Becoming The Obvious Choice In A Sea Of Competition

Differentiation, niche marketing, and positioning. These and other related business buzzwords have no doubt crossed every spa owner and marketing director's ears in recent years.

But what do these words really mean to you in your particular spa/facility? Usually they mean that a spa will attempt to sell a product or service that is somehow different than the competition's to a certain, specific target market. In theory, this is a great idea. If you could just reach that one segment of the market with your great, new, innovative product or service...

Welcome to reality. If your company is innovative enough to develop a truly unique product or service that is earning you a profit, the following inevitably happens: competition springs up from nowhere to imitate your product or service, undersell your price, and steal your market share. It's immutable.

So as your next line of defence, you choose to position yourself as the quality leader within the spa industry. Or as the low price leader. Or as the service king. You soon find yourself in a battle with four other companies - all claiming to have the largest selection, lowest prices, highest quality or best service.

A marketing free-for-all usually ensues. Each competitor tries in vain to shout with the loudest voice that his business or spa is superior. Headlines get bigger; radio ads get more obnoxious, advertising agencies get richer. More significantly, customers begin to discount any claim made by any of the companies.

Is niche marketing the way to go then? Obviously, different is better than "me too." The question isn't whether or not to be different, but rather how to communicate those differences in a way that your customers will believe and embrace them. Your Real Opportunity for Innovation Lies in the Marketing.

Here's What Marketing Really Is...

You need to realize three things about business to understand marketing. These three things are always true, regardless of what industry you're in: 1) All businesses do just one thing: They Woo Customers - Period. 2) All customers want just one thing: The Best Deal - Period. 3) Your marketing should do just one thing: Articulate Why You're The Best Deal - Period. You can build confidence if you articulate your advantage.

This is not a complicated thing. If you dispute any of the three points, please call me to discuss it at once. I don't want to be wrong about such simple stuff. But if this is such simple stuff...then why do most businesses have so much trouble executing a decent marketing plan? I say it's because, in general, we are lazy communicators.

See if this scenario sounds familiar. When you get home from work, your spouse asks you how your day was. What do you usually say? Fine, okay, I'm tired, great, it stunk. Do these words actually communicate anything? What about when you see someone you know at the store and you ask, "Whatcha doin'?" (As if you really care or can't tell by looking) and he/she answers, "Fine," which is actually the answer to the other question he/she was expecting, which is "How ya doin'?" We are a society of lazy communicators...we are on communication autopilot. Don't think, just talk.

These communication habits spill over into marketing and advertising all the time. Show me 99% of all marketing material created and I'll show you a huge jumble of hyperbole, fluff, platitudes, and boring unbelievable, black hole nothing words. Words like cheapest, professionalism, service, and quality, speedy, convenient, and best. These words do absolutely nothing to communicate why you're the best deal. NOTHING. Claude Hopkins, the greatest advertising man in history, summed it up: "Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck. They leave no impression whatever."

Consider an example. The city I live in has just over 250,000 people. The local yellow page directory lists a whopping 40 companies that offer spa services. Of those, 19 spend from $200 to $1,500 a month for space ads in addition to the regular category listing.

Some of the advertisers claim to be "the" experts. Most tell me in bullet points that they offer a variety of spa services from pedicures to massage. Almost all of them tout that they will help me feel relaxed. None of them, however, give me a compelling reason why I should call them instead of their competitors. The "unique" claims of each company have become generic, unappealing, and meaningless to the prospect...that is just waiting to be sold.

Surprisingly, very few businesses really make more than a token attempt to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Once a company stakes out a position in the marketplace, the usual strategy is to foolishly proclaim to all potential customers, "Here we are, now give us all the business that you have been giving to our competition...for no justifiable, rational reason."

Fortunately, you can cash in on what your competitors are doing wrong. The most powerful tool you can use to stand head and shoulders above your competition is the Articulated Sales Argument (ASA). Your ASA is the singular, unique benefit that your customers can expect to receive when they favour your spa or facility instead of your competitor's - stated in specific, graphically illustrated terms.

Here's a day spa that harnessed the power of the ASA and tripled the size of its business in less than a year. Before developing and implementing an ASA, the company had been guilty of running "me too" advertising. Their yellow page ad (where 50% of their business came from) had the company name plastered across the top in huge letters. Bullet points let everyone know that they provided a variety of spa services, they catered to both men and women, they had 22 years of experience, etc.

Because everyone else's ad said essentially the same thing and since their ad was relatively large, they were able to build a respectable business in spite of their "me too" approach. Each year, they were able to generate enough revenue to do the following:

1. Add a new service or two to their offering.
2. Keep their technical staff busy most of the time.
3. Generate a small profit for the owners.
4. Continue to run the advertisement.

What more could business owners ask for? A lot more! The first step in developing their ASA was to determine what customers wanted most and determine something that differentiated their business from the rest of the pack. Since they were located in a pretty large metropolitan area they had a good prospective customer based to draw from. This particular spa does an excellent job of catering to wedding parties and a fantastic job with these types of clients.  Customer surveys confirmed their notion - fast service and a quick turnaround for the entire wedding party was to be the premise for their ASA.

But everyone else already claimed to service wedding parties. Some salons and spas even put WEDDING PARTIES in big headlines at the top of their ads. It wasn't as if nobody else had ever figured out that this segment was important. The funny thing was that nobody else had ever figured out a way to say it in a way that would allow them to stand head and shoulders above the competition.

The next year they ran a half page ad as usual (no additional expense), but changed the wording to say, "Your Entire Wedding Party Picked Up, Groomed, Catered To, Relieved of Stress and Dropped Off at The Event In Just 3 Hours!" And that was just the headline!

The rest of the ad went on to explain that the spa took care of everything from picking them up to ensuring all of their gowns and suits were pressed if they were to busy. They talked about the systems and procedures they had in place to cater to groups of this size and the turnaround time and how their services lowered the stress newlyweds surely felt on this important day. Bottom line, the customer would be taken care of without a hitch - period.

The day spa put a lot of faith in their new ASA. The results? Extreme impact! They went from doing a couple of these a month for important clients to doing as many as 2 a week - many of those with new customers who've never been to the spa before. Who do you think those new customers referred their friends to? That's right — the "wedding spa" mentioned in this piece. They knew their target market and talked directly to them and communicated the exact message via their ASA what they needed to hear.

Their integration of the ASA "fast service and a quick turnaround for the entire wedding party" was the key element in the company's turnaround. Obviously, other factors contributed as well, like the company's underlying dedication to fulfilling the "big promise" of efficient service. But the point is a simple headline stating the ASA increased their bottom line by over 400% with no additional advertising cost.

What's Your ASA?

The ASA really is the keystone of all your marketing. Everything else depends on it. Get serious about harnessing the awesome power of an ASA.

John Uhrig, President & CEO of Monochrome Marketing Solutions, a Vancouver, BC-based marketing consulting firm. And is the editor of the Spa Marketing & Advertising Strategies E-Newsletter featuring day spa marketing best practices. 'The Spa Business Owner's Unfair Advantage.' mailto:[email protected]