Marketing with a Street Fighter mentality

JEFF Slutsky's presentation was titled, “Confessions Of A Street Fighter.”

If that sounds tough, it is. He didn't grow up in Mike Tyson's neighborhood in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, but he has been carrying metaphorical brass knuckles for quite some time and encouraging others to emulate him.

His goal is to teach businesses how to use shrewd, guerilla-style tactics to get free and low-cost advertising exposure on a neighborhood level.

“It's an attitude,” said Slutsky, president of the Columbus, Ohio-based consulting firm Street Fighter Marketing. “It's a philosophy, a thought process of outthinking the competition, not outspending them. Street Fighters think differently than normal people. They have a different way of looking at things. Instead of spending a fortune on their marketing, their advertising, and their selling techniques, Street Fighters use creativity to get extra business.”

Or, as Inc. magazine called it, “Brains Over Bucks.”

The concept is really quite straightforward. Some examples he gave:

  • An appliance store in Ft Wayne, Indiana, with annual sales around $1 million, had five major competitors within three miles. The owner noticed that customers were spending an hour of his salesmen's time in order to get a detailed explanation of all the features and negotiate the best price, but they'd finish the conversation by saying, “Well, I want to think about it.” He knew that their thinking involved heading immediately to the competition.

So, at the suggestion of Slutsky, he filled a freezer with gallons of ice cream and handed customers a free carton as they left the store. The result? They couldn't engage in comparison shopping; they'd immediately go home and put the ice cream in their freezer, thinking of the appliance store in a whole new light. The Wall Street Journal reported that sales increased 13% in the first year.

Tuning Out

  • Slutsky said our lives are filled with so many advertising messages that we filter out most of them — of the 1,700 commercial messages we receive each day, only a handful get through because “the brain protects us” from overload.

    “People don't want to see our advertising, don't want to get our sales call, our phone call, or see our direct mail, so we have to think like Street Fighters,” he said.

    For the owners of a small pizza shop in Denver, that meant using the Yellow Pages to their advantage. Domino's moved in and took out a huge ad that not only dwarfed the small shop's, but it also pushed it to the back of the pizza section. The answer: The shop placed an advertisement in which it stated that a customer who brought the Domino's ad out of the phone book would receive two pizzas for the price of one.

    “They were going to phone booths and ripping them out,” Slutsky said. “People couldn't find a Domino's ad anywhere in Denver.”

  • While price is an issue, it's not the only issue.

    The owner of a West Coast hair salon was big on customer service, frequently attending conventions to master the latest hairstyles. He offered a haircut for a mid-range price of $15. But a new shopping center opened across the street and placed an advertisement on the billboard: WE GIVE $6 HAIRCUTS. Loyal customers of the other salon were enticed to give it a try.

    And then the salon owner came up with his own billboard. With an identical blue background and identical white lettering, it said: WE FIX $6 HAIRCUTS.

  • For real guerilla tactics, there was the McDonald's in Virginia Beach, Virginia. For years, it was the only fast-food restaurant in its area and was doing $2 million in sales a year — almost twice the national average for a McDonald's franchise.

And then Wendy's built a restaurant on the adjacent property, advertising a huge grand opening with banners, TV coverage, bands, and balloons. On the day of the grand opening, the McDonald's owner put up a banner in front of his store: IN HONOR OF OUR NEW NEIGHBORS, WE WILL BE CLOSED. GO VISIT THEM.

A bit unorthodox? Yes. But it worked. Wendy's was expecting a 40-50% market share that day — not 100%. The lines were huge, people got cranky, the kitchen was turning out an inferior product. And finally, no product at all, because Wendy's ran out of meat around noon.

“People in the back of the line were yelling, ‘Where's the beef?’” Slutsky said. “Wendy's was forced to shut down 90 days later. (The McDonald's owner) was protecting his own turf. He did it with creativity, not a lot of money.”

How To Be Creative

Slutsky had some suggestions for the NATM audience:

  • Most direct mail ends up in the garbage, so be creative with it.

    A real estate agent in Columbus, Ohio, sent out the ugliest postcard she could find, with this message: IF YOU LIST YOUR HOME WITH ME, YOU'LL GET A FREE HOME WARRANTY. She didn't get one response out of 200. Ten days later, the same 200 people received an envelope with the same postcard in it, but crumbled and damaged, with this message: PLEASE DON'T THROW THIS OUT AGAIN. THIS IS IMPORTANT.

  • Selling is all about listening, not talking. If you're not asking questions, you're not gaining information. He said the average person thinks at 1,200 words per minute and speaks at 200 words per minute.

    “So if you're talking to a customer, what are they doing while you're talking?” he said. “They're thinking. Never let the customer think. You know how dangerous that is?”

  • Be persistent. Be a kid, because kids won't take no for an answer. Be like Sam-I-am in Green Eggs and Ham. He asked the question 16 different ways, and finally The Cat in the Hat decided he'd eat the green eggs and ham.

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