Simplicity, Simplify: A Marketing Lesson from the Toybox
A few years into my brilliant marketing career, I learned an important lesson, albeit from an unexpected source. A six year-old boy taught me how too many choices and too little opportunity to filter one's options can overwhelm and even disable the buying decision.
While a friend went to another section of the department store, I took his young son toy shopping for his sixth birthday. In misdirected largesse, I told the boy, "You can have anything you want, all you have to do is choose!"
When my friend rejoined us a scant 15 minutes later, it was to find his son crying, seated on the floor of the toy department, surrounded by dozens of colorful, clattering toys scattered up and down the aisle. "I-I-I-I don't want anything, this is too hard. I wanna go home!" the little boy sobbed.
My friend took the situation wisely in hand, reassuring his son he needn't decide right away. If he wanted, he could just choose something from the toys he'd already taken off the shelf or "just from these three here." Within minutes, a choice was happily made, we were through the checkout lane, and on our way. The remainder of the day, the six-year-old delighted in showing everyone -- and I do mean everyone -- his skill with the new orange ray-gun with spinning light on top and fifteen sound effects. The drama forgotten, he exulted, "See this! I found this in the toy store! Watch me!"
Later, my friend explained to me a whole toy store is just too much information for one little boy. "Next time," the wise and experienced daddy said, "limit the choices to 'just this aisle' or 'anything on this shelf.' If he wants to look beyond those limits, no problem, he'll let you know when he's ready." As with children and toys, so with customers and our offerings of products and services.
What Are Our Clients Saying?
Offer clients and prospects the best of what we have or do, watch and listen to their reactions, then narrow or broaden the options and selections according to what they say. As long as what they ask for falls into the range of possibility, practicality, and our definition of "we are in the business of _____," do it. If offering a particular product or service isn't "on the shelf" of reality or ability, it's time to ask ourselves if it should be: we may be standing at the threshhold of a new door, a better definition of our business model or concept, and a fresh future for ourselves and our enterprise.
However, sometimes offering a particular product or service is absolutely out of the question. Yet, our responsibility doesn't end with, "I'm sorry, there's just no way we can do that for you." Instead, let's ask ourselves, "How can we facilitate the client's access to getting this?" Become your clients' Go-to Guy, the person they know they can always go to for an answer, a hook-up, a nudge of encouragement, or at the very least, who will point them in the right general direction.
Do that, and you earn their respect and their loyalty. Do that, and they will consider you indispensable to their success and well-being. Do that, and you have a built-in source of marketing research and you will waste less money and time on poor marketing decisions.
Becoming an integral part of our clients' toy-box for success means we can't allow ourselves to become safely cloistered within our same-old, same-old knowledge and contacts. It means we must wander around the playground of life and commerce, meet the other toys and toy-makers, take a few things out of the box, learn a new game or two or three, and be interested and interesting. That is Humility, the toughest Tonka toy on the playground, and the quality I find myself most often in need of.
In marketing yourself or your enterprise, promoting and publicizing it, and in fashioning your myriad means of touting your stuff on the web, in print, in broadcast, by phone, face-to-face, or however you do it, remember the kid in the toy store. Like him, we are sometimes full of wonder and delight and excitement and not a little overwhelmed by the noise and color and things-that-go-whirr and upsy-downsy. Unless you want wailing, blubbery, bewildered clients on your deck: