Even mundane businesses can be appealing with the right approach

We're not all lucky enough to be in a glamorous business like Tiffany's. But that doesn't mean we can't make even a boring business appealing.

We’re not all lucky enough to be in a glamorous business like Tiffany’s. But even a boring business can be made more appealing.

By Henry Brown

We can all think of dozens of beautiful businesses: Tiffany’s Jewelers, Apple Computers, Prada. But most small businesses don’t have this kind of appeal. Yes, there’s the odd beauty salon or restaurant that builds up a glamorous reputation, but most of the companies that we run perform a basic, but necessary function or offer basic products. Fashion companies like Versace might have glamorous advertising campaigns and beautiful products, but the same can’t be said of a chemical toilet company or a lawn care business.

The question for these industries is how to make their businesses appealing, despite their apparent lack of excitement. Accountants, HR consultants, plumbers, drainage experts, building contractors, small manufacturing companies all suffer from a similar problem: their customers just don’t find them to be particularly exciting. It’s good that they are there when they need them, but they’re not exactly household names.

Recently, at an entrepreneur summit in Boston, entrepreneurs shared their advice for business people and solopreneurs operating in boring industries. Here are some of their ideas:

Don’t be afraid to disrupt

Building a presence in an industry that already has many players is a daunting task. Most businesses take the approach that they are going to win in the market by competing against all the other companies. But this isn’t a strategy that works very well, especially over the long term. Heated competition has a habit of eliminating profits and making it hard for businesses to grow and expand.

The other approach is to do something really disruptive and change how an industry operates. According to Liz Wessel of the education company, WayUp, the key to success is being able to adapt to the conditions in the industry. She thought that her business would just provide education consulting services. But once she got into the industry, she found that the market was in need of a different kind of product, one that she hadn’t planned on creating. After attending several conferences, she realized that she was offering the wrong subject field and completely changed her approach.

Pay attention to style

When it comes to product presentation, aesthetics really matter, much more so than even a few years ago. Research has shown that companies that focus on style see much greater growth over the long term than those that don’t, even if those companies are in so-called boring industries.

Take AO for example. Many logistics and delivery companies stick with an understated design, but AO decided on a different strategy. Instead of just using white vans to ship products from one location to another, it decided to paint them all bright green. Not only is the design noticeable, but it also helps make the company appear a lot more exciting than it is. Bright colors tend to evoke feelings of excitement in people that blues, blacks, and whites just don’t.

Manufacturers can also paint their products, according to

https://www.reliantfinishingsystems.com/powder-coating-equipment/powder-coating-ovens/, to make them appear more attractive to their clients. Even if you’re in a B2B industry, bright colors, and exciting designs can help your product stand out compared to other manufacturers in your sector. This is why companies like Caterpillar and JCB always make their equipment as colorful as possible.

Small businesses can use bright paint jobs when making prototypes to sell to prospective buyers. They can also use unique designs that break with the rest of their industry to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Appeal to emotions

What is it that sets Apple products apart from the rest of the products in the electronics industry? Yes, they’re beautifully designed. But Apple has done something that none of its competitors, like IBM or Acer has managed to do: they’ve created a product that has mass emotional appeal.

The main way that the company did this was through how it marketed. Back in the 1980s, Apple launched a series of adverts comparing its user-experience to user-experience on a Windows PC. Each time, the Apple user was using their computer to have fun, and each time the PC user was just using it to do work. Apple’s computers could do things like word processing too, but the emotional appeal was in the fact that is was possible to have fun on a computer too. Suddenly, Apple had made itself alternative and edgy: the PC looked boringly mainstream by contrast.

Small businesses can do something similar. They can use sexy packaging, have a beautiful website experience and influence customers through exciting marketing and YouTube videos. Even companies manufacturing widgets can boost their appeal by focusing on the quality of their technology or making educational marketing content that shows how their product helps the modern world to function. Accountants can try to sell themselves in the same way that Freshbooks does, appealing to their business customer’s dread of filing their accounts and complying with government regulations. And while they’re at it, they can do it with bright colors and whimsical clip art, just as Freshbooks does.

Avoid using clichéd images of generic happy people

Many businesses are tempted to put up beautiful, happy smiling people on their website and in their promotional material, especially if they run a company they consider to be dull. You see this sort of thing all the time, especially in ancillary services, like coffee machine repair firms. There are doubtless hundreds of examples of beautiful elements of business, even one that is focused on something that most people would consider to be mundane. These elements just need to be teased out and focused on.

It’s worth remembering that the human brain is hardwired to be attracted to beautiful things. In the past, companies slapped semi-nude women all over their products to generate mass appeal. But if you run a manufacturing gig, that probably isn’t appropriate. Another strategy is to focus on the beauty of the machinery itself, celebrating its precision and your company’s attention to detail. Some businesses do away with images altogether and just focus their services on being as simple and as straightforward as possible: just think what Google did with its search bar.

Appeal to as many senses as possible

People tend to remember multi-sensory experiences far better than single-sense experiences. Again, the reason for this goes all the way back to our evolution: our brains exist in a multi-sensory environment, and we remember patterns, be they sights, sounds and smells in context.

Businesses can take advantage of this to make their products more universally appealing according to www.marketingweek.com. Suppose, for instance, you run a food delivery business. It’s not a particularly sexy business in itself, but it can be easily made sexy, thanks to the fact that food is a multi-sensory product. If you’ve ever watched food advertising, you’ll have noticed that it’s sold through impeccable visual imagery. (This is part of the reason why M&S Food has been so successful over in the UK). Often the mere sight of food and the sounds associated with it can make people smell or taste something and help them to remember the message. Suddenly, something as simple as bagged groceries to your door is associated with delicious food and pleasurable experiences. Small businesses could, therefore, use things like podcasts, song lyrics, and even poems to create experiences that go beyond just the visual.

Make your product into something meaningful

Another way to make your product appealing, besides its appearance and the way that it is marketed, is to make it meaningful in some way. Yes, your product might be dull in itself, but ask yourself whether it has wider significance?

Suppose, for instance, you run an electrical safety business. It’s not the most glamorous business in the world, but it is a business that undoubtedly saves lives. You could market your business as being a way for parents to protect their children, or for businesses to protect their employees and their customers. And you could emphasize the fact that your services are having a real effect in the community by saving lives.

Boring businesses can also team up with worthy causes that are aligned with the preferences of their customer base. An accounting firm that gets a lot of business from schools, for instance, might start plowing some of its money into better education for children growing up in emerging markets.

Justify your product to avoid buyer’s remorse

People make emotional decisions about what to buy and then rationalize those decisions after the fact. As a business, you can help this decision-making process along by emphasizing what a “smart decision” buying your product actually is. Now they’ve made their purchase, they’ll be saving X number of dollars a month, or they’ll be spending X fewer hours doing a task that used to take up most of their time before.


Henry Brown is an online marketing executive. When he isn’t talking shop he’s roaming the streets of London, uncovering the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.

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