A 9-year old’s lesson in adjusting to market condition

Personally, I’m tired of the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” but it’s aggravatingly and consistently apt – especially in marketing. This is a tale about just such an occasion.

The Situation

On a Saturday morning as the sweltering North Carolina summer sun climbed to its perch to bake us mere mortals, three households of children coalesced into two factions to sell lemonade at competing stands, in two adjacent yards. It was a perfect day for such a venture.

The younger kids, ages 5 to 7, set up in the bright sun, had colorful signs, the ebullient volume of childhood, and no particular care in the world save for the distraction of a common goal…and cute – lots of cute.

The older kids, ages 9 and 10, set up in the shade just 25 feet away, fabricated a sales window from cardboard behind which they sat in chairs at a table. By comparison to their younger competition, their setup was slightly menacing. They, too, had a sign, but it was made from brown cardboard and was written in black marker rendering it difficult to read. At the end of a stick from a nearby maple, it was downright ominous as it was swung at passing cars. They had more volume than the little kids, but in deeper intonations and more dire wales proclaiming their wares for sale, thus further upping the uninviting ante that, in comparison to their competition, was bordering on threatening.

Both stands benefitted from being promoted on social media and a neighborhood listserve with thousands of recipients. The stands opened and closed at the same time. The traffic from each direction was essentially equal.

So given the description, one might surmise that the little kids would sell more lemonade and earn a higher gross revenue. They sold the same product in the same quantity for the same price. The little kids were cute. The older kids, by comparison, were not.

The Outcome

The tally was that the older kids sold more lemonade and made more money, about 15% more. In the business world, that’s a serious winning margin over the competition.

But how? What did they do that the younger kids did not? The answer is in one simple word – value. Or better put, the older kids could offer what the little kids could not…utility.

The value in the product for the price was the same, down to the brand. That was common to both stands.

Becoming Useful

Here’s where some coaching, or consultation, came into play. Much like we do at Method Savvy, there was consultation with the clients, the older kids, to examine the conditions of the theater of operations, or the market, if you will. There was analysis of what was happening, a quick SWOT, and then discussion of some tactical executions to address the matters at hand.

The older kids were told to look at the younger kids. What did they see in their competition? Lots of answers were forthcoming, save for the most obvious. That pesky “cute” detail evaded them – they were myopic about their state and condition when viewed by the market. When it was pointed out to them, it seemed like an insurmountable hurdle that lead to thoughts and proposed actions that amounted to subterfuge. Once parenting was applied and those thoughts and practices were dismissed, we finally got down to the business of differentiation and value creation – we finally started talking about being useful.

Were they selling refreshment? Yes, but so were the much cuter competition, and the emotional attraction of being heros to little kids is a tough buying motivation to best. So how could they compete in a way that set them apart? They could provide a service that the little kids couldn’t.

The older kids were allowed to go in the street, they were tall enough to reach sideview mirrors on cars, old enough to recognize that they had effectively cleaned a mirror versus just streaking the dirt that was there…they were able to be of service to customers well beyond the product being offered.

With each purchase, the older kids differentiated by adding a service that cost essentially nothing but from which the consumers derived real and tangible benefit, and for the same price – a free mirror cleaning while customers drank their lemonade. The older kids adjusted to a market condition they could not change and found a way around it.

This is an example of useful marketing. Strategy was developed based upon the client’s capacity to execute, the product was positioned behind a value differentiator, the messaging was updated, and the pitch and delivery were polished (no more swinging the sign on a stick and screaming at cars) so that the combination of product, presentation, and value outstripped the other motivations. They were able to overcome the cute, and that can be hard to do.

This Story is Much Like so Many in Business

  • Challenging market and business conditions
  • Companies unable to see how they can differentiate
  • Marketing strategies unseen because the people involved suffer from the all too common myopia of their situations
  • Execution of great ideas falling victim to a feeling that the battle cannot be won without better tools and people who know how to use them

If this does not sound familiar then you are lucky for having never experienced the challenges of the market. If it does, then you understand the value of approaching a problem from the standpoint of creating a functional solution…you understand the value of the ability to make lemonade. You understand useful.

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