Fixing Your Marketing; Stop Focusing on Your Competition

How much time and energy do you spend trying to figure out what your competition is doing? You’ll win buzz word bingo with “competitive analysis” and “benchmarking”, but will you win customers? Is our competition really a good place to look to decide what we should be doing?

When I was landing and managing clients like Microsoft, TAP Pharmaceuticals, Seagate, Veritas, Jostens Publishing (yearbooks) and other Fortune 500 clients, I never followed what my competition was doing. I followed my clients and potential clients very closely, and expended all my efforts trying to figure out what they needed and wanted, where their entire company was going, and how we could help them get there.

I always got a lot of pressure to find out who the competition was, what they were doing to market themselves, etc., but I was too busy focusing on my customers. I suppose taking a look at the competition is a good idea, but I found that most of the companies that spend a lot of time comparing themselves to their competition ended up mimicking them, selling against them (instead of selling FOR themselves), and deciding what services they would offer based on what the competition was doing. It crushed creative, innovative, and consultative thinking about where they should go next.

If I focus on my competition and on marketing against them, I lose my focus on bringing the best, most innovative product/service to market. Having something people want and find really useful – that’s the key. And you don’t find out what people want and find useful by asking your competition, but by asking your customers and then taking a proactive leadership position to bring things to market that your competition hasn’t begun to think of.

How do you do it? Proactive leadership. I must lead my customers in my area of expertise. We don’t respond to our customers or to the competition – we lead our customers into the future by knowing what they need.

How do we know what they need? Most often, companies make the mistake of working real hard to provide their product or service. Period. (And a big mistake).

We need to work real hard to know the vision, mission, strategies, objectives, and action plans of our client’s entire company, THEN ASK OURSELVES HOW WE FIT INTO THAT. Why would we want to provide service without knowing how what we do helps them get to their overall objective? When we figure out how we fit into their bigger picture, it changes the way we view our own products/services, and that creates innovation and proactive leadership in our area of expertise.

You are not a rock, you are not an island. You are part of your client’s overall plan to make more money. If you get their bigger picture, you’ll make more money, too.

Stop focusing on your competition and start focusing on your client’s overall mission and how you fit into that. You’ll find yourself leading them in your area of expertise, and they will find themselves leaning on you heavily for much more than your product or service.

Marketing isn’t about clever tag lines, it’s about focusing on the right things that will make our clients want to buy more from us.

Fixing Your Marketing; “Me, Too” Doesn’t Work

Why doesn’t your marketing work? Reason #3 – The Two Last Words of a Dying Marketing Campaign – “Me, Too.”

A lot of marketing success is just dumb luck, other times its extensive research. But once somebody hits on something that works, a Mother Duck/Duckling phenomenon kicks in. If it worked for the other guy, maybe I should try it, too. Maybe not.

So we try it, and it works! Then a few others jump on board and pretty soon that unique marketing tactic is being used by nearly everyone in the same industry. Now the tactic is no longer yielding the results it did when only a few people were using it simply because it’s no longer unique and the customer sees no difference from one company to the next.

They’re all in lock step waddling down the same path.

Every medium has suffered from this as it proved to work, became popular, then saturated and then ineffective.

The problem is that we confuse cause and effect. We think that since everyone in our industry is doing it “this way” that it must work, so we do it, too. There is safety in numbers and if I’m going to spend a lot of money on a marketing campaign, I want to know that everyone else would do it that way, too. But if everyone is doing it that way, cut and run. “Me, too” is a bad advertising strategy.

Formula websites are an alluring form of “Me, too” advertising.

People pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to be let in on the secret formula of how to build a unique website that will get you traffic and results like none other. So thousands spend money to be sold the same formula, so they can be nearly identical to everyone else who has paid to get this secret.

I’m guessing the formula still has some verifiable results. I also know that every time I hit one of these sites, I leave immediately because I believe whoever bought the formula is banking more on the formula than on the actual value of their product.

I’m an early adapter, but as others begin to see this formula repeatedly, it will be a big problem for all those that banked their identity on being unique by being exactly like tens of thousands of others. The saturation effect isn’t far away.

What can you do to be different? Where can you make a splash where no one else is skipping stones? Are your competitors all in newspapers, TV, radio, Yellow Pages, direct mail? It’s counter-intuitive, but the more your competitors are concentrating their market in traditional mediums, the more you should think about going a whole different direction. You’ll get a much bigger bang for your buck.

“Me, too” is a waste of your money and time. Waddle down your own path.

Fixing Your Marketing; Features vs. Outcomes

Why doesn’t your marketing work? Reason #2 – Maybe you are marketing Processes, Features, and Benefits/Results when you should be marketing Outcomes. My friend and fellow Team Nimbus facilitator, John Nordlander reminded me of this during a MasterMind session with some great business owners this week.

Processes – Most of us are making money at something we are either passionate about or at least deeply involved with. That attachment makes us want to tell everyone how we do what we do. But they really don’t care. HOW we do what we do is only interesting to us. Stop trying to tell your customers HOW you do things (actually they’ll ask later if you market your Outcomes first).

Features – The same love for how we do things (Processes) makes us want to tell people all about the features of what we sell; how it stretches farther, has stronger glue, spins faster, takes up less space. Again, your customers really don’t care. Stop trying to tell them WHAT your cool product can do (actually they’ll ask later if you market your Outcomes first). FYI – “our system is 99% reliable” is a feature. Boring.

Benefits/Results – Now we’re getting to some things that are on some customers’ radar screens. What’s the benefit to your customer? What result will it bring them? If I can get them to realize the benefit of using my product, I’ve got a shot at getting their attention. The problem is that benefits and results are “clinical” – 4 out of 5 dentists recommend. Or “you will have cleaner teeth”, or “your car will run cleaner”. While some customers will connect with the clinical results, it’s not enough for most.

Outcomes – The difference between this and a Benefit/Result? We connect intellectually and “clinically” with Benefits and Results, but we connect subjectively and “emotionally” with Outcomes. “You will feel the power”, “You will have more free time”, “Skiing will be more fun”, “People will like you better”, “You won’t have to sweat the details anymore.” “Life will be easier.” Outcomes stir the emotions.

Buyers at all levels, whether a child buying bubble gum or a hardened government buyer – all of them without exception buy emotionally. If you connect on the emotional level, you win. Bank on it. Help people connect with Outcomes.

By the way, if you do, they will then want to know the clinical Benefits/Results, all the Features, and how in the world you make it happen (Processes). So you’ll still get a chance to share all that “craftperson” stuff pent up inside. You’ll just have to be patient and wait until they want to hear it – after they connect emotionally with the Outcome.

Share Outcomes and you’ll have more fun selling, have happier customers, and live on a tropical island. And the birds in the trees around you will sing continuously. (OK, a little heavy on the Outcomes, but you get the idea.)

Fixing Your Marketing; The Penguin Problem

Create our own waddle.

Reason #1 why your marketing doesn’t work – You are using Big Business marketing rules. If you’re playing by their rules, you’re going to lose just about every time. Make up your own rules and you’ve got a better chance of your marketing working.

It’s a problem of penguins.

Marketing is noise – 1,000 penguins on a rock outcropping. It’s like white noise out there. What do I mean? The biggest competitor in the industry spends $1,000,000 on advertising and grosses $10,000,000 in revenues – a nice 1 to 10 return ratio. So we assume that if we spend $10,000, we’ll get $100,000 back – 1 to 10 – right? Wrong. Why? Because we’re focused on the wrong ratio.

Back to the penguins. Our $10,000 is fighting with their $1,000,000 for attention. They own 990 penguins all making noise for them, and our solution is to add 10 penguins to the same rock to make noise for us. Our penguins are drowned out every time.

And worse yet, we’re competing against everyone advertising in the medium we’re using, so it’s really tens of thousands of penguins against our 10. The marketing noise is deafening. We don’t stand a chance if we play by big business rules.

I met someone starting a small business who was about to put 100% of their $10,000 annual marketing budget into newspapers – a few penguins up against thousands. We got her to redirect the funds. (FYI – If you’ve got thousands of penguins or a paper with a unique niche, newspapers can work.)

Until they have a big enough budget to place more penguins on the rock, how could they spend that money better? Understand this: the two last words of a dying marketing program are “Me, too.” Everyone else is advertising in a certain medium, so I think I better be there, too. That seems reasonable, but is the best way to waste your money. Instead, ask yourself, “What could I do to make a noise where no one else is squawking?”

I do a weekly lunch workshop with 35-50 business leaders and once a quarter I’ll ask “Of the four major ways to market ourselves (advertising, direct marketing – including cold calls, public relations, relationship marketing) which one brings you the overwhelming majority of your clients?” If there are 40 people there, 39 answer “relationship marketing” and the other guy didn’t understand the question.

If you spend time and money building a network of gate-openers and raving fan clients, you win. The big guy with lots of money doesn’t have your relationship network and would never invest the time to create that network. Until you’re big enough to own a big “waddle” of penguins (yep, that’s a penguin herd), put your dough into relationships.

By creating your own marketing rules, you beat the big guy, because he actually can’t afford to play by your rules! All he can do is keep throwing money at the problem. And since you’re penguins aren’t on his rock, he’ll never beat you no matter how big his waddle is.

Why living abundantly will make you more money.

Do you live in a world of abundance or in a world of scarcity?


Really. The answer effects just about everything you do in business including how you make money, how you grow your business, how you serve your clients and employees, and how you impact the community around you.

If you live in a world of abundance, you fundamentally believe you will get yours by helping others get theirs, because there is plenty to go around, and the generous will do well. Profit comes from serving others and focusing on getting better, not from eliminating competition.

If you live in a world of scarcity, you fundamentally believe you will get yours by getting it before the greedy guy does, because there is only a limited supply to go around, and the bad guys will get it all if I don’t get mine first. Profit comes from grabbing the scarce market before the next guy gets it, and eliminating the competition.

Companies that live in a world of abundance operate differently. I was in Nordstrom’s once and they didn’t have what I wanted. They called their competitor in the same mall, found the product at a lower price, had someone go down and buy it for me, brought it to Nordstrom’s while I finished my shopping, and gave it to me at the competitor’s price.

Many examples of both abundance living and scarcity living exist in the technology world. Abundance living is demonstrated by Linux and other open-source software that is available for all to build on. Google built their business on “do nothing evil” (some say they are wavering on that lately). On the flip side, in 1997 I was given a confidential document that showed a three-year plan by Microsoft to drive Novell out of the market. The focus wasn’t on how Microsoft could get better, but how they could eliminate the competition so they wouldn’t have to get better.

Markets are indeed limited. It’s counter-intuitive, but in the long run you will almost always get more of that market by living abundantly, not be grabbing everything you can up front. Scarcity living might give you a first leg up, but will create a reputation you don’t want long term.

Put helping your clients above your own desire to sell them something. I dare you to help your competition be successful, too. Or if you can’t get your arms around that, at least focus on getting better instead of eliminating the other guy. You’ll make more money in the long run, create loyal followers, and develop a legacy that will carry the company forward.

Do you live in a world of abundance or in a world of scarcity? The answer will affect everything you do in business, and will go directly to the bottom line.