Bobbin' For Bucks!

An Integrated Strategic Delivery System Pays Big Dividends. Otherwise, You May as Well Go Fishing.

There are literally thousands of companies out there that do exactly what you do or something very similar to what you do. That's the good news and the bad news.

It's good because you can logically surmise that there must be enough business out there to keep these shops going. The flipside is that these thousands of players are competitors for the same business.

The dilemma that plagues most companies is: How to attract new customers and implement a growth strategy for the company?

Many executives and managers including the marketing/sales professionals still tell me:

  •  "There's just not much work out there."
  •  "The economy is slow!"
  •  "We are the best!"
  •  "Why do customers always fixate on price?" This usually signals one or more of five problems:
    1. There is no name recognition for the company.
    2. Nobody knows that the company exists - a version of lost in space.
    3. If there is recognition, the company may have been playing in the priceis everything sandbox for so long that it has personally made price the evaluation criteria for its customers.
    4. The company has no unique market positioning strategy and corresponding value equation.
    5. The company has a very limited and myopic view of the market, its customer infrastructure, or both.
    In this article we will address the first two items (i.e., name recognition and lost in space). Recall in the February 1999 article entitled, "Psst! Psst! Better Pay Attention - Your Image is Showing," we discussed the importance of creating a favorable impression in the first few moments of an encounter with everyone with whom we come in contact. These encounters are aptly referred to as "moments of truth."

    The "Field of Dreams" movie concept of "build it and they will come" won't do the job. Instead a much more proactive approach to the market is required. Image management is all-inclusive!

    One of the key elements in any type of strategic delivery system is the role of advertising and public relations. Both are designed to draw favorable attention to your company or product or service. You may have the neatest idea, the best lead-times, the highest quality and cheapest price. If, however, nobody knows that you exist, the benefits you have to offer fall into the category of so what?

    What can be done to change the playing field? I typically ask my clients this series of questions as a starting point:

    1. What kind of company could put you out of business and what is its value mission?
    2. If you were your biggest competitor, what would you say to prospective customers that would convince them that you are the best choice for the work?
    3. If I asked your customers to define and quantify the value that you bring to them (through their eyes), what would they tell me?
    4. What are the passions and hobbies of each of the people in your customer organization that are involved in making the buying decision about orders?
    5. What journals and magazines do your customers read?
    6. Are your customers proud to have you as a supplier? Why?
    7. If your point of contact in your customer's organization had the task of down-selecting the number of suppliers, what words would you want them to say to their management as to why you are on the short list?
    8. If you met someone at an informal social or business gathering who may be able to direct business to your company and, you had only 10 seconds to tell them why the two of you should get together later and discuss opportunities, what would you say about your company's mission?
    How does this relate to advertising and public relations (PR)? Each answer conveys an expectation, a perception or an access route to influence or capitalize on the customer psychographics of a business transaction (i.e., Why people buy?). If the answers aren't clear and/or the messages aren't simple and eye-catching, it then becomes a laborious task of trying to find new customers and maintaining loyalty with those that you have. Answering the questions and developing a strategy around the knowledge is the first step in gaining favorable attention. It must be done prior to spending money to launch an advertising/PR campaign.

    Next, one must decide where and how to publicize the unique value message of its company. What makes the company different? Who will see the publicity and why should anyone want to call?

    Building exposure to your company must be accomplished through a variety of channels. This may include public speaking (e.g., delivering technical or business presentations at conferences), writing and getting technical and business articles published, exhibiting at tradeshows, sending out newsletters, building a highly focused and market-driven presence on the Internet, and different forms of print and media advertising. All of these fall under the general category of image management and when combined, they form part of the structure of the strategic delivery system.

    I recently saw an advertisement for specialty precision machining on a flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. It was printed in the airline's magazine. Why? The answer is probably because the company wanted to reach the engineers, designers and company executives in their market segments and someone ascertained that these people tend to travel a lot.

    The ad drew attention because of the very nature of the service offered versus that which normally appears in the pages of in-flight magazines. Great idea!

    While the ad was positioned for exposure, there were some obvious omissions. The wording of the ad kept the reader audience saying so what? There was no real grabber message! There was no real unique mission message nor was there a definitive call to action. It was simply, "We make parts - Call us!" To get the same effect, albeit an ineffective message, the advertisers could have had a salesperson dressed in an open trench coat with plastic and metal gizmos hanging all over the inside with the caption, "Wanna buy some parts!" At least this might have entertained the reader.

    The ad also was very limited to only those who were immersed in the business. In this case, when the reading audience is diverse, one needs to lead the reader to want to find out more, tear the ad out of the magazine and give it to someone they know who may have an interest or personally make a decision to follow up.

    Good positioning, but a weak message! I doubt that the resulting business return made the advertising investment worthwhile. I only can say that that company chose not to discuss the results when I called them and asked.

    I am usually not a proponent of advertising in trade journals that cover the specialty fields in which the company participates. The reason is simple! Often these journals are tightly focused and only read by competitors for the same work.

    When the Publisher of this publication, MoldMaking Technology, told me that they welcome mold shops to advertise in this magazine, I was skeptical at first. However, considering that the distribution of the magazine is to people in the mold buying and user community as well as other associated fields, I see the merits of the decision. Quite simply: buyers from a lot of different industries are reading this magazine. Since the goal of advertising is to reach the buyers, the decision provides a real service for the readers. It makes sense and, if done well, should create cents! Where else can advertising pay off? Conferences and trade shows also provide real opportunities.

    A case study may be in order. In May of this year, an inventor came to me and told me about his great idea for the boating industry. Having some knowledge of the industry, I agreed to help him position and market the product and we set up a strategic alliance to move forward.

    The product is one that, taken by itself, is boring. So, we created a campaign around three original comic characters that interact in a way that defines the value of the product on an emotional level. The target audience was boat manufacturers, distributors, dealers and the end users (i.e., consumers). The public relations, media and advertising campaign targeted each of these groups. The plan was to hit the North American market and then expand internationally by June of next year. Manufacturing candidates were selected based on nimbleness, agility, capacity and commitment. Quality, delivery performance and competitive price were entry tickets. Everything was put into high gear, quick-time because of the business practices in the industry and the December holiday season.

    The message to the industry was common, simple and to-the-point. The cartoons created the initial emotional draw and the message was something that each group could interpret in a positive way for their own benefit.

    The result: In less than three months, the product went from an idea in the inventor's mind to a family of products that is being produced in quantities of 10,000 per month to meet demand. Our engineers are working with several boat manufacturers to include the product as a standard feature in all of the new models starting in the year 2000. The product is in full distribution worldwide and a 7/24 call center and fulfillment house is on-line to accept orders by consumers. Several insurance companies are granting premium discounts for boat owners who have the product. Total time to market: less than 90 days. The $75,000 investment in the campaign is conservatively expected to take the product from idea-to-international corporation with first year revenues of more than $7,000,000.

    The campaign did something else. The involvement of the buying community and the favorable attention created excitement in the industry. Today, the company is receiving an average of two new ideas per week (unsolicited) from the trades and consumers. Six of these ideas will be released to the world as new products before the new millennium. What's the value? You be the judge!

    Remember that the whole of your company's mission must be presented and understood in the first 10 seconds. Know what you want to say and then make it easy for your audience to say, "Yes!" Take a strong simple message to market, position it so that buyers can easily see it and keep it in front of your target audience at least six to 10 times. When you do these things, you should start to hear the phones ringing.

    There are other choices: Don't say anything, don't advertise and don't participate! Then just hope that buyers will, through some divine stroke of luck, find you. No message equates to high costs of sales. No positioning usually makes price the default evaluation criteria (i.e., buy your way in!). No action leads to lost opportunity and wishful thinking.

    You can take charge of your image or you can just sit back and blame the economy! If you choose to do nothing for your business, why not go fishing? Your odds of finding a customer while you're fishing may even be better.

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