by Debra Kahn Schofield
The first time I went hiking in the hills of Marin County, California, it was a scorcher of an August day. Hot and thirsty from a six mile hike, I emerged from the trail onto a city maintained road. Up ahead of me I saw a lemonade stand. I had to shake my head to make sure that I wasn’t seeing a mirage in the dust. But there it was, two little girls with glass pitchers and paper cups. They were sitting at a card table beneath a tree, and suspended between the branches was a sign advertising “Cool, Refreshing Lemonade.”
In the years since that day I’ve encountered many a billboard and road sign. But nothing has ever grabbed and focused my attention like that sign. Those girls had whipped up an appealing product, placed it in a prime location and come up with a tantalizing slogan.
Those kids had a product with a strong identity. They may have diversified to include apple juice or iced tea, or perhaps even the occasional batch of cookies, but they were clear on their concept. Their enterprise illustrated one of the basic tenets of marketing, “determine what you do best; then set out to do it.”
These pre-adolescent marketing geniuses had targeted a specific audience. I doubt that their elementary school curriculum included market research. But their strategy was textbook perfection. Summers in Marin are hot and dry. The Marin Municipal Water District teases hikers and bikers with lakes and streams that you can’t drink from. By the time people emerged from the trail they were tired, thirsty and a mile from town. Another marketing principle the kids mastered was “find your niche and exploit it.”
Yet another great marketing lesson one can learn from the kids is “keep it simple.” It is a lot easier to read a sign containing only two or three well-chosen words. If the sign read, “You’ve had a long hot hike, run, or bike ride. Don’t you deserve to relax with an icy cup of fresh-squeezed lemonade for only $1.00?” most people would have zoned out before the first sentence ended. Even an exhausted brain can encompass the meaning of “Cool, Refreshing Lemonade.” And the sale would have been made before the price was even advertised.
“Sell the benefits” is another marketing principle encapsulated in that road sign stand. “Cool, refreshing,” . . . what more does the prospective customer need to know? I’ll bet that few people are questioning sugar content or price mark-up when they come off a hot, dusty trail. The kids sold the benefits.
Finally, great marketers — from school kids to computer manufacturers–share one quintessential marketing skill; the ability to boil down the complexities of their product to its essence. Look at the billboards asking the simple question “Got Milk?”
Now your business is probably a lot more complicated than a roadside stand. But I think that all guerrillas can learn a lesson from the two young entrepreneurs who captured my attention and my two dollars that hot summer afternoon.