From the September 2000 issue of Startups

Editor's Note: When facing competition from companies that have tremendous marketing budgets and resources, you may feel a bit overwhelmed. Author Debra Koontz Traverso recognizes that feeling, and can help you turn it around by providing an arsenal of tips and methods to bring your business to the same level in Outsmarting Goliath: How to Achieve Equal Footing with Companies that Are Bigger, Richer, Older and Better Known. Read on to find out how you can use unconventional marketing methods to spread the name of your business.

You've got a dynamite product or service, but sales are off. You've tried every conventional marketing technique there is, but nothing seems to work. What should you do?

No idea should be considered off-limits if it works for you, is in line with your service or product, demonstrates sincerity, and displays honesty and good taste. You'll use your creativity to present your business in the way that works best for you. After all, you're the best marketer for your business, because you know it better than anyone else.

Try these unconventional-and sometimes counterintuitive-tactics to get you started or to get you thinking of other strategies that could boost your bottom line.


Solicit Complaints Instead Of TestimonialsMarket To Customer's Stresses And Worries
Call Key Contacts And Don't Talk About BusinessMarket To Someone Else's Customers
Take Your Products To The StreetsCreate An Award or Honor
Don't Offer SalesBarter For Business



From OUTSMARTING GOLIATH: HOW TO ACHIEVE EQUAL FOOTING WITH COMPANIES THAT ARE BIGGER, RICHER, OLDER, AND BETTER KNOWN. ©2000 by Debra Koontz Traverso. Published by arrangement with Bloomberg Press.

May not be modified, copied, reproduced, republished, uploaded, posted, transmitted or distributed in any manner.


Debra Koontz Traverso has been a consultant to scores of small and large businesses including UPS, NASA, Dow Chemical, United Airlines, Nike and Coopers & Lybrand. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Harvard University. She may be reached through her Web site at www.outsmartinggoliath.com.

Solicit Complaints Instead Of Testimonials

Just because you're not getting any complaints from customers doesn't mean you're meeting their needs and expectations. They could be disappointed in your service or products but remain loyal because there's no other option available.yet. As soon as other options are available, they might take their business elsewhere, and you'll be left thinking, "If only I had known.." So look like one of the big guys and do what they do: Solicit feedback and complaints before a current customer becomes a former customer.

Customers rarely speak up, even when they have valid complaints. They view complaining as complicated, unnatural, negative and a waste of time, since it often produces few results. Your goal should be to change all those excuses. Since complaining isn't easy to do, make it as easy as possible.

A few years ago, a cousin asked me to talk to his friend, a bar owner on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The friend was distraught because a few loyal patrons had begun frequenting another bar. Together, we decided he should launch a purposeful, fun and creative campaign to solicit complaints. A date for Complaint Night was posted. Everyone who complained got one free drink and a night of open grousing-about any topic. We held a contest for the best complaint of the evening. The evening was such a success that the bar owner has continued soliciting complaints on a routine basis. Complaint forms are always available, and each month a complaint of the month is selected by patrons.

Call Key Contacts And Don't Talk About Business

Devote three or four hours each month to call people who could be prospects or referrals for your business, but with whom you haven't spoken for a while. Document your conversation in a notebook or on a computer software program so that when you talk to them next, you can refer to your notes and recall details of your conversations.

Don't ask for business. Make the phone call about them. Tell them something that will interest them. If you're not sure what your opening line should be, try this: Start making notes when you're with clients about any topic they love, personal holidays (promotions, birthdays, anniversaries, children's births), hobbies or sports.

I once had a client who vacationed in Maine every fall. If I hadn't heard from him or had any assignments from him in a while, I would make it a point to contact him in early September to tell him to enjoy his annual trek to Maine. The call not only pleased him very much but always evolved into business, at his insistence. Other calls I have made included one to a client six months after he moved into a new home, just to ask how he liked the place; another was to ask a client if she was going to attend the annual conference that she had attended the year before and had enjoyed so much. People are always flattered by the gesture and the fact that you remembered something of interest to them. All it takes to practice this client-oriented service is a listening ear and good notes.

Take Your Product To The Streets

Display your products in what might at first seem like unusual places, but which actually are places that your prospects frequent. For example, Reebok International Ltd. displays its sports merchandise in barbershops, delis and parks in Los Angeles and New York City. The idea is to take your product where would-be customers hang out. Art galleries are especially effective at getting their wares displayed in eateries and convention centers.

Don't Offer Sales

Some marketers argue that if you have sales all the time, people will soon buy only when you have sales. This will force you to continually sell your services and products at a discounted price.

Diane of Nostalgic Notions near Cleveland discovered this the hard way. She used sales to draw people in to purchase her vintage accessories. It worked so well that she kept doing it, hoping to build her clientele. "All it did, however, is attract the same crowd, who only showed up whenever I had a sale," she said. "I was forced to always sell my products at a discounted price. Eventually I realized I had to stop the sales and get across the point that my prices were thoughtfully assigned in the first place."

Market To Customer's Stresses And Worries

When I lived in New Jersey, I used to get flyers from a rental company. Just before each holiday and seasonal celebration, a simple and inexpensive-yet always clever-flyer would arrive in the mail letting me know that the store was available for emergencies just in case my TV set died before Super Bowl Sunday or a tent proved necessary thanks to rain on the Fourth of July. Of course, when I needed to rent a carpet cleaner and tent, I turned to them.

Market To Someone Else's Customers

This advice proved beneficial for a caterer I once worked with. Although business was good, she wanted to reach new markets. Because caterers are usually associated with festive times, we developed a promotion in which she would reach people through the happiest times of their lives. She approached hospital personnel with the idea that new mothers should return to housework slowly after coming home with a new baby. As a result, they allowed us to distribute fliers to fathers and grandfathers offering a discounted "Welcome Home Mommy and Baby" luncheon to be delivered to their homes. Of course, in their joy and desire to help the new mom as much as possible, many of them called immediately and scheduled a celebratory luncheon she also provided. And when the caterer delivered the luncheon, she left fliers about a special baptism celebratory luncheon she also provided.

Create An Award Or Honor

Bestowing an award, such as a gift certificate, a scholarship or even just a plaque for an area of excellence, builds goodwill and customer loyalty and suggests you have a sizable company behind you. And then, of course, there is all the free publicity you will receive during the announcement of the annual nominee search, the announcement of the semifinalists, the presentation ceremony, and the news features about what the winner will do with the award.

Besides awards, try creating honors (patron of the arts, most honest attorney, teacher of the year), certificate programs (for completion of hours of community service, years spent using your product), or an institute (a center or clearinghouse for specific information) to attract attention to your efforts as a supporter of the community. For example, public relations specialist Alan Caruba created two centers: one a media spoof, the Boring Institute; and the other a center dedicated to media-driven scare campaigns, the National Anxiety Center. "As a result," Caruba says, "I do an average of 1,000 radio interviews annually that keep my name before the public and enhance my PR reputation with clients who hear me or see me on the occasional TV interview. These two activities have evolved into businesses in their own right, selling related products, guides and other merchandise." No one would know that Caruba's business is homebased.

Barter For Business

If you come across someone with whom you can exchange services, favors or business, then begin bartering. Pat Marenko Smith, artist and president of Revelation Productions, bartered her way to a successful exchange with her artwork of the biblical book of Revelation. "There are many high-profile ministries nationally that deal almost exclusively with Bible prophecy, and most of them produce full-color magazines or newsletters that they send monthly to their hundreds of thousands of supporters. Initially, several of them contacted me asking to use my art in their magazines or promotional materials," she explains. "I would quote the usual fee for use of my art, and then I would add, 'But if you will give me a promotional credit line with our phone number and Web address, I'll cut the price of using the art by 50 percent.' A couple of them even offered to do an article about me and my work, in which case I offered them the free use of three of my illustrations. This bartering has worked wonderfully, and sales are usually quite brisk after those publications are distributed, because I have a targeted audience."