Selling the Invisible

I folded down 21 of 229 pages in Harry Beckworth’s classic marketing field guide. I don’t generally fold down pages of books, yet somehow, a 13-year old book on “modern marketing” that was written while I was in junior high school captured my attention and held me rapt. Here are some excerpts so you can see why:

The Lake Wobegon Effect: Overestimating Yourself

“The Average American thinks he isn’t,” someone once said. Psychologists have proved it.

We think we’re better than we are.

When researchers asked students to rate their ability to get along with others, 60 percent rated themselves in the top 10 percent. Ninety-four percent of university professors say they are doing a better job than their average colleague. Most men think they are good-looking.

Our illusions of superiority are so widespread that psychologists have come up with a name for it. They call it the Lake Wobegon Effect, after Garrison Keillor’s famous radio show sign-off from his fictional hometown, Lake Wobegon, “where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all of the children are above average.”

Being human, everyone in your company suffers from the Lake Wobegon effect, too. You think you are better than you are—and that your service is better than it is.

Service in this country is so bad that you can offer above average service and still stink. By definition, the odds are that you’re average.

Assume your service is bad. It can’t hurt, and it will force you to improve.


Let Your Clients Set Your Standards

In many service businesses, the industry—not the client—defines quality.

Consider advertising, law, and architecture, for example.

In advertising, when most creative people say, “That’s a really good ad,” they don’t mean that the ad might build the client’s business. They just mean that it has a good headline, good visual—it’s good. Neat. Cool.

Lawyers think the same way. They’ll say, “That’s a really good brief.” Never mind that the brief was equally effective for the client $5,000 earlier. And never mind that the brief covers an issue that might have been avoided entirely through good lawyering.

Many architects treasure buildings that are enormously inconvenient for the people who work inside. Still, architects call them great buildings. Quality service produced them.

Ask: Who is setting your standards—your industry, your ego, or your clients?


Pricing: A Lesson from Picasso

A woman was strolling along a street in Paris when she spotted Picasso sketching at a sidewalk cafe. Not so thrilled that she could not be slightly presumptuous, the woman asked Picasso if he might sketch her, and charge accordingly.

Picasso obliged. In just minutes, there she was: an original Picasso.

“And what do I owe you?” she asked.

“Five thousand francs,” he answered.

“But it only took you three minutes,” she politely reminded him.

“No,” Picasso said. “It took me all my life.”

Don’t charge by the hour. Charge by the years.


Don’t Make Me Laugh

It’s tempting to create a clever name.

Sometimes, the this temptation becomes so strong that you give your service a slightly funny name. let’s say, Hair Apparent for a hair transplant clinic.

Here’s a test that will talk you out of this mistake.

Look up one of those wittily named services (chances are it’s a hair salon or a pizza place). Go there and go in. You will notice two things:

You have never been there before.

And it’s almost empty.

Don’t get funny with your name.


Brands in a Microwave World

You want a new sound system. Because you love music and hate wasting money on large purchases, you want to choose wisely. But you also have eight calls to return, a lawn to mow, one recital, and three Little League practices – you are, in short, the typical Got-No-Time American.

You cannot buy more time, so you must give some up. You need shortcuts. You need some way to speed your decision on that sound system.

Fortunately, you find your shortcut: a brand-name system.

Brands are decision-making shortcuts in a world of people like you looking for shortcuts. Often, a brand is all the information some people will need to choose their next sound system – even though at least one unbranded system is clearly superior and 30 percent cheaper than the system they choose.

In choosing a brand-name sound system, you demonstrate a rule of modern marketing: As time shrinks, the importance of brands increases. And time in America is shrinking; companies have downsized their staffs and upsized the workloads of the survivors. These people need shortcuts every waking minute. They turn to service and product brands.

Give your prospects a shortcut. Give them a brand.

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