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War. Merriam Webster defines it as, “a struggle or competition between opposing forces for a particular end.”

Are you ready to go to war with your competition? Are you willing to attack, attack and attack until you have won not just a few of their customers but all of their customers. If not, this article is not for you.

In the retail world, you are either gaining market share, or you are losing it. If you’re gaining, then your business has a future. If you’re not growing, it’s time to sell and get out while you have something to sell.

Let’s discuss some ideas on how to win.

Are you bored with your current marketing efforts? If you are, so are your customers.

Before you declare war, you should first analyze your own strengths and weaknesses. What is your most significant strength? Why do your best customers continue to return? Everything you do will be centered around this one message. Sending one message 100 times is much stronger than sending 100 messages once.

There is a large car dealer here in my area. He bought the dealership about two years ago, and now, he has two in my area. He came into my community with his one simple message: huge. (“I’ll make you huge,” “it’s huge,” “huge savings”) You get the idea — by screaming the word “huge,” he is the most well-known car dealer in the area, and maybe the most well-known individual. I know you’re thinking, I don’t have that kind of budget to buy major media and continually promote my message. I’m sure you don’t, unless you share your advertising expenditures with others in the same market. The good news is, you don’t need to be well known throughout the whole community — only throughout your individual trade area.

You will not be declaring war on everyone. You only need to defeat your trade-area competitors.

Now, do you have your one most significant strength in mind? Once you do, you must identify the shortest possible way to communicate that message. For example, do you provide a fast oil change? You must get it down to one word, if possible — like “fast.” You can drop oil change; why? Because you don’t need it, nor do you want it. Your goal is to be known as “fast.” If you’re talking about an oil change, you are a “fast” oil change. If you’re promoting a tire rotation, you are a “fast” tire rotation. If you are advertising a radiator flush, you are a “fast” radiator flush. As you continue to use the same word in everything you do — and I mean everything, from your direct mail campaigns to your social media posts to how you answer the phone to store signage, banners, uniform patches and invoices — you will become known as fast. Everyone who is in need of fast automotive service will think of you, because you are fast.

Fast is just a suggestion. You must define what your significant strength is, and then shorten it down to one word. Others might be “best,” “great,” “superior,” “quality” or any other you choose. Once you begin using it, say it loud and proud.

Have you noticed I have not mentioned your greatest weakness yet? That’s because I never will! You simply don’t have it anymore. You will only mention your one-word mantra from here on out.

Know Your Enemy

Know your enemy as well as you know yourself. Go on a scouting trip; take your car in for service at their shop. Notice everything, and grade their service. Be honest. How does their score compare to yours? What is their major strength and their weakness? How do their price points compare to yours? What services do they advertise and at what price point? Ask questions; you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get answers. I would appear to be impressed and say something like, “Wow, you guys look like you do well here.” Wait for their answer, and ask a question like, “Just how many cars a day do you work on?” Don’t worry; they will be proud to answer and, most likely, give you additional information. You will use this information to design your advertising strategy. Finally, ask the big question: Would your wife bring her car here for service?

How To Use It

Now that you know your enemy, how do you use it? Now that you have your ammunition, how to fire it? Since your budget is small, you must think outside of the box and look for ways that are inexpensive but effective. Many will be action-oriented and will bring you customers immediately; others are image-building, creating your mantra awareness.

If your advertising plan has always been couponing, then this is where you must have faith in my strategy. Let the other guy keep mailing those bulk coupons with deep discounts. You will not run away from coupons; you will use them more strategically. Coupons will become a part of your attack strategy by being just one weapon in your arsenal. You will use many more that are inexpensive but effective.

Why use a rifle instead of a shotgun? If you use the shotgun approach, with a mass-mailing weapon that saturates your entire trade area, you will become the low-cost provider, and your mantra would become something like, “cheapest” or “lowest.” In some retail businesses, that strategy is OK to use — Wal-Mart did it in the early days. In our business, cheap means not as good as others. Car dealers love a competitor whose brand stands for substandard. They will win the battle and take the best customers. You will be left with the customer who will only be loyal to whomever has the lowest price.

By using your rifle, you can aim at the income brackets that best hit consumers like your customers. You will load your rifle with only enough ammunition to fit your budget. Your ammunition will use a discount to attract consumers who are most like your best customers. Your rifle shot will use individual cards with your mantra as the headline every time. You may also follow-up with a tag line that supports your mantra; maybe something like, “Fast, quality service every time.” Now, to hit your competitor where it hurts the most. Fire at consumers like yours (similar household income) who live in your competitor’s trade area.

Support Troops

This is where you win the war. If you are like many of us, you will have more time than money. I’m sure your advertising budget could always use additional funds. You can’t use a small budget as an excuse to lose your war. Simply replace dollars with hard work. Instead of a full-frontal attack, use a hit and run. Circle your enemy by placing your mantra all around them. Here are a few examples for your attack plan.

For one example, I will again return to my community. We have a small local barber shop (with a low ad budget) that uses an inexpensive tool to create top-of-mind awareness throughout the trade area. They have created a window sticker for their customers’ rear windows with their name clearly visible. Almost daily, I pull up to a stoplight, and the vehicle in front of me has this window sticker on it. This happens so often that I had to go find out why their consumers used their sticker. So, I went for a haircut. One of the three barbers started cutting my hair, and about half through, he asked me if I would like to save $10 on my haircut. “Of course,” I said. He showed me a window sticker, while telling me if I let him put it on my rear window I would get $10 off. In addition, I would save $5 every time I returned. They have been in business for several years, putting window stickers on rear windows. There must be hundreds of, if not more, stickers throughout the area. You see them in grocery store parking lots, bank lots and just about everywhere you go. This program is so successful that it is now their only advertisement. There is always a small wait time because all three barbers are with customers.

My suggestion is that you take this idea — because imitation is the highest form of flattery — develop it and structure it to fit your business. Keep the message short — use only your mantra and company name. Caution your team members not be discouraged when they are told, “No thank you.” Over time, there will be many affirmative answers. The secret of the plan is that you apply the sticker yourself while their vehicle is being serviced. In a few months, you will start to see your stickers, and in a few years, they will be everywhere.

Be creative; look for other good examples of small businesses promoting their brand. Get creative with your own ideas. Get your team involved by asking for their suggestions. When one is selected, make a big deal of it — take them to lunch! When it’s their idea, you will get 100-percent support.

Whatever you choose to do, always keep your mantra front and center. It will help you win the war.

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