The Art of Promotions Part III – What’s in it for them?

Customers are people. People are selfish. Therefore, transitivity tells us that customers are selfish. The quicker you understand that as a local business owner the quicker you will start to generate more business. It’s hard to get people to talk about your business, but it’s even harder if you don’t give them a good reason to. The key is to incentivize them.

So why is someone going to talk about your newly launched menu items or that brand new tanning bed you just got in last week? Appeal to their self-seeking nature!

In a previous blog post, The Art of Promotions Part II: Make it personal we touched upon how people benefit by knowing the owner of a local business. That’s just the beginning. You can take it a few steps further but first you need to understand how they operate.

People help local businesses spread the word about news and promotions when either a) it benefits them directly or b) it benefits the person they are speaking to, which in turn benefits them indirectly.

There are an unlimited number of ways in which local business owners can benefit their customers directly. You can offer your customers discounts or complimentary items when they help spread the word or refer their friends. Most of the times these special benefits don’t cost anything, like letting them skip the line, or giving them the privilege of sitting in a special area of your restaurant or lounge. If you put in the extra effort, there is a much higher chance they will as well.

As for the second reason why people help local businesses spread the word, people love sharing experiences of great products and services when it comes to local businesses. Much more so than less exciting professional businesses like accounting and legal services. And yes, as they share these experiences they are certainly well aware that the information they are sharing can potentially benefit their friends and family and anyone else they so choose to share their experiences with.

It is fairly clear how a friend could benefit from hearing about a spa with better facilities or a new restaurant that lives up to its hype when it comes to quality, service, and price. But understanding how it benefits the person sharing that information is the key to understanding promotions.

When it comes to local businesses, there exists a certain panache, or social capital, or je ne sais quoi, if you will, that a patron might attain by sharing a great experience at a local business. This helps the sharer establish a status level of being the first person to discover something good, a savvy deal hunter, an adventurer, an enthusiast, an expert, etc. We call this the cool factor. We will talk more about how to “carve up the cool” in a future post.

This is partially the reason local based services (LBS) like Foursquare, Gowalla, and MyTown have gained significant traction in recent times. Why are millions of people around the world voluntarily sharing information about where they are or what they are doing with people they might know, or even people they DON’T know? People want to be the first to identify and be associated with a particular brand. People also want their friend and colleagues to know that they are “in the know” … that they know where to be and when to be.

Before I finish this week’s post I would like to put some questions out there for you to really consider.  How can you combine your knowledge of people’s self interest and their desire to be cool to create viral and effective promotional campaigns for your local business? and more importantly, how much have we actually grown since high school? =)

If you have a great promotional story you would like to share please feel free to email me at and I would be happy to post it!