Monday, March 30, 2009

A Sweet Surprise

Satisfying A Sweet Tooth
Brio Tuscan Grille is doing amazing things with desserts: The restaurant will serve a very small portion of any dessert on the menu for only $2.25. (I’m holding a small serving of their cheesecake on the right.)

The size of the dessert is perfect – it’s about five or six bites. That’s all I really ever want for dessert anyway – just a few bites.

On the day that I went into Brio, I was full after eating my meal. I didn’t even want dessert. But after I saw that I could order just a small sample, I jumped at the chance, and so did everybody I was with.

No Thanks, I’m Full

Most restaurants sell enormous chocolate-on-top-of-chocolate fudge brownie concoctions for $11 that are too big for anyone person to eat. A table of four might order one of these desserts if they can agree that they’ll all eat four bites. But, if two people don’t want any part of it, then nobody orders anything.

That’s why Brio’s mini-desserts are brilliant. Nobody needs to agree on one dessert. Those who are full don’t have to eat anything. And, if someone is afraid they won’t like something, they can order the small dessert and try it out for only $2.25.

Supersize It

Brio also serves larger sizes of its desserts, but my waiter informed me that 90% of the desserts that the restaurant sells are in the small sizes. The restaurant even offers a discount on three small desserts or more. They encourage tables to order a few small desserts and give them each a try.

You can have a few bites of chocolate-on-top-of-chocolate fudge brownie, cheesecake, and rice pudding without breaking the bank – how many places can you afford to do that?

Add This to Your To-Do List

Are you giving customers a chance to sample your products or services at minimal cost? (Check out my previous post on micro-stakes for other examples.) Find ways to give your customers a chance to sample a variety of your products. Lower your price and the amount of product that you give them and let them sample several. How are you finding ways to offer customers small samples of your products? I’d love to hear your ideas.

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

For Those About to Rock

Continuous Revenue Streams
Video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band are extremely profitable because their manufacturers are constantly producing new songs for download that weren’t included on the game disc. New songs come out all of the time. As long as the game stays fun and exciting, Activision (Guitar Hero) and Harmonix (Rock Band) will stay profitable because there is a limitless amount of songs that they could produce and sell.

But are Activision and Harmonix doing all they can to make sure that they produce the most popular – and therefore the most profitable – songs?

I don’t think they are.

Leverage Your Customers

Guitar Hero and Rock Band need to post onto their website a list of the top 500 songs that they’re considering for release. Then, ask the fans to vote for their favorites. Give fans the option to suggest additional songs. It’s free market research and it gets the fans involved in the games that much more. Fans will feel like part of the process, and they’ll tell their friends about the game.

The songs that receive the most votes should be produced first. Those songs will sell the most, and this process will keep Activision and Harmonix as profitable as possible.

The Classic (T-Shirt) Example
T-shirt seller Threadless provides one of the most classic case studies of how a company can successfully engage its customers, get them to do all of their market research, and only produce products that will sell. Through its website,, anyone can submit a design for a t-shirt. Site visitors vote on the best shirts, and only those get made. It’s simple and it works.

And Guitar Hero and Rock Band need to do the same thing.

Remember: Everyone has an opinion, and when prompted, nearly everyone will share his or her opinion with you. You just need to be ready to receive their opinions and translate them into meaningful pieces of research data.

Add This to Your To-Do List

Have you given your customers the tools they need to give you their opinions about your products and services? Are there opportunities for free market research that you’ve been overlooking until now? Are you doing everything you can to engage your customers by asking for their feedback? Find a new way to tap into the minds of your customers and you’ll find that you produce better, more profitable products and services.

Keep on rockin’.

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Vitaminwater Relinquishes Control

Breaking Ground
Vitaminwater is no longer in control of its marketing message and I think that’s brilliant.

For the first time that I’ve ever seen in a tv commercial, Vitaminwater is running ads that end by displaying its Faceboook fan page URL instead of a traditional website address.

The Future of Advertising?
Vitaminwater is combining elements of a variety of different types of marketing – social media, word of mouth, viral, etc. But there are two keys to this campaign:
  1. The brand is supporting these types of advertising with nation-wide tv spots being shown during CBS March Madness broadcasts.

  2. Vitaminwater is leveraging the genuineness of Facebook instead of using its own website. As consumers have grown more and more wary and immune to advertising messages, they have increasingly been turning to unbiased sources of information for product reviews. Vitaminwater could have opened up its own site to unfiltered user reviews, but that wouldn’t appear nearly as pure as it does when using Facebook.
Why is this Important?
The vast majority of companies build their online web presence around a corporate-run website. The company controls its online message through the site. It’s a one-way street of information. The company says something and the customer can only listen.

The one-way street communication model is boring and outdated, and Vitaminwater is pioneering the charge to change this model.

Vitaminwater is encouraging all of us to join the discussion about the brand – for better or worse.
If successful, I think this campaign will serve as a turning point in the way that brands promote the use of social networks in their marketing mix. I imagine we’ll start seeing additional companies use mass media to point users toward their Facebook fan page in the very near future.

Add This to Your To-Do List

Let’s pay attention to this campaign and see how it performs. I predict that it will be very successful, and that many marketing strategists will follow Vitaminwater’s lead. We should all start preparing to implement the lessons that this campaign is about to teach us. This is an exciting time to be a marketer, and this campaign is quite intriguing.

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How 3 Yards of Fabric Makes a Sale

The Typical Sofa-Buying Process
Every furniture store sells sofas in essentially the same way: Each sofa model comes in a few standard colors or patterns, but a customer can usually choose any fabric that they want from a selection of hundreds if they’re willing to pay an up charge. Nearly every store allows customers to peruse the additional fabric choices by looking at swatches that measure approximately three inches square. How is someone supposed to get a good idea about what a sofa will look like from three square inches of fabric?

I wouldn’t buy a shirt if I just saw the collar. Would you?

Three Yards and a Happy Customer
Room & Board has a three-yard (yes… YARD!) sample of every single fabric that they offer - look at me holding the sample to the right. If you don’t like the color of a chair, you just grab the huge sample of fabric and drape them over the chair. You can immediately tell if you like the chair in that fabric.

It’s one thing to look at sofa fabrics online or in small swatches. It’s another thing to see a sofa frame in every fabric up close and personal.

A Profitable Idea

Why are the fabric swatches at Room & Board such a good idea? It’s simple: they give customers the tools they need to make a decision.

One Small Suggestion

My only suggestion for Room & Board is that they should have two samples of each fabric choice in the large format. If customers are able to put down a $50 deposit in order to take one of the large fabric swatches home for the night, they might be more inclined to make their furniture choices more quickly.

Add This to Your To-Do List

Take a step back and look at what you sell and how you present your products or services to your customers. Is it really, REALLY easy for customers to picture the end product? If not, how can you make it easier? Brainstorm a few ideas and pick one to put into use. I’d love to hear what you came up with and how it went.

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Know When to Lower ‘Em

High Rollers? No.
Online poker site just announced that they’re opening up real-money poker tables in which people can play for “micro-stakes.” That means that people can play for as little as $.02 per hand. With small blinds at $.01, this is the lowest price the site could possibly charge to play cash games on their site (without splicing pennies into fractions, of course).

The Smaller, the Better
Micro-stake online poker is a fantastic idea. Why? Because it all but eliminates the barriers to entry that potential customers feel when considering playing online poker.

Consider the reasons why a poker player might be hesitant to play online poker for real money:
  1. He doesn’t want to lose money / he’s afraid to take too big of a risk.
  2. He is afraid that he won’t be good enough against players who play for real money.
  3. He doesn’t trust that the poker site offers a fair game.
Offering games for players at the lowest possible price eliminates the first reason. It doesn’t get cheaper than this. And, once a player starts playing at micro-stakes, he will gain confidence and rule out #2. Unfortunately, micro-stakes doesn’t solve #3.

Big Money
Full Tilt Poker makes its money by taking a percentage of the money bet on each hand. By getting players to play for the cheapest amount possible, the site is obviously hoping that players will gain confidence and eventually step up to more expensive tables.

Other Examples

Consider the ways that other industries lower the barriers surrounding their products and services:
  • Paint manufacturers often sell small, inexpensive sample containers of paint so that customers can take them home and try out a few different colors on their walls before committing to a color.

  • Non-profit organizations are now encouraging “micro-fundraising” in which they encourage donors to donate in very small amounts – often $5 at a time. This allows individuals to donate small amounts of money to numerous worthy causes instead of committing to fewer.

  • ING Direct offers a service called Share Builder in which investors can buy stocks and mutual funds for any amount they’d like. Don’t want to commit $1,000 to pick up a couple of shares of Google? Buy $25 worth and test the waters.
Add This to Your To-Do List
Are there ways in which you can lower the barriers that prevent customers from buying your products or services? Can you attract new customers by selling at “micro-stakes” in order to let them test the waters? Think about how these examples can apply to your business and test out your ideas. What do you have to lose?

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

34 Fliers in a Sales Kit? Maybe That’s One Too Many

Three Hours and A Basket of Fliers
I’m organizing the production of a new photo directory for my church. We’ve contracted with a company to help us out.

My initial consultation with the company lasted three hours. The sales representative gave me a packet of information that included 34 fliers (look at the photo I took!), and he insisted on talking about every single one. I tried to cut the meeting off – several times, actually. I was sold after the first 30 minutes, but the sales rep. insisted on continuing.

The sales rep. was so concerned about telling me what he had to offer that he didn’t take time to listen to what I needed. I didn’t need any more convincing after 30 minutes, but he just kept on going.

Been There, Done That
I know exactly how this company ended up with 34 fliers. Every time something new comes out, the owner says to the marketing department, “we need a flier for this!” Then the folks in marketing create a flier because the boss said so. That’s how it starts. Five years later, they’re left with a sales kit that has 34 fliers and lacks any sort of cohesion.

Move it Online and Move it Along
The sales kit could have contained five fliers or less, but nobody was paying attention to the big picture. The fliers should have pointed me to their website if I wanted to know more details. And the meeting should have lasted 30 minutes – that’s as long as it took to sell me. Get to the point and send me to the web if I need more details – that’s what I have come to expect when dealing with vendors.

Add This to Your To-Do List
Take a look at your printed marketing materials. Can you cut the amount of those materials in half by moving some of the content online? Nobody can digest 34 fliers no matter how important you think they are.

Now take a look at your sales presentation. Can you trim five minutes off of it? How about ten? Find out what your customers really want to know and stick to that.

Get to the point faster, and save some paper in the process. You’ll save time and money. And who couldn’t use more of both?

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Train Has Left the Station – Without Ads

Out of Money
Metra is the public transportation train system that connects Chicago with its suburbs. For the last five years, Metra has been in desperate need of a capital bill funded by the state of Illinois. Because of this, Metra needs money – a lot of money – and they need it sooner rather than later.

Advertise – It’s Simple Metra does not advertise on the inside of its train cars right now. It advertises on train platforms and in between train cars, but not inside of the train cars. CTA and Pace, the other public transportation providers in Chicago, advertise inside their trains and buses. Why doesn’t Metra?

Look at the photo I’ve posted here. There is plenty of space in the train car to advertise, and I’ll bet that there are plenty of advertisers who would be very interested in advertising to the market that Metra serves.

Advertising on Metra trains could generate millions of dollars in additional revenue for Metra. I’m guessing that the average Metra rider spends 40 minutes on the train per one-way commute. Advertisers will line up for that kind of exposure.

Advertising is Not the Cure-All

Revenue from advertising on Metra train cars will not cure all that ails Metra. But it will help and it should be done immediately. It will also show customers that Metra is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain low fairs and continue to provide excellent service.

Add This to Your To-Do List
Are you doing everything you can to keep costs low while keeping your quality at a consistent level? Everything? Ask yourself if there additional steps you can take to generate a few more dollars of income, Maybe it’s through selling advertising. Maybe it’s simply clearing out some of your junk and selling it on Ebay. What are your ideas?

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Christian Louboutin: Seeing Pink?

Meet Mr. Louboutin
Christian Louboutin is one of the hottest shoe designers out there right now. Celebrities love his shoes. Most importantly, Oprah loves his shoes. She frequently wears his shoes during the taping of her shows and she talks about him on the show once and a while.

All Christian Louboutin shoes have solid red soles – that’s his trademark. It’s what he’s known for. People pay big bucks for those red soles. They’re easy to recognize once you know what to look for, and they make quite a statement among people who care about fashion.

Pink is the New Red

But Christian, why stop at the red bottoms? Wh
y not try different colors? Sure, I know red is your thing and it would probably be very difficult for someone to successfully convince you to change it up. But that’s what I’m going to try to do. My idea is simple: I want you to change it up for a great cause.

I want you to come out with a pink-soled shoe in order to raise
money for breast cancer awareness. Pink is the color worn by breast cancer supporters, and since your target demographic is women, it’s a perfect fit. (Pardon the pun.)

Here’s what you should do: create one shoe design per year with a pink sole instead of a red one and donate all of the proceeds to breast cancer research. It’s a great thing to do for a number of reasons:

  1. Breast cancer research is important and a very worthy cause.
  2. You’ll create tremendous good will among your target demographic.
  3. This will be a free PR bonanza and you’ll probably grow your business as a result of this.
The first reason is by far the most important. But, this wouldn’t be a blog post about a good marketing idea if I didn’t mention numbers 2 and 3.

Pennies for a Pair
I’m going to throw another idea your way, Christian: Don’t charge your typical price for the pink pair of shoes. Charge $100. That’s it.

Think of all the women out there who love your brand but can’t afford to wear your shoes. They’ll line up outside of stores in order to buy this $100 pair of shoes each year. I’m sure of it. You’ll raise millions of dollars for breast cancer research AND increase awareness for your own brand.

Want to raise even more money? Announce that the suggested price for this pair of shoes is $100 and encourage women to donate whatever they’d like on top of that amount. I guarantee some celebrities will pay thousands of dollars to buy your shoes AND give to a good cause.

That’s a win-win situation if I’ve ever heard of one.

You Can Thank Me Later
I don’t want anything in return for this great idea, Christian. Just go out and raise a ton of money for breast cancer research. That’s it. I’ll be the first in line to buy a pair of pink-soled shoes for my wife. She’s your biggest fan, but we can’t afford to plunk down $1,000 on a pair.

But I Don’t Make Shoes… What’s in this for Me?
So what’s the lesson for us Marketing folks? Well, to start with, look at your current products and services. What can you do to spice things up? How can you create a limited edition? How can you open your product line up to new consumers? Can you raise money for a charity in the process? Find ways to give back while also expanding your brand appeal. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. You just have to do a little creative thinking.

Add This to Your To-Do List
Brainstorm five creative ways to create differentiated products or services. You can change the color. You can change your store hours. Have the creator autograph the product. You can change anything and everything. Then, begin to figure out what’s do-able. Start there and let your imagination dictate the rest.

There’s never a lack of ideas.