Direct Selling: Hero Worship
Products and services. That's what we sell. Every company has something to offer, whether it's a tangible good, training, technology, or financial products and services. As marketers, we are in the business of selling "things." But some of these products stand out because they provide the solutions to problems people need answered. They are your best-sellers. We hang the mantle of "hero" upon these products because they are not only profit generators, but also represent your biggest opportunities.
What Makes a Hero?
Heroes are those signature products responsible for the majority of your company's sales. In many cases, they are the products that define a company and the rest of its assortment. What would McDonald's be without the Big Mac? It's the unquestionable superstar of the fast food chain's menu. Heroes are those defining products, those unique, exclusive offerings that reflect your brand and introduce customers to who and what you're all about.
No matter what medium you sell in—Web site, e-mail, television, space ads—your hero should be front and center. You might assume that because heroes are best-sellers already, they shouldn't receive all the prominence in marketing campaigns. Never assume, "It's going to sell no matter what." You cannot take that for granted, not with your company or potential customers. Remember, you continue to prominently promote heroes not for the 5 percent to 10 percent of customers and prospects who already have purchased the product. You do it for the 90 percent to 95 percent who haven't.
Your hero presentation should be as visual as possible. Easy to say, of course, because we work in visual media. But selling at a glance is something many companies overlook. Consumers must understand, at a glance, what your hero is all about. If they don't see it, you won't sell it. In all of your campaigns, use callouts, insets and in-use photos to tell the rest of the story if a photo of the product isn't enough. Consumers buy products for one of two reasons: 1) how it looks or 2) what it does.
Where does your hero fit? Are you showing it so customers understand how unique and special it is? If you sell a service, how can you visually explain the solution you provide with attention-grabbing words and pictures? The copy that sells these products is equally important. Do you understand the true value of the product, and can you quickly articulate the emotional benefit?
Separate your hero from the sea of competitors. Who are you competing with? What do you offer that they do not? How do you address differentiation or lack thereof? With so many products and messages competing for people's attention, your hero must prove its worth and show true, sustainable value. This is where product development teams must work with marketing and creative to craft products and messages worthy of hero status. If your hero is too similar to other products on the market, it will flounder in obscurity. But with a well-planned, tightly coordinated product and marketing strategy, you can thrust your heroes into the spotlight they deserve.
In the Spotlight
Progressive Insurance has made a name for itself in the car insurance game. Its commercials emphasize affordable, competitive rates for car insurance. What the general consumer may not realize is that Progressive offers other types of insurance, including home, renters, boat, RV, even life insurance. But for Progressive, auto insurance is the clear hero.
It stands front and center in TV advertising efforts and on the Web site. In fact, a quick check of Progressive.com reveals the company's commitment to the auto insurance story. The homepage allows you to get a quick, instant quote. For the type of insurance, the word "auto" occupies the auto-fill form. It even has a brief survey to glean why people are visiting the site. First in the list of options for that question is "get a car insurance quote." This is no coincidence. While a full range of services is available, from other insurance plans to support information, the hero stands above them all. Best of all, once a prospect becomes a customer, the upsell opportunity to other products becomes much easier.
Another example of giving its hero the headlines is National Geographic. The long-running nature education publication certainly has diversified itself in the past decade. No longer simply a newsstand staple, National Geographic Society is a multimedia entity, with online videos, DVDs and its own cable channel. But for a magazine that began in 1888, one of its offerings remains king—subscriptions.
Even though the National Geographic Web site bursts with informative articles, vibrant photos, streaming videos and other tidbits about nature and history, the tried-and-true magazine subscription manages to gain attention. Again, this is by design. The site's top navigation bar presents six search options, with the "Subscriptions" emblazoned in red text to stand apart from the others. Interestingly, the only other action button in red is the word "Shop." And guess what? The primary item featured is, you guessed it, the subscription. The site search function sits right below the top navigation, and next to it a large callout promotes magazine subscriptions with a large, enticing price point. Even Nat Geo, the cable channel, advertises subscriptions.
Creating a Superhero
No matter what your hero is, there seems to always be an opportunity to create an even better product or differentiate it even further. How? Simply listen to what your customers want, and improve on what you already have. Listening is key to transforming a hero into a superhero.
Take a look at your hero product. What do customers like about the product? What problem does it solve for them? Can you find other ways to help solve the same problem in a more efficient way? Can you add new features to improve performance? Or can you combine it with another product to create more options for consumers? Explore these questions, and chances are you will find multiple opportunities to elevate your current hero products to superhero status.
Improving on your heroes is a great opportunity to jump-start lackluster results and campaigns. The key is to evaluate what has worked in the past and capitalize on those efforts with a renewed plan of action.