Why Should Customers Choose You? 90 Percent of Companies Have It Wrong …
U.S. businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year on marketing and sales: TV ads, print ads, Google AdWords, sales training, social media marketing, ad infinitum — to the tune of about $280 billion in 2007.
Unfortunately, all this money is rarely well spent. Research analyzed for more than 150 companies shows that over 90 percent of them don’t understand exactly what their customers value most when making buying decisions, and are therefore communicating the wrong messages in their ads. Are you one of those companies?
Capitalism is about choice, and each purchase is made over multiple options. Thousands of factors go into any given purchase, from the position on the shelf to word-of-mouth brand awareness, from the color of the packaging to the customer’s relationship with the salesperson. These all matter. But, none matter as much as the company’s ability to answer the question, “Why buy from us?”
Ultimately, the foundation of every purchase is something amazingly simple: competitive advantage. People buy the products and services they do because they see a real and compelling advantage over all other available choices.
The problem is that too many companies don’t really understand what their real competitive advantages are. Or, just as often, they think they know but they’re wrong, or they have an idea but don’t convey that idea clearly and consistently. This leads to confused customers and missed opportunities — and money wasted on advertising and sales that’s getting the message wrong.
Identifying Your Competitive Advantage With Double-Blind Research
Too often, companies base their marketing and sales messaging on their own hunches, assumptions, perceptions, and the year-to-year inertia of, “What’s worked in the past?”
To truly hone in and identify your competitive advantages, you need to bypass all this and go to the most important source of knowledge about your business: your customers.
Professionally conducted, double-blind customer research is the best way to find out what customers really think about your business — and to find out why they buy from you (or from your competition).
The advantage of double-blind customer research is that it’s performed by professional market research firms that interview customers — but neither the customer or the interviewer knows what company is paying for the survey. Because people tend to soften their responses if they know they’re talking to a company representative, and because interviewers may subtly shade their phrasing or selection of questions when they know what company is paying their bills, double-blind customer research means that your company gets truly objective, unbiased feedback. It’s also your best shot at getting the unvarnished truth about where your company really stands in the marketplace and “mindspace” of your customers.
That truth can often be surprising. An IT outsourcing company that prides itself on its technical expertise might discover that its customers prefer its 24-hour availability. A regional hospital might think that its newly renovated rooms are its competitive advantage, when patients are actually responding more favorably to its swift admissions and discharge processes. A lawn care service might think that its updated equipment is its competitive advantage, when the real reason customers choose it is because it provides high-level personal attention to its customers.
Finding your competitive advantage can take time and can often be a humbling experience. After all, to discover how your customers really perceive your company can (and should) alter your whole marketing strategy. But if you want to ensure your advertising spend isn’t wasted money, this knowledge is essential.
Communicating Competitive Advantage
After you’ve identified your company’s key competitive advantages, it’s time to craft some new marketing and sales messages, also known as “competitive advantage statements.” These need to be concise, memorable, measurable, and highly relevant to consumers — every word needs to resonate and remind customers why they should want to buy from you instead of the competition.
Too many businesses talk about vague generalities and cliches like “quality, service and value.” These terms don’t mean anything to your customers, and they’ve largely become meaningless from overuse.
Instead, get specific. Show or explain to your customers in real, colorful, measurable terms how your business delivers quality, service, and value in a way that is most relevant to what the customer wants to get from your product or service.
Examples of competitive advantage statements include:
- 90 percent of our architects have attained three or more professional certifications.
- Last year, our construction firm completed 98.6 percent of projects on schedule and under budget.
- Our restaurant supply company delivers fresh produce to the top five largest regional restaurant chains in the state.
- Last year, cardiac surgery patients at our hospital had a recovery rate that was 50 percent faster than the statewide average.
Don’t let your marketing and sales messaging dollars go to waste due to hollow messages that are not relevant to your customers. Commit some time and effort within your company to identify your true competitive advantages. Hone in on what your company does best, find out why your customers truly choose to buy from you, and then trumpet your new messages to the world.
Jaynie L. Smith is the CEO of Smart Advantage, Inc., a marketing/management consultancy whose clients range from mid-sized businesses to Fortune 500 companies. She consults nationally and internationally with many CEOs and high-level executives in helping businesses define their competitive advantages. She has served as a keynote speaker for numerous associations.