Consumer Marketing

2 Unbendable Rules About Creating A Promotional Offer

Back in 2005, White Castle developed a promotion for one of its new products, the Roma Tomato Burger. Each store was outfitted with big banners, press releases were sent out, and an enormous effort was made to ensure this limited time meal was given its due.

While the Roma Tomato Burger was a moderate success, many of us who purchased it were surprised at what we got. Why? Because it was a regular White Castle hamburger with a slice of tomato on it. That’s right. A slice of tomato, something you would get without asking at any other burger chain. Did White Castle really think the public would get excited and embrace the idea of a hamburger with a slice of tomato?

Even though the burgers themselves are remarkable and their “What You Crave”campaign is both on-target and hugely successful, their vision this time was slightly flawed (I say slightly because the burger did actually meet some numbers) in that the company tried to hype something that was unremarkable. What the company discovered, and should have known, was that most people are not that gullible.

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To the same degree, promotions need to have a perceived value in their offers or giveaways. To get potential customers to sign up and/or give you their information, the promotion must offer something in return that the customer wants. We’ve done a few promotions in the past where the customer was offered a free case study for filling in our submission form. On average, these promotions received little response unless aggressively promoted, which wasn’t much of a surprise. If potential customers are willing to offer up their contact information and possibly suffer through endless sales calls, the possibility of finding themselves on a marketing “list,” and the disruption of their busy schedules, they sure as hell want something of more value in return.

There are two things I learned that resonated as well 10 years ago as they do today:

1. Your incentive or giveaway must have added value 

Customers are savvy. They know when they’re being had. If you really want their contact information, you have to give them something that they, as buyers, are looking for. If you sell pool pallets to warehouses, maybe the offer of some free shrink-wrapping might fit the bill. If you are in the business of selling porcelain plates to restaurants, you might want to offer some free placemats to sweeten the deal. Most sales people deal in this type of bartering all day every day. The only difference with a promotion is you’re making that offer up front. When there is added value to a customer’s potential purchase, you “earn” that contact information.

2. Your incentive or giveaway should reinforce your brand 

Whatever it is you’re offering, as in the examples above, it needs to complement your product or service and reinforce your brand. If you’re a tool company, giving a pen away at a trade show is handy and might help a customer remember you when they’re jotting down notes, but a branded Swiss Army knife might work better as a reminder of what it is you do. There are dozens of promotional incentive items to choose from, in addition to simply coming up with some unique ones on your own. For example, a CNN show on “Money & Power” that a company named Vertical Mix Marketing was promoting included the promotional incentive (for affiliates) of the hardcover book version of the show, housed in a fancy cigar box. Reinforcement of the brand. A much more cost-effective one for Great American Country’s Summer BBQ promotion involved a branded oven mitt—once again, an item that resonated more with its intended audience than a simple branded flash drive or MP3 player would have.

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