By Leslie R. Wolff, A Marketing Curmudgeon
You are in a ‘David versus Goliath’ situation when your competition is outspending you in the marketplace? If they have the staff, the money and distribution channels that can play havoc with your best marketing efforts it’s time to outthink, outsmart and outflank them … and it is possible.
“Commonsense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
A fact of smart marketing is understanding the majority of actions to take are based on common sense. And common sense will tell you that there are ways to counteract the efforts of the bigger and more aggressive competitor.
There is no magic formula but there are some smart moves one can make to level the playing field, or in more than a few cases tilt it in your favor. BUT it requires an open mind, one accepting of change, and if you have that you are already ahead of most of your competitors.
Challenge is a key facet of the strategy you must develop. As a smaller marketer it’s up to you to develop new challenges for the competition to keep pace with, new concepts which will motivate customer spending and new approaches to problem solving…. All of these can be done without spending anywhere near as much as the bigger competitor.
By observing what’s going on in the marketplace, absorbing it into your planning so you can identify ways you can outthink your competition. You have to think better and quicker…. Your ability to identify opportunities and to take advantage of them is of prime importance in beating the better-financed competitor at the game. So step I is to understand what I call Wolff’s Rule of Business Opportunity which is … Every business, in every industry tends to operate the same as everyone else in that field. Therefore you need to identify the similarities, the sameness factors and the common denominators to spot the overlooked and untapped opportunities that are always there.
Are you and your competition using the same basic approach to marketing? Do your efforts at advertising, sales promotion, PR, merchandising, all have a similarity about them? Is there a thread throughout your industry, a common denominator that relates you to your competition and they to you? Breaking this thread can be the smaller marketer’s biggest advantage.
The smaller marketer often counts on the similarity in the “look” common in their industry be it the communications message, packaging, and other marketing elements to identify itself with the competitors in the field in the eyes of the consumer. But the avoiding the “sameness factor” is precisely the strategy that the smart small marketer can use to set itself apart from the competition.
Look around you and you will see a number of smaller marketers who are beating the competition and achieving positive results by using creative thinking and strategic planning to turn a small budget from a liability to a plus.
How can the little guy begin to outthink the competition and break out of the sameness rut?
A good starting point is a close and honest examination of your own marketing efforts to that of your competition, be it in print, broadcast, Internet and customer service policies and actual practices. As you do this comparison, look closely at the similarities in approach, message, appearance in all your materials and communication perspective.
Look for the “me-too” approach in headline and copy. Too often, marketers will take a “follow the leader” approach. It is always easier to imitate than originate but the results can be incredibly better when you tell a “story” that’s fresh and different, instead on copying an approach to try to attract the customer. This can easily be seen in the following
• Photographs or illustrations should relate in some way to the benefits received from purchasing your product or service. Don’t mimic what the other guy does, lead don’t follow.
• Copy should always read from the customer’s perspective and not the company’s. Highlight a real customer need and address it, rather than choosing the “safeness” of similarity in trying to position your company just like your competition. This is how you rise above the crowd even in tightly regulated industries such as financing. Where uniformity is prevalent, opportunity to standout is obvious if you take the time to look at the field as I suggest.
• Avoid “cluttered” copy and visuals. The “White Space” rule is effective when you are succinct and stand out with a simple, clean approach. An ad with too much copy is not “user friendly.” Remember the K.I.S.S. theory of communication Keep it simple Stupid!
Your ads won’t fade into the communication morass if you make the effort to avoid the, sameness factor. Consider these steps …
• Make responding to your message easy either with atoll free #, e-mail address, website, or a simple reply card.
• Do surveys that allow the customer/prospect provide you with invaluable input and feedback?
• A strong headline will grab attention and lead into more readership of the balance of copy.
• Bring out distinctively different selling points than those normally found in the competition’s communication messages.
“None of us are as smart as all of us.” – Phil Condit
One strong group of allies available to you in identifying ways to combat “sameness” in the marketplace are your customers, those employees who interact with them and even vendors who have a better view of what’s going on in your field. Too many marketers ignore these “front line” participants. The smart marketer will develop a strong, two-way
communications channel with all of these on a regular basis and consistently encourage feedback, even if it’s critical.
Customer Service: This is one area where this type of feedback can often give you a competitive edge at little or no cost.
“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.” – William Mizner
You can be assured that most of your competitors are not using this built-in research resource adequately. Yet the feedback you get can provide a better understanding of customer wants and needs — a good starting place for the information you need to build a stronger, and more distinct, marketing effort.
Avoid the “elitist” attitude toward those in your organization who are outside the marketing area. They can be a valuable part of your strategy planning.
Evaluate your situation honestly. The 5 Ps Are price, product and performance on a parity with the competition? If so, the need to create a difference between you and the competition is paramount!
Not a difference for difference sake, but one built on your strengths. Look closely at your product or service, at the market needs and voids, at the interests and trends in your community and among your customers and prospects. Work from there to identify a point of difference that fits your image and objectives that is a logical and natural extension of
Don’t be afraid to think BIG, as it is easier to trim down a big idea than it is to grow a small one.
Keep an open mind when it comes to trying something new.
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continuously fearing you will make one” – Elbert G. Hubbard
Don’t ask for a brand new idea with 10 years of proven experience, but be willing to experiment and take a few risks. Strive to widen your thinking, overview, outlook, observation and receptivity to ideas and you will be better prepared to outthink the competition and then stop talking about it and do it!
Leslie R. Wolff’s mission is to reestablish a lost factor in business … commonsense! It is the foundation on which Smart Thinking is built. Les is CEO of The Smart Marketing Group, a proactive marketing Visionary & Strategy Think Tank. He can be reached at 215-334-3432, firstname.lastname@example.org, Skype: Smart Marketing or http://www.smartmarketingroup.com