Fair warning: If you’re risk-averse, conservative, and generally a “play it safe” type of entrepreneur (is there even such a thing?) then you may not like the contents of this article.
The strategies discussed below involve bold steps that businesses take to push their companies forward. Some of them come with a certain amount of risk and may entail ruffling some feathers. The payoffs however, when executed correctly, are worth it.
That being said, if you’re looking for ways to step things up a notch in your business and you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone, here are a few gutsy moves to consider:
“Stealing” your competitors’ customers from under their noses
In the advertising world, there’s a practice called “conquesting” in which an ad is displayed beside a competitor’s content. Some companies do it by buying ads targeted at users searching for their competitor’s products.
Say you’re a bookstore looking to reel in more customers. You can apply conquesting by buying Google AdWords and including the names of competing bookstores in your list of keywords. That way, when a potential customer types “Barnes and Noble” into the search engine, they’ll see your ad, and hopefully choose your business instead.
Thanks to widespread adoption of mobile devices, the practice has evolved into “geo-conquesting”, a strategy where retailers target mobile users who are in the proximity of their competitors. Geo-conquesting involves either enticing shoppers who are near your competitor’s location with offers, or displaying mobile ads for users who have previously visited rival businesses.
A report by xAd demonstrated how Outback Steakhouse used geo-conquesting to serve up mobile ads to users who are near other casual dining places. According to xAd, the geo-conquesting campaign saw “an 11% lift on conversion actions such as access to a store locator”, indicating that hungry customers exposed to the geo-targeted ads actually took action to find an Outback restaurant near them.
Not a big fan of advertising? Then maybe you’ll like social conquesting instead. It’s a practice in which brands publicly “steal” customers who are talking about their competitors on social networks. AdWeek noted that Walmart was pretty successful in implementing its social conquesting strategies in 2012.
According to the advertising blog:
The retail giant tweeted at consumers who had such issues with adversaries like Best Buy. Walmart’s Twitter Elves, the firm’s dedicated customer team on the social site, seemingly found the consumers by searching “@bestbuy” on the platform before pushing a counteroffer.
The risk: While it does piss off your competitors, conquesting is a perfectly legit practice. But it’s important to note that social conquesting is bit more risky than the other breeds, because it’s very public in nature. When you’re trying to woo customers in front of your competitors and the entire Twitterverse, you need to make sure you can deliver.
As WebiMax CEO Ken Wisnefski told AdWeek, “If you tweet that you have a product the competitor doesn’t have on Black Friday, you better have it in stock.”
Otherwise, dissatisfied customers may start publicly bashing your brand.
The payoff: More customers, publicity, top of mind awareness.
Moving your business to the cloud
Doing business in the cloud can mean various things for different business. For some, cloud computing means replacing their old accounting software with an online solution. For others, it’s ditching their cash register for a mobile POS system. Sometimes, moving to the cloud is a simple as uploading files to a Dropbox folder.
But all these cloud-centric examples have one thing in common: your files and data no longer live inside your computer. Instead of being saved locally, these things are stored and accessed online. You create an account with a SaaS solution, login, and do your business on its web-based interface.
Cloud computing enables businesses to access the information and technology they need from just about anywhere that has an Internet connection. Forgot your laptop or hard drive? No worries. Since your files are stored online, you’ll be able to access them from your smartphone or any other computer.
Updates to cloud-based apps are also automatic, so you’ll always have the latest version of whatever software you’re using–no upgrade fees or installation required.
The risks: Network dependency is one thing you have to consider when running your business in the cloud. Most SaaS providers require an Internet connection, so if you don’t have continuous access to the web, you could run into some problems.
Additionally, since information is no longer hosted in-house, there is a risk of data being compromised or stolen, in case of a security breach with your provider. That’s why it’s critical that you evaluate the measures and precautions that each provider takes to safeguard client data.
The payoff: Convenience and scalability. Capability to access files and software from various devices.
Firing your problem customers
This is probably the move that takes the most guts—and mind you, it isn’t for everyone.
If you have customers who are causing more harm than good, either by being too demanding or by having needs that just aren’t a good fit for your products or services, then you may want to consider letting them go.
It may be difficult to walk away from paying customers, but in the long run, doing it could enable you to serve your existing customers better. Firing problem customers will also free up resources in your business so you can make room for those who are a better fit.
Case in point: ING Direct (before it was bought out by CapitalOne) was an online bank that offered no-fee accounts and highly attractive interest rates. ING Direct was able to do this by doing 75% of its transactions online and by not offering amenities such as checking or face-to-face interaction.
The bank also made it clear that in order for it to keep fees low and offer the best rates, it could only cater to low-maintenance customers. For this reason, ING Direct let go of account holders who called too much or whose demands were too high. Sure, this move didn’t go well for the customers who were fired, but it saved the company about $1 million per year and it attracted more of the types of customers it wanted.
The risk: You will alienate customers, so think long and hard before giving them the axe. Analyze your customer base and resources. Make sure that firing customers makes good business sense, and you’re not just doing it because you don’t want to deal with their demands.
The payoff: More resources that you can use to improve your business and attract better customers.
What do you think of these gutsy marketing strategies? Can you name other bold business moves that worked? Share them in the comments below.