Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

Apple’s market share is bigger than BMW’s or Mercedes’s or Porsche’s in the automotive market. What’s wrong with being BMW or Mercedes?
—Steve Jobs

Apple’s share of the personal computing market generally hovers around 10–15%. These numbers are described, depending on whose opinion you like, as woefully small, perennially on the verge of extinction, or fierce, heroic market penetration, perennially on the verge of breaking through. I think Mr. Jobs gets it right here when he suggests It Is What It Is—and what it is, ain’t bad. It’s a big market, and Apple’s doing fine holding steady where they are.

You may be hovering at a market share that’s a bit smaller than Apple’s, however—so today, some ideas on how you can grab your own fierce, heroic numbers.

1. Be first.

“Kelly,” you say to me, “I can’t go back and do that over. Someone was here before me.” Ah, that may be true, but think laterally. Can you be the first with a specialization, the first in a region that wasn’t covered before, the first to stand on your head while doing it? Find the way that you are first, and make sure the customers who benefit most from that, know it.

2. Be intimate.

You know all about handholding. You know about writing your own story. You know about showing off your passion for what you do. But are you getting intimate with your customers? Nearly every market has a 10% segment that’s looking for a truly personalized experience. Not only owning the shop with all the wildly expensive doggie toys they can’t resist, but calling them on Monday afternoon if a shipment comes in with the one treat you know their Pomeranian can’t resist. Asking their opinion on a new class you think they might like. Holding special, hush-hush trunk shows with the hottest doggie designers, and inviting only ten truly fanatic customers to attend. Wow the crowd that wants that intimacy and they won’t even think of going anywhere else.

3. Dust off your high-school Spanish.

Okay, if your high-school Spanish is too dusty, you may have to hire staff with more fluency (and if there’s another language that’s fast-rising in your region, please substitute with “dust off your high-school Esperanto” or whatever the case may be). Far too few companies are willing to embrace populations that are not in the majority in their area—big mistake, in my opinion, because this is a great way to go from one of a million to one in a million almost overnight. I know a therapist in my area with Spanish skills that would even make my not-at-all-fluent 11-year-old cringe, who never has a single timeslot free—because she’s the therapist in my area who has Spanish skills. Nothing makes a customer more comfortable than not having to fish for words in their second language—so use your second language if you can.

4. Go handmade.

In an era when everyone else is automating and mass producing, becoming known as the only one left doing things the old-fashioned way may have the 10% appeal you’ve been looking for. Letterpress printers, for instance, are finding that there are plenty of customers who crave the imperfections of their centuries-old craft, even in an era of nearly-free quickprinting.

5. Know more.

Maybe you’ve always been the expert in the history of garage-door-openers, Nintendo gaming systems, or furniture upholstery. Everybody loves to gab with you while use your expertise to install or repair or refurbish. How about selling the knowledge instead of the labor? Could you teach about what you know? Lecture on it? Write an e-book and sell it? One of my favorite examples of this is Pat Flynn, who might be a one of a million great architects right now except that he became the expert in passing the LEED exam and became one *in* a million, to folks who want to know what he knows about acing those exams, and don’t want to wait another minute to know it.

6. Flavor it.

Why does everyone in an industry sell only mint-flavored dental floss, or only grey computers, or only beeswax candles? Because no one thought to sell cinnamon floss, or blueberry i-books (thanks Steve, I loved mine), or pomegrante-lemon candles. People put up with Fords in “any color, as long as it’s black” for a long time, too. Maybe the time has come in your industry for a flavor, a scent, or a color revolution. Lead the way and find your 10%.

7. Go mushy.

Got a great story to tell? Have you conquered the impossible in your life? Better still, have you helped a client conquer the impossible? Can you tell it in a way that gets us slightly teary—but not too teary to dial your number? If you can get your prospects feeling for you, feeling with you, or feeling themselves wanting to be part of the story, you may have the fresh angle you need. Going mushy won’t appeal to everyone, of course, but you’re looking to dominate your own 10%. And if mushy isn’t right for you…

8. Go tacky.

Exactly how starched-shirt is your industry? Are you a lawyer, a financial advisor, an insurance agent, a rabbi? There’s a customer who can’t stand the formality and the rituals of it, and wants to work with someone who knows how to cut loose and relate to them in all their wackiness. This is why people go to Las Vegas to get married by ministers in Elvis costumes. If you’re going to go tacky, go all the way—and as with every truly unique point of distinction, be sure to let people know about it. Being a children’s dentist isn’t that unique any more, but being the first and only dentist in the state who wears a clown suit to work every day to distract and delight his patients is something that gets buzzed up.

9. Deliver.

Works for groceries, dry cleaning, and rental cars, these days. Why not for what you do? The less work the customer’s got to do, the fewer barriers to making the purchase. Bonus: Pick up.

10. Do it wrong.

Sometimes you do it wrong, and it works out right.

Spell a word wrong in your headline—to catch the attention of the sticklers. Use a color that will turn heads—pink for a bank promotion? black for Valentine’s Day? steely blue in the middle of summer?—to defy expectations. Wrinkled skirts and badly tie-dyed shirts have sold like crazy for the last five years, and how long have ripped and faded jeans been going strong? (Too long…) Could your website be so bad it’s good? Could your staff be so horrible it’s funny? (I won’t be coming to your place if you go that way, but think of the diners that trade on just such an “experience.”) If it can be well done badly… or would that be badly done, well? Well, if you can, and you can make it your own, it might be the sneakiest tactic of all.

I hope you’ve found an idea here today to put you on the path to becoming the BMW or Mercedes of your market. If this post has helped you out, please pass it along to others—and if it’s made you think of a couple of other sneaky ideas for capturing market share, let’s hear from you in the comments!


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson