Back to School for Retailers

marketing tips from teachersRetailers can learn from tactics teachers employ with students, as marketing a business can be similar to stepping into a room full of youngsters. There are short attention spans, distractions aplenty and tendencies to quickly form strong opinions, favorable or otherwise. Attempts to make the company voice audible over the cacophony of the competition can be a tricky process, but there are a number of strategies independent retailers can easily adopt in order to make themselves known to new customers, as well as to improve customer retention.

In a preschool environment, children who bring lunches to school can choose from brown paper bags, Angry Birds lunchboxes, pre-packed snacks and any number of other mealtime status symbols. Given the choice, a child will reach for the lunch with the coolest delivery method, not because they have been told the lunch is full of vitamin C or that it will help them stay healthy. Customers similarly follow suit and retailers must appeal to customers’ tastes rather than offer rational solutions. If a retailer markets bed linens, for example, as being “affordable” or “economical,” while those words may catch a customer’s ear, they aren’t compelling enough to entice most customers to make a purchase. Those bed linens need to be presented as the best type of sheet available, which will satisfy the customer’s tastes for style, softness or comfort. Choosing the right words, like choosing the right packaging, makes a huge difference in the success of a marketing campaign.

Another tip to keep in mind is that initial resistance is not always a sign that a product won’t succeed. Think about children’s favorite toys. That favorite teddy is a cherished friend in their eyes, as irreplaceable as a pet. If offered a new one, many children don’t want to let go of the toy they already know and love, and they turn it down. How do preschool teachers coax students to play with different toys? They present the new toy in a fun way, through a game or as a reward for good behavior. Steve Jobs knew how to work around the tendency to dislike the unknown. Rather than ask customers whether or not they wanted to get rid of wires and extra buttons, he simply eliminated them from Apple devices and presented the new, improved models of the products, and did so in enjoyable ways. Retailers preparing to introduce new products should be prepared to market them as an improvement of something already familiar.

Finally, don’t confuse rewards with bribes. Rewards are earned, given as a measure of thanks or recognition of achievement. Bribes rapidly dominate the situation and change the demeanor of all parties involved, and rarely foster genuine loyalty. In fact, bribes inhibit loyalty, making it such that the only reason for attention is the bribe, and nothing else. Sales promotions work in a similar fashion. Some discounts and customer loyalty programs, at the most basic level, are ways of paying for a customer’s business. Rewards, on the other hand, such as “two for one” deals, “buy one get one free” sales, and tiered percentage discounts work so that customers receive deals on merchandise they already planned to purchase. When planning out promotions for use as a facet of the company’s marketing strategy, be wary of which school of thought is being followed. Think like a teacher and you’ll make the grade.