brand promise, competitive advantage, differentiation, Memorability, sales, taglines, target audiences, Understanding Your Environment

Defining Your Differentiator With Detail

I was prompted to write this post because of recent exercises and discussions in which I engaged related to how an organization differentiates itself from competitors. Earlier in the week, related to an opportunity I was pursuing, I needed to express in writing what makes me and my organization different from (well, really better than) other marketing consultants. I also had a discussion yesterday with a prospective new client — one in the very initial stages of creating a brand/identity — about the importance of calling out in marketing activities, including branding, what made his shop different from competitors.

Q: Why Should Your Target Audience(s) Choose Your Product or Service Over That of A Competitor?

Answering the above question is no easy feat! In certain industries, and with particular product and service offerings, it can be extremely difficult to identify a differentiator, particularly if your organization operates in a highly regulated industry where certain product and service features are limited or mandated by state or federal regulations. I’ll give an example from my corporate marketing days. I worked for two health plans who served individuals qualifying for state-funded health care coverage, such as Medicaid. The states in which the health plans operated had very specific guidelines regarding what plans could and couldn’t offer members related to the various healthcare coverage programs for which they were contracted. This made it very difficult to create and execute program benefits, features, services, etc. that stood out from competitors. For example, on the customer service and coverage front, state-contracted health plans were required to achieve a mandated level of customer service and coverage. One of the ways plans attempted to stand out was to offer tangible wellness benefits such as free car seats, bike helmets, etc.

Despite the type of challenge described above, I believe each and every organization can and should identify what makes them unique/special/different (in a positive way!) from competitors. To aid you in landing on a “differentiator with details”, i.e., an explanation that has some “meat” to it and isn’t vague or general, I’ve outlined steps and questions to use as you brainstorm individually or with others at your organization about how and why your products and services outshine your competitors, i.e., why your organization rocks!

Stand out from the crowd and different concept , One red balloon flying away from other white balloons on light green pastel color wall background with reflections and shadows . 3D rendering

STEPS FOR DETAILING YOUR DIFFERENTIATOR

Step One: Identify Broad Differentiation Categories In Which Your Organization Falls

  • Determine the broader categories on which your organization can differentiate its products & services. Note that there will likely be some overlap and your organization will fall into several categories.
    • convenience (location, online/website user-friendly tools & apps, hours of operation, portability of service/product; ease of use of product or service)
    • product features (consider how they speak to the various senses: taste, feel, appearance, sound, smell)
    •  less tangible benefits, such as free assistance on certain topics or activities or ongoing e-communications that educate client on topics of importance to them
    • customer service (hours, days, quality, free vs. cost – does client have to buy service package?)
    • speed (how much turnaround time to receive service or product post-order/engagement?)
    • depth of expertise (# of years in business, in a particular industry, on a particular topic, background of organization leadership, etc.)
    • price/value (this can be tricky to promote, and often isn’t the best way to differentiate yourself, unless you know you are the lowest-cost provider, and that “low cost” won’t be associated by your target audiences with being low quality)
    • quality & durability of work, services, or product (materials used, how long something will last/be valuable)
    • breadth of offerings (can your organization meet several needs or pain points of clients immediately, or if needed in the future?; do you offer one-stop shopping or connections to experts when needed?)
    • organization size (what does your size allow for — more personal attention, less overhead equating to lower cost, more services and diverse staff experience?)

Step Two: Evaluate Which of Your Broad Categories of Differentiation Matter to Your Target Audience(s)

Ask and be honest with yourself about the following:

  1. “Does/do my target audience(s) value what makes me different/is my differentiator important to a prospective customer?”
  2. “Does my differentiator speak to a particular pain point or several pain points that a prospective client is likely experiencing?”
  3. “Are you able to communicate your differentiator quickly/efficiently in a language your audiences will understand?”

At a minimum, you must be able to answer “yes” to #1 and #3 above if you plan to market your differentiator and have it resonate with target audiences, and ultimately support sales and lead generation.

Step Three: Build Out The Details of Your Differentiator

Hopefully, the above exercise landed you on one or two broad categories of differentiation that will be meaningful to prospective clients. Now, it’s time to build out the details. Let’s use size as an example. The “About” page of my site includes the following reference “Our small size means our Principal, Gail Snow Moraski, will be directly involved with your account, providing the experience and attention ALL clients deserve.” If your organization is a large shop, and you believe prospective clients will benefit from that, elaborate on why being large is beneficial. Your details around your large-size differentiator might reference the diverse, extensive experience of staff, the one-stop shopping you offer, the many, varied services you offer, or even the stability of your firm and the likelihood it will be around for a while.

Another differentiator example from our my own organization. Our tagline is “Maximizing Results Through Research-Supported Marketing.” I hope and believe that it expresses to prospective client audiences that I won’t encourage them to execute or continue any marketing activities that don’t generate leads or sales for them. And, that our tagline conveys that we are a data-driven, analytical shop. I consider my research and analysis skills a differentiator from some fellow marketing consultants who offer certain marketing & communications services, particularly writing- or creative-related ones, but don’t necessarily know how to determine in advance what marketing vehicles or activities (employing content or images/graphics they’ve created) should work as far as generating sales go, or how to go about analyzing what worked in the past. On the other hand, some marketing consultants have differentiators or skills that I don’t have, such as an artistic background/eye or experience creating and laying out sizable documents, such as annual reports.

In sum, the key to identifying and promoting your differentiator(s) is knowing which of your strengths a prospective customer will value most, and then, making it clear through understandable, concise statements what that differentiator is and how your target audiences will benefit.

We always welcome a good marketing brainstorm, so if your organization is struggling with determining your differentiators, which to promote, and how to effectively communicate them, we hope you’ll reach out.

 

 

 

competitive advantage, keeping up with trends, mission statement, SEO, social media, staying current, Uncategorized

SEO Is Not for Sissies

With the increase in the number of forms of social media and the use, by both consumer and business professionals, of mobile devices to access Web sites, search engine optimization (SEO) has become a more complex task than ever for marketers. Since 90+% of individuals conduct internet searches via Google, and Google regularly changes its algorithm for organically ranking Web sites, individuals charged with keeping their organization’s Web site at the top of search engine listings must regularly take courses, like the Basic SEO course from Yoast that we just completed, as well as read everything they can get their hands on, to ensure they are up-to-speed on optimizing their site for search.

We like how Yoast encourages marketers to take a “holistic approach” to SEO. Marketers need to keep in mind that both “on-site” and “off-site” activities influence results ranking. To help you in your quest to have your site appear before your key competitors in search engine results, and preferably on the first or second pages of listings, we’re sharing some of the less-complex-to-implement and less-technical takeaways from the recent “refresher” we underwent to ensure both our own and our clients’ Web sites are well-positioned for SEO.

confident-young-woman-working-in-her-office-with-mobile-phone-100340643

  • Link internally – Google’s “spiders” that search the internet and your site hop from link to link to link to index information and to determine the credibility of your site. Help the spiders take their journey by posting links throughout your site pages to appropriate content on other pages of the site. Share links frequently throughout your site to your most valuable internal content – what you want site visitors to be most aware of/know most about your organization, its services, and mission.
  • Link externally – Share links to relevant external sites via your site, and most importantly, where appropriate, ask those external sites to share a link to your site on their site. This will reinforce the trustworthiness of your site with Google, and help improve both organizations’ rankings.
  • Don’t overthink – Google recognizes when sites are overusing certain “keywords” (phrases or individual words) throughout their site because they are the search terms which they hope or think searchers will use to find their site. Google will actually penalize you if it believes you are trying to “game” them in this fashion, and it will take some time, even after you make adjustments to reduce the overuse of certain terms, for Google to re-index your site. Don’t try to beat Google at its own game.
  • Do tag and title appropriatelyWhile we mentioned above to not overuse “keywords”, you do want to make sure your pages are appropriately titled and tagged with relevant keywords. Just don’t tag a page with certain keywords if your page doesn’t contain content relevant to those keywords. Also, be cognizant to not “over-tag” or “under-tag”.
  • Aim for the best site and user experience – By focusing on having the best Web site possible – one that makes it obvious to visitors what you do and why you do it – and on providing the best user experience (UX), your site should be well-positioned to receive higher search results rankings than competitors. Google wants internet searchers to land on the sites that best meet their needs and provide for the best possible experience. As Yoast shares, just make an “awesome” Web site, one with high-quality writing/content, and good, intuitive site structure and navigation.
  • Be socialBe sure to have a strong presence on social media platforms like Twitter and Google+; while Google can’t “read” a lot of Facebook content, it can read the aforementioned social media sites, and does take your social media presence and content into consideration when indexing and ranking your site.
  • Be responsive – “Responsive” sites respond to the vehicle on which they are being viewed, e.g., desktop, tablet, mobile phone, etc. If your site isn’t “mobile-ready” or “mobile-friendly”, Google isn’t going to rank it high in search results that it presents to a user entering relevant search terms on a mobile phone.
  • Be authentic – In keeping with not “overthinking” and providing the best UX, be real and be honest about who your organization is and the services your offer. While, as mentioned, you want external organizations to link to your site, don’t offer compensation for sites to do so. Google recognizes when the connection between organizations is forced vs. real and natural. In addition, don’t just write for SEO. Tell a good story, get people talking about you, be newsworthy, etc. Write about the things that matter most to you and your customers.
  • Be strong and be well – Regularly review your site to check for and fix “broken” links. “404” error messages that visitors receive when clicking on non-functional links to internal or external content send a red flag to visitors that your organization is not minding their Web site shop and/or doesn’t care enough or have the manpower to regularly make sure any site links still point to appropriate pages. Don’t let something so small and unnecessary as a broken link influence visitors’ first, second or tenth impression of you! In keeping with being viewed as “strong and well”, make sure the speed with which your site loads does not cause visitors to abandon it. If you need to eliminate large images or other media that may be contributing to slow site load, do so. Faster site load is more important to Google and your visitors than a pretty picture.
  • Look outward – As you title and tag pages and content, and even write content, use terminology you believe prospective clients and clients would use and understand. That may differ significantly from the terms and acronyms you use within your organization.

We’ll continue to stay abreast of what’s new and different on the SEO front and provide our thoughts about how to improve your site’s ranking. We’re always welcome and ready for a conversation on immediate and longer-term steps to improve your site’s SEO.

competitive advantage, differentiation, diversity, keeping up with trends, marketing consultant, staying current

The Value of Diverse Industry Experience to Both Employee and Employer

No clever, punchy headline today.  Instead, a statement about which I feel very strongly.  In the past several weeks, both I and friends who are in the marketing field and seeking contract or permanent employment, have had potential employers or people we network with make comments indicating that they didn’t think were appropriate for a particular job in a particular industry because we had no industry experience.  Or, we’ve had comments along the same vein made to us that the hiring company was likely to, or was going to, proceed with another candidate who had experience in that’s company’s industry.  And, we’ve been told, “well, I would have spoken with you about X,Y,Z opportunity, but I thought you were only interested in or able to do work in X,Y,Z industry”.

My whole career I’ve never forgotten a statement made by my then VP of Marketing and Sales.  He told his staff at a team-building event, “don’t just strive to be the best in our industry, strive to be the best in any industry.  Look at what world-class organizations are doing in other industries, and not just ours”.  I never forgot that.  At the time, I was employed at a health plan that had unfortunately allowed itself to become a bit of a dinosaur, relying on past achievements, and not keeping up with the times.  He encouraged us to look toward world-class organizations such as FedEx for inspiration and role models.  At that health plan, as part of a sales conference I helped plan, we had a speaker from a leading hotel chain that had received accolades for outstanding customer service, address our group.  The hotel representative talked a lot of about how to improve customer experience by thinking outside the box.

I digressed a little, but it was with a definite purpose.  The above reinforces, that quite often, both an employee and employer benefit when an employee has been able to work in and/or get exposure to different industries.  I’ve found this to be very true in my case.  At this point, between my permanent positions and my various contract and agency positions, I’ve served clients in or worked in the following industries:  healthcare (health plans and hospitals), financial services (both investments and banking), higher education, consumer goods (health and beauty, food, and more), manufacturing, hospitality, private investigation, non-profits serving vulnerable populations, real estate, and I’m sure there are more.

I believe without a doubt that employers and clients both have benefitted greatly from the fact that I am able to bring best practices and innovation from other industries to any work with which I am involved.  And, without a doubt, I’ve grown professionally, mentally, and emotionally from having exposure to so many distinct industries with their distinct challenges.  It’s kept my mind sharp, kept me learning, and kept me quite happy.

I’ll just close with this simple hope — that employers won’t shut out/dismiss potential contract or permanent employees because of lack of industry experience, particularly us marketing and communications folks.  My experience has proven that marketing and communications skills are extremely transferable across industries, and as long as a potential hire is intelligent, they can fairly readily learn the nuances, opportunities, and challenges of any industry.  And, they’ll likely bring an open mind to the situation and discover some opportunities that someone who’s worked in an industry for years might not bring.

competitive advantage, differentiation, marketing consultant

Why It Literally Pays To Be Different

I recently consulted with a small business that was having difficulty maintaining a steady stream of customers and revenues.  There is a very crowded marketplace for this business’ services, i.e., many other businesses offer very similar services in the same geography and some are franchises of much larger chains, and therefore, likely have access to marketing activities available through their central organization/office.

After assessing this small business’ competition — something I do as part of my standard pre-work for a conversation with any organization looking for assistance with their marketing — I pointed out to this small business owner that, if they had any chance of succeeding at all in their over-crowded marketplace, they would really need to identify what differentiates them from their competitors, particularly since they did not want their differentiator to be lower/better pricing than their competitors. Then, they would need to market and create awareness of that difference.

A caution and a challenge regarding identifying and promoting your difference from competitors — your differentiating attributes must be something your target audience values, and if you’re the high-cost provider of a product and service, then, in addition, your target audience has to value those attributes significantly enough to be willing to pay extra for those services.

I attended a Webinar this week on how to grow a successful consulting practice. While as a marketing professional, I have spent countless hours trying to identify, and then figure out how to promote, program/product/service differences for a variety of organizations in a variety of industries, the Webinar was a good reinforcement that as a consultant I need to heed the same advice I give my clients. I’ve got to offer something unique and different from all the other management consultants out there.  Fortunately, I launched my business with that awareness and understanding. You can learn more about why I view my organization to be different from my competitors by reading Results’ first newsletter.

My husband and I are big fans of Ray Davies of Kinks’ fame and of his song “I’m Not Like Everybody Else“. There are many benefits to not being like everybody else, and for a small business owner they can be huge financial ones, as long as not being like everybody else and the reasons for it, are favorably viewed by your target audience.

brand promise, competitive advantage, differentiation, marketing consultant, Memorability, Passion, taglines

To Tag or Not to Tag?

Note: Since I wrote the piece below the video referenced has been removed from YouTube.

When creating new branding — whether it’s updating and refreshing an existing brand or a brand-new brand 🙂 — marketeers are always faced with the question that has plagued generations of marketing professionals:  whether or not to incorporate a tagline in an organization’s branding.

As with all life decisions and activities, there are pros and cons to incorporating a tagline. I have zero doubt that Nike would enjoy the strong reputation and revenues it has achieved without its “Just Do It” tagline. Who wouldn’t be inspired by or motivated to purchase a product associated with that message?  When I had to choose a company’s advertising to analyze in graduate school, I chose Nike because I found their messaging so likable and upbeat. How can you not like their ad messages and taglines that encourage everyone to be their best — regardless of their life status, their age, their gender, their athletic capabilities, or their love or skills for one sport over another?

I just listened to a video about why the ad agency that came up with Nike’s tagline — and yes, it’s so powerful and timeless  that it has now been in use for more than 25 years — and the gentleman who generated the phrase and proposed it for Nike’s advertising suggested it because he saw the power of it being able to unite a variety of proposed ads addressing diverse sports interests.  Nike is probably one of the best representatives  for a big “pro” of including taglines in branding.  A memorable and moving tagline can support interest in and pull together diverse program and product lines and provoke immediate recognition of  and positive emotion toward an advertiser.

On the “con” sign, the biggest challenge with a tagline, particularly if it’s part of a logo and/or associated with your larger corporate brand/identity versus an individual program or product is that it can weigh you down sometimes if it’s too limiting and really doesn’t apply to all your programs or services, if it doesn’t make sense to your target audience, or if target audiences simply don’t like or agree with it.  I think we’ve all read some taglines and said “what?” to ourselves. Those responsible for creating taglines need to be sure to think objectively and even consider testing their proposed tagline on their target audience to ensure effectiveness and appropriateness.

And, that leads me to Results’ tagline.  You’ll see I haven’t incorporated it officially into my branding or logo. As a new business, I’m still getting the “bugs” out of mine, and it varies slightly when I need to give my elevator pitch unexpectedly.  But, it goes something like this — “maximizing results through research-supported marketing activities”.  Yeah, it’s long, but I do believe it’s truly reflects Results’ philosophy that research should be conducted and/or considered before marketing implementing activities, and without a doubt, conducted during and after the activity is occurring. Learn more here.

You’ll see I love Jimmy Dean’s “Shine On” tagline and have included that in my “About Us” message because I find that tagline to be inspirational and believe others to do.

Not so much for a marketing decision or education purpose, but more just to inspire yourself today and in future days to step outside your comfort zone, take a few minutes to watch this Nike ad video.  Just Do It.

 

 

 

competitive advantage, good will creation, marketing consultant, sales, traditional marketing

Why I Love the Marketing Term “Shoe Leather”

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-pair-old-fashioned-brown-shoes-isolated-image20178948

Now more than ever, I love using and hearing the term “shoe leather”.  The minute I speak it or hear it, I conjure up the image of a pair of slightly worn, lace-up brown shoes. I don’t recall exactly when I first heard the term used, but I liked it immediately because it made me think of the old way of doing business, of a time when businesspeople called upon other businesspeople and introductions were made in-person vs. LinkedIn.  “Shoe leather” makes me think of hard work, of pounding the pavement, of my father’s and my grandfather’s generation, of keeping moving and never giving up.

As a marketing professional, I often see and hear too much emphasis being placed on newer marketing tools and vehicles, and not enough emphasis being placed on what I call the “traditional” ways of doing business. While I’m sure there are those who may not agree, I do believe that there are still profitable deals being made and relationships being formed the old-fashioned way — during a cold call drop-by,  or an invite to lunch or coffee.  And, that’s a good thing.  Newer marketing vehicles such as social media play their role in connecting with certain audiences regarding certain products and services, but they’re never going to give a prospective client that warm, fuzzy, welcoming feeling of a handshake, a smile, or a lively, but friendly, debate about how the Boston Red Sox or Bruins are playing.

My father always told the story of how, as a very “green” office equipment salesperson, he persistently pursued one client.  Despite being turned away several times, my dad continued to drop by the office of the individual responsible for making furniture purchasing decisions.  The older gentleman became so impressed with my father’s tenacity that he eventually placed a very large furniture order with him and the two began a relationship and friendship that lasted many years.

So, the next time you think about e-mailing or calling a prospective client, think about invoking the “shoe leather” philosophy, and consider paying that client a visit.  You may be surprised by the benefits you’ll reap besides getting some good old-fashioned exercise.

brand promise, competitive advantage, differentiation, Enjoying What You Do, good will creation, making time for things you value, marketing consultant, Passion

The Power of Passion

My Dad was a man of great passion. He gave his utmost attention and energies to whatever or whomever he loved.

While my wonderful father passed away in 2012, just after his 85th birthday, as I undertake leading and operating my own business, I know it is his success and love of entrepreneurship that has inspired me to do so. My dad, O.V., never ran from a challenge. In fact, he embraced them.  For most of his career,  he was employed in businesses of his own creation.  Using a small inheritance from an aunt, he started an office equipment business at 1019 Farmington Avenue in Bristol, Connecticut.  While its origins were those of a church, 1019 served for years, and continues to serve, as the home for my Dad’s ventures, including the real estate firm my father ran most of his life, his beloved O.V. Resources.

While my dad originally was involved in both residential and commercial real estate, owning and selling commercial properties was his true love — behind my mother, of course.  Because of his passion for this business, my dad grew his firm to be one of the most successful and most well-known commercial real estate firms in Connecticut.  Due to his kind and friendly nature, my dad acquired what my brother calls a circle of “followers”.  They still stop by to visit with one of  my brothers who assumed responsibility for leading O.V. Resources in 2012.

In keeping with having been in the navy and a lover of sailing his whole life, my Dad successfully navigated the choppy seas of tough economic times during his forty-plus years in business.  He valued his ability to operate his own business and serve other local businesses, and he somehow always found a way to keep the business afloat.  In fact, his innovation and never-give-up attitude caused the business to have, overall, a very successful history.

Like my dad, my two older brothers have brought great commitment to O.V. Resources.

 

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My Dad brought great passion to other interests beyond his family, his business and sailing and boating.  He loved  cars, and just being out in the fresh air doing yard work — hence, the photo above.

Because of my love of research and analytic work, executing communications and marketing plans based on findings, and my Dad’s never-give-up attitude and creativity, I plan to bring great passion, commitment, and empathy to all the clients I serve.  And, like O.V., I hope I will soon develop my own circle of followers who will come to me for advice, compassion, and camaraderie.

Thanks, Dad, and to my brothers for your inspiration!  I look forward to following in your footsteps.