Why “Better” Marketing is Bad for Business

What have I told you that “better” isn’t actually better. In fact, it might be worse. I’m speaking specifically about marketing your small business, but let’s sit down over some coffee sometime. I could probably find a few other things to apply by this idea, too, like school grades or red wine… I don’t know, but let’s move on.

Mike Michalowicz, patron saint of entrepreneurs, is back with a new book called Get Different, in which he wants to dismantle our preconceived notions that “in order to successfully market our business, we have to copy other people who are successfully marketing their small businesses.” On one hand, it makes a lot of sense. If somebody is doing something and it’s working for them, why wouldn’t you want to just do the same thing and expect similar results? Here’s the thing, though:

Do that 30 times, 100 times, 1000 times; when lots of people are all trying to play by the same rulebook and win the same attention by doing the same things. Everybody just looks the same. You all read the latest issue of GQ. Now everybody’s walking around in the same Gray suit. There’s something to be said for standards and best practices.

But when it comes to marketing, rule number one is you need to get people’s attention. That’s nothing new or Earth shattering, but it’s something we often forget, especially when we see a customer run a successful ad campaign. They put up a Billboard on 95. Now you kind of feel like you need to put up a Billboard on 95.

If you’re a small business, that probably means you have a relatively small marketing budget. You don’t want to blow all your money and all your time trying to pretend that you’re just as big and shiny as your competitors by doing the exact same thing that they’re doing… just a little better. That’s actually going to set you back. This is what I meant by better could be worse.

We also deal with a lot of pride mixed with insecurity, and sometimes take ourselves a little too seriously. Professionalism and brand integrity are important, but if we’re making marketing decisions based on how we are worried about how people will think about us and less worried about if people will see us in the first place, they need to step back and go to the drawing board, backing up a bit and thinking about grey suits.

I love a grey suit.

I haven’t worn one for over two years since I started working from home, but they’re sharp, they’re nice, they’re safe. I could put on the most expensive suit with premium fabric, perfectly tailored, nice little details, like some Paisley silk lining on the inside that nobody will see. I’m standing in a room with a bunch of other people who look pretty much the same as I do from a distance, at least. How are you ever going to tell that I have this quality about me? At a glance, I blend in, I disappear.

Even our brains are usually pretty good at filtering out things. If there’s a repeated pattern or something that you just come to expect, it gets dull and it just blends into the background and disappears. We see this all the time. In marketing, there might be a new marketing practice like, let’s go back a few years to email personalization when you say Hello, David, in your subject line, you’re like, what new friend. But now that’s all over your inbox, there’s nothing special or attention grabbing about it, and it gets ignored or deleted along with the rest of the junk mail.

How do you combat this? You have to get different. You have to break the routine. You have to push back against the expected.

I’m not saying don’t be true to yourself, but if you want people to perceive you a certain way, first, they need to perceive you. I’m also not saying to be noisy and loud and garish and annoying to get attention because you don’t want to just attract attention. You want to be attractive. Mike Michalowicz presents a framework in his book, “The DAD Framework.”

Differentiate Attract and Direct.

These are the three components of a successful “Get Different experiment.”

Step number one, we already talked a little bit about, and it’s pretty obvious you need to stand out, but that needs to lead right into the next thing. You need to make sure you’re being attractive to your audience. To keep returning to the suit example, put on a different color suit, blue, red, yellow. Maybe wear a hat. But in that context, you probably still want to wear a suit and not just walk around in your boxers.

There’s likely some rules of engagement and expectations. You need to meet with the audience. You’re trying to attract whatever it is, see how far you can bend them. But breaking them might actually repel the people that you want to do business with. You want to make sure what you’re doing up in the “D seats” isn’t going to compromise your attractiveness and call into question your ability to do your job well.

In other words, don’t be a clown unless you’re a clown. The final D, and these are not. My prescription is direct. After you differentiate and get their attention, you prove you’re attractive. They get close enough to be like that is some really nice Paisley silk lining.

Now you need to make sure that your marketing material is doing something for you. Don’t just get their attention saying, “Look at me! Did you look at me? Okay. Thanks!”

Now what? Direct them to something tell them what to do. You need to make a sale, so point them in the direction. What’s the next step they should be taking to get them closer to doing business with you.

And I got to take these off now before I throw up. All right, that’s better. So there’s the DAD framework as presented in Mike’s new book. It’s very simple stuff, but you need to start simple, and it’s important to remember simple and practice simple. There’s a lot more in this book.

He breaks down each step in certain very concrete, practical actionable things you can do at each of these levels. A few quick examples. While you shouldn’t copy your direct competitors copy other types of companies marketing, look at a completely different industry. They might be doing something in that space that you can kind of twist and fit into your own marketing technique in a very new, unique way that nobody has ever seen before. There’s something off the top of my head.

It’s not uncommon for a restaurant to offer a free slice of cake and bring everybody over and sing and embarrass you on your birthday. What if you’re a contractor and you came over to a client’s house and you brought some dessert and you sang them a song that would probably get you noticed. And remember, spin off you’re a restaurant sing when it’s not their birthday? I don’t know. It’s really fun to come up with new ideas is pages of examples and exercises that you can check out to help you generate new ideas.

One great one is to leverage other people because honestly, we’re pretty bad at coming up with new ideas on our own without an outside stimulus. And we’re really good at getting stuck in a rut, calling some friends or calling some people who aren’t your friends. Run a little brainstorm session and ask them how they would sell a product, absorb and receive as many ideas as you can. You don’t have to put them all into practice, but you want to generate as big a list as you possibly can.

And then you pare down from there and begin running your experiment.

It’s all an experiment. You need to test new ideas and measure them and see what’s actually working. The number of new email subscribers leads people walking through your door, phone calls, sales, whatever it is, you need to tie some key performance indicator to your marketing campaigns to make sure that they’re actually worth running. You can spend a lot of time and money on just making white noise that people are not going to act on. Instead of spending a lot of money going big, spend a little bit of money trying different experiments, playing around with new ideas, tracking how effective they are.

And then when you find a winner, then you can start investing in that bonus thought. Give yourself some space to make some mistakes. There’s a lot to learn from that as well. That kind of falls right in line with what we’ve been talking about. If we’re too concerned about being better for the sake of being better, we’re scared of making mistakes or being different, that’s not going to move us forward.

It’s going to hold us back. It might even do us some harm. You need to be thoughtful. You need to be strategic. Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t get caught up in analysis, paralysis.

But make sure you’re being smart and procedural about these things. And that is exactly what Mike Michalowicz offers in his new book. I highly recommend it. There’s lots of great stuff and case studies, and one more quick thing I want to point out is I have two copies of this book. The first one that I got the dust jacket was actually put on backwards being a book about being different.

I didn’t know if that was on purpose or not. I thought it was like, wow, that’s really good. They put their money where their mouth is, but I’m pretty sure it was just a mistake, but it kind of worked out. So what do you guys think? What’s something that you can do differently to set yourself apart?

Is this all too simple, or are you like me and you struggle to actually put into action the simple things? If anybody else has read the book, let me know what you think in the comments. I’d love to hear from you, and I hope to unpack a few more gold nuggets from the book in the future.

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