Small Business Marketing

The Courage to Brand

By Steve Cuno
Feb 18, 2014 • 3 min read
Table of Contents

      A financial services client told me that her company was best suited to businesses with 100 or fewer employees. But she blanched when I suggested positioning it that way. “If I do,” she protested, “my competitors will position themselves for larger companies, and I’ll lose that business.”

      Exactly. Branding is as much about who your customers aren’t as who they are.

      Solid brands do not try to be all things to all people. That is why BMW doesn’t worry about competing in the Ford Fiesta market and Burger King has yet to put caviar on the menu board.

      All marketers understand that. Putting it into practice is another matter. Even with nothing but round holes to fill, leaving square pegs to competitors simply goes against the grain.

      Financial institutions (herein “banks”) can be particularly squeamish about that. Just look at the number of banks that target everyone, which is the same as targeting no one, with gems like “We’re friendly,” “For all your banking needs,” and “It’s all about you.”

      It’s not unusual for a bank to earn a profit or to reach breakeven on only 10 percent of its customers. In that case, trying to be everyone’s bank wastes 90 cents of every marketing dollar spent. Yet if you refocus your marketing on the 10 percent, and on prospects who resemble them, you stand to increase effectiveness tenfold. Without adding to your budget.

      For those wary of immersion, permit me to suggest a toe in the water. Next time you’re looking to increase share of wallet among existing clients, sort them into groups. Place into Group 1 profitable clients who, to the best of your knowledge, give you all of their business. Into Group 2 place profitable clients who give you a good deal of their business but could give you a good deal more. Place breakeven clients into Group 3, and place unprofitable ones into Group 4.

      Now let’s allocate your budget, which, for the sake of argument, I shall assume isn’t unlimited. On which group should you spend the largest slice? If you said Group 1, you were almost right. By definition, Group 1 cannot become more profitable. Your goal is to retain, not grow them. Client retention strategies are generally less costly than client growth strategies, so spend your second biggest budget slice on Group 1.

      Reserve the largest slice for profitable clients with the potential to grow, that is, Group 2. Get to know them. Visit them, call them, mail to them, send them email. Offer them deals, incentives, and privileges. Proactively seek opportunities to be of use to them. Persist. Make it worth their while to give you more of their business. (Do not worry about too-frequent contact. Though that may be a legitimate concern, more often it is used as a convenient excuse for doing too little.)

      If a few dollars remain, you can spend them on infrequent touches directed at Group 3 in hopes of nudging a few of them toward Group 2.

      Chances are most of your clients fall into Group 4. These you can pretty much leave alone. You should welcome this idea, because effective targeting of large groups is costly, and you already lose enough money on Group 4. Spend that money on Groups 2 and 1, where it’s likely to do you the most good.

      When you reach out to viable customers and cease reaching out to nonviable ones, you strengthen your brand and increase the profitability of your marketing. All it takes is a little common sense … and a dash of courage.

      Steve Cuno
      About the author
      Steve Cuno

      Steve Cuno is the founder of the RESPONSE Agency, a 20-year-old marketing firm in Salt Lake City. He has been a featured speaker of the American Advertising Federation, Direct Marketing Association, American Bankers Association, National Postal Forum, James Randi Educational Foundation and others. Steve is the author of the books Prove It Before You Promote It and The RESPONSE Agency Guide to Direct Mail, and of over 100 of articles appearing in DirectMarketingIQ, Deliver Magazine, Adnews, and other publications. (Always one for variety, Steve is also the as-told-to author of Joanne Hanks’ book It’s Not About the Sex My A**: Confessions of an Ex-Mormon Ex-Polygamist Ex-Wife.) In his spare time, he enjoys forcing people to look at photos of his grandchildren. He invites you to contact him at [email protected].

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