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Marketing is Your Last Step

It was my first day at a new job and I walked in, quite literally, to phones that were ringing off the hook. Curious, I approached the area where a pair of receptionists, who, as pleasant as could be, were fighting a losing game of whack-a-mole with the blinking red lights on their consoles. When I asked why today had such a high call volume, they told me “It’s always like this.”

If job security had a ringtone, I had a lot of it.

However, as awesome as that was, this company wasn’t ready to handle the results of their marketing. Their team had executed a focused strategy to get their name out and it worked.

Focus on Operations First

But little attention had been paid to the infrastructure and operations necessary to handle things like call volume or adequate parking. Even more broadly, no one had considered how mundane things like poorly-designed forms or long phone wait times can undo months — and in this case years — of strategic marketing. 

When your prospective customer finally picks up the phone or fills out the contact form on your website, you must be ready to follow through on your promises. Jimmy John’s couldn’t promise “Freaky Fast Delivery” without putting in place everything possible to guarantee that delivery is, in fact, freaky fast. 

Marketing Comes Last

In other words, what many people don’t realize is that operations is the first step to effective marketing. At MJM, we take that even further. To us, operations is marketing and well-designed operations lead to a stellar patient experience that, in turn, leads to word-of-mouth referrals. Only once those things are in place should full-scale marketing efforts be launched. 

That was a welcome mindset for the receptionists whack-a-moling their way through phone call after phone call. I paused the company’s marketing that very day so we could focus on operations for a time. When we restarted our marketing plan a few months later, the phones were still ringing with one notable exception: we’d gotten better at handling our call volume.

And just about everything else we did. 

Q&A: Giving Great Feedback on Creative Work

There’s a mock-up of an event invitation in your inbox.

Can you give feedback? your co-worker asked. 

You’d love to, but everyone knows that good feedback is more than chiming in with your two cents. It’s thoughtful and keeps both your organization and your audience in mind. Plus, your thoughts have to be communicated to the designer.

How do you accomplish all that without taking up your whole day?

The next time you’re asked to offer feedback, use these tips from MJM’s Abby Rogers. She’s worked on both sides of graphic design — first as a designer and now as an account executive —, making her the perfect teacher to help you evaluate mock-ups. She answers the questions we all ask when the invitation (or brochure or digital ad) lands in our inbox.  

What should we look for first?

A focal point and a hierarchy throughout. There has to be someplace for your eye to focus first and travel a logical path. Varying sizes and thicknesses also help give visual cues for where to start so you get the story in the right order. 

To test this, pay close attention to where your eye goes first, second, third. Something’s wrong if what you’re drawn to most is the disclaimer at the bottom.

Anything else?

Even when it seems obvious, there should always be a clear call to action. Tell readers what you want them to do next — call, sign-up, RSVP — and make sure you’ve given them the tools to do it. 

What shouldn’t be there?

Chaos. Thick headings, italics, bold, intricate graphic elements — it’s too much all at once. Good design should feature only a handful of elements. 

Large blocks of text also should be checked carefully. They aren’t likely to be read, and harsh as it may sound, can contain details that only matter to you and not to your reader. Trim whenever possible. 

How do you keep the end product in mind?

As much as possible, assess mock-ups in their final format. If it’s digital, view it on your phone and computer screen. If it’s paper, print it out, cut it to size, and fold it as needed. For print projects, consider if your audience will be impressed or annoyed by complicated folds or fasteners.

That’s not to say things can’t be fun and artistic, but make sure it carries the main message and is the best method for those who will receive it. 

Repetition can be a good thing. What’s worth repeating?

I’d say the benefits and the call to action. The rest can be on your landing page or in a brochure. 

What common mistakes do you see?

Typos! You can spend a ton of time on an awesome piece, but if there’s a typo, the only thing that’s remembered is what was wrong. You can’t proofread too much.

What’s one thing we need to be reminded of?

White space is your friend! It keeps your reader from getting overwhelmed. Leaving white space doesn’t mean you haven’t spent your money well. It means you’ve been considerate of your audience.

Anything else?

Two things. Look for brand consistency. It’s tempting to introduce new colors and images, but, even though you’re sometimes worn out on your palette, your audience doesn’t see it often enough to get tired of it. Your brand is like a capsule wardrobe; its pieces are designed to look nice together.

Second, your logo doesn’t always have to be the main, hero image. Sometimes you need another hook to peak a reader’s interest.

Know someone who will use these tips? Share this post!

Level Up Your Writing With Contrast

While there are many ways to communicate — speaking, dancing, singing, painting, and even non-verbal communication — writing remains the most elegant and valuable form for individuals to master. A well-written paragraph can sell your product, launch your brand, or galvanize your followers.

Powerful writing creates movement.

But what elevates writing from mediocre to good? One simple approach can help you write better regardless the medium. Social media, brochures, brand narratives, web copy — you’ll write with more power when you amplify contrast.

Classic literature uses contrast to great effect, creating power and momentum. Good versus evil. Angels versus demons. Weak versus strong. Our most famous stories, movies, comics, superheroes, and heroic rescues all use contrast to connect the reader with the story.

Businesses can also use contrast to connect audiences to their social media posts, brochures, websites, and anything else they write. Here are some examples:

Heroes versus Villains

In your business space, who is the hero and who is the villain? Don’t be afraid to employ contrast and paint a picture for your customers about good vs. evil. You can find villains all around your business: competitors, market forces, cultural frustrations, impossible challenges. Find the force that pushes against your company and create contrast with your product or service.

Future Glory versus Future Pain

Great business writing isn’t shy about painting a detailed picture of a glorious future that includes your product or service… and how dismal the future will be without it. A little drama makes the customer’s choice clear.

Pain Point versus Product Benefit

Whatever your business or service, you likely have created a list of customer pain points and product features and benefits. Don’t be afraid to bring these together! Find tension and contrast between these two lists and use it to strengthen the power of your message.

Now versus Later

There is power in immediacy, in acting now rather than later. Use your writing to amplify the value of acting now instead of putting off decisions about your product or service.

Take this lesson from generations of authors and use it to improve your business writing. The difference between good writing and mediocre writing is that good writing employs contrast. Mediocre writing is bland and boring.

So don’t be lukewarm! Be hot, or cold, or better yet, stage a battle between the frozen arctic wind and the sweltering tropical sunshine.

Need help with your communication? Contact the expert team at Matt Jensen Marketing!

Your Five-Minute Communication Workshop 

During college, I always knew the school year was winding down thanks to the gaggle of seniors lined up outside my dorm room door. A dazzling resume was the first step to them landing choice jobs after graduation and rumor had it I could help.

One after another, they’d shuffle in and ask me to improve the drafts they’d printed on linen paper. All of them echoed the same refrain: “I’m horrible at this!”

Truth was, some of them truly were horrible at it, but it took years to dawn on me that communicating well is a vital life skill — one that I should have taught to my collegiate colleagues instead of letting them lounge in my bean bag chair while I worked.

Decades later, I still hear, “I’m horrible at this!” Twice just this morning, in fact. The reality is, being a poor communicator was less of a problem in 2001 than it is today. On top of resumes, we build social media profiles and compose posts, send dozens of emails, text at all hours, and coordinate our professional lives through Slack. Competent communication has morphed from nice-but-not-necessary into an expected part of daily life.

So, in the spirit of graduation season and better communication, here’s what I should have told those college seniors all those years ago:

Start with the Musts

Before you begin fleshing out full sentences or dream up a catchy line, type the details you can’t afford to leave out. A date, a time, the location, a project description, an attachment — this is the required information you’ll look silly for forgetting, so get it down first. Basic and simple will do here.

Get to the Point

Story arcs that build toward a climax and descend into a happy resolution work well in books and on the big screen; however, professionals can simply state their point and follow it with vital details as needed. Giving your readers what they’re skimming for as quickly as possible increases your communication’s effectiveness.

Don’t Over-Explain

Your client doesn’t need to know every type of card stock on the market or the minutiae of your rigorous seven-point testing process; they just need to know about the two most relevant to their project. Don’t make your reader wade through an abundance of details to find the most relevant information. You’ll do it for them when you only include what’s most pertinent.

Reread

We know it’s tempting to skip a reread; however, a second pass is always worth it. While scouring for obvious errors, also be attuned to missing words. In the digital age, we’re master skim readers to the point that our minds automatically fill in blanks.

Challenge Yourself

Hunt for phrases or sentences that clutter up your writing and cut them. “Here are the proofs you requested” is cleaner than “Per our discussion on Thursday afternoon, I’m sending along the proofs you asked me to update for you.” Cutting back can become a fun and addicting game. (Yes, really.) For an even better challenge, add contrast to your writing.

Tread Lightly on Humor

Levity is always welcome. However, without eye contact and body language to play off of, be cautious about using humor in written communications. That said, do let your personality shine through. Just make sure it’s appropriate to your audience.

Communicating well is worth the effort. You’ll rarely post or email a masterpiece, but you can always be clear, concise, and easily understood.

Need help with your communication? Contact the expert team at Matt Jensen Marketing!

You Already Have the Data to Understand Your Customers

Apple’s new privacy updates are great for consumers, but they’ve left businesses worried about how to effectively target advertising. But don’t fret — chances are you already have access to a wealth of information about your customers right at your fingertips. Here are a few ways to unearth it:

Check Your Demographics

Basic data is still extremely valuable if you know how to interpret it. Anonymous information like age, gender, and device type is still compiled through Google Analytics, social media channels, and even email services like Mailchimp. It may not seem like much to go on, but with a little imagination, this data can be very useful.

For example, you may learn that the majority of your users are women aged 34 to 45 using mobile devices. This likely means that a large portion of your audience is busy moms on-the-go who are more likely to watch a 30-second video than they are to read a 1,000-word blog post. Once you’ve put a face to your audience, it becomes much easier to extrapolate what their problems are and how they go about solving them.

Be sure to check your demographics for each platform as it’s likely they’ll vary. Noticing that your email list subscribers are aged 45+ and that your Instagram followers are largely 18 to 25 is information you can’t afford to ignore. It’s a golden opportunity to adjust your tone and messaging to suit each audience.

Review Your Search Terms

Search terms can be a gold mine into figuring out what is going through customer’s minds and they are easier to get than you may think. There two types of search terms, each with their own valuable insights.

You can use Google Search Console to see what terms or phrases people are typing into a search engine to reach your website. Google Analytics, on the other hand, can be configured to give you a list of what people are searching for once they are actually on your website. Think of these terms as a free gift — people are telling you exactly what it is they’re looking for.

You can also use Google Trends to take a look at what search terms are trending in your region or across the globe. You may discover that people are asking a question that you have an answer for, so you can now make it your mission to let them know.

Talk To Your People

Data is a powerful tool, but nothing beats a boots-on-the-ground approach. If your business model allows you to interact with customers, do it! You don’t need to be pushy, but sincere curiosity can lead to valuable insights.

Even if the topic of conversation has nothing to do with the business itself, learning more about your customers’ daily lives can help you build empathy so that you can make your messaging more relatable. You don’t need to track people’s phones to find out what their favorite restaurant is or where they like to shop — if you engage with them openly and honestly, they will probably tell you themselves.

And even if you don’t deal directly with customers, someone on your team does. Your front desk and phone teams have the most direct interactions with your customers and they probably already have a list of common pain points as well as a general sense of what your customer’s lives are like. So don’t forget to ask them about it!

Conduct Formal Surveys

The old standbys of marketing research, consumer surveys do still have a place in the modern world. Depending on your scale and resources, this may be as simple as an online form or as sophisticated as an in-person focus group.

In order to get the most value from these tools though, you need to keep in mind that people are more willing to share surface-level feedback than their true feelings and opinions. A good survey will be able to dig into the why behind their feelings. That is the information you need to make sure your business is actually solving their problems.

So now that you’ve gathered the data, what do you with it? Create user personas! User personas are amalgamations of your average customers: their likes, dislikes, challenges, and needs. And now that you are armed with your customer research, the process will be much easier. Learn more about personas (and how to use them) in this post.

And if you need help along the way, Matt Jensen Marketing is here to be your guide. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you define and reach your desired audience.

Save Time, Dollars, and Guesses with Customer Personas

There are plenty of marketing strategies that aren’t worth the time, dollars, or guesswork.

Building customer personas isn’t one of them.

The vast reach of social media and the web in general can be a siren song to many marketers and business leaders — it seems logical that the more people who see and hear your message, the better.

But the reality is, blanketing your message to large groups that only meet your basic demographics is diluting the message for your true prospects and wasting it on people who never were your prospects in the first place.

Enter the customer persona. A well-researched one will lessen your workload and target your marketing dollars toward your best prospects.

Personas also help you empathize with your customers. It’s easy to only think about what your business wants from those who use your products and services without considering what they need from your business. Increasingly, consumers are seeking companies they trust. One way to build trust? Empathy. One way to empathize with your customers? Personas.

What exactly is a persona?

A persona is a fictitious character who represents a group of real customers with common traits. Creating a persona is much like a novelist creating the heroine for his next bestseller. Except in this case, instead of using your imagination, you’ll draw from research. This can include surveys, data analysis, and demographics.

However, since data points can’t be marketed to, personas must also include details about customer attitudes, beliefs, goals, and motivations. It’s not enough to know that most cataract patients are in their late 60s to early 70s and are 60% female. You need to note that on the day of their surgery they’re likely to clear their calendar, dress a little nicer, arrive with plenty of extra time, and feel nervous.

A persona is useless unless it gives insight into what your customers are thinking, feeling, and doing while they try to meet their needs. That’s the information you need in order to see how best to help them succeed.

How do you build a persona?

Like many things, there’s no one right way to create a customer persona; however, at MJM we recommend these steps to our clients who are just starting out.

Step 1

Gather your customer data. This likely begins with basic demographic information. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to glean that data from your Google Analytics and website logs. This will give you a base you can use to build your persona. Demographic data largely reinforces what you already know so use it only to begin seeking insights you may not already have.

Step 2

Identify customers you can talk to and ask them lots of questions. MJM strongly recommends gathering as much firsthand insight as possible. The only way to truly do that is to take the time to talk (and listen!) to your customers. You may even consider specifically seeking out those whose experience was less than ideal as their assessment can point out gaps in service your satisfied customers may overlook.

Step 3

Group customers and look for patterns. Find similar responses and traits from the customers you’ve spoken to and build a persona around them. Highlight the beliefs, goals, and frustrations that bring this group to life. Give your fictitious customer a name or title and attach a photo to make the character memorable and more realistic.

Have fun with this! Some of our clients have found that they enjoy the process and when it’s done, they’re relieved to have that “person” to return to time and again to make wise marketing decisions.

The MJM team loves personas! And we’d love to help you with yours. Download our starter worksheet or contact us for a consultation.

Social Media Tools & Trends You Can DIY (and Ones You Shouldn’t)

Show of hands: keeping up with social media trends comes naturally to you and you eagerly anticipate the next round of updates for Instagram and Facebook? Ok, got it. The two of you who raised your hands can put them down now.

Whether you’re a step away from #influencer status or the thought of adjusting to yet another app feature is just not in your mental budget, social media takes time and effort to make it work for your organization.

Some of the upcoming privacy changes from Apple and Google are expected to limit social media’s targeted reach, even so, it’s likely that your business still needs a presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and depending on your audience, Twitter or Tiktok.  Knowing that, the question becomes “how much can you manage social on your own and how much do you need a pro to help with?” Let us help you think it through:

Strategy

First, you need to decide how active your business needs to be on social. Some of the businesses MJM works with have only a basic social media presence. They know their audience is active elsewhere and invest accordingly.

When to DIY it: If you plan to keep things simple and small, DIY is likely the way to go. Organizations that only plan to utilize organic posts and basic tools can successfully manage their social accounts. Not all businesses need a full scale social media marketing strategy.

When to take it to the pros: The social media landscape changes fast. That’s been especially true this year as we tried to stay home and stay connected at the same time. New features and algorithm updates  are constantly changing how people use social apps and affect how well your posts perform. It takes a lot of time to stay on top of it all, so if social media is a big piece of your marketing puzzle, you may want to consult a professional for some or all of your needs.

Post Scheduling

Social media scheduling tools have improved drastically over the past decade. Facebook has offered post scheduling for a long time, now it’s available for both Facebook and Instagram through Facebook Business Suite (find it through “Publishing Tools”). If you’re going to schedule two or more posts per month, we recommend a third-party tool like  Social Pilot, SmarterQueue, or countless others that can help you set it and forget it. These tools can let you preview how a post might look and schedule ahead on multiple accounts — including Twitter.

When to DIY it: Scheduling tools are great for predictable events like holidays, for managing promotions, or evergreen branded content. Keep in mind you’ll need to stay on top of spontaneous happenings in your organization and the world,  i.e. the posts you scheduled featuring images of people shaking hands pre-pandemic needed to be updated once COVID started altering in-person interactions.

When to take it to the pros: Strategizing, writing, taking photos, and scheduling takes longer than you might think. Consider outsourcing your content calendar or getting a photographer to create a bank of photos for your organization. Additionally, most schedulers don’t have the capability to utilize all of Facebook or Instagram’s features: stories, events, live videos, IGTV, and more. If you want to promote multiple campaigns or simply don’t have the bandwidth, consider an external social manager.

Tip: The last social campaign MJM ran for a client showed that 80% of views were on a mobile device. Set up your posts with phone screens in mind and be sure to click the mobile preview to ensure that they look good and that your most important information is visible.

Graphics

Your organization should feel as professional in the digital space as you are in person. However, perfectly composed stock photos or graphics for every post could make your feed look overly produced and less authentic. Finding the right balance is key!

When to DIY it: Your smartphone camera, a Lightroom preset or filter,  and an eye for lighting can go a long way to producing your own sharable photos and videos. Stock images abound online, too. Plus apps like Canva or InShot are making it easy to add text to images or create simple graphics. Canva even lets you create and use custom templates so you’ll stand out from others using the same app.

When to take it to the pros: You’ve seen those instagram feeds with clever grid layouts? Simple strategies — like always using a border or alternating posts — are simple to DIY, but the more complex ones are better suited to someone with layout software (hey, that could be you too!). A designer can help you strategize or even develop templates that are custom to your business.

Staying active on social media is an effective way to extend your brand and reach your customers and potential customers right where they are. When managing your accounts becomes an afterthought, it’s time to consider turning to the experts to make it easier with templates, calendars, posting strategies, and more.

Contact MJM to discuss your needs and, in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. “I don’t want to be responsible for thinking up content” is  a perfectly legit goal. We hear it all the time, and we can help.

(Maybe more than your nearest tween.)

Account Hacked? Here’s What To Do

Many of us already know the feeling and those who don’t are likely to one day experience it. We’re talking about the gut-wrenching feeling that comes when you’re trying to post on social media for work, but the password that opened Facebook and Instagram the day before is rejected today. Instead of seeing the normal dashboard, you see some variation of an error message and a red-lettered warning. And then, as if that isn’t bad enough, you see someone else is posting or running ads on your accounts with your credit card!

For most people, there’s a  carefully-crafted four-step process for such emergencies:

  • Step 1: Panic
  • Step 2: Spread anxiety to your team
  • Step 3: Think only of worst-case scenarios
  • Step 4: Abandon social media completely

Even though Step 4 is very appealing at times like these, social media is a vital communications tool for any organization. So you can’t quit it altogether. And you can’t get kicked out, even for 24 hours, because that can blow a marketing strategy.

So let’s start with a few basic don’ts, all meant to protect your business’ social accounts from being hacked in the first place.

  • Don’t be (password) weak: We’ve all rolled our eyes when we’re creating a new account and we’re told our password of choice is “weak.”  As annoying as that is, it’s not nearly as bad as the alternative of getting hacked. So go to the work of picking strong passwords (which is a euphemism for long passwords) and avoid reusing them for other accounts. Your best bet is to use a password manager and make a plan to change your passwords at a minimum annually.
  • Don’t skip two-factor authentication: Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of security that kicks in when a new device accesses your account. The new login triggers a code, usually sent to your mobile phone, that must be entered to gain access. Without the code, illegitimate users can’t gain access.
  • Don’t allow everyone access: Limit the number of team members with the login info to two or three. With limited users you can more easily pinpoint problems, and it’s easier to keep everyone abreast of updates, changes, and new features. MJM recommends at least two users so that there’s always a back-up. Users should also carefully guard their personal accounts. More on why in the next section.
  • Don’t access work accounts using public wi-fi: As elementary as this seems, it’s a worthwhile reminder in the current mobile and virtual work settings we often find ourselves in.

Putting all of those guardrails in place is no guarantee though. Unfortunately, it’s probably not possible to be 100% secure, but it is possible to be secure enough to make it more trouble than it’s worth to get into your accounts.

If your account does get hacked, here’s what we recommend:

  • Act urgently: This is no time to wait and see or to hope for the best. If possible, change your account passwords right away. A hacked account requires your full and immediate attention.
  • Identify the problem: This can be tricky and time consuming; however, if you’ve limited administrators to just a handful, that should cut down on variables. The most common issue MJM’s team has seen is that an administrator’s personal account is compromised, and it’s affecting the business account they’re attached to. Checking in on your administrators’ personal accounts is a good place to start.
  • Revoke access: If possible, have those with administrative access evaluate third-party apps for suspicious activity and revoke access when appropriate. Likewise, take a look at the other accounts your profile/page interacts with. Are they all legitimate accounts? Delete those that look suspicious or are unknown to you.
  • Get help: Facebook and Instagram both provide  instructions on their sites that will walk you through the necessary steps for accessing your account. You’ll probably have to start by logging out, and then clicking the “get help logging in” or “reset password” options.
  • Report your own profile: If the process is moving slow, consider reporting your own profile. Most likely, you’ll be locked out of your account for 12-24 hours while it’s investigated, but it will also lock out the hacker so that further damage isn’t done while you work to recover access.

At its best, social media is a wonderful tool for business. It’s affordable, generally easy to navigate, and can reach a lot of people at once. There’s no need for it to cause you a DEFCOM 5 level of panic, and if it does, contact the experts at Matt Jensen Marketing for help. We’ll make you a posting pro in less time than it takes to scroll Instagram’s latest filters.

Nonprofit Marketing: 4 Tools that Offer Discounts

When you’re a nonprofit, every cent can truly make a difference. At Matt Jensen Marketing, we’ve discovered a lot of tricks over the years to help nonprofits develop lean and efficient marketing systems that can deliver high-impact messages while keeping operating costs low. Here are a few of our favorite services that offer special rates and features for qualifying 501(c)3s and why you should be using them.

Source: Canva

Canva

Nonprofit employees usually wear a lot of hats, designer and social media guru often among them. If you are struggling to fill your feed with consistent, on-brand messaging, Canva may be the solution. Canva is an easy-to-use design platform that allows you to create custom graphics for social media in a matter of minutes. You can even use it to create print pieces like newsletters and brochures.

While a light version of Canva is available for free, qualifying nonprofits can apply to upgrade to the premium version at no cost. The huge benefit of this is the ability to use Canva’s Brand Kit, which allows you to save your brand logos, fonts, and colors so you can easily apply them to any design. You can also create templates for your team to have at-the-ready. Learn more about Canva for nonprofits here.

Source: Shopify

Shopify

Donors love the ease of being able to give online, but those transaction fees can really add up. Enter Shopify.

Shopify is traditionally known as an e-commerce platform, but they can also make it simple for you to process donations and even sell merchandise. Their drag-and-drop builder also allows you to easily update your website content and share your story, no coding experience necessary. Learn more about how to apply for Shopify’s discounted nonprofit rates here.

Source: Constant Contact

Constant Contact

Emails are the bread-and-butter of most nonprofit communications, so it’s important that they represent your mission well. Using a premium email marketing service like Constant Contact can help you put your best foot forward.

Constant Contact offers a 20–30% discount for qualifying nonprofits and includes an easy-to-use email builder as well as event sign-ups, polls, and other useful tools. They also make it easier to organize your mailing list and send targeted messages to specific segments.

Bonus Tip: If you’re using Shopify, you can integrate it with your Constant Contact account for seamless functionality.

Source: Google

G Suite

You probably need no introduction to Google. But did you know that they offer discounts on their services for qualifying non-profits? With G Suite for nonprofits, you can set up email accounts with your domain name, making them look more professional and less likely to get trapped in spam filters.

You’ll also get more storage in Google Drive than you would with a typical free Gmail account, allowing you to create templated documents and presentations that you can easily share among your team. On top of G Suite, Google also offers nonprofit discounts and grants for Google Ads, YouTube, and Google Maps. Learn about all of Google’s nonprofit tools here.

If all of this information is still making your head spin, Matt Jensen Marketing is here to help! We have experience working with nonprofits both big and small and can provide the guidance and training your team needs to start marketing your nonprofit like a pro. Contact us to get started.

Pinpointing the Competition Starts With Your Customers

Scoping out your competitors is to business what a flashlight is to hiking in the dark.

In a word, it’s essential.

However, selecting which competitors you’ll keep tabs on can also be overwhelming. A Google search can bring back hundreds of businesses similar to yours, making it hard to choose which to watch and which to ignore. Even companies with seemingly obvious competitors can overlook valuable data if they don’t have a solid approach to pinpointing who their competition really is.

If we’ve learned anything about competitor research at MJM, it’s this: begin with a thorough profile of your ideal customer. Why? Because understanding your customers’ values and mindset will lead straight to the places where they spend their time and dollars.

As you build customer profiles, keep in mind that consumers are often buying experiences, identities, or even aspirations more than they’re buying goods and services. Gym membership, anybody? Many of the other companies that your ideal customers do business with are your competitors even though they may occupy different spaces. A restaurant and a clothing boutique are markedly different, but because both vie for the same slice of a consumer’s household budget — in this case, disposable income — they become competitors.

This isn’t to say that if you’re trying to market your dental practice you shouldn’t monitor other practices. You should do that, too.

Here are a few tips for selecting your direct competitors:

  • Google search. We panned it at the beginning of this article, but here’s how to get it right. Instead of searching “dentists in Orlando,” which will bring back too many results, search your own business instead. Then, look at the four or five results that surround it. For comparison’s sake, you should search your version of “dentists in Orlando” to see how you rank among the larger pool of similar businesses, but when it comes to those you really want to dig into, keep it to the few who lead the search results when you search your specific business by name.
  • Old-fashioned sleuthing. Not all your research has to be digital. Local and national magazines cater to specific demographics. Find one that reaches yours and flip through it. Who’s advertising in it? Likewise, billboard and outdoor advertising in the part of town your customers frequent or the commercials during television shows, podcasts, or radio programs they prefer are good places to pay attention. This includes both over the air and streaming platforms.
  • Just ask. Being direct always yields results. Draft a survey or, if possible, talk to your customers in person about the other companies they do business with. Asking for their preferences takes out the guesswork, but be sure to approach your interview so that customers give their honest feedback rather than what fits your agenda.
  • Use digital tools and platforms. Google offers competitor analysis tools that show which companies compete most with your content on search engines. Facebook has rolled out a similar program, and if you pay for digital ads, there are plenty of tools to gauge how much traction you’re getting among your competitors.

Pinpointing a few competitors to monitor is essential, but being overwhelmed by it isn’t. Implementing just a few of the tips above will have you reaping the benefits in no time.

To get you started on your customer profile, we’ve compiled a report on how the pandemic has influenced consumer behavior. Download yours: