The Dangers of Trick-or-Treat Marketing

Quite often I get asked to accompany a friend or loved one to business meetings to offer an objective opinion about an investment or acquisition they’re considering. The most recent meeting was a little suspicious, which was why I was invited to attend. The product was under a veil of secrecy by a young man whose business card read “mentorship” and “endorser”. My initial thought was “Seriously?”. However, trying not to prejudge and understanding that startups looking for investors often are surreptitious about their innovations, I tucked away the red flags, the Gmail address on the business card and the unknown product and attended the meeting for the sake of the party I was there to protect.

Before we left for the lunch meeting I voiced my incertitude and suspicion. I expressed that this felt a little like what I call Trick-or-Treat marketing. I had a gut feeling it wasn't going to be what the pitch-man hinted that it would be. We could love the idea or hate it, consider it candy or a rotten egg, this pitch-person didn’t care. He just wanted to get us to the table to throw his business idea in front of us and ultimately make us a block in his pyramid.

We both could smell something fishy. Someone’s selling something that we don’t really want…. They want us to buy it…. They want money for something that we really don’t want or believe in….

I called it before ever seeing it. I was right.

This is the dynamic that Trick-or-Treat marketing creates. It always makes the one being marketed to feel like prey. They are left in the dark feeling as if a trap has been laid for them or that they’ve been ambushed. There’s always some unwanted surprise element connected to Trick-or-Treat marketing. It’s never a good idea and is considered one of the worst marketing tactics around. You never want to be the designer or the design company that makes anyone feel this way.

There were several epic marketing mistakes made during the presentation we attended for the secret product. It could take the next six months to cover them all completely. However, to ensure that the mere mention of your name never causes people to cringe, take these few tips to heart.

1. Say No Trick-or-Treat Marketing

Tricking potential clients into anything is a major mistake. Don’t invite people to your home or to lunch or to a spa day (it has happened) to promote your services without telling attendees that’s what it’s for. Don’t schedule a meeting under the guise of lunch and then pop out sketches of the room redo you have in mind or product line you’re now selling. It’s just not ok. You can sell people something they don’t want, but they’ll always resent you for it.

Instead, let people know who you are and what you do up front. If you want to design a space for them or sell them on new lighting, just say so. If they’re less than thrilled with the idea, move on. Don’t spend your time trying to sell someone on the idea of something that they don’t want or couldn't care less about. Focus your energy on clients who value what you have to offer and are willing to pay you for it.

2. Assume That They’ll Read the Prospectus

An insurance agent once gave me a prospectus as part of his presentation to secure our business with his company. Unlike most people, I read the prospectus cover to cover and discovered that not only had he embellished certain points of the program in his presentation, he had lied about others. In further research, I found out the company was involved in several lawsuits for the offenses that this agent was involved in. It was a terrible common  practice for their company.

Clients are smarter than you think. We live in a digital age with knowledge at our fingertips. Your client today knows exponentially more about the business of interior design than a client in the market ten years ago. Information and sources that used be privy to industry professionals are a click away for any consumer. They’ve done their homework and they know how things should work and what thing should cost. This has its pros and cons but overall I happen to think it’s a good thing.

An educated client can be one of your biggest assets- if they’re touting your praises. However, if you have made the mistake of being vague, elusive or dishonest in your business practices, it may be a huge and costly one. The client that could’ve sang your praises is now your biggest critic and spreading your bad news all over town. Why? Because you underestimated your audience. This brings me to my next point.

3. Know Your Audience

The “Endorser” tried to sell us on his investment by saying, “Well, ya gotta eat, sleep, wash and wipe! Might as well make some money doing it!” The phrasing of that statement was an assault on my sensibilities.

What you say and how you say it can make or break a client’s perception of who you are and the quality of service you offer. In my instance, I knew from the time the company name was mentioned that I wanted nothing to do with it. The crass nature of the appeal made the offer even more unattractive. The sinking ship was going under fast.

If a potential client doesn’t want your services, or worse, doesn’t value them, they are no longer potential clients. Nothing you say can make a difference in their minds. In fact, you only add to the possibility of harming your brand in continuing to make any type of appeal.

4. Understand the Difference Between Someone “Wanting” and Someone“Valuing” Your Service

This “want” and “value” scenario can go a number of different ways. Let’s look at a few.

Scenario A
Your potential client both wants and values your service and hires you for their design project. You break down the process for them. You both agree to all the terms and they pay their bill on time. The project is complete and they refer you to all their friends. Everybody wins.

Scenario B
Your potential client wants and values your service. However, they say, no, they don’t need it. They refer you to all their friends. They keep you in mind for future projects. Everybody is happy.

Scenario C
Your potential client wants your service but doesn’t really value it. They want everything for free. They don’t know why you charge so much. They don’t want to pay their bill. They finally pay you but they scandalize your name all over town. You are not happy. Neither are they. Nobody wins.

Scenario D
Your potential client doesn’t want your service. They don’t value your service. You sell them on just letting you “try a little something”. They’re unhappy. They want everything for free. They don’t know why you charge so much and absolutely refuse to pay the bill. You have to go mediation or call it a loss. They scandalize your name all over town. You are not happy. They are not happy. After all they didn’t really want your services, anyway….

Scenario E
Your potential client doesn’t want your service. They don’t value your service. Maybe they tell their friends who “pay for that kind of stuff” about you, maybe they don’t. You win because you don’t have the headache from scenarios c and d.

If your service is valued, you win no matter what. If the answer is no, never, or no, not now, you still win. However, if it’s not valued and the client still says yes to giving you a project, you’re in for a huge headache.

When selling yourself and your services, ask yourself a few questions:

     Does this person know what I do?
     Is this the right time and place to promote myself? Did they sign up for this?
     Am I targeting the right audience?
     Does this person have any interest in what I offer?
     Does this person really value a service like mine?

Taking these tips into consideration could save your design firm from scrutiny and keep you from becoming the person that people run from when they see you coming. Knowing your company’s value and waiting for clients who recognize that value can save you from employing Trick-or-Treat marketing tactics and make yours a successful design firm and respected brand for years to come.

By V. Carr
Managing Director
The Interior Design Resource Agency
All Worldwide Rights Reserved

Photography by Franz Pfluegl

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