Friday, October 8, 2010

A unique selling proposition successfully exploited

One of my agency’s clients owns a chain of furniture stores. These stores aren’t your everyday, garden-variety furniture stores featuring living room, bedroom, and family room items. Oh no, they are some of the only stores in the entire San Francisco Bay Area that carry a huge inventory of hard-to-find dinette sets and bar stools. Although most furniture stores carry some of these items (usually hidden way back in the corner of the showroom), this guy has hundreds of styles of dinettes and a huge inventory of hard-to-find bar stools and home bars. His showrooms are cavernous, and when he has a floor sample clearance sale (which he runs twice yearly), customers beat down his doors. His repeat business percentage is astounding, thanks to his complete dedication to customer service. 

His advertising hits hard at what he calls casual dining furniture, which he has available in more styles than a customer could possibly find at any other store, and in price ranges to suit any budget. In fact, casual dining furniture is all he does. And he originally opened his stores with this limited, but unique inventory in mind. So he uses this unique selling proposition in his advertising with great success. This guy truly does have something unique to sell, which makes writing his ads all the easier.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

You can't be all things to all people

As you define and position your advertising message, be careful not to over-promise. Promising a level of service you can’t deliver, or a convenient location that isn’t, or low prices when yours aren’t really all that low, can be a deadly mistake. Be honest with yourself about what is really unique and desirable about your store or business, and then be honest when you start making claims about it. 

On the other hand, don’t panic because you can’t deliver the very best of everything. Maybe your prices really aren’t any cheaper than those of your competition, but your business is located so conveniently, or has such a great ambience and personality, or carries such a unique inventory, that you’re confident people only have to try you once in order to become loyal, happy regulars. If that’s the case, then when you’re designing your ads, don’t make up false benefits based on price — position your message to exploit your strengths, namely that perfect location with all that free parking and all the friendly, cheerful faces waiting inside. 

Remember: One good promise on which you can truly deliver is better than trying to be all things to all people.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Researching and Assessing Your Competition: What Sets Your Product Apart?

Creating an ad campaign is a big step that can cost you some serious money, so it deserves some very careful planning. Before you get into the actual process of designing your advertising campaign, however, you need to identify and promote the specifics that make your product or service unique, known in the ad world as your unique selling proposition (USP). 

Your advertising should never speak in generalities. Including just your business’s name, location, and all the wonderful things you’re selling isn’t enough. You need to give the consumer a very good reason — or better yet, several good reasons — to visit you. You do this by first identifying your distinctive strengths and then calling attention to those strengths in your ads. This process is called positioning your message. 

Determining the key reasons why consumers drive (or surf, if you’re online) right on past other stores, that may sell the same merchandise as you do, in order to seek out your store is the first step in identifying your USP and positioning your message. You need to convince consumers that your store or business is the smartest, best, most-logical place that they can ever hope to buy that merchandise or service. After you identify these keys, focus in on them as the basis for your creative advertising message — in other words, promote and publicize your strengths. 

A good way to start the process of advertising your strengths is to let your mind wander backward to recapture all the reasons you were convinced that your business would succeed in first place. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What makes your company special?
  • What is unique about your inventory (if your business is a store or you’re selling products)?
  • What service do you provide that clients can’t find elsewhere?
  • Are your business hours more expanded than the competition’s?
  • Is your location easier to find? More convenient? With better parking? Or, do you pick up and deliver directly to your customers?
If you can remember what it was that originally motivated you to start your business, you’re halfway home in identifying what motivates customers to seek you out. The same reasons you were enthusiastic enough about your business plan to take the entrepreneurial plunge translate nicely into a creative concept and motivational copy that drives customers to your business (turn to Creating Great Ads for Every Medium for more information on how to do this in each ad medium).

Don’t confuse your potential customers with too much information — inform them with a well-conceived, creatively executed, and carefully positioned message. Don’t try to sell everything you have in the store (or every service you offer) in a single ad. Doing so only causes sensory overload. Zero in on one or two important, relevant items so your customers have a prayer of understanding your message. 

You want to position your message keeping in mind not only your business’s strengths, but also your primary market (in other words, the people who are most likely to buy your product). When you take both of these important factors into consideration, you not only position the resulting message, but you also target it — like a bull’s-eye, so you can then take your best shot.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The price is right

In some (but not all) cases, advertising the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (that’s the MSRP you hear about on car commercials all the time) is helpful. In the automobile example, where a dealer typically sells cars for less than the MSRP, the dealer looks very good. But in the case of a candy bar, for example, where the MSRP is 50 cents, but the big chain stores sell it for 40 cents, and the airport gift shop sells it for a dollar, you find customers scratching their heads and wondering what the heck the real price is on this candy. 

Be very careful when using price or terms as reasons for customers to visit your store. When you advertise price, you run the risk of getting caught in what I call the price trap. If you’re only selling price, you have to continue to lower that price — or come up with even better terms — on an ongoing basis in order to continue to attract new customers. 

For example, the cell phone business has fallen into the price trap. When you look in the newspaper, you may have a tough time choosing a wireless phone company or deciphering the best available bargain because you have to sift through the various stores’ offers of free minutes, free phones, free longdistance, free mobile-to-mobile calling, and any number of price and terms offers. And all of these stores have to continually create new and better offers in order to compete.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Let ’em know your uniqueness

A certain way to attract customers (more certain than anything else I know) is to offer something they can’t get anywhere else. If you’ve stocked your store with creative, hard-to-find items that other stores simply don’t carry, then you are way ahead of the game. If your doughnut store can state for certain that your doughnut holes are smaller (and, therefore, your doughnuts are more substantial) than a doughnut junkie can hope to find elsewhere, then that is your message. If you carry truly unique greeting cards in your stationery store, cards that aren’t available anywhere except at your location, then people looking for such an item are sure to respond. 

Of course, if you’re selling the idea that your business is unique, you need to work overtime to assure that it remains so. Do you remember when Starbucks was the only place where you could get gourmet coffees? It didn’t take long for hundreds of imitators to come along and make the same claim. If you’re successful in positioning yourself as totally unique, you can be sure that others will copy you — and you’ll have to continually reinvent yourself to stay ahead of the competition.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Don't sacrifice service!

Service, in my estimation, is the most overused and under-delivered promise made in advertising today. Just about every business claims to deliver the very best in “service,” or “customer service,” or “customer care,” but in reality, hardly any business actually does provide great service. Most market research shows that what customers want most from their bank, supermarket, dry cleaner, car dealer, shoe repair shop, accountant, or whatever, is good, old-fashioned service. All businesses know this, but most businesses seem totally incapable of delivering it. 

My agency handles a local Audi dealer that lives and dies by the results of factory-sponsored telephone surveys it does following every new car sale and every service appointment. The results of these customer satisfaction surveys go a long way in determining this car dealer’s relationship with the factory and with how many cars it allots him each month. He ranks very highly in his survey results, and we advertise the fact that his dealership is top-rated in customer service. And this advertising focus on service (as well as fair pricing and a wide choice of inventory) is obviously working — this dealer, located in San Jose, California, sells so many new Audi cars that he’s now number two in the nation. 

If you use service as a reason for customers to try you out, then you’d better deliver the goods. If you can’t service your customers in an efficient, courteous, timely manner, or deliver, replace, or repair what you promised when you promised it, then don’t tell customers you can. Don’t make any promises you can’t keep, because people will soon see through you and your promises like a piece of cellophane.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Convenience: More than location

The top three factors in getting rich on real estate are: location, location, location. The same may be true of your store or business. Convenience can be a huge incentive to customers. But when I say convenience, I’m not just talking about location. Convenience may be ample free parking within a few feet of your door, or easy freeway access, or a well-thought-out store design so your customers can get in and out quickly, or a store policy of always helping customers load merchandise into their cars, or a service policy of always delivering on time. 

If you do have a convenient, available location with great parking and a bright and cheerful ambience, easy access, an easy store layout, or any number of conveniences that customers find attractive, include this information in your advertising message. Convenience is also a very simple and effective way to differentiate your store from other, less-convenient, less-attractive stores. 

For example, when I need hardware items, I patronize a small local store, instead of one of those big discount warehouses, because of the convenience factor. The store is small (it would fit into one corner of one of the large chain stores, and you’d never even know it was there) so I can quickly find what I need and be on my way. It also has a large parking lot right outside its back door. I know I could save a lot of money if I went to the chain stores, but I’m willing to pay for the convenience of the mom-and-pop. 

If I were the owner of this small hardware store, I’d advertise with messages such as, “Park within 20 feet of our door. You may pay a few pennies more for nails, but think of the money you’ll save on shoe leather!” Or, “Is saving a nickel on nails worth getting hammered in a parking lot?” Or, “Drive for miles, search three acres for a parking place, get lost in a huge labyrinth, save 50 cents. Can we talk?” 

Similarly, if I owned a service business, such as a car and limo service, I’d advertise with a message such as, “Don’t stress about getting to the airport on time — call us instead! We’ll pick you up on time and get you to where you’re going, in the comfort of one of our luxury cars, driven by our safe and professional drivers.”