“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” – Albert Einstein

Once, I had to help a computer-leasing company figure out what to emphasize in its marketing.

The company provided financing to computer buyers. They offered their financing through “resellers” — retail vendors. The marketing was targeted at the resellers. The goal was to get them to recommend my client’s company to their customers.

The company’s strategy at the time was to “bribe” their customers — the resellers — by giving them gifts. The CEO of the leasing company felt that the free gifts were the key to success. He loved the idea of gifts and believed that his customers — the resellers — would be motivated by the lure of getting something for nothing. Thus, he made the gift program the cornerstone of his marketing campaign.

But the president was afraid that if the company advertised the gifts too heavily (and they were rather lavish and high end, such as color televisions), the resellers would stay away, figuring that they were being charged higher rates to cover the cost and, therefore, were not getting the best deal for their buyers.

I didn’t know anything about computer resellers. In fact, the only one I had even met personally was the one across the street from my office who sold me my system. The president — the guy I was working for — knew a lot more than I did. And the challenge he presented me with was a very difficult one.

In my earlier days, I would have been scared silent. But although I hadn’t a clue at the time, I promised to get back to him within 48 hours with a good answer to the problem.

When I did, he was impressed. I spoke with confidence. My suggestions were sound. They were all backed up by the results of conversations I’d had with over two dozen resellers.

Did I conduct a phone survey? Mail a questionnaire? Spend the client’s money on a focus group?

None of the above. I simply went to an online discussion group of computer resellers and started “talking” to them about what they look for in a leasing company — and what they thought of my client in particular. (I didn’t mention that I was doing marketing research. I let the people in the group assume I was another reseller. No one asked.)

In short order, I found that the resellers were split: Half loved getting gifts, and the other half said gifts were a bad idea that drove rates up. Based on this information, my client decided to focus on his strength: the gifts. (Because his was a small company, he could never match the rates offered by leasing giants and was content to win the lion’s share of the half of the market that liked getting the gifts.)

This is just one example of how — thanks to online chat rooms, forums, and discussion groups — you can now gain a quick understanding of the mindset of virtually any market or group of prospects that uses or congregates on the Internet.

You can rapidly and easily find out what rocket hobbyists want, what they like, and what they are willing to pay. And it won’t cost you a dime — just some time spent sitting in front of a PC.

True guerrilla marketing!

(Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing” (Alpha Books).)

Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.

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