Zigs and Zags in business and marketing: Where creativity and innovation really count

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big zig performance
Collection agency Performance Source sent this gift by snail mail, arriving just in time for Halloween.

Business/marketing consultant Jon Goldman understands the how to connect creativity and business development/marketing.  He turned a promotional marketing business into something much bigger by developing the “lumpy mail” concept — where advertising premium items would be included in packages sent by snail mail.

I received one of those packages from our US collection agency, Performance Source II, Ltd. yesterday, perfectly timed for Halloween. In the package, along with a thank-you/let’s do business card were some pirate toy pieces and Halloween pirate candies. I can’t think of a more appropriate gift from a collection agency. (However, we aren’t the agency’s most profitable client — in part because of the skills of are exceptionally talented and persistent accounts receivable specialist, and in part because of our company’s “operational big zig” in managing overdue accounts.)

“Operational Big Zig?

Goldman describes in his most recent newsletter he distinction between the Marketing Big Zig and Operational Big Zig.

Your Operational Big Zig is what your company does that’s foundationally different from the rest. It’s when the product itself is a wow. What’s the underlying superiority in how you run your business? Once you figure out your Operational Advantage, you can hand it over to Mark to dress it up with glitter and a feather boa. But the product itself will ultimately do the selling, not (your name, autogenerated).

In our business the “operational big zig” with collecting is that we post two prices on virtually all of our invoices, described as “Net” and “Gross”.  The “Net” rate is due in a fast 15 days. The “Gross” rate is due in 30 days — and is 25 per cent more expensive. (Accounts are only considered overdue and subject to interest, at the industry standard of 2 per cent per month, on the Gross rate.)

Aligned with this two-price system, we notify all clients about it, and make clear that exceptions are always possible, if you communicate with us. There can be many good reasons for being a little late, and we’re not going to be an idiot to gouge people. But quite a few clients pay the premium, Kathy (the collections person) is courteously but professionally persistent, and enough people pay the extra 25 per cent that effectively we do not need to budget for bad debt. In fact, on overall sales, we can budget a 2 to 3 per cent net “gain” on overdue accounts.

Here’s a Operational Big Zig favorite: Barrett Ersek, founder of Happy Lawn, reduced the typical sales process from 3 weeks to 3 minutes.

Happy Lawn uses the latest digital technology and tax map data to estimate lawn measurements. They offer instant quotes while customers are on the phone.

No more sales people visiting prospects’ homes, taking manual measurements, writing up quotes, and scheduling appointments. WOW!

Here’s another Operational Big Zig. “Clocky” is the alarm clock created by a
consistently tardy MIT graduate student. She developed an alarm clock that rolls off the nightstand when the alarm sounds and randomly rolls around on the floor forcing you to chase it around the room to shut it off.

Both Clocky and Happy Lawn are fantastic to market because their operational advantages offer up a phenomenal marketing Big Zig on a silver platter!

Operational Zigs of course relate to the underlying concept/project or business process. (While our collections system has an operational zig to it, obviously we cannot use it very much in our marketing, though.)  Goldman reminds us of the basics of Marketing Zigs:

When you’re creating a Marketing Big Zig, you’re asking the following questions:

  • How can we show what makes our product or service different by comparing it?
  • How can we have fun with it? How can we make it entertaining? What metaphor will represent the problem and the solution that we solve?
  • How can we make fun of ourselves to get our product/service noticed?

Goldman shares other ideas — including a “Best of the Best of 10 Years of Big Zigs” here. It’s worthy reading.

There’s one thing about Big Zigs — they are challenging to create and sustain.  There’s a tendency to entropy and when that happens, the big Big Zig advantage is lost. But I would argue that all businesses should keep those zigs in mind, as the world changes and evolves.

Sometimes you are lucky. I’ve told plenty of business colleagues about our collection system (where it would be valid, I realize it doesn’t really have application if you are building schools or hospitals) and no one wants to “bite” and copy the concept. They aren’t ready to risk changing established procedures.  Even our own employees were skeptical until we introduced explanatory tools for clients and started measuring its effectiveness.

Goldman shares some additional ideas about how to create the Big Zigs here.  It is worthy reading.

If you have your own Zigs to share, you can also email a note to buckshon@constructionmarketingideas.com or post a comment to this blog posting.

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