Category: Marketing and Brand Development
The annual Indiana State Fair is many things to many people. Some people travel to the Fairgrounds to indulge in deep-fried lard and other guilty pleasures. Others travel to Indianapolis to see their favorite performers on the grandstand. Some of the stateís most enthusiastic young people converge at the fair to demonstrate their skills in raising livestock. Many risk-takers try to discover the threshold at which fried food and carnival rides stop cooperating. Still others enjoy a mass opportunity for people-watching.
Me? I attend for a refresher course in marketing.
I'm not kidding. The State Fair is full of lessons for those of us in the marketing world, but it's far more than just a basic tutorial in the subject. Over the years, I've become convinced that it's a graduate-level class that should be a prerequisite for any MBA program.
Whether you think of marketing as the 4 Ps, the 5 Cs, or some random combination of Qs, if you look carefully enough, youíll see applications all around you. And if you're willing to admit that you really donít know everything there is to know, youíll discover that thereís a lot to learn.
As a copywriter, my favorite example is one that many fairgoers skip altogether: the hucksters who ply their trade in the Exposition Hall at the Fairís southwest corner. While everyone is selling something, Iím particularly attracted to the folks who perform product demonstrations. Everything they do provides valuable lessons to copywriters and anyone else who is responsible for selling something.
Consider that as you approach their booths, you don't need what they're selling. As you traveled to the fairgrounds, you didn't stop for a moment and think, "Today, I need to buy stainless steel cookware" or "I'm going to the fair to buy a window cleaning system." You probably entered the Exposition Hall primarily out of boredom or a desire to escape the hot sun for a few minutes.
You may visit their booths out of simple curiosity, but itís more likely that something they said stopped you in your tracks. Whatever you were thinking about or wherever you were headed vaporizes as your attention shifts to a man in an apron and a headset microphone.
He doesn't tell you that the veeblefetzer he's selling has 23 chromium blades or an integral porcelain whatsit. Instead, he engages you by talking about something else.
"Now, has this ever happened to you?" he asks the half-dozen people whose attention is riveted on his demo. "You're at home and the in-laws are going to arrive in 20 minutes... and I just know that excites you." He rolls his eyes as nervous laughter ripples through the group. "Well, you realize that you have forgotten to core those two dozen radishes you bought for the dinner salads. So you rush to core them with a paring knife... and not only does that take too long... but you know what happens..." The audience leans forward at the dramatic pause. "You cut your finger with the paring knife!" The group smiles and nods at the familiar situation. The huckster looks at the woman on your left. "That's happened to you hasn't it?" Embarrassed, she smiles and nods. "So now you're bleeding, your knife's dirty, and you have a bushel full of uncored radishes. And here come your in-laws up the driveway in that new car of theirs."
Five minutes later, you're reaching into your pocket to pay for not one, but two shiny new veeblefetzers. ("They make a great gift, too.")
The huckster didn't offer you a list of product features. He didn't start his sales message by telling you that he offered the greatest veeblefetzer in the world, or had the lowest prices. Instead, he brought you to a stop by telling stories that sounded familiar to you. Rather than explain why his product was better, he gave you a firsthand demonstration. He kept your attention by relating familiar situations and asking questions -- knowing you wouldnít reply verbally, but would answer them in your head.
When he sensed that someone's attention lagged, he recaptured her with a personal appeal. And he framed everything around your problems and needs instead of his own. Simply put, he gave you everything you needed to convince yourself that you needed his product. And he capped it all off by asking you to make that purchase and offering an incentive that led you to purchase two of them.
Whether you're selling veeblefetzers or legal expertise, office automation or janitorial services, you can learn from his successful pitch.
The hucksters aren't the only source of marketing wisdom at the fair. Walk around the food wagons during the slow part of the day, and see how the more successful operators will try to lure people in. Pay attention to the product mixes they offer. See how they'll use the latest inventions to draw people to the booth. The visitors may not have the courage to try chocolate-covered calamari, but once they're close to the booth, they'll see other items that are even more to their liking, and they'll buy them. The important thing is that they visited that booth, and not the ones on either side.
Another favorite is the pair who stages the pig races, in which a quartet of future tenderloin sandwiches with curly tails races around a short track in a quest to be the first to reach a cookie. The race lasts just a few seconds, but the well-practiced hosts spend fifteen minutes building the audience to a fever pitch, making the porcine pursuit appear to be the most important event at the fair. They'll masterfully captivate and entertain 100 or so adults and children at a time.
Spend three hours at the state fair next year, and pay close attention to the folks who are selling. I promise you'll come away with far more useful knowledge than you'll gain from any three-hour class. You'll probably also gain a few hundred calories and a veeblefetzer or two.
Scott Flood creates effective copy for companies and other organizations. His guide to evaluating freelance creative talent, The Smarter Strategy for Selecting Suppliers can be downloaded at http://sfwriting.com/freeguide, and his blog is at http://sfwriting.com/blog.
To search the archive of Perspectives articles, go to the Search page