Violated Expectations. Marketing lessons from the Dallas Cowboys.

The Dallas Cowboys haven’t had that bad of a season. Five wins, four losses. Slightly better than average. Unfortunately, the die hard fans are devastated. Care to speculate why?

Probably because their expectations for the 2008 season included the Super Bowl.

HBO’s “Hard Knox” may have started some of the hype, featuring the team in four episodes. ESPN picked up on the extra attention given the Cowboys, and focused their considerable airtime (and commentary) on Dallas.

Then, of course, there were all of the bloggers, themselves die hard fans, who enthusiastically trumpeted the inevitable triumph.

Had the fans not been led to expect more, this season wouldn’t be all that bad.

Is there a marketing lesson in the 2008 Dallas Cowboys?

Why, yes. Yes, there is.

It has to do with your customers expectations, when compared to their experiences. Outside what they’ve learned from your ads, many potential customers have no idea of what to expect from your company.

And then they have an actual experience with your company, and you live or die by whether your advertising is contradicted by your customer’s reality.

Advertise “fast friendly service,” but deliver an experience in which your customer stands in line for a turn with a discourteous employee, and every dollar you’ve spent on advertising is wasted – at least with that particular customer.

In much the same way that violated expectations have led Cowboys fans believe this season to be awful, your customer’s violated expectations may convince her that you deliver bad service.

Worse, that you deliver bad service, slowly.

Violated expectations make people talk. Good and bad.

I wrote about those effects in Love and Indifference, Part 1:

“When you thrill shoppers with their purchases and the way they are treated, they are likely to become customer evangelists. They’ll be out preaching the gospel of your company and winning converts to whatever the degree of their persuasiveness. 

But the extremely displeased group turn into vigilante customers. In their minds they’ve been wronged. You could just as well have “Wanted, Dead or Alive” posters up with your name on ’em, ’cause they’re out to get’cha. Tell twenty more? Count on it.”

But what if your customer’s experience is only slightly off?

What if you don’t deliver great service, but you don’t do a bad job, either?

If the customer expects “a gourmet meal exquisitely prepared using only select ingredients,” and gets a meal that’s reasonably good, she may attribute superior qualities to the food.

That’s exactly what Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at the California Institute of Technology demonstrated in a recent wine tasting. Rangel altered the prices on the bottles, and found:

The volunteers consistently gave higher ratings to the more “expensive” wines. Brain scans also showed greater neural activity in the pleasure center when they were sampling those “pricey” wines, indicating that the increased pleasure they reported was a real effect in the brain.” 

Without any major disconnects between expectation and experience, there’s a good chance that people will accept what they’ve been led to expect. Which leads us to a simple formula for advertising success:

1. Use your ads to create an expectation of the experience your customer will have when she does business with you. 

2. Then, ensure that her experience delivers on those expectations.

3. And though we haven’t yet discussed it, hold something back from your advertising. Use it to “WOW” your customers, and make their experience better than expected.

We’ll give that idea some consideration next time.

In conclusion, the most effective advertising reinforces what people already believe. The most successful businesses do nothing to contradict those beliefs.


Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover you, and choose your business. Questions about delivering on your customers expectations may be directed to

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What’s the Boss’s Most Important Job?

The boss has a unique responsibility. And it’s not the one most people think of when they describe the duties at the top.

Robert Kiosaki, in his best selling business book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, explained that as an employee, you have a job. As a self-employed professional, you own the job. And the owner of a business hires people to perform the job.

So, in terms of making business happen you are either someone else’s employee, or you’re responsible. There are no other options. And though there’s an outside chance that in good times any business can just muddle through, over the next few years if you’re not aggressively pursuing new business you’re not likely to make it. Sorry.

Some people are just cut out to be employees.

Consider a carpet cleaning business. Not just any carpet cleaning business, this one was being contemplated by a young man who asked my help creating a marketing plan. He had worked for another, similar, business, enjoyed the work, and saw the profit potential.

We spent two days together researching and building that plan. When it was finished, I offered my best advice: DO NOT OPEN THIS BUSINESS.

The market was strong, there was room for another competitor, and the young man with the ambition and the new marketing plan actually enjoys cleaning carpets.

Unfortunately, he hates selling.

And, as we’ve already established, the owner’s primary function is to bring in the work.

Does that mean face-to-face selling? Possibly. But it definitely means that the owner can’t simply place an ad in the Yellow Pages and wait for the phone to ring. Business owners who avoid selling end up with skinny children.

At any given time, roughly 2 percent of any market is actively seeking what you sell. That 2 percent will come looking for you, or someone else who sells what you sell.

The other 98 percent?

You’re missing them. Most of your competitors are missing them, too.

Most of your competitors.

Care to know who’s attracting that other 98 percent? Those who actively sell the value of doing business with their companies.

The competitors who have television ads that are being watched by potential customers are getting some of the 98 percent. Those competitors who’s postcards and letters are making it to the homes, who’s public speaking and referral programs are producing familiarity, and who’s Yellow Pages ads are being read by the very people who need their goods or services are tapping into the other 98 percent.

But, like the young man waiting for carpet cleaning customers to find him, those businesses which wait for customers/clients/patients to seek them out are hoping that their “share” of the 2 percent will pay the bills. It won’t. After all, we’re discussing 2 percent of a pie that may be shrinking for a while.

What will grow your slice of that pie?

There are two things you can implement immediately, and you should be doing them both.

Find a reason to get back in touch with every customer and every former customer, then remind them of the reason they chose to do business with you. That reason shouldn’t be price.

If they were originally drawn to your business because of your selection, remind them that you can help them find exactly what they’re looking for. If customers chose you for the speed of your service, point out all the other things they can be doing when they finish with you. If they chose you for your detailed knowledge, help them recall the value of getting exactly what they need.

You may indeed lower prices, but only do it if it will help you to gain some of your competitor’s customers. And remember that he’s going to be strongly tempted to lower his prices, too. Reminding people of why you’re their best choice keeps you profitable.

Bringing in the business is the boss’s most important job.

Are you the boss?

It’s time to start selling.


Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover you, and choose your business. Questions about marketing your business during tough times may be directed to

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Cut Overhead – Surviving The Recession – Part 7 of 7

For the last week, as we’ve discussed steps to cope with the Recession of 2008, we’ve assumed that the recession actually exists.

But, what if you agree with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke?

The Chairman tells us that a recession, by definition, is two consecutive fiscal quarters of “negative growth.” He says we’re not there, yet.

Maybe he’s right.

But, by the time Chairman Bernanke makes it official, we’re likely to be more than half way through it. The time to prepare is NOW.

If it doesn’t happen, there’ll be time to celebrate when our companies are healthy.

And the last of our seven steps is Cut Overhead.

Its not likely you’ll find one big cut.

What’s very likely is that you’ll find several smaller cuts that will add up to significant amounts, and every dollar you save can be the equivalent of ten dollars in before tax earnings. You can’t save your way to prosperity, but this exercise will help you find ways to free up operational cash.

Question every single expense. Look everywhere for savings. Do you need six incoming telephone lines? Do you need company box seats at the stadium? Do you need a company membership to the country club?

If you need them, keep them. If you have trouble justifying these expenses, cut them. Every single expense needs to be considered.

When you’re done eliminating, reduce.

Replace your incandescent lamps with fluorescents. Shut off the lights in rooms that aren’t being used.

  • Turn up (or down) the thermostat evenings and weekends.

  • Price awnings for your windows to cut down on the amount of direct sunlight, which will help your building stay cooler.

  • Save gasoline by assigning specific days to deliver, and planing the most efficient routes. (UPS has taken route planning to an art form by strategizing only right turns. It saves them time sitting at red lights).

  • Compare telephone service and long distance charges, and consider changing carriers. Do the same with your cellular carriers. You may find it less expensive to pay an early termination fee in order to move to a carrier with unlimited long distance, for instance.

  • How much can you reduce your inventory? It’s listed as an asset, but it also ties up operating capital. Don’t carry larger inventories than you need, and research just-in-time delivery with your suppliers. Stock slightly deeper in units that turn quickly, and reduce your holdings in low demand items.

  • We’ve already mentioned re-negotiating rent or reducing the space you rent, but consider that during a recession real estate prices fall. When landlords compare your low-ball offer to the zero revenue they’re presently getting on unoccupied property, you may find it surprisingly easy to move to a less expensive facility.
  • What not to cut.

    You won’t have loyal customers without first having loyal employees. Your employees will understand if you cut back on non-essentials, but they will resent any reduction of their compensation. Cutbacks in contributions to retirement programs, or in holiday gift programs will create more long-term resentment than you will gain, short-term.

    Reducing overhead is the last step.

    Our seven steps to surviving, and thriving, in recessionary times, are:

    1. Concentrate on business and customer service.

    3. Cherish your existing customers.

    5. Accelerate your advertising and PR.

    7. Adjust your staffing.

    9. Lower your profit margins.

    11. Speed up cash flow.

    13. Cut overhead.

    Nothing will make your business recession proof, but implementing these steps will help you not only survive, but to profit during hard times.

    And, one last thought.

    Companies who aggressively promote themselves during economic downturns end up the big growth stories of the following few years.

    Shall we get started?

    Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover, and choose your business. Questions about helping your business thrive during an economic recession may be directed to

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    Accelerate Your Advertising and PR – Surviving the Recession – Part 3 of 7

    This is a photo of a Boeing 747-200. This aircraft requires 219,000 foot pounds of thrust to get airborne, but only 100,000 foot pounds to cruise at altitude.

    Think of your ads as the jet engines which power your company.

    As soon as you remove the thrust, you’ve grounded your campaign. And that’s a shame, since it typically takes four to six months for a campaign to start producing solid results.

    Conclusion: Do not interrupt your advertising during tough economic times.

    Study after study has delivered the same results: companies who pull in their resources and hunker down to ride out the economic uncertainties fall way behind when things get better.

    Those same studies show that companies who aggressively pursue revenue in good times and bad leapfrog over their competitors in the following years.

    This may take a certain amount of faith, because the evidence that your plan is working won’t be available for months. If you’re getting a bigger share of a shrunken pie, it may appear that you’re standing still. At least, for now. When the pie grows, your share will grow, too.

    Think of it as buying market share at a discount.

    There are two reasons your dollars go further in slow times.

    First, when you’re one of the few voices still speaking to the market, your share of mind increases.

    Second, when you’re one of the few active voices, all of your media representatives will suddenly become VERY negotiable when it comes to rates.

    The average recession in the U.S. has historically lasted eleven months. We’re half way into this one, so during your negotiation be sure to lock in those new, lower rates for a full year. (Longer if the media will allow it).

    What does advertising do?

    No matter what the economy, aggressive advertising can:

  • Generate immediate sales
  • Upsell current customers
  • Provide new leads and prospects
  • And, don’t overlook the long-term benefit: the more people feel familiar with you, the more likely they are to choose to do business with you.

    The strength of your advertising, and the revenue which results from it, will depend largely on your focus up to this point.

    Direct response will be less effected by the economy than will image advertising. The more transactional your messages have been (full of facts and details), the more you can expect business to continue.

    But, if you’ve been using brand-oriented messages (service and commitment based), don’t change them, since they tend to pay off better the longer you use them. (Remember, only 100,000 foot pounds of thrust to remain airborne). You will, however, want to create an additional transactional package to generate immediate cash, and to cover today’s operational costs.

    Focus on Value – and on family values.

    At times of economic uncertainty, people tend to “cave.” They spend much more time at home with their families.

    Consider using family scenes in your ads where possible. Dump the rugged individual image. Extreme sports and adventure are bad images during a recession.

    Do your ads cultivate a trust factor?

    Is the ad about you, or about your customer?

    Are you talking directly to your customer?

    Are your claims credible, or full of hype and sensationalism?

    Do you make a claim with full intention of backing it up, or do you know you’ll have to explain that claim because people will not understand the weasel clauses?

    Can you use someone else’s credibility?

    The concept is known as endorsed mailing. You send a letter endorsing another business to your customers, and he does the same for you with his. Select your endorsement partners with care. If the other business is trusted by his customers, you’ll be perceived as trustworthy, too.

    Or, work out deals with other businesses to stuff their flyers into your merchandise bags. Of course, you’ll reciprocate.

    Or, get three or four other reputable companies together and share the cost of printing individual offers on card stock, then mailing them all to your own lists. This one is known as “marriage mail.”

    Focus on your existing customers.

    Focus on media that you’ve proven will provide a sufficient return on your investment. This is not the time to experiment with ideas that might work to attract new customers. New customers are more expensive.

    Instead, apply the 80/20 rule, and invest whatever you need to keep your 20 percenters very happy with you.

    Cut money out of any project that you can’t prove return on investment (like trade shows, for instance), and use those funds to increase direct marketing to every customer in your database.

    PR is golden.

    Got positive quarterly results to report? Won any industry awards? Have a fabulous customer service story? Call your local media and share the news.

    What’s interesting about your story? If it’s positive growth during a recession, financial editors will want to know how you did it. If winning your national award draws attention to your local business, most editors will want to play up local pride. And human interest stories always make great content – especially on a slow news days.

    Public relations has two wonderful benefits: it’s much more credible than advertising, and it’s free (other than the investment of your time, and a few postage stamps or phone calls).

    In summary:

    When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must. But, don’t be reckless about it. Make every dollar count, now, to pay off in multiple dollars over the next few years.


    Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover you, and choose your business. Questions about helping your business thrive during an economic recession may be directed to

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    Cherish Your Existing Customers – Surviving the Recession – Part 2 of 7

    How many times have we read that it costs 5 to 7 times as much to acquire a customer as it does to retain one? And yet, knowing that existing relationships are more profitable, we spend the majority of our planning and budget on new customer acquisition.

    Unless you’re a brand new company, quit it. Until you’ve optimized profitability of your existing relationships, you’re wasting resources.

    What are you doing to make your customers feel appreciated? Don’t have time? WRONG! Appreciating people adds directly to your bottom line for three excellent reasons:

    1.Your best customers buy more often
    2.Their average purchase is two-thirds greater
    3.They refer others in greater number 

    I love the Ritz Carlton’s formula.

    They offer a warm and sincere greeting, using the guest’s name when possible. They pride themselves on anticipating the needs of each guest. They offer a fond farewell at the end of each guest’s stay.

    Do you treat every customer as if they were your best customer? Maybe it’s time. Some of these basics should be automatic. Respect your customer’s time. Keep your promises. Keep your customer in the information loop. Deliver the same day your customer purchases. Show genuine interest in your customer’s satisfaction and success.

    Look for additional customer touch points. Send “thank you” messages. Send birthday cards. Ask your customers about their dealings with your company, and ask their advice. Its flattering to be asked. Gather, analyze, and act on their feedback. Not only will your customers feel as if you consider their opinions valuable, you’ll also improve your service.

    You plan to remember special dates for your friends and loved ones, don’t you? Birthday card for Grandma has to be mailed by Friday? Call your brother on his birthday? What are we going to do for the folk’s anniversary?

    Do you know your customer’s birthdays? Hummm. Well, you do know the anniversary of their first purchase, don’t you? Why not? Send a “You’ve been our customer for a year, and we appreciate you” card. Drop a hand-written post card to your best customers telling them of the new inventory you’ve just received. If you think about it, there are dozens of reasons to contact your customers.

    Back to anticipating your customer’s needs:

    Do you sell products in a predictable order? Does your homeowner customer typically purchase a lawnmower, then a chainsaw, then a brush cutter? Send information about the next probable purchase to customers who haven’t even asked about it, yet.

    Is it likely that your customer needs accessories when she makes a specific purchase? If she’s just bought a laptop computer, does she need a docking station for her desk? Does she need an MP3 player to store her downloaded songs? Would she appreciate a kit of cables, blank recordable media, and rechargeable batteries?

    Can you introduce your customer to your service manager, and schedule her first preventive maintenance appointment?

    As your customers own and use your products, they’ll learn of other needs they haven’t even suspected, yet. Help your customers to buy more from you by helping them to anticipate.

    And when you screw up?

    Proactively taking care of a customer’s problem can actually improve your relationship. Customers expect you to care. They prefer you to competently fix their problem, now.

    One of the best customer service formulas is “Whomever takes the call owns the problem.” In other words, the employee who is dealing with the customer is not allowed to pass that customer off to another employee. Of course, that also means you have to delegate authority to your employees to accompany the additional responsibility.

    Owning the problem means making it personal. Not “We’re sorry,” but rather “I’m sorry. I will fix this for you..”

    What are your customers worth?

    Don’t know? Here’s a tool from Harvard Business School to help you with your calculations.

    Last thought (for today):

    No more excuses. Buy a box of “Thank you” cards, and start sending them today.


    Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover you, and choose your business. Questions about helping your business thrive during an economic recession may be directed to

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    Focus on Revenue and Customer Service – Surviving The Recession – Part 1 of 7

    Concentrate on Business.

    At the base of the brain stem, in the primitive part of the human brain which controls breathing, sweating, blinking of the eyes, and other forms of involuntary action, is the amygdala.

    This tiny region of nerve cells is the part of the brain responsible for the four “Fs” of human behavior: Fight, Flight, Feed, and Reproduce.

    To many of us the uncertainty of the economy feels dangerous. When the human animal feels threatened, the amygdala kicks into overdrive, provoking survival behaviors. Under these conditions people look for security. They reconnect to their core values.

    But, this is key: during turbulent times, people don’t stop spending. They shop harder for value.

    How are your customers responding to fear of the unknown?

    Are you selling to other businesses? During a recession your business customers will still purchase equipment, services, or even advertising – especially when those have been proven to generate revenue. They will be much less concerned about brand building, and much more focused on making the cash register ring.

    Do your business customers appear reluctant to buy new equipment? Then change your value proposition. Let your customers know that your mission is to protect their investment by making sure their equipment runs as efficiently as possible for as long as possible.

    Are you selling to consumers? Tell your hard-core economic value story first. This is what will get them to consider your offering. Then bring in your core values, as well as the other value-added elements.

    In hard times people are especially focused on doing the best they can for their families. Provide high value, AND make them feel good about doing business with you, and you’ll find your customers showing loyalty to you that they won’t show your competitors.

    With less money in circulation, focus on revenue.

    Contemplate smaller jobs that wouldn’t normally excite you. In a slowdown your staff is likely to have less to do. Keep them busy with whatever business there is. Lose the “OK, we’ll even do this, now” attitude. You’ll be competing for those jobs, and the competition is likely to be stiff.

    The rules of how business is done are changing. Focus your attention on maximizing revenue and on leveraging your intellectual capital. How much do you need to be in control? Think about outsourcing work that doesn’t create revenue. Consider, too, that it’s almost intern season, and help can be cheap.

    Contact your customers and ask for referrals. Tell people you need more work. If they believe in your competence, they’ll come through for you. Don’t worry about looking as if you’re begging for work. You ARE.

    Service those customers.

    With fewer customers you’ll be tempted to reduce the number of customer service personnel. Many of your competitors will. Don’t do it. Of course now is the time to cut expenses, but not in ways that touch the customer.

    As Richard D. Hanks of Mindshare Technologies has said, “Be the business where a customer can actually get served quickly. Have the call center with the shortest “on hold” wait times. Let your business be the one that doesn’t skimp on portion sizes, quality ingredients, packaging materials, or add-ons. Be the business that surveys customers on service satisfaction and continuously improves based on customer feedback. Let your business be known for urgency, responsiveness, and quality.

    The most important thing you can do.


    Listen to what your customers are telling you. Watch how they’re behaving. Consider what it feels like to be your customer in this economy. What would you do in their situation?

    Now, help them to do it.


    Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover you, and choose your business. Questions about helping your business thrive during an economic recession may be directed to

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    Basics of Retail Marketing from a Nine-Year-Old

    Nine-year-old Lindsey, who’s visiting her grandmother and me, obviously has the entrepreneurial gene.

    She decided on Wednesday to open the classic American neighborhood business, the lemonade stand. I suspect there are a few retail marketing lessons every business person could take from her example.


    Have you ever met a nine-year-old who didn’t believe anything was possible? When told “that won’t work,” her response is automatically, “well, what if we did this?

    I’m not recommending that anyone take on the Don Quixote role, but there’s something to be said for enthusiasm and attitude.


    Although the ambient temperature hovered in the mid-90s, Lindsey chose to park her table in the direct sunshine next to the street, rather in the shaded (and much harder to see) front porch.

    People must know you exist if they are to buy from you. If they can’t see you, you’re too easily ignored.


    Her question wasn’t “How much can I charge to make maximum profit,” but rather “how little can I charge so that everyone will want to buy?” She settled on twenty-five cents per eight ounce cup.


    Lindsey posted signs a block in every direction. She also was quite vocal. Not a pedestrian nor the driver of any automobile on Collis Avenue missed the message that she had “ice cold lemonade for sale.”


    As each customer finished a cup of lemonade, Lindsey first confirmed that they were satisfied. “It was good, wasn’t it?” When her customer affirmed that it was, indeed, good, she pointed out that a single eight ounce cup probably hadn’t completely quenched the customer’s thirst. She poured another and held it out to each customer.

    Most bought a second cup.

    Location, Reprised

    Discovering that a crowd had gathered half a block away at a yard sale, Lindsey re-located her table to the yard sale, and offered cups of her lemonade to the hostess, and to the yard sale customers as well.

    Summary: In a single afternoon, Lindsey grossed thirty-three dollars. And at twenty-five cents each, creating that many customers from scratch seems to me to be a rather impressive success.  Paying attention to retail marketing basics is always worthwhile when you’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 retail marketing fundimentals? Drop Chuck a note Or call him at 304-523-0163.


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    Bottled Water, Fresh Fruit, and the Price of Gasoline

    Are you in retail? Have your sales been affected by gas prices?

    I just eavesdropped on a conversation between the managers of two local stores.*

    They both noted that store traffic has decreased, and the telephone is ringing much more consistently, since the price of gas passed $3.50 per gallon. People are now calling to confirm inventory before they drive to the store.

    There’s no doubt that, as surely as it’s effecting the rest of our economy, the price of gas is effecting retail sales, too.

    There’s also no doubt that this is a time of great opportunity for those businesses who recognize what’s happening, and have the courage to take immediate action.

    The change in consumer behavior will be short lived.

    People will return to their old habits.

    How do I know?

    Because they always do.

    When the Mother Earth News was a fledgling publication, people worried about protecting the ecology. Later they joined the conservation movement, then the environmental movement. Today, they’re enlisting in the green movement.

    Roughly every decade the name changes. And every decade new people get involved. The old people are only willing to discomfort themselves so far.

    Green is a great promotional tool.

    Unfortunately, it runs counter to our consumer-centric way of life.

  • Have you seen the ads from the bottled water company claiming their thinner plastic bottle has less impact on the environment? Do you secretly wonder if people truly worried about the effects of plastic in landfills would drink tap water? They aren’t. They don’t.

  • The Toyota Yaris gets 40 mpg with a standard gasoline engine. The Lexus LS 600h L is a hybrid which gets 22 mpg. Care to bet how many people are so concerned about the price of gas that they switch from the Lexus to the Toyota? They aren’t, and they won’t.

  • For that matter, wouldn’t repairing the existing car rather than buying a new one be the ultimate in recycling?

  • People worried about the cost of gasoline should logically move closer to their jobs, wouldn’t you think? Today the average home-owning family demands another bedroom, another bath, an attached two car garage, and at least 800 square feet more living space than they did 50 years ago. Will they give up those larger suburban homes to economize? They aren’t, and they won’t.

  • Purchasing bedding, draperies, or carpets made of recyclable fabrics reduces the demand for new natural fibers by as much as 15 percent. More than 15 percent, and they wouldn’t be able to make the resulting fabrics fire retardant. Will people risk their families’ safety to recycle? They won’t, and they don’t.

  • Do we really need fresh fruit in January? Apparently we do, even if it’s flown in from the southern hemisphere on giant transport jets with excessive “carbon footprints.” In any economy, some people will pay a premium to get exactly what they want.
  • Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not passing judgment. Frankly, my job is to help sell fruit in January. I’m merely pointing out the realities of human nature. People are willing to accept only a certain amount of discomfort before they revert to form.

    $4.19 a gallon? Drivers will get used to it.

    Some of us remember when gas was $0.25 per gallon. We remember the grumbling when it hit $1.00. This story has been replayed a few times, and people always adjust. They will not change their consumption patterns for homes, bottled water, fresh fruit, or even gasoline… it will just take them a bit to grow accustomed to the changes.

    What’s driving shoppers’ fears today is the speed at which prices are increasing.

    How can shoppers explain what’s happening? Most can’t. And that inability to articulate leaves them simply threatened enough to invoke survival behaviors. People scared (consciously or unconsciously) for their family’s survival look for security. They hunker down and wait for the threat to pass. In the short term, they’ll spend money reluctantly, and only when they must.

    But they will continue to buy.

    Turn this highly-predictable behavior to your advantage. As my dear friend Tyler Engberg told me back in 1971, “There is great money to be made at times of confusion.

    Capitalize on confusion.

    As long as people perceive a problem, you’ll gain market share by offering a solution.

    Ad another body to your payroll if necessary, and cater to your customers survival fears. In your advertising, invite people to save gas by shopping with you.

    Offer to check your inventory in order to be sure you have specific items in stock before your shoppers make the trip.

    Offer order fulfillment and save them the trip. Confirm that you have the goods in stock, then take your customer’s credit card numbers and ship items to them at their homes or offices.

    And, for goodness sakes, learn their names.

    But if you intend to do these things, move quickly.** As soon as shoppers adjust to higher gas prices your competitive advantage goes away.  You need every advantage when you’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 retail strategies for to counter high gas prices? Drop Chuck a note Or call him at 304-523-0163.


    * One of those managers was my wife. She, the other manager, and I were all having lunch at the same table. As much as I find a certain appeal in assuming the James Bond persona, I wasn’t sneaking around spying on my retail brethren.

    ** Need help crafting such ads? Come to the Boom Your Business Seminar in Nashville August 1 and 2, and catch Chris Maddock’s Ad Writing 101. Can’t make it to Nashville? Call me.



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    Marketing P.A.I.N. – Part 1, Relationships

    Vacuum Cleaner

    Vacuum Cleaner

    Assume John sells vacuums. He feels he needs to advertise.

    Does he…

    1) Explain to people why clean floors are important?

    2) Explain how vacuums remove dust, allergens, and pollens to keep your family healthier?

    3) Announce that his store has vacuums with HEPA filters in stock?

    4) Announce a big sale on vacuums this weekend?

    At one time or another John will be advised to do each of these things. Is any of them a valid strategy? Truthfully, each can be, but not to the same potential markets, and not at the same time.

    As you might imagine, those people looking for a vacuum today would probably respond better to appeal #3 – vacuums with HEPA filters in stock; or perhaps appeal #4 – big sale this weekend announcement.

    On the other hand, people who wonder about the effect of pollen on their family’s health are probably not yet ready to commit to any purchase.

    And no matter which appeal he selects, it will work better against some segments of the potential vacuum cleaner market than against other segments. It logically follows that some appeals will lead to greater profits.

    In a series of posts we’re going to discuss how to determine which segment of the potential market is most profitable, how to attract their attention, and how to craft a message which appeals to them. Finally, we’ll discuss how to choose a medium to deliver your message.

    Before we start, let’s look at John and Marsha.

    Consider John. John has just spent $200 taking Marsha to a very nice restaurant for dinner. Its their first date. John tries to impress Marsha. His shirt is unbuttoned down to the fourth button, so as to better show off the collection of gold chains he wears. Through dinner John tells Marsha all about himself: that he owns his own company, which he expects to take public in a couple of years; that his other car, the Porche, is in the garage again, at his vacation home, in Boca Raton. That a local political party has approached him about running for his state’s House of Representatives.

    Show of hands, who believes Marsha will accept a second date with John?

    Now, let’s consider John’s company. They just spent $2,000 on an ad which runs in American Idol on the local Fox affiliate. John’s Vaccuum ad states, “We’re an end-to-end solution for the wholesale purchase, shipping, warehousing, display, retail advertising, and financing of residential vacuum cleaners.

    Show your hands again. Who believes that Marsha will drop buy John’s Vacuums to shop for a vacuum cleaner?

    What’s the problem with the ad for John’s Vacuums?

    There are two, actually.

    The first problem is that the ad talks about the company. Frankly, customers don’t care about your company. They care about what you can do for them. If its so obvious that bragging about yourself is a terrible strategy to build an interpersonal relationship, why do business people insist on doing it to try for a professional relationship with a customer?

    Why would you want a relationship with a customer?

    Primarily because you don’t want to sell one item to one customer one time, and then start all over. You’ll make a lot more money with referrals and repeat sales.

    The second problem with the John’s Vacuum ad is it describes what the company does, from the company’s viewpoint. “An end-to-end solution for the wholesale purchase, shipping, warehousing, display, retail advertising, and financing of residential vacuum cleaners,” may be how those people who work for John’s Vacuums view their duties, but it’s not the way customers describe what they want.

    Next time we’ll discuss what people want, and why, for successful fishing for customers, your advertising should address those wants.

    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 focusing on the issues your customers care about may be directed to Or call Chuck at 304-208-7654.

    If you know someone who would find this article useful, please share it.


    Marketing P.A.I.N. Series

    Part 1, Relationships
    Part 2, What Do People Want?
    Part 3, Advertising the First Stage of Pain
    Part 4, When People Realize They’re Hurting
    Part 5, Testimonials and Comparisons
    Part 6, Make It Stop!
    Part 7, Tie It All Together
    Part 8, Message Frequency, Media Choices, and Tracking

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    Surprise and Delight

    My first post-high school employment was with Howard’s TV Repair. Howard had a pretty good understanding of human psychology. He insisted that we clean the outside of each television set repaired in his shop before it was returned to the owner.

    It never took long. Less than 60 seconds to Windex the front of the picture tube, and maybe another three minutes to wipe the dust and fingerprints off the rest of the set. (It always amazes me, even today, how much dust, cigarette smoke, and other schmutz accumulates on the ‘tube and dims the picture).

    When we’d fire it up for the owner, the usual comment was, “Wow. That looks good!

    Why am I thinking of Howard today?

    Because I just received a postcard from the shop that did extensive repairs on my truck. It was a nice “thank you,” and it arrived within 48 hours of the work being completed.

    I paid $437 for repairs to the steering linkage. (Well, more correctly, $420 for the steering linkage, and $17 to replace the windshield wipers).

    I picked the truck up at 5:30 pm, and drove it home into the setting sun, squinting through the dirty windshield. Now, granted, it was that dirty when I delivered the truck at 7:00 that morning. But, still, they paid enough attention to note the rubber was shot on my blades, and completely missed the filthy glass on which that rubber sat.

    To the best of my knowledge, Howard never repaired any vehicle other than his own. However, I have no doubt that under his supervision no vehicle would be returned before the mats were vacuumed, the dash wiped down, and the glass cleaned.

    And here I sit looking at this postcard.

    The shop did good work. I’m not upset with their price. And yet, it would have been so easy for them to delight me with four minutes of extra, unexpected attention to the little things.

    I don’t know what you sell, or what services you offer, but isn’t there some nicety you could do for your customers to surprise and delight them? I’m not talking about discount coupons or loyalty cards or even a free gift with purchase. I’m talking about just doing something nice. Something that could generate incredible word of mouth.

    Something like:

    • The complementary hand sanitizer at the checkout of Mi Tierra Mexican Restaurant in Southaven, Mississippi.
    • Behive Music in Fargo loaning an amplifier for that night’s gig to a guitarist who’s amp was in their shop.
    • As one of California’s major fires worked it’s way up the Cajone Pass, the daily phone call to out-of-town owners of rental homes managed by Blue Star Properties of Victorville. (With evacuation on everyone’s mind, Ben Lamson’s crew minimized every owner’s worry by providing the latest information, and showing they were on top of the situation).
    • The Cincinnati O’Charlie’s Restaurant waitress who, slammed by the after church crowd, still noticed a lady with a walker coming around the side of the building, opened the side door, and found her a seat immediately.
    • The cleansing wipes provided by the Kroger Grocery in Portsmouth, Ohio so that shoppers can wipe down the handles of the shopping carts.
    • The taxi owned by El Torrito Restaurant in Evansville, Illinois, painted with their logo, that the restaurant parked by the street during the day and used in the evening to take home customers home who had spent too much time in the cantina.
    • The U.S. Postal Service repackaging my magazine when the cover tore, in order that it arrive without additional damage.
    • The complementary coffee served to those customers waiting to be seated at the Bob Evans Restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina.
    • The customer service representative of Chase Bank in Huntington, West Virginia who called the new customer with the name of a blues band looking for a bass player that his new-to-town customer had asked about the day before.

    Do you have any personal examples of delightful customer service?

    If you don’t mind, hit the “comment” button and tell us what the business did for you, how it made you feel, and roughly how many people you told about it.

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