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Lisa Earle McLeod: Marketing gurus on the street

I was recently in Las Vegas, where a walk down the Strip is a marketing juggernaut. From the costumed characters tossing you coupons for all you can eat buffet, to the carnival-style barkers pitching you on the coolest show in town, everyone is trying to sell you something. And then there were the panhandlers.

In the gaudy spectacle that is Vegas, where a half-nude woman with a 2-foot headdress doesn’t stand out, it’s no surprise that the panhandlers were unique.

In other cities you might see signs such as “Will Work for Food” or “I Lost My Job.”

Not in Vegas. My two favorite signs, spotted three blocks apart, each held by a raggedy yet smiling man seated on the sidewalk:

One, written in black marker, read: “Need $$ for Weed.”

The other proclaimed: “Why Lie, I Need Beer.”

I laughed out loud and discovered that these two guys, both of whom were articulate, friendly and interesting, know a thing or two about marketing. Whether you’re selling your product, your cause, or yourself, here are the three lessons from the Vegas Strip to help you be successful:

• Be different – New, improved, fabulous, best, etc.: The language of marketing is fueled with so many meaningless adjectives that we’ve become immune to them. Yet most people are afraid to push the outside of the envelope with anything more interesting.

Mr. Need $$ for Weed said, “I’m saying something that most other people don’t have the guts to say.” In doing so he sets himself apart from every other guy asking for money. He’s memorable. Sure some people are offended, but those people wouldn’t have given him money anyway. He’s willing to risk offending half the market, because he knows they’re not his market. Figure out who you want to impress, make laugh, or engage, and then work to make yourself interesting to those people.

• Connect; don’t convince – Mr. Why Lie, I Need Beer says, “I know this is what people are thinking, anyway, so I might as well just start with what’s already in their head.”

Instead of trying to change people’s beliefs, meet them where they are. So many marketing campaigns and pitches try to convince people. It’s more effective to validate them. For example, if you’re trying to sell a program that improves business owners’ accounting skills, instead of saying, “Our awesome accounting programs will make you an expert.” You would be better off saying, “We know you don’t like accounting; let us help make it less awful.”

Mr. Why Lie, I Need Beer knows that if you give voice to what the customer is really thinking, you’ll forge a stronger connection.

• Match the mood – Both men said they use different signs for different times of the day. Mr. Need $$ for Weed said, “In the morning people are hung over, they’re feeling bad. I use a sign that says, “I’m homeless and need some food.” They can relate to feeling lousy. But in the evening, when people are drinking, they prefer humor.”

Think about what your customer is feeling and tailor your approach. A description of your product, service or cause is quickly forgotten. But marketing that validates the customer’s emotions, is engaging.

I gave each guy 10 bucks, and you can see the photos of these two marketing gurus on our blog They have my thanks.