Imagine if you had customers standing in long lines, dragging themselves out of bed at 3:00 on a cold morning or even fighting with each other to give you their business. Such customer passion happens often enough, but not usually to the benefit of small business. Only large companies have the resources to excite their customers into extreme buying behavior, and a few have been wildly successfully at it. Here are just three examples of historical buying frenzies:
- Apple iPhone 5S -- On September 20, 2013, the longest line ever recorded at an Apple store was observed at 8:00 AM at the 5th Avenue store in New York City, as the number of people waiting to pay $200 for a new iPhone 5S totaled 1,417. Many of them camped overnight at the location to get the closest spots.
- Walmart, Black Friday -- On November 25, 2011, a woman used pepper spray on fellow shoppers at a Walmart store in Los Angeles so she could purchase an Xbox at a discounted price. Other incidences of frenzied and desperate shoppers literally fighting with each other to grab merchandise on Black Friday have provoked widespread media coverage. Many people shake their heads in horrified wonder at this behavior, but the tradition continues because it is so extremely profitable.
- Modern Warfare 2 video game -- On November 10, 2009, Modern Warfare 2 was released in the U.S. and the U.K. The launch made history in the entertainment world, selling 4.7 million units, which translated to over $300 million, within the first 24 hours. These record-breaking statistics are impressive but become even more so when you realize how many people have never even played a video game.
What would you do for just a fraction of this passion for something you offer? What if you could figure out how to adapt some of the same principles and practices to your own business, in your own small way, to get customers competing with each other to give you their money? Some creative brainstorming might give you some ideas.
Create Something Superior
Apple has done amazingly well by cultivating the perception that it has a superior product--easier to use, faster, sleeker, thinner, lighter, more functional and more beautiful. It's not an illusion. Many people like to criticize Apple products, but their arguments run along two main lines--overpriced and over-hyped. When it comes to performance and user interface, however, they don't have much to criticize. How can you stand out from your competition in clearly superior ways? It should not be terribly difficult to figure something out. Few businesses design their products or services from the customer standpoint. What is the "user interface" like for your business right now? How can you make the buying experience easier, smoother, faster, more enjoyable for your customers? Once you've cracked that, you are far ahead of the pack.
Develop a Cult Following
Is it possible that your business could develop a cult following? And if so, what principles could you base it on? To begin with, think of how your business could establish an exclusive "club" for its customers. What would that club do, and how would it attract people to join? Many specialty businesses could take advantage of this, such as those selling coffee, chocolates, frozen yogurt, shoes, clothing, knitting and crafts, musical instruments, hair styling, spa treatments, music and dance lessons, mixed martial arts lessons, and any other business that appeals to people's strongest desires to look better, feel better, enjoy delicious things, improve themselves, and bring more excitement into their lives.
Developing a "club" allows your customers to mingle and meet each other. People who join together to engage in a hobby, practice or skill can be the best customers for businesses who offer access to these activities. How can you encourage more socializing among your customers? By track and managing the club for them with point-of-sale software that has customer relationship management built into it.
But what about more practical businesses such as carpet cleaning and pest control? It might be more difficult to develop cult followings, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. Many practical mundane businesses do have a loyal band of repeat customers. What are they doing that you haven't done? How are they encouraging this type of loyalty? They might well be giving their customers a feeling of being in a "club" in which they will receive special care and attention just for joining and being a part of something special.
Develop Something New--and Talk About It
Is your business a leader in adapting cutting edge technology that most of your competitors have not yet come around to? Is there a way to make your business reflect the yearning people have for something new, improved, shiny, attractive, fast, lean, beautiful, sleek and geeky all at the same time? Even if you do it with a subtle tongue-in-cheek slant, people will get the message. A carpet cleaner might point out their state-of-the-art equipment and how ultra-cool it is compared to the old clunky stuff. A pool service might mention their cutting edge methods of reducing chlorine while making the pool cleaner than ever. A dentist can tout their new digital x-ray machines and better pain control methods. Of course all of this needs to be true. But if you have invested in new state-of-the-art equipment, it is always a good idea to tell people about it. And it doesn't hurt to emphasize the fact that not many in your field have adopted these clearly superior methods.
While Supplies Last--One Day Only!
Walmart and fellow retailers on Black Friday use something pretty simple and straightforward. Low price combined with scarcity is clearly a winner. Many small businesses have learned the hard way that they can't compete with big-box stores on price. But scarcity changes everything. Why? Because suddenly you have created a competition to buy. No sane person would stand in line at 4:00 in the morning to buy a toy if the sale price lasted for a month and quantities were plentiful. But make the sale just three hours long and the supplies clearly limited, and suddenly you have a stampede. How can you tap into this hunger for a chance at winning something precious when there's not enough to go around? How can you turn your business into a competitive arena where people feel an intense desire to participate? Match something desirable with an irresistible price. Then make that availability window as narrow as possible.
Understand Your Demographic
It doesn't take a genius to figure out the demographics of Call of Duty video games. Does the publisher know something special about their demographic that others don't? No, they just know how to make their product fit to perfection. It has everything their customers want.
How well do you understand your own customers? How well does your product or service fit them? How can you get to know them better than you do now? Sometimes just talking with them will do wonders. What are they looking for? What do they like best about your business? What doesn't please them so much? Any business that shows how much they truly "get" their customers will be highly rewarded. They will feel appreciated for a change, and that warm and fuzzy feeling will translate into cold hard cash for you.
Join a Movement
What popular "movements" are most relevant to your business? Recently, rooftop solar panels and electric cars have seen big jumps in sales. But these products aren't appealing exclusively to environmentally-conscious consumers. They also speak to individual self-sufficiency and freedom from the monopolizing tyranny of utility providers and oil companies. There are other movements that you can tie into, such as a move toward simplicity, beauty and of course technological innovation.
Summing It Up
In the end, it may be a stretch to expect customers to literally fight to give you their business. But adapting some of the techniques used by the biggest companies may offer a great chance to get ahead in the always-challenging business environment. Your greatest source of inspiration are your customers and their needs, interests, desires and habits. If you let them, they will lead you to the success you dream about.Tweet