Back to My Marketing Roots

Joe GenieMarketers go through a lot of stages and phases. Consumer Behavior changes. Technology changes. The economy, the competition, the demographics; they all impact the work we do, and what we focus on. But I’ve found, as I’ve added a new challenge to my marketing bucket list, that the fundamentals never change, and it’s important to get back to your marketing roots.

You see, along with my work with ad agency Seventh Point, I’ve added another business challenge–that of a local franchise owner. It’s one of the reasons this blog has seen a bit of a hiatus. In my search, I wanted to find a business that IS NOT technology driven, IS in-demand and will be for the foreseeable future. A stable business model that I can build through MARKETING. I’ve found that business and brought the first “Window Genie” franchise to Hampton Roads. You can learn more about the company by clicking on that link, but the focus here today is those fundamentals of consumer marketing that this whole initiative has reinvigorated in me. The five key pillars that are key to any business owner operating a small business in a competitive market place…which is 99.7% of all employer firms in the US, according to the SBA.

The same way a pro athlete practices the physical fundamentals of his or her sport on a daily basis, it’s important to stay grounded in these marketing fundamentals, evaluate your business and your plans against them and make course adjustments to stay on track.

My five key pillars of Business Marketing Success

Build a Memorable Brand5 Pillars

I love this oversimplified definition of brand: “The variance between your product and generic.” Everything that follows will contribute to your brand and what consumers perceive about you, but the important word here is memorable. In a hyper competitive world your brand look and feel needs to be something that sticks in the psyche of your target consumer. Working with (purchasing) a franchise operation can give you a huge leg up, and it was one of the key elements I searched for.

The brand look and feel has to differentiate your company, stimulate Top of Mind Awareness and inspire confidence in your company. It also has to be consistent in look and customer experience in order to build presence and over time.

Promote and Deliver Recognizable Value

Businesses can’t survive if everyone is the low-cost provider. Consumers don’t demand the lowest price, they demand the best value and perceived value is a huge variable from one consumer to the next. Marketing price, whether a retail product or a transactional service like cable TV or even window cleaning does not have to be the lowest price, but it does have to be competitively positioned and attractive enough to drive lead traffic.

Finding one key price point and driving it home can establish value, aid in recall, drive leads and protect your margins, all at the same time. Want a couple of examples? Watch for Stihl’s seasonal price point advertising. That same entry-grade blower is $149 every time. Looks like a sale, but it never is. Weber grills, same thing. Window World windows, home of the original $189 window. Price point advertising at an established value for a memorable brand does not have to put you in a race to the bottom.

Execute Persistent, Targeted Paid and Owned Promotion          

Diversity of promotion is the key here. Identify your target consumer, but now more than ever you have to reach them through as many channels as possible.

  • Be where they are in a communication form they are comfortable with. Social media and content marketing, the types of information you can own (and earn) present a level of authenticity and engagement that fosters referrals.
  • Targeted disruptive channels, digital, direct mail, print, outdoor, etc. build awareness and drive leads.
  • Build your online presence so that you are easily found and well positioned.
  • Event, guerilla and sponsorship marketing create association and personality in the environments where your customer lives.

Develop a balance in all of these areas, track and be persistent. Advertising shouldn’t be looked at as something that just drives short-term leads. It is the road map that builds long-term business.

Focus on Customer Loyalty

Inevitably, a start-up business has to spend a disproportionate amount of time dumping new customers and leads into the top of the bucket. But nurturing customers and relationships is something that has to be done from the onset. It is critical to building loyalty and no matter what your product or service is, your success will be built on your ability to create loyal customers.

Every employee must know his or her role in delivering high quality customer service.

That means strong training not only in the areas of product or service performance, but also in understanding the expectations of your customer. The employee’s ability to see his or her performance through the eyes of the customer is vital to truly satisfying or delighting customers. It’s the only way to create repeat business, and the best way to develop referral business.

Have a Plan and Stick To It

Every new business, even a franchise operation in a new market, needs a strong, well-developed business plan. Identify the market, know the competition, project sales, seasonality, profitability, Build the plan that drives leads and plan for the resources to deliver top quality service. Disciplined business and marketing plans are critical to success. It’s easy to start second guessing, but one key, vital attribute for successful businesses is this:

Successful businesses plan for success.

That takes courage. It takes vision. It takes discipline. It takes effort and late nights. Develop your plan and follow it. Go back to your original plan. How far off are you and how did you get there? Track and allow for course corrections, but make them quickly and deliberately.

So those are my big five. There are thousands of marketing books and even more marketing gurus who will provide variations. I believe you will find these key elements inherent in most of that thinking. If not, I would propose that something big is missing.

Try an evaluation test with your company or business. Run an audit against these five pillars as sort of a tune-up. You’ll find that returning to your marketing roots is a healthy exercise; one that should be repeated regularly for your personal marketing health, as well as your business.

Will Your Customers Unlock the Door?

There are 728,800 potential problems every day in Hampton Roads.

Market a message of trust and deliver on it.

A man at your door with a van in your driveway. If you’re the consumer, as a marketer I know two things about you for sure: 1) you have a problem, and
creepy Guy With Shirt2) the biggest decision you will make is whether or not you are willing to open the door. If you’re a marketer in the home services category, everything involved with your marketing strategy and your advertising campaign has to deal with these two fundamental precepts.

The sheer amount of advertising weight aimed at this category would seem to indicate that a huge chunk of the 1.5 million adults living in 728,800 households across Hampton Roads must have a problem every day. The most popular broadcast-media dayparts in particular are chock full of HVAC, plumbing, pest control, kitchen remodeling, carpet cleaning (name your favorite problem) spots every day.

A man (OK, could well be a woman…I didn’t create the category name) at your door with a van in your driveway. Really, by the time the van is in your driveway, you’re most likely going to open the door. The decision was essentially made prior to or during the phone call you made to the company. According to Bill Day (@Bill_Day_) with consumer research company Frank N. Magid Associates, whether you will be comfortable opening the door and letting this company, or person, in your house is the first and most emotional decision you will make. The marketer and the business owner must project and establish a level of trust. When the consumer has a problem, he or she will make a decision to invite that company to his or her home based on an existing perception of trust for the company or brand.

That relationship, an urgent response based on brand perception, is at the core of why a company like Michael and Son, one of our market’s most persistent promoters, spends so heavily and so consistently. I talked with Eiman Bassam, founder of ESB Advertising based in Northern Virginia, and agency of record for Michael and Son. “We don’t know when someone will need us, so we have to stay top of mind,” Bassam said. For that reason, it doesn’t do any good for the company to focus on specials or sales.

“Price,” Day said, “is one of the least effective tactics for convincing consumers.” Magid’s Advertising Performance Research — a series of dozens of local studies done on markets from coast to coast with local consumers — bears out the most important attributes of advertising for this category:

What you say.

How you say it.

Where you say it.

“And production quality counts,” Day added. “Being your company’s own TV spokesperson is not for everyone.” Without naming names, I believe we have some in our market that could be putting themselves at a disadvantage on this point. It’s not hard to test commercials in a focus-group setting.

What you say, and how you say it.

Make no mistake, this is a business category driven by marketing. Think of 728,800 households with potential problems; the best marketer is going to win here. For a company that’s not based here and has only been operating here for about three years, I believe Bassam and Michael and Son have a winning formula. Maybe you didn’t know that Michael and Son isn’t locally owned. That “and Son” in the name makes it sound small-biz and local-yocal. The brand imagery and truck design is not over the top, and the advertising is well produced for the category but not expensive in look or feel. And even a highly recognizable voice talent, unique in sound, conjures an image of a helpful office person as opposed to a professional announcer. “Absolutely that’s on purpose,” Bassam said when I asked. “We have to look local from afar. When 70% of the decision-makers are women, we know we have to be trustworthy.” And consider the jingle/slogan, “If you can’t, we can.” Well at least they give me credit for trying.

Where you say it.

The most recognizable and the largest service-industry companies are fairly visible in traditional channels: @123bugfree, @MichaelandSon, @OneHourVirginia, @RSAndrewsinc, @VB_Plumbing (Atomic), and others. And most in the category spend a considerable amount on search marketing, which is necessary. But 2015 marks the point when advertisers will be spending more in online video and display marketing than search due to the advanced-targeting capabilities that behavioral data-tracking, ad exchanges and real-time bidding bring.

If you own or operate a business in this category, you should be considering what a more profound digital strategy could do. TV works well aDigital Advertisingnd will continue to work well in driving brand awareness. Not all players in this category can afford TV, but those who do should be looking to align their messages across all screens — TV, PC, tablet, and mobile. New data and technology advancements make that very possible and effective. If your budget doesn’t place you on TV, it’s even more important that you learn about new online-targeting tactics that can raise visibility of your brand. These advancements make it more efficient than ever to be top of mind for the right target.

So will the consumer unlock the door? It’s a matter of trust. Trust in you, and in what, how, and when you say it. And it all makes the assumption that the man (or the woman) at the door doesn’t look like Freddy Krueger.

If you have questions about anything in this article, feel free to post or contact me at

A Company’s Vision: Can it Pass The Elevator Test?

Is your vision for your company clear and concise enough that you can hold any employee responsible for explaining it in sixty seconds?  If not, you may not be doing your job.

Your organization craves clarity.  The individuals that operate your company on a daily basis crave personal relevance; understanding how what each does helps accomplish the company vision. 

The most effective test for clarity and simplicity is to be able to answer the question in the time it takes to ride from one floor to another in the elevator (or walk across the lunch room, or out to the parking lot).  Let’s use a minute and a half as a bench mark.

The elevator test question should be broad and its answer should be very focused.

Companies have developed acronyms and key words to help make the answer relevant and memorable.  But of course the most important component of the answer is that the response be genuine.

Though I don’t know him, I would venture to guess that when Gary Kelly, President and CEO of Southwest Airlines, heads across the tarmac with one of his baggage handlers, the answer to “what is this company all about?” would be firmly grounded in “the highest quality of customer service” (as stated in the company’s mission statement) and all of the relative decisions that are made based purely on that.  The vision is lived in a genuine way every day.

Bfq4A20CIAEKXsu2With the recent experience that I had flying across the country during one of the snowiest winters on record (my bag stayed an extra week in Chicago) I’d have to say that the people of Southwest still live this experience. Daily phone calls, even if they were, “we haven’t found it yet, but we’re still looking,” the final delivery of my bag—sans name tag or baggage ticket–and now, three unsolicited “Luv Ya” vouchers for $150 tell me that the mission is clear and genuine, both to the people and to the organization.

So how do you know if the answer you get is genuine and accurate?  Sure you can create a rhyme or a jingle.  You can print wallet cards and ask employees to commit them to memory.  But I would suggest you look for three elements in the response you receive:

1. An understanding of what makes you different from your competitors. Make business decisions based on protecting differentiation

2. Ask who butters our bread?  Know who the key customers are and how to take care of them

3. A look in the eye.  Confidence in the clarity of the answer and a belief in the cause.  If you don’t sense confidence, there is much work to be done

Of course the concept of the elevator test is nothing new.  But the due diligence of developing it, executing it and working to perfect it is something that is often left behind.  It’s an important part of a leader’s job, and one that will pay huge dividends throughout the organization.