Google, Kleenex, Xerox, Wite-Out and Seeing Eye Dogs. These household names all share a common trait: They all carry an automatic recognition stimulus to the brain, yet not one of them is an actual product. They are however, brand names that have become synonymous with their product category. Have you Googled something lately? If you have a runny nose do you reach for a facial tissue or a Kleenex?
The story here is not that they are household names, it is how they became household names. The answer is simple: through solid, relentless, well-informed marketing strategies. The architecture of a solid, well-planned, intelligent marketing effort must be built on a foundation of four clearly defined, highly integrated supports.
Awareness: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
There is no greater asset for your product, service or company than a high awareness quotient, often referred to as a “household name.” There is nothing automatic or taken for granted about it. No matter how well established, widespread, cutting edge, good or bad your product, maintaining and growing a healthy awareness consistently and with purpose should be your No. 1 priority.
Your customer awareness factor may cover a wide scope of the marketplace — but it also may not be as extensive as you think. You may not have realized that it is shrinking under your feet while you have been taking it for granted. This is not an area for complacency — confirm where your territory is and own it. You may be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond, but you need to know how big the pond is and how many fishermen there are on any given day. Once you have established that, you can mold the conversation into that particular level of awareness.
Remember, a new, competing product offering, with a solid marketing strategy, can enter the marketplace in blitzkrieg fashion at any time and take your market share away almost overnight. Need proof? Think about your computer. If you are a PC user (another brand name that became synonymous with a product), how many of you are using an actual branded IBM PC today? How many are using Dells, HPs or Toshibas? At one time, IBM had no competitors with enough resources to truly compete. If you are an Apple user, recall how quickly iPhones took over the market from Blackberry, which recently filed for bankruptcy. Then, Samsung took over half of the U.S. market almost overnight from Apple. It can and does happen frequently.
Image: Perception Is Reality
Now that you have decided you are not going to be out of sight, out of mind or take your customer base for granted, it is time to think about your image in the marketplace. First, ask yourself these important questions, or better yet, spend a few bucks and do a market survey:
- How many possible customers in the marketplace do you think have heard of you?
- Among those you believe know who you are, how accurate would you say their perception is of who you are or what you do?
- If you were to actually try and do this research, of the answers you get, how many do you think would hit the mark?
- How many answers would seem incomplete or lukewarm, as if they did not have enough information?
- How many would be flat out wrong?
A completely out-of-focus and inaccurate idea of who you are, what you do, what is wrong about you, and what is good about you can suck the life out of the best marketing plan. You may discover you have a high-priority need for marketing objectives that straighten out your image in the minds of the marketplace — that is key. If potential customers do not trust or know you well enough, you have no relationship. If that is the case, you have no sale.
Attitude: Yes, You Are Here to Be Liked
Is it possible that entire segments of your market feel so complacent about you that they could not care less about you? Or is it more likely that you have not communicated more than your closest competitor, so potential customers do not even think about you?
When I talk to clients about marketplace attitude toward them and their product offerings, I often hear, “Well, it’s harder now because people shop strictly on price, and we can’t compete with the big guys stealing our market.” There is some validity to that statement, and yes, you are going to lose market share on price at times — that is nothing new.
In my own business, I have occasionally seen experienced clients cut a marketing strategy to the bone and feel surprised when it underwhelms expectations. That is a reality as old as the first time someone yelled, “Fresh fish for sale!” and competition was born. You will get what you pay for and you must yell louder and longer than your competition. But if your fish is no longer fresh, or even seems to be no longer fresh, customers will go somewhere else.
There are entire segments, however, probably new ones that may not have been on your radar in the past, which would rather deal with someone local who has built relationships and a solid reputation. You will find that price is often a secondary factor to a qualified buyer. Usually, comfort and trust are far more important on a large purchase.
Qualify & Put Away the Shotgun: Market Only to Your Specific Match
This is really the first step to finding new customers. Before awareness, before image, before attitude, find out which economic, social and lifestyle traits make your customers your best customers. With a solid existing customer list, there are some effective, inexpensive data tools to do that. You encourage your customers to seek professional guidance on your products — this is an area where you should heed your own advice. If you do not know how to find this information, find someone who does and knows exactly what he or she is doing.
Once you have that quality information, focus on the segments that mirror those good, buying-powered customer traits. Chances are they also will prefer to deal with and buy from you, the local guy (or gal). Because you already know they have the same lifestyle and buying habits as your best customers, they likely will respond with a positive attitude to the image and awareness you have spent time and money to build.
Cultivate a good relationship with your likely clientele and do not waste valuable marketing time and dollars on unlikely buyers. Do not take anything for granted. Remember, lack of awareness, wrong images, and low or no interest attitude on your part can and probably will eventually sink your ship.