Marketing lessons learned from a weekend camping trip

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sale-300x300By Leo Valiquette

In this socially enabled age, it could be argued that “try before you buy” has become as anachronistic as a laptop case with pockets for floppy disks.

As a consumer, why bother to waste the time when you can simply turn to product review sites and customer review ratings?

Because opinion is seldom objective, that’s why.

Many negative reviews say more about the reviewer than they do about the quality or performance of the product. It’s impossible to appreciate and factor in all the variables that could be influencing another buyer’s reaction. They may have had unrealistic expectations, their needs may not have not have been an appropriate match, or they could have been looking for features and functionality that were not present and are not relevant to you.

From a B2B perspective, try before you buy can be an excellent sales and marketing tool to turn prospects into qualified leads and to close sales. Customers and prospects want and easy and convenient way to test drive your product or service without making a commitment. A try before you buy program is one way, provided you as the vendor can accept that a little wear and tear is to be expected and you don’t penalize the prospect for it. The other is a return policy that makes it as easy to get a refund as it was to make the purchase in the first place. A quality vendor should offer both.

Selling a lifestyle without a sales pitch

This past weekend, I trailer camped with my family and some of the in-laws in the Calabogie area west of Ottawa. It was a decent place, if you’re into that sort of thing, on a picturesque lake with a great beach. It even had a Halloween in August on Saturday night, complete with a Haunted Trailer.

The campground not only rented trailers in various sizes and configurations, it sold them too. It wasn’t until I was on site and pricing things out that I realized how much of the entire experience was in truth a deliberate soft sell. My first clue should have been the rental rate: $125 for two nights when I have seen rentals at other campgrounds in the area range from $95 to $165 a night.

But it didn’t end there. Boat rentals were only half what I had seen elsewhere and $15 bought us almost twice as much wood for the evening campfire as I had expected.

Oh, and did I mention that the trailers we rented were themselves on the selling block? We were also free to poke around dozens of others that were available – some new, some gently used and some almost too far gone to be a fixer upper.

By the end of the weekend, my in-laws who have been talking for years about buying a family cottage were enthusiastically talking about the merits of a trailer instead.

What just happened? Other than the selling price written on each trailer’s window, no one at any time made any effort to actually sell us anything. We hadn’t come to buy. It was the referral by another family member, combined with the economical rate, that had led us here rather than somewhere else.

But once renters such as us are on site, the owners obviously rely on a taste of the lifestyle to turn tire kickers into believers. As with any such campground, there are the regulars who have the most desirable seasonal sites, with trailers they have tricked out with enclosed decks and even garden sheds. They are living a cottage life without the hassles of that kind of property ownership, and as part of a recreational community with a strong social fabric. They are all walking advertisements without having to say a word.

It’s the ultimate example of try before you buy and the prospects have already made their own choice to be there without any coercion. They have come because they have a desire that accords with the product for sale.

How can you offer a test drive?

So how is this relevant to marketing technology? The same way it is to the sale of any product or service. The only way to get prospects to your door is to understand their needs, motivations and pain points. Who are they? Where are they? What is it they want or are looking for? You can, and should, use this intelligence to tailor your messaging. But if you can also enable your prospects to apply your solution to their needs in a practical and low-risk way, a sale is much more likely to result.

From 30-day trials, to freemium versions of your software, or pilot and proof-of-concept projects, there is always a way to allow prospects to take that test drive. Not only will they appreciate the opportunity, their experiences may help you to further refine your offering, and marketing messaging, to better nail the pain points of a target market.

Image: Peninsula Meteorites

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