Austin McCraw

Marketing Strategy: What is your “Only Factor”?

October 17th, 2014

Warning: I am about to offend someone. It could be you. It might not be. Either way, I wouldn’t continue reading unless you’re up for having your notion of marketing challenged and you have the time to leave a ranting blog comment — just in case you end up feeling the need to.

Let’s talk about marketing strategy for a moment.

That’s right. Put down your proverbial to-do list, and let’s talk about the force behind the success (or failure) of all your marketing campaigns — your value proposition.

A good value proposition is the key to true sustainable competitive advantage, and without one, you are simply just pushing pixels around, hoping something will stick. However, a good value proposition must have what we call an “only factor.”

There has to be at least one way in which you can say about your product, we are the “only.”

You can match your competitors in many ways, but in at least one way, you must excel. If you do not have this “only factor,” then you are, as Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS, says, “simply surviving on pockets of ignorance.”

Now, customer ignorance was once a decent way to make a living (when I say “decent,” I’m using it in the old snake-oil sense of the word). Today, thanks to the internet, your customer can learn everything about you and your competition in about three mouse clicks. As information abounds, ignorance decreases.

Our marketing exists in a world where there are very few pockets of ignorance. In a world like that, a true “only factor” is the only way to survive.

If I haven’t offended you yet, I’m about to provide two more opportunities.


Don’t blame the “crowded market”

When teaching these concepts, I often get asked, “What about crowded markets?”

First, I generally ask a group of marketers to raise their hands (gutsy move, I know) if they are currently not working in a crowded market. You want to take a guess at how many hands get raised?

There are no good markets that aren’t crowded. I haven’t met a marketer yet who feels like their market isn’t crowded (and if there is, please introduce yourself to me). We all like to talk about how our market is so crowded, when the reality is that there are few, if any, markets that aren’t crowded.

The point is that opportunities draw crowds. If there is any inkling of an opportunity in your market, it may only be a matter of time, but it will become crowded.

Also, “crowd” is a relative term.

Meaning, the sense of crowding is completely dependent on the available space. Three’s a crowd in the back of a cab — but not so much on a football field. It all depends on the size of your market, and for many niche markets, it only takes a couple competitors to make a crowd.

Here’s the point: Dealing with a “crowd” is a basic experience of marketing. It is not unique. It does not release the marketer from needing a forceful value proposition. If anything, it makes it more necessary.


Don’t be a “commodity”

The follow-up question I usually get is, “But what about commodities? How can a company have an “only factor” if other companies are offering the exact same product or service?”

For the marketer, there is no such thing as a commodity. You read that correctly. I’ll say it again: There is no such thing as a commodity.

Just go ahead and remove that word from you vocabulary.

Now, before you break out your college economics textbook, pause. You know this intuitively. First, I am not speaking economically; I am speaking experientially. We are marketers — we are stewards of the customer experience. The value proposition of your product is about shaping the experience of your product, not its financial model.

There are many products out there that are traditionally considered commodities, and yet they can be delivered in such a way as to create a unique and exclusive customer experience.

Many people go out of their way to fill up at a particular gas station. Why? Many people pay way too much money for a particular brand of water? Why? Many people insist on shopping at a single grocery store chain. Why?

Because of a uniquely valuable experience.

I remember once being told by a friend about “the best sushi place in town.” I thought to myself, what is so different about sushi? Sushi is sushi right? I mean if anything is a commodity, its raw fish. Ha! Don’t ever say that to a sushi connoisseur. My friend proceeded to explain to me how the chefs at this sushi restaurant had spent three years just learning how to cook rice.

Here’s the point — it isn’t so much what you are offering; it’s how you offer it. It’s not in the exclusivity of the raw fish or the rice; it’s in the exclusivity of how you bring them together. It’s in the exclusivity of a world-class chef who spends years of his life learning how to deliver the best possible customer experience of something that anybody could sell if they wanted.

You can take any product in the world and deliver it in such a way as to create a uniquely valuable experience. Being a commodity is no excuse. Commodities don’t have to exist in marketing.


You must find your “only factor”

With that, I’ll conclude with a recent group I had the opportunity to work with.

The group was a small company in the self-help dieting space.

Now, if anyone has justification for complaining about a crowded market, it would be them. Everyone and their brother is in the self-help dieting space.

There are the big players (Weight Watchers, Live Strong, etc.) and then all the small one-offs, but either way, many companies are offering very similar products with similar results. How in the world does anyone have a true value proposition in that kind of space?

Well, for this group in particular, we focused first on getting a clear insight on their customer. The company was most excited and energized by helping older woman who had tried many dieting programs and had not been able to maintain them over the long run. The company was able to identify its “only factor” first in the way it treated and spoke (essentially their persona) to their customers.

From the beginning, they had created a family-like team that was genuinely available and treated the customer with dignity and respect. What made this group unique was that joining the program provided a tight-knit group-driven experience. There was no other competitor in this market talking to the customer the way this group did.

Also, no company in the industry had as elegant and simple a web experience as this company had created. The way meal plans were organized and accessible made the dieting program experience so much easier than any other program out there.

Both of these two factors — the family-like tone and elegant web experience — were this company’s “only factor.” Now, these factors would need to be evidenced, but this was the core of what made this company different.

Here’s my point in this example: If those guys can do it, so can you.

So … what is your “only factor?”


Editor’s Note:  Interested in meeting one-on-one with Austin to discuss creative and value proposition? Join him and our research team at DMA 2014 and learn to identify, develop and implement a value proposition that sets your products apart.


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Austin McCraw

About Austin McCraw

Austin McCraw, Senior Director, Editorial Content, MECLABS From Web clinics to certification courses, Austin works behind the scenes to bring our research analysts’ discoveries to our audience in clear and creative ways. Before joining MarketingExperiments, Austin was the Promotions Director for a PBS affiliate in Gainesville where he was in charge of publicizing local and national programming. A graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, Austin specializes in new media and video production by day and producing family memories with his wife and two children by night.

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