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Give the Occasional Unexpected Extra

3 Apr

I was exiting a parking garage I frequent not long ago, on the first day of Spring, and was surprised to see the attendant out at the exit gate. (The garage uses a ticket system, so typically the attendant is in the booth awaiting the occasional confused patron or gate malfunction.)

When I got to the gate, the attendant said, “Happy Spring!” and handed me a small pack of Skittles candies. The package had a sticker on it that read:

Penn Parking Welcomes Spring! Thank you for your support!

As corny as it sounds, that made my day. And it wasn’t even a bad day before that.

But it’s that little unexpected extra. It makes a difference in spirit, but costs little. In this case, each packet of Skittles cost maybe a dime. The cost of the stickers was probably less than a penny each. There was a little time in making them and sticking them on. But that’s it. My guess is, most of the parking patrons that day were as happily surprised as I was. Something like this, as minimal as it is, can be the difference in a customer coming back again and again.

KISS Love Gun toy

One of KISS's many surprises in their 1970s albums: the cardboard pop-gun included in their "Love Gun" album.

It reminds me of when I was a kid in the ’70s and eagerly awaited each new KISS album. One reason was that they were masters of what I’m talking about. Each album had something special in it—stickers, a poster, a surprise of some sort. While many bands do something of the kind now, KISS was nearly alone in this at the time (and largely mocked for their commercialism).

So, what can your business offer on occasion, your own little unexpected extra that customers and clients would remember and tell others about?

What have you got to lose?

5 Jan

roulette table and gambling chipsWe’re frequently told that gambling is bad. We get this message from a variety of sources in a variety of ways, both applying to literal gambling (as in a casino) and gambling in a more casual way. But are we actually doing ourselves an injustice by lumping all gambling together as a no-no?

I was recently talking with a successful entrepreneur who runs a small business he’s had for three decades. He told me about a $20,000 “gamble” he was taking on a promotional project to start 2012. But he was quick to add that he’s built into the company’s budget the money to take this gamble, and therefore it’s not really a gamble — it’s money that can be lost without causing harm to the business.

It got me to thinking how many entrepreneurs I know, including myself, who don’t allow for there to be any “gambling money” in the budget. This particular entrepreneur even said, “What fun would business be if you can’t play around with ideas because you can’t afford for them to not work?” How true. And yet, again, many entrepreneurs budget themselves into a corner, not allowing any room for the playing around that can result in killer ideas coming to fruition.

Rock stars generally don’t fall into this trap, however, which is yet another reason why we have a lot to learn from them. In fact, rock stars are generally expected to gamble big. Think of the U2 “360 Tour” a couple years ago, with its incredibly massive production. Or at the other end of the spectrum, think of the budding rock stars who quit their jobs, throw everything into a van, and go on a tour. This isn’t to say that it’s savvy business to risk it all or even risk a lot — but we need to be reminded that it’s best to leave some room to gamble. The person who buys only one lottery ticket a year still has one more chance to win the jackpot than the person who never buys a ticket.

So, as 2012 marches on, think about your business and your budget. How much money can you afford to gamble this year on an idea or two that could make your business better or more successful — or perhaps just make it more fun? Some of the coolest things rock stars do in their work (smashing guitars being a great example) are as much about enjoying the business as they are about growing the business.

News You Can Muse

16 Dec

If you’re over the age of 45, you probably hadn’t heard of the band Muse—at least not until they opened for U2 during its 360 Tour a couple years ago. Before that, they had gained acclaim and hit the charts in 2003 (and had been playing since the mid-90s), but the U2 tour grew their fan base exponentially. As a result, they hit a new chart this year—the Forbes Celebrity 100. Arguably among the least recognized names on the least, Muse ranks tied at #47 with a one-year gross revenue of $76 million and net income of $35 million (both figures in U.S. dollars). We’ll never know how things would be for Muse had they not opened the shows during the U2 tour, but it’s certainly safe to say their sales, fame, and income wouldn’t be what it is.

So, the question is, what can you do to partner with a complementary entrepreneur to further both of your efforts? This is what happens when bands tour together. In the case of U2 and Muse, the benefits to Muse are obvious, but U2 benefited as well in reaching many (notably younger) Muse fans who may have had a lesser acquaintance with U2’s music. Likewise, in whatever venture you have, at least consider the possibility that your “competition” may actually be a potential partner. You may even team up among many promotional partners—much like bands do when they are billed on festivals. Sarah McLachlan created the very successful Lilith Fair in the early ’90s that boosted her own career but also that of many other female rockers of the time. Likewise, Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction started Lollapalooza in 1991, which went on to promote and feature some of the biggest rock acts of the 1990s.

Share with us your ideas and experiences with promotional partnerships like this.

(By the way, U2’s earnings for the same year were $195 million, solidly planting them in the top spot among rockers on the Forbes list. Their 360 Tour set a record with sales topping $700 million, surpassing the Rolling Stones Bigger Bang Tour’s $554 million a few years earlier.)

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