Barry brews and sells beer in Shockoe Bottom. Not only that but Barry’s beer is a special formula that took Barry five years to develop. In addition, Barry worked in the apprentice program at Anheuser-Busch for 4 years to learn his trade. Barry has now set up his shop on Main Street, in the heart of the action in The Bottom in lieu of accepting a permanent Beer Master position at Anheuser. He had to follow his passion.
Barry’s only problem is Bradley.
Bradley also sells beer in The Bottom. Unschooled, but with the same passion for the best in local beer, Bradley hung his shingle in the very next block down the street from Barry.
Amazingly, the two men opened their brewery start-ups within a month of each other. Both men’s beer is awesome with a taste that far exceed any other brewery in town. Locals and tourists alike find themselves paralyzed by the choice of purchasing beer from one brewery over the other — none of the beer is cheap.
With price, quality and accessibility all equal, how can Barry separate his beer from Bradley’s, and vice-versa?
When I was 11 years old, a friend of mine faced a similar conundrum. He delivered the Times every morning in my neighborhood and the paper had a contest every week: the kid who opened the most new accounts won a box of candy bars.
His problem was that subscriptions to the paper cost the same as buying it at the newsstand — plus you were obliged to tip the paperboy. He was competing with every newsstand in the neighborhood to sell the same product, not to mention that it cost a little more with tip.
He explained this obstacle to his mother one night and she asked him a simple question: “What else can you do for these people, besides sell them newspapers?”
The next morning, he re-canvassed the homes of people who had declined him before. The first person he visited was an elderly lady.
“If I go to the newsstand to get the paper, it cost me the same eight cents,” she said. “If I have you deliver it, I have to tip you on top of that. Why should I do that?”
“Because if you get the paper from me,” he said, “I’ll bring you milk twice a week and bagels on Sunday.”
Back then, bagel stores were not ubiquitous in our town like they are now. But his family lived by one. Adding bagels and milk to his route wouldn’t make my job much harder, but it would make a huge difference to many of the older and busier people on his route.
“Wow,” the lady said. “You’d do that for me?”
He explained that he’d bring the bagels on Sunday and when she paid him for the newspaper on Thursday, she could add in the dough for them.
That pitch worked with her, and with dozens of other customers up and down his route. Soon, he was a paperboy powerhouse. He won that candy bar contest countless times.
As entrepreneurs, we’re always thinking about added value and how we can separate our product from that of our competitors. But when it’s impossible to differentiate the product itself, hope is not lost. I told you my “What else?” story to show you that added value doesn’t always come in the product itself.
Let’s take Barry and Bradley.
They’re offering essentially the same products, at the same price, in the same place. Each would do well to ask: “What else can I do to get people in my shop? What else can I do to form an emotional bond with potential customers?”
Maybe Barry has noticed that the tourists have trouble navigating The Bottom. He could use his drawing skills to make a charming map of the area, and give that away. Or maybe special beer nuts. Or maybe a promotion wherein random glasses have coupons stuck to the bottom that entitle the purchaser to a second, free beer. (There, the “thrill” of the lottery itself is the added value.)
The key is to think about what your customers might need — or at least enjoy — beyond your offerings. The possibilities are endless. You just need to be a bit creative.
Who are your customers? What can you give, rather than sell, to them? Focus on that and the selling will take care of itself.
About the Author
Gordon Conner is a Marketing & Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at Gordon@BranWorks.com, or read more at www.BranWorks.com.