Marketing: It isn’t fair, so what can you do about it?

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Photo of me riding last year. Robert Merkley suggeested a fund-raising marketing eletter template using this pohto
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Photo of me participating in The Ride cancer research fund-raising event a couple of years ago. Client Robert Merkley urged me to get involved.

We can learn a lot from understanding business and marketing psychology. If we are fortunate to have a genuine market-leading position, we can own the space, and attract leads and sales with relative ease. Even if we truly have a better product/service, we will be fighting an uphill battle (or one with the wind in our faces) when we  try to break through.

This leads to some odd logical paradoxes, and here I’ll share some recently learned observations about cycling; a healthy activity that I resumed when a good client of our business roped me into participating in a 100 km charity cycling event six years ago.

I had an old bicycle in the garage, an ancient 10 speed I purchased used for $50 in 1982, and used for a while to commute about 15 to 20 km a day. It certainly proved to be good value. With a little fixing up, I put it on the road again, and managed to (barely) complete the first (and second) year on the 100 km ride — practicing with regular commutes.

Then, I realized that my ancient bike needed replacing. I went to the local bicycle dealer, and the salesperson recommended a simple “exercise bike” for about $700. Not that I  knew much about maintaining it or relative value — but I went ahead and purchased the machine.

In the past couple of years, through the spring, summer and fall, I’ve been commuting to my business office, a 15 km ride each way. When the weather is nice, this can be several times a week. My speed is picking up (I’m using an online tool, strava.com to measure my progress). Sometimes it seems like I’m flying down the bike paths and roads. Hey, this is fun (and certainly, provided I keep my eye on basic safety practices, healthy.)

Should I advance to the next stage — the “clips” that attach special cycling shoes to the pedals — or maybe should I purchase a more fancy and expensive bicycle (you can spend $10,000 for one if you wish)? Here the question shifts: Where does the value arise?

Conclusion: After watching several YouTube videos with expert cyclists, the relative value between the $10,000 bicycle and the $700 one isn’t there. You are paying a huge amount more for very little additional cycling efficiency or comfort.

Conversely, there are $300 bicycles (available from Amazon.com and elsewhere) that look quite good — but the conclusion is that they are cheaply made, and necessary upgrades and repairs will soon bring the cost to the optimal $700 or so range. In other words, the sales representative at the bicycle store truly sold me the one of the ‘best value” bicycles on the market.

As for the special cycling shoes, pedals and clips — this is another question. I will go faster, but I’ll need to learn new things. I suppose the place to go for advice is the cycling store which sold me the properly priced bicycle in the first place.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned some basics of maintenance, and the fact that it truly is important to check the air pressure each day and make sure the tires are inflated.

Okay, what does this narrative have to do with architectural, engineering and construction marketing?

Consider the variables that we work with in our businesses — the nature of clients, competition, options, choices, and decisions. Ultimately, I expect, for most situations, there is a sweet spot where value and price intersect, and where you can win the business by delivering this value/expertise at the right price and effectively.

You can go cheap, but you’ll struggle — shortcuts will lead to dissatisfaction and the price-saving client, unless he or she truly is open to the realities of the price/value equation, will be disappointed. Or you can go expensive. The potential for huge mark-ups at the top end is really impressive, but of course the market is thin, and you have the risk of excess capacity. (I think of true first class, $20,000 tickets in airlines — these are hugely profitable if the seats are filled with paying customers, but dead weight if they are empty.)

Perhaps the greatest variable you can control, and one which costs the least amount of hard cash, is in the area of service/value/client experience. The bicycle shop which sold me the fairly priced machine designed to serve its purpose has won my repeat business. You can achieve the same effect by serving your clients truly well, with respect, and with a focus on what they really need. It isn’t the fast way to business/marketing success, but ultimately you’ll build the foundation for your brand.

Then you can consult with marketing experts with similar values — and voila, you’ll leverage your strengths and grow.

Oh yeah, and when you listen to your clients, like I did when the customer roped me into that charity cycling project, you may discover some unexpected and highly rewarding advantages.

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