A 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.
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:
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:
Descriptive of what you do
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.
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:
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.
Small 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. They 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.
A 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:
Newport Aquarium – A Million Gallons of Fun
Graeter’s – Irresistible Ice Cream
TriState Water Works – Prompt & Proven Sprinkler Service
Lighthouse Carwash – Clearly a Better Carwash
LMB Associates – Building Lasting Relationships with Clients and Candidates
Dewey’s Pizza – Hey! Ho! Let’s Dough!
Thrive Chiropractic – Adjust. Advance. Thrive.
VooDoo Doughnut – The Magic is in the Hole!
WAVE POOL – A Contemporary Art Fulfillment Center
Yats – 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.
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.
Launched 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.
Some 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?
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:
“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.
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?”
Route 52 near Cincinnati is an interesting drive– it follows the Ohio River, takes you through some cute small towns and, surprisingly, presents drivers with a stark marketing lesson. That lesson is to think like a customer.
On my drive, I first encountered a restaurant whose logo includes a whimsical mouse wearing a chef hat and handling your food:
If there is a mouse on the sign, isn’t it reasonable for customers to assume the restaurant has a lax rodent policy? Either way, a restaurant never benefits from an association with mice.
Next, I drove past a gynecology clinic featuring a mermaid on their sign:
I’m certainly not an expert in this field, but I’m not sure mermaids would even require a gynecologist.
When designing a logo and other marketing materials, businesses must think like their customers. It doesn’t matter how cute, clever or “different” the logo might be if customers are off-put by the concept.
Here are some marketing design tips to help you think like a customer:
Understand your customer’s expectations. Would a customer think you are a better doctor with a mermaid on your sign?
Consider common associations in our culture. Will customers have a pleasant impression of your restaurant when they associate it with a mouse?
Be practical, then be creative. First answer the question, “What are we trying to say to customers?” Then, you will be able to create fun, interesting messages that resonate with customers.
Ask others for their opinions. An outside opinion can be valuable to gain insights you might have overlooked.
Design isn’t the veneer that’s slapped on at the end of a project. It isn’t just “pretty” or “nice to have.”
Design doesn’t come from consensus. It’s not something a committee of competing interests can develop.
Design isn’t just for objects. Companies shouldn’t confine design to the “Design Department.” Services, experiences and even marketing strategies should be designed.
True design is the complete, unified whole as envisioned by one person or a small group of cohorts. If you’ve been reading the Steve Job’s biography (and who hasn’t?), these concepts should sound familiar. I’m thrilled such a popular book is championing the key essence of true design. Apple and Pixar’s successes prove that dedication to true design works– more than works. True design results in “insanely great” things.
So, how are you designing your company and your marketing? Who has the vision? Where’s the passion? If you can easily answer these questions, you’re doing design right.
If you’ve got a great product or service, what’s the best way to market and sell it?
By letting customers try it out!
Lighthouse Carwash does this whenever they open a new car wash. For the first few days, all the washes are free. It helps them build a customer base by showing just how great the service is.
Busken Bakery in Cincinnati does the same with their business catering service. Their flyer promoting the service is pretty nice:
But it isn’t nearly as enticing as the free dozen donuts that accompanies it:
Who wouldn’t trust this bakery to cater their next business breakfast after tasting these delicious donuts? (My apologies to anyone dieting this January.)
Not only does giving samples allow customers to experience your product, it’s a much more cost-effective marketing effort than almost any other tactic. For instance, compare the cost of a free car wash or dozen donuts to the price of a radio commercial.
When you’ve got a great product you can sample, your customers get a delightful experience, and your business stays in the marketing budget. See why it’s the best?
City planning and zoning divisions can be a thorn in a marketer’s side. But if you don’t know the ordinances of your town, you could end up like this guy, who was slapped with a $500 fine for marketing with chalk on the sidewalk. The next time you have a breakthrough outdoor marketing idea that hasn’t been tried in your area, check the local codes to ensure there’s not a reason no one else is doing it.
Ordinances can be tricky, so read carefully. A client of mine is located in a township that will only allow businesses to display an outdoor banner if they are approved for a permit. The permit allows the business to display the banner for 15 days, but you can only have one permit every six months. We had to prioritize which two 15-day periods in the year were most important to the business and plan far ahead to make sure we received permit approval in time.
Don't be scared. They are just people in suits.
If you have to present your outdoor marketing plan at a council meeting, leave nothing to the imagination. Create mock-ups and show pictures from where the idea has been implemented elsewhere. You’re trying to convince a committee, so your visual evidence should be as compelling as possible. By showing council members your plan is aesthetically pleasing, you will remove their fear of marring their town’s image.
The imagination of the marketer often is at odds with the strict codes of some planning and zoning divisions, but through careful planning, you can make your outdoor marketing as effective as possible.