One of my favorite and most successful marketing ideas came to me from a chiropractor. In fact, nearly all of the successful marketing strategies I’ve used were inspired by ideas outside my industry.

marketing questionAs we spend time in and around our industry or niche, we tend to narrow our focus to our own community.

We keep an eye on what our competitors, colleagues and vendors do. How they advertise. How they sell. What they sell. What they’re reading. Who’s who and where they work. There is some sort of tribal comfort in being an insider.

There are benefits to this ‘insider’ mentality. We learn from each other and improve our trade and professional skills. We get insight into new manufacturing and service technologies. We learn the ins and outs of the industry. But does this help us in understanding the most important thing of all—our customer?

Claude C. Hopkins says it well in Scientific Advertising,

“The maker of an advertised article knows the manufacturing side and probably the dealer’s side. But this very knowledge often leads him astray in respect to customers. His interests are not in their interests.”

In other words you must walk in your customer’s shoes in order to be a  truly effective marketer. Sometimes we have to rattle our own cages to make that happen.

When my marketing ideas feel less-than-inspired, or when I’m faced with a challenging business predicament, I look outside our tribe for a spark.

Such was the case several years ago when I was faced with a product pricing problem.

Costs for our primary product had increased significantly. We had raised prices in the recent past (prior to the cost increase) and now were faced with a dilemma. We absolutely had to raise prices yet how could we do it again without alienating our customers? Sound familiar?

Insider marketing advice followed along two lines.

price-increase-sales-letter.pngOne…send out a price increase notice and tell the customers that’s the way it is. I got a lot of that sort of advice.

Two…make less money.

I felt the first option would leave a bad taste with customers. I really didn’t care if the industry was used to such dealings. Option two, well, that wasn’t an option. We had already sacrificed as much margin as we could. But apparently many industry insiders think it’s OK to sell something at a loss as long as you’re selling something. (I still haven’t figured that one out!)

At the time I happened to be a member of Glazer-Kennedy’s Peak Performer group, made up of dozens of small business owners in many industries from around the world. During a lunch break at one of our meetings I was sharing my pricing crisis with a very successful chiropractor and fellow member. I didn’t expect any help, after all, how could a doctor help me with a marketing problem in an unrelated industry?

In seconds, he offered an idea that inspired a solution because he had faced the same problem several times in his practice. I excused myself to work on the idea and in twenty minutes I had the sales letter written. It mailed the next day to our list of customers. It turned out to be one of the most successful short-term promotions we’ve ever done, one which we have yet to beat.

The ‘spark’ he supplied was brilliant in its simplicity and we refined it like this:

  • Announce the price increase (pretty normal so far.)
  • Give customers a chance to buy at the old price for the next 30 days (a little less normal)
  • Give customers a chance to lock in today’s price for up to 60 days by making a small deposit today and paying up to 60 or even 90 days later (totally NOT normal.)
  • Write the letter in a completely fun, non-business manner, signed and written by the staff with comments by the office cat. It included photos of staff and cat. Probably the ugliest letter ever. (Now we are in off-the-wall marketing territory.)
The crazy price increase sales letter worked!

Customers appreciated the openness and the opportunity to get additional tooling at the old price. There were no hard feelings because everyone had plenty of opportunity to lock in the old pricing. In fact, many were actually surprised that we would go to such lengths. They were accustomed to the industry  take-it-or-leave-it ‘norm,’ which was to receive a price increase notice without any options whatsoever.

To this day I still draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere.

I’ve even seen my own ideas percolate into other completely unrelated industries. I know one restaurateur who used some ideas I suggested to him (print industry to restaurant industry…go figure) to help build a million dollar business. His colleagues in the area, who all use the ‘normal’, ineffective marketing and advertising ideas, are perplexed at how he stays busy day after day. Well, he went outside his tribe for marketing inspiration, that’s how.

The bottom line: expand your horizons, wherever you are and whatever your industry niche. Research outside your comfort zone and your tribe for that little extra something to make you stand out. Reach outside your industry to shine inside.

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Andre Palko Owner
Andre Palko is founder of the Small Business Rainmaker™ and its free weekly e-newsletter. He is dedicated to delivering award-winning marketing and content that helps business owners thrive in any economy.