There is nothing more important than the concept of “specialty over commodity” when we market our products and services, regardless of the medium we choose, online or offline.
Some things just scream specialty…like the supplement I once marketed where the key ingredient could only be found in certain caves in western Africa.
That was a story worth telling because the supplement was not one you could easily confuse with one you were already taking.
However, not everything is as easy to differentiate.
If what you are selling on the surface looks like a commodity (i.e. it’s not obvious that what you have to offer differs from other products like it) you’ve got work to do to turn that commodity into a specialty.
And lucky for us, we can use our marketing wizardry to create specialty from almost any commodity.
Let’s start with used cars.
While it’s true that every car on the lot is technically “different,” used cars (and especially used car lots and salesmen) are closer to a commodity…that is, you would be hard pressed to figure out what makes one stand out above others.
And they are folks we tend to avoid unless we really need a used car.
But what would make you choose one used car lot (salesman) over another when you are ready to buy a used car?
Buying a used car is often described as something that could be as distasteful as anything, especially if the process tastes like lemons (pun intended).
So how would you stand out in a marketplace like that?
I met a used car salesman at a marketing conference and he asked me for some advice regarding his direct mail (which is the principal method he used to bring new prospects to his lot).
His approach was fairly simple: Every week he would send out a postcard to everyone within a 30 mile radius of the lot, listing the cars he had available, especially “new arrivals.”
I guess this approach is perfect if his postcard is received on the day (or within days or weeks) when you were ready to buy a used car…especially if you were ready to buy the 2006 Chevy Malibu that just drove up!
With an “episodic” purchase like a used car…and a suspicious audience that thinks many used car salesmen are guilty until proven innocent (when it comes to credibility and reliability—which is unfortunate)…I suggested something else to stand out and be different.
There are many better ways to become “the go-to used car salesman” without simply getting lucky that your postcard will land in someone’s home the day they are thinking about buying.
I spent the extra time with him because I was confident that he would be open to a different approach to rise above all other folks in his niche since he was at a marketing conference, one where there was a focus on information marketing.
I said that instead of sending that postcard every week with just new inventory, why not separate himself by offering information and value (to establish credibility in an industry where credibility is not common).
I felt he didn’t have much to lose testing something different since with his current method, it was a crap shoot whether the recipient of the postcard each week would be in the market for a used car just when they received their mail.
Buying a car—used or new—is far from an impulse buy.
I suggested that he could create a series of special reports, “white papers,” articles, blogs which would give advice for “when they were ready to buy their next used car.”
I encouraged him to make them part of a community who saw him as a thought leader in this category and not just a commodity (i.e. “another guy selling used cars”).
I suggested he create lots of useful tips and content…subjects like, “5 things that will tell you when the used car salesman is lying” or “The 7 warning signs that your next car is a lemon before you drive it off the lot.”
Offering up a free report like that…whether on a postcard, sending them to a squeeze page or even giving the report away free inside an envelope instead of sending the postcard…would start him on his way to differentiation…and creating specialty over commodity.
Of course the next step would be to have another report after the first one which would require the recipient to send their email address if he didn’t receive it when he gave away the first piece of content.
And however he followed up, he would need to identify these new fans as a “sub list” that read his weekly postcard/mailings. These folks have just told us they are not the same as everyone else who simply lives within a 30 mile radius.
I further suggested that he mail something new to that list every week…email to keep costs down…a “tip of the week” pertaining to buying used cars…or the advantages of used over new…or traps and opportunities in car buying in general.
And yes, he could still list his new inventory each week too.
Obviously there are all sorts of topics that would be of interest in the weeks, months (and maybe years) ahead when the reader is NOT ready to buy a car on a given day.
The long game is turning our used car salesman into an expert first and a salesman second.
And maybe this long game will encourage more people over a longer period of time to drive their current jalopy to our expert’s lot first when the moment of truth comes for them to actually be in the market for a used car.
The one about the personal injury attorney
Another similar thing played out at another marketing conference I attended…this time the “commodity” was personal injury attorneys looking for new clients based on information about recent car accidents and insurance claims.
I didn’t I know before this encounter that in the state of Indiana (and I assume elsewhere in the U.S.), when someone has a car accident and makes an insurance or medical claim, a list of those people is released to the public 30 days after the accident/claim.
Whether this is still the case isn’t important…but what is important is that there is a marketing lesson for all of us here.
An attorney came up to me after I spoke at this conference for advice.
He was lamenting that after this list became public, every personal injury attorney mailed it and all with a similar approach:
“Been in an accident? Call 1-800-Lawsuits-R-Us and we can help!”
(And of course a big picture of a big, smiling lawyer ready to help you)
I sat down with this lawyer who wanted my help and we studied 10 different promotions, all direct mail and all in 9” X 12” envelopes with some version of what I just described.
So here’s what we did instead when we mailed the same list:
We sent out a special report on “The 6 things you need to do immediately after you have a car accident”…gave it away for free…and then offered another report on “The 9 critical questions for your insurance agent” and for that one, the person needs to go to a squeeze page to download the report (and of course they need to share their email address).
Because this lawyer I was dealing with was at a marketing conference (like the used car salesman), he was open to me grilling him on his expertise which made him realize that he was “a legal expert in personal injury” and not just “a personal injury attorney looking for his next client.”
We began the process of differentiating him from everyone else who was simply mailing that same list for a quick buck.
It’s true that my guy might not get a new client from this accident but that was not the goal.
The goal is to build his list with people who read his content initially and then on an ongoing basis when he developed a weekly “legal tip of the week” for his new list/family.
He was building a client base for the future rather than secure a one time fee.
Longer term strategies like this…whether they are employed by a used car salesman or a personal injury attorney…assume a starting point that is not about quick fixes and just getting lucky to “make a sale.”
Of course you can’t use strategies like this if you are working out of desperation and/or need cash immediately and I hope that is not the case for you.
But regardless, you should seize the opportunity to always innovate to differentiate…and always think specialty over commodity.
These examples may not be directly applicable to what you do…but there are variations that can absolutely be applied to any commoditized product or service.
Dare to dream, for example, about becoming the only place in your community where folks come to buy used cars because they trust you over all others; or dare to dream, for example, about becoming a trusted legal advisor to clients you love because they respect you for your knowledge first and foremost rather than working with you because you promise to get them more money in a lawsuit.
Dreams like this can become a reality…and you don’t even have to ride a unicorn to a marketing conference to figure it all out.
P.S. I received many emails from my post last week…most were thanking me for sending the Dan Kennedy presentation from Titans Of Direct Response (which is worth watching multiple times and it was my pleasure to share it on the third anniversary of a very special event where he was a catalyst).
But I also got a few haters…who didn’t know the history of the event…asking why there were no female speakers at Titans. It was a rough reminder and understandable.
I want to tell those of you who were not there that I was well aware of this and I spoke about it during my opening session.
Because the event was a tribute to Boardroom and Marty Edelston, the sad truth is that when Boardroom was founded in 1972 (and in the years that followed) the builders from the outside were mostly men.
(Note: I can tell you, however, that many of the key folks internally at Boardroom were women over the years and most of my senior staff while I was there were female).
There were two extraordinary women, Joan Throckmorton and Rose Harper, who helped build and shape Boardroom from the outside even in the early years…and since neither one was still with us in 2014, I distributed their out-of-print classic books to the most prolific and dynamic women in direct response marketing who were in the audience at Titans.
I know other women boycotted the event which hurt…and I did my best to explain…and I have had to live with this sad fact.
However, I did my best to begin to pay it forward by having my good friend (and top copywriter) Marcella Allison help me host the VIP Day after the two main days of Titans.
Inspired by that VIP Day, Marcella is now launching a new all-female group for the next generation of women copywriters called Titanides.
In the spirit I began three years ago with Marcella at Titans, I want to lend my full support to Titanidies…so please check out the amazing event Marcella is cooking up in a few weeks…and consider attending if you can…women only.
I receive nothing in compensation for this…nor would I if offered.
In addition I am dreaming about another big event like the original Titans event in the near future and you can be sure it will be well represented by both sexes.