A marketer walks into a bridal show…

I decided to venture into the New Orleans Bride Magazine’s Bridal Show to see how truly crazy a bridal show really is. And I wasn’t disappointed.

As a bride-to-be, and someone who is fascinated by all types of marketing, I decided to venture into the New Orleans Bride Magazine’s Bridal Show to see how truly crazy a bridal show really is. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The main irony of the show for me was having to pay to go; I paid $20 to wander around and let people try to sell things to me. Where else does this happen without any other content? I can’t think of any examples, but not only did most brides pay it, they brought their whole entourage with them, and they each paid as well. They must know something I don’t know, right?

Once I got past that, I arrived at the event, checked-in, and was promptly adorned by a smiling staff member with a “Bride” sticker.  Ah, so now they can tell who the ultimate decision maker is, interesting. Unless you’re a bride, of course. With the bride sticker on, I felt like a deer wandering into a hunter’s camp. They now knew exactly who to target.

A woman's left chest and shoulder with a hot pink round sticker that says, "Bride" attached to her purple shirt.
This sticker apparently says, “Hi, sell me everything.”

“Bride” sticker target correctly fixed to my shoulder, I got my “goodie” bag and free drink ticket, and walked into the show.  This is the first of two price justification or sunk cost cognitive points, as you as a bride can always try to justify going to these by saying, “Oh, I’ll get a bunch of goodies, which makes up for paying $20 entry fee,” right? Well, you could, but as with most “goodie” bags, it was filled with literature vs. things you’d want, so the justification falls flat quickly. I did pick-up a few fun things on the way, but they most certainly didn’t add-up to $20.

A photo of a bright pink bridal show bag, two cookies, bride and groom koozies, a flipbook, and a huge pile of literature for various magazines, wedding venues, etc.
Bridal show “goodie” bad. Note that the food, koozies, and flipbook weren’t in the bag, I picked-those up at stops at the show. So, the bag was mostly literature.

 

And off I go, into a sea of vendors physically pulling me into their booths, clipboards being shoved into my hands to fill-out for prizes, and calls to try free samples of food and cake.  This is the second of two price justification or sunk cost cognitive points, as you as a bride can always try to justify going to these by saying, “I’ll get dinner out of this.” Which is true, you could get dinner, but the irony of eating at these events is that a good amount of brides are trying to lose weight and the samples are definitely not healthy or going to help with that.  Also, taking their food triggers a feeling of reciprocity; if you are eating their food, there’s a good chance you’ll feel obligated to listen to them, fill out their form, etc.

Photo of buffet table of free food at a bridal show
Plenty of (unhealthy) food at the event, which is ironic if you think about brides wanting to lose weight.

I ate dinner ahead of time, so I avoided the calorie-bomb food, but took full advantage of the “prize” sign-ups as I was curious how many of these would follow-up with me after the show and, hey, if I won a prize, that’d be cool too. Unfortunately for the show organizers, I kept track of what prizes I signed-up for and what vendors I gave my name to, which lead me to shock #1: they’d clearly given (cough, sold) my contact information to all of the vendors there, as many vendors that I hadn’t given my information to contacted me.

Shock #2 was the predatory nature of some of the vendors. Two of the vendors that contacted me appeared to be high pressure cookware sales companies. They offer you a big prize (such as a free vacation) and knife for coming to a “cooking demonstration.” Now I love to see my experiments through to the end, but they required me to bring my fiancé along, and that’s just too much suffering on his part for me. So vague company names and details, too high priced of giveaways, and reading horror stories online from other brides will have to suffice as evidence that the companies are high pressure sales situations, similar to timeshares.

Was it an awful time? The above might seem that way, but I had fun; it was interesting to see some of the interesting products out there, such as a cake make entirely of cheese from St. James Cheese Company and a Flipbook from Funtastic Fotos. And, it’s fascinating to break down the bridal show business model, as a marketer and a bride, and see the various elements of it.

A stack of continually smaller cheese rounds and squares to make cheese look like a "cake"
St. James Cheese Company’s creative “Cheese cakes” with cheese samples.

 

Tips for brides going to a bridal show:

  • Enjoy it for what it is.
  • You don’t have to wear the bride sticker.
  • Stick to local, small business vendors.
  • Ask how you can remove your contact information from the list provided to vendors.
  • Think about what you want to accomplish before you go, do you want to find more options for your venue? Do you want to find fun gifts for your groomsmen? Then only go visit those vendors.
  • Eat a meal before you go. Not only will your waistline thank you, but you won’t be drawn into conversations with vendors you don’t want to because you’re grabbing their food.
  • Smile and say “no thank you” you if you aren’t interested.
  • Only claim prizes if it doesn’t mean you have to do something else. Giving them your address of whatever they need for tax purposes is one thing, having to attend another event to “claim” your prize is a red flag that it’s a high pressure sales situation.

 

 

 

The top 2 strategies to increase sales…

  1. Return phone calls/emails
  2. Be helpful (answer the question behind the question)

I realize that this seems so elementary, but there’s still a great number of small businesses that don’t heed to this advice and they are losing sales because of it.

Recently, I’ve been in a position to hire a wide variety of service providers personally and I’ve been shocked at how many small businesses didn’t return my calls/emails, or when they did, gave me minimal information or confusing information.

It’s definitely worth a small investment to hire some professional marketing consultants to act as secret shoppers for your business or organization to ensure these two things are happening and, if not, to start to fix them.

 

 

Customer service: Answer the question behind the question

They weren’t really asking when the semester started; they were asking what they needed to do to be ready to start school then.

A man listening on the phone
“Customer Service Assistant on the Phone” by CWCS Managed Hosting, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

In my first marketing directorship at a community college, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the switchboard for the college. When the original member of my team who filled this crucial role announced her resignation due to a family move, I asked to spend a few days doing her tasks with her so I would understand the role and know more about the personality and skills we needed to fill that role.

And that’s when I noticed it, several times per day, we would get phone calls that replicated this script:

Me: (greeting)

Caller: When does the fall semester start?

Me: August 22

Caller: Ok (long pause) Thank you.

Me: You’re welcome. Have a good day.

Was I providing good customer service?

In actuality, no. What I quickly realized was, these same people were calling back a few hours or days later and asking questions about how to enroll, how to register, etc. They weren’t really asking when the semester started; they were asking what they needed to do to be ready to start school then. And I wasn’t giving them the information or assistance they really needed.

So I changed the script:

Me: (greeting)

Caller: When does the fall semester start?

Me: August 22. Would you like me to connect you to someone who can work with you to get you set-up to start then?

Caller: Yes! Thank you, that’d be great.

Me: You’re welcome. Hold on one moment while I transfer you (transfer to Admissions)

After a few days of this, the Director of Admissions called. They had noticed the significant increase in calls and noticed that the calls were all potential students. They were curious what had happened.

This led to the Director of Admissions and I working together to identify other areas in the our communications and processes where we weren’t answering the question behind the question.

I’ll admit that it’s a continual process, it’s just too easy to slip back into being busy and not thinking-through to the actual, or next question, so I have to remind myself of this often.

When a potential or current customer contacts your organization, are you answering the question behind the question? Are you answering the question that they will call with next? Do you provide them with the information they need to move along in the sales process?

Photo: “Customer Service Assistant on the Phone” by CWCS Managed Hosting, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Measure success by results, not actions

Quick quiz: Which answer would you prefer if you were the one asking the question?

 

Did you get your grades up?

a) I studied more and spent more time at school.

b) Yes, my grades now all B’s or better, up from C’s and D’s.

 

Did you sell more of our company’s chocolate?

a) We spent $100,000 in advertising and had sales reps pitch over 100 grocery store chains a special chocolate package.

b) Our sales of chocolate are 50% higher this year than last year, increasing our profits by $500,000.

 

Have you impacted our school’s students with free textbooks?

a) We formed a committee that meets regularly. We also held a workshop and a webinar.

b) Compared to last year of 600 students using free textbooks, we now have 3,000 students using free textbooks, saving them approximately $300,000 this year. Our class drop rate has declined by 10%, and our students are doing as well or better in the courses with free textbooks.

 

Did you increase our employee retention?

a) We conducted a survey and found out why our employees are unhappy. We plan to have a forum to share the results. Then we will decide next steps.

b) Currently we’re losing 10% of our workforce each year. We conducted a survey and used those results to create the following next steps. Our goal in the next 12 months is to use these steps (including a forum) to reduce our employee turnover to 5% from the current 10%.

 

Actions (all a’s above) are important steps to results and they can be powerful goals on the way to results, but they aren’t results. To be truly successful in your initiative, decide what result (all b’s) you want to see, and measure your success by that.

Affiliate marketing vs. pyramid schemes

In mentoring a student last week, I did a deep dive on affiliate marketing. What I found was that there seemed to be a lot of confusion as to what was affiliated marketing and what was a pyramid scheme (especially when pyramid scheme operators use the term “affiliate”).

 

Why it’s an important distinction

Quite simply, pyramid schemes (also known as multi-level marketing) are bad news. Many who find themselves a part of a pyramid scheme end up losing money due to startup costs, quitting their jobs to work on the scheme, etc. They also end-up losing their friends and family because the schemes emphasize recruiting friends and family into the business, which usually backfires.

The promise is the potential for large gains in money, but the reality is much different. The Finance Guy did a great breakdown of costs and income on pyramid schemes. For example, in 2010, active Amway members made an average of $2,424 per year. Their costs? $3,600 per year. So, they lost $1,176 on average per year.

But the main reason to stay away from pyramid schemes is that they are a scam, and because you are recruiting others in the scam, you could be charged with conducting illegal behavior.

Affiliate marketing isn’t without faults (potentially poor products, ethical issues such as disclosing you are an affiliate, etc.) but as a general rule, affiliate marketing is considered legitimate.

 

The difference between affiliate marketing & pyramid schemes

The main question to ask is: What is the primary way you make money?

In affiliate marketing, the primary way you make money is selling a product or service. You refer people to the company and the company pays you based on the number of referrals or the sales from the people you referred. For example, if you have a blog with a link to company’s product and that company pays you a commission for any sales that come from the link on your blog, then that’s affiliate marketing.

In a pyramid scheme, the primary way you make money is recruiting others. You may make a little bit on sales of a product or service, but the real money is recruiting others to sell the product or service and for them to recruit others. Usually the pitch goes something like “If you recruit ten people and they each in turn recruit ten people, then you could make a lot of money!”

 

Why marketers still celebrate consumer-based holidays, such as Valentine’s Day

Why do people in communications and marketing still celebrate consumer-based holidays (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.)? why people in communications and marketing still celebrate consumer-based holidays (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.). It’s a fair question, since we are supposed to be such “experts” on how product companies utilize these holidays to get consumers to buy things.There are three main reasons we still go out, buy things, and celebrate.

A white feather, chocolates arranged in the shape of a heart, rose petals
“Essence of love with sweet chocolate and Strawberries #1 [Happy Chocholate day]” by Kumar’s Edit, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

One of the questions I get often from friends is why people in communications and marketing still celebrate consumer-based holidays (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.). It’s a fair question, since we are supposed to be such “experts” on how product companies utilize these holidays to get consumers to buy things.

There are three main reasons we still go out, buy things, and celebrate:

The holiday & traditions are important to someone else in our lives

I first witnessed this when I was interning at the Kellogg Company in their snacks division. High-level marketing executives would rush out of their offices in the middle of the day for a chance to get their child the toy craze of that holiday season. Why? Because, even though these executives knew the techniques very well that made their child want the toy and made them willing to rush around to get it, their child didn’t care about those, their child wanted the toy, and sometimes, it’s not worth the battle to explain to the child why they shouldn’t want it.

If you want to test this theory, try telling your mother that you will no longer be celebrating Mother’s Day because it’s a “Hallmark holiday” and see what kind of reaction you get. Oh and email me about the experience, I’d love a good laugh.

Emotion and societal norms play a huge role

The vast majority of the consumer-based holidays are based around religion, cultural traditions, and personal relationships, which makes them highly emotional for the vast majority of us. This makes it difficult for anyone, even someone who is trained in the influential techniques, to not react emotionally to them.

As Robert Cialdini, best-selling author and professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, humbly points out in his best-selling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, even he falls prey to the subtle, but powerful influences of his emotions, societal norms, and cues in his environment. In many cases, it’s because we’ve developed patterns of behavior that become routine and thus we don’t question them. For example Valentine’s Day=buy a card and chocolates for your loved one (which yes, I did this year).

The holidays are rooted in a positive intention

Is it wrong to take a day and celebrate the love we have in our lives? Is it wrong to show appreciation to the people who raised us? Most definitely not. We should be celebrating these things. And I would argue that most of us need an external reminder to take some time to do so, such as a designated societal day.

What this doesn’t mean, however, is that it needs to be celebrated in a consumer-centric way. This may be something as simple as not having your Valentine’s Day dinner on the actual day, or it may mean something more, such as not exchanging gifts on major gift-giving holidays. As long as the other people involved are on board (see the first heading), then you can choose to retain the positive intention of these holidays and celebrate them another way.