Extraordinary marketing results are rarely achieved by playing it safe. Yet when it comes to marketing, many growing businesses remain buried in the pack, going from year to year with the same minor market share. After all, with so much "me too" marketing out there, it's easy to consider mediocre marketing the status quo.
But if you look to the standouts-the front-runners in just about every market niche-you'll see that their marketing strategies and campaigns are anything but ordinary. They're the top competitors you love to hate, yet want to emulate.
To compete on their level, you'll need to be bold and approach marketing with an altered mind-set. There are four critical elements to extraordinary marketing success.
1. Originality: A funny new jingle or a revamped logo may be uniquely original, but the true acid test of origi-nality is strategy. That's where everything begins. Do you have a definitive marketing strategy? How is it original to your company and its customers?
Every business must have its own point of differentiation-a promise to deliver a specific benefit to its customers-that can't be claimed by any of its competitors. This is what positions your company or brand. It takes effort to understand what customers want and need most from your business and then excel at delivering that benefit. Yet to be a marketing front-runner, you must carefully outline a strategy to communicate an original message based on this point of differentiation.
2. Improvisation: Extraordinary marketers focus on their core competencies while allowing their product and service offerings to evolve,and they find ways to sell what their customers want to buy. They offer several layers of products and services, all meeting the growing and changing needs of customers.
The ability to listen to and learn from customers hinges on having the appropriate "listening posts" in place. These can range from simple online message boards to more formal customer advisory boards, surveys and other studies. As a business owner, you have an advantage over lumbering corporate bureaucracies. You can turn on a dime to quickly create a new service or product offering based on input from your customers or clients, and improvise your way to a whole new means of earning market share.
3. Change: As the marketplace changes, so do the ways your prospects relate to your brand. New competitors enter the fray with unique, compelling benefits all their own, while others drop out of sight. Successful marketers know what to change and what to hold onto and nurture for the long haul. This may sound like fortune-cookie philosophy, but it's practical and proven time and again. It's absolutely essential to stick with the core message of your company or brand while evolving to meet the changing needs of the marketplace. Marketing campaigns may come and go, but the core message of your brand must remain steadfast, or customers will find nothing to believe in.
4. Values: It takes guts to create marketing that reflects your company's values, and vision to stay the course. Today more than ever, customers want to know what your company stands for-whether you're a small manufacturer that touts eco-friendly production processes or you make women's exercise apparel and support young women's participation in sports. Exceptional marketers may rally customers around a mutual passion or cause, or merely communicate their chari-table affiliations to a like-minded customer base. Are your company's values reflected in your marketing campaign? Show your customers the bandwagon, and invite them to jump aboard. If you've read them right, they'll share your values and demonstrate intense, long-term loyalty that results in increased sales.
Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business. Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available exclusively from Entrepreneur at www.smallbizbooks.com