Tightwad Marketing

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How to determine effective advertising opportunities through creative followship

John Kuraoka, a project of www.kuraoka.com

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In the world of small business, leadership is overrated. Bona-fide small business innovations are a tough sell, whether it’s a product no one has seen before, a service no one has heard of before, or a solution to a problem no one has thought of before.

That’s why it often pays to follow rather than lead. Let someone else blaze the trail. Then, should the destination prove worthwhile, follow along in their path, picking up a share of the business without the burden of developing the market.

Look: in which of these two locations would you rather open a new restaurant? An out-of-the-way place with no competition for miles? Or, a place within an existing “Restaurant Row?” Clearly, the safest bet is to go where the customers already are.

In the world of small business advertising, that’s exactly where creative followship takes you: to where the customers already are.

Here’s a 3-step plan for exercising creative followship in advertising your small business.

Step 1: Gather current intelligence. Conduct an audit of advertising media in your area. Collect every little newspaper, throwaway, shopper, and coupon pack, listen to the local radio stations, watch the local television stations. Get media kits and talk to the salespeople. Go online and see how your competitors are promoting themselves. Have a friend or family member sign up for your top competitor’s mailing list, so you receive their brochures or special offers. The point of this step is to find out where and how your competition advertises!

Step 2: Gather historical intelligence. Dig deeper to discover what your competition was doing a year ago, five years ago, and even ten years ago. Useful resources include those same media salespeople (who will be proud of their long-term clients), and the biggest library in your area. For online history, archive.org has snapshots of websites going back several years. Just look for their “Internet Archive WayBack Machine,” and fill in the URL you want to research, whether it’s your competitor's website or an online advertising website.

You can bet that if your competitors are advertising in the same place, year-in year-out, it’s because they’re getting good results from it. Many successful companies test advertising opportunities all the time. You can reap the benefits of their testing without incurring the associated costs, simply by keeping a close watch on what they've done and what they're doing.

Step 3: Leverage what you learn - the 3 Ms. The first M stands for media. If your most-successful competitors are consistently advertising in a particular medium, then you should look into running ads there if you’re not already. Likewise, you might notice trends indicating movement away from your current media choices. Media is an industry in transition, so it pays to follow what’s happening. If your largest and most-successful competitors start to change their media mix, that could indicate opportunities in those directions.

But, the value of creative followship goes beyond copying your competition’s media selection.

The second M stands for message. Look at how your most-successful competitor positions its products and services, and compare its advertising message to your own. Granted, you want your ads to communicate your own unique selling proposition. But, are competitors seizing opposing positions without a fight?

For example, let’s say your advertising is designed to communicate the position of “top quality.” If your most-successful competitor is winning business by hammering away at a position of “low price,” then you might want to consider taking a competitive stand in your ads. For example, perhaps a part of your ad can equate low price with reduced value, or justify your higher cost as reflecting a higher value.

I can flip this around the other way. Say you’re the low-price leader. If your most-successful competitor is selling high quality, and you’re losing sales on that basis, your competitive messaging could equate the lower price with higher proportionate value (e.g.: “85% of the quality at 50% of the cost”), or justify the lower price as reflecting other efficiencies (e.g.: “we buy in bulk so you save”).

See, followship doesn’t mean changing how you position your product or service. But it does mean you now have the information you need to counter competitive claims while maintaining your brand message.

The last M stands for modification. Look to other businesses, in other fields, for fresh ideas that you can modify for use in your own marketing. Look for ideas that were successful in the past. Since most businesses won’t repeat what didn’t work, finding success is as simple as looking for repeated efforts rather than one-offs.

Also, notice why some ads seem to demand your attention. Is it their offer? The design of the ad? The ad size or placement? Look for ongoing marketing tactics that you can adapt for your business.

As you do your historical review, you might see ads for a once-successful competitor that vanished for reasons unrelated to advertising. Maybe they merged or got bought out; maybe they were overextended elsewhere; maybe they folded up their tent when the original owners got out of the business. And maybe ... the ideas in their ads could be revised and recycled for your business. You might find some great promotional ideas, or a clever way of saying or doing something, that you can modify for your own advertising and marketing.

In summary, creative followship helps you separate the real advertising opportunities from the background noise. To start, gather all your competitor’s ads, both present and past. To implement, leverage what you learn in the areas of media, message, and modification.

Advertising leadership carries with it real costs in developing new markets and experimenting with new media. Advertising followship requires only that you invest the time to do the research, and that you follow those who are headed in the right direction. You get most of the benefits the leader enjoys, at a fraction of the cost. Creative followship is real-world Tightwad Marketing!
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