FAB-ulous Marketing

Most Small business owners decide what business to start based on two factors:

1) what they’re good at and like to do, and

2) what they assume possible customers will buy.

Often those latter assumptions are correct, but small-business marketers also assume that prospects will understand why they should buy the product or service just because they’ve been told about it. Thus, business owners only communicate the features of their product or service to prospective customers and neglect to mention the benefits.

What Are Features?

Take a look at the list of features below, taken directly from current advertising and marketing materials.

  • Self-setting clock
  • 50-number speed dial
  • One-click financial reports
  • Custom programs
  • Open 24 hours
  • Batteries included

Each is a feature-a factual statement about the product or service being promoted. But features aren’t what entice customers to buy. That’s where benefits come in. A benefit answers the question “What’s in it for me?,” meaning the feature provides the customer with something of value to them. So-and this is where most businesses go wrong-that must mean:

  • The benefit of a self-setting clock is convenience.
  • The benefit of 50-number speed dial is fewer keystrokes.
  • The benefits of one-click financial reports are immediate information and prepared statements for your accountant.
  • The benefit of custom programs is that they’re designed just for you.
  • The benefit of a store open 24 hours is you can buy when you want.
  • The benefit of batteries included is the product is ready to use out of the box.

While these may seem like true benefits, they’re really just elaborations on the features. So what is truly a benefit?

Benefits Are Results

The best way to understand the true benefit of your product or service-or to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question-is to focus instead on results. A customer’s perception of each feature’s results is what attracts him or her to a particular product or service. When someone chooses a VCR with a self-setting clock, the assumption is that the benefit is convenience, but the actual results are that they don’t have to read the instructions, watch a blinking 12:00, and, most important, feel stupid. Those results are the true benefits.

When you try to sell the features of your product or service, you’re making the customer do all the work to figure out why they want the feature. It’s in a seller’s best interest to draw the connection for them. But to do that, you have to know the results yourself. Let’s take another look at that features list to see the possible benefits from the customer’s point of view:

  • Self-setting clock: I won’t feel dumb!
  • 50-number speed dial: I can keep in touch with my best customers without effort, and I won’t get frustrated misdialing.
  • One-click financial reports: I can see exactly where my business is financially at any time. I can spend more time with my family instead of trying to figure out whether I’m making enough money or not. I can see business what-ifs instantly.
  • Custom programs: It will accomplish exactly what I need, and I won’t have to worry paying for services I don’t want.
  • Open 24 hours: When my pregnant wife craves pickles and ice cream at 4 a.m., I won’t have to disappoint her.
  • Batteries included: I’ll never have to see the crushed look on my child’s face when his toy won’t work because I forgot to buy batteries.

By this time, you should be mentally going over every sales pitch or marketing message you’ve been using with great trepidation and rightly so. If you look carefully and honestly, you’ll most likely find that your benefits are really just more features.

Applying This Knowledge To Your Business

So now that you understand the difference between features and benefits, how do you apply this to your own business so you can start marketing your benefits? The three-step solution is one you probably already know. As a matter of fact, you’ll probably slap your forehead and groan.

1. Know your customer. To know your customer, you must gather as much information as humanly possible on each market segment. You have to gather demographic data (age, sex, household income, family size, number of credit cards, media preferences and so on) and psychographic data (value system, primary hot button, behavioral style, response mechanisms, fears, passions and so on).

You can get much of the demographic data from studying your present customers. (If you haven’t had any customers yet, this emphasizes the importance of selecting a narrow target market to explore.) You can probably guess their age and health from their appearance, their family and marital situation from their conversations, their economic level from the way they dress and their behavior, and so on.

Psychographic data is a little more difficult. Small businesses rarely have the resources to collect or purchase comprehensive data of this sort, but you can gather some from observation and extrapolate more. For example, finding out what kind of car a person drives and what kind they wish they had will tell you much about what they value. If they drive a station wagon and long for a red convertible, then you could presume that they fantasize about freedom and lack of responsibility. If you know they prefer classical and jazz to pop or country, they may consider themselves apart from the crowd or they have a broad background. These aren’t surefire assumptions, but when you put together a number of such facts, it’s possible to derive a reasonably accurate picture of what motivates an individual.

2. Change your point-of-view. Whenever you function from your own point of view, you automatically fill in the blanks with assumptions. Unfortunately, prospects can’t do that. No matter what type of business you have, you’re bound to think it’s great because you fully understand what you’re offering. But a prospect knows little or nothing about your offerings. That’s why they can’t make the same connections about it that you can.

Your demographic and psychographic information will allow you to discover what patterns exist among your customers. Using that information, you must learn to put yourself in their shoes as the buyer. Approach your own product or service as if you’d never seen it. Then ask yourself-and anyone else who will answer-“What results will that feature bring me?” and “Why would I want to consider buying or switching change?

3. Think in terms of results. There’s nothing wrong with the term “benefits,” but if you refocus the problem to think in terms of “results,” the situation becomes clearer. Your dilemma isn’t features vs. benefits, but rather features vs. results. Start with your current features, and then take each one into the results phase. When you ask yourself “What results to I get from the speed dial feature?” the answer isn’t “I only have to push one or two buttons,” but rather “I don’t have to scramble for my Rolodex or Palm, look up a number, punch it in, and risk misdialing.” Then, just to be sure, take the results one more step: “And I don’t have to waste time on these tasks while I’m trying to meet a deadline!” Try out what you get on a few current customers to see which ones spark their interest.

When you use this “results” approach to discovering your business’ benefits, you can be sure the marketing messages you use to reach your prospects will be right on target. And that’s the surest way to get business!

Advertising – The Black Hole of Death

Black holes are places where ordinary gravity has become so extreme that it overwhelms all other forces in the Universe.

Everyone knows advertising of some sort is required to grow your business, but what most business owners don’t know is using the wrong advertising channels will destroy your business.

Experts say that roughly 50% of your advertising budget is wasted.  Pressure to succeed combined with this waste will cause an advertising black hole.

Here are 3 of the common problems creating your advertising black hole:

  1. Message – It’s just noise
  2. Advertising  – Poor channel choice
  3. 50/50 – No provable ROI

Recently, I met with a business owner who was going to advertise his online website, a competitive product to LinkedIn and The Ladders, by handing out flyers. He was sharp, well intended, and had a clear vision for his company – however he had no idea how to advertise.

If given $5,000 to advertise his business anyway he wanted, his method of choice was a paper flyer.

Think about that for a minute.

He was going to use paper to promote his 100% digital business. The plan was to pass out as many flyers as $5,000 could buy. A quick email to my print partner told me $5,000 would buy roughly 20,000 8.5×11 full color flyers. Questions still remained: Where would they go? Where would they distribute? Who would they give them to? MOST IMPORTANTLY – ONCE THEY HAVE A FLYER, WHAT DO YOU WANT THEM TO DO?

Instead here are some suggestions for him if given $5,000? (Assuming he understands where the development of his product is, and what value the site can provide today.)

  • Create a beta group and pay them for friends who join – leveraging their network and friends.
  • Create a referral network with colleges and universities.
  • Create partnerships with overcharged HR departments.
  • Partner with Workforce development groups.
  • Run a series of Digital Ads on Google, Yahoo/Bing, or other advertising networks.
  • Translate his entire site into a different language and focus on a specific underserved nationality.
  • Create 10 sets of 1,000 post cards with different messages sent them with the call to action – creating a free account.

Bottom line for his team is they were not ready to advertise.  They had several unanswered questions and any money spent on advertising would have been thrown into a black hole of death.

Before you begin advertising do a few exercises in marketing. Pretend you are buying your own product or service.

Think like your customer

  • What are they looking for?
  • How do they buy?
  • Why do they buy?
  • Where will they find you?
  • Is it easy for them to do business with you?

Advertise with purpose

  • Interrupt your audience.
  • Engage them with a strong message.
  • Educate them on why you.
  • Offer them a reason to get going now.

Track your results

  • Online campaigns
  • Direct Mail with Landing Pages
  • TV or Radio with exclusive offers

Oh, and one last thing.  Trust the results – 99.9% of the time a gut instinct is wrong.  If you are tracking it, and losing money, you know what to do.  Make this year the year where you don’t throw 50% of your advertising dollars down a black hole.  Make this the year where you are in complete control of your advertising outcomes, and smiling all the way to the bank.


Find your voice – Find your customer

ADS!  ADS!  ADS! Why do you fail me ads?

It’s no secret that advertising spending has increased dramatically over the last 10 years.  Global spending has grown around 20% in the last 9 years alone.  North America is expected to grow from $170.86B, in 2011, to $212.44B, in 2017.  Meaning advertisers will go from spending $322 per person per year to spending approximately $402 per person per year.

We could get deeper into statistics, but my head is already hurting. Truth is spending more doesn’t guarantee you more customers.  Impact from the spending growth means one very important thing for you.

If you don’t know who your ideal customer is, you better figure it out fast!

Getting the most out of your advertising dollar requires thought, initiative, and targeting.  For example, let’s say you own a bakery with the best cupcakes in town, and you decide it’s time to grow your business – to brand, to advertise.  Now you could spend lots of money on advertising via the radio, tv, newspaper, and maybe the yellow pages.  You might even be tempted to use Groupon or deal site to bring in new customers.

At first the results will be promising.  Traffic to your store might be up initially by 10-20% and you hope this is the beginning of the profit express.  You’ll hope that now you can just sit back and count the cash.  The sad reality is, unless you are the only cupcake shop in town, your advertising dollars will likely send customers to your competitors.  To prevent this from happening you need to know who your ideal customer is and how to begin a long term relationship with them.

So these new people, are they your ideal customer?

Even your cupcake shop has an ideal customer, or several ideal customer types.  You might have the regular, the evangelist, the big spender, or perhaps it’s corporate catering as your ideal client.  The client(s) you define as your ideal are the ones you make the most money off of, or who cause you the least amount of stress, and/or who will do business with only you no matter how inconvenient.

How do you find them?

Simple, look where they are, and share with them a message and passion they can relate to.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who would love my cupcakes?
  • What types of cupcakes do they eat?
  • When will they be looking for cupcakes?
  • Where do they look to buy cupcakes?
  • How easy is it for them to find me when they are ready for cupcakes?
  • Why my cupcakes?

Turn it into a message that resonates with the customer.  Remember, just like in a dating relationship, your customer wants to know you are most interested in them.  Make your advertising about your IDEAL CUSTOMER and spend your advertising dollars where the customers are.  Odds are, when they are hungry – they ask Google or their friends.

Here are a few companies that have been EXTREMELY successful in building a market presence for their ideal customer.

Tacopocalypse | Devastatingly Good*

No advertising budget to begin with.  Focused on Social Media to reach college students and recent grads.  Posted pictures showcasing the food.  Built a social media relationship with their audience. Big portions, fun name, and a place to go hang out after the bars.

  • Facebook Followers – 7600
  • Twitter Followers – 3043
  • Just featured on TV Networks – Diner’s, Drive In’s, and Dive’s

Westside Auto Pros*

Ron the Car Guy can be seen everywhere in Des Moines.  You’ll find him on Facebook, Twitter, billboards, direct mail, in your email inbox, on the radio and weekly on KCWI Des Moines helping troubled motorists solve common problems.  His ideal customers are defined as anyone with a car, who has a steady income, prefers to come to a clean mechanic shop where the staff is extremely knowledgeable and they like being surprised with fun perks like free rental cars when repairs will take more than 24 hours.

  • Facebook Likes – 6100
  • Twitter Followers – 1948

Make the customer the hero of your story.

You don’t have to be anything more than who you are to be successful.  The impact of your advertising can change the dynamics of your company, and if you are getting your ideal customer the growth won’t change the identity.  Your customers should be your heroes.  The customers are, after all, the ones protecting us.


*I do not have an affiliation with Tacopacolypse or West Side Auto Pros other than as customer and admirer of both.


Have something good to say.  Say it well.

Say it often.  Say it to the right people.


Persuade without power

3 Marketing Lessons from Dr. King

Yesterday, we celebrated the life of an American hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a leader in many respects of the word: civil rights leader, religious leader and and an African-American leader. The way he led his life and empowered others shows us just how powerful the correct message can be.

His teachings, speeches, writing and actions help us better understand how to reach your market.

Here are three simple marketing lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King:

1. Persuade without power.

Dr. King was able to persuade millions of Americans to join the civil rights movement and support his dream. He used the platform given to him to peacefully lead people who were being oppressed. Contrast that with Hitler, who used persuasion and “power” to forcefully impose his beliefs across a continent.

Dr. King held great power through influence and used it to empower those without a voice. As a business owner you understand there is a stark contrast between selling your wares and leading a movement. However, your audience will look to you and how you communicate the benefits of your product or services. Employees, investors, and most of all, customers need to be compelled to take action.

The best way to persuade people is to have something good to say, say it well, and say it often.

2. Create a sense of urgency.

When Dr. King joined the civil rights movement he understood the small window of opportunity to make a lasting impression. Dr. King said this in his “I have a dream” speech:

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

3. Inspire people

Dr. King is arguably the greatest leader, and communicator in modern history. He got people to embrace his vision and mission and support him unconditionally. As a business owner, you too can and must give people something to believe in.

Whether it is a great new product, or excellent service – effectively communicating what you offer in a manner that leaves an impression

These three lessons continue to inspire us to be a better entrepreneurs and leaders each day. I am thankful to Dr. Martin Luther King for so much, including the thousands of leaders he inspired unknowingly, and those he’ll inspire for decades to come.

Market like a Rock Star!

3 things ALL businesses should learn from Taylor Swift.

2014 brought the resurgence of Taylor Swift.  The loveable Nashville artist decided it was time to fully tackle a new genre of music.  Over the holiday break my 9 year old daughter subjected me to Taylor’s career and I discovered market strategies so simple and brilliant any businesses can benefit from it.

Like any other person in their 20’s Taylor decided to try a different direction in her career.  The move from country to pop music was not expected to be well received. She was exploring who she was, what she wanted to become, and how she wanted to impact the world.

What did Taylor do?  She took a risk with her first full pop album (1989), stayed true to herself with her album release(Secret Sessions) and she loved on her current customers with cookies and surprises (Swiftmas).  The things she and her team did were simple, well conceived, and completely believable for Taylor’s brand.

These are 3 simple marketing lessons businesses can take away from Taylor’s 2014 success.

Take Risks

Very few companies have become industry standards by “playing it safe.”  Sure there might be a large Insurance company or two who have set the bar for their industry and never taken a risk, but as a rule all successful businesses push the boundaries of their perception.  Ask T-Mobile (eliminating what everyone hates about their industry) how its working for them to shake things up?

Be You

Successful marketing boils down to trust, and believability.  If you don’t believe in yourself don’t expect others to believe in you.  Your customers and prospective customers can tell if you are being genuine or if you are faking it.  Don’t let the fear of taking risks prevent you from being honest.  You’ll be surprised who will take a shot on you, if you believe in your product/service.

Love your customers

Getting new customers is important, but so is taking care of the ones you have.  Many companies do reward programs, or loyalty incentives.  Most customers understand these tools for what they are.  It is, however, the companies that make bold moves to love on their customers that have lasting impressions.  Look at what WestJet did for some of their holiday travelers.

If you look at what moved large masses of people and had an impact in 2014, you will see big names, big business, and big industries trying to get personal.  You got into business because you were passionate about helping people solve a problem or fill a need.  Focus on being yourself, daring to be more, and taking care of those who helped you get where you are and 2015 will surprise you with just how much your market grows.

Will this cute puppy help you sell more?

How much is that doggy in the window?  Oh wait, you sell insurance?

Everyone loves puppies.   So you might think, ‘How can I go wrong advertising our company with a cute, cuddly image?’   Fundamentally, you have to ask, “Will this cute puppy help me sell more product or services?”

Can you answer this question with a yes? Or can you confidently say no?  Most business owners struggle with their brand and how to paint a picture of who they are in the market.  For example, Coke uses a Polar Bear, so if a furry animal is good enough for Coke, it must be good enough for me.

Not so fast!  Coke has MILLIONS of dollars to spend on advertising and they haven’t needed to explain what their product was in decades.  We all know, Coke is a highly carbonated, caffeinated, sugar-filled beverage that can lead to diabetes, tooth decay, and has been known to power grade school science projects (just ask mentos).  Coke has their customer for life, with their high doses of addictive sugar and caffeine.  Their goal is not to educate or enlighten their customer to the benefits of their product, but to create a feeling of happiness with their branding.

Unless you are selling a sugary, carbonated beverage, your goal is quite the opposite.  You want to show them how you are FAB-ulous.   Shine a light on the Features, Advantages and Benefits of your product or services.

Give your customers something refreshing this year.   Don’t try and razzle dazzle them with a quick, cuddly campaign.  Dig in, find out who your business really is, and tell the market the truth.

  • What is my primary product/service?
  • What are the advantages to my product/service over others?
  • Why is my product the best choice for the customer to buy?

If you can answer these three questions you have a good start on your brand.  If you don’t, make that your 2015 goal.