Marketing your business is all very well, but what are you marketing?

As we looked at here, developing your marketing strategy should have given you some ideas as to what your clients are wanting to buy. By marketing to what your clients are wanting to buy, as we looked into here , you are already defining certain things about your business. But what about your competitors? How are they marketing, branding,and running their business? You need some business intelligence – don’t just assume you know what is going on actually take the time to find out for sure!

Step one: Online Research. The great thing about the Internet is that you can now research a business to your heart’s content, for the most part, online. Look your competitors branding, how do they sell themselves? Are their hours better than yours? Do they promote how low their prices are? Do they have much of an online presence at all? Is their style very informal, or very corporate?

Step two: Physical Research. There is nothing wrong with sticking your head in, say hello to one of your local competitors, as long as there is not huge animosity between the businesses. You can learn a lot by just waiting in the lobby. There is nothing sneaky about this, this is the store front – essentially a public space. If you are in the veterinary business you can tell a lot if the building smells nice- you can bet the clients can too! Do the staff greet you as soon as you walk in the door? Is the waiting area comfortable? Is the waiting area well laid out? Does the office seem like a model of efficiency, or is everyone running around like chickens with their heads cut off? Take the time to phone your competitors – not from your business, use someone else’s cell phone. How is the phone answered? How do their prices actually compare? They might say they are low cost but in reality…

Step three: Opinion of clients. Hopefully, when planing your strategy, you already figured a lot of this out already, but there is nothing wrong with talking discreetly some if your clients about why they like your business over your competitors. You might be surprised by the responses! What can this tell you about your business and your competitors?

Step four: Look at yourself and your plans. How does your business compare? How can you differentiate yourself? Maybe you need to be the low cost option in town? Maybe you need to be the premium option in town? How do your clients currently think of you? Are there simple things you can change about your business, now that you know all about your competitors, that will make a difference in the minds of your clients? These don’t have to be huge changes, but the more you can neutralize and respond to what your competitors are doing, the more you will begin to control the marketplace and define what it means to be in that market.

A couple of short examples:

Do you close for lunch? Do your competitors? Would your clients like to be able to come in during lunch? A staggered schedule could mean that you become the known as the business that is open and available at lunch time – that could be huge in the veterinary world, where if a pet is sick, and your client has to work, their lunch hour may be all the time they have! It is not a lot, but it is those little things that can start to differentiate your business.

Do you encourage communication? Do you make it easy for clients to come and talk to you? Do all the principles in your business have email addresses? Will they use them? Sounds strange, but the mere concept that businesses want to communicate with their clients – on the clients terms – can be seen as quite a radical concept.

If you have ideas along these lines feel free to add them in the comments section.

Next week: Get out of the building!