Tapping into the power of believable marketing

We have become a jaded society when it comes to advertising claims and promises. I once read about a pizza parlor in New York with a sign that boasted,"Best Pizza In The City." As you walked down the street the next four pizza parlors, in a race to outdo each other, claimed: Best Pizza In The State, Best Pizza In The Country, Best Pizza In The World and Best Pizza In The Universe.

The last pizza joint on the street boasted, Best Pizza On The Block. I have a feeling the last guy was the busiest because he understood the importance of credibility in your marketing.

Like a male gorilla in the wild, puffing out his chest to prove his dominance, businesses across this great land have nothing more important to lay claim to than "No. 1," "Best" or "World's Greatest." Last time I checked my calendar, I didn't have time to check all the pizza parlors in the world. How about you?

Some believe the Egyptians derived strength and power from the pyramid. I believe as entrepreneurs we can gain strength from the power of the credibility pyramid. The credibility pyramid consists of five marketing tools available to all businesses: advertising, public relations, testimonials, referrals and samples.

At the base of our pyramid is advertising. Most businesses spend 90 percent of their time, energy and money on advertising. Like the base of an ancient pyramid, we are relying solely on the support of advertising to build and sustain our businesses.

Our thinking is flawed. As the average man's exposure to advertising messages moves into the tens of thousands each day, we must shout louder to be heard. And a loud voice carries a large price tag out of reach of the average pizza business. Advertising is the least credible form of marketing. What we say about ourselves is perceived as self-serving. You'll never hear McDonald's claim a mediocre burger and great fries or Jaguar admit it has a gorgeous vehicle that breaks down a lot. Who knows? A little self-deprecating honesty might just bump up sales.

Like a nightclub full of stud wannabes stumbling over themselves to impress the babe at the bar, business owners are fooled into believing unsubstantiated, boastful advertising claims will drive the masses to their front doors. Nothing could be further from reality. James Bond would never need to sport a caveman's club to get his girl. He resorts to more subtle means.

What others say and think about our businesses is six times more powerful than what we say about ourselves. The press carries instant credibility for those featured within its pages and broadcasts.

Don't we all believe what we read in the paper? You can bet most people do. Your challenge is to make yourself attractive to reporters by offering something of value to their readers.

When the Dr. Atkins, no-carb diet plan first started, we decided to tap into all the media hype. We took our most popular protein items and created a "No Carb Menu." We mailed out press releases announcing the tie in. The response was overwhelming. Not only did we receive full color photos in the local paper, we were approached by 20/20 for a Dr. Atkins segment.

We didn't make the 20/20 cut, but we have created quite a following for our no-carb meals with a lot of help from the press.

Customer testimonials rank high along with press power. As I tend to be a strong supporter of targeted marketing, testimonials add instant credibility to my journey to dominating a new niche.

You'd better believe when a major retailer sees my testimonials from Dillard's, Wal-Mart and Circuit City, they know I understand their industry and can deliver on my promises. This one little niche has added a $14,000-one day annuity to our business.

I have personally sold enough books to qualify as a bookstore. No, I'm not talking about collecting money for them, but rather referring books to my friends, clients and associates. I can move books if the author has something that excites me.

Most buying decisions for first-time product purchases are influenced by the experiences of your trusted friends and colleagues. My first new car was a VW Fox. My good friend and resident car aficionado highly recommended the car. He was on target. That car was reliable, peppy and I drove the wheels off of it.

You can tap into the power of referrals. Whether you formally ask your customers and clients for referrals or you approach a non-competing business for an entree to their customers.

A consultant friend of mine carries around a list of one hundred companies he wants to work with. Once he has proven himself to a new client, he hands over the list and asks if they have any contacts at his "wish list" companies. This one little technique keeps him in high demand.

We have informally been referred into many local businesses. Hotels, doctors, schools and a children's museum have informally referred us to their customers. Recently, we approached a museum about offering a 'Science Scout' certificate to all kids visiting the museum. The certificate was good for a free kid's meal, in the name of the museum, but paid for by us. This promotion has more than paid for the $47 investment.

You see, what happened was an indirect referral. We trust our friends and favorite suppliers. That trust is transferred to you and your business instantly, just as in the case of the museum.

At the top of the credibility pyramid, you'll find sampling. Anytime your customer or client can experience what you have to offer, with no cost and no risk to them, you have the highest likelihood of gaining a new customer.

I learned this technique in third grade by accident. Our school was selling chocolate covered almonds as a fundraiser, and I was in love with these almonds.

I figured if everyone I tried to sell to tasted just one, they would want a box or two. It worked like gangbusters. I came in second place in the candy drive (Not to make excuses, but first place went to a team of two students).

Imagine buying a car without a test drive. It would never happen. In our catering business, I am always offering and promoting free sample meals for catering committees. If they just taste my food, I know my chances of bringing on a new client will double.

This will work in just about any business. You just might need to get a little creative.

If you grab your pennies too tightly, you won't have any room to hold your dollars. A consulting client of mine was against sampling. "Too expensive – we'll get taken advantage of by people looking for a free meal."

Maybe so, but the extra business you gain more than makes up for the few you lose. A recent catering client booked a $10,000 job last fall and rebooked for this fall. I'll let you in on a secret. This company received a free sampling three years ago and opted to use someone else. As you can see this client took me a little bit longer to get a return on my investment – quite a good one for a sampling that cost me less than a hundred dollars.

Sampling, referrals, testimonials and public relations might never take the place of advertising in your business, but try to place these building blocks of the credibility pyramid at your base. These powerful blocks should be used to support your advertising, not tossed aside as worthless. You'll find once you do that you'll be able to profit handsomely from the power of your very own credibility pyramid.