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When the world’s a play ... Featured

9:48am EDT July 22, 2002

My 10-year-old daughter and I recently spent a wonderful weekend together in New York City.

The details of the trip won’t interest you, but I should mention that if you ever want some great marketing ideas, take your child to FAO Schwarz, the huge toy store featured in the movie “BIG.” Then try to leave without buying anything. Maybe this is more a lesson on negotiation than marketing.

In our quest to do as much as possible in as little time as possible, we attended two off-Broadway plays. One, “Tony ’N Tina’s Wedding,” caught my attention as a great lesson in marketing. Some of you may be familiar with the concept, or may have been involved in this wonderful, interactive comedy. The key word is involved.

The audience is very much a part of this farcical presentation of a stereotypical New York, Italian wedding. The audience makes up the guest list and, after attending the ceremony in the basement of a real church, the entire cast, crew and ‘invited guests’ walk four blocks to a restaurant for the reception.

Throughout the evening, the cast ‘picks’ on certain favorites in the audience. Needless to say, the only 10-year-old in attendance — my daughter — got more than her share of attention and loved every minute of it.

The experience with Tony ’N Tina left me pondering the show’s technique of truly getting the entire audience involved. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage, and we are just mere players...” Armed with these concepts, I pondered how we could all get our clients more involved with our businesses.

Doesn’t it make sense that, if we are simply staging this business performance, (whether yours is a melodrama, comedy, or mystery), then if we could somehow get our clients participating in the production of this play, we could get ‘buy in’ on a different level?

Here are four marketing ideas to get your cast of prospects and clients to participate more in your business:

1) Form an advisory board. No matter the size of your business, everyone should have his or her own advisory board.

We are consulting with a financial planning firm that took this advice to heart. About a year ago, we had the firm’s leaders contact six of their best clients — not necessarily their biggest, but their best. They invited them to participate on this advisory council, which meant they simply had to agree to attend a quarterly dinner at some very posh restaurants and be free with their advice and guidance.

Some were cautious, and some wouldn’t even entertain the idea, but our client was persistent and found wonderful members. Every quarter, they receive effective and invaluable input on marketing initiatives, future plans and the general marketplace — and from their clients, no less.

A bonus, but not a goal, is that the six original members have accounted for more than 25 referrals to new clients. It’s a compliment to ask your best clients to help you, and it will only cost you a nice dinner four times a year.

2) And the survey says ... How many times have you surveyed your client base for advice and feedback? Many of you have probably asked questions of customers, but have you sat with a professional research company to develop a survey that will not only tell you what you are doing now, but that could determine if you should look at a whole new market, launch a new product line or offer different services?

The key to a good survey is that you must give recipients a reason to respond. Special offers on products or services aren’t enough. It should be something that you can send right away upon receiving a completed survey. Make sure the perceived value of the incentive is high enough for your target audience.

3) Let your clients develop your Web site. If you have a Web site, why not feature one of your clients each month? Don’t just tell about their businesses, but have them write a short article about their industry (not self promoting) or profession.

We are re-engineering our Web site, and I have invited many of our clients to do this. I just received an article from a jeweler client on “How to buy a diamond.” Some may think this is a stretch, but it cements my relationships with my clients, and will offer useful information to those who surf my site.

The cost to me is nothing and, more important, I have clients clamoring to be featured next.

4) Get networked. Many of you belong to formal networking groups, where the purpose is to do business with and through each of the members. Most of these groups are very successful.

Take this concept one step further and start an exclusive networking group among your clients. Whatever solution you offer your clients, the ultimate goal is to help them grow either professionally or personally. This new networking opportunity allows your clients to meet — even if it’s only an annual event — with the hopes of doing business with or through the group.

One of our clients calls it a ‘client appreciation night’ and offers informational seminars along with plenty of time for socializing and networking.

It doesn’t take much to get your clients involved in your play. Perhaps you simply have never asked. Remember, most of us ask for advice and input when we already know the answer.

The tough part is to invite discussion and feedback when we are unsure of the path it may carve for our businesses.

Jeff Tobe, Primary Colorer at Monroeville-based, Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at www.jefftobe.com or contact him at (412) 373-6592.