There are really only two types of marketing.
There’s “Let’sThrowEverythingWeHaveAtTheCustomerAndSHOUTITREALLYLOUD!” marketing. The value for the customer is not very clear with this method, but if the company buys enough TV spots, throws some huge incentives in the mix and pays high enough affiliate marketing commissions, it will move some product.
As for a sustainable business with reliable margins? Well, the marketer running these campaigns will be long gone by the time those topics come up.
And then there is …
This type of marketing is harder. Way harder. It involves discovering what customers really want, creating products and services with true value for the customer and clearly communicating those values.
You can see this battle most clearly in marketing for local businesses. I was thinking of this topic when I flipped through our local copies of Money Pages and Mint Magazine. These are essentially coupon circulars with local businesses and some national brands filling every inch of the space they bought with ink, shouting at the customer, practicing “Let’sThrowEverything …” — well, you get the idea.
Flipping through these circulars, I have no idea why I should go to one tire shop over the other or eat at one restaurant instead of the other. They’re all the same. The only question is — which will shout louder to get my attention or offer a bigger discount?
Local businesses have a huge advantage over national brands
Now here’s the irony.
You might say local business tend to practice this type of marketing because they don’t have professional marketers on staff or, if they do, the companies are too small to properly resource them.
However, local businesses have something that every marketer at a major brand covets — a seat at the table.
Whether this is because the marketing is done by a solopreneur or partner in the business, or just because the business is small enough that even a junior marketer can speak with and perhaps influence the CEO, the people running small business marketing can provide more influence than the coupon and the ad — they can help shape and create a value proposition.
This got me thinking …
What does a local business look like if it was built from the ground up with an effective value proposition?
At MECLABS Institute, value proposition is a core research topic. So when Zuzia Soldenhoff-Thorpe submitted an application to speak at MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 with her story about launching Bay & Bee (a locally owned eco-friendly play space here in Jacksonville, Florida), I saw it as a great opportunity to reconnect with her and learn about building a business from the ground up with a real value prop.
[Note: MarketingSherpa is the sister publishing brand to MarketingExperiments.]
Zuzia worked with me at MECLABS (here is a replay of a webinar Zuzia and I did with Facebook about strategic social media marketing), directly helping MECLABS Research Partners find their value propositions.
She knows the topic inside out, so I was curious to see how she applied it to her own business.
Find an unserved consumer need
“Bay & Bee was actually created due to the lack of such a place in Jacksonville,” Zuzia, Vice President, Bay & Bee, said.
At MECLABS, we teach that a key element of your value proposition is your “only factor.” This is something marketers try to tack on after a product is created. However, it is far better for marketers to influence product and service development to make sure an only factor that meets a key customer need is baked into the product.
Zuzia and her co-founder, Monica Pharr, built the company around an only factor. Here is how Monica explained it in a story about the company’s creation written to customers. Note the use of the word “only.”
“Basically, we are the only eco-friendly, non-toxic, clean and safe indoor play space for young children … We are the only ones using organic disinfecting and cleaning products, beeswax crayons; wooden, sustainable toys; have antimicrobial, sustainable cork flooring and are Montessori and Waldorf inspired.”
Don’t try to be everything to everyone
MECLABS defines a value proposition as the answer to this key question — “If I am your ideal prospect, why should I buy from you rather than any of your competitors?”
In the same story, Monica said, “We don’t communicate our value prop enough because I don’t feel like mentioning the negative aspects of [the] overstimulation, toxic plastic, etc. of our competitors, and people who appreciate our concept notice it all right away. Those who don’t care about these aspects can make the choice for themselves.”
If you look at the value proposition question above, it’s very easy to focus on the “why should I buy” part. But don’t overlook “If I am your ideal prospect.” An effective value proposition is one that does not try to serve every possible customer, but rather focuses on your ideal customer and leaves out the ones Monica refers to as “those who don’t care about these aspects.”
You would likely only win these people over with massive incentives that kill your margin and degrade the value of your products and services in the minds of the prospects you can’t serve best.
When you’re not the best option, tell your prospects
Once you’ve established a value proposition, the challenge is to live it through not just your marketing, but your business practices. In this way your potential customers experience it and you build trust with them.
Sometimes you should tell potential customers not to buy from you.
For example, in addition to being a play area and hosting birthday parties, Bay & Bee has both a brick-and-mortar and ecommerce store. But they don’t always carry the products potential customers are looking for.
In that case, Zuzia and Monica direct people who make inquiries on the website or through Bay & Bee’s Facebook page to other stores after making sure the desired item is at that location. “Might seem silly but, in the long run, those customers appreciate it and almost always return to our store,” Zuzia said.
Not only does that build trust with potential customers who may buy from them next time, but it builds a network that can refer customers to Bay & Bee when it is the option that can best serve customers with its value proposition. “That has become a norm by now, so other stores do the same now when they know we have something they don’t at the moment!” Zuzia said.
You still need the basic blocking and tackling of marketing
Having an effective value proposition doesn’t mean you can overlook the basics of marketing. But it does mean you can get far more bang for your buck … and time.
Zuzia’s budget is, “$100-$300 per week, depending on how many events we attend, what materials are being printed and sponsored posts ordered/written” which includes Google AdWords, “although we set a low budget of $1-$5/day to less competitive, more broad keywords,” Zuzia said.
“Most of the word spread is organic though,” Zuzia said. This is where that unique value proposition really comes in handy. “We have sparked conversations about classes, services and products we offer, as well as why we are different than others throughout popular blogs and sites around Jacksonville.”
For example, she has targeted closed Facebook Groups such as Jax Moms, Jax Beach Breastfeeding group and JMB Beaches/Intracoastal Moms. “We watch or join conversations, but without trying to sell. Just honest opinion, usually through our personal profiles rather than as business,” Zuzia said.
She also invites all local online influencers for exclusive deals and services exchanges, such as Jax Moms Blog, Fun 4 First Coast Kids, First Coast Babywearing, Jax Beach Breastfeeding Support and many others. “We became friends and we share each other’s events and posts on social media outlets, and have been given reins to their Instagram account on several occasions (when Bay & Bee takes over their account),” Zuzia said.
This has helped SEO as well. “Being consistent with our concept from the day the business plan was created [and] finding how Bay & Bee could differ from other local activities and indoor facilities let us achieve [a strong] online position and obtain most of our traffic organically,” Zuzia said. For example, Bay & Bee has received organic first page rankings for key terms like: play space, Jacksonville; mommy and me jacksonville fl; jax play space; Tula jacksonville fl; Tegu blocks jacksonville fl; life factory jacksonville fl; and Montessori play space jax.
The results from having a unique value proposition and then effectively messaging through organic and (a little bit of) paid marketing are:
- Expanding to double the space after nine months in business
- More than 4,000 Facebook likes and more than 240 active members within a year of opening
- 5,000-10,000 visits to website per month
- Positive media and reviews, such as being named “Best Mommy & Me” in Jax in 2014 and 2015 and “Best Party Venue in Jacksonville.”
The biggest challenge, as it is for many brick-and-mortar retailers, is attribution. “Our biggest marketing challenge is not being able to measure conversion for each channel,” Zuzia said. “Membership sign-ups, party booking and most of all in-store purchases all happen after the initial visit to Bay & Bee. The goal of each campaign is to bring foot traffic.”
You can follow Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS Institute, @DanielBurstein.
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Value Proposition Development online certification course [From MECLABS, MarketingExperiments' parent company]
MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2016 — At the Bellagio in Las Vegas, February 22-24