Focus your Marketing on the Customer not your Product

Several years ago I worked for a professional indoor football team. The team’s owners were passionate and knowledgeable football enthusiasts. When it came to marketing however, they were inexperienced. In sports, winning helps sell tickets, but it shouldn’t be the only thing marketers, managers and owners relay on.

The owners thought all marketing should focus on the results of the game. They wanted press releases and advertising about how great the team was, hyping the high scoring offense and touting our winning record. Indeed, the team was amazing. Our offense scored over 50 points a game, won the conference championship and had a record of 13 wins and only 3 losses going into the league’s version of the Super Bowl, Indoor Bowl III. In the franchise’s first year we had the highest attendance in the conference.    

Per the owners’ requests, some marketing was about the product on the field. However, most was focused on the customer. The team’s General Manager, Dakota Crow was a brilliant marketer. He helped me realize we weren’t in the sports business; we were in the entertainment business. Marketing had to attract more than just rabid football fans, but also causal fans, families with kids and anyone else looking for a fun night out. Fans weren’t paying for a “final score,” although they liked when the team won. Fans were paying for the experience. Our marketing had to focus on the customer and the value they were getting when paying to go to a game. It was about the pre-game and half-time entertainment, the excitement of being in a packed arena, the smell of the concessions and yes, the product on the field. By focusing on the customer, we branded ourselves not just as a football game, but as a complete entertainment experience. Prior to this shift in focus a potential customer would think “Should I go to the football game or not.” Branding ourselves as an entertainment option expanded our customer base. Now potential customers would say “Should we go to the movies or go to the football game instead.”   

When you focus your marketing on customers it becomes all about “them.” If you only focus on your product it’s all about you. Your product may be the coolest thing out there, but what is the customer getting? What’s in it for them other than just a product or service? For example, if you have a window cleaning service, sure you could talk about the efficiency wherewith you clean windows. Or, you could talk about all the things the customer can now do because they don’t have to spend time cleaning windows… since you’ll do it for them.          

A poor demise: At the start of the second season both the G.M Dakota Crow and I left the organization. Most of the marketing shifted back to the product, the actual football game. Unfortunately the team record wasn’t impressive finishing with only 7 wins, 8 losses and an early playoff exist. Attendance dropped by 1,500 fans per game, over a 20% decline from the previous year. The team was sold before the start of season three. Later the team was elevated to the Arena Football League; the focus returned to the customer and has been fairly successful ever since.

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Connect with Customers through Branding

Today’s consumers have more options for where to shop and what to buy than ever before. Creating customer loyalty is increasingly challenging. If you want to build repeat business you’ll need to find a way for customers to relate to your brand.

 Recently I asked my 10 year old son where he wanted to go for lunch. He responded “Subway” (sandwiches). I was surprised by this answer. I was expecting McDonald’s or some other fast food place with toys in kid’s meals. The he said “Dad, I’m a Subway kid now.” My son feels he’s grown out of happy meals and mini burgers and wants a bigger sandwich. Even at a young age, he relates to the Subway restaurants brand.

After this conversation I began to think more about the brands I “relate” to. Several months ago I purchased camping gear at REI. At the time I also purchased their lifetime membership. As a member I get rewarded so I look to REI first for outdoor recreational products; ever since I’ve considered myself an “REI guy.” I’ve found that I relate to that store’s brand. Consequently, REI is my favorite places to get camping gear. Another example is a local barbeque restaurant called Q4U. If someone recommends we go out for BBQ I immediately suggest going to Q4U. Q4U is branding their restaurant as the place I go for good BBQ.   

The immergence and success of social networking sites proves people want to feel like they belong to some sort of group, community or cause. Why not make your business something customers feel they belong to. It’s like owning a Harley Davidson motorcycle. It’s about more than the product; it’s about belonging to the community.   

What do you offer your customers? If you only think of the product or service you sell, you risk making a one-time sale and nothing more. Today’s business owners need to create a brand their customers can relate to and connect with. Make your customers a part of your business. They will stay loyal longer and will bring additional customers to your business.

Marketing: The Price of Loyalty

Consumer spending is down, but that doesn’t mean businesses can’t create loyal customers. However, creating loyalty takes effort on the part of the business.  

Several years back I regularly visited a small Mexican restaurant called Lenitos Taco Shop. This was one of those quaint, hole-in-wall places with amazing chips and salsa, great food and good prices. The first time I tried Lenitos was with a friend after we received a buy-one-get-one-free coupon. This little taco shop instantly became one of my favorite restaurants.

Every month I’d use their coupons and take a friend there to try it out. When I had family in town they always requested that we eat at Lenitos. The restaurants marketing through coupons kept me a loyal customers and I ate there every couple weeks. After a few years the restaurant stopped sending their coupons. To my knowledge they stopped marketing at all. I continued to go for a time, but invited friends less often since I no longer was getting the coupons.

Soon I noticed I was frequenting the restaurant less and less often. Why? They had lost “mind share” with me. The coupons served as a monthly reminder for how much I liked the restaurant. When the company stopped couponing they stopped reminding me how much I enjoyed their food.

For me, 80% of my dining out happens at the same 3 restaurants. Unfortunately, Lenitos is no longer one of them. A year after my last visit I decided to grab some nachos before a college football game and saw they were out of business. I’m not suggesting that my not eating there was the cause of their demise. My guess is that they stopped working to keep their customers loyal (through couponing, marketing or some other means) and slowly lost customers until they were forced to close shop. When I saw they were closed I thought “If I knew they were going to close I would have come more often.”    

Think of the top 3 places you like to eat out? Are these the same places you’ve always eaten at or has your behavior changed? If it has changed, why? Consumers don’t just keep going somewhere because it exists. Over the years I have heard many business owners say “Once they try our food, people are sure to come back” or “once people see how great our service is, they’ll be a customer for life.” In today’s world this simply isn’t true. People don’t come just because a business has good food, or selection or even prices. Too many choices exist for today’s consumer. I can think of plenty of business that had amazing service, or great food, but still closed their doors.   

Consumers are loyal to businesses that maintain “mind share.” Nike and Coca-Cola understand that they have to keep in front of their customers in order to keep them as their customers. Whether it’s through promotions, specials, coupons or some other marketing, loyalty comes at a price.