Can’t Lead Your Industry in Sales? Then Lead in Ideas.
Posted by The Marketing Intern on June 7, 2009
When you’re in charge of the growth of a business, regardless of your parameters for determining growth, your ultimate objective has to be to establish your company as a leader in your particular business category. There are lots of ways to do this:
First, you could work your tail off for years and years and hope that eventually your customers realize that you’re better than the competition. Of course, that’s what everyone else is doing, too, so it would be foolish to assume that this alone will grow your business. Don’t get me wrong: you should definitely be working harder than anyone else in your industry if you want to succeed, but that alone probably isn’t enough.
Second, you could use your resources to buy up a lot of smaller companies and pool their resources together to create a bigger company. Of course, this creates the propensity for your business to come off as tyrannical and may give your customers the impression that you’re out for global domination (see: Anti-Trust) rather than customer service. Victims of this approach are Microsoft, CitiBank, Yahoo!, and so on. (Though note that in the case of Google, it is entirely possible to buy out a bunch of smaller start-ups, expand to ridiculous levels, and still retain a cool corporate image.) This strategy seems to work, provided you can manage it all well, but it requires an enormous amount of capital, something which many small businesses lack.
Third, you could change the definition of “leadership.” Sure, it’s important to sell your products. Of course it is. But there’s no way you can compete with Microsoft on a Broderbund budget. Not financially, anyway. You need to reevaluate your assets. What do you have that the big guys may not?
The answer, of course, is an idea. You have at least one idea that the big guys don’t have — if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be in business. You do something cheaper, better, faster, easier, or more completely than Big Guy Inc. Your salespeople do a good job of pushing your advantages, but they can only reach so many people. Even if you’re doing all the right PR things by putting out news releases, blogging, keeping up with social media, and frequent (but not too frequent) newsletters, you still might not be doing everything you need to do to publicize your company.
Think about it this way: when your customer visits your landscape architecture firm’s website and reads up on how unlike your competition, you guarantee your designs to be 100% erosion-proof. To the customer, this implies that there is a pandemic erosion problem in the landscape design industry. “But how much of this,” the customer asks, “is snake-oil?” Is your no-erosion campaign similar to P.T. Barnum’s claim that his truckload of tuna was “100% guaranteed not to turn pink in the can”? If you’re trying to sell a customer a solution to a problem he didn’t know existed, you risk coming off as an inauthentic spinster. This obviously doesn’t help sales.
A better approach is to become what David Meerman Scott calls a “thought leader”. The concept is relatively simple: create a website or blog (or some other kind of publication) dedicated to advertising the problem your company aims to solve. Talk about the problem, its prevalence, its impact, its origins, its history, and its solutions. This way a customer has an accessible resource that introduces what you (as a person) believe is a vital consideration in a person’s selection of a landscape architecture firm.
Here’s the kicker: when you create this site or blog (or whatever), nowhere on it should you mention your company’s name. Remember, this is about popularizing the issue, not the solution. A customer can find the solution to a problem by himself, but first he has to know that the problem is real, and does not exist (ostensibly, anyway) as a mere sales tactic. If you’ve done a good job of SEO, when your customer Googles (or Bings, to coin a phrase) “landscape architecture,” your company’s name should be at the top of the list. If the blurb under the search result contains the phrase “erosion prevention,” it recalls the memory of the site the customer visited which talked about the prevention of erosion being key to the execution of landscape architecture. There’s the connection, and (hopefully) there’s the sale.
Take, as an example, Greg Koch’s efforts in marketing Stone Brewing Company’s wares. As I mentioned in the previous post, Stone’s site features a video called “I Am a Craft Brewer,” a rousing videographical statement of pride in the craft beer industry. The video comes from the site iamacraftbrewer.com, a site dedicated to the proposition that all beer is most certainly not created equal, that watered-down beer waters down the beer industry, and that it’s high time people started drinking what they like, not what the television tells them to drink. While lots of brewers are featured in this video (and on the site), no one brand is featured more than any other. So when Koch featured in the movie and put “I Am a Craft Brewer” on his site, he positioned his brand (Stone) as a solution to America’s beer problem. As for results? Well, I don’t know the statistics, but I finally broke down and cracked open one of the Stone 2006 Vertical Epics I’d been saving. And it was delicious.
As a parting note, I’d like to mention the fact that Greg Koch and Stone have been thought leaders since the brewery’s inception. Stone has long been the definitive counterpoint to the mainstream American conception of beer, and has sought to expand the dark, delicious underbelly of American beer culture since long before I was allowed to drink. Check out Greg’s vlog, and for the love of all things American, go out and buy a Stone. That is, if you think you can handle it.