There seems to be a constant battle between sales and production. Salespeople promise faster delivery than production can meet. They promise better products and cheaper prices. Production staff realize they need sales to have a job, but wish the sales team would accurately represent the product and be realistic about schedules.
There’s a similar battle going on between marketing and legal departments. In my world, we kindly refer to attorneys as “sales killers” or “response busters.” (Here I apologize to any self-storage attorneys who may be reading this. I know you're just doing your job. And I’m sure attorneys I’ve worked with have great names for me too.)
From a marketing perspective, we need to address consumer hot buttons and differentiate ourselves from the competition. To do that, we need clear and powerful content. Words like "safe," "secure," "guaranteed," "free" and "best"—all words with which the legal department takes major issue. An attorney’s job is to protect you from future lawsuits and legal hassles. Telling a prospect that your self-storage facility is “safe and secure” opens the doors to potential trouble. After all, there’s no way to ensure that your customers and their belongings will always be safe and secure.
But safety and security is a major consumer hot button. Tto effectively market your facility, you must address the issue. Sure, you can say things such as “security cameras” and “gated access” that imply a degree of security, but such language is watered down. Which of the following statements addresses the emotional hot button and concern more clearly?
- “We have gated access, security cameras and a fully fenced property.”
- “At XYZ Storage, you’ll feel safe and your belongings will be secure while stored on our property. Digital cameras record activity 24/7, and our gated property is one of the safest facilities in town. You have nothing to worry about.”
Certainly the second one better addresses the concerns of the average consumer , and you’ll receive more response from an ad containing this language. However, I doubt you’ll find an attorney willing to sign off on it. If something were to happen to someone while at your facility or if a unit was broken into, you might have a lawsuit on your hands.
Finding Balance, Taking Risk
We all want more sales, but we don’t want to paint a legal bull’s-eye on our foreheads either. It's a hard line to walk.
Legal departments often take things way too far and kill the effectiveness of many advertisements out there. This costs operators a fortune in potential sales and wastes advertising dollars. I know attorneys are simply doing what they can to keep you out of hot water—and that’s exactly what they’re paid to do. But as a business owner, you must generate sales at the lowest possible cost and weigh all factors.
One way or another, you’re taking risk. If you run an ad with the blessing of a good attorney, you’re risking potential revenue. If you run one that is powerful in terms of message, you run a chance of getting sued somewhere down the road. There's no black-and-white answer to this debate. I lean toward stronger marketing with more risk than “safe” ads that don’t generate the same volume of sales. That’s a risk I’m willing to take, especially with a good lease in place that clearly outlines what you do and do not warrant in regard to advertising claims.
"Safe" and "secure" aside, the word "free" is also under attack in this industry. For example, “free use of truck” or “free month of rent” are two favorites used by operators. The legal problems come when you advertise “free” and don’t really give anything without consideration of something in exchange.
My answer to that is not complicated ... really give a free month of rent! No strings attached. No admin fee. No minimum commitment. Many will think this is a form of business suicide. Sure, you’ll have people move in and out within 30 days and you won’t make a profit from them. But you’ll have many more that move in with that offer because it’s hard to refuse, and they'll stay for several months or even years. Weighing the difference between gain and loss is critical.
I’m not an attorney, nor should this be constituted as legal advice. It seems to me you can use just about whatever language you find effective in your marketing as long as you keep up your end of the bargain and have a good lease agreement in place.
In this tough economic time and ultra-competitive marketplace, we must be creative and make bold offers to those considering our facilities. Think outside the proverbial box and get creative. Like anything else in life, we must weigh the risk and reward of everything. Challenge commonplace advice and beliefs before making a decision. You just might be surprised at how little “real” risk there is and how big the upside can be.
Derek M. Naylor is president of Storage Marketing Solutions, a full-service, results-oriented marketing and advertising agency dedicated to the self-storage industry. For a free subscription to his e-newsletter, call 800.941.4805; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.storagemarketingsolutions.com.