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Put Your Offering in Context

By: John I. Todor, Author of Addicted Customers

Put Your Offering in Context—One Meaningful to Customers

Declining profit margins and limited customer loyalty, these are common concerns of many businesses. When customers treat product like commodities and shop on price or convenience they force businesses to aggressively compete with each other. Unfortunately, this just exacerbates the situation.

How can a business differentiate on value, keep margin high and win customer commitment? Decommoditize! Put their offering in a context that is meaningful and valuable to the customer.

What is context? Context is the interrelated conditions or situation in which something exists; the circumstances that define meaning or value.

How can a company put their offering in a context that is meaningful and valuable to customers? By looking at the offering from the customers’ perspective.

memeo-logo.JPGMimeo.com is a great example of a company that did just that.

Mimeo.com sells printing. In most instances, printing is a commodity. Printers compete on price. Most printers are struggling and in recent years many have gone out of business. Yet, Mimeo.com has been very successful.

From 1999 to 2004, the company had an average annual growth rate of 184 percent. This performance ranked them 186th on Inc magazine’s 2004 list of America’s fastest growing private companies. Not only did Mimeo.com’s customer base grow dramatically, the company gained many repeat customers. And, their margins appear to be considerably higher than printers using similar digital printing presses. So how did they put printing in-context with the challenges facing their customers? How did they elevate their offering from the low-margin products available from other printers? How did they make their offering meaningful to customers?

On the surface Mimeo.com used digital printing technology, but that is not the whole story. Digital printing is a relatively new technology, but most digital printers are already in a commodity business. A Google search on digital printing and will show companies touting ultra-low printing prices. Their mindset and business model are trapped in a traditional view of printing. Over the same period that Mimeo.com was skyrocketing to success, most conventional printers, including digital printers, saw their revenues decline dramatically. Many were, in fact, forced to close their doors. Most printers blamed the decline in business on a weak economy; Mimeo.com saw opportunity!

The difference: while Mimeo.com sells essentially the same product as the typical printer, they enabled their offerings to address the challenges facing their customers. Printing is viewed by most business people as a cost-center that must be controlled. Usually, printing is bought on price. Quality is a given.

Mimeo.com customers, however, have a different perspective and experience. They download a free print driver from the Mimeo Web site. When their documents are ready to print, they select the Mimeo print driver and click on Print. This launches the Mimeo.com Web site, where they are led through a series of questions to determine the ways they want the documents printed, the number of copies, the paper stock, and how the materials should be finished. If the document is a brochure, should it be folded in half or made into a tri-fold? If it is a booklet, what type of binding should be used? Once the order details are established, customers get an instantaneous quote.

Here’s where things get different. If they complete their orders by 10 p.m., their printed materials will arrive anywhere in the U.S.A. by 8 a.m. the next day. Multiple locations? No problem. How can Mimeo.com pull this off? Their printing facilities are adjacent to Federal Express’s hub in Memphis and they leverage Federal Express’s ability to deliver.

Mimeo.com has put printing in the context of the business travelers who are making presentations. They have also put it in the context of companies that are coordinating nationwide product roll-outs. They are not just courting disorganized customers who need every spare minute. Mimeo.com enables customers to insure their printed materials have the very latest information and have maximum relevance to the audience. Because shipping overnight is an integral part of the service, print functions in a near real-time manner.

Mimeo.com is riding a wave of buzz and advocacy. Customers like to share good news with others who will benefit. Being “in the know” about a real solution is gratifying to the ego and is a reward in itself. Mimeo.com doesn’t just take the ride; they foster the momentum. If an existing customer wants to invite an associate or friend to try out their services, Mimeo.com will send a voucher for free printing as a gift from that customer. In fact, Mimeo.com makes the suggestion.

Does Mimeo.com have competition today? Absolutely! Many others, including FedEx/Kinkos are offering similar services. Imitation might be a form of flattery but it also requires companies to constantly shape their offering so it is increasingly meaningful and valuable to customers. Fortunately, innovation and change constantly confront customers with new challenges.

In an upcoming issue of CRM Buzz, John will discuss Turning Marketplace Stress and Anxiety into an Opportunity.

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John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the managing partner of The Whetstone Edge, LLC (www.thewhetstoneedge.com) a customer-centric consulting firm that helps clients build customer equity by delivering compelling customer experiences. John’s newest book Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company (www.AddictedCustomers.com) spells out the psychological principles that get customers engaged and business strategies that these principles into action. Check his website for upcoming seminar and workshop on Building Customer Equity.