Litho Connect The Official Blog of Lithographics

All Ears!

Posted by Anne Graham on March 20, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Just recently I spoke with the CEO of a very successful business who wanted to expand into new geographies. Her firm has a solid presence in her local market and a great website, yet she’d been talked into doing a costly “rebranding” exercise by a marketing firm that's helping advertise and promote her business in the new target markets.

As a veteran of receiving these kinds of pitches, I cringed. Most rebranding efforts rely on the outdated approaches of using traditional psychographics and demographics – i.e., “managers over 35 responsible for benefits programs in their workplace” to develop brand strategy. That’s an ineffective strategy. It's too generic and just not finely-tuned enough to cope with today’s short attention spans and social media opportunities to tightly target ideal customers. What they really need to turbocharge their branding is the “Dog Whistle” – the marketing message that causes their ideal customers’ ears to perk up immediately. Conventional copywriting doesn’t ever surface and leverage the dog whistle, or what Seth Godin calls the "Purple Cow." Instead, a bland regurgitation of conventional features and benefits usually results in your business sounding like every other one of your competitors – the same and undifferentiated.


I stumbled on a great shortcut for helping clients identify their dog whistle, which has impressive spin-off benefits for every organization. I was consulting for a membership-based organization that had a horrendous churn rate. For every new member they brought on board, one left. They were running out of new prospects and their financial situation was precarious at best. Their first thought was to drop the price of membership, but you already know how destructive that can be – look what happens with cell phone companies when new customers get a better deal than existing customers.Instead, I recommended two strategies – talk to members who’d left, and to talk to members who had stayed. And before developing any new tactics, understand the difference between the two. Surprise. They found that members who left didn't bolt because of price. They loved being part of the organization, but left because they couldn’t justify the price to those above them who had to sign off on the fairly sizable membership fee. It was an issue with the way they were communicating their value proposition. Members who stayed had a different story. They’d received so much tangible benefit from the new connections and training they’d received as part of their membership that renewing was a nobrainer. They saw the value-add and were happy to pay for it.


Their next move was crystal-clear. They attached hard-value testimonials from long-term members to a letter and invoice inviting lapsed members to return. More than 50 percent of the lapsed members came back within 30 days – a huge boost to revenues and profits. The magic was they gave the lapsed members the Dog Whistle to take to the decision makers that made them sit up, take notice, and then sign off on the renewal. It only got better. By including the Dog Whistle with every renewal invoice, they turned the tide on churn. Their member retention rate went from 50- 50 to an astonishing 94 percent, within one year. And then they added the icing on the cake, not by re-branding, but by completely revamping their marketing materials with the new value proposition that spoke to the hard and soft benefits of becoming a member. When they took their exciting new message to the marketplace, they successfully converted one in three sales conversations into a new member, where previously their hit rate had been one in 100. The outreach and sales conversion process became much more efficient and effective because the Dog Whistle resonated with new prospects who were ideal members, and made them prick up their ears and engage with the organization. Revenues and profitability skyrocketed from all the new memberships and renewals, and theyended up on solid and sustainable financial ground for the first time in years.


Something as simple as testimonials may or may not be the only component of leveraging your Dog Whistle, but the process of identifying the differences between lost and loyal customers always is the first step in surfacing what core messages your brand really stands for. Don’t settle for an expensive conventional rebranding exercise. Instead, refresh your brand with a powerful Dog Whistle that draws your ideal clients to you, and then deliver the value proposition that keeps them loving your business and happy to pay for the privilege of doing business with you.


  1. Retain your most profitable customers. Every customer wants to feel special, but it’s especially important to take extra care of the ones keeping you in business with a client retention strategy.
  2. Ramp up your marginally profitable customers to build customer satisfaction, value and retention. How often do you feel that business is going to your competitors should be coming to you because you don’t have a strong retention strategy in place?
  3. Restore your unprofitable customers to break even or better. Some of your customers are costing you more than they’re worth, but you don’t have an effective way to deal with it other than firing them, which creates customer churn.
  4. Regain your lost customers. Almost every organization dreads reaching out to lost customers, because they’re either afraid of the complaints or issues they’ll find, or because they don’t have a good answer to the "It was price” excuse.
  5. Reactivate your inactive customers. Improving retention is about being proactive. Do you have people in your database that you never hear from? The answer isn't sending more emails, newsletters and junk mail. It's about using your Dog Whistle to wake them up.

Bestselling author, speaker and accelerator Anne C. Graham is the creator of the P.R.O.F.I+T Roadmap. She also is the founder of managing consultant firm, The Legendary Value Institute.

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