How to Make a Commodity Product Interesting

Canned vegetables are certainly a commodity product. They’re cheaper than fresh, and often discredited as less nutritious than frozen vegetables. But if you drive through South Carolina, you’ll encounter a marketing campaign by Glory Foods that makes canned vegetables, well, glorious.

Glory Foods, founded in Columbus, OH, has woven Southern soul into its brand. Each can of blackeye peas, collard greens or green beans is “seasoned southern style.” Billboards drive home this message with cheeky Southern sayings that emphasize the convenience of the product. Here are a few I saw recently:

Commodity Marketing

Commodity marketing

Commodity marketing

Other marketing slogans include:

  • Give peas a chance
  • Flavor and spice and everything nice
  • Southern greatness: yes, you can
  • Open up a can of flavor
  • Soul of the South
  • Hail to the kale!

Glory Foods is successful in marketing a commodity because it gave the product a perspective and personality. The marketing team made canned vegetables memorable in a way that was meaningful to customers– and definitely encourages motorists to try the product.

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs

Strangely, reality TV has fostered a golden era of business-focused television. Whether it’s Lori Greiner detailing why a product is “a hero or a zero,” Marcus Lemonis cutting through complicated shareholder agreements or Gordon Ramsay refocusing managers on the primacy of the guest experience, small business owners have opportunity for a free (and entertaining!) business education just by turning on the television.

1. Shark Tank

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs

This show is an obvious choice for my list, and I hope my entrepreneurial readers already watch it. ABC’s hit venture capital series offers useful advice to inventors, start-ups and small businesses.

2. Beyond the Tank

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
Shark Tank shows the exciting deal-making element of business, but Beyond the Tank delves into the day-to-day operational and marketing struggles of companies that made a deal with a shark. Watch this show to become inspired to implement!

3. The Profit

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
In this CNBC series, Marcus Lemonis takes over promising businesses that are failing due to operational issues, marketing failures or bickering owners. Not every business experiences success, which makes this show even more instructional.

4. Hotel Hell

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
We all know Gordon Ramsay’s “exploding chef” persona, but he’s also a stellar businessman. His perfectionism comes from a desire to deliver the absolute best guest experience. In Fox’s Hotel Hell, he guides struggling hotels/restaurants to profitability. It’s similar to his previous show Kitchen Nightmares (but with more mold infestations).

5. Nathan for You

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
Reality business programming has become so popular, the genre has earned a parody show. In this Comedy Central spoof, Nathan Fielder brings terrible advice to unsuspecting small businesses. The opening credits reveal his qualifications in booming tones, “I graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools with really good grades.” Perhaps this show isn’t truly educational, but you are going to love it.

Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate

Precise language is one of my joys. It’s exhilarating to find exactly the right word that communicates in the best way possible.

Which is why it pains me to admit that accuracy isn’t all that important if it’s boring. For marketing communications, you must be interesting first and precise second. To catch a customer’s attention, it’s best to spark their curiosity with memorable content.

Words become boring through overuse. When a word is ubiquitous in the culture, customers start to overlook it, like static in the background. Sometimes, these words are useful descriptors of what your company does, but it doesn’t matter if customers have grown accustomed to ignoring them.

Instead, choose words that are easily understood but unique in the context of your business. Compare these two marketing campaign approaches from Mosquito Joe and JH Mosquito Control Services. Mosquito Joe takes a friendly approach that is much more interesting and memorable than JH’s technical description of its service special.

Mosquito Joe – Outside is fun again.

Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate

JH Mosquito Control Services – Mosquito Control Special!

Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate

Some Terms that Might be Accurate, but are Terribly Boring:

  • Solutions
  • Collaborative
  • Communication
  • Service
  • Special
  • Alignment
  • Outside the box
  • Cutting edge
  • Turnkey
  • Innovative
  • Expert

Perfection is Illusive, but Keep Working on It!

True marketing magic happens when you find precisely the right words that also perfectly describe what you do and why customers should buy from you. I advocate striving for that goal!

In the meantime, though, you have to keep marketing and selling. “Don’t let perfection become the enemy of good,” is a powerful business adage. As you move forward, infuse more interesting and unique language into your marketing. You’ll attract customers’ attention, and they will allow you more time to explain accurately what you do.

Don’t Take Your Marketing Metaphors Too Far

Since I named my small business marketing firm Zoo in a Jungle Marketing, it’s pretty clear that I approve of marketing metaphors. Taken from Peter DeVries’ quote “Life is a zoo in a jungle,” my company name promotes stepping outside the constraining zoo of your immediate business environment into the jungles of possibility.

But some brands take marketing metaphors too far. For instance, Roehr Insurance:

Don't Take Your Marketing Metaphors Too Far

When I first saw this banner, I thought, “Okay, a lion shield for a logo. I get it– lions symbolize strength, wealth and honor. Those are all desirable attributes in an insurance agency.” The lion shield serves as a clear, quickly-understood metaphor for the service you hopefully would receive from this firm.

Then I saw the tagline,”Put the Roehr back in your insurance,” and the pun-inducing groans started. Heavy-handed and silly are NOT desirable attributes for an insurance agency. (Not to mention confusing– what would it mean to have insurance that roars?)

While I certainly encourage the use of well-placed marketing metaphors, watch out for instances that give the impression of amateur efforts instead of well-crafted expertise.

Campfire Stories and Small Business Marketing

Campfire Stories and Small Business MarketingA great campfire story compels the audience to listen, eager to hear what happens next. And they will remember the story, to share with others later. Wouldn’t you love for your marketing to capture some of that feeling? Unfortunately, small business marketing tends to focus on tangible features and benefits, i.e., “Enjoy life in your new kitchen with a state-of-the-art redesign!” A new kitchen is great, but communicating in facts and figures just isn’t that memorable or motivating.

If campfire stories were like most small business marketing campaigns, they would go something like this:

“It was a dark and stormy night, exactly 7:03 P.M. Scattered thunderstorms approached from the west, as lightning created significant property damage. Seeking shelter from these dangerous conditions, two young adults overcame their fears and entered a house that had a reputation for being haunted. After recording some rather disturbing experiences in a journal, they disappeared… never to be heard from again.”

“Just the facts” is a terrible way to interest and motivate customers. Get out your marshmallows and dream up a story that will help customers remember you in a meaningful way.

Is Your Small Business Tagline Great… or Lackluster?

When a business doesn’t understand its customers or know what’s important to them, it’s tempting to “throw things at the wall to see what sticks.” The result is usually confusing and bland (what a combination!). Check out this supposed tagline on a newsletter I received from an HVAC company:

That's Not a Tagline

More Choices. No Worries. Less Hassle. Time & Money Saved!

That’s not a tagline. That’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. I guarantee this tagline is not an effective marketing tool for Logan Services.

Now it’s your turn. Compare your tagline with my Small Business Tagline Effectiveness Checklist to see how many elements you can check off.

Small Business Tagline Effectiveness Checklist

An effective tagline should be:

  • Memorable
  • Descriptive of what you do
  • Pithy
  • Differentiating
  • Interesting to your customers

If you scored less than three, your tagline definitely needs help. But if you scored a five, congratulations! Your tagline is a great tool in your marketing toolbox.

 

No One Cares about Free Estimates

Have you ever paid for an estimate? Neither have I. And yet the marketing universe is full of badges, buttons and starbursts proclaiming their benefits:

No one cares about free estimates.

Promoting free estimates is like boasting about offering a toll-free number. It’s simply a cost of doing business, and customers won’t be persuaded to buy from you because of either.

Instead of wasting valuable customer attention with offers of free estimates, give them a unique, persuasive reason to contact you. It’s true that the marketing power of “free” is very strong, so consider free consultations or free upgrades as compelling alternatives. By thinking creatively, this one simple change will result in more customers reaching out, interested in your small business.

Ten Great Small Business Marketing Taglines

A Million Gallons of FunSmall businesses have many advantages over big businesses– the ability to build real relationships with customers, agility, flexibility, and more.

But brand awareness is one area where the big guys excel. Building Lasting Relationships with Clients and CandidatesThey have millions of dollars in marketing budget to educate customers about what they do and just why customers should care. Because of that, a big brand’s tagline can be esoteric, aspirational and vague. Think Nike’s Just Do It or Coca Cola’s Open Happiness.

Irresistible Ice CreamA small business marketing tagline has to work harder, though. It needs to tell the story of what you do and why customers love you in one small, memorable package. It’s hard work, and that’s why many small businesses don’t have a tagline. But the effort is worth it. Just check out these ten great small business marketing taglines:

Prompt and Proven Sprinkler Service Clearly a Better Carwash

  1. Newport Aquarium – A Million Gallons of Fun
  2. Graeter’s – Irresistible Ice Cream
  3. TriState Water Works – Prompt & Proven Sprinkler Service
  4. Lighthouse Carwash – Clearly a Better Carwash
  5. LMB Associates – Building Lasting Relationships with Clients and Candidates
  6. Dewey’s Pizza – Hey! Ho! Let’s Dough!
  7. Thrive Chiropractic – Adjust. Advance. Thrive.
  8. VooDoo Doughnut – The Magic is in the Hole!
  9. WAVE POOL – A Contemporary Art Fulfillment Center
  10. Yats – Cajun. Creole. Crazy.

Hey! Ho! Let's Dough!A Contemporary Art Fulfillment Center

Cajun. Creole. Crazy.Each one of these taglines combine with the business name to clearly communicate what the business does, while letting customers know what makes it different and special from competitors. For Dewey’s Pizza, VooDoo Doughnut and Yats, the tagline conveys the fun vibe found at these establishments. Others, like LMB Associates and TriState Water Works set their service models apart from competitors.

The Magic is in the Hole Adjust. Advance. Thrive.

 

The Great Shrinking Business Model

As a business model, Redbox is on its way to completely replacing Blockbuster. And the company has accomplished this goal in a remarkably short time period. Examining the two business models reinforces the importance of creativity, flexibility and appealing to changing market demands in our own businesses.

Redbox wins this competitive fightLaunched in 2002, Redbox is the company placing movie and game rental kiosks in prominent places around the country (i.e., those ubiquitous red boxes). Blockbuster, of course, is the retail chain with a similar function founded in the 1980s and enjoying success through the early 2000s.

From Redbox’s about page, one learns there are 34,600 Redbox locations in the US, and 68% of the population lives within a 5-minute drive of one. Blockbuster, meanwhile, boasts of just 2,500 stores across the entire globe– down from 6,500 stores in 2010. Clearly, Redbox is on the ascendency.

I call this competition the great shrinking business model. For local movie and game rental, Redbox learned that a kiosk could take the place of an entire retail store. It was quite a revolutionary business decision to implement a strategy that relied entirely upon glorified vending machines.

But the model certainly makes business sense. In a convenience-driven market where almost all consumers own and use credit cards, renting a movie for about $1/day on the way home from the grocery store is easy to understand and simple to do. Selling through a kiosk also allows consumers to rent media 24-hours-a-day.

By taking advantage of evolving consumer behavior, Redbox benefits from a streamlined overhead– with fewer employees, drastically reduced leases and lower insurance rates than required to run a full-size retail store. These optimizations allow Redbox to offer the exact same product as Blockbuster more conveniently and for a cheaper price.

Blockbuster is the market loserSome might argue that the experience of interacting with a movie buff employee at a retail movie rental store makes the visit worthwhile. Perhaps, but it seems that the corporate nature of Blockbuster killed that experience along with the neighborhood video rental store  years ago. My last experience at a Blockbuster included an uninterested employee mumbling “hi” to me without even lifting his head out of box of movies he was sorting. Frankly, I feel the kiosk is more friendly.

By analyzing the business models, it comes as no surprise that Redbox is quickly eliminating the market need for Blockbuster. This rapidly shrinking business model should make you think about your industry– are you the clever innovator or the stodgy competitor about to be taken by surprise?

Marketing 101: What is a Brand?

The basic marketing question, “What is a brand?” is rarely even adequately covered in marketing classes. But understanding your business’s brand is the most crucial concept for any marketing effort to be successful.

So, what is it, then?

Your brand is the essence, the soul, of your business. Your brand is what your business values. It’s what makes your business valuable and useful to customers, suppliers, employees– and yourself. Your brand is why your business exists.

See, it’s pretty important, eh?

The excellent movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, shows a beautiful example of branding. From the film’s introduction:

Sushi Branding“JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimages, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.”

Jiro Ono has spent his entire working life (since he was nine years old!) honing his brand. He goes so far as to ensure his suppliers put their heart and soul into their businesses, as well. His son, Yoshikazu, says, “Our tuna vendor only sells tuna. Our octopus vendor only sells octopus.” And their rice vendor refuses to sell Jiro’s special rice blend to anyone but Jiro, claiming no one else could possibly prepare it properly.

The soul, or brand, of every business in this film is ever-present. They put their heart and honor into being the very best and consciously defining what they do and who they are.

Perfection is not just a platitude for these businesses. If the tuna dealer can’t find any fish he considers perfect, there’s no tuna for sale that day. Jiro’s apprentices spend 45 minutes massaging the octopus to ensure it is tender enough to serve.

Watch the trailer: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Watch the trailer: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

When a business knows its brand, marketing decisions become much easier. Sukiyabashi Jiro would never consider switching suppliers to lower costs or starting mass sushi production, because it wouldn’t fit their purpose. They know who they are, so they also know who they aren’t.

To truly direct a business and its employees, a brand must be specific enough to escape being generic. It has to answer the question, “Why does this business exist?” Answers like, “To be the most trusted provider of…” aren’t meaningful or unique enough to give your brand life– on the whole, aren’t your competitors pretty trustworthy, too?

For defining a compelling and meaningful brand, small businesses have the advantage over big ones. The soul is a unified thing, and it’s hard for large businesses to unify behind one purpose and set of values. Small businesses have the vision of one person (or a small group of people) to give them a truly purposeful brand. Don’t you think it’s worth answering the question, “What is my business’s brand?”