on this list (and maybe some others):

  • Greyhound (et al)
  • Tour buses full of senior citizens
  • A noisy school bus full of kids
  • people of lesser means
  • panhandlers
  • bus terminals
  • when will it arrive?

Here are a few things that I’ll bet you don’t think of when it comes to bus travel:

  • Comfort
  • Productivity
  • Care-free
  • Customer service
  • Wireless
  • Convenience
  • Safety

Red Arrow Motorcoach in Canada thinks a little differently about bus travel. For starters, they don’t even use the word “bus”. Like most companies of their type, they call it “motorcoach service”.

Because they know that you don’t want to sit around their bus terminal waiting an extra 30 to 300 minutes for your friend, family or colleague, they offer visual location tracking of their bus on their website, PLUS they will email and/or text you when the motorcoach is between 5 and 20 minutes (your choice) of reaching its destination.

Think about that benefit. It isn’t for the customer. It’s for someone who hasn’t even bought a ticket: the person meeting the customer at their station.

Not your grandpa’s bus

The customer isn’t ignored, however. Red Arrow’s website includes online reservations and a virtual tour of their coaches, which include a complimentary galley with drinks and snacks.

Their motorcoaches have a choice of plush or leather seats and they are careful to point out that they offer 30% more legroom than on a typical airliner.

For travelers with laptops, their coaches include pulldown tables, electrical plugs and wireless internet. Compare that to an airliner, which is often too cramped to use a laptop unless you’re in first class.

Their on-board magazine points out that you never have to turn off your cell phone and that the positive amenities of air travel (such as they are) are met on their motorcoaches as well.

Things the website missed

  • What’s the environment like at their drop-off/pickup points? Is it well-lit?
  • Does the place look safe if I step off the bus at 10pm or if I have to wait an extra hour due to weather or other delays?Do they have 24 hour security personnel on-site? Cameras? Yes, I know it’s Canada, but bear with me anyway.
  • Which stations have a nearby car rental?  (they do have car rental partners)
  • Do the stations offer wireless?
  • How does the station differ from typical bus stations?

You get the idea.

And the point of all this?

Cracks in the plumbing

What do people automatically think when your type of business is mentioned? Looking for an example? Think “plumbers”.

What are you doing to counteract and/or take advantage of that image? What sets you apart – and not just a little.

What are you doing that will completely change your prospective customer’s perception of your business?

What should you be doing that you just haven’t gotten around to?

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.