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Market With Meaning

Don't offer your customers products--offer them solutions, connections and satisfaction.

When Rob Kaufelt bought Murray's Cheese in 1991, the Greenwich Village cheese shop was a mom-and-pop hole-in-the-wall known mostly to the locals.

Today, Murray's Cheese is a thriving emporium that not only sells gourmet cheeses and meats but offers everything from hands-on classes and online tutorials to catering, a cheese cave and freshly made grilled cheese sandwiches. With eye-popping sales of $2,500 per square foot, Murray's has grown by 15 percent to 20 percent a year at its Bleecker Street store, added two locations in New York's bustling Grand Central Terminal and just inked a deal with a national chain to open mini-stores in supermarkets across the country.

Murray's has also become a well-known tourist destination where visitors from around the world can come to get a taste of what New York City is all about. The store was named New York's Best Cheese Shop by The Village Voice and has been featured on MSN Money and Today, as well as in The New York Times and Martha Stewart Living.

So just how much did it cost Kaufelt to turn his mom-and-pop cheese shop into a national brand?

"Our advertising budget has been zero point zero zero since the day I bought the company," says Kaufelt, who grew up in his family's supermarket business in New Jersey. "It's like my grandfather always said, 'Here, taste!'"

Adding Value
Like Murray's Cheese, companies of all kinds--from retailers to restaurants--are discovering that it's no longer enough to blast out marketing pitches touting the virtues of your company's products and services. You need to create a marketing campaign that entertains, educates and adds value to your customers' lives.

Whether that means doling out mouthwatering samples from behind the counter, creating interactive games to play on the web or offering online courses that teach people how to make their own pasta, today's marketers need to deliver more than slick sales pitches and rock-bottom prices--or risk getting left in the dust.

"Do you know what makes people say 'wow'?" asks marketing guru Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow, the best-selling book about how companies can transform themselves by becoming remarkable. "Connection, meaning, humanity, things that change them in some way. No one is impressed by your features or even your price. What we talk about is art, generosity, and products and services that make a difference."

Sounds like a pretty tall order--especially for a startup or small business. Funny videos and interactive games may be great marketing tools for Fortune 1000 companies with seven-figure advertising budgets, but how can SMB owners create the same kind of impact as Nike and Burger King?

"Actually, one of the greatest viral videos of all time was created by a small business," says Bob Gilbreath, author of The Next Evolution in Marketing: Connect with Your Customers by Marketing With Meaning and Chief Marketing Strategist at Bridge Worldwide, one of the nation's largest digital advertising agencies and part of WPP.

According to Gilbreath, Blendtec was a little-known, 186-employee player in the high-end home blender category until its new marketing director, George Wright, walked past the company lab and saw piles of sawdust on the floor. Once Wright discovered that the R&D manager regularly tested blenders with lumber, he decided to share his discovery with the world. The first of what would become a series of videos called Will it Blend? was shot and posted on YouTube for $50. "That first video received 6 million views in its first week," Gilbreath says, "and Blendtec went on to see sales rise 43 percent over the next year."

How can your business achieve similar results? In his book, Gilbreath proposes a Hierarchy of Meaningful Marketing that consists of the following three levels (loosely based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs):

  1. Solution marketing: Free offers, cash savings and loyalty rewards that offer customers real solutions to their problems. "A free sample is a no-cost way for customers to experience your product or service," Gilbreath says. "'Free' tends to make people feel compelled to like your product, and usually the cost is very low."
  2. Connection marketing: Online videos, interactive games and social networking that connect customers with the brand. "Entrepreneurs already know their customers well and have a right to earn a place on their 'friend' lists," Gilbreath says. Examples: One deli announces the daily specials to office workers at 11 a.m. when they are beginning to think about where to go, while a pet boarding service uses Facebook to share updates and pictures with pet owners while they are away.
  3. Achievement marketing: Online courses, free seminars and cause-related marketing that let customers actualize their potential as human beings. "When done in a way that clearly links to your business and is something your customers care about, cause marketing can significantly drive your sales," Gilbreath says. "For example, Amy Adam, a real estate agent in Cincinnati, donates a percentage of her house closing fees to the charity of her customers' choice." Much of her new business is attributable to her campaign. Besides strong post-sale satisfaction levels, "She's [gotten] specific comments from customers who like the idea and have never heard of something like it before," he says.

Proof is In the Results
What's the ROI for marketing with meaning? Ask Tara-Nicholle Nelson, an Oakland, Calif., real estate broker and founder and Chief Visionary of {RE}Think Real Estate. Nelson projects the $75,000 she invested in positioning herself as an expert--empowering women to buy their own homes--to yield $1 million in brokerage commissions, speaking engagements, content licensing deals and other revenue by 2010.

Her marketing campaign included a targeted book, website and PR efforts coordinated to position Nelson as the Dear Abby of women-owned real estate--helping female homebuyers overcome their fears and find solutions to their real estate problems. "I can track about $250,000 in revenues directly back to the book and the original campaign," Nelson says. "The fact that no commission or compensation [is] riding on my answer is a major credibility point."

B2B marketers can use marketing with meaning to jumpstart their sales efforts, too. Elyissia Wassung, CEO of 2 Chicks With Chocolate in Matawan, N.J., has made sampling the centerpiece of her sales pitch to corporate clients. By letting customers taste, "they get a clearer understanding of the actual product itself," Wassung says. "Textures, flavors, the experience of it dissolving in their mouths--it changes their participation level completely. Suddenly, they're personally involved and asking questions whereas before it was more of a polite response."

That's why, when it comes to marketing to today's customers, it's not enough to win a share of their wallet. You've got to win their hearts, minds and, sometimes, their taste buds, too.

Says Kaufelt of Murray's Cheese: "When you walk into our store, we want you to walk out with an experience whether you buy something or not."

Rosalind Resnick is a New York-based freelance writer, entrepreneur, investor and author of The Vest Pocket Consultant's Secrets of Small Business Success.

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