I felt invisible. I had launched my first business, a VAR, in 1996. Back then the popular three letter acronym for a managed service provider, was Value Added Reseller. We did basically the same thing MSPs do today, just with the technology of time. Netware 3.12 was hot and Token Ring was taking its final gasp as a new “cutting edge technology” called Ethernet took root.
The demand for networks was exploding. Every business wanted to connect to their PCs, their printers and the newest technology of all… the Internet. Opportunity abound. My company was in the right place at the right time. Or was it?
No matter how I marketed, no matter how many networking (as in professionals socializing) events I went to, I was struggling to grow. I would pick up clients here and there for sure, and referrals would trickle in. But I never seemed able to grow my leads, or my business,substantially.
At the same time I was operating my VAR, a company called Geek Squad started appearing in town. Between you and me, they were a joke. These folks would dress up like nerds. Black flood pants, white socks, narrowblack ties and white shirts, and glasses taped in the middle. I get the gag. But come on!
It was no gag. Geek Squad went on to sell to Best Buy, becoming the technology service provider for the organization. Their company skyrocketed in size with over $42 billion in revenue in 2019. Mine? Not so much.
If you are familiar with Geek Squad, from a technical standpoint, you likely know that their service capability is far from remarkable. They surely have some capable folks, but I knew my business could run circles around them. And so could yours. But why, with my technical and service superiority, did they dominate client conversion while I fought for scraps? Because better is not better. Different is better.
Over the last ten years I have studied what makes marketing successful, and why most people fail. The reason is quite simple. Most people market like most people. Which by definition makes you invisible.
According to Forbes magazine, Americans are exposed to over 6,000 ads a day. Internet ads, mailers, networking events, billboards, promotional items, it goes on and on. The human brain has become very efficient at ignoring all of it. The technical term is called habituation. In short, anything that is perceived to be the same and of no value is ignored – fast.
You may notice this in your own behavior. When you have a stack of mail do you carefully open each one, read through each letter in detail, and follow the instructions? No, of course not. Our mind is really good at ignoring the junk (which is most of it) and sorting out the important stuff (the checks and the bills). But there is one type of mail that doesn’t get discarded, even if it is a marketing piece: anything unexpected. Receive an envelope that is the size of a car, and you just gotta open it. It’s different. Get an envelope with a set of keys clanking inside and we are curious what it is about.
It is clear that marketing succeeds when it is out of the ordinary. When it is unexpected. When something is different, our minds can’t instantly categorize it as more junk. So we investigate.
Different alone does not win the marketing game. The Geek Squad got noticed, for sure, because they were dressed like geeks. And my business was invisible, because I was dressed like every other “computer guy” in an ill fitting suit. But imagine if the Geek Squad dressed like clowns or sasquatch. That would get noticed, but would it get business? No. Different garners attention, and attraction retains it.
First, we need to present ourselves in a way that gets noticed. Then, to keep that attention, the messaging needs to serve the prospect. A geek is attractive to someone looking to get their computer fixed. Who better than a geek? Surely not a clown or sasquatch. So, while walking in like Bozo the Computer Guy will surely get noticed, it won’t get you business.
The final element is to direct the prospect to take the action you want. The Geek Squad crew were handing out business cards (yes, business cards were still popular in the mid 90s) left and right. On the card it said “Any time. Any place. 24 hour computer support task force.”, and the hotline to call. Easy and specific. Need a nerd, now? Call this 800 number.
The key to successful marketing is to do the exact thing no one else will do. Presenting your business as an industry leader simply means you are just another one in the industry. Don’t be the leader, be the differentiator. Be the one who defies the industry. When the collective competition is email marketing, do direct mail. When they do direct mail, send a piece that is as big as a car or dress up like a geek. Just don’t do what they do.
Market like no one else does, and you will have marketing success like no one else does.
Different is better. Every. Single. Time.