Chris Fill, in his “Marketing Communications”, describes sales promotions as: “Short-term incentives to encourage the purchase or sale of a product or service”.

There are countless types of sales promotions that are doing exactly that. You go to the shop for groceries, like milk, bread or other essentials. On the way in you see a chocolate bar on a “buy 1 get 1 free” sales promotion and you buy it. Impulsively. You do not really need it, but your attention was provoked because of a good deal. It is almost as if you will lose if you do not take the deal. The next time you go into the shop and the bar is not on a promotion, you probably won’t buy it.

Today a sales promotion could be used not only for a short-term incentive but in a long-term as well. In a way that a purchase, that looks like a great deal, would tie the customer to make future purchases. How? Subscriptions! Think of your cable TV, the Internet or even electricity and gas providers. They all use the same trick to get new customers. They are trying to get a customer to switch their subscriptions with a sales promotion that states something like:

“Join today and you will get a free first month and half of the price for the next six months!!!”

Sweet deal, right? Once a customer gets to sign with a provider, they usually stick with them for a long time. The reason we rarely do not like to switch providers most often is that people are lazy. We prefer to save us the time and trouble of changing to a cheaper provider than paying a little extra every month. The companies are aware of that.

How many of you have tried to change their TV provider for example? For those of you who have, you know how much trouble it is to actually get to the end of it. Customers would be on the phone for hours. They will transfer you from one department to another for decades. Once this is done, the new cable TV needs to be installed. Organise a technician to come and install the box. Making sure someone is at home between 7 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon in the middle of the working week. Not many will be willing to go through all that trouble.

Most of us would just say: “F**k that, I’ll stick with paying a tenner more every month. Can’t deal with this bulls**t. It’s only the price of a couple of drinks anyway”

I find this as a wrong way of treating your customers. Unfortunately, big corporations will do that. They will do it because they can. They know people cannot live without hot water, electricity and internet. The price elasticity here is inelastic. In other words, whatever they ask you to pay, you will pay, because you have no other choice.

What if you are not a big corporation and your product is not a necessity? How would you get a piece of that market? How would you ask your customer to subscribe for something they can easily live without.

The way to do it is to be correct with your potential customers. Be honest. Let them know that they are in control, not the other way around. Make sure they know they are important and appreciated. Look at the leaders in this sort of marketing, like Netflix and Amazon. It will actually take you more time to sign up for Netflix than to unsubscribe from their service. It is really easy to re-join afterwards too.

Even though it is a small amount of a monthly subscription, because they let you have the EASY option of cancelling and joining, you feel in control.

This is the right way of doing business. Make sure your customers feel and are in control of their subscriptions and they will join you. Maybe for a month, maybe for more. Maybe they will cancel and never come back. Maybe they will cancel and re-join. The important thing is that the word will be out. Your company will gain a good reputation, which leads to more new customers.

A great example of this sort of sales promotion is a company in Ireland called “Gulp”. They provide a service, that I will never think of getting. A service that I really do not need. Still, they sold their business idea to me and I will try if it works for me or not.

What they did first is they contact me on my mobile. I am still not sure how exactly they found my contact, but I am not a person who hides, so not a problem for me. I can see how it can be annoying to others though. A short conversation/survey was conducted. They asked me if I drink bottled water. How often I buy water and would I be willing to test their product, a water purifier. It took less than two minutes on the phone. In these two minutes, they got answers for their marketing research and got me to agree to participate in a free trial. The questions were short and on the spot.

give back control

Once I agreed to get a two-week free trial, they said that they do not want to take any more of my time and will contact me again another day. What I liked about that was that by doing this they did not seem desperate and they respected my time, as it was on a working day.

A few days later I had a missed call from them which lead me to a thought: what if I do not pick up for the next week or so. I know, a bit of a dick move, but I wanted to see how serious they were. I really respect that they did not give up and they were not pushy at the same time. There was no ringing several times every day. They rang once every two or three days.

When I finally decided to answer, a lovely lady on the other side gave me all the details of what they would need from me and some more questions for their market research. She started with engaging me in a conversation which made me relax and gain my trust. A very good move. Then she explained exactly how their purifier works and how it will save me money.

Here is the best part. First two weeks are free of charge.

If I do not like it, they will take it back, without me paying for anything. So they are sending a technician to mount the device and will send him again to dismounted if this is what I want. I will not pay a penny for all this work. Would this happen if you decide to try a new Internet provider?

The second best thing is the price. The subscription cost about the same as a Spotify subscription, for example. This is just a pocket change that I will probably lose under the sofa while napping. This makes it highly likely, that ones they get me in their free trial, I would probably just leave it there.

That is how a company that I have not heard of, selling something I did not think I need, got me as their customer (or they probably did, the purifier will be installed next week). Even if I decide to opt-out, the company made it clear how easy it would be for me to unsubscribe from their service. Knowing that I can get out of that deal, that I am in control, was what made 80% of my decision to sign up.

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