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Posted: September 08, 2009

Why you’ve got to give to get

It's a way to rise above the crowd of competitors

Melanie Goetz

It's hard enough to make a profit today - so why would you give anything away? Allow me to suggest the insight of Confucius, who once said, "The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell."

In today's more-accessible-than-ever marketplace, consumers have a lot more control to get what they want, when they want it. As a result, successful rise through the clutter of competition in the business environment cannot just be product or advertising driven anymore.

Whatever "customer service" your business provided in the past, it's time to kick it up a solid notch or two to get noticed by potential new customers, who are harder than ever to attract. After all, who doesn't like to get something for free before they commit to any "sale." So what can you offer to attract new customers for free?

It must be something they would find valuable. It could even be information if it doesn't readily exist elsewhere, that has real benefit to them. But if you are lucky enough to have a product that can be sampled (i.e. food), ring three bells! You must get it into people's hands and subsequently their mouths. Tasting is believing!

Skeptical on giving away products for free? Then let me tell you about a guy named "Ken." Chances are, you've enjoyed a meal at one his many eateries, but may not know the story behind its successful founder. You might have even run across him if you were running in a fundraiser benefit event at Washington Park or around town years ago. He was that friendly guy handing out free bread and bagel samples to anyone with their hand out. This is a case where word-of-mouth publicity took care of itself.

But I digress.

Let's go back a few months when we had the pleasure of interviewing Ken Rosenthal for our new book, Roadrunner Marketing: Strategic Secrets You Wish You Knew. A clothing retailer-turned-successful baker, we were curious what the clothing business ever had to do with the bread business that caught his interest.

"Absolutely nothing", Ken replied."But that's exactly what intrigued me, especially after selling women's clothing for more than seventeen years."

While he admittedly knew nothing more about freshly baked bread other than loving to eat it, he discovered once prepared food is sold, it stays sold (not so with returned clothing). So when his brother asked him to come to California to check out a bakery business, he did what any one of us might have done at first: absolutely nothing! Ken was too busy working 16 hours a day in his retail apparel store, which left little time for much else.

But time often has a way of making its own impression. Six months later, Ken had a change of mind and soon, a new word became a new household business name.

Derived from "pan," the Spanish and Italian word for bread, and "era," a period of time, you know it as Panera Bread Company. As Ken began growing his new business back in 1987, he recalls one of the strategies that worked extremely well: creating his own brand awareness. With almost no budget for advertising, Ken knew he had to be different than any existing operation or similar competitors. His focus was first on grassroots marketing.

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"We got involved in the community in any way we could from the bottom up," Ken says. Talking to customers, giving away tons of free food samples, and becoming a charitable partner at events in the community was the key to his early success. "If a non-profit organization was having a function, we'd be there early giving out bagels, coffee, cream cheese and literally putting our products in people's mouths."

This entrepreneurial concept quickly took hold. Being seen and tasted at all kinds of events, it was the ultimate marketing test: people loved the food and then talked about it. That's how it translated to measurable sales at the stores which began cropping up everywhere!

"People told their friends and we just became more and more busy!" Ken says. In fact, he attributes 50 percent of Panera business to these word-of-mouth early samplers.

Another charitable strategy that made responsible sense was to give unsold bakery products (at the end of each day), to area food banks. Ken couldn't stand to throw good food away due to his humble upbringing. He lived for many years in a small apartment over a store.

Selling quality, freshness, and a new healthy casual-eating option, Ken strategically chose the ‘give to get' marketing approach, and it worked on many levels. Reporters wrote valuable articles in area newspapers which streamed more people into the restaurants and they brought friends.

Now, 22 years later, Ken's bread and restaurant business is a true success story. Rising faster than yeast on a warm stove, freshly baked bread is coming out of more and more stores that have literally dominated a strong presence all across North America.

Ken is now a grandfather, but hasn't slowed down much. He still runs all the Colorado and Southwest Ohio bakery-café chains. Sipping his coffee and polishing off a family-inspired salad, he says, "The enjoyment of watching people succeed and be happy to work for the company that I started is a wonderful thing; you not only give them an opportunity, but a good, warm, and friendly place to work."

Moral of the story: starting, building, and growing any business is done one relationship at a time. You've got to "Give to Get" in this consumer-driven world. And while we may not all have tasty food products to hand out, we can all come up with a good cause or giveaway to attract the attention that becomes your business foundation. Whatever you do, remember to also utilize your website to continually generate articles of interest virally.

Remember Ken Rosenthal's motto: "Have a vision; see it in your mind; then go make it happen!"

HERE'S OUR VALUABLE GIVE TO GET! WIN A FREE-LUNCH & LEARN Workshop! Hughes & Stuart Marketing President Melanie Goetz and Creative Director Esty Atlas will customize their 40-minute presentation to help your company win more business. ($950 value - up to 20 employees) Email us at info@hughesstuart.com and tell us why your company should WIN the FREE "Lunch & Learn." Entries must be limited to no more than 250 words and be sent in no later than November 15th, 2009. Can't wait? Then email (info@hughesstuart.com) or call us (303-798-0601) to schedule your own "Lunch & Learn today. 

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Melanie Goetz is coauthor of "Roadrunner Marketing: Strategic Secrets You Wish You Knew," and president of Hughes & Stuart Marketing. She was executive director of the NGMA from 1996 to 2006.

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