I recently had the opportunity to go on a wine tour when I was in Seattle. After doing a little internet research, I found two companies that would pick me up in Seattle, take me to the Woodinville area to sample some wine, and then drop me off back at my hotel. These companies were Bon Vivant Wine Tours and Evergreen Escapes. I wrote them emails. Bon Vivant wrote me back within minutes; Evergreen took two days. Guess which company I went with? (There is a strong correlation between response time and consumer buying behavior. If you don’t think that the time it takes you to get back to a prospective customer doesn’t impact your sales, think again. This powerpoint from the Inside Sales Association takes a look at the correlation between lead conversion rates and response time. The difference a quick reply makes is astounding.)
Bon Vivant picked me up and immediately started talking wine. My driver, who is also an owner of the company, effused wine. He wanted to know what I liked. Reds, whites, which varietals, which regions, etc. etc. etc. He was a wine encyclopedia. After a stop at Chateau St. Michelle (crappy wine, cool manufacturing facility!), we stopped for a quick lunch before heading to the boutique wineries. He promised me, based on what I’d told him about the wines I liked–and which wines I had and had not preferred at Chateau St. Michelle–that we’d go to wineries that he thought I would like, and that he’d structure our tour on a simple-to-to-more-complicated hierarchy so that I’d have time to warm up to the complexities of the wines I was tasting. It was at lunch (The Purple Cafe) that we started talking about his business.
I expected that I would taste some wines. That he would drive me from winery to winery and drop me off at my hotel. I expected, based on Bon Vivant’s quick response to my inquiry, that my driver would be prompt and on-time and would deliver what he’d promised. But in reality, I didn’t even know what his brand promise was. What would make Bon Vivant different from Evergreen Escapes outside of their quick response time? I never expected that what I was actually going to experience was half a day with a wine expert who would help me experience a personalized wine tour at wineries that I would like. We talked a little about what he was doing in the way of marketing and he told me that he thought they needed a better website and video. Their website, I told him, was fine. What they needed, I said, was a clearly visible unique selling proposition, a brand promise, a differentiator in the marketplace. “You offer personalized, educational wine tours!” I told him. “You need to say that.” He wasn’t as good of a listener as he was a wine talker. He still thought he needed to make a video. Why would anyone watch your video if they don’t know what you stand for? Doing more marketing will do very little if people don’t know why they should buy. (For more on how your WHY is even more important than WHAT you sell, check out this great Ted Talk by Simon Sinek.)
Look at the bus in the picture above. You see “Wine Tours” advertised, but no where does it say what makes Bon Vivant different. One of those little bullet points on the right says “customized wine tours;” but you can’t see it, and a customized tour doesn’t mean the same thing that a personalized, educational tour does. Customized tours pick you up a little early and drop you off late at a place of your specification, but they don’t necessarily meet you where you are on your wine experience and help you grow into a more sophisticated wine drinker like a personalized, educational tour will do for you.
I’m no expert, but every business faces the risk that they’ve become commoditized in the consumer’s mind. If you don’t want to compete on price, make sure that your prospective customers know what makes you different. People don’t buy features (“eight hour tour! six winery visits! air conditioned bus!”)–they buy benefits. The benefit of my particular wine tour was that I left more knowledgeable and curious about wines than I had ever expected. I thought I’d bought a limo driver. Instead I got an education.
Know what makes you different. Call it a value proposition, a unique selling proposition, or a differentiator–but know it. What’s the value you offer? What makes you different from your competitors? Why should your ideal customer do business with you, and you alone? If you’re reading this post and thinking something like, “but I don’t have a business to market,” think a little more broadly. You, as an individual, have a brand, too. No matter how you make your money (or your friends), people experience you in a unique way and base their expectations regarding their future interactions with you based on current and past ones. What’s your brand? What do people expect from you? Does it line up with how you’d like to be perceived?