Understanding your true competitors

When you ask most businesses who their competitors are, they’ll name competing businesses within the same category and the same location.


For McDonalds, it’s KFC and Burger King. For Hoyts Cinemas it’s Events, Reading and Dendy. For Fitness First it’s Anytime Fitness, F45, Jetts and Snap.


But people hire products and services to solve a need. And when we define our customers’ needs narrowly, we overlook opportunities to win their attention.


Is a customer of Hoyts fulfilling a need to watch a movie? Or more broadly to be entertained? Is a customer of McDonalds fulfilling a need to eat a burger? Or more broadly to satisfy their hunger?


When we ask ourselves the question “what other options could my customer choose?” we find the list of competitors extends far beyond those which immediately spring to mind. 


We learn that McDonalds isn’t just competing with KFC and Burger King, it is competing with every other food option available. We learn that Fitness First isn’t just competing with other gyms, it’s competing with team sport, bootcamps, DIY fitness and even inactivity.


It is this work that helps us truly understand our competitors, identify opportunities, delve further into the motivation of our customers and develop campaigns which will help us win. 

The value of starting

For the people who procrastinate, who are afraid to fail, who are their own harshest critics—


Start. Your best work is ahead of you.


Silence the internal voice that critiques everything before your pen has even had a chance to hit the paper. Get something down, in all its unfinished glory, because once you start, you can improve, and improve, and improve. Until what you have in front of you is a completed X or Y or Z. 


The project will sort itself out once it gets on the page. 


And don’t be afraid. Starting is how I taught myself to play the piano, to learn Armenian, to develop websites, to animate cartoons from scratch. 


And what about finishing? More on that next time!

What to do when your salespeople don’t like closing

It’s human nature to want to build relationships. To many, making connections feels like the most natural thing in the world.


But what happens when your salespeople spend the balance of their time building rapport, winning trust and demoing the product, but don’t feel comfortable to close?


Over the years I’ve heard many opinions. “I’d prefer to be helpful. If they like the product, they’ll come to me”, some say. Others fear rejection, or worry that if they push a sale their relationship will be affected.


But closing is a necessary step in any effective sales conversation.


In almost all scenarios, fear of closing can be attributed to a lack of belief in the product.


Does that same salesperson struggle to tell their friends that they just have to try that new Japanese restaurant down the road?


Do they hesitate before convincing their children that joining a soccer team will be fun, and they’ll make so many friends?


Do they worry before asking management for extra tools to help them do their jobs better?


No, of course they don’t.


Because being pushy is easy when you believe that the outcome that you’re offering is helpful. When you believe in the benefit. When you’re sure that the other party will thank you for it.


When you notice that your salespeople don’t like closing, the best thing you can do is resell your products to them. Remind them of the benefits, show them how it changes people’s lives, take them on the journey of all the previous customers you can remember who were in the same position and have been thrilled with the outcome post-sale.


Once your salespeople start believing in your products, the task of making prospects believe in them too will be easy. And closing won’t be seen as being pushy anymore. It will be seen as a natural next step in helping.

The difference between repeat business and loyalty

Brand loyalty is a term that every marketer worth her salt is familiar with. As consumers, almost all of us can call to mind companies that have achieved a cult-like following. Harley Davidson riders tattoo the company’s logo on their bodies. Apple customers queue outside their stores for days before new products launch.


But does repeat business always equal loyalty?


In every category we are spoilt for choice. When we’re in the market for a new product or service, we make decisions based on solution-fit. Features, convenience, price and promotions all come into play.


The local sushi shop might win our business because it’s on the way to work. Our choice of wine might be based on what’s on special at the time. Both car and computer manufacturers entice buyers with extra inclusions.


Limited time discounts, cash-back offers, gifts with purchase, bundled warranties and a whole host of other tactics are employed by marketers to win market share. And where a first brand experience has been positive, customers may feel compelled to buy again.


But what happens when a competitor sweeps in? Perhaps a new sushi shop opens up slightly closer. Or a comparable car brand is offering free petrol for a year plus all the extras?


The difference between repeat business and brand loyalty is in the customer’s motivation.


Where purchases are motivated by promotion, customer relationships tend to be transient. Customers may buy again, but they don’t have a steadfast commitment to the one brand. And competing promotions can easily tempt the customer away.


Brand loyalty, on the other hand, is achieved when no other brand will do. It’s achieved when customers will drive across town to go to their favourite store, even though there are other alternatives closer. It’s achieved when they’re willing to pay a premium, though this is not always a necessity. And it is achieved when customers feel a sense of connectedness with the brand.


Brand loyalty withstands the lure of competitor discounts, cash-back offers, gifts with purchase and celebrity endorsements. It’s achieved when all other alternatives are ignored.


Fostering brand loyalty is about where you spend your time and energy as a business; and the decision between creating products and experiences that people will love, or crafting promotional messages that people can’t resist.


When the balance of our energies is in promotions, and not on product development or perfecting the customer experience, it is easy to see how customers fail to build a connection with the brand.


But if, instead, we make a commitment to providing an exceptional customer experience, driving value at every interaction, developing brand trust, aligning every feature with customer needs and building a culture that customers can connect with, we give our customers an experience they’ll look forward to and in turn, give brand loyalty a fighting chance.

A lesson in consumer behaviour

In the 1950s, Colgate’s CEO approached his department heads with a goal to double product sales over the next financial period. All department heads were middle-aged men, well-educated and experienced.


They collaborated, strategised and deliberated! But reached a consensus that the CEO’s goal could not be achieved.


Undeterred, the CEO took his goal to the factory floor. In the 1950s, this level of cross-departmental consultation was unheard of. He assembled his staff and asked the question.


He was met with silence.


A few minutes later, a woman who worked in the smallest, simplest sector of the production plant piped up.


Toothpaste at that time was still considered to be medicinal and was packaged in small, ointment-sized tubes similar to those you find on aeroplanes. Her idea? To increase the size of the tube and the spout that the toothpaste comes out of. She had observed that people generally squeeze toothpaste along the length of their toothbrush and hypothesised that this behaviour was so ingrained that it would continue, even after increasing the volume of toothpaste dispensed.


The CEO thanked her for her idea and the company went on to triple sales over the next financial period, and change their packaging forever.


Stories change as they are retold by different people over time but whether based in truth or not, this moving little account illustrates the benefits of collaboration and harnessing the collective knowledge of the team. It also demonstrates how a company’s intimate knowledge of consumer behaviour can create revolutionary new insights to leverage a better sales position.


Unilever’s Linx ads do the same. They create the illusion that ordinary men are transformed into irrestistible men by spraying Linx under their arms AND all over their torsos, and in doing so, increase product consumption three to four times. The behaviour becomes ingrained and sales skyrocket.


Marketing isn’t only about determining a target market and crafting a message to deliver maximum impact in your chosen medium. Effective marketing is an understanding of human psychology and leveraging that knowledge to create opportunities to influence attention, engagement, perception and action.

A note on time

Ask almost any exec how they are and their immediate retort will almost always be “busy!”  


Our work lives are filled with a seemingly endless list of routines: internal meetings, prioritisation, teamwork, planning, reporting, retrospectives…


And our home lives are no different. Kids, pets, shopping, meal prep, cleaning, maintaining our relationships, managing finances — and sometimes even self-care. There’s scarcely time for anything additional!


How are we spending our time?


What are we working on that is moving us leaps and bounds towards our goals?


What even are our goals to begin with?


Or are our lives just a series of routines playing out before us, with us merely bearing witness to them? Without giving any real thought to how we want to spend our time and what makes us most happy? 


Much like the ‘glass-half-full’ idiom, how much time we have largely depends on our perspective. We can either focus on the time we don’t have, or the time we do. We can either become overwhelmed by the tasks that make us busy, or we can stop, reprioritise what matters and see the pockets of time that we do have, as opportunities to achieve something great. 


Go on! Learn that language, take up the saxophone, commit each afternoon to a jog around the block. Change the narrative you tell yourself and others. Our lives are everything we make them, and time is ours to spend.

Why advertising isn’t just for acquisition

On Monday I signed up for a TV subscription service. By Tuesday my social feeds were pushing out ads telling me about all the new shows I suddenly had access to.


Why would a company spend money retargeting me, when I’ve already committed? Wouldn’t it be better to spend those advertising dollars attracting new customers?


When people sign up for a free trial, the level of commitment to the brand is relatively low. Trials, by their very nature, are tests. They give companies a chance to prove their worth and win over a customer for the long term. And they give potential customers a chance to evaluate whether the product is a good fit for their needs – whether they should continue with a paid subscription.


Had the brand left me on my own after sign up, I might have forgotten to login and explore the other series on offer to me. I might have deprioritised watching the TV shows I signed up for. I might have let my free trial expire, not seen the value and chosen not to sign on for more.


And the company advertising to me might have missed their opportunity to build my excitement, and in turn my commitment to the brand.


This reinforcement is important at every stage of the customer lifecycle. From pre-sales, to onboarding, to nurture and retention, to eventual win-back. And it is the job of marketing teams to run the numbers and continually evaluate where investment is best spent, and how these advertising dollars attract visitors, convert leads, close customers and create delightful, memorable, and most importantly, adhesive customer experiences.

When less is more

For years, eHarmony was a leader in the online dating world. Founded in 2000, it promised “more meaningful connections that lead to fulfilling marriages”.


The company’s unique selling point was its 29 Dimensions of Compatibility and in 2008, about 15,000 people were taking the eHarmony questionnaire every day. In 2009, the company’s annual revenue was reported to be $250 million and today, their website ranks in the top 14,000 in the world.


Then Tinder came along. Unlike its forerunner, it promised none of the end goal. No perfect match, no science-based compatibility, no lure of long-term relationships. Instead, Tinder just matches its users based on location and gender.


Tinder’s website ranks in the top 1,200 in the world. Its annual revenue is more than $800 million and in 2018, it was reported that the app had more than 10 million daily users.


Where eHarmony’s business model is based on rigorous scientific research and enabling quality human connections, Tinder’s approach is much more simplistic: other singles near you, at volume, for free.



The interesting thing about product development is that you don’t have to solve all the world’s problems. You just have to offer something that people want. And sometimes simplicity brings with it the most success.


(Sources: CNN, The Guardian, Alexa, Wikipedia)

How to do customer feedback the right way

Hi John, our confectionery company wants to learn more about your preferences. Take our survey.


Hi John, chocolate or vanilla? Great, and while we have you, M&Ms or Maltesers?


The first example focuses inwardly on the company’s desires.


The second one cuts straight to the chase and opens a dialogue that the customer can immediately buy into.


In marketing, psychology is at the heart of every decision. A customer who has answered one question will have a higher propensity to answer the next. And a company that jumps on the front foot and engages with its customers in a way that feels human will always be better off.


In marketing, sometimes we fall into the trap of being too formal. We speak to our customers as if we are standing on a podium, addressing all at once. But the marketing campaigns that work are always those that build a personal connection.


So how can we design surveys to maximise engagement? Speak to your customer as if she is sitting before you.


Lead with a question and then drive the conversation in a way that remains relevant (with conditional logic).


Don’t offer an incentive. If you are talking to your customers about things that matter to them, you won’t need to.


Don’t feel the need to tell them that they’re participating in a survey or a poll. They’re intelligent enough to know that. But do tell them how their data will and won’t be used, and reiterate that their privacy is important.


When a survey is anonymous, let them know. This can move you leaps and bounds towards achieving good engagement, especially where trust is an important part of the equation.


And, if you can afford to do it, share the results with your audience once your survey is finished. Giving back is just as important as getting what you want.


Our world is becoming increasingly connected. Most things we need are just a web search away and customer transience is increasing.


If we are truly to build relationships with our customers, feedback has to be open and often, relevant and contextualised to their experience. And perhaps more importantly, acted on.


Designing customer feedback the right way is the first step.

To ‘logo’ or not to ‘logo’? That is the question

It’s tempting whenever we launch a new product to build a logo to go with it. Months and sometimes years of development have gone into it. Research teams have been called in. Management has debated. And we’ve survived iteration upon iteration of prototyping, Alpha, Beta and MVP builds. Finally we’re ready for launch!


We buy the domain. We start drafting ad campaigns. We want our newest offering to have an identity, to be memorable, to become a success. But what about the parent brand? What about the equity we’ve already built and the trust and recall our customers already have in our company name?


When we make a decision whether to ‘logo’ and custom ‘brand’ a new product, we need to consider a few key things.


Does our target audience already love and trust our brand through previous product purchases?


If we go to market with a new product name, logo, look and feel, will our existing customers recognise it as part of our core brand and trust it enough to give it a try? Or will they think it’s built by someone completely different?


Is the new product complementary to our existing product suite? Will it become an up-sell? Or a cross-sell? And if it does, will consistency be key?


If we go to market with a standalone product brand, will we need to redesign our communication infrastructure? Will the Sales team need new email addresses @newproduct.com? Will this confuse customers where they’re buying multiple products at one time? How will we cross-sell in digital channels?


Not all products need their own logos. Some can be added to an existing suite, updated in nav and marketed as a bundle to already captivated audiences. Some are more powerful with the success of the parent brand behind them. Sometimes the best question to ask ourselves when deciding to ‘logo’ or not to ‘logo’, is whether we really need one at all.

Building human connections through digital marketing

Back before the internet, flashy magazines and mail-order, there were Salespeople. And they were great.


If you needed a product or service, you’d nip down to the shops and the person behind the counter would tell you everything you needed to know about what to buy and how it would help you. The pitch was tailored, the customer built a connection with the brand and the product was sold.


When the internet came, it was a game changer. Businesses that could previously only sell to people within their local area suddenly had access to a global marketplace.


Advertising became cheaper because it didn’t involve half-page ads or postage stamps, and people could communicate faster. But human connections were lost. Where a business might have previously sold flowers to a mother-of-the-bride or a mourning widower very differently, corporate websites could showcase only a single voice.


Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen tells a brilliant story about a marketing project he worked on to increase university student recruitment. At first, he focused on the usuals: The university’s history of academic excellence, world-class teachers, case studies of successful Alumni.


But this didn’t resonate with students. Market share didn’t increase and enquiries didn’t come flooding in. He surveyed his staff and he interviewed parents who had helped their children make university choices. But in every instance, reputation and past performance were key motivators. He pondered for days what he might be missing.


Then he interviewed students. What he found, was that where the academic elements were of monumental importance to parents, students had entirely different requirements.


They were looking for a college experience. Funky dorm rooms, on-campus facilities, extra-curricular activities, team sport. Things that would make their college days memorable. The academic stuff was important, but these additional aspects helped students build an emotional connection with the university and contributed significantly to their ultimate choice.


As Digital Marketers, we have more opportunities than ever to understand our customers, to dig deeper and to provide customised, contextualised web, marketing and frontline sales experiences that truly connect. To advertise to the uni student and her parent. So that all bases are covered and we provide personalised experiences. Even with the pervasiveness of the world wide web.