Sales Clinic: Marketing Imagination, Part 3

This is the third installment in my series on what it means to be a marketing services provider (MSP). If you haven’t read the first two—and if you don’t still have your copies of the September and October issues around—you can find the first two columns in the article archives at either or

Okay, back to the scenario I’ve been using as an example of marketing imagination and creativity. The customer is a restaurateur who owns four restaurants, each with a different menu and each in a different part of town. So far, we’ve discussed Phase 1, a program using postcards and PURLs to take people to a landing page where they’ll see the menu for the restaurant closest to them, and the beginnings of Phase 2, which is data collection to be used in later stages. The thought I left you with last month was that I want to know their ages, so I’m going to ask them for their birth dates.

Why not just ask “How old are you?” or set up a few check boxes to indicate age range? Because birthdays provide specific promotional opportunities for restaurants. I’m not just talking about a “free dessert on your birthday” promotion—although that might be the most appropriate marketing strategy for some restaurants. I’m really asking you to use imagination and creativity and think about what could be a winner for your customer or prospect.

My first career was in restaurants, and I can tell you from experience that the “birthday boy” is often not the driving force in planning a birthday dinner. What if you had two pieces of data: the birthday boy’s birthday and his wife/significant other’s email address? On one hand, you could send the birthday boy a personalized offer involving a free something-or-other, which would certainly provide an incentive to come spend some money at your customer’s restaurant. On the other hand, you could communicate with the wife/significant other in an entirely different way: “Hi Jane, it’s going to be John’s birthday in a couple of weeks. Have you thought about a special dinner, especially considering that this one is the big 5-0? (Note: You could know that if your data collection process asks for month, day, and year.) Please give me a call, and I’ll be happy to help you with a reservation and whatever ‘special attention’ you’d like to arrange.”

Now, you might not take this approach with a casual family restaurant, but it could be a winner for an elegant and expensive operation.


Data Imagination

I hope you see that data is really the foundation of effective marketing. Using 20th century terminology, data is the difference between shotgun marketing and rifle-shot marketing. I wrote in the first installment that the greatest value an MSP can provide is to put data to use, but I hope you’ll recognize that you also have a role—and an opportunity!—in the strategic collection of data. In other words, you can help your customers to see potential and then to collect data to support that potential.

Let’s consider some more of what age data can do for you, alone and in combination with other data, like income range, favorite meals, and favorite other things. Let’s say that one of your customer’s four restaurants features a lounge with live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Friday is “rock night” and Saturday is “jazz night.” Do you see how age alone could be an indicator of the most likely target market? Do you see how jazz fans might be turned off by the atmosphere if they wandered in on “rock night”—maybe never to return? Do you also see how that “favorite other things” data might help you to identify the rock fans among the older clientele?

Now let’s consider the “favorite meals” data. As noted, each restaurant in this scenario serves a different menu, and people tend to have favorite restaurants for favorite meals or cuisine—a favorite steak house, favorite Italian restaurant, and so on. Your customer wants to be the “favorite restaurant” in each of his four categories, and that may require getting people to try his other restaurants. So how about a series of four—or more—postcards featuring the signature dishes of the four restaurants, and a data-driven mailing that matches them up to the people who’ve expressed interest in that cuisine. “Wait till you try our lasagna!”—or prime rib, or chow mein, etc.

I have written before that most of the “personalized” direct mail I see these days is pretty primitive. I hope you’ll see, through these examples, that there’s a lot more to your variable data and image capabilities than putting the recipient’s name on both sides of a postcard. I hope you’ll also see that there’s a lot more to being an MSP than putting ink or toner on paper.

I’ve only scratched the surface in these three columns, but I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about—at the very least, a vision of the kind of business you want to be running a few years from now.

I don’t see you providing the full range of marketing services to Fortune 500 companies, by the way. It’s probably fair to say that most of them will at least have the planning and strategy part down pretty well. I can promise you this, though—there are hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses and organizations in your market area that can’t market their way out of a paper bag right now. Some of them will pay you well for your creativity and imagination.

The Marketing Imagination

“The Marketing Imagination” is the title of a book written by Theodore Levitt, a former Harvard Business School professor and editor of the Harvard Business Review. The book was published in 1983, and I read it about a year later, just after getting promoted to a marketing staff position with Moore Business Forms. I’m often asked where a printer can learn about marketing, and I think this book would be a good start. It won’t tell you how to use PURLs and VDP to build your customers’ businesses, but it will probably get you thinking about the marketing discipline in a different way—just as I’ve tried to do today!


Dave Fellman is the president of David Fellman & Associates, Cary, NC, a sales and marketing consulting firm serving numerous segments of the graphic arts industry. Contact Dave by phone at 800/325-9634; by fax at 919/363-4069; or by e-mail at Visit his website at See the ad for Dave’s products and services in this issue.