On the evening of Aug. 3, 1492, a brave Italian named Cristoforo Colombo did something that required more faith, courage and confidence than anything you or I can ever imagine. At 41 years old, Cristoforo held a very unpopular belief that would’ve had him killed if spoken in the wrong circles. As we all have learned, he believed the world was round instead of flat. Such belief was heresy in his time.
Before he set sail on that historic date, and for a number of years after, humankind operated with a major false belief. Every fiber of being thought the world was flat. And that belief largely limited the possibilities of many great developments that became available after knowing that the world is round. Can you imagine what that would be like?
Take any major belief you hold as 100 percent true and think about suddenly finding out that it’s not true. Like one day finding out that water is unhealthy. Or that gravity is not an invisible force pulling us down, but a controllable force from above is pushing us downward.
Of course, I don’t know if either of those speculative predictions will ever happen, but I am absolutely certain that we do all have other false beliefs and operate our lives based on them.
In this article, I’m going to take you on a little voyage of our own. Not unlike Columbus, we will disprove four falsehoods (I call them "bold-faced lies") most self-storage operators believe to be true regarding marketing.
Perhaps you, like so many others, have been taught these things, perhaps by folks with an ulterior motive. Maybe you’ve always assumed them to be true. If so, prepare to change your thinking.
I’m certain this will cause a stir among advertising people who make a commission from selling you space. But, be assured that I have no motive other than to help you make more money at the end of each year.
Lie No.1: You Should Focus on 'Getting Your Brand Out'
Every now and then a buzzword hits, and everybody talks about it before it fades away. "Branding" is a perfect example. It originally started as a way for livestock owners to show ownership of their herds. Somehow, this was transferred into the business world. For a long time thereafter, a brand was simply a logo. Add an "ing" and now it’s an activity.
There is so much confusion about what branding actually means that most folks who try it end up wasting enough money to feed a small country. Some operators feel that "getting your brand out" is branding. I guess it could be. But, I can’t think of a more colossal waste of your hard-earned profits than simply running ads with your logo on it.
Media salespeople love to sell you this because you buy into the falsity that you need to run an ad over and over again for it to pay off. Bogus!
Don’t get me wrong: Having a solid brand that people trust, talk about and perceive as having value is priceless. But it’s a holistic process that involves much more than simply slapping your logo on a billboard or direct mailer.
Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble and GM have the billion-dollar marketing budgets to pull this off. Most likely, you don’t. Therefore, when you spend a dollar on advertising, you need a measurable response that puts at least a dollar back into your pocket. An ad with your logo and tagline do not accomplish this, yet many operators have bought into this lie.
Branding is a long-term process that involves an entire customer experience from the time an audience sees your first ad, to thoughts of your customer service, unit cleanliness, pricing, innovations, etc.
When you do all of those things exceptionally well, you will begin creating a brand in your marketplace that is priceless. Just don’t buy the lie that you "brand" by simply putting your logo "out there."
Lie No. 2: To Make More, You Must Spend More
I have yet to find an operator in this industry that doesn’t have at least five underleveraged facets of a marketing system. By this I mean that many have been brainwashed to think that by spending more on a particular facet, you can get more results. For example, by simply changing the words printed on your Yellow Pages ad, you can increase response by 10 percent to 100 percent, without spending another penny.
By answering more of your phone calls and converting them into tenants at a higher rate, you’re leveraging anything that is generating the phone call, without spending another penny! By learning how to up-sell tenants on ancillary products and utilizing marketing strategies to help you do that, you’re leveraging that tenant and making more money and, again, it’s without spending another penny!
Get the drift? Before you buy into a lie that you need a bigger Yellow Pages ad, more radio time or whatever you’re currently being sold, make sure you’re leveraging your existing investments before you dump more money into a never-ending pit.
Lie No. 3: You Must 'Close the Deal' With Prospects
This one drives me absolutely crazy. Think of the last time you were trying to make a buying decision and the salesperson kept pushing you. How did you feel? Did you instantly lose any intelligence or priorities and decide to buy just because they "asked for the sale"?
Better yet, think to the last time you were considering buying something. You weren’t quite sure if it was a good fit for you, but thought you would explore options. How did it make you feel when that salesperson pushed you? If anything, I’ll bet it pushed you away from the sale, not toward it.
It’s awfully pretentious and naive to think that every person who calls or stops in needs to become a customer. The key to a successful closing is to help the person determine if you’re a good fit for each other or not. By assuming the sale, you will not only annoy people but also reduce your chances of ever having a good conversation that will set up a win-win, long-term relationship.
It’s a bit of a paradox, but as soon as you quit pushing people to buy from you and begin trying to determine if you can really help the person, your sales numbers will soar. Yet many people are still teaching old school "push for the sale" tactics that simply don’t work anymore and are an insult to your prospect’s intelligence.
Lie No. 4: Yellow Pages Are Still the Most Effective Advertising Medium
Every time I read a statistic saying that the highest percentage of tenants come from the Yellow Pages, I shudder. The statistic is absolutely real. But, a vast majority of operators only advertise in the Yellow Pages!
If you’re only doing one thing, of course it’s going to account for most of your results. Operators that test other mediums report numbers that are quite different. Once you accept the fact that other marketing mediums exist and work and begin testing them, you’ll notice your percentage of Yellow Pages rentals will drop.
The good news is other mediums are much cheaper to implement and easier to control, and you’re not stuck with them for a year if they don’t prove worthwhile. Yellow Pages still have their place in this industry, but I challenge you to test other mediums as well.
Please forgive my boldness. I realize I’m not changing beliefs of the magnitude that Christopher Columbus did 516 years ago, but I do hope that I’ve helped you think about a few of your current beliefs. Moreover, I hope you can save the fortune you may be wasting on these falsehoods and put it toward better use and more effective marketing methods.
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.