While driving through Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York a few weeks ago, there was a lot that struck me during the trip. Of course, the storm devastation that was still apparent after months of cleanup efforts was incredible. The comfort of finding radio stations I used to listen to decades ago with the same format (and in some cases the same personalities) brought back some great memories. There was no snow, which makes a New England Christmas weird in so many ways, but the roads were clean, traffic was light and the trip was uneventful, which is always good. An odd thing caught my eye on the long ramp between the Mass Pike and the New York State Thruway as it deposits you just East of Albany. It brought my mind back to the business of horses (and marketing in general).
Dumb marketing moves
While passing a white van in the right lane, I tried to make out a small lettered graphic on the back door (when we were kids, we used to call out every new state we saw on license plates – my eyesight isn’t quite good enough to occupy my mind with that activity these days while keeping good focus on the road – you do what you can to keep the trip interesting). Anyway, this was obviously a commercial truck but it struck me as strange they chose a logo that was almost undecipherable. Once I finally made out the letters hidden in the font, I realized marketing geniuses didn’t come up with this one. The name of the company was Straight Line Painting and the almost illegible font they had chosen had paint dripping from crooked letters. Hmmmm – maybe someone thought this was humorous, but it certainly doesn’t do much to foster confidence in the quality of their work – or illustrate they do what they claim.
Sometimes, people do dumb things when they’re trying to be clever in communications. I’m guilty. People still ask if Fulcrum is my father’s name (from Fulcrum Communications, the marketing and copy writing firm I founded in 1989 – even with the positioning statement ‘leveraging creative and cost-effective marketing solutions’ people don’t get it). Most ask what Halcyon (Halcyon Acres®) means, but that name gives me enough pleasure in its accuracy and imagery I don’t mind explaining the term. We’ve received comments about ‘printer mistakes’ with the font choice for the ‘Inventing Your Horse Career’ CD series (no need for alarm – it’s really supposed to be that way). It’s hard to know if the latter will have the memorable impact we were striving for as it’s still a bit early. No doubt there will come a time when it’s necessary to fix this choice as it’s sure to be dated over time.
Successful equine business providers are honest and consistent
When I talk to successful horse business operators, they are very clear about what they do and are consistent in presenting a message that reflects this. In addition, they’re passionate about their mission because their business is founded on a service or product designed to help people (and/or horses). Because of this, they know their audience and continue to enhance what they deliver to meet the changing needs of their customers. Whether you’re a horse business owner or an equine lover shopping for products or services, this applies to you – finding good people to do business with makes us all happier.
On the buyer side, I hear stories of people getting burned. In fact, I see it more and more as I’m getting an increasing number of requests for horse assessment engagements. It’s sad, particularly when it involves a novice who fell in love with a horse that will never be suitable for what they want to do with him. While I like to assume the best in people, it’s clear in many of these situations the seller knew this was not a good fit. What they don’t get is the days of finding a patsy and getting giddy over the short-term gains thinking they’ll prosper with the same strategy long-term are over. We can now communicate globally to share the good and the bad – in an instant. This is great news for owners of businesses that serve the horse community with relevant solutions. These people operate with integrity and understand how to be consistent with their message and client satisfaction to build a bevy of referral agents. It’s a good thing for purchasers too.
If you’re building an equine business – or are someone looking to buy a product or service, it’s relatively easy to ferret out the shysters from the saviors these days. The good guys care about you, the horses and leaving you feeling happier for having met them. Their focus isn’t on money, but first on determining what you need and if they can offer a good fit.
Ferreting out the bad guys
I made the mistake of not listening to my gut on a recent vendor hire. A substantial deposit was required before she’d talk about possible solutions. It turned out she misrepresented herself, refused to communicate with team members, blamed others for not delivering as promised and felt fine pocketing the deposit she did not spend the time to earn. The replacement hire has been a delight to work with. While it’s been an investment, he’s been wonderful about providing value beyond the specifics of our agreement, great about collaborating with the team and focused on making us better and smarter with his input. Her focus was on how quickly funds were deposited. That says a lot about character. Interestingly, she was a referral (from someone who had never done business with her – and now never will). He was someone I had been watching on Linked In. So, you never know where you’ll find that gem, but if you pay attention, you can learn a lot about their integrity and style pretty quickly.
That said get to know the people you’re considering doing business with (whether you’re a buyer, vendor or service provider). People who put themselves out there as something they’re not are getting easier to identify. A simple Google search can reveal a lot. Are they even there? Are they consistent about how they’re presenting themselves (or do you see a jack of all trades chasing rainbows as you look at how and where they show up)?
If you’re looking for a local provider – who’s talking about them and what are they saying? Do they seem to care about you or are they too busy, too important or too focused on selling to give you the time to explain what you’re looking for? Are they willing to give you customers’ names and contact information before you buy? Do they offer some consulting time prior to purchase to ensure what they have to offer is a good fit for your needs? Can they illustrate success stories on what they offer?
What you say stays
Getting back to this truck, I don’t know about you but I’d be concerned about buying from Straight Line Painting given the logo they chose to represent the company the same way I’d hesitate to do business with a company that chose the moniker Going Broke Stables. Might be cute for a moment, but is that really the message you want to put out for prospects? If you’re a buyer, would you find such humor compels you toward a purchase? I doubt it. Yes, integrity is critical and most good equine providers (whether they deal with horses directly or not) thrive on referral business. Still, what you say about yourself matters. It also tends to color what others put out there for you. Being consistent about how you present yourself is important. So is following through on the promises you make in your marketing messages and general communications. If you do – or if you don’t – it counts.
Are you looking for inexpensive booklets on horse training issues? We’re in the process of making them available through this website and Kindle. We should have two available next week including one focused on alpha horses and another offering help on transitioning former Thoroughbred racers to new careers. Is there a particular topic you’d like to see covered? Please share what would be useful to you in the comments below. If you offer an idea that we use, we’ll give you credit in the booklet!