The Argument for “Leads” over Branding
Since 2007 piano dealers have been struggling with what their advertising mix should be. What to buy became more difficult when the dollars became fewer and further between. It is hard in this economic “new normal” to justify ad dollars in general, especially if you aren’t getting track-able results and creating discernible traffic. For an independent business person it is a hard internal sell to invest in positioning and branding. They need tangible results to stay in business!
For a moment let’s give branding it’s due: How consumers feel about a brand or company can be vital in the decision making process. In a perfect world we would be able to dedicate 30-40% of our ad dollars towards branding and the balance toward harvesting. Zig Ziglar taught us to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Branding builds the sizzle. We also know that “people buy on an emotion and back it up with logic.” How the world feels about your line, the brand you represent, and your company is fundamentally important. It speaks to credibility. Credibility is the first step in the sales process. We would be foolish not to give positive branding, positioning and public perception it’s due. It is vitally important, no doubt about it.
The Quandary: In better economic times more discretionary income was in the hands of the consumer therefore more casual and impulse sales were normal. The competition for recreational dollars is now fierce. They used to be plenty of leads because there was plenty of mobility in the market place. Shoppers were out kicking tires. There were a lot of suspects to excite into being prospects. That was then, this is now. Now purchases are more well thought out, deliberated over…researched as it were. That’s one reason the internet has become so embraced.
Leads used to come from floor traffic but somebody moved the cheese! Since 2007 floor traffic, even in the largest markets, has dried up to a trickle of what to used to be. Although reputation, awareness and marquis value are very important in the piano industry we are living the terrible reality that no one can see their way to invest in branding.
I hope I don’t upset my manufacturer friends when I state the following undeniable fact: they do little to build brand awareness and benefit recognition. They leave it up to the dealers who are struggling to begin with. Unfortunately no matter how vital branding and building excitement is, it is being left to the guys/gals in the trenches without the where-with-all to buy fuzzy feeling ads. Even if the dealers could buy awareness ads how many local ad agencies and/or TV or radio stations can build a campaign that doesn’t smack of a small budget and local talent inefficiencies? Few. “Nothing Outruns a Deer” isn’t getting built or funded locally. That magnificent national ad campaign that sells the educational, mental, and spiritual benefits of playing and makes the piano it look cool and fun never seems to get created and placed. I wouldn’t hold my breath either.
Branding is a fundamental product need, to reiterate those emotional, nebulous, intangibles are important. They are, yet for a moment let’s put ourselves in the position of the local piano dealer so I’m asking this pragmatically: “When you are struggling for survival with the goal of staying relevant, who the Hell can afford to buy the ads with which to promote such intangibles?” Who can afford, in survival mode, the feel good stuff? We need something concrete, right? Something that we KNOW can turn into an opportunity, right? RIGHT. Fundamentally important or not, branding is not in the budget.
The solution?: Lead Generation. Until you have a flow of opportunity, you struggle with having enough sales. Until you have enough sales you can’t invest in growth. Without sales you have no business so even if you want to give back to the industry you can’t. Job #1 is to get enough people to talk to. If you can’t get in front of enough interested parties you die on the vine. That said here is one of my favorite quotes: “Prospects equal options. Master prospecting and you will be the master of your sales destiny.”-Tibor Shanto
Mastering lead generation is the cornerstone needed to build yourself into a situation where you can get out of the survival mode and start having fun selling pianos again.
Where do the leads come from now?: Some dependable, known sources are still reliable. Small networking, cultivating gathering are always great relationship selling situations. Partnerships with businesses who have a similar buyer profile. The old fashioned cold call is always available and if you burn up enough show leather something good always happens.
It was GREAT when you could “buy some market” by using TV, Radio, Newspaper, Direct Mail or other advertising mediums but they don’t ROI like they used to. Unless you open the bank vault they very often do little or nothing. “Oh, the times they are’a changing.” Actually , they really have. The shoppers aren’t paying attention to these things like they used to and they’re not walking through the door like they used to so all is lost, right?
No, not even close to lost. There are tons of people still wanting to learn how to play. There still exists a dependable percentage of folks who love music and the piano has been and will continue to be the foundation of the music world. You just have to fish where the school is running and that is on the Internet. Piano interest is most efficiently uncovered in large numbers and engaged online. No surprise, right? That’s why business people have been investing the past several years ad words and working on their web presence so aggressively. They know where the leads need to some from. They don’t always know how to engage or convert the interest into e legitimate lead but they know where the interest is being channeled these days.
Digital Marketing SEO vs. Lead Generation:
Search engine optimization will continue to be important. It is critical however to remember the original purpose of its importance. To drive traffic to a dealer’s web site. And the purpose of the web traffic? Because someone may visit and turn into what? A lead. The bottom line purpose of buying SEO is to have traffic inside which a percentage of it should manifest itself as opportunities… another word for “a lead.” Where you show up in a search will always be important, but I submit it is subservient to the goal of the traffic, the almighty lead. Without the web turning visitors into actual leads it is a modern day brochure which can be acted upon or treated in a cavalier way unless it has elements built to optimize visits into a converted state.
The Harsh Judgment: The shoppers are in the Internet. Traditional marketing has struggled to stay alive… relevant so to speak. Newspapers promote their web banners, what does that tell you? Event the oldest form of advertising known in this country succumbed to the fact that print lost a phenomenal amount of its it’s readership to the net. There are millennials who have never even read a newspaper, they’ve grown up getting their information on line.
Because of its targeting, the older of the two vehicles, radio, has actually proven to be more effective than it’s younger brother TV when piano dealers are trying to reach a niche. There are some small pockets of loyal listeners who can be reached effectively by radio still.
As far as direct mail is concerned; it still provides the highest level of targeting but the cost of it and service of the USPS can be prohibitive. It is still a legitimate harvesting tool but has not proven to work well as a lead generation tool.
Sorry traditional marketing. The world has moved on. Traditional advertisement has been superseded by the cyber world. We will never replace the sales person because people are relationship seeking beings but now-a-days their seeking is being done online. It is game, set and match. Traditional marketing can still be useful in certain circumstances but the schools are running in a different pond now… the activity is online. Digital marketing is the future and the future has arrived. Tomorrow is here today. It behooves us to get good at this stuff, it’s not going away, rather becoming more and more of a force and embedded in our culture.
The Bright Forecast:
So take heart – along with the new generation of shopping habits comes a new generation of marketing experts well versed in capturing and channeling piano interest (which never went away, just changed personality and location) to you. Old marketing guys, such as I, have armed themselves by being in the company of some brilliant young experts. At Prospects Int’l we are helping our clients change the way they find much of their new business. Innovation is the key. We are building new mouse traps as the times and platforms change. The number of leads being generated today via the Internet give us great optimism for the future. We are not only learning but learning to “command” the new technology and use it to fill our pipelines with new relationships. New relationships, many of which, will be converted into profit.
Since we have identified where the buyers are spending their time we urge you to embrace the opportunity at hand to outperform your competition in this new frontier. Allow us to help you as we have others and let the competition play catch up. Why is that important? Because the first man in almost always wins! Pepsi never caught up to Coke and Avis still is #2 to Hertz (even though they try harder), and Bud still outsells Miller.
If you’d like to jumpstart your sales, think digitally. That’s where the leads are. We strongly suggest you do it now… “leading from behind” is not a strategy, it’s a reaction to a circumstance you let someone else create.