3 Strategies to Get Consumers to Eat their Vegetables

Getting kids to eat their vegetables is – well – just about as hard as getting consumers to care about something boring. You can do deep discounting and promotions – the marketing equivalent of trying to get the airplane-spoonful to land in the kids mouth. But inevitably that doesn’t teach the consumer to value what their purchasing, it teaches them that when it comes to your product, it’s not worth paying full-price.

My first experience with vegetables vs. chocolate was in college, where, as the Marketing Director and then President for TiE – an entrepreneurship organization – I poured 15 hours a week into creating and marketing events around entrepreneurship – only to get 10-20 attendees to a given event. Two weeks later, after pouring an equivalent time-commitment as Marketing Director of Indus – the “singing and dancing and drinking” south asian cultural organization – I managed to swing 300 people at an event. Even TiE’s big conference barely garnered 30 people. Meanwhile Indus’ big culture show routinely drew close to 3000 attendees.

My next experience was at Microsoft, where I worked so, so hard, to get attention, studying social media strategies, creating viral user-generated YouTube videos, word-of-mouth marketing stunts, to almost-no-avail. Compare that to Kno, where within a few weeks of putting-up a YouTube channel, with just a few videos, a cool little video we made of a “lego robot’ testing the Kno’s touch-screen garnered 30,000 views in under a week. (This video has since been taken down, following Kno’s “pivot” from tablet-textbook to software-company).

Here’s the best recommendation I can come up with, when it comes to marketing a vegetable:

First, you can’t cover broccoli in cheese. Don’t even try.

After years of noodling on it at Microsoft, I realized that we couldn’t buy love for Office 2007 with Zune giveaways or sweepstakes to win a Vespa (yes, I actually tried both of those). Research says that that consumers are not interested in being marketed a vegetable when they’re having fun. It’s lipstick on a pig. Seth Godin would say that it’s like a Purple Cow – the value of the vegetable has to be baked-right-in.

Second, don’t focus on promotions and discounts.

In this day-and-age of groupon and the interminable parade of clones that followed, it’s easy to get caught-up in the idea that the best way of marketing a product is to do some kind of “special” or discount or coupon. This erodes the value of your product. Why would someone ever pay $120 again for a spa treatment, after you gave it away for $60? They’ll just wait till they see it on sale again – even if that means buying it from someone else.

I was tasked with getting students to buy Office Ultimate at a discount of nearly 91% off the retail price for Office Ultimate. It sounded easy, but the truth is that the perceived value for the product was much lower – and the perceived competing product – Google Apps – was free. So, yes, it seemed like $59.95 was a bid discount for Office at first, but it turned out that that’s what students really thought it was worth in the first place. Instead of focusing on the discount, by year two we turned our attention to demonstrating the value – what are all these power-user things that make Office so powerful – things like free templates, SmartArt, PPTPlex, and products like OneNote – one of the most-popular Microsoft products nobody-has-ever-heard-of.

Third, find the right people

With your kids, you have no choice – you can’t get new ones. With customers, fortunately, you can. Go find the people who really care about your product already – who already get why it’s worth $120 instead of $60. I did this at Microsoft. At some point I realized that going after the lowest-common-denominator student with far-reaching campaigns wasn’t going to work. I just didn’t have the kind of marketing budget required to make an impact. Instead, I focused on finding and building a community around student-success – the kids that already cared about their career, that were already power-users of Office, and making them the champions for our brand. We did Free Resume Consultations with professionals, we did tips on interviewing, and built a partnership with the Future Business Leaders of America.

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