Talking about marketing is like trying to herd cats. There's a mystery about it all. To quote Frederick H. Rice, Director of Kansas State University's Small Business Development Center, "Often, the ad that generates record-breaking volume for a retail store one month is repeated the following month and bombs. A campaign designed by the best Madison Avenue ad agency may elicit a mediocre response. The same item [then] sells like hotcakes after [being described in] a 30-word classified ad, with abominable grammar, [which]appears on page 35 of an all-advertising shopper and tossed on the front stoops of homes during a rainstorm!"
Well, no one ever said business was for the faint of heart. The best we can hope for is to DO our best and maximize our chances for success. Employee-owned United Airlines was one of the leanest, best-run companies around, but who could plan for Nine-Eleven and its effect on the airline industry? Like Professor Rice points out, outcomes are sometimes strangely unpredictable.
Still we do our best. If we followed the strategies laid out in our first two articles, we now have the two elements of our marketing plan: 1) An objective picture of what we do best; and 2) An objective picture of what our customers need and want. Looking at the two pictures, hopefully each no longer than one page, we find the matches. If there is a lightning-bolt match that ties it all together in one stroke, fine. But even many "small" matches can add up to a lightning bolt.
At last we have it. After finding that we are best at fabricating and installing drop-edge countertops of "X" solid surface directly for high-end consumers on Tuesdays, we find that there is a customer segment that wants exactly that. This is fanciful, but our marketing discovery — which is now our mission statement — has to be that specific.
Now there are only three small ingredients to add to the mix and it's done: Competitors, Trust and Money.
It is my belief that no competitor ever put someone out of business. I always welcomed competition as an opportunity to get better (more profitable).
First: Is there anyone else doing exactly what I want to do? If not, this could be very good or very bad. If your market research is good, and there is an unfilled need, this is great. You start out unique, which is one of the best positions to be in, as well as one of the strongest points to market. But be careful: if absolutely nobody is doing what you want to do, there is always the chance that it is an idea that has been tried and didn't work.
Second: if there is someone already doing what you want to do, and especially if they are successful, great! This means that your idea is probably a good one, but better, it means there is a wealth you can learn from them. Find out as much as you can. You can exploit his mistakes, certainly, but by seeing what he does well, you can set a benchmark for yourself to exceed. The grand lesson of marketing to beat an established competitor, ever imitated but never bettered, belongs to Warren Avis: "We Try Harder."
Your customers must trust you. This is the final catalyst between need and sale. Trust is to the 21st century what Customer Service was to the last. Here's where we start herding some cats, but my suggestion is that, 1) sales will increase in direct proportion to how much trust exists in all phases of your business, and 2) it starts with you. Quality guru W. Edwards Deming insists that "Quality begins in the boardroom," and I suggest so does trust.