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Not Normal Marketing Tips

February 2007: It's OK to be Different
by Stephen Ghelerter

When you are a kid, being different is bad, whether it is the way you look, talk or dress, or how smart you are, or where you live. In marketing, it is good to be different.

Why did American Motors have such a hard time? It might have been because they were selling cars that were similar to those offered by industry giants, General Motors and Ford. The guys with deep pockets, more dealers, and brand recognition won.

At one time American Motors had the Jeep brand. What would have happened if they had made the one product that was "different" their main product? What would have happened if Notre Dame had let Rudy play? We'll never know.

Many businesses basically do what their competitors do. This is fine if you have a good market share. But if you are the little guy, it may be smart to be different. 

Have a Different Product

One way to be different is to make your product different, like Volkswagen did. When American manufacturers were making big, slick cars with V8s, VW was making an ugly small car with a small four cylinder engine. Your product can be bigger, smaller, shaped differently, or have extra features. It could have different packaging. Your service can be faster, better hours, better quality, more economical, or whatever. Just different.

Your New Market Position

Making your product different may also make it more expensive. You may have created a new market position, or moved from a crowded one to one with little or no competition. Being different could mean you don't have to be the cheapest guy on the block. You might actually be able to make a good profit on something. If your different product sells for the same price as the "un-different" ones, your sales might increase.

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

"And the first one now/Will later be last/For the times they are a-changin'." The words of Bob Dylan are true in marketing. If your product starts taking sales away from your competitors, they may eventually start doing what you are doing, and you may lose your market position.

When you have something different, hit the market hard and fast before you have competition. Use e-mail and other media to get the word out. Get established in the consumers' minds as the market leader before you have to fight for it.

The ideal way to be different is to have something your competitors cannot easily duplicate, like having a patent, or having special manufacturing equipment that they do not have and cannot easily acquire. While McDonalds was frying hamburgers, Burger King advertised that theirs were grilled, not fried. McDonalds could not change the way they cooked very easily. Don't think that your competitors will sit still if you start taking their customers. But don't do what Coca Cola did.

The Converse

Probably the worst thing you can do, is to take a product that is different and make it like your competitor's. This is what Coca Cola did when they came out with New Coke. They took their extraordinarily popular product and made it taste more like Pepsi, because they were losing market share to Pepsi. Doing so gave their loyal customers, who like Coke more than Pepsi, the choice of either drinking Pepsi, or drinking something that tasted like Pepsi. New Coke backfired and Coca Cola had to put the original Coke back on the market (now called "Classic").

I Like You Because You're Different

If you make changes in your products or service, you may lose some customers, but you potentially can gain many new ones. I only use one brand of many products, and have only one supplier of many services I use, so the one I perceive as better is the one I use. Do things that will differentiate you product or service from the others, and appeal the those who like what you promote.

Steve Ghelerter 

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