Staying relevant in a changing market : ColoradoBiz Magazine

Think like your customer

Tim Dodge

Nothing in nature stays constant; our world is constantly changing. Businesses are the same. Your company is either getting stronger or weaker, but it is never static.

Every business owner and manager faces the same challenge: how to stay relevant in a changing market. Customer expectations evolve, and one of our jobs is to make sure that we continue to offer a product or service that customers actually want or need – at a price that makes sense.

What do you do when you are making a pitch and a customer or potential customer asks, “So what?” (Someone less diplomatic might ask, “What’s in it for me?”) When I hear this question, I sense an opportunity make my product relevant. The danger is to start talking about features instead of benefits or, even worse, to start talking about benefits that don’t matter to the customer.

At Anthony’s, we spend a lot of time thinking about our products. We constantly evaluate new food offerings. We work to get quality ingredients and sometimes we have to replace a vendor if quality deteriorates. We also think about our menu, prices, service, presentation and brand. All of these elements combine into that ephemeral thing called Customer Experience.

Rule #1: Know what your customer wants.

Having a product or service that your customers might possibly want to buy is only part of the process. You also have to explain why they should choose your product. Sometimes this is easy – you are riding a trend, or you have a great location, or you truly have built a better mousetrap. More often, however, this means that you have to relate to your customers on their terms.

We have a very clear vision about the Anthony’s brand. Although we have 30 years of tradition, we also are willing to change. While we have not changed our pizza recipe, our commitment to wholesome and tasty ingredients, or our support for the community, we have been very willing to change parts of the company that many considered sacred. Over the last few years we’ve redesigned our logo, remodeled our restaurants, updated our menu, become very strategic about where and when we advertise, and refined our marketing message. We did all of this because our customers’ expectations were changing and we saw a need to change with them.

Rule #2: Know how to speak your customers’ language.

Sometimes you have a great product (by that I mean you have a great value proposition, the Customer Experience and pricing are right in the sweet spot) and you also have a clear message to explain to potential customers why your product is the best choice – but you still need to make potential customers aware that you exist.

In some ways, we live in the best of times and the worst of times. We all have competitors, in some cases more competitors than ever. We all work to get our marketing message out in an increasingly cluttered environment, to customers who have a plethora of choices when deciding where to spend their money. At the same time we have more tools to identify our customers. We also know more about our customers, which helps us more effectively make our pitch. And we are better able to develop a relationship with our customers beyond a one-time sales transaction by employing loyalty programs, social media, relevant email/text communications and more.

We spend a lot of time at Anthony’s thinking about our marketing efforts and our brand identity. We work on the basics, such as food quality and service, but we also leverage our 25 stores to expand our reach far beyond what three or five stores would be able to accomplish. We have corporate resources that benefit our multi-unit operators as well as our single-unit owner/operators. We work to create awareness at the time and place that our customers are most receptive to our message.

Rule #3: Make sure your customer (or potential customer) knows about you.

My previous column focused on spotting trends. In many ways that piece was Part 1 and this is Part 2. Once you embrace the idea that nothing in the market or in your company stays constant, you are mentally equipped to stay relevant in a changing market.

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
– Wayne Gretzky, 4-time Stanley Cup champion

Think like your customer. Figure out what they want and give it to them. It will help if you can stake out a market just as your customer looks for you. You might do this by finding the right location for a brick-and-mortar presence, or you might do it by developing an appropriate virtual presence, or you might do it by creating a groundbreaking product. (In the pizza world we find that we need to work on all three.) Then, as the market evolves, you can already be there waiting with open arms.

Tim Dodge is Chief Operating Officer at Anthony’s Pizza & Pasta International. He started his career with Hyatt Hotels and was co-founder of both Healthgrades and Baroness Wines. He graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder.