Redefining Efficiency

Feb 19, 2010

Although only 32 percent of management respondents reported that last year’s government economic stimulus program had improved economic conditions so far, almost half expected improvement by the end of 2010, according to the nationally recognized consulting and accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP.

Common trends we have identified in this market are that customers are looking for key fundamentals. So, as a small aftermarket businessperson, you might ask yourself, “Does my brand offer integrity and trust besides the obvious product?”

In today’s marketplace there is a high level of skepticism and an underlying current of mistrust due to the reported excessive greed in businesses, and you don’t want to get caught in the undertow. If trust and transparency are premises throughout your business practices, highlight and communicate this to your market, no matter how niche or broad-based.

Let people know how you manage these virtues and how they are ingrained in your business model. Communicating this does matter.

Earning Trust

Every sector has been affected by the economic downturn, from products to services, and the automotive aftermarket is no different. Small companies have had to close their doors and large companies are looking to restructure and reposition themselves to become profitable once again and gain back the trust of what is now a more skeptical market.

You may ask if this is true in the hobbyist marketplace, one where performance is king? The answer is yes, because the customer is trying to gain confidence in the overall economy and we, as aftermarket manufacturers, jobbers and consumers, are picking at specks of grain at the moment and likely to do so for the remainder of 2010.

Economics is brash, but the indicators are bright. Think of bucking the wind for another 12-14 months. No guarantees, but sustainability is on the horizon.

Seems grim? Well it certainly doesn’t have to be. With great challenge comes great opportunity, and as a small business there are many advantages to surviving and succeeding during a recession and the subsequent climb back up the mountain.

Small businesses are agile and able to move and respond to the times much quicker and more efficiently than larger businesses. The question is where to focus first and what to do as a business owner.

First of all-and this certainly holds true during any economy-before looking into how to position and rebrand your business and offerings, ensure you have a solid understanding of your primary customer. This does not mean simply scratching the surface by understanding general trends such as geographic reach and general household income, but taking the time and effort to understand what your customers face during this time, how they are affected and how their habits may have shifted and changed.

Knowing their buying habits will then enable your strategy in deciphering your marketing and manufacturing grounding. With this insight, you can reach out to your customers in a much more meaningful way and gain increased awareness of how you can position your business to stay relevant.

Avoid the common pitfalls in going through this exercise where the primary customer is not the focus. If you are too general or try to include all potential markets–secondary and tertiary reach-you may lose the focus and therefore the understanding of your core customer.

Don’t assume you know-ask! By engaging your customers-whether it is direct conversations, online questionnaires or surveys, or email or blog threads-people share. This valuable insight will only help your business strategy and direction as you better-understand the economic conditions and angles from which to pull through in this economy.

Asking is a powerful tool and I recommend you exercise this as your number one option to maintaining communication with your buying audience.

Where Are the Gaps?

Now that you have this knowledge and information, you can look internally into your business to determine the gaps in what you are offering and what the client is experiencing.

Are you providing relevant products or services? Does your messaging, packaging, website and marketing collateral speak to your primary market trends? Chances are there are both obvious and subtle gaps.

This is true-confession time as you look to the avenues of opportunity from which to sustain and build an improved business model. It doesn’t matter if you’re manufacturing wheels or crankshafts or a jobber offering 100 lines of products-now is the time to reflect on tomorrow’s strategies for sustainable growth.

Another common trend is stability and certainty. With companies closing, people are hesitant to engage with the unfamiliar unless your business model has spark and appeal. The consistency of advertising your product also brands your company name. Thus, an investment in branding is critical to your image and perceived strength as an organization.

Share your story and how long you have been in business and what your growth entails. This does not mean you have to share internal growth strategies and business plans, but communicating solid roots with a focus on the future shows that you have no plans of disappearing.

Finally, a trend common across multiple industry sectors is delivering value. It is assumed that people will not spend money once the “R” word defines an economy. That is not necessarily true.

It is not that people always need a bargain-basement deal; it is more that customers make decisions with a focus on value and are therefore willing to pay more to get exactly what they want. From instruction-based product aids to added customer service to help solve a problem or answer questions, additional value lends itself to a lasting brand impression.

With increased attention on your customers, you will also be able to identify common trends that may be specific to your marketplace. Relating these insights to how you are marketing your business will allow you to identify opportunities to reposition your offerings.

Communicating Your Message

The next step is how to communicate your message. First and foremost, ensure the messaging does not waver from your company’s brand platform.

If your company has always stood for high-performance, or innovative products, or a high degree of customer intimacy, there is no need to change who you are. In fact, if you waver too far from your brand’s meaning, you will disconnect from your customers and this may create mistrust or confusion.

The key is that you relate your brand to the current market, highlighting the practices and elements of your business that matter to your audience. Be sure to build on what has been successful in the past and reinvent what hasn’t.

Once your messages are finalized, ensure you are consistent in all communication channels, from phone, Web, print, etc. If you are delivering one reliable message to the market, the retention value will increase.

Provided your messages are backed by dependable business practices, your market should gain a reinforced brand experience from initial engagement through post-sale. Finally, pay attention to the communication channels you rely on to ensure they are the channels that your customers use and care about.

Businesses that are taking action to stay relevant and connect with their markets are poised for success. So don’t sit on the sidelines or wait to see what competitors are doing. Engage your customers, understand them and position your business to respond to their needs, concerns and habits.

Your customers, and your company, will thank you. Remember, you’re open for business.