Peter Boulder of Pepper and Rodgers Group tells a story
of a friend of his who recently visited New York City.
friend spotted an ad that read something like: "Buy at our
grocery store and if the cashier doesn't smile at you
when you check out, everything in your cart is free."
Impressed, he made a straight line for the store in
question and filled up his shopping cart with everything
he'd need for a week.
To his chagrin, the lady at checkout not only didn't smile,
but didn't even look at him. But there was some consolation
in the situation, he thought, and he triumphantly claimed his
bounty of free groceries.
The cashier, however, denied any knowledge of such a
special offer. Puzzled, the visiting gentleman took out his
newspaper and showed her the ad.
"Ah," she said, "look at that date! That's last week's
So what's wrong?
Now what was wrong with the grocery store's marketing
approach? For a start, of course, friendly customer
service, if you want to offer it, cannot be contingent upon
certain time slots or seasons of the year.
Either it's part of your mission statement, your philosophy of business,
or it isn't. That's pretty straightforward.
But let's say you're not really interested in the service-
with-a-smile concept. (A pity - but your loss!)
your cashier's only there for the paycheck, and that's fine
by you, as long as she's competent at her job of
checking out purchases. You don't expect her to take
any special interest in your customers, and you just have
this "smile or don't pay" gig once in a while as a stunt to
bring a few more people into the store.
The question now is: how effective can this kind of
marketing tactic be?
Well, in the case under discussion, it may not be the
ideal way of stimulating new business, but such a
promotion could serve some purpose, up to a point.
Conceivably, some new people, or those that haven't
shopped for a while, will be attracted by the prospect of a
The result: a little more money in the cash registers, as
long as the promotion is running and the cashiers are
cooperating. Even once the promotion is over, a few of
these people might have already become habituated to
doing their shopping there.
Now, instead of friendly countenances (which, sadly, it
doesn't really believe in anyway), let's say that the store
decided to offer, during the period of the promotion,
special discounts on certain products, or a brand new
product for free with purchases over a certain amount?
Which of these two promotions is likely to be more
effective in the long run? Surely, the second.
Simply because once the customers have been induced
to sample the products on "special offer", and happily,
they find them to their liking, they will probably continue
to buy them at full price, once the promotion is over.
Biting the carrot
Nowadays, ambitious entrepreneurs dream up and
implement all kinds of ingenious incentives to drum up
business - contests, referral bonuses, points, loyalty
programs, you name it. Some types of viral marketing
also rely heavily on incentives to persuade people to pass
the message along.
All too often, the end result is disappointment - for
entrepreneur and consumer alike.
This usually happens when there's little real relation
between the incentive and the product or service, and the
product, in turn, falls short of the consumer's
expectations. Viral marketers and their willing agents
may succeed beyond expectation in whipping up mass
hysteria about a new idea - which, in the end, turns out to
be a damp squib.
Unfortunately, email publishers who offer incentives to
prospective new subscribers, sometimes suffer the same
fate. Disillusioned newsletter consumers are becoming
increasingly wary about biting the carrots dangled before
But if incentive and product are closely connected, at
least you have a chance of success. The most cynical of
people will bite a carrot if they're genuinely convinced
that it's truly representative of a sumptuous repast ahead.
If that conviction is then vindicated and everything's
according to their taste, they'll stay right to the end of the
It's hard enough, though, to produce scintillating content
in your publication itself, without being forced to create
additional "bait" or "teaser" material in the form of
special reports or the like. And if your new readers are
disappointed with the final product, the most tantalizing
incentives won't help in the end.
You only have to look at the prominent news sites on the
Internet that repeat virtually the identical stories week
after week, to get an idea of the challenge of producing
consistently good content on an ongoing basis.
Yet, if you really want to succeed, this is precisely the
challenge which you, as publisher, must face. Good
marketing strategies are essential, but marketing is the
means, not the end.
A good marketer, they say, sells the sizzle, not the
But without the steak, there's no sizzle!
Azriel Winnett is the creator of Hodu.com - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular free website is devoted to helping you improve your communication and relationship skills on all levels in
business and professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene.