We have the best prices

Some time ago I was driving to an appointment and spotted a pick up with lettering on the back window. Being an avid reader, I quickly perused the content and discovered that I was traveling by a fellow painting contractor.

My sense of camaraderie quickly vanished. In addition to the normal items, his lettering included the bold announcement of “Better Prices than Our Competition”. I was tempted to wave the fellow to the side of the road and slap him silly, but I feared that I’d break my hand before my point sunk in.

I see similar lines in countless ads and I always shake my head in dismay. Of all the ways of advertising a paint contracting company, this is about as bad as it gets.

Such claims position the contractor as cheap. He is making an issue of price and implies that his prices are low. Sadly, there will always be some schmuck willing to beat his price. Sadder still, while he may get a lot of work, he won’t make any money.

Such contractors obviously believe that price wins jobs. Their only competitive “advantage” is their willingness to work for peanuts. And so they slave away and wonder why they never have any money. His frustration grows as his bank account shrinks, and in the end he winds up disillusioned and broke. That’s the price he will pay for having “better prices”. Sadly, he never asks who those prices are better for.

Develop a consistent marketing message

What would you think if you saw an ad that stated: “Quality work, cheap prices”? As a professional painting contractor, you’d probably scratch your head and wonder how that could be. Quality work and cheap prices don’t generally go together. Our customers may not know the nuts and bolts of running a contracting company, but they will likely have a similar reaction.

The problem results from sending a mixed message. Quality implies durability and superior performance. Cheap implies mediocrity. When you tell a customer that you offer something superior and something mediocre, the customer isn’t sure which to believe.

There are lots of subtle ways to send mixed messages, which makes careful review of our marketing materials an absolute necessity. For example, poor grammar and spelling will convey sloppiness, inattention to detail, and more. Such seemingly minor transgressions can undermine your marketing message.

Our personal appearance can also send a mixed message. If our hair is unkempt, our clothes are dirty, or we reek, we can undermine anything positive we say or do.

Consistency is crucial in every aspect of our marketing, and every contact with the public is a marketing event. If we want to avoid sending mixed messages, we must make sure that every element is in tune.

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They may not be listening… yet

Dentists have a challenge when it comes to marketing. They can have signs, ads, and everything else all over the place, but if your teeth don’t hurt, you will ignore those ads. In other words, much of their marketing is “wasted” because they can’t target only those with toothaches.

The same is true of all small business owners. We don’t know exactly who wants/ needs our services. But as Seth Godin writes, “Figure out a cost-effective way to be there. A way to gently be in my face so that when my toothache shows up (in whatever form that takes) you’re the obvious choice.”

In other words, we almost need to be omnipresent– we need to be everywhere. Then when need the product or service offered by your company, you are easy to find.

Godin also recommends offering products or services that don’t require pain for the customer to take action. Fortunately for many businesses, this is easy to accomplish. But we still need that top-of-the-mind awareness.

Market early, market late, market often. If we are always in front of the consumer, we’ll be in front of him when he needs us. Or, as Godin puts it, “There are toothache marketers in just about every industry. Realizing it is the first step to dealing with it.”

Marketing is as much about timing as it is anything. You might have the best marketing piece in the world, but if it reaches your target customer at the wrong time, he won’t respond. Godin discusses this in another blog post—Are they ready to listen?

Years ago he had written a book on political activism. He took 20,000 copies of the book to a large rally in Washington, and managed to sell 1 book. As he put it, the activists weren’t there to shop, they were there to march.

Similar things also happen when we market our small business. For example, if we are marketing exterior products in the middle of winter, potential customers probably won’t be listening. If your marketing piece reaches the customer the day after he has purchased the product you are selling, he probably won’t be listening.

We can control some aspects of the timing of our marketing, but there are other aspects that are uncontrollable. But this does not mean that our marketing is a huge crap shoot. Even when our marketing is ill-timed, it may still be effective.

I’ve had customers keep a marketing piece for years—I believe the record was almost 10 years! Knowing that someday she would need our services, she held on to a postcard for nearly a decade. Now that’s what I call shelf life!

Sometimes customers simply aren’t ready to listen. But if your marketing piece captures their eye, they might hold on to it until they are ready to do so. And if they don’t, you need to keep on talking to them. Sometimes they aren’t ready to listen. Sometimes they can’t hear you… yet.

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