Seinfeld on Marketing: Old school marketing techniques

It’s Friday…so you know what that means, right? Seinfeld on Marketing. I have felt bad as of late that I have neglected some of the other characters of Seinfeld. I hope to rectify this wrong doing today. In this episode, Jerry is talking with his father about going to a family dinner party and his fear about sitting next to his Uncle Leo:

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JERRY: If I wind up sitting next to Uncle Leo, I am leaving. He’s always grabbing my arm when he talks to me. I guess it’s because so many people have left in the middle of his conversation.

MORTY: And it’s always about Jeffrey, right?

JERRY: Yeah, he talks about him like he split the atom. The kid works for the Parks Department.

If I had to lay down a few of my hard earned greenbacks, I would bet that Uncle Leo would not have made a very good marketer. The “grab and gab” just doesn’t make the cut in today’s marketing world. The forced marketing of yesteryear – the mass marketing commercials, the banner ads and the dinner-interrupting telemarketing calls – are no longer effective. Now, we resent ever being forced into listening and we have armed ourselves with DVRs and the Do Not Call List. Sorry Uncle Leo…you time has come and gone.

Today, we want authentic and engaging dialogue with businesses. And it’s not about what you think is important (the cousin Jeffery topics), but rather what we the consumers find valuable. If you haven’t already, it’s time you start talking with us in a way that we want you to. Be it blogs, newsletters, podcasts…whatever.

Forget the “grab and gab”. And don’t even think about the “post and boast” (self serving blog posts), that doesn’t work either. Keep it real.

Happy Friday!

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

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“Dying” to be the market leader

In some markets there is no clear-cut leader. Instead of having a market book-ended by black and white opposite approaches, the entire market is made up of the many shades of grey. This can happen when a market is still relatively young, or a market is particularly volatile or due to a lack of distribution. In these markets, how do you compete with the other shades of grey and eventually move on towards market leadership?

Let’s hop on over and take a look at the pet sitting market in my neck of the woods. In my hometown, I cannot see any leader gobbling up a majority of this market. Enter my brother and sister-in-law with their new pet sitting service, Companion Caregivers. Their pet sitting service provides at a reasonable price the love and care for pets in your own home (the pets natural environment) while you are away– but so does many of the other shades of grey in this market. But what may well move them to the top of the market is a unique service that acts as an instant “dye” to the color of their business.

While you are away from your pet and hopefully reading a good book while on some tropical beach, the nagging thought of “Is my beloved pet being treated o.k. while I am away?” may creep into your mind. Companion Caregivers has nearly reduced this fear down to zero. While you are away, they videotape your pet having a great time (like your cat chasing some string or your dog playing fetch). Then while you are still kayaking in Kenya, they e-mail you this video.

This approach is brilliant for three reasons: As I mentioned it helps to reduce the fear of how your pet is doing while you are away. It also reminds the customer of their loving service each time they watch it. Lastly (and maybe most importantly), the video acts as a natural conversation starter. We all know that pet lovers love to share anything and everything about their pets. These videos are e-mailed or sent to their video phone and shared with friends, co-workers and strangers on the bus (I mean, it really doesn’t take much for a pet lover to want to share with the world “the cutest thing that Daisy did today”). In the conversation, Companion Caregivers will naturally be brought up and word of mouth has been given a forum.

In a market full of shades of grey, go for the dye that will propel you from a shade of grey to the end of the market spectrum (market leadership). At times it doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be of value to the market. Dye. Rinse. Repeat. – it can be that easy. What can you do to “dye” your company to the top?

The many shades of grey

I have come across many people who believe that that can make it in business if they just copy what the leader is doing and make one minor tweak. Many good business folks reason that if the leader is having success, then the more similar I am to the leader the more I should share in the success. This rarely happens.

Most markets look this:

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You have the market leader on one side, the product that stands as the opposite of the market leader at the other side and in between you have many other products that try to compete by being as close to the leader as possible.

And many people have wrongly assumed that the market share also follows this same pattern. In reality, market share tends to look like this:

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The market leader is in first place, the opposite is second place and the many shades of grey are clumped together way out in last place.

Take for example, the energy drink market. In the energy drink industry Red Bull has reined supreme for some time now. Many others have tried to dethrone the king by having slightly different ingredients. That hasn’t seemed to work to well up to this point. Up till now, it has only added to the shades of grey. I mean, who would have time to investigate all of the subtle differences of the 1,000 plus energy drink options?

Now take the energy drink called Monster. Instead of the normal 8.3 oz. can that everyone else was using, Monster went for a 16 oz. can Monster now has a 32 oz. version). This opposite approach has landed them in second place in the energy drink category. (The interesting thing is the smaller 8.3 oz. can was used by Red Bull to distinguish itself from the other soft drink and sports drinks and to create the energy drink category.)

In the real world, people’s lives are extremely busy. We don’t have time to investigate what makes your company slightly better than the rest. Since we have limited time, the opposite usually does well because it is easily understood with minimal effort. The many shades of grey products take considerable amount of brain power and time to distinguish the differences. Most consumers do not have this kind of patience.

To succeed, the old adage of “if you can’t beat them, join them” does not apply. Doing more of the same will not get you ahead. You’ll only succeed in getting lost in the shuffle with the other shades of grey.

What you have to do to compete with the leader is to be different. When the leader stands for one thing, stand for the opposite. Instead of being just a slightly different shade of grey, go for a completely different color.

A big thanks

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Decide now

It usually takes a great amount of time, resources and dedication to create a remarkable product with a long list of admirers just waiting to extol your greatness. This thought can be very daunting and overwhelming (especially for a small start up).

But the great thing is it only takes a matter of seconds to decide right now that you are going to start down the path of remarkableness. When you are starting out, Committing to the path is a lot less daunting then committing to the end results. Start now by believing in yourself and doing all that you can to live up to your potential.

Marketing, magic and the suspension of belief

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The great thing about a remarkable magic act or illusion is that the better it is, the more we suspend our belief and we actually accept what we are seeing (or not seeing).

“Wow, did he really make that cell phone disappear?” (Cell phones are great, but where’s Janet Reno when you need her?)

Magic is great because we choose to believe that it is great. We know in our minds that magic is only slight of hand movements and just an illusion. But magic is not for our minds…it is for our hearts. Good magic is fun, exciting and at times literally breath taking. It is something that we experience through our emotions.

Marketing done right is like a great illusion that we perform for ourselves. We temporarily suspend belief and we see only what we want to see. So if I think that eating at your hip restaurant will make me hip, you’ve done your job. If a teen-aged girl feels that if she wears your jeans her caboose will look smaller and she might catch the eye of that “one guy” at the party, she’s getting the jeans.

We all know in our heads that food is simply converted fuel for our bodies and clothes are merely a cover our fuel converters. But if we encounter the products that we know and love with only our heads, the self-talk makes little sense. Saying to ourselves “This Harley will make me into a lean, mean weekend rebel” would be reduced to “This motorcycle gets me to where I need to go” (and we probably wouldn’t buy the emotionally charged Harley, but instead go for the most economical value). It’s a good thing that when it comes to endearing products and magic that we lead with our hearts.

Their mistake is your gain

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[UPDATE: Congratulations to Adelino on winning the free book!]

I moved a few weeks ago. While I was unpacking my precious business books, I came across two paperback copies of The Tipping Point. I remembered that Amazon accidentally sent me 2 copies about a year ago and it was not worth it for them to have it shipped back. It is an awesome book, but I don’t need two copies.

So here is the deal. The first person to email me their mailing address (sorry, continental US only) to billgammell @ gmail.com [no spaces] gets the free copy of the book. I’m feeling nice, so I’ll even throw in the shipping. And of course, I will not ever use your mailing address except for this specific giveaway – I promise.