Thursday, May 31, 2007

REMIX: Telemarketing Calls...

Here’s a remix of a vintage marketing tip from my strategic cellar...

"Hi!” the too-friendly voice greeted me on the phone. “Is this Phil?”

"Uh. Yes…" I said, wondering what this guy was selling.

"Jim and Julie Moore gave me your name," he said. "They wanted you and Beth to have a complimentary carpet cleaning."

"Really?!" I replied in false excitement. "But my whole house is hardwood floors."

He didn't even stumble.

"Well our system can also clean upholstery and drapes" he said without missing a beat.

System? I suddenly realized this wasn't a gift. Our "friends" had given up our name to a vacuum cleaner salesman.

Beth and I got dozens of calls like this when we were newly-weds. It could have been Kirby or Rainbow vacuums. Or someone selling timeshares. All I know is each time I felt awkward -- and a little betrayed.

But referral programs are one of the most effective ways to increase sales. What better advertising is there than a recommendation from a satisfied customer?

One of my client’s added 8% to their customer database with an inexpensive referral program. They didn't just ask for referrals. They paid for them.

The mechanics were simple: We created mailings and POS brochures asking existing customers to refer a friend to my client. The new customer got a deep discount and the existing customer got a check.

We avoided the mistake other referral plans make. We didn't ask our customer to give US their friend's name. They gave our coupon to their friend.

The difference? A referral from a friend is more sincere and convincing than a call from you. And no one feels betrayed.

May I ask you for a referral?

Enjoy my tips? Find them helpful? Tell a friend. If they email I'll send them my tips, too. If they mention your email, I'll send you a free copy of my “Top 22 Tips” ebook.

(The email must come directly from the friend. You can’t sign up someone else.)

I won’t betray your trust by pestering your friend. Promise.

And thanks for the referral!

- Phil Sasso

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Brand Loyalty...

Wait'll next year...

I'm a Cubs fan. I'm not a diehard follower of every game. I don't get to watch much baseball. But of the two teams here in town, I've always favored the Cubbies. And we've chanted every year the same phrase: "Wait'll next year!" and remain loyal despite a non-World Series record older than I am.


I don't know. I don't think most Cub fans know. The team always chokes in the end. Their ballpark is ancient. They don't have a parking lot. And their mascot is a not-very-threatening baby bear.

Ask any brand loyalist and few can articulate why they prefer Colgate to Crest or Coke to Pepsi. In fact, most answers you get are more tied to emotion than reason: "My mom always bought Tide." "You know Ford stands for Fix Or Repair Daily." "I've eaten Wheaties since I was a kid." "Head & Shoulders works for me, why risk trying something new?"

So how do you fight brand loyalty. It's very, very hard.

One thing you don't want to do is directly bash the favored brand. That can force loyalists to dig in their heels. It's like saying something bad about America. I can do it. But let an outsider say a word and I'd be all over them.

There are two common approaches to help sway brand preference: Get to prospects before they form a brand allegiance and/or be as different from the favored brand as possible.

Brand allegiances can be strong. That's why banks offer children of depositors free savings accounts. And that's why I suggest my tool & equipment clients get their products into as many vo-tech schools as possible. Students who learn on a product tend to favor that brand.

And strong brand differentiation helps. Rather than being a horse of a different color, you need to be an entirely different animal. More like a camel. The novelty or uniqueness of your approach can't be subtle. It should be so different it draws prospects in to try it. For instance, Starbucks doesn't sell coffee -- they sell an experience.

I’m still a fan of my Cubs, and wait'll next year!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Branding's Dirty Little Secret...

know this is not the appropriate place to air my dirty laundry, but I can't hold it in any longer: Beth has been disloyal.

She probably didn't think I'd notice the signs. I probably ignored them hoping they would just go away.

But last night I couldn't ignore it any longer. This morning, I confronted her:

"I can't hold it in any more," I said. "Why? Why did you change from Tide to Era?"

"What brought this on?" Beth asked.

"Yesterday I helped you carry that Era container in, and I tossed the old one out. How long has this been going on?"

"I've been buying Era for a year, maybe two," she said without emotion. "If it's a big deal to you, I'll stop."

"I just want to understand," I replied. "What made you change your loyalties?"

"Era is half the price of Tide," Beth replied. "If it bothers you, I'll switch back. PJ gets dirtier in summer. Tide might work better."

"Now wait a minute! Half price? Really? I don't see why being brand loyal to Tide is such a big deal. It's only soap..."

Baby Boomers are infamously brand disloyal. It doesn't matter if they're B2C customers or B2B. And as they age, their allegiance to brand wavers even more. Their parents' generation became more loyal with age, but many Boomers become more discontent. The reasons vary. Some switch for what's new or trendy. Some switch for lower price. Some switch for higher quality. The key to keeping their loyalty is to follow their changing buying patterns and produce different products, services and "buying experiences" to meet their changing, fickle taste. Or I should say OUR changing, fickle taste.

What are you doing to keep your customers' loyalty? How has your product improved? How are you selling differently?

- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Selling: Over-The-Top Soil...

Only in America do people pay good money to buy dirt. I'm not talking about sleazy tabloids dishing out big bucks for juicy celebrity gossip -- I'm talking about plain old dirt.

And I'm humbled to say, I am now one of those Americans.

As I sit here staring out my window at a 4 foot-tall pile of screened black dirt, I'm a little embarrassed. First, because I 'm writing a tip about dirt. And second, because it's really not all I expected. Seriously. I expected MORE, both in quantity and quality.

Somehow, I thought 10 cubic yards was physically a lot more. In fact, Beth and I both initially wondered if we were cheated and got less than we paid for.

I also thought screened dirt would be SCREENED. I guess I expected the dirt to be, uh, cleaner. I didn't think there'd be any twigs or roots. Apparently, what I was expecting was what's known in the dirt business as "pulverized topsoil". But being unschooled in the fine art of dirt, I was a very uneducated customer.

I think part of the problem is that the salesperson was just an order-taker. She really didn't explain how tall or wide the pile would be or how much area it would cover. She didn't educate me on the different kinds of dirt or try to upsell me to topsoil. She didn't even try to cross-sell me on mulch or anything.

Perhaps on the phone I sound more dirt-savvy than I really am.

Maybe this company usually deals with landscapers who know exactly what they want. But, the moment I told her I wanted a truckload of dirt delivered to my house she should have began explaining my options and probing to determine my depth of knowledge.

Don't get me wrong, she was friendly and thorough. She just wasn't very well trained. This company could increase sales significantly by training the telephone representative to take an extra minute or two to explain the fine points of dirt when taking orders from homeowners. I guess you could say I was undersold because I was uneducated.

What am I going to do with all that dirt? I'm sure that will come up in a future tip…

- Phil Sasso

Friday, May 18, 2007

COA: Email Marketing...

I'm moving this week.

There's no boxes to pack. No truck to rent. No utilities to cancel. I'm not changing homes or offices. I'm changing my email address. I know what you're thinking: yawn.

It may not sound like a big deal to you, but I've had the same email address since 1996. That's longer than I've been in my home OR my office.

And to be honest, it's a little more stressful than I expected. If I was moving, I'd notify the post office of a COA and they would forward my mail to me for about six months. They'd even put my new address in the NCOA file so all the direct mail marketing could update my file.

But, in most cases, you don't have that luxury when you change your email address. And I get a lot more emails than physical mail these days. I'm not even sure who everyone is that has my email address. Up until now, I've used the same email for business and personal communications. Now, I have a chance to reform my process and create four new addresses. You might consider doing the same: one for family & friends, one for personal business, one for work and one for junk mail. It will help me sort through the average 316 emails I get in a day.

What’s the marketing lesson for you? According to database marketing service provider Epsilon, 14% of customers will change their email address in the next 12 months. That means if you market to consumers about 1/6 of your email database will go dead over the next year. And unlike with the post office, no one will tell you where they've moved.

But there is a B2B marketing concept here too. What if when I cancel my email service provider they offered to forward me emails for 6 months for a $25 fee. How much could they make? And would this positive approach generate good will? You may think it would cause more customers to jump ship. I don't think so. Look at phone number portability. I think it has meant more business for many providers. Especially the smaller or newer providers.

So consider how you can keep your database up-to-date. And while you're thinking of it, change my email address to in your contact management application!

- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Internet Marketing: E-nuff...

Looking back on my Internet marketing tips the last few weeks reads like alphabet soup: SEO, SEM, PPC, PPS...

Let me toss in one more acronym: PBE. That's Permission-Based Email. It's basically what you're reading right now. You've given me permission to email you my marketing tips every week. In return, I hope that by getting to know me and my thinking, you'll choose to work with my firm. (Or keep working with us!)

As the "Prime Minister of Permission Marketing", Seth Godin, explains PBE: Consumers today are bombarded by "interruption advertising" in home and out. To grab a prospect's attention, you need to get their permission. The best way to do that is to offer them something of value -- either tangible or intangible. Once they've "opted-in", you can begin establishing a relationship. "By talking only to volunteers, Permission Marketing guarantees that consumers pay more attention to the marketing message," says Godin. "It serves both customers and marketers in a symbiotic exchange."

Godin knows what he's talking about. He was a VP at Yahoo! in the late 90's, where he successfully developed and implemented his theory and wrote the book "Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers".

Speaking of friends -- thank you for reading my weekly tips.

More on email marketing next tip...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Branding: Yee Ha!

Young & Rubicam, developers of the Brand Asset Valuator(R), see four phases of branding: differentiation, relevance, esteem, and knowledge. Y&R generally work for consumer mega brands like AT&T, Sony, Colgate and Ford. However, the same principles apply to small and b-to-b brands.

Branding may seem costly. But, big spending isn't needed to build a brand -- consistency is. You're building a name. It takes time. The first thing you need to do is be different and stand apart. You also should be relevant -- ask, "Is this important to my prospect?" Then, according to Y&R you need to build respect. I agree. When you're building a brand, you're also building trust. And finally, you reach the knowledge phase. You're a recognized expert in your market.

Often clients come to me for help building an ad. My real job, however is to build sales. And the best way to do that is to brand your product. I guess I'm a little like a cowboy. My job is to drive your cattle home -- not the other guy's. So I brand it to separate yours from the others.

Sorry. Gotta run, pardner. There's a doggie goin' astray. Yee Ha!

- Phil Sasso

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Brand Positioning: Boxed-In

"Look, you can design your own tissue box at," Beth announced last night while she read her email.

I just stared at her.

"Isn't that cool?"

"I never really said to myself 'Gee, I want a box of tissue with PJ's face on it"." I retorted.

"Wouldn't it make a fun gift?"

I thought of the toilet paper dolls with crochet skirts my wacky aunt used to make as gifts in the 70s.

"I guess it does sound like a funny idea," I said. "But look, they're oval shaped."

"So you can only use Kleenex oval boxes," Beth explained. "They're the only ones with oval boxes."

"And they cost more, right?"

"A lot more. How'd you know?" Beth asked.

"Because it's a premium pricing strategy," I explained. "Once I invest in a box holder with your face on it, I can't really throw it out. So to use it, I need to buy more pricey oval-shaped Kleenex boxes."

"But they're so cute," Beth replied.

"Would you be willing to pay more if they were ugly?"

The final catch? The custom boxes cost $4.99 each -- plus $6.00 shipping. And they appear to be an actual box of Kleenex tissue, not a box holder as I first thought. So, when you're done, you toss it. A big price to pay to stare at a picture of a loved one while you battle hay fever.

However, I give Kimberly-Clark credit. They've found a clever way to solicit a hefty fee for a product most think of as a commodity.

Make a special edition of your product and people will pay a premium for it. I've seen everything from a gold-plated collector's edition Snap-On torque wrench to U2 iPods with engraved signatures. It's all based on the same strategy: Create a custom or limited edition product to make your customer feel special and they will pay for the privilege. I think the gold-plated torque wrench was more than twice the price of an unadorned version. And would you really use it to seat spark plugs on a greasy engine? But technicians snapped them up -- no pun intended.

How can you create a special edition, custom or premium version of your product or service? Don't think it's possible? Drop me a line, I'll give you my thoughts. Be the first to stump me and I may even send you a customized Kleenex box -- adorned with my smiling mug!

-- Phil Sasso

GOT A MINUTE? Listen to my new 60-second audiocast at or search "Phil Sasso" in at Apple's iTunes Store.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sampling Home Run...

We went to a minor league baseball game and came home with a loaf of Sara Lee's new White Wheat bread.

I found bread a funny thing to give away at ball game. But I guess most people eat bread. And it was a great way to get people to try their new product.

Look at the math: let's say the bread costs them 25 cents a loaf to make, not counting marketing and distribution costs or the cost of waste.

And let's assume the company paid the ballpark a dime each to hand out the samples.

That puts a full loaf in each prospect's hand for less than the cost of a first class stamp.

Perhaps they could have got more exposure for that 35 cents each in TV or Radio commercials or Newspaper or Magazine ads.

But they would not have been able to make the same impact.

I'm sure I saw ads or read PR about the new bread. I may have even made a mental note that I wanted to try it.

But with all of life's distractions, It never really made it to our grocery list.

Here was someone handing me a loaf of bread to try at my convenience. How could I forget that?

If I liked the bread I would be sure to remember to put it on my shopping list. And even if I didn't like it they got my full attention. Unlike an ad which I can skip over. If I liked the product, the marketing worked and I'd buy more. If I didn't like the product, no amount of persuasive marketing could get me to buy it.

How can you get your prospects to sample your product? If it's inexpensive and consumable, think about events where you could give away samples. If it's an expensive product, how can you demonstrate your product to more customers? Just getting a prospect to see your product does not guarantee a sale. (You can't always bat .1000). But when you connect with the right customers, if can help you hit one right out of the park.

And it didn't hurt Sara Lee that everyone was feeling good that the home team won.

- Phil Sasso