BrandingWire update

We have a couple of new challenges up on BrandingWire.comone has generated a bunch of helpful input already, the other is just up now.

If you hadn’t already discovered, BrandingWire is no longer restricted to the original 12 pundits who founded the site – now, we publicly post these challenges, and invite ANY marketing blogger to give input and ideas. So pitch in!

Also, Who Needs You? – a new-ish post on the Small Business Branding blog. Feel free to challenge this idea in the comments if you think I’m off base!

So…What’s New with BrandingWire?

What if you could go to a site where great marketing ideas meet real-life challenges?

And everyone can participate and contribute?

Check out the evolution of the BrandingWire project

Zoom Zoom

Recently, one of our 3 cars (the one for the driving teens) blew an engine. Around the same time, I was ready to sell off the used car I’d been driving for business, and lease a new one. So, I had to sell one used car, buy another used car (hooray for Craig’s List!), and lease a new one.

Yes, it’s been a stressful few weeks (the car situation, along with work demands and some family/extracurricular pile-ons, did wonders for draining my creative impulses!).

mazda6.jpgSince the team over at BrandingWire recently did posts on the automobile dealership experience, I thought I’d describe my experience securing a lease on a 2007 Mazda6.

Basically, it was quite positive. The initial showroom experience was good – you never know what you’re going to get when you walk into a dealer and a random salesperson approaches you, but Fernando over at Wayne (NJ) Mazda was straightforward and professional. This is a high-volume Mazda dealer and they seem to have embraced some sound customer service principles (note to webmaster, however: your website ain’t that hot).

I had pretty much pre-selected the Mazda6 as my car of choice, but we went over the various options and packages, and I settled on a configuration I wanted. I then just wrote down what I was willing to offer on a piece of paper, handed it to Fernando, and with very little back-and-forth, the deal was done. It probably helped that this was on the last Saturday in September; the end-of-quarter is an ideal time to buy a car.

The pick-up experience was relatively painless, the follow-up has been good, and the car has been an absolute pleasure. Would I recommend this dealer? Based on my experience thus far, sure. And when it’s time to consider a new family-hauler, will I look at a Mazda over at Wayne? Sure. So far, so good…

(btw, the car is a 6-speed V6, and yes, it does Zoom Zoom when you need it!)

How would Branding Consultants brand…consultants?

The posse of marketing experts at BrandingWire are taking on, this month, the challenge of branding and positioning a B2B consulting firm.

Here’s the outline of the situation:

A profile of the ideal client/customer for the consulting firm:

    Revenues: $1 million to $25 million
    Employees: 150 or fewer
    Verticals: High-tech and health care
    Location: North America

The challenges facing these client/customers: consumers and other businesses have so many choices, that high-tech businesses (as well as their other target audience made up of clinics and hospitals) are experiencing stagnant growth, or even losing market share. Many of these clients don’t know how to differentiate themselves from their competition.

The consulting firm’s challenge: as a small marketing firm, they are losing contracts to lower pricing and to bigger firms. The consultancy after three years has stopped growing and most of its clients buy one project and don’t return for more assistance for several years, if at all. How do they position and brand themselves in order to return to greater marketplace success?

I would approach a situation like this with a number of questions, a sample of which are below:

  1. Why are they in these 2 markets? Is one of them more profitable, and more promising, than the other?
  2. What makes their target clients feel more comfortable with a “big” consulting firm?
  3. Why would a client engage them for only one project? Is there dissatisfaction, or are they simply not presenting themselves as a strategic partner for ongoing work?
  4. What are the main ways a client company could distinguish themselves in the marketplace…and how can the consulting firm specialize in capitalizing on those themes?

I find that, by and large, “big” consulting firms are vulnerable in two areas – high prices to support their massive overhead, and a lack of very specific and deep expertise in certain markets. On the surface, I’d advise this consulting outfit to take a deep look at whether they should be in one market (instead of two), and to re-structure their offerings so that they position themselves as long-term strategic partners. This will require highlighting some “success stories” from the past, and educating their clientele that accomplishing market differentiation is not a function of one-shot projects.

Consultants that become “embedded” with customers as ongoing resources provide the most value, and the most ongoing profit. It may well be worthwhile to shrink the firm temporarily in order to bring focus, and to implement a longer-term strategic approach (including messaging). They can hardly be expected to distinguish their client/customers in the marketplace if they cannot distinguish themselves!

See what the other experts at BrandingWire have to say about this challenge! The BrandingWire posse of pundits includes: Martin Jelsema, Lewis Green, Kevin Dugan, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Gavin Heaton, Becky Carroll, and Olivier Blanchard.

(Finally, I cannot resist adding the very funny poster from despair.com about consulting – an approach that , if followed, will surely lead to market differentiation of some sort!)

consulting-despair-dot-com.jpg

BrandingWire – Marketing IT Services

it-service.jpgOur BrandingWire challenge this month is helping a small IT services company in Canada promote and distinguish themselves. The full marketing brief for this challenge is here; in short, this growing company needs to find ways to communicate the value it provides to new clients, who often simply view them as an “IT repair” shop. They provide a full suite of services, and would like to get more regularly-paying customers on monthly service contracts.

From a marketing/promotional perspective, my immediate impression is two-fold:

1. Front-and-center, the company should promote itself as a service provider that removes a problem. Specifically, “we deal with all your (IT) headaches.” Clients need a reason to NOT view this type of company as a “call them when we need something fixed” shop. Executives in client companies have plenty of headaches. Outsourcing one of them can be quite desirable. By positioning their company as a business partner who simplifies the client’s life by bringing unique expertise, they can rise above any inaccurate preconceived notion that they are just a bunch of technicians.

2. As far as pricing goes, a comparative approach is probably the most effective. What is the average daily dollar amount for having this headache removed, compared to (say) business lunches, Starbucks, lawyer fees, etc.? And, to work the highly effective fear angle – what is the cost of one hour/day/week of downtime?

Because these two approaches are not necessarily unique to the company, they need to look at other ways to truly distinguish themselves. One way that they are already pursuing is a “Green” initiative, which has a nice P.R. overlay, but doesn’t easily take root as providing immediate and tangible customer benefit. Since IT support companies usually work on a fixed monthly retainer basis, I’d look at adding a way to give credits – for instance, if support needs are below a certain threshold on a given month, the client is credited with $___ applied to next month, or the extra is “banked” for heavier months. This is tangible, customer-focused, and addresses the fear that the client will be ripped off by paying too much for a monthly service contract.

Finally, I’d make heavy use of testimonials on all marketing materials. Especially, I’d ask existing clients to focus on the themes of “headache removal,” exemplary customer service, understanding of their business, etc. Most IT companies make the mistake of using far too much geek-speak to sell their services. In the small-to-medium sized business markets, the ones writing the checks are more immersed in business issues, and cannot as easily relate to the technical issues. They want headaches removed, downtime eliminated, minimal disruptions to workflow, reliability, and integrity. That should be the focus of communications (as an aside, when I ask clients for testimonials, I usually write up “suggested wording” instead of leaving it to them to come up with something – most really appreciate that, and then, of course, the testimonial emphasizes exactly what you are after!).

Catch some other high-voltage ideas from the members of the BrandingWire posse (including several guest bloggers this month!): Martin Jelsema, Lewis Green, Kevin Dugan, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Gavin Heaton, Becky Carroll, Olivier Blanchard, Matt Dickman, Chris Brown, Cam Beck

(Image credit)

Driving Away Customers

The title of this post pretty well sums up how I view the typical auto dealer experience. I think that entire sales/service model is on a downhill slide.

cars.jpgNot that every single experience I have had has been negative. I can think of a couple semi-positive ones, actually. And they were good strictly because the individual I was dealing with was low-pressure, informative, and pretty straightforward.

So, I tried to envision the elements of a radically different car dealership that would make me change my mind. What would it be like?

First, there would be an entirely different view of the role of the dealership, and the dealer-customer relationship. The standard method now in use is The Pressured Immediate Transaction Success model (The PITS), whereby all focus is getting the “victim” to make some kind of transaction decision now. That’s not a customer relationship – it’s manipulation. So that has to go – but with what to replace it?

Here would be my dream car-buying experience. I’d walk in the dealership, and be immediately greeted by someone (very warm, very professional) at a reception desk whose role it is to find out what exactly I need there today. Am I browsing? Am I looking to make a purchase? What kind of car? Do I have serious technical questions? This person sets a friendly, upbeat tone – instead of the typical wandering into a showroom, either ignored by overly busy salespeople hunched over cheesy-looking desks, or descended on by some shark that has marked me out as his personal victim by virtue of having claimed me first when I came in (I’ve experienced both of these first-hand).

I am directed to where the coffee is, and invited to make myself comfortable. There is a corner with literature on all the models, plus touch screen video displays where I can learn more about each car. The receptionist introduces me to the right person who, as a first step, sits down with me on some comfortable furniture and asks basic questions about what my needs and desires are. A real sales consultant, who listens, and even asks me questions that I didn’t think of myself. Someone who assumes that I am a person, not a means to the end of meeting his quota of victims that day.

That person then introduces me to the potential model(s) that might fit my needs. There is always a technical specialist available in the area, so that if my questions go into realms of engine and transmission design, detailed comparisons with other models, and other specifications, instead having to tolerate a babbling salesperson who only wants to avoid such distractions in order to make a sale, I’m treated with respect by interacting with someone knowledgeable.

car-salesman.jpgThen, with a nod of the head to the Saturn approach that went so well in its earlier years, we go over the price. Since dealer cost is now readily available with very little on-line effort, there’s no sense playing the game anymore. The price sheet has a list of all the desired options, and two totals at the bottom – the dealer’s cost, and the selling price. One price, same for all, no haggling. I will pay a reasonable mark-up, if I know it’s fair and I’m not being lied to. And no stupid game of going to the backroom and pretending to convince the mysterious sales manager that we really got to make a deal here today. Whoever came up with that customer-hostile model anyway? The whole “deal” mentality should be thrown overboard.

And how about seeing that customer – that adopter – as a long-term client, whose friends and children and professional colleagues all will become adopters as well? What about providing an entire life-cycle of services in a customer-focused way that will build incredible loyalty?

For instance, the general reputation of auto dealer service departments is that they’re the place to go if you want to overpay. Again, the maximize-revenue-from-each-transaction model. And, although I am certain there are many exceptions, my experience has, unfortunately, reinforced that impression. I go to a dealer as a LAST resort, not as a first choice – and that is exactly backwards. Can’t an innovative dealership seek to provide such good, honest, reliable, and affordable service, that I wouldn’t want to entrust my car to anyone else? And since cars are so reliable now, with maintenance more to the fore than repairs, can dealers become more like the Jiffy Lubes of the world, with rapid, predictable and affordable maintenance services? Why give all that steady business and good-will away?

If I had the luxury of re-inventing the entire automobile distribution business from scratch, here is how I would do it, taking into account the disintermediation of the web that really removes a lot of the necessity of the legacy dealership model:

1. Auto manufacturers have a small number of vast regional inventory centers, where cars are available for distribution. This inventory is owned by the manufacturer, thereby removing that overhang of financial pressure from dealers, and ensuring that manufacturers will make the models and configurations that actually sell.

2. Micro-dealers have a limited number of demo models, along with multimedia kiosks that have the ability to fully display configurations, and place orders. These local outposts are where prospective buyers can actually try out models by test-driving and talking with sales consultants. But rarely do they buy “off-the-lot” – the normal procedure is a delivery from the regional center a day or two later, where a far richer inventory of models, colors, and configurations are available. This removes the pressure to move sheet metal off the dealer’s “lot,” since that is no longer the goal. The goal is to get the customer the model they want.

3. Micro-dealers may also encompass, or be affiliated with, used-car sales, quick-maintenance facilities, and/or full repair services.

For many people, access to the Internet means that information is no longer needed from a traditional dealer. Frankly, I simply don’t need a car salesman. Information on models, pricing, availability, etc. is openly accessible, as are customer reviews. If people really know what they want, they can simply order it on-line, have it delivered from the regional facility to the nearest micro-dealer outpost, and be done with it. Unrealistic? Maybe. But as a customer, I’d move to that model in a heartbeat!

Get more high-voltage ideas from the entire posse at BrandingWire.com.

    Olivier Blanchard
    Becky Carroll
    Derrick Daye
    Kevin Dugan
    Lewis Green
    Ann Handley
    Gavin Heaton
    Martin Jelsema
    Valeria Maltoni
    Drew McLellan
    Patrick Schaber
    Steve Woodruff

Next up on BrandingWire…(tune in Monday)

bw_logo_no_tag-med.jpgYep, it’s the beginning of another month, and that means another posting on BrandingWire, coming Monday.

The BrandingWire posse will be commenting on an experience that most or all of us have had…usually, an unpleasant one.

Any guesses?

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