A partner in a successful medical services company had a problem. Her business was undergoing a number of new competitive challenges as larger, national businesses had begun to market to her clients. Worse, they were offering genericized services at significantly lower prices. What's more, her clients themselves were requesting that her company unbundle its services and only sell them the specific products that they couldn't get elsewhere or do themselves. She felt her years of profitable sales were coming to an end.
After listening to all the details, it seemed there were three practical strategies she could use to fight back. She could lower her prices, she could offer different products or services, or she could offer a different, well-branded experience.
We dismissed the first option immediately as she had no interest (and saw no future) in being the low-priced leader. We discussed the second strategy but decided that the R&D costs would be too high and FDA regulations would be too onerous to overcome. That left us with the third suggestion: to offer a different, well-branded experience.
To do this well requires three things: 1) A unique, memorable, and ownable brand experience and image that customers would respond to; 2) A new brand that was absolutely organic and congruent to the business; and 3) Low-cost operational changes that would support the new brand.
To illustrate my points I told her about a friend of mine:
Josh Liebman decided to run for the city commission. One on of our runs we started talking about how he was going to promote himself. Josh's concerns were that he didn't have much name awareness, that there were not many community hot-button issues where he could stake a claim, and that most voters didn't know — or care — much about such a local race anyway.
We talked about the three things he needed to do: 1) Come up with a unique, memorable, and ownable brand image that potential voters would remember; 2) Make sure all of this was absolutely organic and congruent to who he was as a candidate and a person; and 3) Develop low-cost operational changes that would support his new brand.
The next time we got together we talked about a very clear and cogent direction he could take.
Not only is Josh a runner, but he'd completed over 90 marathons (he just completed his 95th in Chicago!) and trained almost every day in his community. It seemed clear to me that we could use this to build his campaign and meet our three requirements.
Being known as the “running commissioner” would certainly be a unique, memorable, and ownable way for Josh to market himself. In lieu of a hot-button issue to stand for, Josh could use his dedication to training and running marathons as proof of his discipline and commitment to performance. Being the “running commissioner” was certainly unique and ownable — who else do you know who's run 90 marathons? — and it's also extremely memorable (point one). It's also organic and congruent to who Josh is as a person and to whom he'd be as a commissioner (point two).
Finally, we needed to make some easy, inexpensive operational changes to promote and exploit Josh's new brand. Instead of training on the same course every day, for example, Josh could map out his runs in different neighborhoods in his voting district. He could promote his different runs online and use social media to invite his constituency to come out and run with him, or at least chat him up as he passed their homes or offices. And he could recruit supporters — all wearing bright fluorescent t-shirts that read, “Josh Liebman. Running For You” — who would run along with Josh. Talk about low-cost operational changes; engaging the social media networks was free, as was getting friends and supporters to run alongside our candidate. And a few dozen bright green t-shirts was a very low-cost way to get Josh's message out.
Fast-forward a few weeks. Josh is the newly minted Vice Mayor of South Miami and our medical services friend is trying to figure out how to shift her business the same way. And me? I'm curious to hear if our three tactics — 1) developing a unique, memorable, and ownable brand image, 2) making it organic and congruent, and 3) creating low-cost operational changes to support the new brand — would work for you, too.