I find myself working with a number of companies that sell homogenous products and services looking for ways to distinguish themselves when price and quality are virtually the same. How do professionals in the residential real estate, financial or legal service industries set themselves apart?
In today’s world of business where word of mouse reigns and transparency is king, customer drivers often revolve around ease of doing business and the “something more” that you provide. And, if they only buy a house, need a contract or make an investment every now and then, how do you stay on their radar when they need the service you provide?
There lies the difficulty of selling similar products and services. The markers of the product brand cease to be relevant and the attention is placed on your personal brand and any additional value you bring to the table. If you are a lawyer and an engineer, you may offer additional value in the IP world. If you are a financial service professional who also teaches college bound teens how to manage their funds, you may offer additional value to parents. If you are a real estate professional who has become an expert in technology in new smart homes or green building requirements, you may offer additional value to Millennial buyers.
If you don’t have a unique expertise, then an excellent way to show customers why they should continue to do business with you is your social impact. Perhaps you are deeply engaged in equine therapy to help disabled children or vets. Or, you are involved in Earth Day and have pictures on your website showing your participation in beach cleanups or tips on energy reduction. The values and social causes that you are engaged in will attract a certain class of people who are in alignment with your personal interests.
As you begin to carve out a market niche, other participants will remember your efforts and suggest you to their circle of influence. You will find that the ripple effect moves out of local organizations to a broader audience that supports all resolutions to the social issue you are trying to help fix. Your personal brand as an engaged and caring individual will become stronger every day. Your customers will become brand ambassadors for YOU and will share their experience of you with others.
The thing about impact is that it must be communicated for it to have an effect and grow. There is a fine line between “cause marketing” and meaningful impact. The first no longer works, the second is expected. If you are bragging about the good works you do for the sole reason of marketing, most customers will be turned off and turn away. If, in fact, you are an active participant in resolving an issue that affects us all, you have entered the world of social impact and will show up as a solid corporate citizen.
There is a new meaning to a word that I have always disdained… Hack. I’m still stuck in the world of computer hackers gaining unauthorized access, zealous pruning efforts when gardening, those that lack coping skills and, others who are just ordinary or doing dull work. Yes, I’ve heard it over the years in conversations about lawyers which could contribute to my resistance.
But, it’s a new buzz word in terms of growth and I’ve been trying to understand how “growth hacking” translates to B2B service-based businesses. Basically, its all about turning customers into your brand ambassadors – and that doesn’t mean your product brand, it means your personal brand. It’s about how to engage, activate, and win them over so they keep coming back for more.
The principals are the same, whatever the industry or business type - the additional critical step is measurement and analytics. Is your website an integral part of your business or just a placeholder to show the world that you actually exist? How are you measuring engagement with your customers on your website? Are you studying data that will give you information about their experience? Do you have any idea what an inquiry via your contact form is worth to your business (calculated by the number of inquiries that convert to business, multiplied by the average purchase value)?
Do you stay front and center in your community in both your products and the cause you support? If they don’t come to your website for information about one, will they come for the other? I know a woman that sends out a free comprehensive monthly community calendar of the business events in her city. Event planners and networking organizations clamor to be on her calendar as there are very few sites that offer a macro view of these type events. She is in the recruitment sector and may not see her candidates for years after she places them but, they keep coming back to her site over and over again. Like good ambassadors, they spread the word about both her services and the additional value she offers.
You don't need to actually sell anything on your site as long as you can attribute a value to both your actions and customer response (i.e. sales, click throughs or subscriptions.) Growth hacking equals measuring and then adjusting, actively studying the things that your customers need, want and appreciate. It is not the exhausting process of looking for new “onesies”, it’s about regenerating the ones you have and providing them tools and services that will make their lives easier, so that they come back time and time again.
Ultimately, it’s the age ole question. Are you listening to your customers’ needs as they change and grow? Are you adapting to this change, constantly tacking, as you sail the waters of growing your business? Or, are you stagnant, complacent and waiting for people to just show up if not in constant search for the next conquest?
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Linda Lattimore – all rights reserved