Seek to Better Understand

The Challenge of Looking Past the Obvious

challengeWhen a business owner or manager is asked to describe their greatest challenge, the response is, too often, an obvious symptom. My competitors’ undercut my prices. I need to find a better location, but this is all I can afford. I can’t find good employees who will provide good customer service. These are the stated obvious issues, but they will not help us get past the obvious and lead to developing a plan for business success.


During a recent class in Basic Marketing, I asked the students to look past the obvious and consider the marketing plan for GEICO. The gecko, the caveman and all the other ads point to a very expensive advertising budget. Looking past the ads themselves, ask how can they afford the expense as part of a marketing plan? State Farm, All-State and the others advertise, but not at that level. One of the elements of a marketing plan is the marketing mix. The marketing mix consists of the Four Ps; Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. GEICO’s product is the same as the competitors. GEICO claims lower prices, but so do the others. GEICO’s promotion is mass advertising. The competitor’s promotion involves personal selling by agents. GEICO does not. The saving they achieve is used to advertise. But more importantly, GEICO has changed the Place from the agents visit or office to the telephone and internet. The warm feeling you used to get from the personal agent has been replaced with the warm feeling your receive watching the cute little gecko with the British accent.

Let’s continue by observing some businesses closer to home.

The Sign Shop and Promotion

Clients and good friends of mine purchased a sign shop several years ago. They continued to use the name of the established business and maintained the store location near a busy intersection. Approximately one year after taking over the business, they asked me to meet with them and develop a plan for business success.

From their perspective, Price was the most important element in their marketing mix. They saw that they lost business to the completion purely on Price. They were frustrated and reacted to in a number of ways. Discounts were provided to anyone from their chamber of commerce or other networking groups. They mailed coupons. All their attention was on Price.

During our discussions, we began to review the other elements of the marketing mix. Their store location, Place, was not on the main highway but was near a busy intersection, so it was adequate. It was concluded that their Promotion needed to be mass local-focused advertising, which they achieve through radio advertising and chamber of commerce promotions. Personal selling occurred when the prospect came into the store. Discussions revealed that they had a very extensive line of interesting Products which, for the most part, were unknown in the local market. They included; decorative covers for laptop computers, graphics for mail boxes, reusable golf tournament hole signs, and trade show displays. The Promotion of these items gave this business a competitive advantage and brought people into the store. The second feature of the product or service was the owner. He was an experienced and proven commercial artist. He had taught commercial art on the college level, owned his own commercial design company and held management positions in the design departments of several large corporation. The service he provided went far beyond that of a sign maker.

In general the marketing plan adapted could be summarized by their new slogan, “We aren’t the cheapest, but we are the best”. No longer did they concentrate on having the lowest price. Their pricing was fair and reflected the value received. Those who needed a cheap sign went somewhere else. Those who needed a quality product became repeat customers. The shop had looked past the obvious, survived through a down economy and is steadily building its business.

The Pizza Shop and Marketing

 Several weeks ago, on a Saturday night, we ordered a pizza from a smallmarketingItalian restaurant in a neighboring town. The restaurant is located in a strip mall well off the main street in town. The town is a resort community with restaurants, shops, and entertainment. The mall contains a number of shops and is adjacent to popular miniature golf course.

I decided to pick-up the pizza myself and drove to the restaurant. As I approached the front door, I noticed a white sheet of paper scotched-taped to the front glass door. There on the paper in magic marker where the words, “Rest Room for Customers Only”.  Upon entering the restaurant, I noticed that of the eight tables in the restaurant only two were occupied and this was a Saturday night.

First consider the obvious. Next to the restaurant was a miniature golf course where parent bring their children to play. Children have notoriously small bladders and at some time before, during, or after the round need to empty them. The search is on for a rest room and there is none at the golf course. The restaurant owner is either bothered by the intrusion into his restaurant by none customers or has had an argument with the miniature golf course operator about their need for a rest room. His action is to post an ugly unwelcoming sign on the door.

Looking beyond the obvious, ask yourself what McDonald’s would do. I do a lot of traveling in a car and find it often necessary to stop for a potty break. Where’s the best place to stop. You got it McDonald’s. The rest rooms are clean and they reflect the consistency of good service that they provide. You may or may not be a fan of the food, but you can count on good service.

Let’s suggest that the restaurant owner turn his problem into an opportunity, remembering that a small Italian restaurant is a family place and that kids love pizza. First, take down the sign. Second, make friends with the owner of the miniature golf course and put up a sign announcing that rest rooms are available in the pizza shop. Now, when families enter the restaurant greet them warmly, offer them a take-out menu, and maybe offer a sample of pizza. In the marketing mix, a problem has become a Promotional opportunity.

Looking past the obvious can be an important part of business success. Outsider, such as business coaches look at businesses from a different perspective and can be of great assistance. We are interested in your questions and comment. Email: