Think about giving customers what they expect

We all expect a cola drink to be dark brown. So beverage industry experts were not surprised when an international cola company ultimately removed the clear “Crystal” version of its cola from store shelves. If you call it cola, it has to be the right color.

A major U.S. tobacco company spent millions in an effort to develop a smokeless cigarette – an attempt to thwart secondhand smoke issues – only to learn that smokers rebelled. Marketing a smokeless cigarette, they decided, would be like selling dehydrated water.

The level of advertising dollars employed attempting to circumvent prevailing market beliefs and expectations seems to carry little influence. Despite their well-earned reputation for copying competency – and a $1 billion investment – Xerox was unable to make its mark in the PC market. Any machine carrying that name, the marketplace decided had to make copies.

Similarly, AT&T could not make a connection with the PC market either. The marketplace believed if you couldn’t talk on it, the AT&T name carried little value. Obviously technical competency is not the issue, market expectations – predisposed beliefs – are.

People reject any and all ideas inconsistent with their beliefs and expectations. Present to them in parallel with expectations – tell them what they need to hear – and the sky is the limit.

Doll manufacturers selling to little girls miss the opportunity to supply 50 percent of the market – little boys. The problem: what red-blooded John Wayne-identifying American father is comfortable with the vision of his son playing with dolls? Such activity reflects on dad and his self-image more than his son’s. It just won’t play.

The fashion doll group is the most popular and profitable segment of this market. With a myriad of outfits offered for each occasion, complete play sets correlating to each fashion ensemble and the accessory wardrobe furniture to contain the entire collection, the potential to sell additional product is almost limitless — within the fairer sex anyway. Now, if we could just get the other half of the population.

Suppose we create an entirely new class of toy called “action figures”? The word “doll” is henceforth banned from this marketing plan unequivocally. We supply the brand name, “G.I. Joe.” Of course, Joe isn’t attired in various fashion garments; he is assigned a range of “uniforms” to coincide with each potential military campaign — the beach assault, aerial ops, etc. We offer a footlocker to square away all his “gear” in place of that feminine-sounding wardrobe. Among the play sets available for purchase are an amphibious landing craft, helicopter, armored personnel SUV, etc.

Crafting our product and message to align with expectations, little boys are now part of the target market happily playing with, um, action figures.

Astute marketing

Alignment of message to mate with expectations is a seasoned marketing tactic. When instant coffee initially hit store shelves in the U.S. market, resistance was immediate. Unlike contemporary times, the majority of adult women then were stay-at-home moms and homemakers. A housewife who didn’t brew coffee was perceived as either lazy or unloving of her family.

Astute marketers addressed this challenge with the inclusion of an additional step to the printed package directions: “Allow one full minute for in-cup brewing before serving.” It now took time to prepare. And that’s exactly what the market needed to hear. Sales have been brewing ever since.

The anti-carbohydrate craze of recent years struck fear in the very hearts of grain growers and food processors alike. Responding to plummeting sales, perceptive vendors plastered “whole grain” across their product packaging to satisfy our demands as they remained mute about the sugar and fat content of some of those very same packages. They told us what we wanted to hear.

Seeking increased revenues and greater acceptance for our products/services, we need to understand not only the wants in our market, we need to conform to market expectations as well. When marketing message aligns with those expectations anything is possible.

Arthur “Chip” Card of Manchester is a business adviser and marketing strategist. He can be contacted at