In my 35 years working with business owners, entrepreneurs, and big corporate clients, I’ve seen many approaches to marketing. Unfortunately, most of them are narrow, limiting, and, well, wrong.

I don’t have space, here, for a full discussion of everything marketing is and isn’t, should and shouldn’t be. But one of its best functions has always been “business reinvention” — and there’s never been a better or more necessary time for that. Of late, the entire U.S. economy has been weighed down with a massive over-supply of look-alike, do-alike, painfully ordinary businesses doing ordinary things in ordinary ways.

Walt Disney defined good marketing as doing what you do so well and so uniquely that people can’t resist telling others about you. He started by reinventing the amusement park. His innovations included the single entry/exit design — forcing visitors to leave through the main shopping area and souvenir stands. (This innovation is now replicated in the exit paths from individual attractions within the Disney parks.) He also initiated the concept of paying by the day vs. buying tickets for rides. And he included park cleanliness as a marketing function, not as a necessary evil cost of operations.

Howard Schultz reinvented the coffee shop as Starbucks. The concept of fractional ownership common for decades in time-share real estate reinvented the private aircraft business, exotic automobile use, even pet ownership. (Yes, people time-share pets!)

Diana Coutu of Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg doubled her sales thanks to innovations not at all common to pizza places. For example, she established several levels of “membership,” with the fees automatically charged to customers’ credit cards every month. (This stabilized her income and locked in customers in advance.) She also offered multiple ways for customers to take home her products — cooked and ready to eat, frozen and ready to heat, from-scratch kits (for “family fun nights”), and raw dough. And she developed a comprehensive direct-to-customers marketing strategy built around a newsletter and website.

Nigel Worrel reinvented the business of renting out homes to Florida vacationers with clubs, bundled excursion and adventure activities, and extraordinary marketing. He put the emphasis on the enjoyment of the vacation, not on X number of bedrooms plus a pool for Y dollars a day. And his business is booming, even while most Florida travel destinations cry about the recession.

Chris Hurn, CEO of Kennedy’s All-American Barber Club, a new national franchise that I am chief strategic marketing advisor to (and that was given my name) has reinvented the traditional barber shop by combining straight-razor shaves, a men’s club atmosphere, and various membership programs as opposed to cafeteria pricing.

(By the way, if you like, you can find out more about the above businesses at: onegreatpizza.ca and dianasgourmetpizzeria.ca, friendsdontletfriendsstayinhotels.com, and KennedysBarberClub.com.)

In all these cases, marketing is not used as a means of getting a customer or making a sale. Instead, it is used in the context of dynamically changing the business itself and delivering an entirely different customer experience.

And with this approach, they are thriving.

Now is the time for you to aim higher with your business. While your competitors are stripping down in a panic-driven stampede to cheap, you can and should elevate your game. Don’t think of marketing as separate from service and fulfillment or merely as a means to make sales. Instead, think about your business as a whole — with every aspect of it working in concert to woo and wow customers.

Here is the hierarchy:

  • When you’re at the bottom, you think of yourself as selling commodities — providing things that people buy because they need them.
  • If you’re one step up, you think of yourself as selling things that people want — products and services that deliver specific benefits.
  • If you’re one step up from that, you think of yourself as selling the solutions to your customers’ problems and the fulfillment of their unmet desires.
  • And if you’re at the top, you think of yourself as selling exceptional experiences.

Anyone in any business can place themselves at the peak of this pyramid.

You begin by questioning every industry norm, tradition, and belief. You must be willing to throw out the ideas and practices now defining the way you market and operate your business.

Then you search for opportunities to make your business something entirely different and more meaningful to your customer than just a provider of goods and services.

The word “meaningful” is key. In my own marketing efforts, I never focus on selling “things.” I focus on making my — or my client’s — business an important and meaningful part of the customer’s life.

Very, very, very few business owners are willing to take such a radical approach. We have a term for them: multi-millionaires.

[Ed. Note: Marketing legend Dan Kennedy has written a report, “The Professor of Harsh Reality’s Blueprint for PROSPERITY Now… in UnProsperous Times,” to help entrepreneurs not just survive but thrive in today’s harsh economic climate. And it’s available free to Early to Risers.]

Dan Kennedy

Dan Kennedy is internationally recognized as the ‘Millionaire Maker,’ helping people in just about every category of business turn their ideas into fortunes. Dan’s “No B.S.” approach is refreshing amidst a world of small business marketing hype and enriches those who act on his advice.

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