This week, Congress is considering a bill that has the potential to greatly alter the distribution of information on the Internet. If you haven’t been following this, it is worth doing some research on it, as the implications for existing companies like Google and Facebook could be huge. It could also significantly impact start-ups if the threat of lawsuits takes off. Most importantly, as consumers we need to think through how this might affect how we consume and distribute information online. You can start your research here: http://americancensorship.org/. It’s obviously a one-sided take on the bill, but it identifies the issues that are at stake.
I came home yesterday to find a three-page letter on my door from someone who would like me (and everyone else in our neighborhood) to hire his company to replace my windows this fall. I took a few minutes to read through it out of curiosity, and it spelled out five or six reasons why I should use his company to do this. It was a nice letter and well-written, but there was a big issue: customers, including me, don’t normally bother to read marketing material. We glance at it to see if it’s something we need before tossing it in the recycling bin (sometimes we don’t even do this, which is how a friend of mine recently ended up sending his mortgage payments to the wrong company). So, it’s extremely important that in that glance, the customer sees who you are.
The best marketing messages out there are simple ones. They say clearly and concisely what a business does, they are consistent with what the business actually does, and they don’t vary from medium to medium. Walmart is a great example: everyone knows that Walmart is “Everyday Low Prices.” Why? Because that’s the only thing Walmart ever says about itself and they back it up with how they operate at their stores.
The problem with long or mixed messages (think Miller Lite craft beers) is that if it isn’t immediately clear what a business does, customers won’t take the time to figure it out. We’re lazy that way. And we don’t want to go to a business that does everything for everyone; we want to go to a business that fills our specific need. To that end, great businesses know who their customers are and who their customers are not, and they only worry about serving the first group.
This is the issue that many small businesses are finding with using daily deals like Groupon. They tend to attract low-margin sales from customers who wouldn’t otherwise buy, while at the same time diluting their brand: “Come here because you can get a cheap meal, not because we have great food.” This is why I haven’t had as much of a problem as many people had with the recent moves Netflix made; sure, they alienated some of their DVD customers, but the future is streaming and it is clear this is where Netflix wants to be.