You’ve heard that experience is the best teacher. You’ve also heard that there are lessons everywhere if you only look for them. So what can you learn about marketing from a homeless person? Plenty.
In my town, the local churches help the homeless. They help some of them get jobs selling the Sunday paper at busy intersections. These “vendors” as they’re called prefer to stand in the middle of the road on the concrete medians at intersections. There are only a few intersections around town that are busy enough to warrant this. You have to have a lot of respect for these people, they’re out there every Sunday – the same ones – no matter how cold or hot, in freezing weather, snow, rain, or blazing sun.
In the last few months, this has become a legal battle between the newspaper and the city. The city council decided that the newspaper sales created a traffic hazard – although no accidents or injuries have occurred, and passed a local ordinance against such sales. The newspaper said that the new ordinance violated their 1st and 14th amendment rights. The newspaper has a pending lawsuit against the city, but in the meantime, this problem has surfaced in other towns because the N.C. Senate passed a bill making it illegal to prevent the sale of newspapers on roadways. Governor Mike Easley signed the bill on Sunday, August 17th, so I guess this coming Sunday we’ll see the vendors in the medians again.
The local ordinance that was passed in my town did not prevent the sale of newspapers from sidewalks, only from the medians. After the ordnance went into effect, the vendors tried selling their papers from the sidewalks at the side of the road, but after a few weeks we didn’t see them very much. I wondered why they stopped selling the papers, I just figured that they were frustrated by the legal issues and were waiting until the pending lawsuit was settled.
You may be asking yourself what’s the big deal. And that’s where the marketing lesson comes in. Why do you think the vendors liked selling from the median in the center of the road? Because when people stopped at the intersections, they were right there beside the driver’s window. They could walk up and down holding their papers and sell them: a lot of them.
There is an article in this morning’s paper about the Governor signing the bill. In the article, the reporter states that the sales of papers from the eight vendors at intersections before the ban went into effect averaged about 800 papers sold on a given Sunday. After the local ordinance went into effect and the vendors tried selling from the sidewalk, some vendors sold only 13 papers in 6 hours. That’s why they stopped selling from the side of the road. And that is the marketing lesson.
The homeless vendors quickly learned that to maximize their sales they had to get out in front of their potential customers: i.e. the middle of the road. This is directly applicable to Internet sales as well. Buying cheap ads just because they’re inexpensive is analogous to selling papers from the side of the road. You should not decide to run an ad simply because it’s the only one you can afford.
You should decide where to place your ad based on where it will be seen by the most people who are likely to purchase your product or service. If you can’t afford those locations, then don’t run the ad. Search for the next best place or location. Simply running an ad in an inexpensive location because you can’t afford a location that’s a good fit for you or your product is a waste of money and a foolish way to run your business. I detail how to promote your business online here.
Until next time,
P.S. This goes for any type of exposure, free or paid: blog widgets, banner exchanges, etc. If it’s not exposing you to a good, solid source of potential customers then it’s not worth your time.