A “Stuck on the Expressway” Marketing Lesson

While driving on the crowded Chicago expressway system the traffic slowed, then crawled, and finally stopped. I was stranded, moving ten feet and stop, another ten feet and stop, again and again. I found myself stuck behind a brightly painted U-Haul truck. There was nothing else to occupy my eyes while slowly crawling towards my destination so I started reading the signs on the truck and got a good lesson in Marketing 101 – “Features & Benefits” and “De-Commoditization of a Commodity.” In those few, stuck-in-traffic-agonizing-minutes, I felt as if I had taken a mini-course at “U-Haul University.”

U – Haul uses their products as rolling billboards. Their trucks and trailers are covered with marketing messages – features and benefits to differentiate their products from their competition. A big arrow on the lift-gate points out the “Extra Low Load Height – easy on your back” and “Ten Foot Loading Ramp – easy to enter.”

I noticed that the signs touted both the feature – “Extra Low Load Height” AND the benefit – “easy on your back.” Great copy writing! Even if the competition has the same load height, they are not shouting it out on thousands and thousands of trucks throughout the country.

Later, as traffic cleared I was able to pull ahead and noticed many other feature / benefit messages on the side and door of the truck. The message was clear, that they went the extra mile to design vehicles that are easier to load and move a household… good reasons to rent from them. In addition, they are using their product as the medium to transmit the message – inexpensive (when you calculate the “cost per impression” by the hundreds of thousands of daily impressions when compared to the cost of media buys to gain the similar number of impressions) and very effective.

Look, in the truck rental business, the competing company’s products are all, at least to someone who rarely needs to rent a truck, similar if not the same. I’m guessing that there is little difference in pricing. Aside from a convenience and location factor, there isn’t much reason to choose one company over another… unless a company has made an impression that their product and service is somewhat better and, if something promises it will be easier on my back, I’m impressed. And I started thinking that a “features & benefits” and “de-commoditization of a commodity” exercise can benefit any company.

Even though being stuck in traffic is frustrating, it can be a thought-provoking learning (and back-saving) moment.