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Ditch Coupons Before Customers Ditch You

By Paul Johnson

714 Words. Abstract:  Sales promotions are with us to stay, but you might do better if you make coupons go away. Learn about the right and wrong ways to promote your business through coupons and special pricing offers.

Every shopper wants to feel like they’re getting a good deal. Merchants often attempt to capitalize on this desire through coupon offers, rebates, and “special discounts.” Coupons have become the promotional drug of choice to woo more business from new and old customers alike. Unfortunately, coupons can destroy customer relationships almost as fast as they are made.

The worst coupon abusers are merchants who set a relatively high list price compared to the competition, and then use coupons or other incentive plans to discount it so buyers feel like they’re getting a good deal. I had a fabulous customer service experience derailed by such a pricing blunder.

A Hitch in the Pitch
I was looking for a new dry cleaner and discovered FC Cleaners (not their real name). When I walked in, they discovered I was a new customer, handed me a “Passport” book, and explained to me that I would routinely receive a significant discount whenever I presented the book with incoming dry cleaning orders.

I wasn’t impressed until I picked up my order. All of my shirts now had bar code labels. The computer-printed labels attached to the neatly hangered and bagged clothes described each article in detail, right down to my neck size. They truly knew how to use technology to manage a relationship! I also knew I could go to any FC Cleaners in Atlanta and be instantly identified by my bar code labels.

Soon I returned to have more cleaning done. I dropped off the clothes, and then remembered I had forgotten my Passport. Oh well, I’ll just bring it with me when I pick them up. As planned, I returned in a few days with my Passport. My enthusiasm for our relationship disappeared when they explained, “Sorry, you’ll have to pay stupid people prices since you failed to present your passport when you dropped off your order.”

Of course, they didn’t explain it that way. They cordially explained that their “policy” prevented them from giving me a discount. As Dr. Martha Rogers of Peppers and Rogers Group says, “Policies treat everybody like nobody”, and that’s exactly how I felt. When I dropped off the clothes, their computer could tell them who I was, where I lived, the details of all my garments, and my complete transaction history. But it couldn’t — or is it wouldn’t? — tell them that I was a Passport discount buyer. As a result, I was forced to pay retail and fork over an extra ten spot. From a goodwill perspective, they would have been much better off without a list price discounting program.

Bait and Snitch
Sometimes I’ll be in line at a store when the person ahead of me presents a coupon to the cashier and immediately gets a discount. I have no such coupon. It looks like I’ll be paying stupid-people prices again.

On occasion a friendly cashier has offered to give me a coupon on-the-spot. Very thoughtful — but maybe not.

  • Does this mean their merchandise is really overpriced?
  • Do they really have a consistent pricing policy?
  • Does this store have any integrity?

My assumption is that, for some reason, I don’t look like a sucker today.

Switch to Enrich
If you want to use coupons for promotion, consider making them an integral part of your pricing strategy. I recommend to my clients that they only offer discounts, including coupons, for one-time irregular (preferably non-repeating) events. Examples might be first-time orders, year-end closeout of a particular model, or cleaning off shelves in preparation for inventory. A new product launch would qualify. However, end of the month discounts don’t hold water, nor does the lame excuse, “I need another deal to make quota.”

Coupons are useful to get people in the door and give you a try, but you need to have a way to track repeat buyers. Don’t train customers to never show up without a coupon. I won’t buy a pizza without one. Instead, honor them with a “frequent buyer” program that rewards them with lower prices or — better yet — additional services when they come back time and again. Show them you know they’re not stupid, and they’ll know how smart you are. The goodwill you generate will result in good business for you.

© 2005, 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:

Paul Johnson of Shortcuts to Results LLC collects business shortcuts and shows people how to find and apply them for performance improvement at Learn how to become a niche marketing expert at

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: When has a coupon been a costly experience for you?

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Comments (0) Aug 01 2009

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Let Your Brand Get Old with Your Market

Marketers work so hard to keep their brands fresh and invigorated… even “hip.” Maybe that’s a mistake. Maybe they should make their brands age.

I was reading John Caddell‘s post, “Why Didn’t GM Use Harry Potter Marketing?” In it, he points out that the books (and the movies) allow Harry Potter to grow up, so that the audience that was engaged with the first book/movie continue relate to the character as THEY aged. Brilliant!

John argues that maybe Saturn would be thriving today if the design had matured the way its demographic, who was much younger in 1990 when Saturn began, has certainly done.

What about your brands? Are they truly timeless, or has your demographic shifted over the years? Maybe being long in the tooth isn’t so bad when your market is going to be needing dentures soon.

Posted: under Creating Curiosity (Marketing).
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Comments (0) Jun 10 2009

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Teach Your Website to Master One Trick

By Paul Johnson

1,111 words. Abstract: Creating the perfect website can be tricky. Fortunately, you can teach a website one trick that will enable you to reach your goals quicker and easier than ever before.

Your website should do one thing really well. Do you know what that is?

Perhaps you own a Swiss Army knife. A marvel of engineering, this clever device packs an array of indispensable tools into a compact and convenient shape that can easily be carried in a pocket. In addition to a sharp and sturdy knife, it’s comforting to know we can also access a screwdriver, corkscrew or can opener at a moment’s notice.

Then why don’t you have several dozen lining the silverware drawers in your kitchen? Instead, your drawers are probably filled like mine with tools suited for specialty jobs. Butter knives, steak knives, the bread knife. Soup spoons, slotted spoons and a ladle. I admit, I’m pretty much a one-fork — the dinner fork — kind of guy, but my wife makes us keep dessert forks in the drawer for when company comes over.

Flexible Failures
Our kitchens are proof that we endorse the notion of having the right tool for each job. However, we tend to view our website as the Swiss Army knife. After all, websites are incredibly flexible. We can easily add pages and adjust navigation links to create a boundless array that can accommodate anything. Got a white paper? Put it on the website. Need to take a survey? Use the Web site. Did you just distribute a press release? Post that to the website, too.

Perhaps the users of your website — your potential customers — aren’t as impressed with it as you are. When you fail to quickly give visitors what they need from your website, you fail to establish valuable relationships with potential customers.

Goal Focus
Your company may be capable of solving many problems for your customers, and that’s a good thing. However, when a person initiates a web search, they only have one problem on their mind. It’s possible they even have a solution in mind, with some idea of which attributes that solution should have. If their problem is they don’t have a carving knife for the holiday turkey, they don’t want to wade past your corkscrews and can openers to find that. Confused customers don’t buy.

The value in the Swiss Army knife’s flexibility is negated by its lack of focus. While we marvel at the ingenuity of the combination tool, the reality is that we as users prefer the “one-trick ponies” and keep carving knives, can openers and #2 Phillips screwdrivers handy to help us get the real work done.

Suicide Gag
I’m in a convenience store watching a youngster at the soda station fill his glass by putting in small amounts from eight different spigots. I ask him, “What have you got there?” He says, “It’s called a Suicide.” I grab a glass, thinking I’ll give it try. One taste and I understand why it’s called a Suicide. I nearly gag.

You may think your Suicide Website is refreshing and satisfying while your customers may be gagging on it. Consider specializing with several “single-flavor” websites.

Confusion Solution
When you look at your website through your visitors’ eyes and see confusion and frustration, perhaps it’s time to consider multiple One-Trick Websites. Using multiple websites gives you an opportunity to trade-in flexibility for focus. Each website can now focus on one pain/solution set based on a common goal or topic that your visitors desire. Sticking with one topic per website allows you to quickly establish:
•    Relevance
•    Understanding of the visitor’s problem
•    Credibility
•    Expertise
•    Focused specialization
•    Experience

These One-Trick Websites benefit your visitors by allowing them to accomplish what they came for without distraction. Bob Scheinfeld of Ultimate Lifestyle Academy calls these TOT sites; TOT stands for The One Thing. You’re focused message makes it easier for prospects to decide to engage with you because we all feel more comfortable using specialists.

If a doctor buddy told you he did Lasik surgery, performed a nose job and did a knee replacement yesterday, you would wonder how good the results would be. Even if he did the three procedures perfectly, we would prefer to believe three specialists could have done them better.

One-Trick Training
To get started with a One-Trick Website, consider the elements of this three-step strategy:

1.  What’s their problem? Get a clear understanding of what pain your customer is trying to eliminate, and what solutions they may already have in mind. Use tools like Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery, and Google’s External Keyword Tool to get an idea of what customers are already searching for on the Web. Better yet, talk to some customers and conduct a survey to discover how people with this problem talk about and describe it so you can use their words in your marketing copy.

2.  What’s your goal? When visitors come to your website, what can you reasonably expect them to do? You may want to design the site to include multiple selling paths to support visitors dealing with different stages of the problem. For instance, for those doing preliminary research your goal may be to get them to download a helpful white paper and give you their email address. For those that have a more pressing need, your selling path may lead them to an on-line transaction via your shopping cart.

3.  What is relevant? Content on your site is a good thing as long as it’s relevant to the topic of the problem your visitor came to solve. For instance, if they came for dress shoes, then laces and polish may also be relevant. Guitars need strings and straps. In addition, your content might include pages for things such as:
•    Credibility
•    Support channels
•    Options
•    Policies and promises
•    Relevant resources, such as how-to guides and manuals

You do want a deep site as long as you stay true to a common problem or topic.

Finders Keepers
Another advantage to creating a One-Trick Website with a single pain/solution set is that it’s easier to rank well in the search engines for relevant terms. If your website is all about carving knives, it’s relatively easy to rank well for turkey carving equipment, turkey carving supplies and turkey carving techniques.

While your corporate website may be your Swiss Army knife for customers who already know you and love you, you’ll likely benefit from having additional One-Trick Websites where each website does one thing really well. Never forget that flexibility can dilute effectiveness. Decide what each of your One-Trick Websites should enable your customers to do, and then help them do that and nothing else. When you help customers cut to the chase, you’ll quickly master the trick of developing valuable new customer relationships.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson of Shortcuts to Results LLC collects business shortcuts and shows people how to find and apply them for performance improvement at Learn how to become a niche marketing expert at

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: How has a website you’ve visited confused and frustrated you?

Posted: under Creating Curiosity (Marketing).
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Comments (0) May 01 2009

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Conserve Marketing Budget; Develop Marketing That Sucks

By Paul Johnson

758 words. Abstract: When your goal is to achieve more sales with a meager marketing budget in a tough selling environment, it may be time to consider marketing that sucks.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating bad marketing as a way to conserve budget dollars. Good marketing — really good marketing — could be marketing that sucks. Try this and you may find yourself enjoying more sales for less marketing investment.

One Recession Create Two Problems
Attracting customers is the quest of marketing, always seeking more efficient methods that lower cost per lead and ultimately cost of customer acquisition. This becomes even more challenging in a down economy for two reasons: buyers may be fewer and more finicky, and marketing budgets often remain stagnant or are reduced.

Managing this double-headed challenge means you can’t afford to stick with the strategies that worked for you in the good times. Here’s a strategy that may not only keep you in business, but enable you to enjoy higher revenues and profits despite the recession.

A Free Lunch
This sophisticated marketing strategy is really pretty simple. In fact, the inspiration comes from a stupid fish. The remora has the ability to attach itself to larger fish using a suction organ on its back just behind its head. Not only does the remora get a free ride, but it also enjoys all the food it can eat.

Spearfish Remora

Spearfish Remora

Imagine yourself strapped to the underside of a shark when the shark decides it’s time to eat. The shark hunts down and kills its fish dinner, shredding and tearing it apart in the process. The water around the shark is now a cloud of tiny chunks of what was a healthy mackerel just a few moments ago. The pieces that are too small for the shark allow you to easily get your fill for dinner. All you need to do is open your mouth as the shark swims through the cloud of mackerel.

Shark with remora attached to its underside

Shark with remora attached to its underside

Drive-By Marketing
The remora eats well because it has a strategy that sucks. Perhaps something similar could work for you. A great example of this strategy in action is found at the Beef Jerky Outlet. When I interviewed niche marketer and owner Rick Jones for The Great Brand Rush blog, he was very clear about the most important factor affecting success of his stores.

As the store name implies, they sell different kinds of jerky, indeed a tightly focused niche within the retail food business. After all, we don’t commonly run to the store to pick up bread, milk and jerky. He understands that his target customers are primarily male outdoorsmen who are looking for portable protein snacks that won’t spoil. Rick knows that the road to success is literally the road leading to a Bass Pro Shop. Location is critical to simple and inexpensive marketing.

The Beef Jerky Outlet marketing plan is rather simple; let people who are headed to the Bass Pro Shop know there’s a Beef Jerky Outlet on the way. When I interviewed Rick, he didn’t even have a website. He relies primarily on roadside signage, including a billboard along the interstate. In fact, that’s how I first discovered the Beef Jerky Outlet.

Bass Pro Shops is really doing all the marketing work for him. They spend millions every year on advertising and brand building. They send out fliers in newspapers, maintain sophisticated websites, and engage customers with promotions and loyalty programs that keep them coming to their store. All the Beef Jerky Outlet needs are the proverbial crumbs from the Bass Pro Shop’s table to run a profitable operation.

Be the Fries
To make this strategy work for you, think about what big fish (or whale) do you “go with.” For example, people go into burger joints for the burgers, yet billions of potatoes are consumed as a byproduct. French fries are the remora, but without the fishy taste.

Maybe you won’t find it practical to change your physical location to get near the big whale that can keep you well fed, but you can change the location of your advertising. Structure your advertising approach to put you along the path to the big fish so that prospects will naturally choose to include you as part of their purchase decision. You may even want to approach these larger firms about an alliance. However, make sure you can offer plenty of benefits from your end to justify the alliance, or else your potential partner will think you’re taking them for a sucker.

Drastic changes in the economic climate demand that your rethink your marketing strategy. You can’t afford to stop marketing, and you can’t afford bad marketing, though perhaps you’ll find you can easily afford marketing that sucks.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson of Shortcuts to Results LLC collects business shortcuts and shows people how to find and apply them for performance improvement at Check out the interview with niche marketing expert Rick Jones at

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: What companies have you observed playing the role of the remora?

Posted: under Creating Curiosity (Marketing).
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Comments (0) Mar 02 2009

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The Enemy of Marketing is Here

By Paul Johnson

1,205 words. Abstract: Your efforts to market your business and boost sales are sabotaged easier than you might think. Learn how to recognize and thwart the enemy of marketing with the application of three easy practices you can incorporate into your operations.

Do you leave customers breathless and begging for an encore, or fuming and screaming, "No more!"? How do you know… for sure?

I had almost finished a glorious shopping experience at one of my favorite stores. The shelves were stocked with plenty of options, and the helpful salespeople gave me good guidance. I made it almost all the way to the cashier when it happened. If the cashier later sensed my agitation, she didn't let on. Neither did I, until I walked out of the store. Then I shared my complaints with anyone who would listen.

Marketing's Payoff
The event I will describe happened at a Bass Pro Shop, but my intent is not to pick on them. In fact, I would bet the same scenario has happened to you at numerous stores you frequent.

Here's the situation. Companies like Bass Pro Shops spend millions on marketing every year to induce customers like you and me to give them our money. I get their direct mail, and I spot their ads in the newspaper. I visit their website to investigate purchase possibilities. Now I'm in their store, encountering carefully-place displays and special offers. I choose item after item and their marketing investment is about to pay off: I am headed to the cashier lanes.

It's a slow day, and only one lane is open. I'm No. 3 in line, then No. 2, and now I'm next. The transaction ahead of me runs into a snag. The line grows; now 6 are waiting behind me.

Another employee walks toward a nearby cashier station. He has at least three possible choices of what he could say and do. They are:

  • He approaches me and offers, "Sir, I can take you over here." Then he helps me carry my loot to his station.
  • He motions to me, looks me in the eye and says, "I can take the next person in line."
  • He looks down at his terminal to avoid eye contact with everyone and announces, "I'm open over here."

Guess which one he chooses?

More Than a Feeling
As the people behind me scurry to become his first customer, I realize I'm penned in and there's no way I can beat them there unless I climb over a point-of-purchase display. If I change lines, I'll be No. 5 instead of next in line. I've already been standing here 10 minutes, and I have no reason to believe it won't be another 10 minutes. Smoke is coming out my ears; I decide to stick it out and complete my purchase anyway, but only because I am holding someone else's birthday presents in my hands.

Companies in highly-competitive markets often find it difficult to create and articulate meaningful points of brand differentiation that can support their business growth objectives. When customers have a hard time finding differentiation, it's often the simple things that drive those customers to the competition. Companies like Bass Pro Shops spend millions to generate repeat customers that will have significant lifetime value for their company. When a grand and glorious shopping experience is capped by a torturous conclusion, what elements of the experience are most likely to be remembered and shared with others? In a matter of a few seconds, the opportunity for referral and word-of-mouth business is converted into customer attrition.

I See What You're Saying
It's evident that neither customer-facing employees nor their managers pay attention to the outcomes of their careless customer dialogues. They fail to see through their customer's eyes. Every business is smart to automate processes where possible when we remember that automation is designed to serve the masses over the individual. Oftentimes attempts to monitor individual customer satisfaction are again automated through online and paper surveys, providing managers with a misguided illusion that everything is alright with their systems and procedures.

While mass surveys do provide useful data and information, the real knowledge (and, often, wisdom) comes through real-time interactions with customers. Here are three ways to make that happen.

  • First, get trained eyes to watch the body language of your customers in a multitude of situations. I've learned through decades of customer interactions than I can learn more from what people do than from what they say or don't say. A wrinkle of the forehead or a curl of the lip can tell me volumes about what a person is thinking and feeling. When it contradicts what they're saying, I believe what I'm seeing first. Experienced eyes can easily spot confusion, disappointment, contempt, frustration and many other feelings your customers may never admit to verbally. Yet these feelings are what customers remember and are often what keep them from coming back for more.
  • Second, reward customers who show you your faults. It's tough for us to hear that something is wrong inside our organization that we work so hard in every day. It's also hard not to shoot the messenger of the bad news. Every time someone points out a deficiency, we're given an opportunity to make our business better. When customers give us these gifts, let's remember to be cordial, make things right for them right then, and then give them a gift or reward that will encourage them to offer more useful feedback in the future. A gift card virtually guarantees that you'll see them again.
  • Third, arrange for "mystery shoppers" to evaluate you. It doesn't matter what business you're in; you'll benefit from getting an outside-in perspective of what your customer-facing employees do for and to your customers. When we mystery shop our clients' sales organizations, it may involve walking into a retail store, meeting with a salesperson face-to-face, talking to the salesperson over the telephone or even through website chat. While we often find them doing many things right, there are always opportunities to grow. Get someone from outside your company to mystery shop your organization if you really want to see through your customers' eyes.

Surveys and Other Black Holes
Remember that your customers are really on your side as long as they believe you are on theirs. Customers want to do more business with you; it's easier than finding another supplier. Give your customers reason to believe you're going to be a better resource tomorrow than you are today. For example, if you rely on surveys to collect customer feedback, do you routinely let survey participants know how their input has led to changes designed to improve service delivery levels? If you're not already, perhaps you could call the customers who've responded to three or four surveys to personally thank them for their participation and discuss some of their responses.

Because Bass Pro Shops does so many things right, I'm willing to give them another try. Perhaps that check-out lane experience was an aberration; I truly want to believe that. They are not my enemy, nor am I theirs. The enemy of marketing is anything that disrupts our customers' reasonable expectations. These enemies are insidious and hard to find because they creep into our business through carelessness. Renew your efforts to look at your daily customer interactions through their eyes. Do that and they'll be eager to come back for an encore and invite you to sell them more.

© 2008 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson the Trouble Breaker is a keynote speaker who works with organizations to convert trouble into double and triple digit performance breakthroughs. Discover breakthrough concepts at Visit for presentations on performance improvement.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: How has your otherwise wonderful shopping (or dining) experience been trashed at the last moment?

Posted: under Creating Curiosity (Marketing).

Comments (2) Sep 01 2008