Back in the dark ages I owned record albums with “hidden” soundtracks and “backmasking.” Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief album had a second, or “hidden,” groove on one side of the album that only played if the stylus hit it accidentally. We called this the “third side” of the album.
The Beatles White album has a message recorded backwards under the song Revolution Number 9. I had access to a radio studio turntable, so I could play the album backwards and hear what the words really said. These were the surprise prizes that were shared from person to person; the “inside” information made us feel in the know, clever for having figured it out, and part of a special crowd.
DVDs now do the same thing with Easter Eggs. They are exciting to discover, and the customer feels special and rewarded. And the best part for the customer — sharing the “secret” with someone else! For example, the Cars DVD has hidden treasures aficionados enjoy. If you’ve seen “Boundin’ with Mater,” you are an Insider!
Even TV shows. The little icons prior to commercials on Fringe spell words in code.
What are you doing to create the buzz of word of mouth marketing for your surprise prizes?
Do you know about the “secret menu” at In and Out Burger? Have it “Animal Style!” Are you a Maker’s Mark Ambassador with your own barrel of private stock bourbon? Now you want to be an Insider don’t you?
Define the “Insider”
Insider: A customer who feels special. A customer possessing special knowledge. A customer who has been given a unique and remarkable gift. A person who resists the invasion of the masses.
Insiders are going to be the best salespeople you have — and they will sell your company and products for free, and with greater enthusiasm than many in your paid sales force. With the speed information now travels across the Internet, a single person can create a tidal wave of information and buzz!
Create the “Insider”
Resist the temptation to overexpose an Insider opportunity. Let your customers do it for you! Avoid publicity. This flies in the face of conventional marketing wisdom, which is, in fact, its special power. It is non-conventional. It creates selectivity. Here are steps to consider in creating your Insider:
1. Define who you want to “qualify”
Who you want to qualify establishes your parameters. Are you looking to create buzz through a “membership” program? Correct mistakes overwhelmingly? Let your customers create the “inside” information? Have customers occasionally have discoveries and tell others where to find them? Your Insiders need to reflect the culture you are creating with your organization and products.
Maker’s Mark is a small distributor of high quality bourbon that is worth the extra expense to their clientele. Maker’s Mark’s “Ambassador” program is focused on those loyalists who want to be part of the Maker’s Mark family. Both the company and the loyal customer like the family feel and status identification of their product.
2. The discovery
Insiders love the discovery. It’s the surprise prize. The discovery has to be exciting, remarkable, and of value. In the early days of HBO, the movie channel used to offer a gift movie at midnight one night during the end of year holidays. In the listing it simply listed it as “movie” with no fanfare or promotion. One year, it was the movie Ghostbusters, which was a real surprise because it hadn’t been released on videotape and was barely out of the theaters. The unexpected discovery was exciting! I got to tell everyone the next day what they missed. I was an Insider who got a treat others missed out on! The discovery creates buzz, creates scarcity and makes the Insider feel special.
3. The gift
Maker’s Mark sends gifts unannounced. They just appear in my mailbox. Surprise! They are always gifts of quality that I can display, use and share with friends and are linked to the use of their product.
Some are gifts of immediate practical value such as engraved glasses and stirrers, and some are gifts of prestige. I’m proud to say there is a barrel of Maker’s Mark in their warehouse with my name on it. It’s a gift of recognition that my “Ambassador” status has significance.
I received a certificate announcing the birth of my barrel. I receive updates on its progress. My barrel will not be ready to be tapped for 7 years (how’s that for anticipation marketing!) — and notice how I say it is “MY” barrel. Roughly 18 names are on the 50-gallon barrel, but it’s mine! I can even have special engraved bottles made to share with friends. The extra expense for these VIP bottles? Who cares — I look like I am “The Man!” giving those away. This is what most Insiders value: the peer recognition of owning such a gift. I have given some of my Insiders golf towels from Augusta National, home of the Masters. It’s not the towel — it’s the comments from their friends that are the gifts.
4. The access pass
Insiders like special access. Whether it’s the password to a special website page or access to a “forbidden zone,” Insiders like the special treatment. On a distillery tour, the tour guide decided to take the small group where “we really shouldn’t go” through a door that read “No Unauthorized Admittance.” The buzz of the group at the end of the tour was being able to see behind the scenes.
It was doing the forbidden that made us feel special. It’s the backstage pass. It’s the press credential to get onto the field. All insiders want to feel special. It’s what we tell our friends about.
5. Keep it fresh
McDonald’s Happy Meals regularly change the toy inside with savvy movie tie-ins. The kids may not be in the driver’s seat but they make the fast food selection. They are the Insiders who were able to get the “limited edition” Mater toy.
You need to keep your Insider’s attention fresh. Your Insiders want to be intrigued. If every year you send out pocket knives (as one of my vendors still does), they lose their appeal. Since I fly so much, a pocket knife is now actually undesirable because if I forget it’s part of my normal pocket contents, not only will I lose it at airport security but I now have the inconvenience of getting pulled for a special security check. I no longer feel special. The vendor is no longer in touch with my needs, therefore I no longer feel like an Insider.
Insiders want to be appreciated, pampered and know the company is in tune with them. The minute you lose freshness with your Insiders they will feel less appreciated.
6. Listen to the Insiders for what they create
If your organization is lucky enough, your customers will create their own Insider information (I mean the good kind.) Nothing is better than word of mouth you never had to initiate. It’s information that takes on a life of its own. Be familiar with the buzz, enjoy it, and work to keep it for Insiders only without trying to overly capitalize on it. Why?
7. How to lose Insider buzz
A. Allowing the masses in.
Waffle House once had its Insider lingo: Scattered, Smothered, and Covered. It was the inside way to get special treatment to your hash browns for the after-midnight crowd. Word traveled fast about the lingo, and people knew there were options but not sure what they meant. Sadly, now some menus actually explain the words’ meaning and promote those options. Insiders no longer feel part of the inside few because now everyone is an Insider.
You will lose your Insider once the masses become the Insiders and the buzz will be lost.
B. Easy entry premium clubs
Airlines have their premium clubs trying to make frequent flyers feel special but the clubs have lost much of their meaning. What good is early boarding for premium club members if 85 percent of the passengers are in the club? What good are upgrades to first class seating if, as a flight attendant told me, the bean counters are removing 25 percent of the first class seats and replacing them with coach seats to make more money once they realized 25 percent of first class seats were being filled with premium upgrades? Thanks, USAirways! Now I feel so special!
A premium club has no meaning unless it has scarcity.
What are your scarcity items Insiders crave? What is the Top Secret information only given to Insiders? How are your customers creating buzz about your company or products? What are you allowing Insiders to discover? It’s the multi-million dollar marketing advantage you need to get in on.