What a Beggar Taught Me About Marketing

I was driving through San Francisco, yesterday, to the offices of Wiley who just published the Multichannel Marketing book. On the way back, near the onramp to the Bay Bridge, a number of beggars were working the traffic lights. Same as every day, they were carrying signs made out of cardboard with a written request for a few bucks. They carried their signs through the line of cars waiting at the red light.

Hungry need help

One of my beggars’ signs read: “I am too ugly to get …, so I need …”, and the rest I should probably not post here.

Now, what’s to say that this message is the best at getting drivers to fork over a few bucks?

A/B Testing 

It is plenty easy for the beggar to answer that question. All it takes, is a few more pieces of cardboard and a few different signs with other pitches written on them. At every 3 minute interval of green and red lights he can try out a different message. Before the hour is over he will know which one works best.

Well, in direct marketing we do champion-challenger testing. In web analytics we do A/B testing or even multivariate testing. That is old news to the beggars in San Francisco.

Segmentation and Demographic Targeting

Surely, that sign wouldn’t work so well for persuading female drivers (if you can imagine the rest of the message?) I have to wonder whether the beggar turns the cardboard around to its other side when the lot of cars waiting at the red light is more heavily weighted towards women in the driver’s seat.

Well, if so, that would be what we do in direct marketing in terms of targeting by demographic segments. You could even argue that there is some behavioral targeting going on when beggars stay silent until they find someone that acts shy or makes eye contact.

But wait for this.

As it was a sunny day my windows were rolled down. The beggar started walking down the line. Shoot I thought. Now I am going to be on the hook with my windows open. He will make me feel too bad to leave without providing a few bucks.

But to my surprise that isn’t what happened.

The beggar simply wished a good day and continued walking down the line. Huh? I guess he knows that the cars at the highway ramp during commute hours are often by the same people every single day. Each of the beggars is there almost every day. So if I won’t pay a buck today, I might do so tomorrow. Rather than burning bridges, he built rapport for the future.

Who knew that the beggar was a relationship marketer! He is more interested in maximizing the life time value of his customers than extorting a quick buck. Some online marketers still have much to copy there.

beggar Hats off to these street artists! I couldn’t do what they do every day.

4 Comments on “What a Beggar Taught Me About Marketing

  1. Well, isn’t the beggar as close to his “customers” as was the old street corner grocery store owner? Isn’t database marketing, in a sense, an effort to get back to that “personal” relationship with customers?

  2. hi, Akin.

    Quite interestion post, especially the thought of “relationship marketer”. Would you mind if I translate it to Chinese and put it on my blog? 😉

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