Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Search for Predictability

I once read about a pizza parlor that advertised in the local neighborhood by leaving coupons door-to-door. It also had a Yellow Pages ad. That was pretty much the sum of the marketing strategy. When business dipped, they ordered up another batch of coupons and got them out to the folks. Every time they did that, their business picked up.

In short, they'd mastered how to create a customer.

If only all business were so simple. People wonder why business owners run useless ads here and there, ads that border on the desperate, and the answer is, of course, the businesses don't know if the ads are useless. They suspect that many of them are a waste of money but no one, not even Seth Godin, can say for sure. Like the oil company executive who said his company's secret is, "We drill more wells," business owners figure no one really knows what will trigger the consumer's Must Buy signal so they try a bit of this and a bit of that. What reached the customers last year will be ignored by them the next.

I recall developing a workshop on disability rights with the knowledge that a major change in the law was coming and employers would want to get supervisors trained in its nuances so they'd be ready when the new statute kicked in. I couldn't give the thing away. Two years later, it was one of my most popular classes. I forgot that sometimes urgency has a lag time. A similar experience has surfaced with harassment prevention training. It is a large part of our training now but, if experience is any guide, will begin to slip in a year or two and then will nudge up again.

The search for predictability is a quest for the Holy Grail. In some areas, it works. Write an affirmative action plan for a client this year and odds are they'll be back next year when it expires. With items that don't have a roll-over or expiration date, however, matters are far more complicated and once the secret has been found, it must never, ever be lost.

After all, not everything is as compelling as pizza.

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