Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Don’t Do 'Shopping List' Marketing

I passed the window of a small business yesterday; as I understand it, a two-person operation. Across the windows it had a list of all the services on offer. And when I say ‘a list’ I mean a long list. The first three or four services were conceivably within their core expertise but I would guess that the next 10 or 15 were ones that would be outsourced and sub contracted. Now if you’re a bigger company that’s fine, but for a two person business is it wise advertising such a diverse breadth of services?

I think their likely business model of being enterprising in maximising their revenue streams is okay but my question is over their marketing and market perception. If you’re starting out and trying to get a reputation of expertise – especially for a very small business - it’s more effective to shout about the three or four things that you live and breathe, the talents that are genuinely part of your dna. Avoid positioning yourself as a ‘we do everything’ company; don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

Success will more likely be about authenticity and genuine talents rather than offering a shopping list of everything a client might want.


Stephanie Booth said...

I get caught in this kind of "paradox" all the time. One of my strengths is precisely the breadth of my expertise, which leads me to get paid for things as diverse (in the field of social media) as writing, speaking to teenagers, strategic consulting for startups and big companies, fiddling with WordPress and writing a plugin or two, training, editing blogs, etc, etc.

If I do a shopping list, it does indeed look scary.

On the other hand, if I only put 3-4 things forward, people don't "get" me. They think my expertise is in blogging so they don't call me up to give a talk about Facebook (happened!) -- They think I'm a specialist about teenagers and the web and so they don't think of hiring me to manage blogger relations for their conference.

I guess you see what I mean.

I have no problem with being a juggler. I'm not too bad at explaining what I do when I'm face-to-face with somebody. But marketing material... well, let's say that's my "suck" department.

How do you avoid presenting yourself as somebody who does everything and the kitchen sink, but at the same time avoid missing opportunities because people think you "just" do A, B, and C?

Ian Sanders said...

You make some damn good points Stephanie; if you only promote or communicate say 30% of your breadth of services then you limit your biz dev potential. But - as one-person businesses - if we give a long list of our talents, the marketplace thinks we're either superhuman or worse, we may be bullshitting our expertise!
I think the answer is to unite your plural talents under one or two strong themes. Then, under those themes have a bulleted list of 'sub services', ensuring they logically fit the headings (that might not work for you?).
My concern with some small businesses is where I see e.g. a 2-person design agency communicate on their website that they do design, web architecture, SEO (okay, all fine); but also say they offer cinema advertising, media buying, signage and copywriting. That list seems too broad and at odds with them being a small team and 'experts' at one area. Maybe they would be better having a list of 3 services that they shout about and *once* the relationship is established then sell-in all the other services they can provide?
But in your case Stephanie I acknowledge there is no simple answer; the reality is that you offer rich and diverse talents, some of which that are unrelated to each other. How do you wrap up all those ina single brand? Develop a personal brand that sells your DNA/attitude rather than your services e.g, 'Stephanie Booth: the safe pair of hands to grow your business in the digital arena' - or something better! - that somehow communicates your value and philosophy across all you touch.
Thanks for contributing to the debate...

Stephanie Booth said...

I like your last idea -- which in fact is what I do, but not very explicitly. I mean, my blog and online presence does that: promotes me as a person, with a set of values and competencies and expertise, and I guess that most of the time that's what brings people to me.

Trying to group what I do under headings is what I try to do, but usually brings me to sprawling messes like this mindmap:

In the opposite direction, I've started producing a series of documentation (basically colourful PDFs) which focus on one thing I do (e.g. strategic consulting) and present it as "the one thing" I do. (Frame of mine: "this is my domain of expertise").

After all these years, I still feel stuck between promoting myself as a generalist, and having people underestimate the depth of my expertise, and promoting myself as an expert, and having people underestimate how many different areas that expertise actually spans.

I've actually been having an ongoing "specialist/generalist" blog-discussion with a couple of friends over the last months, and collected relevant links here: (adding this post to it right away).

John Rochester said...

Ian, when I read something like "the safe pair of hands to grow your business in the digital arena," I immediately have a fairly strong negative reaction to the 'marketing-speak.'

I think I'm not alone in having that kind of language immediately put that business at an impersonal distance, and perhaps even call their competence into question.

Your suggestion about grouping your talents into themes is a good one, but I think the old-fashioned word 'reputation' would serve Stephanie much better than a cold term like brand.

Ian Sanders said...

Stephanie, great ideas. I like the mindmap and PDF approaches. Of course, this is the whole point; there is no prescriptive one-size-fits-all solution, we need to learn which techniques work for which audiences.
John, thanks very much for your comments. Sure, 'safe pair of hands' and 'brand' may not resonate with everyone and you need to pick the currency of communication that works for you, as above. Perhaps we all have to be chameleons in communicating our multi-dimensional talents....