Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Kathy Sierra on Why Using Sex to Sell is A Good Thing

Before I launch, an aside. Kathy Sierra is writing some great stuff and not just for marketing "types". In fact, I would say that those of you who are less marketing inclined should read her blog because YOU are a product and I'm assuming that YOU would like someone to buy what you're sellin'. Only the Lord takes me "as I am". The rest of the world likes a non-smelly, interesting package, so get out the polish and use it--on yourself! (That doesn't sound so good. Whatever! Sex sells.)

In the last week, Sierra has hit a series of homeruns. Each one is worthy of exploration, and I find, contemplation. After I read her posts, all aspects of my life get run through the "Sierra Analysis". This advice is free, people. Why in the heck not use it?

I will put the links in order from oldest to newest (they have been all been written in the last week):

  1. Give a Hollywood Ending:
    It's not just filmmakers that appreciate The End--learning theory has known this for a long time. Students in a classroom are more likely to remember what they learned/heard/did first and last than whatever happened in the middle. It's the Recency Effect (along with its counterpart for beginings, the Primacy Effect). Good teachers try to have more beginnings and endings by breaking up lessons into small chunks, rather than doing a single 45-minute lecture."
  2. Geek Marketing Should Be Like a Good Lover:

    The real issue is about how you define "authentic", "honest", "real", and "selling out." That's where the marketing-as-good-lover model comes in. A good lover is NOT afraid of finding out what his (or her) partner wants. A good lover does NOT view it as "selling out" if he does things simply because it's what the other person wants. A good lover does NOT believe it's a compromise to try to be more popular, if being popular means making things more stimulating, exciting, sexy, enticing, compelling, appealing, and attractive. A good lover respects that our perception matters. A good lover respects and trusts us. A good lover takes a shower and puts on a clean shirt.

    In other words, maybe we should stop assuming that marketing means lying, and start treating our customers/users as people we value and care about enough to make their life a bit more enjoyable. Even if that means little more than sexing up the packaging! Life is short, and a good lover appreciates that a little extra attention to non-essential yet sensual pleasures is being caring, not inauthentic."

  3. Seize Opportunities--You won't regret it:
    There are so many opportunities--big and small, trivial and important--that we dismiss out of habit or fear or simply because we didn't slow down long enough to consider how it might feel if we said yes. At the end of my life, I'll have a lot of regrets, but taking the scenic route isn't one of them. But what about taking risks on a job, relationship, move, business, adventure? If I fail, will I regret trying? Or will I regret not trying?
  4. Assumptions have a sell-by date: Amen sistuh!

    We all talk about challenging assumptions, but what does that really mean? Because if we don't go deep enough--deep enough to get to the foundation on which all subsequent assumptions are based--we might as well not waste our time. Here's a typical scenario:

    Fred: Let's challenge our assumptions here people... are we certain that customers won't like this?

    Jim: Yes.

    Fred: How do we know? Where's the data?

    Jim: It came out clearly in focus group testing.

    Fred: But how recent were those focus groups?

    Jim: Very recent--less than a year ago.

    Fred: But what did they actually test?

    Jim: They tested this exact feature.

    Fred: OK, then let's move on. Tell engineering to cut that from the spec.

    There's a textbook example of challenging an assumption, without challenging the assumptions below. The underlying, unchallenged assumption here is that focus groups work (when we know focus groups are notoriously unreliable for many things).
Plenty of business people I know (including Dilbert) hold their noses when it comes to marketing. The cheesy-grinned, assertive hand-shaking, bore-holes-your-head eye-contact is the typical marketing image. Engineers, and other "operations" type sneer in the general direction of marketers. I'm sorry, people, but you can have the best product in the world, but if you don't package it right, no one is buyin' what yer sellin'.

Let me give you a personal example of why selling is so important. Right now, my husband and I are considering putting in a pool. Pools, as we all know, are an expensive luxury, but here in Houson, they are luxuries that people use all the time, all year around except a month or two. So there is usefullness to this luxury. (Like my rationalizing?)

We have an empty lot next door and it is being built on right now. We need our backyard cleared up and cleaned so the kids can play without fear of critters (poisonous snakes, for one thing), at the very least. Well, I was looking at the costs, considering how the costs would go up once our neighbors house was in and we would have to pay to redo landscaping, and I thought, "You know what? We better check into this whole pool thing, because I don't want to wait a year until it fits into our budget better but we add 10k for our caution. That would be stupid."

So I did.

The first pool guy came highly recommended by a builder friend. Nice guy. Great pools. Good business. Lets call him Mr. Humble. Mr. Humble made a couple mistakes when "selling" me. First, he listened to me when I said that I was just getting a quote, that we couldn't afford much. That was all true. I wasn't lying. But what he, and I, didn't consider, was that as I did more exploring, the whole thing became more, not less, feasible and reasonable. As a result, this pool guy didn't take my request all that seriously. He threw together a bid, no line items, and came out at a nice round number with a few notes scribbled on the paper. He wrote a bid that reflected how serious he thought I was about building a pool. He didn't consider that I might become more committed to a pool purchase with more information.

Second, because he went in with a "not serious buyer" mindset, he didn't answer my chief concerns. In my backyard, there is a huge, beautiful, old-growth tree. I don't want to lose it. I also don't want to stick a pool in the corner of the lot. I was essentially told that it was impossible to meet both of my needs. The tree would have to come down. Now that is disappointing. Oh, and my desire for a certain kind of stone was unreasonable. Okay, are there alternatives? Well this would look good, he says. But that wouldn't be the look I want. Paying a gazillion dollars and not getting what I want for a luxury item? Sigh. Suddenly, I'm less inclined to even want a pool.

Another high-end million-dollar-home builder friend recommended another pool guy. A little more polished, he has a "flair for design". Uh-oh. My husband and I looked at each other, concerned. This would almost certainly be more money. Our pool desires are so simple, it really doesn't matter who does it right? Here is what I told Mr. Polish, "Listen, we do not have a mansion, we cannot afford a mansion's pool, or even half of what a mansion's pool would cost and we want simple. Even if we could afford Hugh Hefner's grotto, we want simple and clean and classic." (Okay I didn't say that last part about Hugh, but he got the idea: "cheap".)

Mr. Polish smiled grandly and asked more questions. I told him about the tree. I asked him about yard placement. I expressed my concern for ease of maintenance (the yard) and long-term design so we could add things as we could afford it. I wanted a plan for the future--how bad would it stink to put something in the wrong place and then never be able to have a bathroom addition or outdoor kitchen someday? He listened intently, carefully writing notes. We talked artwork. We talked materials.

Where Mr. Humble said "no", Mr. Polish said "yes". And it wasn't just say-what-she-wants-to-get-the-deal, "yes". This guy has a reputation for building the most innovative pools in the area, tackling serious design challenges. We could save the tree, use a similar (but not exactly the same) material that I would like. We could even incorporate the tree into the design, make it the focus. Ooo! I love that. We could orient the pool this way for ease and the future. Ooo! I love that.

You know what I was thinking? I thought, "This might cost 10K more, but it will be worth it because this is exactly what I want. Suddenly, the pool isn't just becoming more reasonable, it's becoming more exciting.

We may still not get a pool. We may have to wait because of money. But I have a pretty good idea who I'll go with unless the quote is so completely unreasonable.

Marketing is important. A clean, clear, nice-looking quote is good marketing. A bright smile, good eye-contact and strong handshake is good marketing. Passion and attentiveness and curiosity is good marketing. Because ultimately, people won't buy what you're selling if they don't buy you--at least most of the time. And can you afford to lose all those clients because you're a tough sell?

No, I can't either. I have some work to do.

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