Marketing Expert John Jantsch Discusses How to Stand Out in the Self-Storage Industry

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By Jay MacDonald

Reprinted with permission from "The Storage Facilitator" blog.

Like the durable, dependable inspiration behind his Duct Tape Marketing network for small-business consulting, John Jantsch knows a thing or two about stick-to-itiveness. The popular Kansas City, Mo., marketing guru and author of the bestseller “Duct Tape Marketing” combines old-school customer-service techniques with new-school social media savvy to give the little guys a leg up on their less-nimble corporate competitors.

A frequent public speaker, Jantsch has shared his secrets of brand stickiness with the sales teams at American Express Open, eBay and Microsoft, as well as the American Marketing Association, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. His latest book, “Duct Tape Selling—Think Like a Marketer, Sell Like a Superstar,” hit bookstores on May 15. Here he shares his insight with self-storage operators.

Self-storage is a curious niche, and one many operators find difficult to market effectively. In fact, it’s often said that empty space in general, whether it’s apartments, hotels or storage units, is one of the least sexy products around. What’s the “Duct Tape” secret to selling storage space?

JJ: The first thing you must do is stop thinking about it as space and start thinking about it as a way to make someone’s dream come true. Now, that may seem a little far-fetched at first, but why do people really use space of any type? It’s to get more of something they have now—more room, a good night’s sleep, a place to call home. When you approach it from this point of view first, you can start to differentiate your space from that of everyone else.

It’s just as often said that one storage unit is pretty much the same as the next. What tips would you have to help owners differentiate their facilities from the competition?

JJ: When selling what feels very much like a commodity—three walls and a door—you must focus on the experience, so people want to tell their friends and come back the next time they need storage. To do that, you must find a way to actually be different. This can be through things like your service, your advertising, your business approach, your signage, your customer events or your referral program.

Which successful product or service from a completely different market segment would storage operators be wise to emulate, and why?

JJ: Instead of an actual name of a product or service, I’ll choose an attribute or personality characteristic: convenience. People today want no-hassle buying. If there are long-standing policies in your industry that everyone dislikes, find a way to get rid of them, even if people say you’re crazy.

What’s the one misstep most small businesses make when it comes to marketing?

JJ: Trying to attract all comers. You’ve got to understand who and what makes an ideal customer for your business, and focus on serving and attracting them. This is how some self-storage companies charge a great deal more than others—by demonstrating they cater to the needs of a very narrow target market.

What’s the smartest move a storage facility can make to lift itself to the next level?

JJ: Go to work on building the biggest strategic partner network you can and start referring lots of business to them. When you find and nurture relationships with noncompeting businesses that also serve your ideal customers, you can build a large referral network while serving your customers even better.

Everybody complains that they don’t have the budget to mount an effective marketing effort. What’s the key to making a big splash with a small budget?

JJ: Focus on doing things that get your customers to share and talk. Your greatest bang for your buck comes from delighting your current customers and turning them into advocates for your brand.

Jay MacDonald is a Florida-based freelance writer who contributes regularly to the blogs at SpareFoot.com and SelfStorage.com. His work also appears on websites such as Bankrate.com and CreditCards.com. "The Storage Facilitator" is a self-storage blog managed by SpareFoot and hosted by partners SelfStorage.com.

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