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Are your bagels hot? Featured

9:57am EDT July 22, 2002

The other morning, I was sitting in my local bagel shop enjoying my coffee, bagel and newspaper. I’m not sure what prompted me to look up, but the first thing that struck me was that this establishment did a booming morning business. People stood in line 15 deep and didn’t seem to mind the wait.

As I pondered people stand in line for what I have to offer, another curiosity struck me. It had nothing to do with the customers or even the counter personnel. It was the bagel maker who got my attention. I watched as he carefully manipulated a tray of steaming hot bagels into the metal bins with labeling according to flavor.

He added a little sign — bright red with white letters — to those bins. The sign stated, “HOT.” Nothing extraordinary, but the reaction was immediate. The very next patron demanded some of the “hot” bagels. So did the next. And the next. Soon, the bagel maker re-appeared with another tray and followed the same routine with another flavor.

Guess what? The same results. Customers switched their “flavor-of-the-minute” and their attention to the new bin labeled “HOT.” This went on for the next 45 minutes, and I felt I had discovered the marketing idea of the century.

During a lull in the action (there were a few minutes when there were no “hot” bagels available) and approached the young lady donning the manager nametag. When I inquired about this phenomenon, she threw back her head and laughed.

“You caught us,” she said. “You uncovered our entire marketing strategy.”

My new marketing guru explained that the powers-that-be in her company subscribed to the idea that to market, one must appeal to as many of the customers’, or prospective customers’, senses as possible.

“Sense of smell and taste were taken care of in this environment,” she explained. “But bagels are bagels and they all pretty much look the same.” She said they had discovered the “HOT” strategy by mistake. Originally, they had put the signs on to warn store personnel of the danger in handling steaming hot bagels.

What they discovered was a huge increase in demand for any bagel flavor that bore the little sign at any given time. She finished rather defensively by explaining that they did not manipulate their customers, but rather just appealed to their sense of sight.

I suddenly understood the reason the shop didn’t seem to anticipate daily consumption by baking bagels in advance of the rush. The obvious lesson is that we must figure out ways to appeal to all of our customers’ senses. Some have it easier than others. A restaurateur, a caterer or a florist have a great “one-up” on the banker, insurance broker or accountant.

The “outside-the-lines” marketing idea that occurred to me was this: How can I entice my customers with the “HOT” item or service of the moment? I can’t use a little red sign, but I could do it a little more tactfully to give the same impression. The possibilities seem endless.

Take a look at your product, your service and yourself and ask, “Do my customers perceive my “bagels” as being HOT?”

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