LOS ANGELES — When I was 21, after getting fired from the radio station I was selling advertising time for—badly—I started my own advertising agency.
I got the record and plant store chain account after hanging out with the owners for months and gaining their trust.
For the high-end audio chain account, I created copy that said what the principals thought needed to be said about them.
I got the guitar store chain account by telling them how they could advertise in media they never thought of and create new customers (their “first guitar” sales went up 350% that Christmas season).
I got another client by appealing to his interest in sports celebrities and humor, getting the Steelers quarterback who never played in four years in the NFL—just stood all day on the sidelines—to endorse his foot-pad manufacturing company.
Got my biggest client—a big user of radio advertising—by writing a jingle that he loved and became the company’s most recognizable branding feature for years to come.
There are lots of lessons here. First, we all fail. I loved working for the radio station, but I could not convince others to believe in it. I’d have fired me, too. But it didn’t end my belief that I could be a good marketer. Just because someone said no to me, I thought others would say yes. The same is true today—not just for me, but for you, too.
The biggest lesson: Recognize that everyone has a different set of priorities and that the best way to sell is to figure out what’s most important to them and what you have to offer that will satisfy that priority.
That doesn’t mean you can satisfy everyone’s desires or you’ll end up offering Rolls-Royce quality at Kia pricing. Instead, it means that there are many routes to success. You have to play to your strengths.
Can you provide the best product? There’s a market for that.
Can you provide a quality product at commodity pricing? There’s always going to be a market for that.
Is service what you do best? Networking? Go for it. There are as many routes to success as there are ways to skin a cat. (Actually, I have no idea of how cats are skinned or what the options are, but it’s a popular expression.)
Here are some tips that everyone can follow:
Just as I got the record and plant chain’s trust by spending time with its owners, you can become an integral part of your community. Find local media, sponsorships—Little League, bowling sheets, book covers. Don’t just join your chamber of commerce; go to the meetings. Get involved with silent auctions.
Remember that social marketing didn’t start with Facebook and Twitter, and it shouldn’t end there, either. Almost 40 years later, I remember Rezem Funeral Home and the Brunswick Grove Tavern being sponsors of those things; for me, they became synonymous with their business categories. And almost 40 years later, seems those businesses are still going strong.
Name recognition is important. Most people can’t tell you the name of their cleaner, even though they’ve been going there for years. That’s why even nametags with the person’s name and the drycleaner are a good idea. It’s easier to leave “my drycleaner” than “Morty, my drycleaner.” Morty is part of the family. It’s also why we stress the import of putting drycleaner logos on The Green Garmento. Don’t have your business be a commodity—become a trusted friend, a trusted brand.
Be the best in your category. That doesn’t mean being the cheapest if your selling price means being the best value. The Green Garmento has chosen what we know as the “Toyota Strategy.” Toyota made a strategic decision long ago to be the cheapest and the best. Not build their cars as well as a Cadillac or BMW, but when you compared their offerings to a Chevy or Honda in the same price point, you got more for your money with them. Their result: Camry became the bestselling car in America and has been for the last nine years.
We created what has objectively been called the most environmentally and user-friendly reusable bag, but we’ve also worked to be the least expensive in our category. We hope that, in time, we will see results similar to Toyota’s.
You can follow a similar path. And if you go the other way—high-end/premium/couture—be sure to offer something more—a quality of service or function that separates you from your competition.
Make positive noise. Noise isn’t just in making sounds, so you don’t need to have your own jingle. Positive noise is as simple as having attractive signage and maintaining the upkeep of your store.
There is a stretch of Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana/Woodland Hills with eight drycleaners within 1.2 miles. I’d bet the one with the most attractive appearance and best signage is also the most successful. If the paint has chipped or your signa_e is missing a “g,” don’t be surprised when you learn that your competitors are doing better than you. If you don’t care for your belongings, why would customers think theirs would be well taken care of?
Make a marketing strategy, and make your move. Make changes, modify. Don’t be satisfied with what worked yesterday, research what is going to be best for tomorrow. There’s a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, and it has your name on it. I hope there’s one with my name, too.