Modifying to Stand Out Part 1

July 26, 2004

By: Matt Michel

This is part of a continuing series of Comanche New Year’s Resolutions aimed at helping your company become “fiscally” fit. In this series, we will walk through the marketing mix of product, price, promotion, and placement. This Comanche Marketing tip focuses on making your products stand out.

MODIFYING THE PRODUCT
Service companies are, by definition, good at service. They are good a service, but they are usually lousy at selling products. What’s more, they are usually competing against an array of companies selling the exact same products. It’s possible to change that, but only if you’re willing to get a little creative and think outside of the box.

Remember when the passenger van first came out? It was fairly plain, but soon an industry was born out of modifying the vans. These companies took the basic van and enhanced it.

It’s common today for local car dealers to make a host of modifications on their own. These range from pin striping to tinted windows to leather seats. They add the features because the features enhance the salability of the vehicles and are extremely profitable to boot.

It’s not just consumer vehicles. Many service companies have purchased service trucks that have been modified by Grumman Olsen or one of the other companies that makes after market enhancements.

Modifications aren’t limited to vehicles by any means. CompUSA is experimenting with color customization of personal computers. They will paint the cabinet whatever color the customer wants. Dell and Apple have already been offering color options, but CompUSA is one of the few, if not the only retailer to offer color variations.

You probably use products that have been enhanced by someone besides the original equipment manufacturer and don’t give it a second thought. You use modified products, but have you ever considered making your own modifications to the products you sell?

CHANGING THE SKIN
Once, an air conditioning company was trying to stand out from the fifteen competitors in his market who sold the exact same brand. Before a home show, he decided to try and look a little different by adding wood grain contact paper to the base furnace. Someone asked how much that model cost. He pulled a number out of the air that reflected many multiples of his cost and time to add the contact paper. The customer bought. So did another. And another. And another.

Like many great marketing ideas, he stumbled into it. But no matter how he discovered it, he came up with a way of setting himself apart, creating a unique value in the market. In his market, the furnace was usually located in the basement, visible to anyone who used their basement as a gameroom or den.

This same trick would work equally well for water heaters. Instead of being an eyesore, the product blends in. Well, it sorta blends in.

Ask consumers what color they prefer in their air conditioning condensing unit and their answer will vary depending upon which region they call home. In Arizona a sand color is preferred. In the South, green is favored. In each case, homeowners want a color that will blend in, making the unit less obtrusive.

What colors do manufacturers offer? Some offer putty. Some offer green. No one, to my knowledge, offers a choice. Suggest it and you’ll hear all about powder paint lines, the cost of changing the paint, how unfeasible it is, yada, yada.

If the manufacturers are going to follow the Henry Ford example (i.e., you can have any color you want as long as it’s black), they are handing contractors an opportunity to differentiate by cutting a deal with a local body shop to provide paint options.

Some companies would never consider offering the option because few customers will pay extra for it. They miss the point.

Offer it because no one else does. Promote the fact you offer customized colors. If this is interesting to a homeowner, you automatically make the short list. If they reject the color option, but buy something from you, it’s still a victory. A sale is a sale.

Remember, Dodge originally built to Viper to generate excitement and get people into dealerships where they could see other products in the line, not because they expected to generate exceptional sales for a hand built car.

Changing the wrapping is only the starting point. Could you add sound dampening material to a cabinet of a product to make it quieter?

Next: Adding an accessories package.


Source: Comanche Marketing. Reprinted by permission.
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Copyright © 2003 Matt Michel

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