As entrepreneurs, we always need to look for effective ways to increase consumer interest and compel them to buy our products and services. One common strategy – scarcity marketing – is the source of significant disagreement in the marketing world.

What is Scarcity Marketing?

scarcity marketing, marketing strategies, limited availability marketingAt its core, scarcity marketing is a strategy that uses limited availability to influence consumer purchasing decisions. Specifically, by placing limits on the availability of a product or service, or by imposing time limits on availability at a certain price point, marketers can increase urgency and compel prospects to make short-term buying decisions.

As I noted above, there are two primary limits that scarcity marketing can place on product availability:

1) Limited availability of the product itself. There are only a certain number of units available, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. Alternately, the product or service is only available for a specified, limited time.

2) Limited availability of the product at a specified price point. Most commonly, marketers offer a discount on the target product for a certain number of hours, days, or weeks. At the end of the specified period, the product is only available at a higher price.

What’s Wrong with Scarcity Marketing?

On a fundamental level, there’s nothing wrong with using scarcity as a marketing technique. It’s no less ethical than writing brilliant sales copy, offering incentive bonuses to customers, or using a CGI gecko to capture prospects’ attention.

The derision that many people hold toward scarcity marketing comes from the fact that it is frequently misused… or, more accurately, misrepresented.

If you’ve ever skimmed an online sales letter or landed on a squeeze page, you’ve undoubtedly seen scarcity marketing copy like, “Get Your Copy Now – This Product is Only Available to the First 100 buyers!” or “Hurry – the Price Will Double at Midnight!” Lots of squeeze pages and Internet sales letters even feature a “countdown timer” that shows how much time the reader has left to claim the offer.

That’s all well and good… but have you ever gone back to the sales or squeeze page later and found the same scarcity copy? I have. To protect the guilty, I’ll not include the link, but I visited a sales page for a WordPress theme a couple of weeks ago, and the price was $47 — 50 percent off the standard price — but only for the next 48 hours.

At the time, I wasn’t quite sure it was what I needed for a particular site, so I bookmarked the link. A week later, I decided to take another look at the theme. When I returned to the site — you guessed it — the theme was available for $47… for the next 48 hours.

With so many marketers using similar tactics, it’s little wonder that the marketing world in general has called B.S. on scarcity tactics.

Created Scarcity vs. False Scarcity

The point that I want to drive home here is that created scarcity is not unethical; false scarcity is. When I say “created scarcity,” I mean that there are no external factors driving availability. You might have 10,000 product units sitting in a warehouse, so if you advertise that only the first 1,000 buyers can purchase the product, you’re not really going to run out. You’re just placing a cap on how many orders you’ll take (for the time being, anyway.)

Created scarcity isn’t lying unless you say the availability limits apply to your business (in other words, that you won’t be able to produce any more units or produce them at a certain price point). You’re limiting the availability of the product to the customer, not to you.

“False scarcity” refers to the kind of nonsense I described with the WordPress theme site. It creates distrust, which can jeopardize your business. People quickly realize that you’re bluffing, and all sense of urgency is lost.

To use scarcity effectively and protect your reputation, you have to stick to your word. After those first 1,000 orders come in, stop selling the product until you launch your next promotion. Similarly, if you only offer a discount until midnight on Sunday, then you need to adjust the price at 12:01 AM on Monday.

What about the people who miss out on your offer? If you’re getting them to subscribe to your mailing list (and if you aren’t, you should be), you can notify them when the next offer is available. If they missed their chance the first time, you can be sure they won’t procrastinate a second time.

The Bottom Line

Although there’s a lot of grumbling in the marketing world about scarcity marketing, don’t be afraid to use it. A well crafted, authentic scarcity campaign can boost sales by 50 percent or more. Just make sure you’re using created scarcity, rather than false scarcity.  This seemingly small distinction can make a huge difference in your business.


Image Credit: Ana Philbrook

Categories : Marketing Strategy
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An old business adage goes something like, “People buy from people they know, like, and trust.” While this might seem like a platitude to some, there is actually quite a bit of wisdom in this statement. And one of the most effective ways to build familiarity, affinity, and trust is to make sure your business has a personality. Companies that do this successfully attract and retain loyal customers who not only buy from them, but recommend them to their friends and colleagues.

So what the heck does it mean for a business to have a “personality?”

1.) The business appeals to customers’ interests, rather than just appealing to their wants and needs. Hillshire Farms does a great job of this in their television advertisements — their spring/summer commercials tap into the typical American enthusiasm for outdoor grilling with the tagline, “Go Meat!”

2) Communications with customers reveal the real people behind the business. The owners and key figures of personality-based businesses aren’t afraid to show a bit of themselves instead of hiding behind their company images.

3) The business actively engages customers instead of simply focusing on building sales. Personality-based businesses put effort into building relationships, because smart business owners know that this has far more power than any sales pitch ever could.

How can you inject personality into your own business to engage customers and build loyalty?

1) Provide “featured customer” posts on your social media pages, blogs, websites, and print materials. These posts can highlight customer stories that will be of interest to your readers and prospects. This shows that the customers themselves are as important to you as sales.

New Media Expo skillfully uses this approach in social media communications. By highlighting influential people in its targeted audience – bloggers, social media advocates and others – NMX creates a unique, community-focused personality.

2) Post content about the people behind your business, as well as company events and projects that will be of interest to your audience. This might include posting pictures or videos from a company-sponsored charity event or product launch, or “behind the scenes” snippets of product development or preparation for an event.

I mentioned in 6 Ways to Make Your Social Media Pages Sing that online content should be at least tangentially related to your business… and this certainly applies here. I’m not suggesting that you post pictures of your marketing director’s labradoodle or a video from your CEO’s latest vacation in Fiji. You can inject personality without getting completely off-topic by asking yourself, “should our readers care about this?”

3) Don’t be afraid to be edgy… but use common sense. Edgy material encourages consumer buzz and shows that your business has a bit of attitude and humor. Sometimes, edgy marketing not only grabs attention, but also helps get your message across. Take the American Legacy Foundation’s The Truth campaigns, for example. These campaigns use startling content to drive home the Foundation’s anti-smoking message. And even if you hadn’t really thought about quitting smoking, it’s pretty hard to light a cigarette after seeing one of these ads.

Of course, certain types of “edgy” can do more harm than good. One Mountain Dew ad that some considered “racist” certainly drew attention and had personality, but not the type that was good for business.

Injecting personality into your business can seem like walking a tightrope. Too much, and you dilute your core message. Too little, and it can become difficult to get people excited about your business. Developing a business personality intrinsically involves risk, but it is worth finding the right balance to keep your company in front of your customers.

Categories : Marketing Strategy
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I write a lot about time management, both here and on other sites, primarily because it’s something I struggled with for years. I suspect that quite a few other entrepreneurs struggle with it as well. It’s pretty easy to let time get away from you, especially when you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. If you don’t manage your work day carefully, you’ll probably end up sitting with your head in your hands at the end of the day, wondering what the heck happened to your time.

Like just about every other entrepreneur, I started out by using task lists to manage my time, just because that’s what I’d been taught to do. Even though I worked that way for about two years, I never really liked task lists.

Why? It reminded me of what I needed to do, but didn’t provide a framework for getting it done. So, inevitably, I would end up staring at my task list at the end of the day… or, more accurately, at all the items on my list that I didn’t accomplish. And that’s pretty disheartening.

A time management system should motivate you, not stress you out. For a while, I gave up lists altogether out of sheer frustration. As you might imagine, though, that didn’t do much for my productivity.

I tried several software applications and complicated “systems” in an attempt to find a better solution than using task lists (or, even worse, winging it). Most were okay, but took up more time than I was comfortable with.

The solution I finally found was simple, easy, and decidedly low-tech (which is probably why it took me so long to discover it). Are you ready for this? *Trumpets sound*

Time Blocking

Now, time blocking is just like it sounds. Instead of just creating a task list and hoping I’ll get all some of it done, I spend a few minutes assigning a block of time to each task. The time blocks, of course, are based on the priority of each task, how much time I need to complete/make headway on each task, and whether I need to work around non-business stuff.

(Oh, and they’re also based on my relative candlepower at certain points in the day. I don’t block time for difficult or research-intensive tasks immediately after lunch or dinner, because I’m usually sluggish after I eat. Instead, I use those times to complete simple tasks that don’t require too much critical thought.)

IMG_20130516_161752When my time block for a certain task is up, I stop working on that task, no matter what. This keeps me motivated because, if I don’t stay on track, I’ll have to put in “after-work” hours to catch up. And frankly, that’s why I have a time management system in the first place — I got tired of my eight-hour work days taking up 13+ hours.

Time blocking also works for me because it’s flexible. Tomorrow’s list will look completely different than today’s, because I’ll have different tasks and some carryover tasks with shifting priority levels. (I’ll also probably have an Owen list from the wife to work around. “Owen (‘Oh, and’) can you fix the attic vent?  Owen can you take out the recycling bins? Owen…”)

Sound simple? It is. I won’t claim ownership of this approach… frankly, because I swiped it from somewhere (although I don’t remember where. But since this fall-of-a-log simple strategy has dramatically increased my productivity and reduced the stress of working for myself, I thought I’d share it with the class.

By the way, if you want to be neat about it, you can do this with Excel or OpenOffice spreadsheets. I usually end up just using printer paper and markers, just because it’s quicker I like playing with markers. Note the nifty color-coding — red for critical stuff, orange for medium-priority tasks, green for the if-I-get-around-to-it tasks, and grey for non-work stuff.

Like what you read? Like or share it on Facebook using the oh-so-convenient buttons below. And feel free to leave a comment to give me kudos, dismiss me as a charlatan, or share your own time management ideas!



Categories : Time Management
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Social Media Smartphone1.2

Like many entrepreneurs, I’m a huge fan of social media. The ability to connect with readers and clients through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social media outlets has given me countless insights regarding what readers want to know… which has helped me craft content that visitors find engaging and useful.

In many ways, your social media pages are the “face” of your business… even more so than your website or blog. For many customers, it is their first impression of your company, kind of like the receptionist at a brick-and-mortar business.

It is for this reason that your social media pages must make a positive impression. A poorly constructed Facebook or Google+ page can be as damaging to your business as a receptionist who habitually shows up late, steps out for countless cigarette breaks, and wears inappropriate clothing.

How can you make sure your social media pages leave a positive impression on your potential clients and customers?

1) Keep the design simple. Many social media sites offer nearly endless customization options that allow you to create a unique look and feel. Over-customizing a social page, though, can make it look cluttered and thrown together. Maintaining a simple layout, on the other hand, allows visitors to easily navigate your social media pages, which means they can obtain more valuable information.

2) Make sure your posts are congruent. I see social media pages where owners post not only business information, but also pictures of their pets, descriptions of their latest vacations, and videos of their children. It’s one thing to let visitors get to know you through your posts and tweets; it’s quite another to use your business pages as a “catch all” for whatever is on your mind.

Make sure that the majority of your content is at least tangentially related to your business. Posts about your personal life should tie in to the mission of your company. For example, if you visit an industry event that happens to be in a desirable vacation spot, post images and videos from the conference itself and limit your “vacation” shots.

3) Answer questions and address comments that visitors leave on your social media pages. This shows that you care about your followers’ concerns, questions, and insights. This strategy makes new visitors more likely to stick around and “follow” your pages. Conversing with visitors can also make then more comfortable with buying your services or products, which can help increase your company’s profits.

4) Be careful when addressing negative comments. No matter how carefully you run your business, detractors will inevitably post negative content on your page. Be sure to address these entries in a professional manner. If appropriate, thank these commenters for their input and assure them that you will take their opinions into consideration.

5) Place an opt-in form on your Facebook page. This gives visitors who aren’t comfortable with making their comments public an opportunity to contact you privately. Because an opt-in form requires users to submit their email addresses, it also helps you build your email marketing list. Services like Constant Contact, iContact, and AWeber provide opt-in forms that you can integrate into your Facebook page.

6) Make sure your social media pages are mobile-friendly. Depending on your audience, more than half of your social media hits might come from iPhones, Android phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. Enlist the help of a few friends or colleagues to make sure your content displays correctly on these devices to make sure you capture the largest number of loyal visitors possible.

Above all, don’t treat social media as an afterthought. They should receive at least as much attention as your website and other marketing tools. By recognizing the importance of your social media pages, you can use these tools to effectively attract loyal customers to your business.


Categories : Social Media
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We all have those days… you know, the days when you’d rather be doing anything… anything at all… other than working. Those of us who are entrepreneurs and small business owners, though, know that for the most part, we’re not making money if we aren’t being productive.

There are mornings when, frankly, I’m more interested in what’s in the fridge than I am in tackling my task list for the day. And then there are all of the other convenient distractions, like YouTube, the cat, that strange hum coming from the clothes dryer, and those travel emails with wonderfully airbrushed images of tropical beach resorts. If you work from home, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Fortunately, over the years, I have found several strategies that help me keep my rear end in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, even when my mind is on the verge of an early checkout:

1) Tackle the simplest task first.

Ordinarily, I recommend getting the hard stuff out of the way at the beginning of the day so that you can work on easier tasks as your energy begins to wane. On those days when you’d rather watch NCIS reruns (or, in my case, The Big Bang Theory), though, completing an easy task can motivate you to keep going. “Oh, look, I checked this project off my list. I’m good. Let’s knock another one out.”

2) Opt for a change of scenery.

Routine is boring, and it can quickly diminish motivation. If you can’t change your work schedule or rearrange priorities, you can at least take your work to a different location. Looking at a different set of walls (or, if you’re fortunate enough to have nice weather, no walls at all) can give you the spark you need to get moving with your day. I happen to have favorite chairs at Tim Horton’s, Caribou Coffee, Starbucks, and Panera… and woe to anyone who might happen to be sitting in any of them when I arrive. :-)

3) Stipulate a reward.

What if you showed up for an office job and your boss told you, “As soon as you get these five tasks done, you can leave for the day. I don’t care if it takes you one hour or 10. And by the way, you get paid the same no matter how long it takes.”? Would that motivate you to get cracking so that you could leave and go enjoy the rest of your day?

Well, you’re the boss, and you can do just that. Stipulate a reward for yourself that you get to enjoy if, and only if, you make a certain amount of progress toward completing your work for the day. One of my personal favorites is a trip to the local Indian restaurant. (This is a great reward for me because 1) I love Indian food; and 2) the restaurant closes at 3PM for lunch. So there’s a real time restriction there to add to my motivation level.)

4) Remember why you’re an entrepreneur.

If all else fails, take a minute or two to think about what life would be like if you were stuck working for someone else. Even with all of the deadlines, headaches, and stress of entrepreneurship, most of us would rather scoop our own eyeballs out than work a traditional job.

When I absolutely can’t seem to get motivated, I close my eyes and remember all the three-hour meetings I had to attend as a corporate employee… trying to keep from dozing off while execs with high salaries and bad wardrobes locked metaphorical horns over minutae that never got resolved. I visualize my old boss heading out for a three-martini lunch in his just-detailed Mercedes S600 while I gnawed on leftover meatloaf at my desk. And I think about putting out five-alarm corporate fires while vice presidents turned off their cell phones as they ordered another round of cocktails poolside at the Bellagio.

Grr… argh… ok, wrapping up this web design project doesn’t seem so bad now.

I’m not saying you’ll win the motivation game every time. It’s a good idea to build in a time cushion so you can call a mulligan on your day once in a while. But when the work absolutely can’t wait, you can fall back on these strategies to give yourself the motivation to get stuff done.


Photo Credits: davecobb, _dennis_

Categories : Motivation
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In “Is Direct Mail Dead?” I outlined the primary reason that direct mail can be an effective addition to your marketing efforts. It’s important to understand, though, that simply sending out direct mail pieces doesn’t guarantee success.

I advise against “trying” direct mail. “Trying” implies throwing together a sales letter, buying a cheap mailing list, and hoping for the best. Taking that approach is only slightly more useful than going to the bank, withdrawing a few thousand dollars, and lighting your cash on fire.

Instead of “trying” direct mail, take a step back and do it correctly. Strategic planning and execution makes the difference between a successful campaign and an utterly disappointing one.

Before you write one word of your sales letter…

Think about who your ideal prospect is. The entire process of building a successful direct mail campaign revolves around your customer, not around making more sales. The more clearly you define your prospect, the better you can connect with her through sales copy.

Now, by “ideal,” I mean the person who is most likely to need your service or product. It doesn’t necessarily mean the person who you’d most like to do business with. Although this distinction is often subtle, it trips up a fair number of marketers – even ones who have been involved in advertising for years.

Is your ideal prospect male or female? Youthful, middle aged, or retired? Does he own a home and have a family? What is the prospect’s income? Does he live in an urban environment or a rural area? What are his interests?

Defining your prospect saves you a lot of headaches, disappointment, and wasted money. You can’t create a compelling marketing message that gets results if you don’t know who you’re marketing to.

Determine why your prospect needs your product or service. This gives you the advantage of putting yourself in your prospective customer’s shoes. It also forces you to think in terms of benefits instead of features. People generally don’t care about features as much as they care about how the product can help them.

One important note: If you don’t know why your ideal prospect needs your service or product, you’re not ready for a direct mail campaign. You need to back up and research that will compel prospects to buy.

Your social media pages are excellent places to start. Post questions on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. to find out about customer needs. Interact with followers to get more details about the problems they face and how those problems could be solved… ideally, through purchasing from you.

Also, invite current and past customers to complete surveys to help you understand your target market’s buying habits. Find out why they purchased from you, how they used your services or products, and what they gained from their purchases. By the way, offering a discount in exchange for completing surveys dramatically increases participation.

Next time, we’ll look at what makes a great direct sales letter. Until then… do good work and make your customer your top priority.

Categories : Marketing Strategy
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Once in a while, I run across a marketing gem that is worth sharing with my entrepreneurial network. Today, I found one such gem:

Wendy's latest marketing gem

Now, I’m not a terribly big fan of Wendy’s, but I think it stands to reason that we entrepreneurial types should learn what we can from companies that have pockets deep enough to pull this stuff off.

The beauty is in the campaign’s simplicity. No stupid gimmicks, no ambiguous messages, no awkward attempts at humor… just a company harnessing the power of social media to build consumer interest in a product that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Because the campaign is fall-off-a-log simple, you don’t have to dig too deeply to find the elements that make it a marketing masterpiece:

1) It clearly displays the product Wendy’s wants to promote. If you want to enter the contest, there’s no question about what you’re supposed to buy. (“Supposed to,” not “obligated to.” I’ll get to that in a minute.)

2) It clearly states (and reiterates) a strong call to action. Take a look at the red box at the top of the graphic… “#twEATfor1k” is a call to action all by itself. Anyone who knows what a hashtag is knows what to do. And since flatbread grilled chicken sandwiches appeal to younger, carb-conscious consumers who are most likely mobile web users, “anyone” pretty much means Wendy’s entire target market for this product.

In case the top graphic doesn’t make things clear, though, Wendy’s provides succinct instructions that include a second call to action: “TWEET the picture @Wendys using #twEATfor1k.”

3) It offers an incentive that is of value to pretty much anyone who hasn’t been featured in Forbes. You’re heading out on your lunch break, and you remember that if you get a flatbread grilled chicken sandwich from Wendy’s and tweet a picture of it, you might win $1,000. Does that influence your lunch decision? It would certainly influence mine.

4) It has a ridiculously high ROI. Advertising costs aside (since Wendy’s is going to spend a certain amount on advertising regardless of how it markets), the company is paying $1,000 per day in contest rewards. How many flatbread sandwiches do you think Wendy’s will sell every day thanks to this campaign? A lot more than $1,000 worth.

Of course, the main takeaway from this is that people are going to go try the sandwiches so they can enter the contest. Not that they have to. Legally, a company can’t make a product purchase a contest requirement. So Wendy’s buried the obligatory “no purchase required” text “below the fold” (read: where most people who aren’t marketers won’t look for it):


Now, of course, most of us don’t have the enormous marketing budgets to pull something like this off on such a massive scale. As an entrepreneur, though, you can take the simplicity of Wendy’s campaign and apply it to your own marketing mindset. How can you hone your message, strengthen your calls to action, and provide greater value to your own potential customers?

(Just to clarify, I have no financial interest in Wendy’s International. I don’t even eat the stuff. I simply have an inclination to pick apart marketing media, and found this particular campaign to be exceptionally solid.)

Categories : Marketing Strategy
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When a client or fellow entrepreneur complains about not having enough business, I first take a look at their marketing strategies. In most cases, direct mail is either absent or grossly underutilized. Now, when I mention direct mail, these people usually look at me as though I’m wearing a tinfoil hat… but there are reasons why I’m a proponent of this strategy.

As usual, explaining this involves a story… so here we go:

I grew up outside a very small village in Ohio – the kind of village where, if you ran into somebody at the mini-mart, you either knew them, were related to them, or they babysat you when you were “this tall.” The village’s gas station served pizza and subs, rented VHS movies, and had a decent selection of fishing bait.

It was about a 10-mile drive to the nearest town – if you wanted McDonalds, new underwear, or a new Walkman (yes, I grew up in the ’80s), that’s where you had to go. Along the 10-mile stretch of fairly nondescript highway, there were perhaps a half-dozen billboards. Since there was really nothing else around, they definitely caught your attention. I never conducted a ROI study, but the fact that the same businesses advertised on those same billboards year after year tells me that their ad placements were working.

This memory surfaced some 30 years later as I rode a shuttle from McCarran International Airport to the Las Vegas Strip. Before I even left the airport, I was met with a constant barrage of billboards advertising hotels, casinos, shows, and (as I recall) a ridiculous number of “adult” services.

It was complete sensory overload… I could no more remember any of the specific ads than I could tell you why anyone would want to ride a roller coaster on top of a casino.

The sheer advertising “noise” effectively diluted the advertising power of the individual billboards. In fact, it didn’t take long for me to tune them out entirely.

I thought about this some months later when I met a fellow entrepreneur named Bill Hughes, who touted direct mail as the “holy grail” of marketing. Having been involved in Internet advertising for years, I had adopted the assumption that direct mail was dead. After all, why would you spend a lot of money to advertise to a handful of prospects when you can spend almost nothing and reach an almost unlimited audience?

Bill bluntly told me, “It’s simple. Direct mail gets noticed.”

I had to mull this over a bit before the tacit concept behind his position made sense. Email marketing and banner advertising can indeed give you access to a mind-bogglingly large audience. But because Internet advertising is cheap and easy, everyone’s doing it… and as a result, your potential customers are subjected to a constant barrage of sales pitches and ads. It’s like traveling to the Strip a dozen times over. And like the sea of glitzy Las Vegas billboards, Internet ads are mostly tuned out.

DM1Even email doesn’t fare much better. My inbox receives between 200 and 300 emails every day. Do I read every email? Hardly. Instead, I wade through the list to find the dozen or so emails from clients, and delete the rest. Unless a sales email comes with a particularly interesting headline, it goes into the trash folder unread.

By comparison, I get about four to six physical mail pieces per day. This doesn’t mean, of course, that I respond to (or even read) every single marketing piece I receive… but each flyer, postcard, and letter gets noticed. And since the mail usually sits on the kitchen counter for a day or so, I see the marketing messages several times. Even if I don’t need a marketer’s products today, I’m likely to remember the business down the road.

I want to make a couple of points here. First, I’m not denigrating Internet marketing. Obviously, I use online resources extensively to create marketing messages. All I am saying is that if you have dismissed direct mail marketing as outdated, you might want to reconsider.

The second point is even more critical: I’m not giving you the “build it and they will come” speech. Plenty of businesses fail at direct mail marketing. As with any advertising strategy, there is a right way (and lots of wrong ways) to go about it. In the coming days, I’ll give you some pointers to help you get your direct mail campaign off the ground.

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It was a sunny April morning in, I think, 1996 (old age and faulty memory make details like this a bit fuzzy, but let’s just say it was a long time ago). I sat in the lobby of the university library, having been suddenly hit with the realization that, just maybe, I had considered my options poorly when I decided to become an art major. I knew that summer break was quickly approaching, and I thought I’d better start exploring some alternative career ideas.

That morning, I opened the newspaper (remember those?) and locked my eyes on an ad that read, “Sales professionals needed! No experience necessary. College students welcome to apply. Fast track to management within 6 months.”

The hastily constructed equation in my head went something like, “sales = lots of money = no more Ramen for breakfast.” And thus, a salesman was born.

As it turned out, the gig involved going door to door selling, of all things, plush ducks.

PlushDuckUndaunted (read: young and stupid), I hit up every house in a seven-block area. About half the time, no one answered. The other half involved a cacophony of door-slamming, icy stares, and (in a few particularly memorable cases) dropping of the dreaded F-bomb.

The thing was, I was only interested in making sales. My sales manager,  a guy who resembled a walrus with a comb-over, assured me that anyone in his right mind would die for the chance to own one of these things. If I couldn’t sell them, I must be truly sub-human.

What I wasn’t doing, though, was thinking like a customer. Most of the people who bothered to answer their doors were busy taking care of small children, trying to catch some sleep after working third-shift jobs, or simply trying to relax. They weren’t the least bit interested in plush ducks.

After a couple of miserable days of this, I circled the wagons with a couple of salespeople who had at least a couple weeks of experience (in that job, these people were known as “veterans”). They suggested that instead of focusing on residential areas, I should try small businesses.

I thought the idea odd — why would a small business owner waste her time with a plush duck salesman? I started to head back to the residential section of town, when it hit me:

People who run small businesses usually aren’t spending enough time with their kids.

Adults don’t want plush ducks (well, not the types of adults I prefer to associate with). But young children love stuffed animals. And adults who want to bring smiles to their children’s faces… well, you see where I’m going with this.

As it turned out, my logic was spot on. Small business owners, guilt-ridden from being married to their businesses, loved the idea of bringing home a gift that would make their children happy. Instead of turning me away, they bought the silly things and even asked when I would be back for more.

How about the happy hour crowd?

I decided to test the idea a bit further. I loaded up a cardboard box with ducks and walked into a full bar at about 5:30 PM. About 10 minutes later, I walked out with an empty box and a pocket full of cash. Why? The bar was full of people who knew that they should be home with their kids and felt pretty badly about it. Arming them with soft, fuzzy gifts for their children made them not feel quite so awful.

The story doesn’t end with me receiving a “salesman of the year” award. In fact, I never even reached “veteran” status. It didn’t take long for me to realize that hawking plush ducks wasn’t going to make a fulfilling career.

Besides, while people have lots of needs, I wasn’t comfortable with playing on people’s guilt. I’ll leave that to the floral and greeting card industries.

Fortunately, though, the experience taught me a few important lessons about marketing.

  • Don’t assume you know who your target buyer is. People have all kinds of reasons for buying, especially when it comes to products they didn’t even know they wanted.
  • Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. If you wouldn’t respond to a particular sales approach, why would your prospects respond?
  • Fish where the fish are. If you stick to lead lists, geographic areas, and demographics you are comfortable with, you might be leaving giant piles of money on the table.

And to think I’ve spent almost 20 years trying to figure out how to incorporate my “plush duck” experience into a story. I can finally cross that one off my list. *bows*


Image credit: laihiu (modified)

Categories : Marketing Strategy
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Mental Focus1.1

Achieving anything great takes more than talent and vision. Ask any Olympic gold medalist, self-made millionaire, or award-winning actor. Talent is essential, but simply having superior ability won’t get you very far. In fact, it won’t get you anywhere at all.

Years ago, I had piled a ridiculous number of challenges on myself. I spent 50 hours a week conducting legal research and drafting policy documents for a large insurance company. My daughter was a toddler at the time, and I wanted to make sure to be there for all of the little joys and big milestones. And somewhere along the line, I let my boss and coworkers convince me that going to law school was the ticket to advancing in my career.

Of course, there were all of the day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping, keeping the house in order (well, sort of), managing finances, and making sure there were clean clothes in the closet. Any of this sound familiar?

The problem was that I wasn’t doing any of these things very well. No matter what I was doing, there was a voice in the back of my mind reminding me that I should be doing something else. Many days, I was completely stressed out. I felt like I was being pulled in a dozen different directions.

As a result, I spent a lot more time worrying about what I needed to accomplish than actually getting things done.

After my semester finals, I decided I needed a better way of approaching things. So I headed to the library and picked up a stack of books on time management, including Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out, David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and Arnold Bennett’s How to Live on 24 Hours a Day. I spent the next several days devouring the information contained in these books.

Through my research, I discovered the problem wasn’t a lack of time.

It was a lack of mental focus.

See, managing your time is easy if you have a system in place. Managing your mind… now that’s a challenge.

Over the next several months, I kept a journal that allowed me to identify the things that improve mental focus, and the things that interfered with it. I ultimately found that four simple (but not necessarily easy) steps greatly increased my ability to focus on each activity:

Bruce Lee mental focus1) Maintaining an organized work environment. When I felt rushed and pulled in multiple directions, the last thing I wanted to think about was keeping my workspace organized. My office desk was piled with books, folders, notepads, pens, and study guides. Then there were the crayons, picture books, toys, and whatever else my daughter brought into my office to make a desperate plea for my attention. Oh yeah, and coffee cups.

Once I disciplined myself to organize my workspace, I felt less stressed. Clutter distracted me and made me think of the million other things I needed to do. Clearing my desk of everything but what I absolutely needed for the task at hand eliminated those distractions. As a result, I could focus my attention and get things done more quickly.

2) Following a predictable schedule. I was guilty of coming home from a long day of work and law school, and studying until 3 or 4 am… then trying to catch a few hours of sleep whenever I could. Weekends were just as bad, because I used those days to catch up on whatever I had missed during the week. I never had a set “day off,” much less a predictable schedule during the week. Once I consciously established a schedule and stuck to it, the “when the heck am I going to get this done” panic surfaced much less frequently.

3) Getting off my butt. Exercise seemed like a laughable option, considering my already packed schedule. But I started walking 30 minutes each morning before I launched into my daily routine. The increased focus allowed my to accomplish tasks more quickly and with fewer errors. Each half-hour I exercised probably saved me two hours or more of time wasted trying to keep my mind on task.

Some of you might say that walking doesn’t really count as exercise. Fine. Jog, swim, ride a bike, bench-press a Buick… whatever. I’ll stick with the low-impact stuff.

4) Taking time to reflect. Some of you might call it meditation. Others might call it daydreaming. Whatever you call it, it doesn’t have to take long. I spend about 10 minutes each morning in meditation, which lets my mind settle so I can get ready for my day. I do another 10 minutes before bed to avoid having mental chatter screwing up my sleep. If I skip either session, I definitely notice a decrease in my ability to focus on work and play.

I’m sure there are many more steps you can take to improve mental focus – these are just the ones that work for me. You might keep a journal and note what works best for you. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – I even used the voice memo feature on my cell phone to note ideas before they fell out of my head.


Categories : Motivation
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