Cooking Up Some "Southern Fried" Marketing

Would you let these guys into your home?

Since I started writing for ICS in 2007, I’ve covered a lot of ground. But I don’t like to just write the same old thing each year and, more importantly, I want to make sure that I am connecting with you. So I asked the ICS Bulletin Board, “What should I write about?”

Someone suggested I write “a cookbook, Southern-fried style.” Well, it just so happens that I’m from L.A. (Lower Alabama!), and a few years ago I created a character named “Bubba” to depict the unscrupulous carpet cleaners of the world who take advantage of unsuspecting customers by advertising a low price, charging more than the quote and doing a lousy job on top of it all.

Well, Bubba is real! Your customers know about Bubba! Bubba has been in their home! The problem is they don’t know you ain’t him because, if you’re like most cleaners, you do not have a clearly defined marketing message that outlines what makes you the best choice among all the others.

What is Your Unique Message?

Why should people choose you over someone else? In Marketing 101, you learn about what’s called a USP (Unique Selling Proposition), what it is that sets you apart from the competition. In other words, what unique benefits do you bring to the party?

What do people think when they see your ad? What do those who know about your service say when they talk to other people about you? Last year I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Joseph A. Michelli, best-selling author of The Starbucks Experience. He has studied the inside of America’s most “experiential” companies like The Ritz Carlton Hotel, World Famous Pike Place Fish Market, Zappos, and of course, Starbucks.

Michelli says that a brand is nothing more than what people say about you when you’re not around. For years, I have taught a marketing message that will set any company apart and help them position themselves with five unique points of differentiation, the first being Reputation. So I was pleased to hear Brent Bowthorpe, an instructor at Interlink’s “Planning to Win” symposium, say that your brand is basically your reputation.

Bubba, the world’s most notorious carpet cleaner

The Message of Most Cleaners and Restorers

If you look at most of the advertising and marketing done by most small businesses – not just cleaners – you will find that the most prominent message revolves around “price” or “work.”

Let’s deal with price first.

Price advertising comes in many different forms. The form we are most familiar with is a coupon with a price on it. But other forms of price advertising include the words you use in your advertising, like the way you carry yourself; the way you dress; your materials; your van. Everything that the community sees says “I’m cheap!” (which means you must not be that good).

Regardless what type of price advertising you do, price advertising always does one thing: it attracts price shoppers! Hello! If you are attracting a multitude of price shoppers, you may want to take a look at how you are marketing your company. There are actually three types of price advertisers:

  • The Bait-and-Switch Guys. They advertise some ridiculous price like $39.95, never intending to honor it. The fine print on the coupon says “heavily soiled carpet requires our deep scrub method.” How many carpets are heavily soiled? All of them!
  • The Price Merchandiser. Now wait a minute. If price advertising doesn’t work, why are all the bigger companies price advertisers? Aha! Those in this category that are actually successful have a few secret weapons that you don’t have. They have massive advertising budgets designed to generate leads, and a bank of operators there to close the sale. Their advertising budget may be $500,000 per month and yours is $1,500! Big difference!
  • The Uninformed Independent Carpet Cleaner. This is the saddest case of all when it comes to price advertisers. This is the guy that sees the external “success” of his price merchandising competitor, probably the one that is undercutting his price and beating the snot out of him. So, to compete, he places the same type of ad, but for a little cheaper.

    What he doesn’t realize is that he has placed one ad while his competitor has placed 40. His competitor is not on the truck answering his calls on his cell phone. He is unaware of the amount of volume his competitor must do just to break even.
  • You have to compare apples to apples. If you are a professional carpet cleaner who believes in education, certification, and a high level of expertise (especially if you are a one-truck operator), then you have tremendous benefits over this other company. Start marketing that rather than copying them.

    One of the Most Powerful Marketing Campaigns Ever!

    Years ago, I got fed up with bait-and-switch cleaners and needed a way to communicate our message better. I was at Surfaces and came across someone selling Bubba teeth. We had this old van in the back of our shop, and I came up with the idea for Bubba the Carpet Cleaner. Our clients loved it! Bubba and his kin have been a part of our marketing ever since.

    Author’s Note: If you would like to use Bubba in your marketing, send me an e-mail at Include your name, company and address, and I will send you two Bubba postcards that you can use at absolutely no charge. Not available in Houston, Nashville, Pensacola, or West Palm Beach.

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