A Half Dozen Business Choices

Every company has to make choices when it comes to how it markets and sells and, in some cases, who it is and what it sells.

In an e-mail exchange, Tom Grimes, a great and brilliant friend, shared with me what he’s thinking about in terms of business choices. Based on his list, here’s my own list of many of the high-level choices businesses typically make every day. It may help you make some more conscience choices of your own:

  • Select or solicit? Do customers select you or your products, or must you solicit them? Amazon.com is an online destination, so it’s selected. Offline, Wal-Mart is too. Customers select Amazon and Wal-Mart. If you sell a water-treatment system, you must solicit. Your marketing must proactively find customers. That’s why Amazon can effectively invest its marketing budget in customer experience (free shipping), while Culligan of Amarillo uses local search and local selling techniques.

  • Tangible or intangible? Do you sell something people can taste, touch, smell, or hold, or do you sell a concept, service, or idea? Amazon sells tangible stuff; A.G. Edwards sells financial gain and security, largely a service. Infuse tangible products with intangible qualities: “This soap will make you smell sexy,” and intangible products with tangible qualities. This is why lawyers and stockbrokers wear suits. The costume makes the idea of knowledge, power, and trust appear more tangible.
  • Transaction or relationship? Is this a one-night stand or long-time relationship? Buying a conference table from a conference room specialty store is more transactional as you likely need only one or two tables and won’t be in the market for another anytime soon. As a transaction seller, your focus is on the sale and on optimizing driving points and funnel points and your conversion funnel. But if the buying cycle is short or your product is complex, you must build a relationship. You must optimize several persuasive scenarios — for early-, middle-, and late-stage buyers and repeat-buying scenarios.
  • Speed or quality? Does the customer demand delivery speed, or is quality more important? The higher the product’s quality, the higher the bar on the customer experience both with the buying process and the actual product itself. The good news is the customer is willing to wait a little. Would your Starbucks coffee be as special if it was handed to you immediately after you ordered it? If you sell speed, customers are willing to trade some quality for quickness.
  • Price or prestige? Is it all about the customer saving money, or does she pay a premium for prestige? BMW is about prestige. Overstock.com is about price. When buying prestige, customers are likely interested in what others think of their choices. Shopping for clothes at a warehouse or clearance outlet is about price. If you sell a prestige product, never advertise or sell on price. If you’re an Overstock, sell on low price. Price isn’t king, but it is important; to a few, it’s their master.
  • Lifestyle or utilitarian? At its core, an automobile is utilitarian, but car manufacturers have worked long and hard to turn their products into a lifestyle choice. Underpants were once utilitarian (especially for guys), but today it’s a lifestyle choice, particularly for women. Look at how Martha Stewart has transformed a utilitarian requirement, fixing up your home, into a lifestyle.

There are many more choices, but this is a great start.

In some cases, a business doesn’t want to make the choice. It does its best to blend and balance the see-saw, hence the term “affordable luxury.” This is why a lot of fast-food restaurants now offer premium menu items.

What big choices have you faced in your marketing, in your product offerings? Share them with me.

Nominate your choice of technologies, companies, and campaigns that made a positive difference in the online marketing industry in the last decade. Nominations end August 3 at 5:00 pm (EDT).

Meet Bryan at SES Training Classes on August 8 in Boston.

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