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Posted: November 29, 2010

Lessons we can learn from Bernie’s boxers

Value is in the eye of the beholder

Esty Atlas

Here's an eye-opener: if you're famous enough (and not necessarily for the right reasons), your underwear could be worth hundreds of dollars. In today's economy, that's news.

So you'll remember the headlines of the guy who ripped off dozens of people for operating a multibillion-dollar Ponzi-scheme (also news). On June 30, 2009, Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison, the maximum penalty. These days, he wears the standard issue underwear and uniform inmate clothing, while his previously unworn boxers and assorted sox were recently auctioned off to the tune of $650. There's got to be a marketing lesson in that scenario, and yes, there is.

Value is in the eye of the beholder. As long as someone ‘holds the belief' that something is desirable, you've got a consumer. The 1917 Steinway grand piano that sat in the Madoff's living room, estimated to be worth $7,000 sold for $42,000. I give you these examples because my teachable lesson to you is this: Creating interest creates buyers.

The devil is in the methodology, of course, a bit more complicated. How do you attract consumers to your product or service? Has it worked well this year or has it not really worked at all? I'd like to hear from CoBiz readers this month. What have you done in your 2010 marketing efforts that produced new customers? I'll share the top 10 best responses in a future column. Tis the season, after all.

In the meantime, joining an online conversation may be a great place for a junior staffer to spend a little time. A growing number of companies are successfully finding new marketing opportunities by joining conversations on YouTube. But, instead of uploading expensive commercial ads and direct selling, they're cultivating relationships with vloggers (video bloggers). If you can strike a positive chord with the right interest group, they will become your marketing ambassadors and make their own videos to talk you up in their forums.

The softer approach - made through comments and conversation - both by company insiders as well as the general public, can strategically engage potential new customers. Videos that are more instructional and less heavy-handed are doing extremely well for companies. It gives you a new way to communicate with a whole, new community. As a year-end review, a few suggestions:

1) First, re-examine who your target consumer is that is most-likely to help convey your offerings.
2) Define where they go for information. That landscape is ever-changing.
3) Talk their language. In growing numbers, people trust what they hear from their peers (even strangers) more than they do from old-school, hard sell advertising.

One thing that hasn't changed: business is still driven by creating interest. If Mr. Madoff wasn't so high profile, there wouldn't be an auction of any kind. He can at least thank the media for that and, maybe we can all feel a little better for his victims who will be getting some of these auction proceeds. The learning lesson: make 2011 the year of being more visible (legally speaking).

P.S. The 10.5-carat diamond engagement ring that belonged to his wife Ruth sold for $550,000, well above the $300,000 minimum presale estimate. Now, that's criminal!

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Esty Atlas is a four-time Emmy award-winning writer, specializing in leadership communications, media and public relations. 303-919-2425; email: estycreative@yahoo.com or www.estycreative.com

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