The Four P's of Strategic Marketing

Feb. 1, 1999
For rental companies to compete successfully in today's competitive business environment, they would benefit from re-examining their marketing efforts.

For rental companies to compete successfully in today's competitive business environment, they would benefit from re-examining their marketing efforts. Effective strategic marketing is a great equalizer, regardless of a rental company's size or structure. Many a competitor will succumb to the targeted, creative marketing campaigns of their rivals, often being unable or ill-prepared to respond until it's too late. The stakes are high, and strategic marketing is an essential piece of the competitive puzzle.

This is probably not the best of times to draw upon a political analogy, but marketing campaigns are indeed comparable to political campaigns. Both must be directed at the right audience and carry the right message - with consistency and at the right times. Players in either the political or business arena who espouse the most relevantly understood message will win.

Politics aside, let's take a look at some of the things that you, a rental manager or owner, can do to enhance your marketing efforts: You will need to be clear on what strategic marketing is and is not. It is not to be confused with sales or selling skills. Marketing is not the art of selling a product or service. Rather, it is a management process that defines what is promoted and sold, how the product or service is sold, to whom, and at what price. Strategic marketing is a series of purposeful, effective communications and actions intended to achieve and maintain a mutually beneficial provider/customer relationship.

How can you enhance your efforts in managing a strategic marketing effort? There are several ways, and here are some steps you can take to improve your company's market efforts. Start with the four "P's" of strategic marketing - product, price, place and promotion.

Product: Define what you offer.

Competitively speaking, decide just what it is that your organization is very good at doing. How do you see your competitive advantage in the marketplace? Carefully establish a list of the services and rental products that best fit within your capabilities and limitations. Being a jack-of-all-trades really does mean that you'll become a master of none. Odds are that the one competitor who beats you to the punch consistently spends his or her time improving a "focused" arsenal of offerings.

Price: Set competitive pricing.

Recently, I was engaged in a spirited conversation with a rental center owner. When I asked him what he was pricing, he told me emphatically, "I am pricing my rental products by the day, the week and the month in some cases."

Even though I knew that I was on shaky ground, I took the next step anyway.

"So you are pricing those trenchers. Great. What is included in your price? Is your advice, the demonstration of how the equipment works, a guarantee of good working order, emergency service, available delivery and added discounts for additional units included in your price?"

"Of course" came the answer.

"Then why does every pricing sheet, every piece of literature and sign that I see here not say anything about these services that you include in every price, every day? Do your counter people summarize for the customer what it is that the customer truly gets for your price?" I asked.

When marketing a price, never assume that the targeted audience understands what your pricing represents. Remind them frequently.

Place: What form of distribution are you hanging your hat on?

What method of sales distribution do you rely upon most, and is it best suited for your business? Take some time to perform a critical evaluation of your forms of sales distribution. Are you reaching the potential marketplace often enough through different sales avenues?

Look at sales distribution as the component of the marketing mix that determines how and where a potential customer can be sold on what your company has to offer. What channels of distribution do you employ successfully? Among the alternatives are these: direct selling, incentive-based referrals from others in the channel, interactive Internet selling, partnering efforts, and any other method of getting your product and service to the market.

Promotion: Do it as though no one knows your company.

The most difficult thing for many of us in business to accept in the area of promotion or advertising is the fact that the targeted potential customers really may not know us at all, nor do they care to.

Advertise creatively, and put forward a consistent message. All media today is crowded. It may be time to break the mold with the help of a professional advertising agency if necessary. Investigate print media, local radio, phone directories, Internet phone directories, fax broadcasts, electronic media such as descriptive computer disks mailed to purchasing directors, and any other form of media that can carry a message.

In some marketing circles, there is growing talk of a fifth "P," the process of public relations. Ask yourself if you have made an effort to inform the local public about the benefits of renting. Communicate by means of issuing effective press releases. Have you considered donating the use of a piece of equipment to a worthy community project? Have you offered to write an article on the value of renting for your local newspaper's business section? Become more familiar with different ways you can promote objective community information about the rental industry.

Effective marketing can make the difference between doing just OK or doing so well that your competition sits up and takes notice. Think like a marketer in terms of understanding target audiences and by placing carefully crafted messages. Consider all that you do within the marketing mix as being essential to your success. Increasing competition demands that you do so.