Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Marketing Merry Christmas...

I just got back from a trip to the Post Office.

As I left, I wished the clerk  "Merry Christmas"! I paused to see her reaction.

Her response?

"Same to you."

She should be a marketing consultant!

The Postal Worker didn't use the Politically Incorrect word "Christmas". Nor did she reply with a generic "Happy Holidays!" She cleverly avoided any religious connotation, but returned the exact same sentiment to me in a warm and cheerful way.

As you may know, there's a tremendous marketing controversy centered around retailers using the word "Christmas" this holiday season.

One side opposes the word altogether, The other side insists on it. And the media claims shoppers are voting with their pocketbooks.

This leaves retailers stuck in the middle trying to appease both. Unsuccessfully.

But more than personal greetings, how successful are the the ads that have Holiday Trees and Holiday Cards?

I could discuss this from a variety of angles. But today my question is: What's the best marketing approach?

Start with basics. Know your audience. And connect with them.

Why not sell Christmas Trees? Sure someone will be offended. But how many?

Assess your audience.

Why don't they make kitchen appliances in Harvest Gold and Avocado Green?

Why don't Craftsman tool chests come in pink?

Because there's no demand. Very few people want them. So you lose customers who want those colors. That's business.

Marketing is a business of calculated decisions. For instance, when you set a price, that price will be too high for some and not as high as others will pay. If your price is right, you'll lose some potential customers that don't value what you sell. That's business.

So how many people don't really like the word Christmas. Is it a LARGE number of people or just a LOUD number of people? And vice versa. 

You'd need to assess the demographics of your market to decide for yourself.

But you actually could gain more customers with one word than you stand to lose. 

I think Target made that kind of calculated decision when they decided to do both Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday ads.

I celebrate Christmas. But whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or EID, I think you appreciate someone acknowledging your faith and respecting your holidays and holy days.

So my personal warm wishes to you for a Happy Holiday -- and Merry Christmas.

- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Many Unhappy Returns….

Since it will soon be 'tis the season for returns, I thought I'd touch on how NOT to deal with returns.

My office manager, Pat, told me the following customer service horror story that illustrates how few marketers realize how just big marketing really is. From what she said I imagine her conversation went something like this...

"I'd like to return an item I bought online a few months ago. I know you may have to charge me a restocking fee, but...," Pat said.

"You can't return it," the customer service rep said.

"I've had it a while, I understand. Can I exchange it instead?" she asked.

"Nope," the rep replied.

"My grandson's mattress was destroyed in a move and this won't fit his new one," Pat explained "It's never been opened. Is there anything I can do?"

"Maybe you could sell it on ebay," the rep suggested.

"Ebay?" Pat responded, stifling a scream. "Can I talk to your manager?"

I would have asked "Can I speak to someone with some authority -- or perhaps a brain?"

The manager eventually resolved things for her. But do you think Pat will ever shop with this merchant again?

There's a lot of marketing missteps that happened here, but perhaps the biggest problem centers as much around poor training as the lack of authority the CSR (Customer Service Rep) was given.

Selecting a new CSR? Beyond his or her background, look for good communication skills and a warm personality. Then invest in training. Go beyond the basics. Don't just train them on your computer system and policies. Teach them about listening and empathy. Your CSRs are your marketing voice. They are the only human contact some people will ever have with your company. Make sure they are prepared for that responsibility.

Then, empower them with some level of authority. Or at the very least, have them offer to transfer the call to the person with the authority to solve the customer's problem. ("I can't help you." should be a rare phrase in a CSR's vocabulary and should only be followed with "I can transfer you to someone who may".)

And "you could sell it on ebay" might be a phrase that's best avoided altogether.

--Phil Sasso

Monday, December 18, 2006

Here’s a bit of winter fun….

Pardon my break from our usual format for a bit of humor
with a marketing point.

Ode to Lester Moore

Lester Moore was a pioneer
He lived long ago and far from here
When he wanted soap he'd ride to the Out Post
Where there wasn't a choice between Dial and Coast
Before shopping he made a long list no doubt
Thirty miles, by horse, meant he couldn't run out.

This ain't the Wild West no more,
Shopping's not as simple as the General Store.
Today I drove to the grocer and looked around
I just wanted "dish soap", here's what I found:
Dozens of products shouting out at me
One promised softer hands, one aromatherapy.
While I thought the offers were really keen,
I just wanted one to get my dishes clean.

Sometimes I wish for the simpler times before
Those good old days when less was more
You didn't need to forge the Super Mega Mart
You didn't need to fight for a shopping cart
But lest you think that way was best,
imagine life without Citrus Breeze Crest

-Phil Sasso

Friday, December 15, 2006

Providing Value...

My first car was a 1972 Chevy Chevelle. It was painted gold and primer gray. I lovingly tried to restore the decaying car until the hole in the floorboard became big enough to lose a passenger. I continued to drive that car, as I put myself through my first year of college.

One summer, the muffler fell off in the middle of the street. I stopped, threw the muffler in my trunk and continued on.

The next day, I visited a local muffler shop that's advertising vowed: "We'll only replace what's needed." There I met the owner: Rick. He welcomed me, gave his tech my keys and offered me a cup of coffee. After a few minutes the tech called me into the bay to look at things.

"You need a whole new exhaust system," he said. "Look at that hole there, the thing is falling apart. I don't want you breathing all that carbon monoxide."

I took my key and firmly tapped at the area around the pin hole. It was solid.

I walked back into the waiting room.

"So, should I write up an order for you?" he asked.

I brought him back and tapped along the exhaust pipe.

"Your tech said I need a whole new system," I said. "This looks like it will last longer than the car to me. What do you think?"

"Well , I want my guys to sell stuff, you know," he replied.

"Sorry. Not to me," I replied. "Only replace what's needed. If the car lasts me to end of summer I'm happy."

There's a conflict in business between "selling stuff" and "serving customers". And that tension often can destroy long term gains for a quick sale.

Perhaps the book "The Ultimate Question", puts it best: "Bad profits are about extracting value from customers, not creating value."

Creating value creates fanatically loyal customers.

I know at least a dozen people who, without being asked, rave about Costco (a hero in "Ultimate"). You'd think they were paid to shop there. "High quality, low price," is their mantra.

But providing value isn't always about low prices. My fellow Apple Computer fans pay a premium for what we feel is an unparalleled user experience. The value outweighs the price tag. Apple has created the kind of value that builds loyal customers at a premium price. And they are consistently profitable.

Unfortunately, Rick's Muffler Shop was shortly out of business.

What can you do to increase the value of your brand? Ask customers what they love -- and what they hate. Fix what's wrong. Promote what works. And watch how it revs up your sales growth.

- Phil Sasso

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Real World Promotion - Part 3...

I leave day-to-day shopping to Beth. She's a smart consumer.

So, one Sunday afternoon I decided to study under the Master to understand how good promotion influences buying decisions.

Beth was on the living room floor studying the coupon section like a holy book. I quietly sat beside her, so as not to disturb her focus. After watching her, I grabbed a section…

"Here's 10% off..." I proudly began to proclaim breaking the silence.

"Naw." She said not even looking up. "If it’s not at least 15% it's not worth it."

"Here’s a Campbell's…"

"Nope." She responded. "Too many different sub-brands. It’s confusing,"

I tossed the booklet aside in defeat. Beth picked it up and clipped a coupon.

"What? Why'd you choose that coupon?" I asked.

"It's for your brand of shaving cream," she replied.

"How'd I miss it?" I respond, confused.

I looked at the coupon. It really didn't appeal to me. It was almost feminine. Then it hit me: Women must buy 90% of the shaving cream used in North America. (Actually, upon further reflection, women probably clip 90% of the coupons used, too!)

So what's the marketing lesson? Every promotion has 3 parts: The media, the message and the offer. If your promotions aren’t working, study each part carefully.

1. Using the right media is the key to reaching your target market. A coupon in Motor Trend probably won't hit as many Revlon buyers as a coupon in Family Circle.

2. The message has to connect with your target audience. That means everything from words, colors and design to the story you’re telling. Good messages are compelling.

3. And finally, the offer has to have a high perceived value. That doesn’t mean it has to cost you a lot, it just has to be valuable to your customer. For instance I joined the Safari Club at the Rainforest Café because members get a free appetizer. The appetizer doesn’t cost the restaurant much but it’s a nice perk to me.

-- Phil Sasso

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Real World Promotion - Part 2...

My family was on the road. Tight schedule. We needed to grab dinner and keep moving.

"Where do you want to eat?" Beth asked looking in her wallet.

"I don't know, how about The Encore?" I replied.

"No time for sit down," she said "Besides I don't have much cash. Did you stop at the bank?"

" BK has 3 under $3. McD's has 2 for $2.22. Do either of those sound good?"

"Naw," Beth said. "Hey, I just found an IHOP coupon: 'Buy One, Get One Free'."

"It's sit down. We need fast food," I reminded her. "I know -- Arby's has 5 for $5."

"Do you think they take credit cards?" she asked. (I should have stopped at the bank.)

But who'd think an entire adult conversation could be about promotional offers?

Promotions are limited-time incentive programs to get a customer to buy now -- like coupons, rebates, on-pack offers, and price incentives. About a quarter billion dollars will go to promotions this year, roughly half of all marketing spending. Why? A couple reasons. It can be timed to seasonal sales highs or lows. And the results can be measured.

So what's a good response to a promotion? Some marketers count coupons. That tells you how popular a promotion is. If a "two for one" coupon has a high percentage response the offer strikes a responsive cord with your target market. That's good.

I prefer to take it a step further and compare dollars spent on the promotion with dollars earned. Not sales. Profits. For every dollar you spend you want to earn back MORE than a dollar back.

It's obvious. If not, you're better off standing on a street corner handing out money.

Actually, Washington Mutual did a promotion like that here in Chicago. They posted people downtown handing out $1.50 to passersby. It wasn't technically a promotion, but a publicity stunt to draw attention to surcharge-free ATMs. "The buck and a half stops here." The Washington Mutual T-shirts shouted.

So what if your promotions aren't making more than it cost? How can you fix it? More next time…

-- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Real World Promotion - Part 1...

Beth let's me shop with her. Sometimes.

I understand why I'm not invited more often. It must really be hard to get any shopping done with me around. I stop and study all the marketing: Who's the target market? What's the strategy? Does the messaging work? Why choose those colors?

I'm also a sucker for promotion.

"Honey, is this something you'd buy?" I ask my wife holding up a bottle of SoBe. "It's 'On Sale With Coupon'."

"No," Beth says. "That drink is targeted to adolescent boys 12 to 19. It's heavily promoted on sports broadcasts for skateboarding and BMX Freestyle Motorbiking."

Hmm. I didn't even know it was a drink.

About $240 Million was spent on promotion in the U.S. in 2002 says the Promotional Marketing Association in Promo Magazine. Promotional budgets account for about half of all marketing spending.

Promotions are limited time incentive programs to get someone to buy now. They include coupons, rebates, on-pack offers, mail-in offers, and seasonal price incentives.

I like promotions because, like direct marketing, it's a measurable methodology. If you distribute 100 coupons and get back 2, you know you had a 2% direct response to that offer. It means you've chosen the right media, the right messaging and the right offer to reach your target market.

So is 2% a good response? I'll cover that next time.

-- Phil Sasso

Monday, December 11, 2006


Years ago, I took a mall survey where I was showed mock-ups of Coke cans. The interviewer asked me questions about which I'd buy based on design, color, size, shape. I answered what he asked. But my answers weren't true.

Don't misunderstand, I wasn't lying. I was being totally honest. But I was telling the interviewer what I thought I might do, think or feel. I have no idea what I'd really do. My answers were unconsciously skewed by the artificial lab setting.

You may have laughed at my wastebasket diving research (posted October 20, 2006). But in reality, I believe real world research like that is much more effective than interviews and focus groups. Many products that did well in lab-type tests failed in the market.

A better Coke survey might have been putting prototypes on real store shelves and watching the behavior of unsuspecting shoppers.

Why? People act differently in artificial situations. They want to sound rational or try to justify their actions. And in a focus group, one person may overpower the group or peer pressure might make someone say what the group or interviewer wants to hear, not what they really believe.

Plus when no one is looking, we often act differently than even we think we'd act.

Did you ever run out to buy something and return with things you never intended to buy? Sometimes, I return with a bunch of things -- but not the item I originally set out for. "How illogical," Mr. Spock would say. "How human" I'd say.

I'm talking mostly about researching routine and low involvement decisions, like inexpensive dry goods and consumables. But people are sometimes just as irrational when making considered decisions on long-term purchases and big ticket items

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm heading out to lunch. Something healthy like a salad I think. Or maybe not.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Marketing Ethos...

Quick: Write a list 10 people you know.

Now circle all the people on that list that you respect.

Chances are you didn't circle all 10. Just because you know someone
doesn't necessarily mean you respect them.

The same is true for branding. Just because you recognize Virgin
Airlines or Britney Spears' name doesn't mean you're going to spend
money on them.

Many factors influence brand preference. One of the most interesting
is the influence of personal relationships and experiences. It's another
form of WOM (Word Of Mouth) Marketing.

I may or may not buy something a friend recommends. But I definitely
will not buy something they slam.

Last week, we stayed with friends in adjoining cabins at a large State
Park here in Illinois. It's an end-of-winter tradition we've had for 3
years. We usually have a good time despite little problems with
booking or lodging. I often speak highly of the Lodge and Restaurant
and suggest people try it as a unique get-away.

This year, however, there was a booking mistake that required we
change rooms in the middle of our stay. We lost a whole morning
getting rooms unlocked, repacking, and trudging luggage.

"It was an honest mistake." the front desk manager told our friends
when they asked to be compensated for the inconvenience. So why
didn't the manager make an honest attempt at making good?

When our friends checked out they had been credited $20 a night
by mistake. They reported the mistake -- and were charged back for
every penny.

So much for rewarding their integrity.

The Park has great marketing. They have beautiful ads, a nice
website, enticing literature. But, as the old saying goes, the best
advertising is Word-Of-Mouth.

How has the experience changed my feeling about the brand? All the
great marketing in the world won't make me feel the same way
again. And my recommendation won't be quite so genuine either.

Too bad. It used to be on my top 10 list.

- Phil Sasso

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Selling: A Bad Connection...

My contract with my phone company is up in a few weeks, so I called my provider to re-negotiate.

"You probably are best to stay with the plan you have," said the rep.

"AT&T just quoted me $50 less with unlimited local and long distance," I retorted.

"Oh. Let me see if we have a better plan for you," he replied sheepishly.

The rep didn't care about me. He was interested in selling me the most expensive service. I see that as bad marketing.

Study the fastest growing businesses in North America and I think you'll find a common thread: they're not about selling, they're all about marketing.

Let me explain.

Selling, in it's rawest sense, is about the seller. Selling is about convincing a prospect to buy a product or service.

Marketing, at it's core, is all about the customer. Marketing starts by CREATING a product or service that meets a customer's needs.

Now, don't get me wrong. Not all salesmen are insensitive sellers. The best ones tend to be more service-centered marketers.

In an interesting book I just started reading,"The Ultimate Question" by Fred Reichheld, the author talks about good profits and bad profits. He doesn't mean high and low profits. His premise is that good profits come from providing value to customers. Good profits create and sustain true sales growth. Bad profits are derived by mistreating customers in someway. They will kill your business.

Through my goggles, it looks like a marketing-centered company provides good profits and a sales-driven company, bad.

I'll expand on that in future tips and give some real world examples.

Meantime, ask yourself: Am I treating my customers with respect and providing them with a fair value? Would I do business with me?

Over the next few weeks, I'll explain why following the golden rule can truly be a golden opportunity.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sales: Blah, Blah, Blah...

As I stood listening to the sales person drone on and on, my eyes started to glaze over. I started noticing things that had nothing to do with the sales pitch, like weird patterns in the carpet and the strange pin the salesperson was wearing. Was it a serpent or a dragon...

"So, what do you think?"


"Can I sign you up today?"

"No, Sorry. I've got to run. I'm feeling a little drowsy. Thanks anyway."

A good salesperson knows the balance between listening and talking. Not this one!

In advertising, like in sales, you can talk too much, too.

Saying too much makes it impossible for your prospect to remember your Unique Selling proposition. Stick to selling one key, distinguishing feature in an ad and you'll sell much more than trying to cover everything. If you have more than one USP, buy more than one ad and position them on consecutive pages. But keep to one point.

Think about it. How much time do YOU spend reading ads? And how many do you actually remember? What's the last ad you read? What was it about? Would you buy it?

Saying too much clouds the message. Stay focused and you'll gain more sales than trying to say everything.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need a nap.

-Phil Sasso

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Good Humor, Bad Ad...

(Originally Published December 2004)

This Christmas season, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" celebrated its 41st anniversary. I taped it for my 5-year-old son PJ. He's watched it again and again until well past New Year's Day. I've watched segments with him. We've even memorized some catch phrases (like, "Herbie! Why weren't you at Elf Practice?!").

There's a funny commercial on the tape with a group of kids dressed like grown-ups at a fashion photo shoot -- until they hear the bell of a Good Humor truck and revert to children running off. Every little nuance makes me smile from the moody model to the artsy photographer. But one thing doesn't make me smile: I remember the commercial but I don't remember the advertiser. And I've seen it several times.

Unless the ad is for Good Humor, someone is wasting a lot of money.

Used well, humor is a powerful tool in persuasion. Used poorly, it can hinder your message more than help it.

I have nothing against humor. I use humor often in client ads.

The key to using humor well is making your product or service an integral part of the humor. It shouldn't be just an attention-getting device, but the humor and selling message should be woven inseparably together. Use it to illustrate a competing products flaw or one of your key benefits. Try to make your product the "hero",

Use humor as you might salt and pepper -- sparingly to enhance the experience, not to overwhelm it.

- Phil Sasso

Monday, December 04, 2006


My young designer proudly handed me an ad layout. 

“Yuck.” I responded. 

“You don’t like it?” he said sheepishly. “I can try again...” 

“I hate it,” I replied. “But who cares what I think.” 

He looked into each of my eyes to see if I was angry or joking. He
furrowed his brow and bit his lip as he pondered my response.
Then, he brightened.  “I get it. It doesn’t matter what you think,”
he said. “It’s the client’s opinion that counts.” 

“Nope,” I said. 

“I’m stumped,’ he replied.
“It’s the client’s customers that matter,” I explained. “It has to
connect with them.” 

A giant light bulb went on in the designer’s head. 

“The target audience in this case is females age 50 to 65,” I
explained. “I probably don’t like what they like. They wouldn’t
like what I do. Like a good salesperson, your ad has to connect
with the customer. This connects -- just not with me. That’s fine.
I’m not your market..” 

“So you don’t like it -- but you like it?” he said confused. 

“I don’t like it, but I LOVE it,” I said. “I think it works. It will
connect with the audience. That’s really all that matters. If others
like it, too -- great. But connecting with customers is not our
key concern.” 

He left my office smiling at a job well done. Or laughing at how
confusing I was. Either way, he left thinking. And that’s all that
really matters. I think. 

Who likes your marketing materials better? You or your customers?

- Phil Sasso

Friday, December 01, 2006

Building Marketing Buzz...

A Culver's restaurant is going up near my office.

I haven't seen an ad, a billboard or a sign for it. I don't even think they've broken ground, yet. But everyone in town knows about it. This is the first Culver's in our area, so it has a certain mystique. More mystique than you'd expect from Butter Burgers and Frozen Custard.

The owner couldn't buy this kind of pre-opening buzz -- or could he?

How's everyone know about this? WOM -- that's Word-Of-Mouth.

I've mentioned B2B and B2C marketing in my tips before. This is C2C, Consumer to Consumer marketing. It's based on human nature. People like to be "in the know" and share with others. It's a harmless form of gossip.

In this case, those who follow the local press, like Beth, are filling in those who don't, like me. Until it opens. Then all the WOM will be based on experience -- and marketing.

You can use publicity and other means to build buzz for your brand, too, no matter what you sell.

That's what evangelism marketing guru Guy Kawasaki did for Apple Computer -- all in the days before cell phone messaging and blogs.

In fact, Kawasaki will be a keynote speaker at the first WOMMA (Word Of Mouth Marketing Association) Summit at University of Chicago March 29 - 30. Experts in "viral, buzz, word of mouth, evangelism, grassroots and other customer-centered marketing strategies" will gather to discuss case studies, best practices, tracking ROI and ethics.

Sound interesting? Want to know the word on word-of-mouth? Want in on the buzz?

Contribute towards my $895 registration fee and I'll gladly attend and report back every gossipy detail.

- Phil Sasso

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Texting 1, 2, 3...

"What's a Soli?" Beth asked as we were leaving an outdoor concert on Tuesday.

"Is that S O L I ?" I clarified by spelling the word back to her.

"They said the last song featured a trumpet soli," she responded. "What's that?"

"A melody which is played in harmony by a section rhythmically together -- like a sax soli," I reported.

"Yeah. Right. How'd you know that off the top of your head?"

"I Googled it with my cell phone," I replied. "You just type in "d" followed by the word and they text you back the definition."

"There's another reason I hate your new cell phone," she said. "Do you always have to be wired to the world?"

"Actually, it's wireLESS..."


Now in my defense I just got it, so I'm still enthralled by the novelty of the new phone. And the technology is actually very old. It's not like a web browser, email, camera, coffeemaker phone. It's just a phone with SMS texting. A fairly old technology. I just find the untapped potential intriguing.

And SMS Google will also text you weather reports, sports scores, currency conversions, and even driving directions -- on demand. Just query GOOGL (46645). [See]

Fast forward to McDonald's last night.

"So did we win a new SUV?" I asked.

"I don't know. It's stupid. You have to go online to see," She said handing me the "Pirates" playing piece. "Who's really going to rush home and go online to see if they won?"

"We didn't win," I told her.

"How'd you know?"

"I texted the code on my phone," I replied. "We didn't win. But we can get free advertising from them if I just text by 'Y' to..."

Another glare. I put my phone away.

North Americans don't use SMS as much as those overseas. For instance, U.S. users send less than 50 texts a month verses over 200 a month in the Philippians. But experts predict the U.S. will catch-up quickly. Many wireless technologies have blazed trails first overseas before catching fire here.*

Can SMS be a marketing tool for you? Can you sponsor SMS content as a branding tool? Can you use SMS to build an opt-in customer cell phone list? If not SMS, what other novel technology can you use to connect with your target market?

*SOURCE: Business 2.0 | Aug 2006

- Phil Sasso

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

TWO BITS......

The other day, I consulted with a service-marketing veteran to develop my knowledgebase.

Our discussion centered on best practices in profitable marketing and management of personal or professional service businesses.

I listened intently to her perspective, honed from years of analysis and practical experience. She carefully outlined two core techniques: a throughput focus and a retention focus.

She used a hair salon as her illustration.

Cost accounting says the more haircuts in a day, the more money in the register at the end of the night. So, the increased through-put approach emphasizes efficiency would set a strict limit on the amount of time a stylist spends per customer. Quality is second to speed. The downside of this approach is often lower customer service ratings and higher employee burnout.

Marketing says the more repeat business, the lower the cost of marketing and the bigger the bottom line at the end of the year. That’s why the customer retention strategy would stress carefully listening, asking questions, and taking extra time to build relationships with clients. The downside of this approach can be higher service costs.

In her final analysis, the best practice is a blended method that emphasizes long-term relationship-building and system efficiency over raw speed. In a price-sensitive niche, this approach keeps customers from buying on price alone. In a quality-sensitive niche, it produces a greater sense of service quality. In either case, by lowering customer attrition, the business reduces expensive new customer marketing costs. And by building relationships, the happy salesperson/stylist builds a steady stream of commissions and a solid client roster.

The consultant also explained how incremental add-on sales, in our example shampoo or styling gel, can impact the bottom line with little or no increase in service costs.

When my time was over, I thanked Tamara for her sage wisdom and paid her consulting fee on the spot. Her hourly rate was modest -- and I got a free haircut to boot.

- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I came home from work and sang out my usual "I'm home famileeee"

(Really. I do this. And as annoying as it sounds, Beth doesn't sock me.)

PJ came running out of his room with a big smile to greet me.

"Daddy!" he squealed.

"Hi PJ!"

"Sit down, dad," he said.

I sat.

He pulled out a catalog.

"Dad, what's this?" he asked.

"It's  a train," I told him.

"No. It's THOMAS, dad."

"Oh, Yeah, it's Thomas the Tank Engine," I said reading. "And this is Annie and Clarabelle."

"Do you like it dad?"

"Yeah it’s very nice,"I said, not quite tuned in to where this was headed, yet. "I like the track with the snow-covered tunnels."

"Can you help me get this dad?"

I was at once proud and trapped. I was proud of my little salesman asking for the sale. I was trapped by the fact that he never asked me to BUY it. He only asked me to help him get it. And I'd already said I liked it. What could I do?

We can take a lesson from PJ.

He didn't ask me to buy anything at first. He re-established our relationship and involved me in a dialog. He got me to commit to liking it -- then he asked for the sale. He didn't even present the price. I had to ask how much.

Too often, our selling process starts with the price, then asks for a commitment.

A more effective approach, especially for big ticket items -- like a pricey Thomas the Train Set -- is to involve our customers in a dialog and get them to buy in on the idea before you ask them to consider spending one penny. But you have to be careful not to be too mysterious or gimmicky or you could come off like an Amway salesman.

I've helped several clients develop a systematic approach that goes from ads to literature to closing (I call it the PJ principle.)

Will PJ get his train set this Christmas?

If you get a phone call from a very young salesman asking you about your advertising, you'll know how I "helped him" get the train set. (Not really. But maybe next year.)

- Phil Sasso

Monday, November 27, 2006

Flash or Substance.....

I attended 3 trade shows in 3 days this month.

Two shows were straight-laced. The third was like a 70's flashback. It featured performance car parts. Scantily-clad women with no product knowledge. And a lot of male buyers. I watched in confusion. I thought this tactic had gone the way of the leisure suit.

Using pin-up models to sell hood scoops is called "borrowed interest". Men may stop. But they're ogling the presenter, not the product. I'm not convinced building traffic like this is building sales. It isn't even a case of selling the sizzle vs. selling the steak. The model isn't WEARING the hood scoop. She's not an expert. She's not a customer. She's just there to draw attention.

Avoid borrowed interest. It's a waste of time and money. Instead, use your marketing to pre-qualify prospects and pre-sell them by demonstrating benefits. A classic study of ads shows that ads with headlines that relate to a problem or product are more effective than provocative, but unrelated headlines.

Now I have nothing against hiring attractive women or men to work a show. They just need some background, product training -- and a little more clothing.

- Phil Sasso

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


It's kind of a Thanksgiving tradition.

Over pumpkin pie, someone from Beth's family will ask me if I'll be standing in line again tomorrow at 6 a.m. for the early bird sale at Walmart. Then everyone laughs.

And I always roll my eyes and say "Not this year".

But the next day I always find myself in the frigid Wisconsin cold waiting in line for "Wally World" to open. Usually I'm there to get a gift for someone that laughed at me the night before!

What kind of weird control does this Walmart sale have over me?

First, it's about a mile from my in-laws so I can roll out of bed, throw on my sweats and baseball cap and be there in 5 minutes.

Second, they usually have a great deal on some perfect electronic gizmo for someone I love -- even if they do laugh at me.

Walmart holds this way-too-early sale to preempt the competition. Retailers call it "Black Friday". The buzz this year is websites leaking stolen BF ads online. But Walmart decide to even pre-empt the competition at this, running their own BF sales ads online at

You may hate Walmart. You may love them. But you can't deny they're smart marketers.

And you can learn from them. Even if you're not in retail.

Preempting can mean being first to have a feature -- or being the first to promote it.

For instance, when Splenda launched, they first approached Royal Crown Cola about using their low-calorie sweeter. They knew RC was in the market for something to differentiate their cola. RC invested heavily invested in promoting the Splenda brand -- building sales for both. Meanwhile plenda used these ingredient branding relationships to go head-to-head with artificial sweeteners -- and sugar itself. In just a few years, Splenda has more marketshare than Sweet-n-Low and Nutrasweet -- combined, according to a recent issue of Business 2.0.

They did that not by being first artificial sweetener on the market, but by preempting the competition with selected brands.

Will I get up for at the crack of dawn again this Friday? I can't say--family may be reading this.

But I can tell you, I'll do a great job of preempting some blue-haired old lady to the last box of what I'm shopping for. (Just kidding!)

- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


My family just got back from a weeklong vacation in the middle of

Actually, our cottage was in the middle of alot of things, but was
surrounded by thousands of acres of nothing -- the Kickapoo
Wilderness Reserve in Southwestern Wisconsin.

I'm now well-rested and a little more educated for my adventure.

One of the things I discovered about the smaller towns and cities
around us was that they do marketing a little differently. I'll call it

For instance, we visited Wilton, Wisconsin, the heart of the famous
Elroy-Sparta trail, the first rails to trails path in the U.S. It was
"Wood Tick Days" in town, so we stopped at a shop called Almosta

The shop was having a "My Wife's Away Sale". The shop owner
encouraged us to grab anything we like and he'd give us a deal on
it -- as long as his wife didn't get back first. Then he just chatted
with us. He didn't try to sell us anything. He even had a table with
free stuff on it he was giving away. Without the typical hype and
pressure, shopping was more fun. We didn't feel we needed to keep
our defenses up.

His wife appeared after a few moments, but he promised to honor
any prices he had given us. We picked up a Father-Son set of
"BITE ME - Wilton Wood Tick Days" T-Shirts and left smiling.

I don't often feel the same way shopping here in Chicago.

Why? We trained salespeople to ask for the sale. In fact we've taught
them to almost pester the customer demanding the sale. It puts a
customer's defenses up and increases resistance.

The same is true for the advertising techniques that scream at us
with loud colors, busy designs and "act now" offers.

Good advertising doesn't push you, it nudges you. Sometimes it
just moves you with a laugh or a tear. It's as real and sincere as
your best salesman.

So the next time you're in Wilton, Wisconsin (pop. 574) stop in the
Almosta Store for a lesson in marketing and walk across the street
to Gina's Pies Are Square for some good food and a lesson in
merchandising. But I'll cover that another time

-Phil Sasso

Monday, November 20, 2006

Give & Take...

I was counseling a client about discounting. They were tempted to fight an aggressive competitor with huge price discounts.

"What if they lower their prices?" I asked. "Are you ready for a price war? You won't build loyalty. Customers could lose sight of value and buy on price alone. It may even cast doubt about the quality of your services. And what if the competitor can sell below your cost? They could put you out of business!"

"And you suggest I do nothing?" he responded.

"No. I suggest you use giving as your marketing advantage'" I said.

"So don't discount my services -- just give them away?" he looked in my eyes to see if I was kidding. "Are you nuts?"

"Not giving away your services," I clarified. "I'm suggesting you align yourself with a non-profit that connects with your customers and give donations to them. We could advertise that customer purchases are helping support the Children and Puppies Charity -- or whatever. Then we'll work with the non-profit to get the word out."

Most consumers are swayed by cause-centered marketing. Given the choice between two brands of competitive price and quality, 76% of consumers would buy the one that supports a worthy cause, says a study by Cone Communications and Roper Starch Worldwide. The study also found 76% would switch brand loyalty for a cause -- and 54% would pay more to support a meaningful cause.

The key is finding an organization that fits your business, is meaningful to your target market and will work with you. A book store supporting a literacy program seems an obvious fit. But the program needs to be willing to lend their name or work with you.

If you can't find a cause to work with, consider starting your own. One of my clients started a scholarship program. Another sponsored a non-profit event in return for a plug in the promotional materials and the program.

Consider how giving can help you take the upper hand in a tough competitive market.

-Phil Sasso

Friday, November 17, 2006


A client and good friend of mine, Don Russell, recently picked up a couple of hitchhikers.

Imagine how I felt when he called me from the middle of Indiana to tell me what had happened.

He'll be fine. But he learned a lesson from his experience. In fact, I think we can all learn a lesson from what happened to him.

Let me clarify a few things: First, he didn't pick up random hitchhikers on the highway -- he found out about them on the Internet. And second he wasn't harmed. The lesson he learned was one in viral marketing.

Don gave these two guys a ride from Indianapolis to Chicago to help them with their project he'd read about on

The hitchhikers, Fiddy and Scotty, are a couple of recent business school grads who have a goal of hitching free rides to see all 50 US capitols in 50 days. It's not just a high-tech joy ride -- it's an in-depth experiment in viral marketing. They're testing and documenting how viral marketing works. In fact, the same concept they're using allowed one man to trade up from one red paper clip to a house.

Their story and the website detailing their travels, has been picked up by various radio, TV, print and internet news organizations including CNN, NPR and USA Today. Their marketing budget - $0.

Don says when their adventure is over, they have several ideas of how to "monetize" their efforts. Interesting.

So how can you apply this concept to real-world marketing? It's only limited by your imagination, the hard work you put in -- and a lot of luck. You need a compelling storyline and a way to get your message to the media and/or the community you want to reach. Or you need to build your own community around your story.

While marketers are trying to use "social media" like blogs and social networking sites 69% of users are skeptical says JupiterResearch. My guess is most corporate programs are too corporate to work. They are either too plain vanilla or too obviously commercial.

I can't give you any quick answers in this tip. But if you go to my blog ( I'll be glad to give you a link to a couple of interesting articles on viral marketing on the Inc. and Fast Company magazine websites.

Or give me a call and we can discuss how I might be able to help you hitch a ride on the viral marketing train.

- Phil Sasso
Link to Inc. Magazine
Link to Fast Company Magazine

Thursday, November 16, 2006


"Phil, would you look at an ad for me," an old friend asked. "I'd really appreciate your honest critique."

"Uh ... sure," I responded hesitantly. I looked at his ad. It was terrible. "Did you ... uh ... design this ad?"


"Do you ... um .. like it?"


I breathed a sigh of relief.

Let me be honest: when I look at most amateur ads it hurts. I wouldn't attempt to practice law or medicine on my own behalf. Yet, because the most talented people in our field make it look easy, a lot of people feel they can design a successful ad. They can't. No more than they could do their own appendectomy. But, since ad design isn't lethal -- except to profits, they'll try it. Or ask their cousin's son to do it.

Being asked for my opinion on a friend's ad is even more painful. It's a lot like being shown a picture of an ugly baby. You can't tell your friend the baby is ugly. But if you say she's cute you'd be lying. I usually say something like: "Wow, he's really big" or "She's got a lot of hair". (If I've ever said that about your baby, I apologize. I'm sure your child was really cute, too!) Everyone thinks their own baby is cute. Just like everyone thinks their own ad is witty or attractive.

When I look at an ad, I'm not just looking for clever catch phrases and great artwork. I'm looking for a strong strategy, an engaging sales message and an inspiring take-away. I've seen a lot of ugly ads over the years. But what are worse are the one's that look good but have no meaningful impact. Advertising is more than pretty pictures or funny dialog. That's "advertainment". Advertising is salesmanship in print. Successful advertising is about impact. It's about making the right impression to the right people to make sales. You need to touch a "responsive chord" to do that.

Let me ask you a simple question: What was the last ad you responded to? Not the last ad that made you laugh or cry. Not one that you told a friend about but didn't remember the brand. What was the last ad you saw that made you pull our your checkbook and buy?

Off hand, most people can't think of one. That, despite the fact that we're bombarded by thousands of advertising messages a day. Interesting, huh?

So is advertising's influence all subliminal? Yes. And no. Advertising's influence is cumulative. That means in very few cases do you see an ad once and pick-up the phone. In fact, in most cases, you won't even remember seeing or hearing an ad the first few times -- unless it's highly creative. And if the product doesn't fulfill a real or perceived need, you still won't react -- even if you've seen an ad 100 times.

My simplified advertising equation is: the right message reaching the right audience repeated with optimal frequency equals results.

There I go making it look easy again!

- Phil Sasso

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Buying Customers....

I found a coupon on my night stand last weekend for a special:
Buy One Starbuck's, Get One Free.

It didn't take much thinking to figure out the source.

"Just thought you might need some ideas," Beth said.

About 77% of American consumers use coupons, according to the
Promotional Marketing Association. Coupons save Americans more
than $3 billion a year -- the most dedicated coupon clippers are
men and women that earn $50 - 75,000 a year as reported in the
Chicago Tribune. Interesting statistics.

Ever since C.W. Post issued the first coupon for a penny off a box of
Grape Nuts cereal back in 1895, couponing has been successfully
used to buy customers. Yes,I said "buy customers". In reality, that's
what advertising and promotion are all about: Buying customers. Good
advertising, like good purchasing, seeks to buy the best quality at the
best price.

How do you assess that? A good customer is one that is either highly
loyal, a heavy user of your product or both. Beth, for instance is
pretty loyal to Starbucks -- she doesn't drink Caribou or Gloria
Jean's. But she isn't a heavy-user. She may buy a cup a month. A good
price means they cost less than your per customer profit on the sale.
For instance if you do a $1,000 promotional ad and get 100 customers,
you know each customer cost you $10. If you make $10 or less profit
on each sale, then you're better off doing nothing than running that ad
or promotion. I belief a promotion needs to measurably pay for itself.

The best thing about couponing is that you can code coupons and track
the results. If coupon profitability for one media vehicle exceed the
other, perhaps it is wiser to focus more budget on the most productive

And don't think couponing is just for consumer marketing.
Business-to-business marketers have found that couponing can be
effective for them as well. I just got an offer in the mail for a
discount on cable internet for my office. Although there's no dashed
line to cut along, the code I need to use to get the discount is
basically a coupon. The same goes for the Internet couponing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to make up for a coupon I didn't use
last weekend. (Sorry, hon!)

- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


A while ago, I visited the Mall of America in Minneapolis for the first time. What's the biggest mall in America like? Disorientating.

"Do you know where we're going?" asked Beth.

"I'm not even sure I could retrace my steps to get back to the van," I said. "Are you leaving a trail of popcorn or something?"

"Seriously, do you know how to get to the Rain Forest?"

"I'm lost. Really, I have no idea where we are," I replied. "Did you see the sign in the garage? It said 'Remember: You're Parked in Arizona'? This place is too big."

"Here's a directory. Let's see what it says."

I tried to let my eyes adjust to the overwhelming amount of information.

"Uh, I can't even find the "You Are Here" sticker," I announced. "Look, here's a phone. I'm going to call for help."

Anything that makes a man ask for directions must be built for women. I've driven for hours to avoid asking for help. Five minutes in MOA and I'm begging for directions.

"Thank you for calling Mall of America," the message began. "All of our operators are busy. Someone will be with you shortly..."

"Tell them we're across from Macy's," Beth said studying my face. "Are you on hold?"

I imagined some man who had circumnavigated the globe without a map standing at another kiosk in the MOA on the verge of tears asking how to get to the Lake Woebegone store.

"Mall of America," said the voice over my lifeline.

"I'm, uh, in the Mall." I began, my voice cracking. "I'm lost..."

"It's O.K.," came back a warm, reassuring voice. "You're near Macy's. Where do you want to go?"

After a moment I was armed with directions.

The marketing lesson? How easy do you make it for customers to buy from you? Do they need to navigate an overwhelming amount of product variations and options? Or do you give them a road map--or better yet a friendly voice to guide them?

If you have a lot of options, a comparison chart can help customers pick the best product for their needs. If your product is complicated, an online demo voice can give a benefit-by-benefit sales presentation. Or a friendly customer service person can answer pre-sales questions in-store, on the phone, or online.

Back at the MOA, we finally got from Arizona to the Rain Forest. Once seated at the restaurant, my self-confidence came back. Until I was handed the 20-page menu...

- Phil Sasso

Monday, November 13, 2006

As I stood in the pouring rain at 3:10 am on a Saturday morning in my bathrobe, I wondered just what I had got myself into.

Flash back several months to Beth reading the newspaper in bed.

"Hey this sounds fun," she said. "The American Kennel Club has their big Chicago Show next weekend."

"Why would you want to go to a dog show?"

"Don't you think it would be fun to see the dogs?" she asked.

"I've seen dogs," I replied. "I don't need to go to a show to see dogs."

"I think PJ would love it. Seeing all the different kinds of dogs. He loves animals."

Flash forward several months to Beth reading a book in bed.

"Hey it says here that retrievers are the most popular dogs in America," Beth said.


"Yeah. You know, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. Which do you like best?"

"I like sleeping dogs..." I said pretending to drift off before I got an elbow in the ribs."

"Come on didn't you have a dog when you were a boy?"

"Yeah. Yeah." I respond rubbing my side.

"Wouldn't it be great if PJ had a dog? What was your dogs name?"

"Tippy," I said remembering playing fetch with my best friend.

"Do you have fond memories of him?"

"I remember teaching him to shake hands," I said remembering the rewarding feeling of sucess. I recalled wrestling with my dog and just the fun of petting him. Then I pictured my parents with a pooper scooper and I realized I was now a parent.

Flash Forward several more months...

I looked on my pillow and find a printout from the internet of a little black puppy at a rescue shelter. I tried to put it aside and get into bed before I got roped into something.

"Isn't he cute?"


Another elbow to the rib.

"Hey wake up I'm talking to you. Isn't he cute?"

"Who?" I say faking grogginess.

"Who?! Bear."

"Bear?" I said in mock surprise, "You want to buy a bear?" I look in her eyes and realize my joke isn't going to break the sales pitch.

"His NAME is bear. The fee for him includes all his shots, a microchip and spaying or neutering -- whatever they do to a boy. Isn't that a good deal?"

"Listen if we get a dog, I'll feed him, brush him and exercise him, whatever. But the poop stuff, that's your job."

"O.K.," Beth said. "I'll house train him. Come on. Wouldn't it be fun? And wouldn't it be rewarding to know you're rescuing a puppy? Let's just go see it."

"Alright. But we'll only see it. No commitments."

"I'll call and set up an interview tomorrow."


"You can't just pick up a dog. You have to be approved to adopt it." Beth replied.

Adoption? Things had sure changed since I was a kid.

Fast forward several days. Beth and I are in bed. It's 3 a.m...

"Phil? Phil wake up. I think the puppy needs to go out."

"Can't you get him his own key or something."

"If he has a accident it's your fault." Beth replied. "And you're cleaning it up."

So that's how I ended up standing in the rain at 3:10 trying to coax a dog to do his business.

As I stood there, I contemplate the process of making what we call in marketing a "considered decision." I realize that products with long selling cycles tend to have very high costs. Sometimes it's the cost of the purchase. Other times, it's a big learning curve or the cost of maintenance. But once the customer has made the initial purchase it takes an ongoing relationship to circumvent buyer's remorse. Fortunately for pets, they build their own relationship and don't require a salesperson.

Long selling cycles can be frustrating for salespeople. But when you stand back and realize the commitment your customer is making, you'll realize why it takes so long. Try to think of it from the customers perspective to understand why it may be taking him so long to make a commit. It will help you be more patient and help you seal more deals than trying to pressure a customer into a purchase before he's quite ready.

Now, if you'll excuse me, Aslan and I have some business to take care of...

- Phil Sasso

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Your Attention Please.....

The other day, I found a unique PR product on the web. I wasn't sure how I stumbled on it.

Ever retrace your conversation and laugh at how it got from topic A to topic B? Like how did discussing the funny new VW commercial turn into a debate on world peace? My Internet experience was a lot like that.

My history showed I landed on the PR site by clicking an ad on I got to from an ad in an e-newsletter. I don't know how or when I signed up for the e-newsletter.

Two clicks on affiliate ads and I was on to a different topic.

Affiliate advertising is a pay-for-performance online marketing. Unlike SEO (Search Engine Marketing) and paid SEM (Search Engine Marketing) customers from affiliate sites may not set out looking for your product. They may not have even known it existed. Some just had a problem or a need and an online or email ad led them to your solution. Some affiliate sites are copyrighted content, some are public forums, some are just a list of ads. There many different payment models. The most common are PPC (Pay-Per-Click) and PPS (Pay-Per-Sale). I favor the later. It avoids click fraud issues (see my last tip).

Is affiliate marketing a good choice for you? It is for many Fortune 500 brands. In fact, for some companies affiliate marketing manager a full-time position. So, I think it's at least worth considering.

A good place to start your homework are two of the leaders in affiliate marketing networks: LinkShare
( and CommissionJunction ( Using a respected 3rd party monitor like these helps you find reputable affiliates and minimizes fraud. They can also advise you on the best practices and pitfalls. Google also has an affiliate network called AdSense. I've not studied it, but I've heard good things.

Doesn't matter if you market B-to-B or B-to-C, there are options that can fit your needs.

I like how affiliate marketing combines branding with measurable results. I don't like how it influences easily distracted people.

I'm sorry. Where was I?

- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Today is the Illinois primaries. Here in Chicago, the city where even the dead vote, politics are pretty tough. More like bare knuckle boxing than campaigning. 

As the big day approaches I'm always amused by the political advertising. I find the mudslinging, phony endorsements and misleading statements laughable.

But, in many ways, the same tricks are used in commercial advertising -- we just call them techniques. (Kidding. Just kidding!)

Here are a few random reports from the field that you may find informative -- or at least interesting:

POSTCARD FROM THE EDGE: Beth left a postcard by my dinner plate. On one side was a controversial issue both Beth and I are against. On the flip side I expected the candidate to be against it too. He wasn't. Why send this postcard to us? Did he even think about his list? I don't know where he stands on anything else, (he doesn't cover that) he's only focused on one controversial issue. We could be in 100% agreement on everything else. But most voters won't  think that hard. They just won't vote for him. And he's the incumbent! Marketing Mistake.

OVER ENDORSED: I heard a radio spot this morning with a former president singing the praises of a local politician. A former president! And the way he pretended he was good friends with the local guy made me laugh. He said: "If I lived in your area I'd vote for him." Come on. This is a PRIMARY. Do we need a former president's endorsement for a local contest? How much overkill is that? Made me wonder how close the other candidate was. And why the incumbent would be so worried. Maybe the other guy has something worth looking into... Marketing Mistake.

GET PAID TO VOTE: On the non-partisan side, the League Of Women Voters in one suburb is turning your voting receipt into a coupon with a list of local merchants (Thanks for the info, Pat Davis). Bring in your stub and get a free cup of coffee or a 10% discount or something nice. Creative idea. It may not double turnout at the polls. But, with historically low primary turn out, it may get a few more voters out. (Not necessarily well-informed voters. But you can always read your political mail to get informed!) Marketing Mastermind.

The marketing lessons? Be sure you know who is on your mailing list. Don't focus on only one selling point. Don't use an endorsement that doesn't fit. Most importantly be creative in your thinking.

And remember, as we say in Chicago: Vote early. Vote often.

- Phil Sasso

Monday, November 06, 2006


Beth agreed to pick me up at the airport last week.

I didn't think anything of it.

But the guy I rode to the airport with and our cabby both were surprised.

"Newlyweds?" asked the driver.

"Last week we celebrated 9 years," I replied. "In fact, our honeymoon
was here in Vegas -- to go to the same tradeshow."

"Really! She went for that?" my rideshare said.

"Yeah. I'm a hopeless romantic I guess," I joked.

"She must really love you to pick you up at the airport," said the cabby.

"I never thought of it before," I replied.

To me, it seemed like something any wife would do for her husband.

Needless to say, I gave Beth a big kiss and bought her dinner that

Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the good things we've got.

Take your product or service for instance. You probably have marketed
it long enough that you may not see it the way customers see it
anymore. Maybe you're too close. You may be taking certain things for
granted. Or maybe you think everyone expects a set of features or
benefits that many are not even aware of.

Perhaps it's time to get a fresh perspective.

I'd say hiring a marketing communications agency to help you find new
angles and new avenues to communicate your message could help you
re-ignite your sales.

(But then again, I own a marketing communications agency. Maybe I'm
too close.)

- Phil Sasso

Friday, November 03, 2006

Last Day....

I'm at the APEX/SEMA/NACE trade shows in Las Vegas this week.

Every year this week, I offer the same advice: Use the first day back from a tradeshow like it's your last day at the show.

It's easy to get swept away catching up on things and put off following up on leads. But what's more important? The day-to-day grind -- or reminding that hot prospect that you're one of the 1,000 exhibitors they met last week at that big tradeshow?

So, take the time to jot them a quick note, send them a catalog, or ship them that sample you promised them.

But don't call them right away. Afterall, they'll probably be as swamped catching up today as you'll be -- tomorrow.

(That means if you try to call me on Monday, I may be too busy following up to get to you. Please don't be offended!)

- Phil Sasso

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ad Glut…

Chicago’s PACE suburban transit service now broadcasts entertainment videos on their buses, says the Chicago Tribune. The commercials generate $500,000 for PACE. Looking up, I see a PACE bus out my window wrapped in a funny ad for Citibank.

The upside? All this ad revenue stretches PACE’s budget and subsidizes the cost of public transportation for patrons. It also helps advertisers reach a captive audience.

The downside? As every square inch of America gets covered with ads, each ad’s impact is reduced. I call it ad glut. Others call it ad clutter. Whatever you call it, it means it takes more ads to get the same response. What once generated 100 leads now generates 60.

To be more successful you need to do one of two things: buy more ads or be more creative.

Obviously, buying more ads is a numbers game: more ads means it’s more likely people will see them.

Breakthrough creativity uses novel or daring approaches to get noticed. For instance, when French Connection United Kingdom started using the company’s initials to get people’s attention, North American sales jumped from $35M to $84M! Definitely breakthrough – but a little too edgy for my sensibilities.

You could do both and hedge your risk, but it’s obviously much more expensive.

Stretching the envelope can help you stretch your ad budget. How can you breakthrough the ad clutter in your market? What can you do to get more noticed and more remembered? How can creativity make your ad jump OFF the page—without OFFending?

- Phil Sasso

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I grilled out last week. Burgers were the main menu item. As I
took a bite I applauded the great taste and my grilling skill. I also
noticed a greatcondiment.

"Great pickles, Beth," I said. "What are they?"

"Claussen," she replied.

"They're amazing!" I said. "Very crisp. And just the right balance of

Then it hit me. Nothing is so good without a cost.

"How much were they?" I asked.

Beth took a big bite of her burger.

"Mrftoandraft dollars," she replied with her mouth full.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you not to talk with your mouth full?"
I retorted.

Then I realized it wasn't because her mouth was full, that I couldn't
understand her. She was mumbling on purpose.

"How much can a jar of pickles cost?" I asked.

"They are kept in the refrigerated section," she informed me.

"I know. I remember the commercials from when I was a kid," I said.
"How much could a jar of pickles cost?"

"Seven dollars."

"Seven dollars?! What are they gold plated? Seven dollars for
cucumbers in vinegar?" The cheapskate in me sprouted up. I started
counting pickles. "What is that like a quarter a pickle?"

"That's regular price. I buy them when they're on sale two for one."

"What's the store brand? Like $1.79?" I put down my burger. "People
actually pay $7.00 for a jar of pickles?"

"They're not just pickles," she reminded me. "They're Claussen"

The next day, we were biking past a French Market. We parked to
look around. We stopped at "The Pickle Guy" a merchant who
specialized in just pickles and peppers.

"Want to try a sample?" The Pickle Guy asked.


He handed us a slice of pickle to share.

"Isn't that the best pickle you ever had?" he asked.

It certainly rivaled Claussen. I picked up the container and read the
price. Suffice to say, it made Beth look frugal.

My marketing point? Price is relative. People will pay whatever they
perceive as the value of your product. It depends on what they are
willing to pay for what's important to them. Good promotion builds
the value of your product. How are you promoting your value? Are you
maximizing your profit? How can you differentiate your product to
build perceived value?

-Phil Sasso

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Loco Location...

I got our family's bikes out of storage last weekend. Unfortunately, Beth's front tire needed repair. Our local shop was closed. Then I remembered a bike shop along the Prairie Path, a popular Chicago bike trail that we frequently ride. They were able to fix the flat while we waited. It took about 10 minutes. It didn't cost a lot. And we were able to jump right on the path without moving our car.

During the ride, I thought about it. What at first seemed an out-of-the-way location now made sense to me.

I also thought about how being in the right place at the right time is just as important for advertising as it is for retailing.

RIGHT PLACE. It surprises me how many advertisers waste their money on general advertising when niche advertising could be so much more cost-effective. For instance, say you sell bike trailers. You could advertise in a newspaper where 10% of the audience is a likely buyer. Or you could advertise in a local bicycling magazine where 40% of the audience is fit. Or perhaps you find a local parenting magazine has a 60% fit.

It may look like it costs a little more per person. But being in the right place to reach more of the right prospects is actually cheaper.

RIGHT TIME. In most cases, you can't tell when a customer is in the market for your product. So I suggest my clients focus on advertising continuity. That is rather than running one full page ad once, run three 1/3 page ads thrice. By doing this, you are more likely to hit them when they are beginning their buying process. With seasonal products, like bike trailers, you want to invest the lion's share of your budget during pre and early season and reduce it as season sales tend to decline.

Looks like I exercised a lot of gray matter on this ride. But, judging from the way I felt the next morning, that's not all I exercised!

- Phil Sasso

Monday, October 30, 2006

Over The Cliff...

When you think of effective salespeople, Cliff Clavin, the mailman from Cheers, probably doesn't top your list.

But in reality, he probably delivered more sales pitches in a day than any salesman. That's because direct mail is a top marketing tool. And growing. As the national Do-Not-Call Registry draws more dollars away from telemarketing, direct mail stands to gain. It is definitely a more cost-effective marketing technique than door-to-door! The DNCR hotline drew 17 million registrants east of the Mississippi in its first week of operation. Which causes Advertising Age to estimate that about $28 billion in telemarketing dollars will likely be re-routed into alternative direct-marketing methods like direct mail.

Looking for a good way to boost the response to your direct mailer as more competing messages fill mailboxes? Consider adding a promotional product. According to Baylor University researchers, adding an item can increase response by about 75 percent. That means you can dramatically increase the success of your direct mail campaign by including a pen, key chain, T-shirt -- or a mailable, attention-getting giveaway.

And as an aside, in most cases, you can still call your existing and recent customers. Just don't call me during dinner.

-- Phil Sasso

Friday, October 27, 2006

One Oar…..

A salesman approached me at a business luncheon I spoke at last
week to offer his unsolicited opinion on advertising and marketing.

"I don't need to advertise." he said. "I'm a good salesman. Good
salesmen don't need advertising."

I thanked him for his opinion.

"You're right. Good salesmen don't rely on advertising," I replied.

He smirked at his apparent victory.

"Great salesmen rely on advertising," I clarified. "That's what sets
them apart from the good ones."

Selling without marketing is a lot like trying to cross a lake in a
rowboatwith one oar. It's possible, but it's a lot harder than it needs
to be.

Sales and marketing work together like the two oars in a rowboat
propelling you forward. If you don't advertise, no one knows anything
about your brand or your unique products or services. If you don't
work at closing those sales by phone or in person, someone else will.

Think of advertising and sales as a kind of a one-two punch.

The ad generates interest. The salesperson closes the sale.

Take direct mail. You can generate a lot of leads with a good mailing
campaign. But you can increase your average transaction by taking
the time to personally talk to your prospect to up sell or cross sell

What's your weaker side? Sales or marketing? What can you do to
improve it?

- Phil Sasso

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cramming Doesn't Work....

In college, a friend encouraged me to take Chemistry instead of Biology. Everything about my decision was wrong. The teacher was boring. I didn't get the content. The class started at 8 am well before I was awake. And the biggest problem: my friend wasn't in the class.

So, when finals came I found myself cramming. I'd never really crammed before. My roommate's girlfriend, a Chemistry major, offered to help me.

"Where did you start having problems?" she asked.

"Something about moles," I said.

"Moles?" she said looking in both my eyes.

"Yeah. Not the animal, the..."

"I know what you mean," she said. "Phil, that's the first chapter!"

Needless to say, I didn't ace Chemistry.

However the experience gave me a lot of sympathy for those who think cramming works in advertising. You can't learn chemistry overnight. And you can't expect advertising to work overnight. People rarely buy an unknown brand from an unknown merchant. Building trust and awareness takes time. It's a process -- much like the learning process. Prospects need to learn about you a bit at a time, with knowledge building on knowledge.

And the more complicated or expensive your product, the longer it takes for the prospect to "get" your sales message and understand it's relevance to him or her.

I never put off studying for an exam until the last minute ever again. Nor should a wise marketer put off advertising until the last minute.

By the way, I still don't understand moles.

-Phil Sasso

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Spam on Spam.....

I've gotten several SPAM emails promising to help me get rid of SPAM forever. Ironic, eh? Kind of like a telemarketer selling Telezappers...

The message just seems a little off-the-mark to me. But there's a lot of much more off-target marketing. And it's costing us all a lot of money.

Case in point: Accenture, the consulting arm of former Arthur Andersen spent a reported $175 million several years ago to announce their new name with expensive TV commercials and consumer print ads. You may not even remember the spots. I don't remember them, either. That's because the ads weren't very creative.

I have just one question: Why?

Isn't their core market is a few executives at big businesses who make the decisions to hire consultants? Wouldn't it be more effective to focus on business publications, direct mail and personal selling (maybe even telemarketing!)?

How is this costing us all money? That $175 million came from clients. Clients like Sara Lee, Bristol-Meyers, Best Buy -- even Jelly Belly Candies. And where do the clients get the money? People like us who pay a little more so the consultants can do wasteful advertising.

O.K. maybe I'm being a little melodramatic. Perhaps the wasteful advertising isn't the end of the world. Not when you have $175 million to burn. But smaller businesses, like yours, can't afford to be off target.

Are you hitting your target? Are you using the right media? Is your message getting results?

-- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


If you're ever in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, drive by The Fireside Dinner Theatre.

My family stayed in a hotel next door one night when on vacation. I was amazed. It is not just a little rural theater. It's as big as a small college campus. In size, it dwarfs many of the live theaters here in Chicago. And with tickets as high as $60 a seat, the prices rival some non-equity Windy City venues.

How can a town with a population of 17,352 support a thriving year-round, five-day-a-week, 435 seat theater?

It's not the big name performers. Most are relatively unknown local actors.

The secret is they think outside the box. The Fireside isn't just a night out like most urban theaters -- it's a destination. People are willing to travel to see a production. My wife's aunt, for instance has been a season ticket holder for years. She travels about 80 miles, one way, four or five times a year. And she's one of the closer ones. Many travel so far, they'll stay overnight at the hotel next door.

Fireside caters mostly retirees who have time on their hands. Their theatre productions therefore tend to be more mainstream, like "Damn Yankees" or "West Side Story". You may not like their artistic choices, but their marketing savvy is indisputable. They have found an audience and serve it very well.

How can you achieve this level of loyalty?

1.) Be worth it. Give more than your customers expect. I've never seen a production, but I've heard mostly glowing reviews from Aunt Pat.

2.) Focus on a narrow market. Don't overreach. In this case, by focusing on traditional musicals, Fireside excludes many with avant-garde tastes. But, in return, draw from a larger geographic area. This is how they've built a die-hard following. By performing more cutting-edge productions they'd probably lose more customers than they'd gain.

Many of my clients fear narrowing their target too much because they fear losing sales. As this one brief case-study shows, serving one market well can create unforeseen demand. In some cases having two or three parallel marketing efforts can help you grow several niches at once. But it's easy to lose focus, too.

I'll put Fireside on my list of things to do when I retire. That's about three decades off. But I'm confident, if they keep their focus, The Fireside will still be around.

- Phil Sasso

Monday, October 23, 2006

Celling More...

I stopped at an electronics store the size of Wisconsin last weekend for
a couple small items. Just before leaving, I remembered I needed an
extra charger for my cell phone...

"Is this your department?" I asked a clerk who was busy doing nothing.


"I need a charger," I said, pointing to my phone.

"Over there," he replied motioning to a Berlin Wall of adapters.

"Do you carry Motorola?"

"Just those," he said, turning to walk away.

"Don't they put model numbers on packages anymore?" I asked,
holding a package in each hand and scanning the back panels.

"Nah," he said.

"This one MIGHT fit. Can I open it and check?"

"Got to buy it first," he said.



I opened the package at the checkout. It didn't fit, so I didn't
buy it.

A smart retailer might allow clerks to open packages for customers.

A smart manufacturer might design a package with the adapter
exposed so a customer could plug it into their phone without
opening the package.

Both the retailer and manufacturer lost a sale that day.

Sometimes marketers make it so hard for a customer to buy from
them, you'd think their goal was to LOSE sales. Bad policies. Poor
packaging. Lack of training. No merchandising. Terrible customer
service. The list goes on and on...

How hard is it for a customer to buy from you? Can you make it

- Phil Sasso

Friday, October 20, 2006

Trash Talk...

I have a confession to make. I just rummaged through
Pat's wastebasket to see what direct mail offers didn't
make it to my desk.

(Sometimes you've got to be willing to get your hands
dirty in the name of on-going education. You'd be
surprised what you can learn in the strangest places.)

Part of understanding what works is understanding what
fails and why. It's more cost-effective and less stressful
to learn from someone else's mistakes!

In Pat's circular file, I found many things -- but the most
interesting was an expensive mailer from a well-known
cell phone provider. I appreciate Pat's gate keeping role.
She helps me avoid a lot of time wasters.

In fact, this package was never opened. It's a slick
envelope with two customized die-cut windows and a
special custom side opening tab.

I just opened it and spent a full minute trying to remove
the brochure. It was glued in the envelope. Yes glued.

The brochure is a full-color, tabbed, 5 page booklet. I'd
love to have brokered the printing on this job. This
brochure probably cost twice as much to print as a standard
EIGHT-page brochure. The die cut and the special binding
technique used to create a book with an odd number of
pages is extraordinarily expensive. The last page has a
personalized, variable data map to the dealer nearest me.
More expensive.

I just threw the piece in my wastebasket, again.

It was slick. Expensive. Dramatic. Well-Designed. And
didn't have anything meaningful to say to make me want
to read it, much less respond.

It's not just a failure. It's an expensive failure.

The company spent tons of money on fancy design and
printing and didn't seem to spend any time identifying a
need, developing a strategy and creating a compelling offer.
In fact, I just pulled the brochure back out of my wastebasket
to see what the call to action was ... still looking ... just a
minute ... oh here it is: "Take this card to your local store now.
Get 2 months of unlimited service free..." There is no card! (
By the way, it's not two months of free cell phone service, it's
just two free months of text messaging -- or something like
that. I don't really care to read it all to understand.)

Back to the trash.

Apparently I'm suppose to carry this big brochure with me
everywhere until I get time to go to the store. Or someone
forgot to print the card.

My point? An extra few hours spend developing a solid strategy
could have redeemed this piece from being sent to a recycling
center. The core of a successful direct mail campaign is
developing a strong strategic offer. That's more productive
than buying a new yacht for the printer.

The flip side of the coin, I got a package from Chris Stockwell
with Distinct Advantage. I think his mailing will be much more
productive. He sent a large blue envelope addressed to me with
just his name and return address in the upper left hand corner
and a live first class stamp in the upper right. There was no
teaser copy on the outside. It looked very personal. Pat had to
open it. Inside was a letter with a $1,000,000 bill attached and
another mysterious envelope. Pat couldn't help but open the next
envelope. It was a sample of his new performance automotive card
deck. The package made it to my reading folder. He even included
a call to action, and incentive to act now, and gave the prospect
the option of calling, faxing or emailing a response.

I'm sure the Distinct Advantage mailing wasn't cheap. But it was
much more strategic. The letter was well written. And it looked
like it was prepared personally for me.

Chris told me his response rate. It's more than I'd expect for a
new product to a new list of suspects.

Now, this package is on file as an example of good direct mail.
And next time I have a client that's a fit for his card deck, I can't
help but think of him. And he gets the added exposure of me
mentioning him here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to do more market
research and rummage through the dumpster out back. (Kidding.
Just kidding!)

- Phil Sasso

Thursday, October 19, 2006

On the Mark...

I don't remember what I got in the mail yesterday. Do you?

What recent marketing effort HAS impacted you, recently? Chances are if it has had an impact on you, it has had to break through the clutter of advertising that we are surrounded with everyday. A decade old Ad Age/Roper Study says we're assailed by 4,000 ads a day. That was then. The numbers have surely gone up in the last 10 years. I see more ads in more different places.

Case in point: a new ad medium called WizMark. It's touted as the "first and only interactive urinal communicator" --the product can "talk, sing or flash a string of lights around" your promotional message to any man using a public restroom. That's definitely breakthrough. Obnoxious, but breakthrough.

But aside from the truly outrageous, direct marketing response rates are relatively low.

In a newly released Direct Marketing Association study, the two most effective direct marketing methods were telemarketing with 5.8% response and dimensional mail with a 2.3% response. That means for every 100 prospects you contact, about one out of 17 will respond to a phone call and one out of 43 a dimensional mailer.

Telemarketing is expensive and, to many, offensive. Dimensional mail offers a more novel approach. You send prospects a package -- often with a promotional product and message inside. The box is more likely to get opened than an envelope because it piques curiosity. It's also more memorable. The cost is much higher than mailing a simple envelope -- but that's off-set by higher response rate.

So if you are looking for a way to get more impact for your ad dollar, consider a dimensional mailing -- or a WhizMark. But please, not both!

- Phil Sasso

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


"Beth, this is garbage," I said looking at the yogurt container she had given me.

"Sorry. Throw it out and get another out of the fridge," she responded

"No. It's not spoiled. It's recycled trash," I explained.

"Then maybe you want to write and tell the company what you think."

"I mean it's brilliant," I said. "These Oreo crumbs they package with it. They are selling broken cookies Oreo would normally toss out. They are quite smart."

"Oh. I think I'm going to be reading this conversation in a Marketing Tip, soon."

I see ideas where others see snack food. Sometimes I must be kind of hard to live with.

There are lots of companies that make money turning trash into treasure. Kingsford Charcoal was founded to use scrap wood from the Ford Motor plant in Kingsford, Michigan. Coors sells the solids resulting from the beer making process to make animal feed. I once worked for a client that charged landscapers to dump their logs and hardwood. Then they shredded the hardwood and sold it back to landscapers as mulch. Now that's a great business model!

Perhaps turning waste into widgets doesn't seem to fit you. Maybe you are in a service business. Think harder. What about wasted time?

Do you have downtime you could use to add a new profit center? Or perhaps you can volunteer a portion of that time or talent to a charitable or community cause. Can you donate inventory that's collecting dust to a school or non-profit and take the tax write-off? The resulting goodwill and publicity could create a great return on your investment.

Just recently, I opened the online help for one of my programs and realized it does things I never realized! I've owned the software but have not been using it to it's full potential.

Look around your company. Are you making the most of your firm's time, talents and tools?

What potential are you losing?

- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What's New?....

If you know me, you know I'm a huge fan of Apple Computer.

I like their business model. I like their products. And most of all, I like their marketing.

And it's not just about elegant product design, flashy iPod commercials or minimalistic ads and packaging. It's about strategy.

Recently Apple unveiled the newest iPod -- the video iPod. Before that it was the Nano. Before that the Shuffle. Before that the iPod Mini. Before that the special edition U2 iPod. Each perfectly timed to pre-empt the competition. And that doesn't even touch on Apple's computer and software.

Steve Jobs and his crew know a thing or two about product innovation and roll-out.

And any marketer who wants to maintain market share, much less grow it, knows the modern-day sales growth mantra: "Innovate or perish." R&D is an integral part of marketing.

Gone are the good old days where you could depend on the good old boy network.

Maybe you need to add more to your product line. More versions. More features. More power. Maybe you need to add less. Wireless. Cordless. Simpler products.

No matter what it takes, your sales force needs to answer one question to get more meetings with key buyers: "What's new?"

What innovation are you working on?

- Phil Sasso

Monday, October 16, 2006


I had run to the post office for a couple rolls of stamps.

"That's $78," the clerk said. I handed her my credit card. "Oh. Uh would you like anything else? A calendar? A teddy bear?"

"A teddy bear?" I laughed. "No just the stamps."

"They make us do that. Sell other stuff," the clerk explained, embarrassed.

"I know," I said. "I work in marketing. I understand."

I felt bad for the clerk. Selling teddy bears was not a natural extension of her relationship with the customer. It was just an add-on sale and it felt awkward for her and for me. The problem is the post office's self-serving perspective on marketing. And they're not alone.

Marketing, as we define it today, is all about selling stuff.

Unfortunately, if you study marketing, at its deepest level, it's suppose to be customer centered. And although quick-selling gimmicks will help boost sales temporarily, in the end they can erode the brand's relationship with the customer.

I believe good marketing is, to coin a phrase, "nonmarketing". The focus needs to be more about customer-serving products than self-serving profits. It's about service more than selling.

In the post office's case, the problem is unfocused brand extension. Who goes to the post office to buy a plush toy? Can you imagine what Beth would say if I gave her a USPS teddy bear for our anniversary? (Don't think I haven't done worse!)

Wouldn't the post office build more long-term sales by developing services that compete more effectively with FedEx, UPS or DHL? And barring that, what if they more aggressively promoted philately (stamp collections). That's more of a natural brand extension and an exclusive product line only they can market.

By the way, let me know if you'd like to buy "PromOs", the new Sasso Marketing breakfast cereal. (Slogan: "Eat your competition for breakfast".)

- Phil Sasso

Friday, October 13, 2006

WIN more sales...

My mechanic won my business with a very simple, very inexpensive technique: He gave me a key chain. I know, you think I'm nuts to be swayed by a cheap gift. Actually the gift didn't win me over. What did, is how easy it makes calling him when I need him. I don't have to look him up in my address or phone book. I just take out my car keys and there's everything I need to know.

There's a lot of ways to WIN by giving ad premiums. Here's three:

Won Premiums - Have a contest or sweepstakes to give away imprinted gifts. It's a good way to build a mailing list. Ask anyone who comes to your store to enter the drawing for free shirts, caps, mugs, and other stuff with your logo on it. Ask anyone who buys your product to return the product registration card to be entered in your sweepstakes for free stuff from you. No better way to reward customers than with something that promotes your brand.

Incentive Premiums - Set a sales goal and give away imprinted premiums to customers who reach the goal. Penzoil offered me a free branded cooler for buying a case of their premium oil. You can do the same by getting customers to buy a specific dollar amount or a certain product.

New Customer Premiums - It can be expensive to give away a gift with every purchase. Limiting giveaways to new customers can save you money while growing your customer base. Every time you add a new customer to your database, either at POP or via product registration, give them a gift. It makes their first experience with you even more positive.

WINning premium and promotion programs can help you win more sales. Research shows, each time someone buys from you, the more likely they are to continue to buy from you. Make ad premiums part of your customer retention strategy.

-Phil Sasso

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Count on It...

I was researching media for a client recently. The cost-per-thousand (CPM) was a little high, but I could negotiate that. However, something didn't fit - I just didn't know what. My instinct told me to probe. I kept asking questions trying to ferret out what I was missing. Finally I hit on the right question: "Does anyone else in the same product category advertise with you."

"No," the rep replied. "But that could be a good thing. There's no competition."

"Or there's no buyers in your readership," I countered.

"Or that," she conceded.

I'm a big proponent of doing due diligence before you invest in new or untested media. Ask every question. Add up every number. Do the math. But even if all the numbers add up, it could be a bad buy. On the other hand, sometimes when all the numbers DON'T add up, it could be a great undiscovered opportunity.

I read a powerful quote that covers a lot more than media planning, but life in general: "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." It was attributed to Einstein.

In this case, it fits perfectly. I've run analysis where the best publication isn't the most effective. And I've stared at ads with results that were like humming birds. Scientifically, they shouldn't fly -- but they do.

I wish I could measure things like reader loyalty: Do they read every issue? How much do they read? Do they trust the publication? Do they look at the ads? But you can't always count those things.

Instead, I rely on my experience and count on my track record.

- Phil Sasso

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Premium Mail......

Most people toss junk mail unopened. I study it.

I’m a student of marketing. To keep up with this ever-changing art, you can never stop learning. We live in a huge marketing laboratory, so almost every ad that I touch is a lesson.

Last year, we got an interesting mailing from our local Ronald McDonald House (we often support their work). The mailing was an invite to a "do it yourself tea party." It included a McDonald’s teabag, instructions, and a donation envelope. The unspoken message was, rather than holding an expensive event, let’s put as much money to use to help the families of these sick children. Point well made.

The tea bag gave us all a chuckle and is still remembered more than a year later.

According to research by Target Marketing Group, while the total number of direct mail "packages" has declined by 13.3% since 2001 (14,240 in 2001 down to 12,344 in 2003) the number of mailings with a premium has increased by about 38%. About one eighth of all mailing packages now include some kind of premium.

The use of premiums in mailing is on the rise, because it is an effective technique. People will open a bulky envelope to see what’s inside. And if you provide a valuable or funny premium, chances are it will get remembered.

What can you send out as a mailing to your customers to make your product of service more memorable and get the envelope opened?

-Phil Sasso

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Beth was playing jazz vocalist Diana Krall's new CD.

I felt horribly unhip.

I like her work. I just felt unhip because it wasn't an iTune download. It was from a music service -- a modern version of the old "record and tape club".

I looked at the invoice.

"Hey, Beth. You won a certificate for a $5.99 CD." I said excitedly.

"They always do that," she said. "You still have to pay shipping. And this month's deal is better -- unlimited $1.99 CDs."

My wife is so hip.

The $5.99 CD is called a bounce-back. A special offer included with an order to get your next order. Often, you'll get a bounce back with a premium -- like the toys we got as kids that came with coupons for more sugary cereal.

Almost anyone can use a bounce-back. The theory is customers are most likely to buy from you while they're still excited about your brand.

This bounce-back was clever because it looked like something I'd earned or won. Another technique is to make it a thank you with a coupon. And you don't even need to use discounting. A simple announcement of a new product or helpful accessory will do.

I guess I may be unhip to technology, but I am hip to marketing.

(Now that I think about it, even the word hip sounds sadly … unhip.)

-Phil Sasso

Monday, October 09, 2006

Everything is marketing.....

"Go Fly a Kite!" my assistant, Pat, said briskly walking into my office.

"Pardon me?" I replied, startled by her comment.

"You just got a package from "Go Fly a Kite," she clarified.

"Open it," I said feeling a surge of excitement.

In the package were two kites to replace the ones Beth and I carefully
worked to place in trees in a nearby park.

I'd emailed the kite maker's customer service department last week
asking them to take pity on me and give me some replacement kites
at a discount. I never expected to get two free kites in return!

Think the company was foolish? Think again.

As a new hobbyist, what kite brand will I buy from now on?

Because I took the time to write them, it was obvious that I was a
serious kite hobbyist and wanted to stay loyal to their brand. Lest
you think I'm a little over-the-top, let me take a moment to explain
how kites have changed since we were kids. A "pro-sumer" kite can
cost anywhere from $20 to $250 a pop! (My kindergartener won't be
flying any $250 kites anytime soon, grant you!)

In college, my marketing prof gave us extra credit for participating in
an experiment. We wrote a letter to a company about a product
costing $10 or less that had failed. His findings? Most companies
responded by sending two replacement products or coupons good for
two replacements. The reason? By overcompensating, they were more
likely to turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal one.

And don't forget, customer service's main objective is to support your
marketing, to diffuse problems and to smooth over ruffled feathers.
Customer service isn't about the one product at hand but about
protecting the lifetime value of that customer's loyalty.

What's your customer service policy? How do customers respond to it?
What improvements can you make?

-- Phil Sasso