The Art of Marketing
Since beginning this column several months ago, I’ve received a fair number of open-ended questions, all of which I have answered as quickly as possible through e-mail. Answering individually has not been an easy task, so I thought I might spend some time in the column discussing the issues and answers to some of the wide-open questions I have received to date. Each month I will try to highlight one question (or parts of a question) and a portion of my answer.
My biggest issue is that what may seem like a simple question superficially is actually a highly complex question, requiring a multiple-layered and thoughtful response. For example, how does anyone answer a question as unspecific as “How do I make more money selling antiques?” Where would I even begin, and how many months will it take me to weave together an insightful answer, and cover all key issues specific to each unique situation? A question such as this is really not much different from the question “What is the meaning of life?” and requires no less thought.
The first thing I need is more background in order to understand the details surrounding each situation more clearly and to begin to form an opinion. If these details are not provided, my first correspondence back is usually asking a series of high-level questions, necessary to gain a better footing for my eventual response. What segment of the business are they in? What area of the country? What is their level of experience with the antiques industry? What type of inventory do they carry? And at what price levels? What does their marketing plan look like? What’s their overall go-to-market strategy? Can they describe their competition? What’s the estimated budget? Do they have on-line and off-line strategies? The questions could go on and on.
Once I have the answers to some high-level questions, I give it “the old college try” and attempt to provide the best answer I possibly can. I spend time investigating the best possible answer (based on the time I have available), craft my insights into a compelling e-mail, and send it off. Then I think to myself, “It’s not possible for me to answer fully. What will this person actually do with the small amount of advice I did give?”
As anyone in business knows, 90% of your result can be in the proper execution of your strategy! I could give the same advice to ten business owners, and each one would listen, think, devise, and execute their plan. The results could be all over the place—some great, some good, and some not so good at all. You have a better chance to succeed if you devote your full attention to it, set your strategies, execute them flawlessly, and add your unique twist. The missing ingredient that is unknown to me, no matter how many questions I might ask, is you. You are the intangible that can make it all work. Your special experiences, personalities, individual market understandings, and levels of ability to make your customers comfortable buying from you can make big things happen. For many, that means you are going to work hard to become better planners, marketers, and salespeople. It is hard to make a decent living unless you are fully committed to this industry, especially right now.
What I hope to do in this column is give you a little piece of insight each month. I hope to give you some information that makes you stop and think and then maybe generate a specific new idea that you can apply to your business. Over time, you gather and retain enough ideas to weave them into something that might give you a competitive edge.
Last month I covered the topic of identifying and better understanding your competition. This month we further investigate who your real competition might be.
I recognize that in the antiques business there may be items that some customers would never buy without seeing, but that simply isn’t true about a vast portion of the market. Even if this were true for the items you are selling, customers need to find your items before they can buy them. Nothing can help a buyer find them more than the Web. I have found many items on the Web and then traveled to the dealer to see them in person. Probably others have also.
More and more companies are looking past their traditional “down the street” competitors and looking to their competitors on line. So who are your on-line competitors? The answer is those businesses that have digitally relevant “keywords” and concepts. These are the words or topics the potential customer enters in a Web browser when they are searching for things of interest. If the businesses you’ve been competing with for the last 20 years are not showing up when you do a Web search for items you sell, then they are not your competitors in the new world of digital marketing.
So who are your digital competitors? You can measure what is called your “organic search visibility” by searching phrases that fall into the categories that define your industry niche. What are the names of the companies that consistently rank in the top five to ten positions in areas with keywords such as “American folk art,” “Staffordshire,” or “coverlets?” These are examples. The companies that turn up at the top of the results pages of your searches are your true on-line competitors. Of course, the key is to keep your business at the top of the results pages for your key items when a search is entered. I’ll cover that topic in a future issue. There is a free and easy-to-use tool at (www.compete.com) that provides a good estimation of your top five on-line competitors.
You can start with your customers’ personae and determine if this matches what you think your target audience is. Are your competitors attracting the same targeted demographic audience? Again, there is a free tool you can use at (www.quantcast.com) that will allow you to generate an audience demographic analysis. This tool is great for estimating the demographics of the audience that visits any given Web site address (yours and that of your competition) and measures the estimated traffic to the Web site domain on a monthly basis. Did you ever wonder what types of individuals were visiting your Web site? Today you can understand that pretty easily and use the information to build your business.
How to act on the competitive information you have gathered.
In the February 2013 “Art of Marketing” column, I suggested that you develop a SWOT analysis to define your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Through this study and market investigative efforts you will wind up with information about your competitors. This should tell you whether there are gaps in your particular specialty or in the market that you can exploit. It should also indicate whether there are many dealers in certain areas, which might lead you to focus on less competitive areas.
Draw up a list of everything that you’ve found out about your competitors, however small. Put the information into three categories:
• What they are doing better than you (strategies or activities you can learn from and then improve upon);
• What you think they’re doing less successfully than you are;
• What they’re doing on the same level as you are.
If you think your competitors are doing something better than you, and it’s working, then you need to respond by making some changes, however subtle. It could be anything from reassessing your prices, changing the way you market yourself, or marketing yourself more to redesigning your Web site or changing your inventory.
Don’t be complacent about your current strengths. Your core strategies may still need improving, because your competitors may be assessing you right now. They may adopt and enhance your good ideas, so you have to keep reassessing and experimenting with new things. Remember, you should always investigate the new vehicle you are thinking of “investing in” to better understand your probability for success.
When I write about learning from the competition, I’m not saying to simply copy everything they do. If you copy what your competitors are doing step for step, you’ll always be one step behind. If you analyze the key moves your top competitors make, understand why they made those moves, and anticipate where they will or won’t be going next, you’ll prevent yourself from missing out on potential profitable opportunities.
Feel free to email me if you have potential topics you want me to cover or if you have comments. I can be reached at <email@example.com>.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest