“To see ourselves as others see us.”

It was the Scottish poet Robert Burns who wrote, “O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.” If you’re a business, that little dream can come true. It’s called a competitive analysis, and we can’t think of a really good reason why you shouldn‘t set about having one done.

The Small Business Encyclopedia says “A competitive analysis is a critical part of your company marketing plan. With this evaluation, you can establish what makes your product or service unique–and therefore what attributes you play up in order to attract your target market.”

Wow. That sounds like a handy thing to have, and it is. A competitive analysis will give you a complete view of your company, your competition, and your industry. It’s a chance toLeland-Russell-21st-Century-Leadership-Man-in-the-Mirror see yourselves as others see you.

It can actually be an exciting endeavor for your company or product. Finding out what your customers really think is the best opportunity for growth you may have all year.

For starters, – and it’s a great start — wouldn’t you like to know what customers and consumers think of your brand, product and industry?

Competitive analysis will also tell you attributes that are associated with your brand – good, bad and neutral – and where you fit in. Do prospects or customers think you are a laggard or a trend-setter; do they think your company is friendly or difficult?

You can learn what messages are associated with you and with your competition, and how well your messages resonate with your audience. I’ll never forget one major study that we received – it revealed that what the company had been using as our major differentiator was really not important at all to our audience. Major changes followed.

In planning your sales and crafting a message, it’s important to know what the consumer expects from your industry and what they say they are, or are not, getting. From information like this you’ll see how to differentiate yourself.

Plus, a well-researched competitive analysis can reveal some interesting, and surprising, gaps in what consumers know about you. You may think your customers are intimately familiar with every facet of your business. Some insights from a competitive analysis may show something completely different. It could be as simple as having a product line that’s remaining in the shadows or as complex as a completely misunderstood brand offering.

What’s your brand presence? Do people know your brand, understand it, and recall it easily?

How does your website stack up against the competition? What are its strengths, and weaknesses? Is it friendly, easy-to-use, inclusive? What does it “say” about you? One of the greatest flaws of most websites is that they are built inside a company and because of that the content often does not communicate what the audience needs or wants to hear. That’s easily fixed – as long as you are willing to find out if there are any issues.

And you’ll learn some things you probably don’t know. What is your value proposition; your “reason for being” as far as consumers are concerned? A competitive analysis also is a collection of usable hard facts. An analysis will compare financial stability, market share and market growth. And it can tell you about your competitions’ customers and biggest contracts.

Surprised that everyone isn’t out there right now doing competitive analysis? Most of the time it’s because ego gets in the way, and we assume we already know all about our business and our competition.

Trust us; you don’t. It is a grievous mistake to assume what people do, and do not, know and think about your business.

When you set out on the road to a competitive analysis – and you should – you must make yourself a couple of promises. First, you must be open and forthcoming with the people or company putting it together for you. Tell them the good and the bad. Don’t hedge and don’t sugarcoat. The more open and honest you are, the more you’ll benefit from the results.

Second, read the results with an open mind. If the analysis was done properly, it will be filled with good, factual information. Avoid saying things like “That can’t be true!” or some other R-rated version.

A competitive analysis, in the end, contains powerful stuff that will help your business grow. As one of our principals is fond of saying, “any data, analyzed well, will help your business grow.”

See yourself as others see you, and you’ll see a whole new picture.

© 2015 Extend Marketing


“My, what big analytics you have!”

One of the boons to marketers in today’s technological rampage is the ability to measure just about anything. Which customers responded to which tweet what time of day wearing what color shirt? Did the Facebook post reach the right demographic in the right ZIP Code before the target had Mexican food for lunch? We exaggerate, of course:analytics there’s no way to definitively know which color shirt. Yet.

Back in the olden PK days (pre-Keurig,) we could do a fair amount of targeting with traditional media, but the difference between then and today (to quote Mark Twain,) is the “difference between lightning bug and lightning.”

We are awash in information. Social media is really great because you can measure just about anything. But that’s the problem, too. Perfectly nice people get caught up in the analytics, and the numbers end up taking on a life of their own. What happens is that people lose sight of why we have analytics in the first place. Numbers for numbers sake doesn’t make sense.

Do you find that you are too busy doing the analytics to focus on the business of marketing? We’re certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t take advantage of the numbers in all their glory. And knowing how to properly use those shiny numbers can be a clear strategic advantage. Yes, analytics are a wealth of useful information, but make sure you don’t squander that wealth. It’s easy to get caught up in the how many and how often trap and lose sight of the who.

For example, you can tell if your message is reaching a large audience, but have you looked to see if it is reaching the right audience? Are your numbers matching up with the customer profile you’ve developed? (You do have a customer profile written down, right? No, the customer is not defined as “anybody who might buy our product.”)

You can spend days with all those analytics and know just about everything about the people who saw your message. However, if that’s all you’re doing, you’re just playing with numbers.

The whole purpose of analytics is to get hard data that that you can use to help your business grow. You must look for the message behind the numbers, not just at the pretty pie charts and bar graphs.

Use your analytics to measure if your message reached the right people. There may be strength in numbers, but not using analytics to benefit the growth of your business doesn’t add up.


This is not a joke. It is, instead, the best single piece of advertising either of us ever saw.

It was prominently displayed by a highway in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Why is it so effective? First, it is mercifully short. Five words. The writer was a master at communicating a world of information in as few words as possible. We immediately knew there was a place to stop up ahead. In addition, we knew that we would be able to get something to eat. And, that, if we needed to entertain our daughter, she could go look at the snake.

Did we learn what kind of food they served, the quality of the restrooms or the exact make and model of the snake? No, there was no time. The human mind can only absorb so much information at 60 miles per hour. If the advertiser had added extraneous information – like “juicy hamburgers” images-snakeor “20 foot Burmese python,” we would have missed the whole thing.

Instead, the advertiser gave us the essence of the message. It was just the right amount of information to help us make a buying decision. We’ll also point out that the message did a masterful job of prequalifying buyers. It immediately eliminated people who didn’t need to stop, weren’t hungry, or weren’t big fans of snakes, large or small.

Many advertisers fall into the trap telling the consumer more than they need to know to make a buying decision. Or, sometimes worse, they load up the communications with too much stuff. We don’t need to know when you were founded, your hours on Christmas Day, your association memberships or see a picture of your dog. Just give us a compelling reason to begin making a buying decision. You might tell us, for example, what you’re selling and how your product or service might relate to us. Once we know that we’ll find you.

And you can keep the snake.


The Industry Experience Myth

“But do you have any experience in my particular industry?”

experience-leadersWe may not.

And that’s the good news.

Because we don’t have any experience in your industry — but have a whole lot of experience marketing everything from staffing services to air freight and chocolate candy – we are the most qualified to help you.

Anybody who sells marketing services – whether they are marketing resource companies like us or ad agencies or consultants or whatever else – has heard the specific experience question. There is the feeling among clients that specific experience equals greater success. The fact is, it ain’t necessarily so.

Here’s why.

The “no experience” card is repeatedly played by well-meaning people. The thinking goes that specific industry experience – say, “insurance,” or “quarter turn ball valves” – is the price of admission to be considered for a project or account. The opposite is often true.

The basics of marketing are the same regardless of your business. We know, your business is different. But the dirty little secret is that the company exporting banana pudding to Luxemburg has the same marketing needs as the outfit with the killer app that keeps track of your Schnauzer. The products are different, but the goals will be remarkably similar and the basic techniques to reach the goals will look familiar.

Look for new, fresh, innovative ideas based on sound marketing principles. Don’t shut out enlightened experience and thinking just because the nice people across the table didn’t get their feet wet on your factory floor.


Consultant or resource: which is which?

Elzy Wright is famous for saying that “a Consultant (or expert) is anybody with a briefcase who is more than 50 miles from home.”

Funny. And sometimes true. We’ve certainly serve as consultants to some of our clients; and, yes, some of those clients are more than 50 miles from Atlanta. And to be perfectly honest, we both own briefcases, although one looks amazingly like a backpack.

We have nothing but respect for consultants, no matter their field of expertise. People who know what they’re talking about can be an invaluable part of a company’s growth.

But there is another category of expert, and knowing the difference between the two can be a big step toward company growth and your profitability. We’re talking about the “resource.” Put bluntly, sometimes you don’t need to be told what to do; you already know that. What you need is somebody to do it, somebody to execute programs to meet specific goals. That’s what a resource is for.

A client of ours didn’t need to be told he needed a company-wide meeting for all employees. What he needed was for someone to plan and execute the event.

A client with a full range of marketing skills on hand needed a presentation to an important constituency. What should she say? Who would write it? Enter the marketing resource.

A highly experienced marketing resource (yes, like a highly experienced consultant,) can end up saving money, loads of time, and you’ll end up with a better product. The best way to pick a resource is to look for someone who has boots-on-the-ground experience in the area where you need help.

Don’t be put off by the “but these people worked only for big companies” prejudice. That means they have the experience and the knowledge.

Sometimes you’ll need the wise counsel of consultants; sometimes you’ll need the hands-on skills of a marketing resource. And you’ll benefit from knowing the difference.


Two questions to ask yourself about your next presentation.


If you want your next presentation to be a home run, here are the questions you must ask. Then you must be prepared to act on your answers.

Question one: (This is the hard one, because you must work on the answer until you get it down to one sentence.) “What do you want to happen when the presentation is over?” Sometimes the answer is easy. “We want them to give us the business on the spot.” Maybe it’s, “We want open weeping in the audience while they clamor to make sizeable donations than exceed our wildest dreams.” “We want the audience to be aware of the rapid decrease in sales.”

You presentation will be better the more specific you can be. Once you answer question one, then you can begin to target your presentation to meet your goal.

Question two has two related parts: “Who is the audience, and what do they want to hear?” Once again, be specific. If the audience is 200 salespeople who are between the ages of 30 and 50 and are having trouble meeting their quotas, write that down. If they want to hear that there is a new incentive program, or that the sales forecast is for a 20% increase of market share, then lay that out.

The less you know about the audience, the mushier your presentation.

As you ponder question two, remember the lowly lawnmower. Millions of lawnmowers are sold every year, but nobody buys lawnmowers. Instead, people buy short grass. What’s the short grass?

Finally, here is a universal truth that is sadly ignored far too often: the PowerPoint or whatever other nifty technology you use is not your presentation. You are the presentation. Graphic support, or slide support, or whatever you want to call it, is just that: support. I’m taking nothing away from PowerPoint, its sisters, brothers, offsprings and close friends. The proper use of technology, scribing, interactive media, audience participation and other keen techniques can make your presentation one that will literally never be forgotten. (This does not include the audience members who didn’t want to be in there in the first place. Disappearing elephants won’t get them to pay attention.)

“But,” you exclaim, “all I have is my laptop, PowerPoint and a time slot just before the cocktail party. What do I do?”

That’s not an easy question to answer. There are a lot of supposed easy answers you’ll see in posts on “Ten Sure-Fire Steps to a Winning Presentation,” but the reality is effective presentations take a lot of work. If you take shortcuts, it’ll show. Every single time. If you’re speaking to a critically important audience, you might consider getting some help from a professional.

However, if you can’t use a pro, here’s a way to develop a presentation that will do the job.

Honestly and completely answer the two questions above. This, alone, is a giant step forward. Then do this:

Write out word-for-word what you want to tell the audience. Then read that out loud and make corrections.

Take that narrative you have written and outline it. All you want is a numbered list of key points.

Take those points and make one slide for each point. Make the type nice and big, put it on a colored background, and don’t use more than 9 words per slide. If you have relevant photographs, use them, but don’t cover up the type. Charts and graphs can be a problem. If you must use them, make them simple, and, even then, use them sparingly.

Rehearse your presentation over and over until you’re sick of it and your delivery is as natural as telling a teenager they can’t borrow the Porsche for the high school prom.

Keep it under 12 minutes, smile, and you’ll be fine.

(c) 2015 Extend Marketing