Marketing Image vs. Reality…Do Yours Match?


Do you think that positioning your business very strongly is likely to remove part of the potential market? If you are too bluntly honest with your customers about your specific offerings, will you lose them?

Imagine a company that tells its customers “Let’s face it, our travel style is great fun for some people, but a little too ‘authentic’ for others.

If you feel that these discomforts might keep you from enjoying your trip, you’ll probably be happier on a more ‘mainstream’ tour. Ask your travel agent for recommendations.” Who would want to be so blunt with potential customers?

Recently, I was a customer at just such a firm when I traveled in France on a Rick Steves’ tour.
After 30-plus years, Rick Steves has positioned his European travel business so that what you see on his web page is exactly what you get when you take one of his tours. No surprises. His company name “Europe Through the Back Door” matches his philosophy about travel in Europe.

This is not a mainstream tour company, and his clients are not looking for the typical tourist vacation.
I highly recommend his website ( as an example of how companies should communicate with potential customers.

His information answers all your questions up front. He has great resources in books, maps and other materials, with much of it free. I have known many people who use these materials to plan their own vacations. The level of customer service matches the quality of information as well.

And it must be working; on my recent trip, many people were repeat customers, some on their third or fourth tour.

This type of approach can and does work, especially in service businesses. Buying from service companies has inherently more risk than buying a product. If you own a service business, you know that you are often selling a “promise,” and sometimes it’s difficult to gain the credibility you need.
To your customer, the sales pitch doesn’t always seem sincere and real. Thus, the frank realism approach just might be the answer.

We have several good local examples of the companies whose image matches reality. Wanderlust Tours has been in central Oregon since 1993.

Their mission: ”Wanderlust Tours exists to vibrantly share the natural and cultural history of the Central Oregon region with small groups of interested guests….” Their guides “are year-round Central Oregon residents, experienced professional naturalists, with a passion for the outdoors and the place they call home.

They’ll not only show you those tucked-away, natural places that locals love, they can even recommend great spots for dinner or share local happenings for you and your family to enjoy.”
Wanderlust Tours has a strong reputation in the recreation and hospitality industry for their approach to tourism.  They have been awarded the Gene Leo Memorial Award Recipient 2005 for “outstanding contributions and efforts that specifically focuses on the state’s natural beauty or outdoor recreation” as well as the Governor’s Tourism Award 2000 presented by Governor John Kitzhaber.

Again, David and Aleta Nissen have spent years strengthening their position (image) in the marketplace. Their web page describes it and their business delivers it.

Wanderlust is just one example among several I could provide.  Take a look at your marketing materials. Do they really carry the personality of your business?

Do they offer the specifics of your business without common phrases of “great quality” and “customer service” that everyone else uses? (By the way, who would ever announce that they provide average quality products or services or that they have just “regular old” customer service?)

One effective test is to look at the advertising pull-in materials while blocking out the company name. Try it with your own marketing materials.

How different are your materials from those of your competitor?  Can potential customers clearly see the difference?  If not, try the blunt and straightforward approach.  It might work.

If you would like COCC business students to review your web pages just give us a call. Jim Kress teaches in the business program at COCC and can be reached at 541/383-7712.


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