(MoneyWatch) To prospects, you probably look run-of-the-mill. As the old saying goes, experience is what you get when you wanted something else. So the trick is to learn from mistakes - preferably other people's mistakes. When it comes to marketing your company, don't make the mistake of looking like everyone else who does what you do.
"No matter what business you're in, you probably walk and talk a lot like the other people who do what you do," says Terri Langhans, author of a great book titled The 7 Marketing Mistakes Every Business Makes and How To Fix Them and the founder of the marketing firm Blah, Blah, Blah.
"Your target audience thinks your products and services, probably your marketing too, are pretty much the same as everyone else's in that category," says Langhans. "But here's the good news. The more two things are alike, the more important every tiny difference becomes in setting you apart, because the more two things look alike, the harder someone will actually look for a difference. They want to find something that will help them tell you apart."
Think points of difference. If everyone else zigs, maybe you should zag. Langhans obviously preaches what she practices. The former CEO of a national ad agency, she now uses her 20-plus years of experience to teach companies through seminars and mentoring. She advises that you should resist the usual, the expected and the ordinary in everything you do.
While most speakers send meeting planners vertical flyers with large photos of themselves, Langhans gets noticed by sending a "card deck" of 10 business cards riveted together. Think "paint chip color wheel," except that each card has a thought provoking message from her maverick marketing mantra and a morsel of free advice on the back. Do the meeting planners remember her materials when she calls? Most of them have actually saved it.
"Naming my company Blah, Blah, Blah, instead of Langhans Something Or Other, hasn't hurt, either," she says.
So how do you find your points of difference?
Start with all your points of contact, anywhere you come in contact with a customer or prospect. These include:
Voice mail greeting
Parking lot entrance
How you answer phones
Proposal cover sheet
Fax cover sheet
Ads, brochures, flyers
Look at what you're doing for each of your touch points, and then find out what the competition is doing for each of theirs. If you have several competitors, you might need several lists. If you want to make it easier, just consider what most businesses in your category do for each touch point.
A good place to start is your voice mail greeting. Do you know how to leave a voice mail? Does anyone you know not understand how to leave a voice mail? And yet we waste valuable time explaining to people how to leave a message when they hear a beep.
Change your voicemail greeting and all other touch points. Does your business have a conservative, upper crust personality? Do you see yourself more as a friendly, consultative family advisor? Or is yours an aggressive, yet precise and strategic persona?
All three can work. All three will attract a different type of client. But which one is truly you? You can't just pick a personality to try on. It has to be congruent with who you are and how you like to work. You can't fake a personality, which is what makes it such a powerful marketing tool, because your competition can't copy or fake your personality either. Once it's yours, you go from run-of-the-mill to one-in-a-million.