Maui Marketing Tip #1: To compete, first exist in the marketplace

As I walked along the historic whaling wharf area of Lahaina, HI on Tuesday morning, I was struck by the sheer volume of businesses selling more or less the same stuff.

Under the giant banyan tree, multiple photographers were selling giant prints of sea turtles, coral reefs, and other local Maui favorites. Other artists were selling various items carved out of local koa trees, and two merchants were selling little flutes made out of coral.

Down on the marina, it was even more glaring. With brightly painted signs at each slip, I was presented with a myriad of choices for spending my money out on the water. Well over a dozen sport fishing ventures, half a dozen snorkel excursions, several whale watching tours (despite the fact that the whales don’t arrive for a few more weeks), two sailing adventures, and several glass bottom boats and submersibles for seeing the reef critters underwater without having to even get wet.

Personally, I had arrived for one reason only: Sailing. Having recently obtained my ASA 101 and 103 sailing certifications, I was anxious to get on the water on a racing sailboat in the powerful Maui northeasterlies. But alas, because tourists kept destroying the boats, there were no more bareboat charter operators on the island, nor any sailing schools.

Instead, I begged the captain of America II to let me help crew the boat on the morning tourist trip. I still had to pay the $40, but the skipper agreed and I got to help raise and lower the sails, operate the jib sheets, and do the other sundry “grunt” work required to properly sail a boat (basically, everything except steer). Doing this on board a 65 foot ocean racing vessel that was purpose-built for the 1987 America’s Cup was quite the thrill for a new sailor.

I approached the marina that morning with a very specific objective, and a plan for selling myself as a customer to a particular business, while requesting special treatment. Obtaining that special treatment was most likely a blatant violation of their liability insurance policy, but I approached with a plan in mind and written evidence (my sailing certifications) in hand to back up my sales pitch. There’s a lesson to be learned there for yourself as a consumer, by the way, but that is a topic for another article.

But what about the other several thousand tourists randomly strolling around that morning? Due to the way that the Lahaini historic district is set up, it’s basically impossible to avoid the marina. All of the charter operators receive more or less equal exposure to foot traffic from the two main roads. As I waited to set sail, all of the other charter operators were doing a fairly brisk business for a Tuesday in November – I could only imagine how busy the place was three months ago. In fact, I saw no signs of “hard times” amongst those businesses.

Given some 30+ choices for getting out on the water, consumers (tourists) had plenty of choices. In fact, modern research shows that the mere presence of choice increases consumer spending, but too many choices breeds confusion and overwhelm. With so many choices, the typical tourist walking by may actually be quite overwhelmed by the experience.

So how does each charter operator stay alive?

First and foremost, each charter operator, be they a sport fishing boat, a whale watching cruiser, a parasailing drag boat, or a sailboat, took the first step towards competing in their marketplace: They were there.

That sounds so basic in so many ways, but it truly is a fundamental marketing concept: In order to compete, you must be present.

The booth at each slip was manned by an order taker by 9am, when the tourists start heading out. All over the island, there are those boxes stuffed with brochures for tourist activities – I recognized the majority of the marina occupants from those boxes. Inside “This Week Maui”, the tourist guide handed out by people at the drop off zone at the airport and available in racks all over the island, I also saw many of the same charter outfits.

All of these businesses, each competing for a finite market share of visitors, is advertising in the same places as their competition. They open at the same time, and are all present in their marketplace where the need to be so that consumers making a buying decision have the ability to choose them.

The reason that the number of charter operators is interesting to me, at around 30, is because that is the approximate number of tax resolution companies that every tax lien debtor in America hears from. Between telemarketing, direct mail, Internet ads, and other methods of solicitation (yes, there are other methods of reaching people), the average person or small business with a tax lien hears from over 30 firms, including national and local.

Want an even more interesting number? An individual or small business that is considering hiring a tax resolution firm accepts and reviews proposals from, on average, six firms. This is based on my own informal surveys of such people (Hint: That in itself is a fairly effective marketing method).

Do you see why it’s so important to be out there with your competition? If the consumer is going to choose somebody, you want to at least be in the running.

At Lahaina harbor, anybody that wanted to spend a few hours on the water would naturally attracted to the marina. From there, each consumer would evaluate their interests, and compare those interests to the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of each charter operator. I had one motive: High-performance sailing. But for a tourist that enjoys fishing, they would be attracted to the 30 at the marina, then whittle it down to the dozen sport fishing charters, and then down to the two that offered marlin fishing, etc. Creating your USP and communicating why somebody should choose you is beyond the scope of this article, and I cover it elsewhere, but is the next step. But first and foremost, you need to be there in the first place in order to be part of the marketplace at all.

I do want to say a few words about tax liens. Elsewhere on the blog, I cover how to use tax liens most effectively for your particular purposes. But I want to remind you that, if you are building a tax resolution practice, there are other companies marketing to the same tax liens that you are. Tax liens are a matter of public record, they are accessible to everybody, everywhere.

In addition, there are no less than a dozen list brokers that sell compiled lists of tax liens, not just us (we just happen to be one of the lowest cost, and one of the few that offers same-day delivery of filed tax lien records in many parts of the country).

Never forget that your competitors are obtaining tax lien records, also. If you are building a tax resolution practice, it is important that you define your geographical territory and other parameters, and that you are present in that marketplace, so that you are one of the choices available to those consumers.

Not only that, but market to those liens frequently, consistently, and with a compelling USP — because nobody else is doing this. With frequency, consistency, and a strong USP, you will convert more of those tax liens into paying tax resolution clients than your competition. Again, most of that is a topic for another article, and is covered elsewhere on, but it goes right along with being there among the competition, but then setting yourself apart.

If you want to run an average practice, then you can do what everybody else does, but you still need to exist in your marketplace to be seen. If you want to operate a superior tax practice, you need to do things in superior ways, meaning be in your marketplace, but do things more, do things better, do things consistently, and do things that “wow” your prospects and clients.

Now, with all this said, tomorrow I’m going to give you the exact opposite piece of advice, and show you how to sell your services in a near vacuum. This goes beyond creating a compelling USP, and actually allows you to separate yourself from the competition entirely and create a marketplace of your own.