Show Your Expertise Through Content Marketing.

Got a me-too product or service? Help your ‘commodity’ offering stand out

Do you have a product or service that is, face it, pretty much like those of your competitors? If your customers don’t see any difference, they’re quite likely to buy on price. That rumbling sound you hear is the race to the bottom regarding fees and prices.

You can stand aside from that landslide, and maintain your prices and service levels, through finding ways to differentiate your offering in a way that your customers value. The key to this was alluded to by Jay Baer, author of “Youtility” and presenter at Content Marketing World 2013. He talked about how success in business involves “help” rather than “hype,” with the ideal being “content so good they’d pay for it.”

If you’re selling a commodity, the information your customers may value the most is how to get good results from someone like you. This is what I call “how-to-work-with” content. It’s a great way to show your organization as one that genuinely cares about your customers, and showing that is a powerful way to stand aside from that low-balling avalanche.

To see how this works, consider a greenhouse operator who sells potted flowers and other plants to retailers such as garden outlets, supermarkets and variety stores. Your hanging baskets are pretty much like anyone else’s hanging baskets. So how do make yourself the preferred source for potted plants in your area?

Through making your company indispensible, or close to it, to the market you want to reach, and you do this at two levels.

Develop content of genuine use to your customers

First, think of the realities your customers face. Other than the garden outlets, the retailers buying your products don’t know much about plants. They don’t know how to display them for best sales volume, how to keep the stock looking good, or how to advise customers on plant care. So think of the questions your customers ask you, and those are the questions you answer in your content. It’s “how to work with” a provider of potted plants.

Then, think of the best ways to provide this information. For retail display, you might shoot a video that demonstrates best practice for placing plants, and featuring interviews with successful retailers on how they train sales staff to sell plants.  For plant maintenance, you might develop an app that displays a range of plant-related problems -- wilted leaves, dropping petals and so on -- and then provides advice on in-store maintenance. Offer retailers a newsletter that provides seasonal information on which plants are most popular at given times of the year, among various ethnic minorities that live in the area.

Your content-marketing objective is to become a valued source of wisdom to retailers, so that they come to see you as being genuinely concerned about helping them sell high-margin products and generate traffic into the store.

Emphasize content for your economic buyer

In potted plants, content strategy should focus on your direct customers, the retailers. The secondary level -- your customer’s customers -- is not as important, because few shoppers will choose one brand of potted plant over another; they’ll buy what’s in the store. In marketing buzzspeak, it’s a ‘low-involvement’ the purchase; they don’t distinguish much between brands.

But the store owners and managers will be highly involved in the purchase, because they want to buy plants that will stay looking good for a long time, to avoid having to discount or discard them. Other categories see more brand awareness by the end user, meaning that consumer-level content is effective.

You must determine who is the ‘economic buyer’ and who else might influence the purchase of your product or service, and develop content accordingly. How-to-work-with content is best done with heavy reliance on your organization’s salespeople, customer service representatives and others with direct contact with customers. Ask them what questions and concerns they hear expressed by customers, and those then become the basis for the content you develop.

Make sure that the content is in an appropriate format -- again, by asking the people who will use it. You may be surprised to find that salespeople prefer printed content, perhaps just one sheet of paper for each topic, that they can easily hand to a customer in a meeting. However, you also need to have content available online, in a variety of formats to suit different learning styles.

As with all content marketing, it is vital to keep the sales pitches out. If you develop how-to-work-with content in the frame of mind of how you’d advise your best friend, you’re more likely to generate content that is genuinely useful.

Carl Friesen

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