Help Them Buy Better

Nap @ Västra hamnen
Creative Commons License photo credit: bjaglin

A few days ago, Seth Godin asked why ethical marketers wouldn’t be “eager to have aggressive, clear and well-defined regulations” (about marketing).

He set the context by talking about the lies used to sell sunscreen, noting that lobbyists kindly helped the FDA water down proposed sunscreen regulations.

To quote Seth:

Why aren’t ethical marketers (of any product) eager to have clear and well-defined regulations, creating a set of honest definitions so that they can actually do what they set out to do–make a difference and make a living at the same time? If you’re busy competing against people willing to cut corners, I’d think you’d want the rules to be really aggressive, clear and obvious.

Yes, clear and obvious regulations would be great, but the assertion that we need more regulations to deal with them requires that I call BullSeth.

Enforcement and Influence

The enforcement of existing regulations in a fair and consistent manner is the primary issue.

Selective enforcement of these regulations is sometimes used to send a political message to some industries while others are left to their own honor or lack thereof.

At times, the agencies responsible for enforcement find themselves taking direction from elected officials who often take direction in the form of campaign contributions. At other times, these agencies do whatever they like, regardless of regulatory boundaries created to manage their work.

Before the everything-is-one-party’s-fault types weigh in, keep in mind that this ISN’T a (R) problem or a (D) problem. It’s universal regardless of the animal you represent.

A healthy business / consumer / economic environment doesn’t require oppressive business marketing/advertising regulations like Germany’s, we need those who represent us to use the existing regulations in a fair and consistent manner AND continue to improve them.

Smart businesses can’t sit around and wait for that to happen.

Don’t Wait, Educate.

Waiting for these changes isn’t going to cut it. Smart businesses educate prospects and customers about the quality choices they have.

That doesn’t mean your marketing has to be boring (far from it). It doesn’t mean your marketing can’t be compelling, entertaining, motivational and most importantly, effective – but it can be all those things without breaking existing laws, much less new ones.

In the meantime, we have to do our part to eliminate the slimeballs. Yes, I absolutely mean put them out of business, even if it means a game of Whack-a-Mole as they close one and start another.

Ethical business people don’t do enough to call out the slimy behavior of their competitors. Neither do consumers.

Buy Better

Meanwhile, people continue to take it from the cretins Seth referred to, rewarding these “businesses” for their behavior.

If folks keep buying from them and media outlets keep accepting their advertising, do you really think they are going to change?

Have you ever contacted a media outlet about the advertising they accepted from vendors advertising one thing and delivering another? Sure, it’s your word against the vendor’s. And yes, the media outlet will likely claim they have no responsibility for what appears in their paper, on their station or on their website.

I think you’re smarter than that.

The power of the customer to deal with these vendors comes simply: STOP BUYING FROM THESE IDIOTS.

It’s Just Word of Mouth

Businesses can help them do that.

Customers have lots of resources that enable them to take control, including Yelp, Urbanspoon, Angie’s List, Trip Advisor, etc. These services help people find businesses that deliver what they say and avoid the ones who don’t.

In a perfect world, we shouldn’t need any of them. Until we get there, we all have to help each other by calling BS when it’s warranted and giving kudos as well.

Too few businesses pay attention to those services. If you think no one is using them to make daily purchasing choices in your little town, you’re dead wrong – particularly if your area is frequented by tourists. You need to be monitoring them, addressing issues, “claiming” your business so people can find you, and encouraging consumers to share their thoughts there.

Encourage your customers to use tools that help them buy better. Provide them when you can. Help them stop buying from the wrong people.

Smart companies and the post-crisis consumer

What if you did the right things and the smart things years before most of your competitors did? Wouldn’t that make life easier?

John Gerzema talks at TEDxKC about the post-crisis consumer (16m 34s), but there are some interesting business nuggets in here as well.

Smart companies, smart consumers

Gerzema talks about a lot of things that make the video interesting from a consumer and business perspective, but 2 things stuck out for me:

1) Some of the discussion is about all the changes that big companies are making to take advantage of the post-crisis consumer’s mindset, even though much of what they are doing are the things that *smart companies* have been doing for years.

They’ve been watching their expenses, tracking their advertising, spending money on investments they can measure, hiring smarter – and they’ve been doing this for years – just like the frugal consumers Gerzema talks about.

2) I found it interesting, and at times mildly amusing, that many of the “new” consumer trends that Gerzema’s team is discovering (presumably in urban areas) have been part and parcel of rural living for as long as anyone can remember. Emphasis on community, volunteering, ethics, “durable living”, not flaunting your bling (had to be said), and the like.

Most small town folks didn’t need the economy to crater to start doing those things.

Those 2 things aside, the 16 minutes is definitely worthwhile, so grab a cuppa joe and enjoy.

What to do next

Now that these things have reached beyond little towns like the ones around me and are reaching deep into urban areas, how can you adjust what your business is doing to get in step with the consumers where you live?

Do you paralyze them with choices?

We’ve all been in barbeque places that revel in the fact that they have 100+ barbeque sauces for their customers to choose from.

Have you ever looked closely at the bottles?

In most of the places I’ve seen this, very few of the bottles appear to have been used. Opened perhaps, but that’s often it. You don’t often find 80-90 of them 50-75% full, indicating widespread use. 

Cause: Barbeque Sauce Paralysis

The result is barbeque sauce paralysis. When you have 100 choices, it takes you longer to decide which one to pick:)

If having a selection of high-quality, rare or gourmet sauces is part of the attraction you want customers to focus on, 100 sauces might not help your case.

On the other hand, if you featured 2-3 sauces per week – people would likely take more of a chance because the restaurant could offer more info about the available choices. They might even discuss them on a special menu as if they were wines (“this bbq sauce has a slight nose of vinegar and basil with a well-defined cayenne finish”).

The problem goes well beyond barbeque sauce.

Differentiate with detail

You’ve heard me talk here about offering a premium priced option for your products. More value, higher price – because there is a segment of society that always chooses it (among other reasons). What you haven’t heard me suggest is that you offer 327 premium price choices:)

This is all about making it easy to buy, while still allowing yourself to differentiate.

For more on this topic, take 20 minutes to watch this video from Barry Schwartz, who talks at TED about the “Paradox of Choice”.

The key thing to take away from this as a marketer/business owner is that you can offer too many things and force your client to make no choice at all. The chaos of choosing from 100 sauces often makes you choose the Heinz 57 – a sauce you can get anywhere. 

Is that what you really want?