How do you intend to win the war against your competitions?
Business is a game and only the team with the best players will win. To beat the competition will require everyone’s collective effort. It’s not just a task for the marketing department or top management; it’s everyone’s responsibility.
So as the leader of your business, it’s very important you enlist the support of the whole organization once you’ve agreed on the strategies to adopt in dealing with your competitions. In continuing our series on how to remain in business despite intense competitions, let me share with you the 5 strategic ways through which we were able to beat the competition and also remain in business despite their presence.
1. Define your Brand
No two businesses are alike just as no two customers are alike, hence the need for branding. What does your business stand for? What’s different about your business in comparison to other businesses in your industry? What do you want to be known for in the marketplace? Is there anything special about your business?
You see when new competitions enter into your line of business, whether you like it or not, be prepared to loss some market share. I know that was rather harsh, trust me, it’s for your own good. Don’t take it personal, it’s just the way the world is; different strokes for different folks.
No one business can appeal to everybody. So your best response is to define your brand and consistently communicate your own Unique Selling Proposition (USP). The emergence of competitions clearly separates the men from the boys. It is the businesses that don’t clearly stand for something that often get eaten up by competitions. If your business doesn’t stand for something, it will fall for anything.
To remain competitive, you’ve got to be distinctive. There’s got to be something about your business that will make the customers have a second thought about going to the new competitions. What would they miss if they stopped coming to patronize you?
This was our most competitive advantage and the singular reason why we are still in business. We were not just another cybercafé; we are the preferred cybercafé! Why? Because we are redefining browsing from what a customer does (an activity) to what a customer enjoys (an event/experience). We were the only cybercafé where browsers were not just customers but also friends because we knew and called them by name and we gave them gifts on their birthdays as a result of our membership strategy. Our customer service was second to none. You just couldn’t help but fall in love with us!
Not only that, we were the only cybercafé where browsing tickets never expires. I mean you could literally come in at the beginning of a new year and buy a 1 hour ticket and because you are a registered member you could come back at the end of the year to finish using the one hour ticket you bought in the beginning of the year. WOW! This was very much against the conventional trend in the industry where browsing tickets expired two days after the first usage. It was a very brilliant innovation and our customers loved us the more for it. The only tickets that expire in our cybercafé are the ones sold to non-members.
So when the competitions showed up, after panicking and responding wrongly we learnt our lesson and began to focus on our brand. We strengthened those things that made us distinctively unique from all 9 competitors all together. We started reminding our customers of who we are – a People Loving Company (PLC). Our brand became so unique that ‘Yahoo Yahoo boys’ (internet scammers) literally avoided our cybercafé. From the outset we didn’t do overnight browsing. Somehow without us saying a thing or imposing any law, just by our commitment to our brand, they realized our cybercafé wasn’t the right place for them to carry out their nefarious activities.
2. Choose a competitive advantage
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric (GE) was right when he said “if you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete”. In other words, don’t bother getting into the game if you haven’t first figured out a plan on how to win. There are basically 3 key areas to focus on when choosing a competitive advantage;
o Quality: You can choose to beat the competition by offering a superior quality than others.
o Price: you can choose to beat the competition by offering the lowest prices
o Service: or you can choose to beat the competition by offering an unforgettable customer service.
Most of the time it is not so easy to measure up well on all three key areas. However, it’s important to include service in any of the combinations you want to focus on. Why? The other two forms of competitive advantage can cost you a lot and often time customers can choose otherwise. There’s always an alternative to quality; if you focus on only offering the highest quality at a premium price, customers will scout around for a lower quality at a cheaper price. There’s always an alternative to price; if you focus on offering the cheapest price possible it will require that you find a way to drive down your cost to the barest minimum. And this can turn out in form of low quality products or services and customers will start to complain. So what do you do?
Pick either of the two; price or quality as your competitive advantage and complement it with service. Without the element of service in your competitive strategy you can never deliver happiness to your customers. People may not remember how great your product or service is (quality); they may not remember how much you made them pay (price), but they will never forget how you made them feel (service).
You see it is possible for your competitions to copy your products or services just in our case they copied our pricing plan, timer, banner etc. but they couldn’t copy the way we treated our customers and the spirit and attitude of our workers. Our greatest strength was hospitality, they just couldn’t beat the way we made our customers feel whenever they visited our cybercafé. And when we surveyed our customers, asking them what made them stick to us, they kept saying the way we treated them was exceptional.
In our case we chose quality and service as our competitive advantage. Our competitive strategy was simple; treat people Right, make browsing fun and fast (RF2). From the outset of our operation we never made price an issue. We came up with our own unique pricing plan that altered the pricing model of the industry. We had air time as low as 30 naira and as high as 200 naira. We were very flexible; buy as your pocket allows. But we never compromised on quality and service. In fact, we were the only cybercafé that compensated customers every time the quality of our internet service/link dropped below certain expectation. If our generator malfunctioned, we gave out compensation tickets; sometimes we even went as far as given customers back their money.
At other times, we would completely replenish the tickets of our customers anytime we had unforeseen power problems not minding how much of the air time they had used already. We believed we were totally responsible and to be blamed for any interruption in the quality or reliability of our service. We followed a simple philosophy; “when you fuck up, treat your fuck up yourself, never pass the blame on the customers!”
3. Create a customer database
Do you know that it cost 20 times more to get a new customer than it cost to keep an old customer? Customers are very expensive to attract and that is why smart businesses focus on a customer’s lifetime profitability (CLP) rather than on a one-off purchase. Meaning that they place more emphasis on building an enduring relationship with their customers rather than on making a sale. They have realized that it is wiser to have their customers for life; rather than having them for a while. Why? Because your greatest success in business will come from the number of repeat purchases you’re able to generate from your loyal customers. This is how the concept of relationship marketing came to be –building a long term profitable relationship with your customers.
This was the idea behind our membership strategy. We were more concerned about keeping our customers for life (building a relationship) than keeping them for a while (making the sale). As a result we were able to convert 80% of first time visitors into registered browsers in our cybercafé. Initially it seemed like a lot of work and a lot of cost on our side, but on the long run, the benefits outweighed the cost and the efforts expended to create our own customer database through the membership strategy. Our greatest strategic weapon against our competitions is our customer database (membership strategy). There is nothing more powerful than having a communication link between you and your customers. It is the cheapest but most effective tactic against intense competitions.
While our competitions were only interested in their customers coming to patronize them, we were more concerned about strengthening our relationship with our customers. We believed in a very simple logic; make every customer into a friend by caring first about their life before asking for their money and it will be hard for any competition to steal them away! The following two points will explain better how we creatively used this tool against our competitions.
4. Communicate ‘WITH’ and ‘TO’ your customers
If you are not talking with and to your customers, someone else is. This is a very vital element in your response to competitions. Talking ‘to’ your customers is what is known as advertising and talking ‘with’ your customers is what is known as market research. A lot of small businesses undermine this very important marketing strategy of constantly communicating to and with their customers. Haven’t you realized this is the key behind the marketing success of most big companies? You should see how much big companies spend on advertising and market research, maybe then you would better appreciate the value of communication.
This was a major component of our response to the competitions. We didn’t relent in sending out messages via SMS (mobile marketing) to our customers every first day of the month and on every major public holiday. We kept in touch with them constantly updating them with vital information and words of encouragement to help them hang on through the economic recession. The impact of these monthly SMS messages blew our mind. People who had packed away from the community in which the cybercafé is located would come around every once in a while to browse at the cybercafé saying that despite the fact that they had packed, our friendly SMS messages kept coming and so they thought to themselves to repay our kind gestures by coming from far to patronize us.
Those who haven’t packed but were out of town either in school or travelled for some other reasons, made it a point of duty to visit our cybercafé to browse as soon as they were back in town also saying how happy they were every time they received our SMS messages. It didn’t matter how far away they were, we still could reach them and talk to them anytime, any day, anywhere. Why? Because of our membership strategy (customer database).
We didn’t just talk ‘to’ our customers; we also talked ‘with’ them through periodic customer satisfaction surveys that we conducted. Talking to your customers is a good thing, but talking with your customers is a great thing. Why? Talking with them helps you better understand them which in turn help you serve them better. To show our customers how much we wanted to talk with them through our customer satisfaction questionnaires, we paid them in kind with a 3 hours ticket every time they filled the questionnaire. Through these surveys we were able to know those specific things they liked about us and wanted us to continue no matter what.
Also, we were able to know those specific areas they wanted us to improve on in order to serve them better. And lastly, we were able to know those specific things they wanted us to stop doing that they didn’t consider added value. I mean what could be lovelier than this? Having your customers totally telling you how they want you to treat them so they can spend more money in your business! WOW!
5. Excite your customers
People will no longer have cause to deal with a business that isn’t innovating. Innovation brings excitement to the marketplace and customers like excitement. Take time to study the reaction of people whenever a company is about to launch a new product, service or brand, you would be thrilled at what you would discover. Recently, when Apple Inc. announced the launch of its latest invention; iPad. There was so much excitement in the air as Apple customers couldn’t wait to explore all the possibilities the new product offered. Why do customers like innovation? The answer is very simple; we all want a little spark in our life every now and then.
Innovation gives the marketplace something exciting to talk about. And there is nothing that drives a business faster than word of mouth advertising. If you can find a way to get your customers excited enough to talk about your company as a result of the innovative things you consistently come up with, then you’ve got an edge over the competition. You become the pacesetter of your industry. Others will literally look up to you and can only follow your lead.
We were able to achieve this with our customers through our monthly promotions. In a bid to increase sales we decided to come up with at least one new promo for our customers every month. We literally gave them something to talk about every month. We came up with promos such as; “tell a friend promo”, “Buy one get one free promo”, “Heavy browsers promo”, “Early bird promo”, “weekend promo”, “Facebook promo”, “Scanning promo”, “Fill a form promo” “Laptop promo” and so on.
The good thing about innovation is that it keeps you on your toes always. It got to a point when our customers couldn’t wait for a new month before they come asking about what promo we had in store for them. And as a result of this, we couldn’t afford to let them down. We constantly strived to up our game because we had set the ball rolling and there was no going back. The mere thought of a new month meant something exciting for everyone. We simply couldn’t wait to see the reaction on their faces when they start walking into the cybercafé with their mobile phones in hand reading out the SMS notification we had sent as regards a promo. It was pure excitement and it kept our competitions confused because they just couldn’t tell what we were going to come up with next!
Has your business IQ increased as a result of reading this article?