Embracing Competition

7 06 2009

Ahhh. Competition. It’s one of the most critical elements we consider when developing marketing strategies for a client. The mere mention of the word can make one sit a little straighter and feel a little more defensive.

But it doesn’t have to.

I overheard a conversation at my son’s t-ball game the other day and it got me thinking about competition. The husband of a friend of mine owns a small jewelry store in my area and there is another jewelry chain coming into town.

My friend (who’s husband owns the first small jewelry store) was asked by another woman how her husband felt about this new store coming to town. She was very upbeat and positive. Instead of the expected defensive nature, she was in fact, genuinely unbothered by it. She knew that this store did not deal in custom orders and felt their presence might actually provide them MORE business. This new store had already sent business their way in the past and they already were friendly with the owners and shared a mutual respect.

I remember when my husband had a brief stint as a gallery owner in a small Hill Country town. Instead of other gallery owners feeling threatened upon announcement of this new gallery, I was surprised to find them welcoming it with open arms. As a marketer, I’m not sure why that surprised me. But their logic was that the more galleries that came to this town, the more people would think of this town as an “art destination”  and then the more people they would get to THEIR own galleries.

It is so easy to want to “take the gloves off” when we hear about a new competitor. But before you start imagining yourself stepping on their head to get up the ladder, remember some important things.

1. Are they really competition? Just because they are in the same industry, do they serve the exact same clientele. (My jewelry friend, for example.)

2. If they don’t, great—embrace them. You never know when you can scratch their back and they can scratch yours.  The gallery my husband owned was a photo gallery. The other galleries were traditional art. Somewhat different targets. So we all worked collaboratively to create an annual event to draw art lovers. Now there are  numerous galleries and the event is still going strong — 10 years later. As another example, our gallery did not provide framing, but because they had been so encouraging to us, we sent all framing work to one of the other galleries. If we had received negative vibes, I’m not so sure we’d have felt so giving.

3. If they do, bummer—but still embrace them. Congratulations! You just got a whole new incentive to “up your game.” It would be pretty boring if the swimmers in the Olympics swam by themselves individually. What makes them go faster and break all those records? It’s not the fans looking on saying “He’s so great!” It’s the swimmer seeing someone only one hundredth of a second behind him. (OK, maybe those new body girdles have a little to do with it.) But having competition is what makes our blood pump. You might even uncover some nugget of gold that you never knew you had in you.

4. Analyze them. Do you really think they are better than you? Then instead of going and sulking in the corner, analyze them and figure out why? Do they have a better product? Better marketing? Better attitude or brand? What could you be doing better? On the other side of the coin, figure out what YOU have that they don’t. In other words, get to know them as well as you know yourself.

5. Use your competitive energy wisely. Don’t worry about keeping tabs on all your competitors. It will just eat you alive. Back to the swimming scenario—that swimmer is only concerned with the 1, 2 or 3 swimmers that are the closest to him. Trust me, he’s not worried about the guy 50 yards back just because he’s in the same pool.

This applies to small jewelry stores and large mega-corporations. Remember truly understanding what your competition means to you could be the difference between the survival or demise of your business.

Want more? Here’s a great article on this very topic. Among the many great lines is this: “Truth is, we succeed or fail in business largely due to our attitude and character, than on circumstances.”

By Trish McCabe Rawls

Is the San Antonio economy starting to recover?

25 03 2009

I’ve seen a few clues that the San Antonio economy may be starting to recover.  Could it be true?  I’m no economic wizard, so don’t hold a gun to my head to make any promises.  But I do know that economic health greatly rests upon consumer confidence.  When people aren’t buying, the economy suffers.  It’s that simple. 

I have a close friend who works in the San Antonio real estate market.  She’s actually the buyer’s agent for one of the top producing real estate agents in San Antonio, Judy Dalyrample (an extremely nice woman, if you need an agent!).  Their office sold over $50 million dollars in homes and land in a single year when the market was at it’s peak.  That’s pretty darned impressive.

My friend has been telling me stories over the past few months about the suffering of the real estate market in San Antonio, from a real estate agent’s perspective.  Her tales included a wave agents quitting the business–agents with short careers as well as long timers who had been in for 15+ years.  I also heard about builders and developers who had laid off mass amounts of staff.  And the most telling story, I think, was the fact that my friend who basically shows all of the homes to the buyers of one of the busiest agents in town, didn’t have a whole lot to do.  She’d gotten so desperate to make a few extra bucks that she was even showing rental properties–something usually done only by agents just getting into the business since the most they usually make is $50. 

Needless to say, things were sounding pretty dire.  No surprise, though, I guess in light of the whole economic crisis.

But I was having lunch with my friend a couple of days ago and she told me that she’s all of the sudden gotten very busy!  This was  a surprise.  I did some digging, just to uncover whether this might just be a fluke.  Maybe she was showing a lot of houses and not selling.  Or maybe there was something else underlying that wasn’t necessarily a sign of a sprouting economy.

But low and behold, she revealed that she has had a sudden rash of buyers over the past month, with several homes under contract, and it looks like more coming in the future.

This was awesome news.  I honestly believe that nature and life has a way of balancing things out when they need to be balanced.  It’s a well studied phenomenon of which scientists have long been aware.  Overgrown forests are suddenly besieged with forest fire which destroys in the short term and makes room for new growth over the long term.  Disease, drought and famine will balance out the animal kingdom in the face of overpopulation.  And when financial markets are booming, something always seems to come along to level the playing field. 

We’re probably not completely through the economic crisis.  But I certainly hope that relief is in sight and that signs of a reawakening real estate market might be a predictor of good things to come.

And for what it’s worth, I went out to eat last Saturday night and was surprised to wait over two hours for a table.  It was insane.  I’ve never seen such a massive amount of people waiting to eat at a restaurant.  So there are obviously some people who are still spending on frivolous things like going out to eat.  Maybe things are starting to bounce back?  Possibly the stimulus package is starting to work? 

I certainly hope so.

What do you think?  Have you seen any signs that the economy might be starting to recover?  Are you still spending?  Or are you saving and waiting for a sure sign of recovery?

by Tracy Marlowe

The Evolution of Marketing in San Antonio

13 02 2009

It’s really been interesting to see the impact that the deflating economy has had on the marketing industry.  I’ll have to admit that, a couple of years ago when the real estate market first begun the down slide and the economy started going in the tank, I was still amazed to see that the advertising industry seemed to be remaining strong. 

In past recessions, I’d seen that as soon as the economy started to constrict, the clients started slicing and dicing our marketing budgets with no abandon.

This time around, the agency I was working at at the time, was still growing like gangbusters.  And the clients were still spending copiously.

Now I think they were all just in denial.  Because two years later, the recession has hit all businesses square in the face and the marketing industry has changed more than I have ever seen.

The good thing is that our agency is actually still growing and going strong.  Because of our business model, no brick and mortar = low overhead and less cost and more value for clients, we’re seeing more and more clients, even big clients, who are looking for a smarter way to leverage their budgets and who are happy to go with a boutique agency with senior level talent and full service with a smaller price tag.  Seems like a no brainer to me!

The other interesting trend we’ve seen is that clients are really looking for creative ways to engage their customers.  The days of soley traditional branding campaigns seem to be a thing of the past.  Not that branding is dead, mind you!  God forbid.  A strong brand is still essential. 

But as technology grows, we continue  find better ways to filter out advertising messages as we seek out our entertainment and information (think Tivo/DVR, XM Radio, Pop-up blockers, etc.), making it more difficult to get our marketing messages to the right, receptive market. 

Plus, it seems like traditional advertising just keeps getting more and more expensive and less and less effective.  These days, the best way to really reach and, more importantly, engage a clients’ customers is to catch them when they are actually in the mindset of seeking out information on your product. 

Instead of utilizing only traditional outbound marketing (i.e. advertising, trade shows, cold calling, eblasts, direct mail, etc.), clients of today’s economy must include a strong mix of inbound marketing in their marketing plans (i.e. search engine optmization, blogging–to include writing blogs as well as reading and commenting on blogs, participating in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). 

Every companies’ customers are already out on the web seeking out information on potential products and services.  Of course, you want them to find you when they do!  Not only that, but they are having conversations about those products and services.  Making commentary.  Sharing opinions.  It’s so important to know what they are saying and be prepared to participate in the conversation.

Best of all, social media and search engine optimization is way less expensive than traditional media and can be much more targeted and viral.   

As the marketing arena continues to evolve from pressures in the economy and demands by clients for more direct responses to their marketing spend, we’ll continue to see a shift towards more inbound marketing and less outbound marketing.  I have no doubt.

We saw the writing on the wall pretty early.  So our agency has luckily already jumped all over this marketing revolution for our clients and are continuing to educate ourselves everyday and stay on top of it so we can make the most of these opportunities for our clients.  It’s been exciting to see the phenomenal results we’re already getting through strategic search engine optmization as well as leveraging the blogosphere and social media for our clients. 

It’ll also be interesting to see the effect that this has long term on our industry.  Will marketers who cling to traditional methods eventually fall by the wayside?  I’m thinking, probably so. 

These are just my thoughts, but I’d love to hear from you.  What do you think of social media?  Do you think it’s just a fad?  Have you seen any big marketing shifts in the company you work for?  Do you think that social media will eventually cause traditional media to get less expensive in order to compete (one can only hope!)?  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

by Tracy Marlowe


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