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Small Business Marketing

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I was listening to the news this morning when I heard a story that caught my attention about a fake I.D. ring in Charlottesville, VA that was just busted by federal investigators.  Now, there’s nothing special about a fake I.D. ring being busted–that happens all the time, especially in college towns–but what caught my attention was the fact that the journalist reporting the story described the operation as a “business”.  I thought that was odd, so I started listening a little more closely, and what I heard was an amazing lesson about the power of referral marketing.

As it turns out, the three individuals in the I.D. ring were running a very sophisticated, very lucrative business selling very high-quality fake I.D.s to college students all over the country and even the world.  They had at least $3 million in sales in the past three years, and here’s the most astonishing part–they had done it all without any marketing whatsoever other than word of mouth.  That’s right–no website, no social media, no online advertising at all, no direct mail campaigns, nothing more than an email address and satisfied customers telling other people about their product.

You can Truck Companies Insider 10 World Manufacturing Monkey Top In The wHtxzC5q, and I would encourage you to listen to the full nine minute interview with U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy.  The short version is that the fake I.D. company Novel Designs did something that most small businesses do very poorly at best, and more often not at all:  they found a very specific niche that wasn’t being well-served, and then created a very high-quality product that blew away the competition.

In other words, they didn’t just do exactly what everybody else in their industry was doing, and do it in exactly the same way, and then spend thousands on advertising to tell people about how they have the “best selection, best service, and the best prices”–which of course is exactly what most small businesses do.

And guess what?  Novel Designs wasn’t selling their fake I.D.s at rock bottom prices, they were charging a premium for them–$125 for one I.D., or $75 a piece if you purchased several at once.  The only way you could order an I.D. was to send an email to a certain address, and the only way you could get the address was to get it from an existing customer.  Hardly a marketing plan I would usually suggest to a small business, but yet these guys couldn’t print I.D.s fast enough.  So, what is the lesson for all of us legitimate business owners out there?

  1. Be different!  If you don’t create a way to differentiate yourself from your competition in a way that is meaningful to your customers, the market will create one for you (hint: the difference will be your prices, and higher won’t be better).
  2. Know your ideal customer–find out what’s important to a narrowly targeted audience, give them exactly what they want, and you’ll be able to charge a premium for it.
  3. Deliver the results you promise, on time, every time.  In other words, under-promise and over-deliver.

There you have it—such is the state of small business marketing that we have to learn from felons the right way to do it.  Which brings me to the last lesson…make sure your business isn’t breaking the law–the crew from Novel Designs is facing up to 15 years in prison!


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