Friday, December 05, 2008


O.K., I admit it. I'm a sucker for a good promotion.

So, when we got a fax this morning from the local chamber of commerce announcing that the new Subway sandwich shop was having a Grand Opening today and offering Buy-One-Get-One FREE subs, I bit. (Pun intended.)

It was a very good deal. Not often can I get a foot long sub sandwich for less than $3. In fact, it was such a good deal the guy in front of me was ordering a DOZEN sandwiches for people in his office. It was quite funny watching him check the details on each order...

"Is that the roast beef on wheat? He gets peppers, not hot peppers, green peppers... The cold cut combo on white? I think he wanted mustard -- no -- yes. Yes it says mustard on my note."

Working with the local chamber, the restaurant was able to blast an announcement to every business on their list. By doing this, they were able to get an ad in my hand in a quick, timely and inexpensive manner. So he turned a media most people think of as dead into an effective marketing tool.

For a recent trade show, I used a fax blast, too. I was able to reach each show attendee a few days before he or she left for the show to remind them to stop by my client's booth.

I didn't have to just hope they ran across our ad in the trade journal, or that the mailer got to them in time or that they opened the email we sent. I still did all those things. But I was able to hit them one more time with our marketing message just before they left town for the show.

And it was very effective.

In fact, using our fax system, we were able to personalize each fax from the opt-in list. So, each fax was addressed to the person it was intended for. In fact, it made me chuckle when we got back several faxes with "He's no longer with our company" scrawled on them.

How often does advertising get that kind of personal attention?

Of course there are issues. You can't legally fax everyone. (They have to be a customer or have opted-in to your fax list.) And you don't want to overdo it and become obnoxious. But, managed with discretion, it can be a good, occasional use of an underused media.

Black and white marketing may not have the same impact as full color. But I bit. And ended up buying a bite.

Takeaway: How can you use an underused media to reach your target market? What can you do to make your appeal more appealing?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Appreciable Asset...

With the spiraling stock depreciation where is a wise place to invest?

If you oversee marketing, it seems one asset is appreciating -- and is appreciated: customer service. According to a recent release from consulting firm Accenture, while customer loyalty is eroding, service is helping customer-centered enterprises remain on top.

“Doing the hard work to deliver the right customer experience --- including service that meets rising customer expectations --- can set a company apart and help it hold on to customers.” says Woody Driggs, Managing Director of Accenture’s Customer Relationship Management practice. It can also help firms draw in competitor's customers who aren't satisfied with the service they're getting.

Demanding times seems to create demanding customers. Accenture found that 73% of U.S. survey takers switched providers in the last year due to poor service, compared with 47% who switched to get lower prices. If this is the case, despite the tanking economy, it just goes to show that value is still an overriding factor in the buying equation.

I recently made a decision to switch several vendors because of service. One wouldn't help me meet a demanding deadline. Another raised prices without notifying me, failed to follow written directions and billed me for their mistake. None of these vendors will realize they've lost my business, or why. I don't have to cancel a contract, I just won't be placing any new orders. And their marketing department will likely chalk it up to the economy.

So how do you know if your customers feel they are being served well? Accenture identifies these 4 most common areas of customer dissatisfaction:

1. Impolite or unfriendly representatives
2. Issues not resolved in a timely manner
3. Representatives don't take ownership for resolving problems
4. Inconvenient customer service hours

I can think of at least a half dozen more. But how do you know where your service falls on the spectrum? I suggest doing a "SATISFY" survey. Don't just ask customers if they are satisfied. Ask them what are the most important factors to make them feel satisfied. Then see how you measure up.

In my mind, the most important key to satisfied customers is appreciating them.

So this Thanksgiving, if you are a client of Sasso Marketing, thank you. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to be of service to you.

And if you're not a client, yet, give us a chance to demonstrate the kind of service that sets us apart.

Give me a call anytime at 847.451.2246.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bad Breath, Bad Marketing...

A couple years back a small coffee shop opened a few doors down from my office.

The new owner approached me for advice a few days before her doors opened.

Hoping to gain a strategic friendship with a nearby afternoon caffeine jolt, I gave her a few moments of my time.

After she outlined her ideas and vision for her shop, I asked her what her marketing strategy was.

"Word of mouth," she replied.

Apparently she had spent all her funds on the build out and equipment and had nothing left for marketing.

I asked her what made her think her shop could take off in this location at this time.

"All my friends told me it sounded like a great idea," she replied.

I heard the death knoll ring out in her words.

I wondered if these were the same kind of friends who let you walk around with spinach in your teeth or toilet paper stuck on your shoe.

"Of course they think it's a good idea," I told her. "They're your FRIENDS. Who wants to squash their friend's dream?"

I gave her a few ideas to generate word of mouth and the name and number of a local newspaper editor. I advised her to get some money from her encouraging friends and buy a few ads.

She left my office a little put off by my blunt realism. She didn't even invite me to stop by the shop for a free cup of coffee.

Less than six months later, the shop closed.

A lot of people rely on a network of friends or associates for marketing advice. The problem is, no matter if you sell coffee or car parts, these people aren't going to tell you your idea stinks anymore than they'd say you have bad breath.

That's because they don't want to offend you. Ask your dentist and you'll likely get a more honest perspective -- and a solution.

So if you want to know if your branding stinks, ask a pro. In fact, email me and I'd be glad to give you a quick consultation.

And it won't even cost you a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Last Things, First

I'm at the AAPEX/SEMA/NACE trade shows in Las Vegas this week.
Every year while I’m away at Industry Week, I offer the same advice (sing along if you know the tune): 

Returning from exhibiting at or attending a tradeshow or special event?
Use your first day back like it's your last day at the event.

Remember: It's easy to get swept away catching up and put off following up.

But what's more important? The day-to-day grind -- or reminding that hot prospect that you’re one of the hundreds of exhibitors they saw last week at that big tradeshow?

Take a moment to jot a quick thank you note, send a catalog, or ship that sample you promised. Don’t let your follow-up get fouled up by competing priorities. Set your priority on contacting the hottest prospects first and working your way down the list. 

How do you know who's hottest? You should use a lead sheet that asks questions that will help you, like: When do you plan to buy? How many do you plan to buy? What other brands are you considering?

But try to avoid calling anyone you met at the trade show today. After all, they'll probably be as swamped catching up today, as you'll be -- tomorrow. 

(This means please don't be offended if I don't call you today: Be inspired.)

Friday, October 31, 2008


I'll be brief. I'm busy getting ready to attend the SEMA/AAPEX/NACE trade shows in Las Vegas next week. (If you plan to attend email me. Maybe we can meet up.)

But, before my next marketing tip the U.S. will have elected a new President/VP. And whichever team wins, history will be made.

The winner will likely be the candidate that best stayed "on-message" and who's message resonated with Americans.

That may or may not be the best leader. But in my opinion it will, by definition, be the best marketer.

I try to side-step politics in my tips. I'll make no exception today. This is a business forum, not a political one.

The role of marketing in deciding any political candidate is fraught with controversy. There are many strong arguments for and against the "packaging of the president."

But it can't be denied that driving the candidacy of both sides in nearly every major political contest whether it's president or library board is a marketing strategy.

Your brand may stand to learn from the campaigns. Here's a couple quick questions to analyze your position in the polls:

- Are you listening to and do you understand your "constituency"?
- Does your message connect with your constituents?
- Are you staying "on-message" by focusing on a few key points?
- Are you reaching as many "voters" as possible as often as possible with your message?
- Are you watching and reacting to your competitors or ignoring them?

Gallup may not be polling your prospects. But they are voting on your marketing campaign -- with their pocketbooks.

I know some of my readers live outside the U.S. But, if you're a registered U.S. voter I urge you to get out and vote on Tuesday.

In fact Beth and I were part of history by participating in the first Presidential race with early voting here in Chicago.

Funny. The unofficial motto here in the Windy City has always been "Vote early and often." Now at least one of them is legal!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Is Silence Golden?

Sorry it's been a couple of weeks since my last marketing tip. I've been very busy.

In response to my lack of communication I've been swamped by my loyal readers with -- silence.

Not a single marketing tip subscriber emailed to say they missed me -- or wanted to be sure I was well.

Don't worry, I'm not offended.

I often get comments from readers who enjoy a particular tip. I'm flattered by the feedback.

But there is a marketing message in this:

No one will tell you they miss you if you stop advertising, doing publicity or making sales calls. They'll just forget you.

Despite whatever we might say about marketing relationship, it's a rather lopsided relationship.

In the survey in my last email I asked marketers what they were doing in the face of the economic downturn.

Most said: "Staying closer to current customers".

Wise choice! Remember out of sight, out of mind.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Burnett or Burnout...

Last night, President Bush warned: “Our entire economy is in danger.”

I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to minimize the situation. Nor do I want to fuel the fear. I’m not an economist, nor a politico. I’m a sales and marketing consultant.

Here’s how other business managers have been facing the downturn, up until now:

About 28% of respondents to a recent Entrepreneur magazine poll said their response has been to market aggressively. The next response was cutting expenses (22.2%) and focus on cash flow (16.7%).

I’d say do all three. But focus on marketing first.

Leo Burnett, founder of the global ad agency that bears his name, opened his doors on August 5, 1935 – in the midst of the great depression. While others shuttered their doors, Burnett realized the key to success in troubled times was beer marketing. He developed creative advertising that focused on the “inherit drama” of the product or service to sway customers to spend whatever they were spending with his clients.

Today, Leo Burnett Worldwide has 97 offices in 84 countries.

Homework: How are you responding to the downturn? Are you doing all you can? What more can you do to be more creative, aggressive and positive? Is your advertising pulling its weight?

Friday, September 19, 2008


I'm on vacation in Door County this week so I'll be brief.

Yesterday we had breakfast at Al Johnson's Restaurant - the place with the goats on the roof.

This is my first trip to Door County but everyone I talked to suggested I eat at the place with the goats on the roof. Some people remember the name, some remember the food, but everyone remembered the live goats on the roof.

Sometimes our most important marketing asset isn't our product or service at all.

Homework: What do people remember about your product or service?

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I find watching the presidential campaign unfold as we approach the Election quite entertaining. It’s also an interesting study in marketing strategies.

Take spin, for example. Politicians are experts at spin.

Say there’s an inconsistency in Obama’s voting record. McCain’s staff would probably jump on it charging the Dem with “flip-flopping”. Barack’s camp, on the other hand, would likely defend his record by saying the candidate has “evolved” on the issue.

Or vice-versa.

Doesn’t matter which side does it. The strategy is turning a perceived negative into a positive. Or turning a positive into a negative -- depending on which side you’re on. You just need to spin the story in your favor.

Marketers do it all the time.

One brand makes a claim: “Green Products.” The competition counters the claim: “Greenwashing.”

Who’s right? It all depends on your perspective.

Homework: How can you turn a negative into a positive? What is the upside of your product or services downside? Or what’s the downside of your competitor’s upside?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Humor Me...

"You know the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick."

GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin probably used more humor, like the joke above, in her RNC speech than her opponent.

Some pundits felt the humor made her more likable. Some felt otherwise.

Again, I'll side step politics and address the marketing issue: is funny good in marketing?

Humor can be a powerful tool. But it can be a double-edged sword. What's funny to me may not be funny to you.

Some humor can be corny. Some offensive. And some a dead-on bell ringer.

Salespeople can use humor to break down barriers and get prospects and customers to open up.

But humor in advertising may not sell more product. According to New York University marketing professor Mark Levit:

"Humor in advertising tends to improve brand recognition, but does not improve product recall, message credibility, or buying intentions. In other words, consumers may be familiar with and have good feelings towards the product, but their purchasing decisions will probably not be affected."


So are marketers wasting their money on all those funny commercials out there?

I believe if the humor is directly tied to the products benefits or selling message, then the humor can be persuasive. But humor for humor's sake is not as effective.

Just this morning Beth mentioned a TV commercial. I remembered the sponsor: IBM. She didn't. (But it took me a while to recall it just now!)

Was that effective advertising? I don't think so.

So, what's the difference between a marketer and a politician?

I'll let you come up with your own punch line. (I don't want to be corny or offensive.)

Homework: Can you use humor? Is your competition using it? Can humor help you stand apart?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Strategic Politicking...

Beth just called me with the news.

Right on the heels of Obama's high-voltage acceptance speech comes McCain's buzz-stirring VP announcement: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

What are most people talking about around the water cooler? Obama? McCain? (Last night’s Bears game?)

Parties and candidate choices aside, McCain made a clever marketing move.

For instance if your competitor's new product announcement is getting a lot of buzz, you need to create a louder buzz.

Did McCain choose the best candidate for the job or just a politically motivated alternative? My opinion doesn't matter. And this isn't a forum for politics.

But planning his VP announcement on the heels of the DNC Convention and choosing an unexpected choice is an interesting strategy.

Sometimes Marketing and Politics are a lot alike. Sometimes they're not.

Homework: What bold moves is your competition taking? What bolder moves can you take to knock them off-center. What's the best timing to announce your new product or service? Is it better to pre-empt them or to cut off their steam with a louder announcement of your innovation?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Olympic Dreams-Part One...

The Olympics begin 8/8/08 at 8:08:08 pm Why all the eights? In Chinese culture, the number 8 is a lucky number.

I don't know about luck, but I find the Olympics intriguing on several levels. Seeing these athletes from around the world at the top of their sport is definitely inspiring. Their focus, determination and discipline are noteworthy. (On a personal note, PJ was so inspired that he took his first steps in 2000 during the Olympics.) I believe the level of the competitors makes each athlete that much better.

I wish there was a Marketing Olympics. I think marketers would rise to another level if they had to face their competition head-on in front of an audience of customers. I think it would make marketing that much better.

But I don't see enough marketers doing the hard work or having the discipline to be on an Olympic level. Many are content plucking the low-hanging fruit. Or they substitute clever sales ploys for the hard work of genuine marketing discipline. And a few even fall to the level of "promotional doping" with underhanded tactics like bait-and-switch, misrepresentations, misleading fine print or false advertising -- giving each of us in the marketing discipline a black eye.

So, as you’re watching the Olympics, be inspired. And act on that inspiration.

Homework: Is your marketing world-class? Are you competing on a level playing field with your competitors? Is your sales attitude about giving your all, or just giving the least you can to make the sale? Are you forsaking long-term profits for questionable short-term selling tactics or low-quality service?

Next time... How do Olympiads handle defeat?

- Phil Sasso

Friday, August 01, 2008

Pull Ads...

How are sales going for you?

I hear ya. The economy is in a deadly downward spiral, fueled in part, by the media.

The more the media tells us how bad the economy is, the more we believe it. As the economist for the Federal Reserve here in Chicago said at an Automotive Aftermarket Symposium I attended in June, we aren't even in a recession, yet! A recession is commonly defined as two quarters with no growth in GDP. (But the National Bureau of Economic Rearch doesn't define recession in these terms. By NBER's definition, we can have both a recession and a positive real GDP at the same time.)

But I'm not an economist. I'm a marketing advisor. So, what can a marketer do to boost sagging sales?

Pull advertising.

I think I just heard you gasp. Why on earth would I say "pull advertising"? Isn't this the most important tool we have to grab any market share we can from our competitors? Absolutely. I didn't say STOP advertising. In fact I didn't even say you should YANK all your dollars from any marketing investment. (Although you might want to shift dollars away from low performing marketing investments into high performing ones.)

What I said was "Pull Advertising" as in using a "Pull Marketing" strategy.

Pull Marketing is an advertising and promotion strategy directed at PULLING sales out of your customer. Pull techniques are things like discount coupons, buy-one-get one free offers, and various buying bonuses (like "25% more free"). Pull marketing's goal is to create a sense of urgency or value so you build demand and win immediate sales. (Yesterday, I printed a Walgreen's coupon for Beth for $5 off $20. A nice discount and a good Pull Strategy.)

Push marketing is an advertising promotional strategy geared to your distribution channels. It's about encouraging them to PUSH your product. Classically, this is seen as volume discounts, wholesale bonuses, trade giveaways, and support materials (like "buy three cases, get one free."). The goal is to get distributors excited about about selling more of your product. (I'm flooded with ads from my suppliers encouraging me to sell more -- as if my goal was to sell LESS!)

In times like this, I don't think you need to push distributors to sell, you need to pull customers to buy. Every distributor wants more sales. But not every customer wants to spend money. This is the time to give your best incentives to your customers.

Although I believe you need to use both Push and Pull strategies to be a balanced marketer, you don't need to use them equally. You need to adjust your strategy to the economy just as a smart investor will shift back and forth between stocks and bonds.

So let me clarify one more time: Pull Advertising doesn't mean pulling your ads. In fact, it might mean buying MORE ads.

Homework: Are you offering incentives to get customers to buy? Are you using discounts, premiums, bonus offers, rebates, contests, sweepstakes, or continuity programs to get customers to buy from you, or buy more often? Are you investing in Pull Advertising or are you cutting back on the best way to communicate your competitive advantage?

-- Phil Sasso

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pre-qualification education…

I’m looking for a used car. Don’t know what I want, yet, so, I stop to look at a lot of interesting cars for sale by owner.

Usually there’s only a phone number in the window. No mileage. No make, model or year. And most importantly, no price.

I called one this week. Here’s my side of the conversation:

“Hi, I’m calling about the Mitsubishi …what are you asking? …What year is it? …What engine is that? … How many miles? … That’s a lot of miles for that year. Thanks anyway. Bye.”

This guy will probably get dozens of calls like this. What a waste of time!

He probably doesn’t get calls from prospects that don’t want to waste their time. And many of those people might be the perfect fit for his car.

Not really marketing genius.

Advertising’s purpose isn’t just to get the phone to ring. It’s to get the right people to call.

By pre-qualifying customers, good advertising doesn’t just build a random list. It builds a list of likely customers. Not “suspects” but “prospects” in marketing speak.

One old-fashioned selling process believes the salesperson should try to sell anyone with a pulse. So, he or she doesn’t really need to get pre-qualified leads. I disagree.

Salespeople have more important things to do with their time than to take or make unprofitable calls to filter out people who aren’t ready or able to buy. Their job is to close sales. Of course the best salespeople still pre-qualify each lead before even beginning a presentation or proposal. But advertising can do much of the grunt work of pre-qualifying and pre-educating prospects.

What do I mean about pre-educating? Research shows that today’s buyers tend to do a lot of online research before making an offline purchase. They don’t want to talk to a sales person until they feel informed. This is good -- if your marketing is good. These prospects often come to you pre-sold. They’re ready and able to buy. This cuts the selling cycle considerably and takes a lot less of a salesperson’s time to close.

Jacques Werth, author of High Probability Selling has pioneered a sales process that is all about narrowing the list of prospects. Based on studying top performing salespeople, HPS isn’t about pushy sales techniques. It’s about building mutual trust and respect. But it requires you throw out almost everything you’ve ever learned about selling. (You can read the first four chapters of his book online free.)

I may or may not buy a car soon. But it looks like I’ll learn a lot in the process.

Homework: Does your advertising pre-qualify your leads? Are you losing sales because you expect prospects to waste their time calling you for basic information? Do your ads and website work together to educate customers? Do your ads generate leads that are curious or convinced?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beyond Selling...

Beth and I bought a new storm door at a big box store over the weekend.

It was a little bit of a process. O.K. it was quite a project. Not installing the door -- ordering it.

First, Beth called the store to see if the sale was still on.

They ran her through the phone gauntlet. Finally, someone took initiative.

"I'll find out and and call you back," he said.

I laughed.

"Couldn't the second person you talked to call you back?"

But, true to his word, he called back. He gave Beth the details of the deal.

"Anything else I should ask?" Beth said looking at me.

"His name," I responded. "He may be the only guy in the store who knows anything about this."

Then we began the hunt. We drove to the store. We found the aisle. We found a brochure. And we saw our door on display.

So we headed back to the front desk to place an order. They sent us back to the millwork to place our order.

We waited for the clerk to finish with his customer, and then he answered our every question.

He even gave us advice on a $57 installation deal.

"Not a bad deal," I said. "Means one less project on my list of undone things."

"The $57 is after rebate. That's about half normal installation," he said. "But there is a $35 delivery charge and a $15 haul away charge."

"That would put us back at full price," I said, stating the obvious. "So why don't we just throw out our own door and take it with us?"

"Have you seen the doors back there? They are pretty manhandled," he asked. "I can special order it for you at no extra charge. You can choose any color door and hardware combination. We'll put in on the side and I'll call you when it's in and you can pick it up."

I picked out colors and ran them past Beth.

"I'm not sure..." Beth said.

"If you don't like the color when it comes in, you don't have to take it. You don't pay until you pick it up."


We ordered the door, AND the installation. Turns out this clerk was the guy who returned Beth's call. I was impressed. You rarely get that kind of attentive service in a big box. He earned the sale. And I hope a commission for his salesmanship.

Why is an employee at a big box going over and beyond the job so surprising?

I don't know, but the next time I need millwork, I'm calling Gene.

HOMEWORK: How easy is it for customers to deal with you? Are your salespeople informed? Is your service department helpful? Does your team do their job, or do they go beyond the call? How do you recognize your team members for doing an exceptional job?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dissatisfied Customers...

The Common Fruit Fly has been used in laboratory research since the turn of the century. The male is slightly smaller than the female and attracts a mate by singing to it. The fruit fly life span is only about 30 days, which is likely one reason it is the most studied organism in biological research. It has only four pairs of chromosomes and its genome sequence was first published in 2000.

They're very interesting creatures. Until they're swarming around your dinner table.

That happened to Beth and I recently. We were out to dinner with a colleague and long-time friend at a restaurant we had suggested. At the end of the meal, after swatting at fruit flies all evening, Beth mentioned the problem to the waiter who shrugged it off as "unavoidable."

"I'm sorry, Don," I said as the bill came. "We've never eaten here before, but heard good things about the place."

"Don't worry about it," he replied.

"We're obviously never eating here again," Beth said.

Then the waiter came up and asked if we had time to wait a moment.

When he returned with a dessert -- and FRUIT plate, we couldn't help but laugh.

We also decided we would be willing to give the place a second chance.

The waiter saved the day for that restaurant. Dissatisfied customers, on average will tell four times as many people as satisfied customers about their experience.

We chose the restaurant because they were a sponsor of our arena football team. All that sponsorship would have gone right down the tubes if the waiter had not thought of a way to appease us. You can't satisfy everyone, but it can be worth the effort.

What is your policy on dealing with dissatisfied customers? Do you even have a policy? Are your employees empowered to smooth things over? How much of your advertising budget is being wasted on not dealing with problems appropriately?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Inventive Incentives...

Earlier this week, I grabbed Taco Bell for lunch.

The back of the receipt offered me a chance at $1,000 for taking a quick online survey.

I never got around to taking that survey.

A month or so back, I grabbed BK. Their receipt promised me a BK Sandwich for taking their online survey.

I never took that survey either.

I may be atypical, but I don't think so. We live busy lives. We rarely have the time to take online surveys no matter what the payoff.

My intern, Maryann, recently researched the topic for me. She found a British study that showed that 79% of UK Doctors were willing to take a survey to enter a drawing for six bottles of champagne. Offered a chance of one of six bottles of champagne, only 70% responded. Researchers took this 9% difference to mean survey takers would be more likely to take a survey for a bigger prize even with lower odds.

I looked for a parallel US study. I found one of nurses. The researchers took a different tact. Their study gave half survey recipients a $3 Starbucks gift card before taking the survey and the other half a chance at a $250 cash drawing after taking the survey. About 42% responded when given the Starbucks card (likely out of a sense of gratitude or guilt). Only 28% of nurses responded to the $250 drawing.

So, what's that mean? I have no idea. I assume that the non-cash UK prize had a higher prestige value than that of the $250 US cash prize. Or maybe doctors have more time than nurses.

So, I still lack a definitive answer. But based on the other studies I scanned, a reward of some type will almost always increase the response to an opinion survey -- without creating any bias in results.

Homework: Do you ask customers for feedback on your product or service? What incentive do you use to encourage response? Try testing different incentives and see what works best for you. And let me know!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Flying None...

Beth and I watched a couple episodes of “The Flying Nun” this week.

In one episode of the 1967 sitcom, Sister Bertrille (the flying nun) starts a “sea grape” juice business in the convent. The problem: there’s no market for the juice. In a comic turn of events, it ferments. There’s no market for the wine either, but they’re now operating an illegal winery. By time authorities trace the wine back to them, it’s turned to vinegar. It’s not illegal to make the vinegar, but there’s still no market for it. Ha. Ha. Ha.

The lesson here is not that 1960 sitcoms are corny, but that many organizations start with a product in mind, not a market. Marketing-centered organizations segment their organization by markets, not products.

The lesson? Work backwards: begin with the end in mind. Knowing what people want and creating it is much more productive than asking what you can make and trying to create a demand for it.

Homework: What’s the connection between your market and your product? Do you have one flyer, website or ad campaign to reach all your market segments? How can you become more customer-centered than product-centered?

Friday, June 06, 2008


This week, I’d like to share an custom-tailored snippet from an interview I’m doing on upselling for a client’s training CD …

So if you are upselling a customer, do you show him the next size up from
what he has now?

I think showing him just one size up is a disservice to your customer. You’re limiting his choices and your chances of getting a bigger order. I like the good, better, best approach.

How’s that work?

By showing your customer say an X, Y and Z version of the product, you’re showing a range of options. Given choice of good, better, best, most people will gravitate to the middle choice.


Some will want the biggest and best just because it’s the biggest and best. And some will be satisfied with the lower-end choice because it better fits their needs or their budgets. But in most situations, more sales will fall in the middle -- unless the pricing is way out of line or something like that.

Can you give too many choices?

Absolutely. I saw research showing that given too many choices, people will sometimes not buy anything at all. There’s a certain level of analysis paralysis with too many choices.

Can you give too few choices?

Absolutely. Given just two choices a little more than half of people will choose the lower-end choice (again assuming pricing is inline). So you are directing a lot of people to the lower end.

But, often that’s preferable to giving only one choice where the only two options are to buy or not buy. You see what I mean?

Homework: Does your marketing approach have upselling opportunities built in? Are you taking maximum advantage of upselling without overwhelming your customers with choices?

- Phil Sasso

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bell's Bills - Part Three....

Today, I’m finishing my rant about my local phone company and auto renewal being a poor excuse for marketing. Instead, I recommend making the effort to ask for the renewal.

So, how can I think that an expensive proposition like asking for a renewal be more profitable than auto renewal?

The reason is obvious. It gives you a chance to do what marketing is all about: SELL. Upsell. Cross-sell. Add options. Ask for referrals.

Auto renewal is a poor excuse for true marketing. Sure, you'll lose some customers by making it a conscious effort to ask them to renew. But you'll gain back more profits through selling upgrades, cross-selling and referrals. And I believe you'll find you'll also increase the lifetime value of your customer by building a deeper relationship. All the way around you'll grow your bottomline by treating your customer with respect.

And now I've had another interesting interaction with the phone company.

Since I was auto renewed at home, I got a postcard at work from the same company. I signed a year-long contract in February. Now they've decided to raise my toll free rates -- by 60%! I have 30 days to find a new toll free supplier -- or accept the increase. What kind of contract allows one side to raise rates except for an oligopoly.

Homework: What can you do to make customers feel you really, truly, honestly respect them? When is the last time you thanked your customer? Don't let customers feel taken for granted.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bells Bills - Part Two...

Last week, I wrote a rant about auto renewal masquerading as a marketing technique.

My phone company had dropped the “introductory rate” and auto renewed me into a more expensive package. I hate when a marketer uses a marketing technique they wouldn’t want used on them. And in this case, I think the auto renewal technique actually weakens the brand and strains the customer relationship.

People hate being tricked. In some cases, like insurance, auto renewal isn't a trick. It really is a convenience. But in these cases you'll usually get a mailed or emailed notice before you're charged. The sneaky auto-renewals are the ones that are automatically charged on your credit card, often at a higher rate than you originally signed for.

Being conniving doesn't just create bad will.

Most importantly, these marketers are losing a chance to connect with customers and build a stronger relationship. The average person today has much more marketing savvy than they had as little as a decade ago.

Customers resent being taken for granted by a business. They want to be treated fairly and with respect. And they are using a variety of means to vent their frustration, like email, forums, websites and blogs. (I read about a woman who took a hammer to Comcast’s offices and smashed a few keyboards in frustration over her complaint being ignored and the manager slipping out the back while she waited to meet with him.)

But auto renewal must be effective, or marketers wouldn't keep using it. Right? There's actually a strategy that can be more profitable than auto renewal.

What is it? Simple: connect with your customer. Ask them to renew.

A few years back the idea of “touching” a customer was all the rage. The theory was, it takes about 6 contacts ("touches") from a business before a prospect will become a customer. So why do we stop “touching” them once they’ve bought from us? I believe asking vs. auto renewing builds a stronger bond with the customer. But it can also make you more profitable.

How can an expensive proposition like asking for a renewal be more profitable than auto renewing? I’ll cover that next week after I “touch my phone company.

Meantime, how often do you "touch" your customers? What means are you using: email, phone, mail, voicemail, text?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Bell's Bills- Part One

"Our phone bill came today," Beth said offhandedly. "It's higher than usual."

"How much higher?" I asked

"I don't know -- about 50 pecent," Beth replied.

"Fity percent?!" I responded. "That's outrageous!"

"And I'm not sure why. It started last month"

"I'm sure why," I said. "The introductory rate expired. We've been ..."

I paused for effect.

"AUTO RENEWED -- at higher rate!"

[Insert suspenseful music here.]

I advise my clients not to use marketing techniques they don't like used against them.

One technique I really dislike is auto renewal.

Auto renewal preys on our busyness -- or laziness. These sly marketers realize that, given a choice, customers won't renew most contracts. Or they'll do their homework and look for a better deal. But by using the auto renewal tactic, these shifty conmen lock us into a new contract -- as if on autopilot. And most customers won't take the time to cancel. If they can cancel, that is.

Tricky marketers spin it as a "convenience" to customers.

I call it a unprofitable marketing.

Why unprofitble? I'll explain next week -- after I talk to my phone company.

Is your marketing strategy doing unto others? Or not doing?

Remember: brand loyalty is earned, not auto renewed.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I hate politics.

But I love political campaigns…

Sometimes political tactics challenge my marketing perspective. Take the current Primary race. Why do the candidates keep changing their messages? That doesn’t sound wise to me. I’d never advise you do that. “Stay on-message,” is my advice.

So, what are they thinking?

They’re trying to find a message that resonates with voters. (I won’t touch the ethical/moral issues behind that. Remember, I don’t like politics.) But the marketing implication is big.

Instead of “creating” a USM (unique selling message) for your product or service, what if you let your customers tell you what it is. Often marketing fails not because the product isn’t good, but because their sales message doesn’t resonate with customers.

I once helped a client reposition their automotive equipment. They thought they were selling “fast.” But in my conversations with paying customers, I found they were buying “cheap”. So, the message went from “The fastest way…” to “The most affordable way to quickly…” Customers who once thought fast meant a premium price started buying.

I respect surveys and focus groups. But I don’t think they can always tell what will resonate with your target market. I prefer studying ad campaign results. If one ad draws more leads than another, chances are that message is the winner. And there’s only one way to spin that: it works.

Your customers are voting for you with their pocketbooks.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Yesterday, I read the following on a package:

57% recycled materials. 100% recyclable.

I laughed.

Sometimes we get too close to our product or service and lose perspective. But, in this case, the marketers turned around the typical green concept and added another dimension. Rather than just promote what the product is made of like everyone else does, they promoted the recyclability of the product. I hadn’t seen that together before.

Green marketing isn’t new. It’s been used for years. But since “An Inconvenient Truth” won an Oscar last year, it’s become trendy. The idea of looking at green from two different angles takes the product a step beyond the others in the pack. It even implies the competitor’s product isn’t recyclable!

Marketers follow trends. Good marketers build on those trends. Great marketers create the trends.

What are you promoting in your product. What aren’t you?

Recycle this marketing tip. Forward it to a friend.

-- Phil Sasso

Friday, April 11, 2008

Suggestive Selling

"Suggestive Selling." It's a lot more innocent than it sounds. It's about making suggestions -- not being suggestive.

You can really increase your profits with a little suggestive selling. It’s the same technique the magenta-haired cashier at the fast-food joint uses when she asks if you want fries and a drink with your buffalo burger.

Only in your business, it's probably much more sophisticated and requires more in-depth product knowledge.

Perhaps a better analogy is the black-tie waiter at a white tablecloth restaurant suggesting a red wine to go with your meal.

One way to do this is to ask meaningful questions to determine your customers’ needs.

I once had a client that direct-marketed rebuilt cylinder heads. It was basically a mail order operation. His telephone reps took orders and shipped crated cylinder heads across the nation. What made my client especially successful is how he trained his phone reps to diligently ask if the customer needed a head gasket or head bolts or other add-ons. If I remember right he actually made a higher margin on these add-ons than he made on the initial sale.

And add-on sales don't just just add a few more dollars of profit to each sale; they make for more satisfied customers. That translates to more repeat business and referrals. No one wants to be in the middle of an engine overhaul and find they don't have the right gasket in stock or that the old head bolt is stripped or broken.

So, do yourself and your customers a favor and be sure you finish the job. Ask them for the add-on sale. Don't just ask"will there be anything else?" That question begs a "no." Be specific. They may not be thinking of the whole process and your questions are probably more helpful than you realize.

Remember, you’re an expert in what you sell. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge by making meaningful suggestions.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tip from the Archives...

I'm in a Cabin near Mammoth Cave Kentucky on vacation this week.

Lots of marketing lessons learned here. More on that in future tips.

In the meantime, here's a brushed up tip from the archives about a previous vacation:


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

Actually, our cottage was in the middle of a lot of things. But we were surrounded by thousands of acres of nothing, but nature -- 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 "nonmarketing".

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 Store. (Funny name, funny owner)

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 about nothing in particular. 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 at corporate-owned chains 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 try to cover that some other time

Friday, February 29, 2008

Marketing Tip Mix: Price...

Beth and I were at a Big Box home improvement store last week. I was overwhelmed by the new and half-finished projects on my mental "To Do" list. Then, as we walked down the HVAC aisle, Beth added one more "To Do" to my list: Change the furnace filter.

"Come on," I said. " I think I just did that for Y2K."

"You changed it last month," she chided me.

"So, how often are you suppose to change this thing?"

"I think it's every month," Beth said.

I picked up a 3M branded filter looking for a recommendation. But first I spotted the price.

"Holy cow!" I said "For this price, I'd go broke changing the filter every month. Can't we just dust more or something?"

"That's one of those Ultra filters." Beth clarified. "You only change those every three of four months. And it keeps your house cleaner."

"What? Does it come with maid service?"

"It's better. It filters out more dust and allergens." she explained. "You get what you pay for."

I stood in the aisle weighing the decision...

Today, I'm talking about the third of the 4 P's in the Marketing Mix: Price.

Price is definitley one of the more complicated and misunderstood components of marketing.

Most consumers don't realize that in most cases price has nothing to do with the cost of producing a product. It has to do with demand and the value of the product to the business or consumer. For instance, it is not COSTING more to pump oil now than a year ago. Yet the price has sky rocketed. That is because, for one reason, international demand has grown. And as long as they get their asking price, they will continue to charge it.

Value on the other hand is me being willing to pay four times more for a furnace filer that lasts four times longer. It doesn't cost them four times more to make it. So they are able to increase their profits greatly by investing slightly more in better materials.

Many salespeople think by lowering price they can get more customers. And that is correct in some cases. If your product is a commodity, then there is nothing you can do but compete on price and service. But there are very few true commodities in the marketing world. In fact, I once
paid more to buy screened dirt. So, there is always some way to increase the value of what you are selling.

In fact, in certain product categories, lowering your price will reduce the number of customers that will buy it. For instance, in luxury items. Ever notice someone in a Cashmere Burberry Nova Plaid Camel scarf. It runs $300 at their store. Think you'd sell more if you lowered the price to, say, $30? I doubt it. The reason the scarf was popular is because it was a signal to others in the know that you could afford it.

Did I choose the more expensive filter. Yes. But not because it's a status symbol. But since changing the air filter in my furnace is something best handled by a contortionist. So, I elected to invest in a filer that saved me the headache.

And they give me a reminder sticker I can put on my calendar to remind me when it's time to change the filter again. Brilliant marketing!

How is your pricing strategy affecting your sales?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Marketing Mix: Place

The next P is Place. Place is about method of distribution: do you sell direct or through different channels? What channels?

Let's use pizza again as our example. There are many different places you can buy a pizza: a grocery store, a pizza parlor, your home, and a ballpark. Each situation is an entirely different channel.

In a grocery store, you are relying on a retailer to sell your product. That has pros and cons. Since you are relying on a retailer, they are bringing customers to your product. But the negative side of that is they likely don't have an exclusivity deal with you (which is a good distribution deal). This means they will be selling competing pizza right next to yours. So the marketing weight here is two fold: get good shelf position and get customers in to buy your product using techniques like advertising and couponing. As you can see, you can sell your product at more outlets with less overhead, but also with less profit since you are selling through one or more layers of distribution. Everyone from the wholesaler to the grocer needs to make money on your product.

Direct distribution is another method. That would be like opening a pizza parlor. You might get to keep a larger percentage of the profit but to serve another geographic area, you need to open another restaurant, which means an investment in more staff, equipment and rent.

Within this pizzeria example you have several other channels of distribution: you have people coming in to eat, picking up and/or requesting delivery. Each is a unique market with unique staffing and equipment requirements. So some like Little Caesar's only offer pick-up. Others like Dominoes only offer delivery. Some local restaurants only offer dine-in, and most offer a combination of all three. Many now even offer different ordering options: phone, text and online.

And obviously in a situation like a sporting event, the method of distribution is different. It's based on a different kind of buying habit -- mostly impulse.

How do you go to market? Is there a channel you aren't using? Is there a channel that's not profitable? What are you having for lunch tomorrow? (Just kidding!)

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Last week, I described how the "4 P's" of the marketing mix (product, place, price and promotion) work together like the ingredients of a good cheese and sausage pizza.

There's a huge difference between the quality and balance of the ingredients Domino’s uses vs. Chicago's Pizzeria Uno.

Today, I'll focus on the first of the P's: Product.

Research & Development may not be part of your Marketing Department, but in the strictest sense it should be. Marketing is really about meeting a customer's wants and needs. So, it all starts with the product.

(You may be thinking it's not relevant to you since you sell a service, but in marketing we often call both products and services "products". So read on.)

This may lead you to believe that marketing’s goal should be to develop the best possible product. It's not. The goal is to develop the best product to meet your customer's wants and needs at the price they're willing to pay. For instance, since we've already mentioned pizza, in my humble opinion, Domino's is not the best -tasting pizza on the market. (I think most people agree.) So how do they stay in business? Actually, their product isn't really pizza. It's fast delivery at a fair price. The pizza is secondary. Little Caesar's, on the other hand, is selling inexpensive ready-made pizzas for pick up. Compare those to my favorite local pizzeria, Sorrento's, which is selling a better quality product, with a longer wait, for a higher price: delivery, pick-up or dine-in.

As you see, you can be selling what appears to be the same product as your competitor, but actually each customer is buying something very different.

Another quick example. This week Beth and I bought a new office chair at Office Max for my home office. We chose Office Max because they were close to our home -- and we had a coupon. When we got there we found about 2 dozen chairs to choose from -- except the one we wanted to see. When we talked to the sales clerk, he told us that customers often would buy the floor sample at full price -- and he got stuck assembling a new demo chair. So, Office Max decided to charge a fee for this service. Now you can buy a Ready-To-Assemble chair or pay a little more to have it assembled for you. Now, they actually sell two different products - even though the actual product is identical!

One more point: If you're in sales rather than marketing, you are part of the product. Your product knowledge, availability and service are what separate you from the competition.

So, whether you're in marketing or sales, what are you doing to differentiate your product or yourself to meet your customer's needs? How can you "improve" your product (or service)?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

4 P's - Part One

"What did you say?" Beth asked over dinner one night.

"Pass the corn chips -- please?" I said, adding "please" this time, assuming I'd forgotten my manners.

"No, before that," she said holding the chips ransom. "About the P's..."

"Peas?" I asked staring at the chips. "Oh, P's! Yeah I think people forget there are 4 P's in Marketing."

"I've never heard you say that before. It needs to be a marketing tip."

"If I promise to make it a tip, can I get the chips?"

And so this four-part marketing tip series was inspired by Beth.

In Marketing 101 you may have learned the four P's of Marketing: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion.

Advertising is only part of Promotion. And Promotion is only part of the Marketing Mix. But marketers sometimes lose sight of that fact.

Over the next four weeks I'll give you my unusual perspective on each P and some practical applications.

Let's start with an overview:

Think of Marketing as a cheese and sausage pizza. (A food analogy -- It must be nearly mealtime)

The pizza has four essential ingredients: crust, sauce, cheese and sausage. The quality and quantity of those ingredients will change from recipe to recipe and region to region. You can add other ingredients like herbs and spices, but without the basic ingredients, you don't have a traditional cheese and sausage pizza.

In the same way, a marketing program has four essential ingredients: a product (or service), a place (some method of distribution) a price (everything has a cost, even if it's just your time), and some type of promotion (advertising, direct mail, public relations, email, website, door-to-door, word of mouth, etc.) Combined, these four elements (commonly known as the "Four P's") are the Marketing Mix. You can add other ingredients like people, politics, and positioning, but without some mix of these ingredients, you don't have a traditional marketing program.

Just like with pizza, there's an art to choosing and mixing the right ingredients in just the right amount. It can make the difference between Dominos and Chicago's Pizzeria Uno. There are a myriad of different ways to mix your ingredients to get a good result. But there are also a myriad of different ways to fail.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm getting a little hungry.

Friday, January 18, 2008


A decade ago, I taught a two-session business communications seminar at a local college.

Using my captive audience, I ran a field study. I made one small change in my presentation: I dressed differently.

One day I wore a sports coat and tie. Another I wore an open collar shirt and Dockers.

For about 3 semesters I changed which day I wore what. The last day of the class I polled my students: Which class was best?

It didn't matter what I talked about, the best day was the day I dressed up.

Did dressing up change my performance or just their perception? I don't know. And it doesn't matter.

For some reason, the tie made a difference. The impact of the content was effected by how it was presented. The content itself never changed.

The same is true for your marketing materials. You may think it doesn't matters how your sales message in presented in your advertising.

But the presentation can affect your prospect's perception of your company and/or your staff's self-perception of your company.

In reality, it matters.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Goal Getting...

Having written goals is one of the greatest keys to success.

Having written goals that you refer to often, even if no one else ever sees them, has a certain power of keeping you focused.

In 1953, researchers polled the Yale University graduating class and found 3% had written goals. In 1973, researchers polled the class again and found that the 3% with written goals had "amassed more fortune than the other 97% combined!"

Powerful story, but my research indicates it may be just that: a story. An urban legend.

So let me reinforce the power of goal setting with a personal anecdote... More than a decade ago a girl I was dating attended a seminar on personal goal setting. When we met that night for dinner she was all fired-up. She pressed me to write down my goals and objectives for the next year in several key areas: personal, spiritual, social, career, etc.

That night, I did, Goal number one: Marry this girl.

The rest, as they say, is history.