From the December 1996 issue of Entrepreneur

Marketing is one of those oxymoronic things: It's a timeless classic, yet it changes with the times, evolving with the whims and trends of the day. What's fashionable in marketing today might not be so hip a year from now. That's why it's such a challenge to stay on top of what's hot and what's not in marketing. Here are a few nudges in the right direction.

Make Em Laugh

These days, a whimsical way to get attention for your product or service is becoming more and more popular: using humor in marketing.

Marketing with wit has several benefits, says Woodland Hills, California, marketing consultant Hal Rothberg. It gets customers' attention, and it makes the message you're sending more digestible and easier for them to remember. Plus, a wisecrack here and a pun there make your company seem more human, warming your audience up and making them more receptive to your sales pitch.

Think you're not capable of charming your customers with comedy? Don't fret. You don't have to be Woody Allen or Mel Brooks; you just have to lighten up. In his book Guaranteed Results (Robinson & Associates), author Martin Baird says having fun while running your business makes it easy to transform first-time customers into repeat customers. "Who wants to do business with people [who] are not having fun?" he writes. The answer should be obvious.

One final caveat: Have a good time with your humor, but be careful not to offend anyone in the process.

Radio Days

Listen up: According to a recent study by market research firm Mark Kassof & Co. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Americans rate radio as more important to them than television. Forty-five percent of those surveyed said radio was "very important" to them, while only 31 percent said the same of television.

What should all this tell smart entrepreneurs? That radio advertising is a hot marketing ticket. Radio revenues have been growing for the past three years, according to Gary Fries, president of the Radio Advertising Bureau, a consulting and training firm in New York City. "We're seeing phenomenal revenue growth far in excess of total advertising expenditures, which means radio is growing faster than other mediums are," he says.

Radio may be an ideal way for small businesses to trumpet their wares for several reasons: Radio advertising is portable; listeners in stores, workplaces or cars are a captive audience; and, if they're listening in their cars, your ad may be the last major media your customers come in contact with before making a buying decision.

Match Game

Sure, jon han didn't start posting pictures of his customers as a marketing/matchmaking ploy, but that's what it turned into. Clients of his Washington, DC, dry cleaning business, Uptown Valet, began inquiring about meeting each other, and before he knew it, Han was hooking the lonely hearts up with one another. Pretty soon, Han's customer appreciation wall was an all-out dating service.

By putting up a customer mural, Han inadvertently started a marketing campaign aimed at singles--not a bad move in today's singles-heavy world. Tailoring marketing efforts to this demographic group makes sense: "More people are getting divorced, and those statistics keep going up," says Concord, Massachusetts, marketing consultant Nancy Michaels. "Plus, people are delaying marriage," she adds, making marketing to singles increasingly important if you want your product or service to have widespread appeal. How to reach this hot group? Restaurants can sponsor events where singles are seated together, food manufacturers can single out portions--the list is only limited by your imagination.

"Singles have different needs and wants [than married people]," says Michaels. "Listen to your customers-- and not just to what they're telling you about your product or service. Find out who they are. Get a sense of where people are in their lives. And then figure out your marketing campaign based on that information."

Contact Sources

Mark Kassof & Co., 220 E. Huron, #209, Ann Arbor, MI 48104, (313) 662-5700;

Nancy Michaels, c/o Impression Impact, (508) 287-0718, fax: (508) 287-0410;

Radio Advertising Bureau, 261 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016, (212) 681-7210;

Rothberg Associates, (818) 789-7495, fax: (818) 789-7495;

Uptown Valet, (202) 338-5900.