The Customer’s Buying Process – Systemic Marketing™ Part III

Tire Sale

Tire Sale Sign

There tend to be two schools of marketing. The creative and the scientific.

Imagination and mathematics.

Right brain, left brain.

At least, it looks that way on the surface.

Marketing Yin & Yang

Some highly effective marketing uses evocative imagery.

“Melts in your mouth,”
“Cleans like a white tornado,”
or “Where’s the beef?”

Some is a bit less exciting.

“click here to learn more,”
“save 13 cents on your next purchase,”
“Dear Fellow nature lover.”

But truly effective marketing uses both. First the math. Then the imagination. First the who, and what. Then the how and why. And that makes sense, doesn’t it?

A marketer identifies the target market, measures responses, and calculates ROI. Then he provides the creative team with very specific direction: “Here’s what we know about the prospect, what we believe to be her motivation, and the offer we’re going to present.

The creative folks, the copywriters and art directors, focus on that customer profile. They detail our prospect’s life. They account for her time, her activities, and her choices. They find correlations in her other purchases.

And then they create “We are Farmers, dum te dum dum dum dum dum,” or “What it feels like to chew 5 gum.”

But it always starts with detailing, and measuring the buying process.

Tread Wears, “Blowout Worry” Accumulates

Eventually, the tread wears down on every tire, and every automobile requires replacement tires.

In most cases the wear happens gradually.

An early stage buyer notes that wear is accumulating on her tires. She’ll file that observation away into her subconscious as something that will need attention sometime in the future.

Her subconscious will, through reticular activation, allow tire ads to pass the mental filter which helps her to tune out the thousands of advertising impressions she’s subjected to each day.

What Runs Through The Shopper’s Mind?

At minimum (“Humm. Tires are showing slight signs of wear.”) she knows she can put off the purchase decision. Not feeling any pressure to buy, but aware that it will eventually become necessary, those lower price offerings from Mr. Tire Store Owner will appear more attractive and better hold her attention.

As the tread continues wearing, she’ll think less about price, and worry more about safety. As you might expect, the closer she gets to “OK… I’m scared to drive any farther on these tires,” the less price acts as the primary motivator.

Then there are those cases in which the tire catastrophically fails. When that happens, she will make a purchase. Probably today.

Purchase Trigger

It may be growing worry. It may be performance failure. It may be because she’s leaving in a week to drive across three states on her family’s vacation. It may be that she came across an unexpected tire sale. It may be an unexpected salary bonus. But something will happen that causes the owner of that car to decide it’s time for new tires.

We call that event a purchase trigger.

A trigger is a change in perception on the part of the shopper.  Its the realization that the actual discomfort of NOT owning has become greater than the perceived discomfort in making the purchase.

Triggers happen to different shoppers at different times, but all shoppers experience similar triggers.

That’s the fact which allows us to design customer acquisition programs.

Once we determine a strong appeal to an early stage shopper (say… reduced price), that appeal will be equally attractive to a different early stage shopper next month. Yet another completely different early stage shoper will be attracted with that same appeal the month after that.

Likewise, the appeal which works to attract this month’s late stage shoppers (perhaps safety, or guilt about safety) will work with other late stage shoppers later this year.

And when our primary appeal meets with a prospect’s strongly felt need, it acts as a trigger, moving that prospect to the next step, perhaps all the way to completing the purchase.

What Steps does the Shopper Take?

The specific shopping steps will be slightly different for every business. Some purchases are made on a whim. Others require research and the approval of a committee. Some buyers initiate purchase orders. Others simply pay cash.

Our tire shopping prospect likely goes through nine separate steps to buy tires.

Tire Customer Buying Steps

Tire Customer Buying Steps

The Sales Process is Always Similar, but Never the Same

So far, we’ve described the buying process, which begins with the shopper feeling a need.  Is the selling process the same?

Usually, its not.

The selling process begins when the seller identifies the buyer as a new prospect, and attempts to get her to engage.

And other than advertising, the seller has no control over communication with the prospect until she identifies herself.

In our tire purchase example the buyer has already taken five independent steps before the  seller knows she exists.

But detailing the customer’s steps between the first interaction with the seller, and the completion of the purchase, are what allow us to standardize the process.  It’s what allows us to set our marketing on  “Cruise Control,” when we’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about detailing your customer’s shopping process? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-208-7654.


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The Flaw In The Advertising Plan

Originally published November 17, 2007

Chess pieces on board.

Pieces on chess board.

A regional community college has just contacted the marketing rep for the local TV station.

They’ve spoken the words which strike fear into the hearts of salespeople everywhere: ““The advertising isn’t working.”

Tell me more,” says the rep.

Well, we’re getting a lot of calls – probably more than we’ve ever gotten before. We send our information kit to everyone who calls, but they don’t become students. We’re spending more on printing and postage than ever before, and aren’t getting much to show for it.

“Seems you’re wasting our money by bringing us the wrong people.

The wrong people. Those would be people who don’t buy.

The advertising plan didn’t account for appealing to the “wrong people.” The plan assumed the right people would respond to the ads.

Radio stations are accused of bringing the wrong people when 200 listeners show up at Mr. Car Dealer’s remote broadcast but don’t buy cars.

The wrong people come to the grocery store and only buy the items featured in the coupon.

And now, you’re telling me the wrong people are picking up the phone and asking the college to send them information?

Why would they bother?

Who has so little to do today that he’s going to pick up the phone and call an institution of higher learning for information he doesn’t need or want?

The “wrong people” are common to nearly all businesses.

In the on-line world we refer to this as the “bounce rate” – the percentage of people who followed the link to your website and immediately changed their mind and went away. Its funny, but the conventional on-line wisdom doesn’t blame the advertising for bringing the wrong people, it INCREASES the advertising to get more people to the site.

Bricks and mortar stores? A recent study indicates that 81 percent of the people who enter such a store will leave without buying anything. What do they say when a salesperson approaches them? “No, thanks. I’m just looking.”

In both the real world and the virtual world, people are pressed for time. They don’t just go wandering around your store to alleviate boredom. They don’t enter your web store just to kill time. They don’t pick up the phone and call your 800 number out of indifference.

They’re never just looking.

They’re looking for something specific. They’re leaving because they didn’t find it – at least not the quality they demand or at a price they’re willing to pay. If they thought they’d found it, they’d have bought.

Stop blaming the advertising plan.

Your advertising isn’t bringing the wrong people. Your sales process is failing to convert them into buyers.

Its time to examine your sales process.

Begin by determining what your customers are seeking when they make contact. Then look for any impediment to prevent them from purchasing. Anticipate their questions and answer them in the way that makes them most comfortable buying from you.

Do you recognize this process as Persuasion Architecture TM?

There’s no use blaming your advertising if you have a long list of steady prospects and you’re not turning them into customers.

There’s very little point in trying to hook ’em when you can’t reel them in. It could be your brochures. Maybe it’s your salespeople. Either way, the flaw isn’t in your advertising. You’ll need to fix your sales process, before you can successfully fish for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Questions about reaching the right people with your advertising may be directed to [email protected].  Or call Chuck at 304-523-0163.

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Is There Money in Accommodating Early-Stage Shoppers?

Palm Trio

Palm Trio Cellular Telephone

You carry a cellular telephone. You’re reasonably happy with the service, the rate, even with the quality of your phone calls. Still, the phone you purchased two years ago was already proven technology by those standards, and is now considered old. Plus, you’re seeing the ads on TV for the newer touch screen phones, and you’re getting curious.

You’re vaguely aware that your two year commitment to your current carrier is drawing to a close, and you keep seeing all those ads for the newer touch screens. You head out to the mall. It seems a good idea to quiz a couple of salespeople at the cell phone kiosks.

You’ve just become an early-stage buyer.

Salespeople have names for early-stage shoppers: “lookie loos,” “tire kickers,” “time wasters.” Early-stage shoppers, very aware of their own ignorance, would feel much more comfortable at this point if salespeople were removed from their buying process. Early-stage shoppers say things like, “I’m just looking.”

Shoppers identify themselves by the questions they ask.

  • Early-stage shoppers don’t know what they don’t know. They are are becoming aware of an itch, but don’t know yet how (or where) to scratch. Early-stage shoppers tend to ask questions about the process.Current early-stage questions in the cellular industry are along the lines of “What’s Wireless-N,” “Are you telling me I can use my phone to connect my laptop?” and “What exactly is a 4G Network?”
  • Whether conscious of it, or not, mid-stage shoppers have eliminated the offers which don’t solve their problem, and are honing in on the solution which is exactly right for them. Mid-stage shoppers ask questions about specific equipment and its implementation.Middle-stage questions sound like, “How good is reception on this phone?” or “What’s the battery life on the Model 22XJ?”
  • Late-stage shoppers are ready to buy. If they’re talking to you, there’s an excellent probability that you’ll get the sale. Late-stage shoppers ask questions about pricing and purchase terms.Late-stage questions might be “What’s the total price including the upgraded memory chip and sales tax?” or “Can you give me a better price on the hardware if I accept a longer service commitment?”

Salespeople pray for late-stage shoppers.

To most salespeople, selling will always be a numbers game. “Pitch” the offer to a large number of people and a few will purchase. If those few spend enough money, salespeople are rewarded for all of the time they spent with those who didn’t buy.

If you show signs of buying, salespeople will pay close attention to you. Show the opposite signs and they will move on to better prospects. They call this process “qualifying the lead.”

But, suppose you’re one of those ideal customers the cellular companies lust over. You buy expensive phones which lead to expensive add-on services, you buy the additional warranty, and you never invoke early termination. You’re not a tire kicker or a time waster. You’re a highly-qualified early-stage buyer who has very real questions about changes in technology and services since you last upgraded.

Wouldn’t you be more likely to trust someone who helps you understand the alternatives rather than pushing you to make an immediate purchase? Isn’t this the basis of relational selling?

Nurturing shoppers through the stages.

Put yourself into the mindset of an early-stage shopper for anything. If you found a reliable source of information, wouldn’t you automatically be more inclined to buy from that source when you’ve decided to purchase?

So far, the best side-by-side comparison I’ve seen for cellular service and phones is offered by c/net. The sad part of this analysis is that c/net doesn’t sell telephones or cellular service.  Any cell company could publish this information.  It is widely available.

Of course, the danger of inviting side-by-side comparisons between your company and your competitors is the risk of not being competitive. Maybe that’s why the cellular providers not only hide this information, they all bundle services differently which makes comparisons even more difficult.

But some businesses understand how to grow new customers.

Distinctive Kitchens Culinary Arts Center in Pensacola, Florida is a family business that for 80 years has sold premium appliances, and more recently wines and culinary accessories. Distinctive Kitchens offers demonstrations, classes, and in-store experts. Shoppers new to gourmet cooking or experienced cooks brushing up on new technique will find the answers they need, and a great source of product, too.

Sweet Maria’s Coffee in Oakland, California offers all of the information any coffee drinker could possibly want, from reviews of various equipment, to articles, to instructional videos, to selections of green coffees from all around the world. Plus, Sweet Maria’s hosts a community forum in which members discuss their opinions of coffees, roasting, brewing methods, blending, storing, and the selections of green coffees. Care to bet they have very little customer turnover?

Home Depot has a series of in-store workshops designed to give customers hands-on experience using materials, tools, and supplies in their Home Improver Club.

Think about the number of gallons of premium paints, glazes, and other supplies you can sell over the customer’s lifetime once you teach a homeowner how to apply a faux painting technique.

Can your business offer early-stage information while competing for late-stage shoppers?

Why not?

  • Could your insurance agency create a checklist for homeowners, listing all of the common furnishings, and leaving space for the homeowner to estimate the replacement cost of each?
  • Could your photography store set up “good, better, best” packages of cameras, lenses, flash attachments, and instructional videos?
  • Could your HVAC company produce a chart that shows how quickly a new furnace or air conditioner will pay for its self in savings due to higher efficiency?
  • Could your furniture store create a layout grid with scale pictures of common furnishings and help shoppers envision their home with new sofas, beds, and entertainment centers?
  • Could your music store create posters which explain the advantages of specific guitars in the performance of specific genres of music?

Of course you could. It only takes a little planning, and a little time. When you give early-stage shoppers the basic information they need, those shoppers will come to you now, and are likely to return as they move through the buying stages.  And when we’re fishing for customers, don’t we all want them to return?

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

Chuck McKay

Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Questions about focusing your messages on specific stages of shopping may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-208-7654.


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Zen and the Art of Persuasion. Part 3 of 3


Dice Spelling R-I-S-K

There’s a gas station at one of the Interstate 20 off ramps in Columbia, South Carolina that is rumored to have the lowest prices in town. If they don’t have the lowest prices, they certainly have convinced a large group of drivers that they do. Most hours of the day they have a constant line of cars at each of the eight pumps.

A casual observer will notice a young man drifting from car to car, speaking with each driver in sequence. The young man you notice on Monday will not be there on Thursday. Another young man will have taken his place.

And should the observer become an eavesdropper, he’ll hear the young man explain that he works for a glass company “up in Greenville,” has his materials with him, and can repair the dings and chips in the driver’s windshield for between forty and sixty-five dollars. He opines that the motorists insurance will cover it, reimbursing the driver so there will be no “out of pocket” expense.

Apparently, enough people accept his offer that it’s profitable for the young man, or one very much like him. They keep coming back.

Occasionally one of the motorists, wanting to “think it over,” will ask the young man du jour for a business card. He never seems to have one on him. Although he can name the company he works for, he can’t remember it’s phone number. No, he doesn’t carry a cell, so he can’t provide that number either.

In any buyer / prospective seller relationship, there are two basic reasons that people choose not to buy, and the young man carrying the battery-powered drill and pocket epoxy illustrates them vividly.

People don’t buy when they don’t feel the need for what you’re selling.

They don’t buy when don’t trust you.

People avoid risk on three levels.

  1. The biggest risk is that they’ll purchase the wrong solution – that they’ll have spent the money and still have the problem.
  2. But, there’s also the risk that the solution they purchase won’t last, and their problem will be back. (The variant on this is buying from a company who won’t warrant the purchase, or even be in business if the purchaser ever needs their support).
  3. And finally, if all of the solutions seem roughly equal, there’s the risk of over paying.

Put yourself in the mindset of someone who’s just become aware of a problem, which could be anything from “ring around the collar” to “my back hurts every morning when I wake up.” Whatever the problem she’s identified, she’s now looking for a solution.

Ring around the collar? One of the oldest formulas in advertising was perfected by major packaged goods companies like Lever Brothers and Proctor and Gamble. The familiar presentation is called slice-of-life, and is presented as if we, the viewers / listeners / readers are peeking in on a conversation between real people.

The formula is basic:

State problem. Agitate problem. Announce solution.

  • First, our slice of life dialog establishes that “ring around the collar” is an easily noticed condition which will reduce social standing.
  • The off-camera announcer states the problem: “You’ve got ring around the collar.”
  • He now agitates the problem: “Those dirty rings. You’ve tried scrubbing. You’ve tried soaking. You’ve tried powders. And nothing works.
  • We’re treated to a close-up demonstration of Wisk liquid laundry detergent being poured on the offensive sweat stain. The camera cuts to a close up of the same collar without the stains.
  • The off-camera announcer proudly announces the solution: “Wisk around the collar gets ring around the collar every time.”
  • This is a good example of a single-step ad. Its also known as an order generation ad. Its purpose is to get the prospect to recognize her problem, accept the solution, and purchase it. Now.

    Does order generation advertising work? Most assuredly, it does. You’ve seen examples of it every day of your life.

    The catalog from Sears or Terry’s Village. Every Yellow Pages ad. The “cash for gold” ads on television. The long-running television or magazine ads for Miracle Grow. A significant percentage of the letters in your mailbox from companies you’ve never heard of.

    Let’s review those three risks.

    Our slice-of-life laundry lady is highly likely to purchase Wisk, now that she’s seen, and accepted, the premise of the ad: “Wisk around the collar gets ring around the collar.”

    1. Is she risking the wrong solution (no pun intended)? She recognizes ring around the collar as her problem, because she sees the sweat stains every time she does laundry. This appears to be an exact solution. Minimal risk.
    2. Is she risking that her solution will be temporary? No. It’s a disposable product. If it doesn’t work as well as she expected, she can simply not replace it when she runs out. Again, no real risk.
    3. Is she risking paying too much?* Probably not. If our shopper purchases the economy size “32 load” bottle of Wisk, she can expect to pay roughly $7.50. If she pays $7.83 will that price increase damage her cleaning budget? Hardly

    Without the perception of risk it shouldn’t surprise us that this customer will quickly decide to buy the product.

    Single-step ads tend to work best for simple, non-technical, and inexpensive products. The simpler the proposal, the easier it is to explain in a small ad. This is the principle which makes classified advertising work.

    But what if the product or service needs more explanation than will fit into a small space ad, or half a minute on TV or radio? In general, the more complex the product, the more technical the nature of the product, the higher the price, the less likely a single-step ad will convert people from prospects to customers.

    Back to the lady with the backache.

    She wakes up, and groans while getting out of bed. By her second cup of coffee she’s moving freely and has forgotten about the stiffness.

    But one day she realizes that this “back hurts first thing in the morning” business has gone on for weeks. In her mind (which is where it counts), that realization moves her backache to the status of a problem. Problems need resolution.

    She begins to pay attention to what web marketers call “keywords.” Keywords aren’t limited to the Internet. Regardless of medium, they are one or two word phrases that trigger her reticular activation system and reach her conscious brain. In her case, the words will be “backache,” and “morning backache.”

    Now that her subconscious is aware that they are important she begins to notice the advertising messages which surround her. As her eye skims the newspaper the keywords seem to leap off the page. She’ll be riveted to certain radio ads. She’ll stop talking during television advertising in which the keywords resonate in her conscious mind.

    • “Morning backache is a sign of a too soft mattress. See how good you feel after 30 nights on a Simmons Beauty Rest.”
    • “Morning backache is a sign of poor posture. WalkFit Orthotic Shoe Inserts helped over 90% of the people tested reduce pain levels in their feet, knees, spine and pelvis.”
    • “Morning backache is a sign of poor spinal alignment. Should that stiff neck or sore back persist, call your Doctor of Chiropractic.”
    • “Morning backache can be treated with Doan’s Backache Pills. They relieve the aches and pains and that helpless feeling of stiffness, so that the system can be restored to full health.”
    • “Morning backache is a sign that the vital magnetic energy from the earth’s natural magnetic field has been interrupted. Magnetic insoles provide penetrating magnetic therapy for the entire body while soft massage nodes stimulate reflexology points.”

    Multiple products promise to relieve her discomfort. Multiple disciplines claim to treat her condition. With the limited knowledge she possesses as an entry level shopper, she could easily choose the wrong solution, or one that doesn’t last. Without knowing which solution is appropriate she could easily overpay. She’s swimming in risk.

    Sellers would love for her to buy from a single-step ad.

    From the seller’s perspective a single-step order generation ad is a quick sale. It doesn’t require any follow up. Done well, salespeople may not even be necessary. The process seems so simple, so straightforward, so easy. “Here’s my offer. Come buy it.” There is no intent for these ads to build image or “brand” the advertiser. Their only purpose is to get the sale. Miss Prospect will buy, or not. No second chance.

    But Miss Prospect may not be ready to buy when you want to sell. She may not need it today. Even if you do, she doesn’t know you. She doesn’t know your product. From her perspective she’s surrounded by risk. Did I mention that she doesn’t know you?

    Risk Graph

    Amount of Risk at Each Stage of Shopping.

    She needs information about how you can solve her problem. She needs information about your professional reputation. She requires more information than can fit into a small newspaper or magazine ad; more than will fit into a radio or television ad.

    When she’s in the early stages of seeking a solution for her problem, Miss Prospect will want to see a demonstration, read a specification sheet, see an estimate, meet for a consultation, or expect a presentation before she buys.

    See the problem? One-step ads work best when the offer is simple, and inexpensive. They work when the prospect is a late stage shopper, and is very close to making a purchase. But when Miss Prospect is an entry stage shopper, is bewildered by the sheer number of choices, and feels overwhelmed by risk, they tend not to work at all. Mr. Advertiser schedules his single-step offer to run in the noon newscast, and at 12:15 is standing at the door wondering where all of the buyers are.

    If we’re selling mattresses, orthotic shoe inserts, chiropractic services, analgesic pills, or magnetic therapy – if we’re selling anything which takes a more detailed explanation than “this detergent gets the dirt out” – we’ll do better breaking the sales process into two or more parts.

    Instead of asking Miss Prospect to commit to the purchase, we ask that she only commit to the risk-free next step in our selling process.

    What’s the risk-free first step?

    Example 1:

    How do Proctor and Gamble minimize the customer’s $7.50 risk for any of their new detergents? They offer a free sample of the product. Enough for two or three uses. Miss Prospect tries the soap, likes the way it cleans, really likes the new fragrance, and adds the product to her next shopping list.

    Summary: the manufacturer invests roughly 57₵ to acquire a new customer of their consumable product. Its likely that she’ll spend roughly $90 per year re-purchasing it.

    Example 2:

    “If we pre-qualify you and your claim is denied, the Scooter Store will GIVE you your new power chair or scooter, FREE.”

    Summary: by offering a “pre-qualification,” the advertiser gets the complete personal information on an active prospect.

    Example 3:

    “Well I married my dream girl, I married my dream girl, but she didn’t tell me her credit was bad…” This delightful ad for Free Credit Report dot com offers a three bureau credit report, at no cost to the caller. There are two reasons this one is worthy of note. First, it uses network television (with only :30 seconds to tell a story) to drive traffic to a web site where there’s no limit to the amount of information which can be presented to the prospect.

    But, pay close attention to both the tiny screen writing and the subdued voice over, each of which say, “Offer applies with enrollment in Triple Advantage.” Did you catch it? The entire 30 seconds pushes the free credit report which people get by enrolling in a monthly credit monitoring service for $14.95 per month.

    Summary: for the price of a single credit report (no incremental cost to the advertiser), and by focusing ONLY on the premium – the free report – they get a subscriber who will pay nearly $180 per year.

    Imagine trying to convince people to sign up for a monthly credit monitoring service in a :30 second single-step TV ad. “Call now. Protect yourself from identity theft for only $14.95 a month. Operators are standing by…..” But asking them to identify themselves by requesting their own credit report? How elegantly simple.

    They call it two-step marketing, but…

    It may be the second, third, or forth step which closes the sale after the first step provides the “lead.”

    Or it may be a series of progressively larger sales. Roy H. Williams says the subscribers to his free newsletter may become familiar enough with his writing to purchase a $12.95 book. Some of the book buyers may purchase a $49.00 video, or a $495 training program, or a $3,000 three-day seminar. Some of those purchasers will become consulting clients. Roy calls this his “gravity well.”

    Whether you call the two-step process a prospect funnel, a gravity well, or lead generation, there are a few things you can do to maximize its effectiveness.

    Not everyone you meet will be a qualified prospect for what you sell. And remember that qualified prospects still won’t buy if they don’t believe they need what you’re selling, or if they don’t trust you.

    Two-step marketing allows you to persuade your prospects that what you sell is the exact solution they’re seeking. More importantly, it allows them to experience your trustworthiness. And both are critical to the reduction of perceived risk among your prospects.

    And risk makes the bait less attractive when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

    Chuck McKay

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Questions about focusing your messages on specific stages of shopping may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-523-0163.



    *Doesn’t it strike anyone else as odd that so many business people skip by the two more critical perceived risks, and immediately cut price to stimulate sales?

    This article is one of three on this subject:

    Part 1: How Does One Educate a Customer

    Part 2: How to Steal Your Competitor’s Customers

    Part 3: Zen and the Art of Persuasion



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    How to Steal Your Competitor’s Customers. Part 2 of 3

    Tomato Juice ad

    Tomato Juice ad

    Is this a good ad?

    Does it make you want to buy a can of John’s Tomato Juice?

    A good ad would.

    A good ad would catch the attention of someone who wanted tomato juice, and offer compelling reasons to choose John’s brand.

    But this ad?

    People expect tomato juice to be pure and fresh. The “whole tomatoes” part isn’t an expectation, but it’s not surprising, either. Nope. Not a single reason to choose John’s Tomato Juice.

    Without a demonstrable difference people tend to buy the more familiar over the less familiar. Even after they’ve seen advertising for the lesser known brand? Unfortunately, yes.

    John’s ad may well encourage a shopper to pick up a can of tomato juice. Odds are, though, it will be a can of Del Monte’s, or Hunt’s, or Campbell’s.


    John’s, like all of the rest of us, needs a compelling difference to become the brand of choice. If shoppers believe John’s Tomato Juice is just like all of the other brands, the only reason a shopper would choose a lesser known brand like John’s would be price.


    But suppose I point out that tomato quality makes a difference in the taste of the juice. John’s Tomato Juice uses only heirloom tomato varieties, chosen for exceptional flavor. John’s tomatoes are individually selected and hand picked at the peak of ripeness. They are processed within hours to capture their freshness.

    I’ve just made you aware of a significant difference offered by John’s Tomato Juice, and provided enough specific detail to make my claim of improved taste believable.

    Ideally awareness (and in this case curiosity) might prompt you to sample John’s. If you like the taste, John’s could become your preferred juice. And if large numbers of customers sample and prefer John’s, that will lead to increased demand, increased market share, and through economies of scale, greater profits.

    Awareness → Preference → Market Share → Profitability

    This process always starts with awareness, which happens in one of two ways: though large amounts of advertising, or more spontaneously because the product (service) is noticeably different.

    Cognitive Overload.

    Thinking is hard. Remembering, not so much. And once a preference is established in the mind of a consumer, that decision won’t be revisited.

    Unless, of course, that consumer is presented with a compelling new reason to reconsider.

    Have you ever talked to a homeowner who has decided she needs a new home? Listen carefully to her descriptions. She may only vaguely be able to describe what she wants in her new home, but she will explain the shortcomings of her current house in great detail. Her dissatisfaction will nearly always be a predictor of her purchase behavior.

    You could build an ad around her specific irritations. Other disgruntled homeowners would immediately identify and pay attention.

    Unfortunately, too many companies don’t bother to research their customers. When it comes time to make something happen their inclination is to cut price. Long term this is seldom a valid strategy.

    Why? Because there can only be one lowest-price producer in each market, and chances are its not you. That lowest-price strategy is nearly impossible to sustain, and there’s no particular advantage in becoming second-lowest.


    Advertising becomes more effective when there’s a difference upon which to build the ads. But difference for its own sake is only weird, and weirdness doesn’t sell.

    To persuade a customer to buy, the difference must be meaningful to her.

    As noted in How Do You Educate A Customer?, most businesses don’t have enough time or money to convince non-users to enter the market.

    Most can, however, convert customers who’ve already been persuaded by the market leader to enter the category.

    Stealing someone else’s customers is the most efficient use of your advertising dollars.

    Therefore, the only advertising strategy that makes sense for most businesses is to influence your competitor’s customer to switch brands. For highest return on your advertising investment, do this close to the time of purchase.

    Effective advertising solves a problem.

    What’s the one clear and overriding reason that will get your business noticed, provide new information, and persuade some other company’s formerly satisfied customers to try your brand?

    Here’s a hint: most opportunities will not be the direct opposite of the market leader’s strategy, but rather in exploiting an opportunity that is either too small or too far removed from the market leader’s primary focus.

    McDonalds sells fast, fresh, and fun. Subway is best-known as the provider of non-fried low-fat sandwiches.

    Wal-Mart is positioned as the lowest price retailer. Target’s more sophisticated image is that of the “hip discounter.”

    Goodyear focuses on quality: “The best tires in the world have Goodyear written all over them.” Michelin’s appeal is safety: “Because so much is riding on your tires.”

    Michelin didn’t create the desire to keep family members safe. They did, however, recognize and exploit a genuine need already felt by a significant number of customers. A need that Goodyear’s quality/value position can’t fulfill.

    Will Michelin ever overtake Goodyear in gross sales? Unlikely. However, among people who’s primary concern is the safety of their families, Michelin is much more likely than Goodyear to be their first choice.

    Being the first choice in your own unique category is the basis of developing a solid U.S.P. This makes it tremendously difficult for any competitor to counter your advertising.

    The market leader can’t do what you’re doing without abandoning his own highly-profitable position in the market. And when the other smaller competitors try to copy what you’re doing (and they will) their ads will only remind people of you.

    In his book, The Ad Contrarian, (great read, by the way), Bob Hoffman says:

    We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand. We get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.

    Care for a glass of tomato juice? Its John’s. You’ll taste the difference those heirloom tomatoes make.

    The more you convince to try the product, the greater the catch when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

    Chuck McKay

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Questions about focusing your messages on specific buying stages may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-523-0163.




    This article is one of three on this subject:

    Part 1: How Does One Educate a Customer

    Part 2: How to Steal Your Competitor’s Customers

    Part 3: Zen and the Art of Persuasion


    Read More

    How Does One Educate a Customer? Part 1 of 3


    A Daily Newspaper

    Everyone needs our product,” said Bob. “All we need to do is to tell them about it.

    Bob’s enthusiasm is contagious. He’s convinced that America’s tap water isn’t safe to drink because of the presence of pollutants. The water filter he sells removes minerals, microorganisms, toxic metals, and organic chemicals.

    If sales is truly a transfer of confidence from the seller to the buyer, Bob is going to sell a lot of water filters. Assuming, of course, he can get his message to enough people.

    He thinks advertising problems in the water supply is an excellent way to attract potential customers to his business.

    He’s wrong.

    Bob has two problems. Each will affect his marketing strategy. Can you identify them?

    First, he offers a solution to people who don’t recognize that they have a problem. They will naturally be skeptical.

    Second, as small as his industry is, he has competitors. That means if he chooses to educate potential customers about the need for water filtration, they may well buy filters from some other company.

    Bob is not alone with this “Teach them why they need it” vs “Ask them to choose mine” dilemma.

  • A manufacturer can’t sell his brand of coffee to people who don’t drink coffee. First, those people must choose coffee as their beverage. Only then can the manufacturer persuade them to choose his brand instead of another.
  • The provider of high-speed Internet can’t sell connections to households without computers. First, the family must choose to purchase a computer. Secondly they must elect to be connected to the Internet. Only then can the provider convince that family to select his service over that of a competitor.
  • And Bob can’t sell his brand of water filters to consumers who find the quality of their tap water to be quite acceptable.

    Why Shouldn’t Bob’s ads explain and educate?

    Because even the most effective marketing message can only advance the decision making process by a single step at a time, and there are too many steps between “Have you ever wondered what’s in your drinking water?” and “Will you buy my filter today?”

    Convincing people they have a problem is tough enough. Persuasion becomes even more difficult when they know you benefit from the sale.

    You have a problem that you’re not aware of. Really, you do. And I’m here to help. Just buy my product…

    Selling to an existing need may eliminate the credibility issue, but it doesn’t eliminate those additional steps.

    Consider the local automobile dealer who no longer needs to convince people cars are superior to horses or bicycles. He still has three decisions standing between each prospect and each sale.

    1. First, the prospect must decide she needs a car.
    2. Then she needs to select a brand.
    3. Finally she has to choose a dealership.

    Advertising can advance the process by only a single decision at a time. Which of those choices should the dealer’s advertising try to influence?

    Sometimes competitors join forces to inform.

    Cooperation can be a smart move when increasing the size of the market benefits all of those who serve that market, even those who compete directly with each other.

  • The Cattlemen’s Beef Board pools the individual members marketing dollars in the “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner” campaign.
  • The Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority promotes all hospitality providers in the city with their promise of “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
  • The Florida Citrus Commission helps to create demand for all Florida growers with, “Florida orange juice. Healthy, pure and simple.”
  • You may see this cooperation on a local level when the county veterinary association pools dollars to encourage pet vaccinations, or a group of chiropractors each contribute to an educational campaign explaining the benefits of chiropractic treatment.

    Short term, with enough concentrated advertising, programs such as this can create a bump in the sales curve. Unfortunately, most co-operative advertising programs don’t have the resources long term to significantly grow the number of buyers.

    Which is the smarter strategy?

    Convincing people who don’t already feel the need is hugely expensive. More expensive than most small companies can afford. Educating customers is not a cost effective advertising strategy for most small business.

    Instead, consider addressing “pre-educated” potential customers – those people who already understand the issue. They will be searching for solutions. They will consider yours.

    The car dealer should concentrate on drivers who are already inclined to buy the brand he represents and invite those people to his dealership.

    The Internet service provider should address his ads to people actively seeking connectivity, and explain the advantages of his service.

    And Bob needs to stop trying to tell everyone about his product. He needs to find people who share his concern for unfiltered tap water. He needs to target those customers with every advertising dollar he invests, and persuade them to purchase their filters from him.

    Bob needs to seek out those folks who are already looking for him, but don’t know it yet.  Choosing bait for the fish which are biting is efficient fishing for customers.

    Part Two of this series will look at the effect brands have on each other when advertising.

    In Part Three we’ll consider a multimedia solution for growing the size of the market (and our individual share of it), as well as an exception to the conclusion you just read.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

    Chuck McKay

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Questions about the cost trade-off between educating customers vs targeting those ready to buy may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-208-7654.



    This article is one of three on this subject:

    Part 1: How Does One Educate a Customer

    Part 2: How to Steal Your Competitor’s Customers

    Part 3: Zen and the Art of Persuasion


    Read More
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