The Hooker’s Conundrum: What to Do When Business Falls Off

“It is always the latest song that an audience applauds the most.” – Homer (The Odyssey, ninth century B.C.)

MN, who has recently taken over my role as head butt-kicker for a $90 million business, is — despite his best efforts to the contrary — starting to act more and more like me.

He’s getting frustrated with seeing some of his good ideas die on the vine. He’s developing physical tics at meetings (like attaching paper clips to his earlobes), and now he’s starting to illustrate his advice with off-color anecdotes.

A case in point: In a recent meeting with his profit-center managers, he wanted to dramatize an always-important-to-remember, three-part truth about selling:

1. Good is good.

2. Better is better.

3. New is best.

“The other night,” he told them, “there was a television documentary about prostitutes. Naturally, I paid close attention. If a prostitute knows little else, she knows how to make and close a sale.

“There were, to be sure, a number of clever marketing techniques discussed and demonstrated on the program. But what struck me the most was the response given to the question, ‘How are things different for you today than they were when you started out?’

“The answer to that question was the same for all the ladies interviewed:

‘Oh, I made a lot more money in the beginning.’

“And why did they make more money in the beginning than they did later on? ‘That’s easy,’ they explained. ‘Johns always want the newest, freshest pair of legs on the Avenue.'”

How true — no matter what you are selling.

We could take a moment to ponder this conundrum: With so much evidence to the contrary (architecture, art, etc.), why do customers prefer, by such an overwhelming majority, newness to oldness? But since you are busy this morning and would rather I get right to the point, I’ll say only this: It shouldn’t be, but it is.

Let’s say your product has been around for a while. It had great success at the get-go, but, after many years of good sales, the numbers are declining. When you compare it to the competition, you can’t explain the drop-off. The quality is actually better than it ever was and equal to or better than the rest of the market. The marketing is second to none — supported as it is by a crackerjack marketing team and top free-lancers. It has — more than ever now — an established unique selling proposition that is closely connected to the brand name. So, what’s the problem?

The answer may be very simple: It’s getting old. A significant portion of your marketing universe has already seen it, tried it, liked it or didn’t — and now they are looking for something new.

Sometimes, you can revive your aging starlet with a wig and a fresh coat of makeup. And if you haven’t tried that already, go ahead and do so. But whenever I’ve tried such raise-the-dead measures, the results have been disappointing.

The great successes I’ve had, and seen, have come from reinventing the product entirely.

You can use the same ingredients. You can even use the same people. But you have to put away every truth you hold to be true about the old product and start boldly again with a brand-new package.

Ask yourself questions like these:

* What does the market want now?

* What does it NOT want?

* What are the three most popular products in the market today?

* What is the biggest promise we could make about each one of them?

If the Avenue of Life made rational sense, Johns would prefer and pay premiums for ladies with experience. When your product has too much experience, and no amount of makeup will cover its character lines, bring out a youngster.