Have a Smile? A Brilliant Use of Marketing

Unique Take on Panhandling

by Pete Ferguson

On the way home last night I saw the usual collection of panhandlers under overpasses. I tried to pretend I was too busy to pay attention when out of the corner of my eye I saw an attractive youthful girl with a sign that said “Have a Smile?” – instead of the typical “have a dollar?”

I laughed and smiled large as she smiled back and gave me the “peace” sign with her two fingers. The light had already turned green, so I had to go, but I definitely would have given her $10 for giving me something rare first before just asking that I give a dollar with nothing in it for me.

This experience reminds me of Seth Godin’s book on marketingPurple Cow. Daily we encounter hundreds of marketing attempts to catch our attention, but the reality is very few of the billboards, magazines, newspapers, TV commercials and other well-paid-for attempts garner our attention and commit us to buy. Seth’s point is that if you live in farmland, you will drive by thousands of cows a day, but if one were purple, you would definitely take notice.

If I had more time as I sat at the intersection, I would have liked to ask her what her angle was. She got my attention, she received my smile, but did she have a deeper agenda? Certainly her location does not allow for time to explore. If she had a deeper agenda, it wasn’t well advertised, but I assume the expectation was to give her a dollar given her proximity to what most people associate with a panhandler.

Another important marketing principle – once you get people’s attention, be sure to drive home what you are asking of them. How many creative Super Bowl commercials have you seen? Have you changed your behavior or bought any products because of those VERY expensive spots? Likely not. What a waste!

In Michael Hyatt‘s new book, Platform, he recommends a 20:1 rule – give something away 20 times for every 1 time you ask for something. Perhaps my smiling friend has seen this kind of return on smile investments. It seems counterintuitive to give away when you are trying to receive, but I’ve seen it work.

Last week I attended author and life coach Dan Miller’s Coaching with Excellence live event. It cost several thousand dollars in travel and workshop costs. I made the decision to attend after listening to hundreds of free podcasts from Dan, and receiving several free products from Dan just for connecting with him online. Was his investment of “free” stuff to me and others worth it? Definitely. In late June I will be starting a 48 Days to the Work You Love Workshop, and Dan will get a dividend for each participant who needs a workbook and participant kit.

Pay attention to brilliant marketing you encounter daily and think of how to apply it to your services and daily work. Constant research will keep you well entertained, ever learning, and you will become a resource to those around you – which will eventually serve you very well.

Learn: Educate yourself with free and paid for material. Spend 10% of your time a week learning. If you have to commute to work, you have time. Or put on some headphones, load up podcasts and hit the pavement or the gym.

Act: Make a plan to learn something off the beaten path. Take a yoga class, take a different way home from work, find someone new to go to lunch with every week.

Share: With your new found education, be sure to share it with anyone who will listen. In sales this is referred to as the “five foot rule.” It has paid off well for me and opened doors by befriending brilliant, creative, and well-connected people.


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