Persuade, Personalize & Profit.
I believe I've spotted a new trend. Are you finding that you cannot get consumers to buy much of anything unless you offer huge sales, like double-digit percentage discounts? I've seen more "% off" offers in advertisements these days than descriptions of specific prices, like "was $49.99, now $29.99." I also see more promotions like "buy one, get one" half-off or free. My research shows that a majority of the experts predict the trend will last for some time as shoppers cling to frugality. The recession appears to have created a new niche of consumers more likely to look through retailer ads for deals and stock up on sale items. The penchant for percentages off rather than specific prices or promotions can be attributed to the continuing weak retail climate. This winter, I noticed a fur sale ad at Bloomingdale's that promised "60% - 80% off" original prices "when you take an extra 15% off a selection of already reduced" merchandise. My message? Build more "percentage off" sales promotions.
Is this the right strategy for your business? How do you persuade a consumer to buy from you? I believe we live in an age of persuasion, where the consumer's wants, wishes, whims, pleas, brand favorites, offers and enticements swirl in a ceaseless storm of sales messages. I recently read a fabulous new business book titled "The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture" written by Terry O'Reilly and Mike Tennant. Their book traces the evolution of modern advertising, from mid-19th century through the present, starting with Samuel Morse's invention of the telegraph in 1844 to the time in the 1920s, when Burma-Shave pioneered billboard advertising. When Burma-Shave signs helped set a standard for advertisers to provide consumers with something of value - in this case, entertaining quips - in exchange for their attention to sales messages. Messages like: "Special seats/Reserved in Hades/For whiskered guys/Who scratch their ladies/Burma-Shave." Then followed radio, providing value in daily offerings of entertainment and information, whether in music, drama, comedy or news briefs.
YouTube, founded in 2005, followed in the tradition of exchanging something of value for audience attention. It revolutionized marketing by enabling "democratized ad messaging." Rather than being the passive recipients of sales pitches from advertisers accompanied by entertainment or information, consumers can now create and disseminate their own entertainment and information in the form of videos. "Since the rise of the Internet in the '90s, and the growth of texting, instant messaging and online social networking, ad-driven mass media, especially TV and print, are fast losing their power." A large chunk of YouTube's audience is under the age of 20. I contend that to reach the new Internet-savvy demographic, marketers must learn to create "a whole new language" for selling products and services that taps into this group's fondness for customizing and personalizing messages.
What is a successful marketing model? Starbucks is very successful. It broke the premium price barrier for a cup of coffee by changing the name of what was once described in common use as a "small" serving to what the chain describes as a "tall." Starbucks has its customers speaking in "Starbucks language," thinking Starbucks thoughts and eagerly joining the Starbucks community. How about an iced quad Venti, or a caramel macchiato? How do gourmet retailers create their own unique community and give their customers the opportunity to personalize? If you're searching for meaning beyond a price tag, maybe you could test one-of-a-kind gifts. Surfing the Web, I recently came across TasteBook.com and Blurb.com, Web sites that publish personalized cookbooks. The case study that attracted me concerned a consumer whose grandmother died last year, leaving behind stacks of her recipes, including those from her own grandmother, written on note cards or typed with a typewriter. The consumer uploaded the recipes, along with family photos and images of the cards with her grandmother's handwriting. So, instead of merely buying something off the shelf, the consumer created something really specialized, something she thought this person would really appreciate. I've noticed that the range and sophistication of customized products available now is mind-boggling. Bringing a personal touch to Web commerce is a good idea.
What else can you do to market in the age of persuasion? When Conan O'Brien was employed by NBC, a personal Web site had hardly been a priority until his job as host of "The Tonight Show" screeched to a halt last January. Suddenly, he needed a new platform. He joined Twitter and, a few months ago, he sold out his 30-city comedy tour, helped by just a few tweets. He's now making up for lost time. He's turned his Web site into a self-promotional sales tool. Check out TeamCoco.com. It's a single Web page now but it's expanding. His site encourages his visitors to become fans of his "I'm With Coco" Facebook group. Sometimes, it seems, it's better to embrace an existing online audience than to try to create a new one. O'Brien is tapping his online fan base and cross-pollinating it with TV and the Web. This is only a small part to his Web strategy. He plans to add a tour blog written by an experienced blogger. Get the idea? Personalize, persuade, profit.
Marshall Marcovitz is the founder and former CEO of the CHEF'S CATALOG, a leading Internet shopping site. Currently, he is a lecturer, a university professor and a marketing consultant. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.