Word Travels Fast

Use secrecy, scarcity and the cool factor to spark a buzz about your product.
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the September 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When a product is hot, people hear about it nonstop and often buy it just to see what all the hoopla is about. The sales "buzz" has hooked them.

I still remember an advertising campaign from my childhood that caused quite a stir. It involved a progressive buildup of information that kept people on the alert for clues that would be revealed via neighborhood billboards.

It started with a billboard message hinting that something BIG was coming to our area very soon. What that something might be was the buzz for weeks in the media and at all the local hangouts.

Next a picture of a giant mountain replaced the written message about the BIG thing coming to town. No one could figure out how a mountain could fit into our Chicago neighborhood, but our curiosity kept us waiting for more.

At last, the mountain that arrived was Folger's "mountain grown" coffee. By the time the cat was out of the bag, people were breaking down grocery store doors to buy the stuff.

Generating a buzz isn't magic. You can jump-start the "buzz" by cranking up certain dials on your marketing machine. The following tips include homework assignments you can use to get the buzz going.

1. Keep a secret--and drive your prospects up the wall with curiosity. Entice everyone with a soon-to-be-revealed secret. The automobile industry has worked that angle for years. A TV commercial reveals just a quick peek of next year's sleek new model speeding down an open road. It'll be here soon, but for now, it's a big secret.

Homework assignment: Brainstorm 10 ways you can introduce your product or service to the marketplace by using a secretive twist. For example, send a mailer saying that in the next 30 days, an exciting discovery will be revealed. Use teasers such as "You can't afford to miss this money-saving (or timesaving) new way to conduct business. Watch for more details soon."

You can also reveal the secret in a mailer. I once used a box with a surprise in it (a Rolodex card with my company's name, address and phone number on it) to promote my business and tickle people's curiosity about my affordable prices. I got a tremendous response. It was more expensive than previous mailings, but if your business is growing and making a profit, you may find allocating advertising dollars to a similar mailing worthwhile.

2. Use scarcity to create excitement and demand . . . and watch your prospects clamor to get their hands on your limited supply of the product.

Back to the auto industry example. After the prospect gets a quick preview of next year's new car model, he or she goes into the showroom for more information. Of course, the salesperson can only put the prospect's name on a waiting list. The new, still-unveiled model is in such demand that it'll be months before the dealer can promise delivery. This is exactly what happened with the recently revived Volkswagen Beetle.

Because people always yearn for the unavailable and hard-to-get, customers will travel cross-country just to get the desired model sooner. A new, shiny car is one thing, but what about Tickle Me Elmo and Beanie Babies? Just more proof that scarcity--even when the product is a small stuffed animal--can turn a normally composed shopper into a crazed buyer willing to go to absurd lengths to get the product.

Television loves to use a shortage of information to create a buzz. It's been doing this to hold viewers' attention since Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky. Seinfeld's final show created a deafening buzz around the globe. Information about the final story was scarce. Sponsors paid dearly for spots because they knew they would reach zillions of viewers who knew nothing about the final episode but who would postpone their own weddings to find out the fate of Jerry and pals.

In my sales training business, I enjoy it when I have to tell a prospect that the speaking date they'd like to schedule with me must be confirmed within 24 hours because another meeting planner wants to book that date, too. The buzz feeds on scarcity. Because somebody else wants me to speak at their seminar, the previously uncommitted prospect suddenly has to have me, too.

Homework assignment: Both start-up and seasoned businesses that are introducing new products often think they need to have warehouses full of the product and spend exorbitant amounts of money on advertising. Why not produce a limited amount and forget about spending big advertising dollars? Invite an exclusive group of existing customers to a "sneak preview" of your new product and offer discounted introductory prices. Starting a buzz with your satisfied customers often means you don't have to invest a fortune, and the cash flow you generate allows you to manufacture more and hire the help you need to keep up with the new demand.

3. Practice the "seeing is believing" presentation method. Sandie Tilloston, co-founder of NuSkin Inc. in Provo, Utah, describes how this type of prospecting generated a true sales buzz for NuSkin skin-care products early in the company's growth. "We used to do demonstrations with 60 people at a time in somebody's living room while we painted half their faces with our nonsurgical face lift mask," says Tilloston. "Fifteen minutes later, they would all be looking at themselves in the mirror admiring the noticeable difference. Our biggest problem was trying to fill the orders fast enough."

There's nothing like seeing immediate results. David Olson, national sales manager of Smith Sport Optics, a $40 million company in Ketchum, Idaho, says: "Originally, our founder, Dr. Bob Smith, invented anti-fog, double-glass goggles for skiers. He started small but worked the territory. He hit all the mountain resorts and hung out with the skiers and shop owners."

Skiers were encouraged to take off the goggles they were wearing to try on Smith's. Once they saw what the goggles could do, the line for orders was as long as the line for the ski lifts.

Homework assignment: Think of a place where you can take your product to give it maximum exposure. How about renting a booth at an upcoming trade show? Or visiting a particular store or business that gets high traffic? Be creative. Find untapped product display venues to demonstrate what you have to offer.

4. Know what's cool. The "cool factor" is an integral part of what makes a sales buzz successful--and working your territory is how you learn what's in and what's out.

Olson says Smith faced a big challenge when the company expanded its market from skiing to several other sports. "Skiing was not cool to surfers and [snowboarders]," says Olson. "And because we were associated with skiing, we needed to discover a way to reach [these new markets]."

Today, Smith Sport Optics associates itself with some of the best surfers and snowboarders in the world. Because top surfers and snowboarders are seen wearing Smith goggles in the company's ads, the buzz is "It's cool to be seen wearing Smith because `the dude' is wearing them."

Homework assignment: Do you know what's "in" in your industry? Which people have a strong influence on your target market? Are they wearing or using your product or service? Find out why or why not. It's time to get in the loop!

Danielle Kennedy presents sales and marketing seminars and keynote addresses worldwide and is the author of seven sales books as well as audio and video sales training programs. Check local bookstores for Seven Figure Sellingand her latest book, Balancing Act: An Inspirational Guide for Working Mothers (both Berkley Press). Write to her in care of Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.

Contact Source

Smith Sport Optics, (208) 726-6509, do@smithsport.com


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