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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Now, those clunkers cost more cash

In a simple case of “supply and demand,” market conditions have forced the price of used vehicles upward, according to this story from the Detroit News (click here to link). The story was brought to my attention by the Automotive Digest daily newsletter.

Implications: The economy has inspired many car buyers to consider used instead of new, so demand is up. The recent cash-for-clunkers program took many pre-owned vehicles out of circulation, so the supply is down. Those dynamics have led to higher prices for used cars and trucks, and might lead to greater success of leasing and special incentive programs on new vehicles this fall. (At some point, a used vehicle ceases to be a logical economic alternative to a new vehicle.)

Mike Anderson

Getting away makes a comeback

As Labor Day weekend approaches, I’ve seen two stories that suggest vacation cutbacks are starting to show signs of relaxing, for a change. The first was in a New York Times story from last week (click here to see it), and another came in yesterday’s Media Post Marketing Daily (here’s the link).

Implications: Whether by cutting the number of attractions, reducing the length of a trip, or by downgrading the hotel a notch or two, consumers are finding ways to get away. In a sense, the consumer seems to be re-considering what’s important about a vacation (what are the essential experiences/outcomes), just as they are re-evaluating many of the other purchases they make. For some, this right-sizing might mean going from foreign to domestic, from a cruise of five days rather than seven (or 3 instead of 5), or from an extravagant adventure to an interesting voyage.

I recently discovered a new canoe shop a few miles from my home, which offers complete outfitting services, including a shuttle to-and-from the beginning or end of your canoeing expedition. They promote the trip as a “day-cation” (a now-popular term for anything that can be used as an alternative to a multi-day vacation).

If your company serves food, fun, or even an hours-long escape… you should consider (and promote) yourself an economic alternative for folks who want fun… and frugality.

Mike Anderson

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bankers told what many consumers already sensed: The recovery could take a while

Over the weekend, there was an important story published by the New York Times, covering a recent symposium for bankers. One of the speakers at the event gave some reasons why this recovery may not be similar to past recoveries. Click here to read the story.

Implications: For the record, I am very optimistic about the future. Not because life will be easy, but because smart businesses can still do quite well by paying attention to the deep needs and motivations of their consumers, and serving those interests. (It is the business many companies were taking for granted that they can no longer take for granted.)

What bankers think of as “destabilizing events” are thought of, by many consumers, as simply, “wake-up calls.” Is my job secure? Is our household income predictable? Do we have our debt at a manageable level? How is our retirement looking? Will indulging in a “want” purchase put our ability to satisfy important needs at risk?

Yes, the recovery could take a while, and the line between recession and recovery could seem blurry, at times. But that does not make the situation unmanageable. Satisfy consumer needs, and the recovery will happen sooner for you than most.

Mike Anderson

Consumers seem to keep big brother at arm's length, for now

A growing number of software and social media companies have developed tools to help advertisers target consumers based on the physical location of those prospective shoppers (among these are Google, Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla, and Shopkick). But a story in today’s New York Times indicates that people have been slow to “opt-in” to location-based advertising, at least for now. Click here to read the story.

In yesterday’s edition of the paper, another story explored people’s reaction to “re-targeting” campaigns; web ads that are served to Internet users based on their recent browsing activity (especially when they have drilled-down on an offer but then decided against). Click here to read that story.

Implications: Both of these platforms have two significant challenges to overcome. First, consumers are still a little creeped-out by the idea that “Big Brother is watching” at all times. Second—and this is the one that makes people uncomfortable about being watched—consumers fear companies will use these new powers to serve their own interests, instead of using it to enhance their service to customers.

In the re-targeting story, a woman explained how she was stalked by shoes after looking at them online. How long can it be before websites or brands are “outed” for using these annoying tactics… where a product perused results in a person pursued… sometimes to an annoying extent?

Don’t get me wrong: I am confident that behavioral targeting tactics will grow and prosper in the future. But geo-targeting and re-targeting—like any other marketing tactic—must be used to the mutual advantage of the company and the consumer, lest the advertiser risk alienation over customer acquisition.

Would I appreciate a coupon arriving on my smart phone as I walk by a coffee shop? Sure. But not as much as I would despise that coffee shop for spamming me with offers thereafter. Some of these new technologies might less helpful in building trust... and more helpful in leveraging the trust you have built in other ways.

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The changing face of New Age Seniors

This week, Marketing Daily ran a story about the new skin care line from Avon, intended to serve women over sixty. (Click here to read the full article.)

Implications: It seems to me that Avon is pretty smart… for taking the emphasis off “eliminating lines and wrinkles,” and instead, helping folks accept reality and age with beauty. We’ve offered a number of stories here on the topic of New Age Seniors and their generational economic impact. I'm sure the basis for those stories will continue to evolve!

As huge as the Baby Boomer cohort is, and as rapidly as this group is moving into and through their 60’s, I have to believe more companies will follow suit… and give-up “denial” as a brand strategy.

Mike Anderson

The cost of kids and families

The Iconoculture newsletter consistently delivers at least one brief nugget I want to read more about. Yesterday’s edition was no different. It led me to a story from Newsweek, which suggests that the “typical” middle-class family (husband-and-wife, with HH income of roughly $76,250 in 2009) spends an average of $12,000 per year per child. Click here to read the full story, which was focused on government policy.

Implications: For those of us who can’t wait for the research potpourri that will begin to roll out with the census numbers this fall and winter, it’s always fun to get a taste of whatever “statistical soup” happens to be available.

Now, I just have to think back to the last time I saw anything that looked like a “typical” family!

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

UPDATE: Your brain on computers

Last week, I wrote a story about the congestion that can occur in the mind of the consumer—any of us—because of our connected lifestyle. It was based on a story I found in the New York Times [see “Your brain, off the grid,” August 18, 2010.]

Tonight, I came across another story from… about the rest your mind doesn’t get when it’s connected to a computer activity. Click here to see the story.

Implications: Again, consider the competition you have for the mind and imagination of the consumer.

It’s not enough that you’re the most clever furniture store or restaurant or car dealership on the blog. Your message must cut through the clutter of everything else that is competing for the attention of your audience.

Mike Anderson

Companies more likely to consider i-Pad

Another interesting story today from the Wall Street Journal: More companies are putting the Apple i-Pad in their corporate briefcases. (Click here to read the story from today’s

Implications: I’m thinking about all the times I’ve heard and IT specialist say something like, “We’re a PC organization,” referring to some obtuse idea that Apple products might not be compatible with the organization.

These days, it appears that companies are looking more at what might be cost-efficient and effective, as opposed to comfortable for the IT department. (I’m not suggesting that favors Apple, only that it might put the new Apple products on a bit more equal footing with other technology options.) After all, the evolution of smart phones has blurred the lines of what we expect from technology tools. Today, the question is more than just “to PC or not to PC.” We look at each component in the technology chain for what application it accomplishes, and what price that achievement comes with.

Mike Anderson

Taking the social muse out of museums

Once upon a time, it could have been easy to think of museums as a little bit “high-brow”—if not downright snooty—centers of culture. But according to a story in today’s Wall Street Journal, museums are starting to look at themselves the way Mr. and Ms. Middle America might… and it’s leading to some cultural change in the category. Click here to read the version of the story.

Implications: Whether attributable to the advance of Gen X and Gen Y, or perhaps in response to the changing economic climate… it just makes sense that “Cathedrals of Culture” become a little more main-stream in their approach to woo visitors and supporters.

I suspect that museums will not be the last category to benefit from a little down-to-earth self-evaluation.

Mike Anderson

The law (even for lawyers) of supply and demand

There was an interesting story in USA Today today. The front-page headline suggested there are some graduates who now object to the way their law school oversold the future (now current) job market. Click here to read the story.

Implications: If you’re the marketing director for a vocational/technical college—or the admissions officer for a major university—now might be a good time to be thinking about the end game for the programs your school is offering. Because it appears that’s what your students are thinking about.

When a labor market has taken the kind of hit the Great Recession dealt it, people might start paying less attention to things like prestige, tradition and glitter… and more attention to the career (and paycheck) they could realistically anticipate upon graduation. (“Am I gaining knowledge/skills that an employer will find valuable and attractive?”)

Mike Anderson

What the drop in (July) home sales could mean

By now, if you’re awake, you’ve heard that July home sales (existing homes) fell 27% to a fifteen-year low. (For more detail, click here to see the story posted by CBS News.) Of course, that means if you sell real estate or home mortgages, July was a rough month. But there might be some less obvious issues that are worth thinking about, depending on the business you’re in.

Implications: Lost in most of this coverage is the idea that a few months of falling home sales were inevitable; the first-time home buyers tax credit—which expired earlier this year—arguably sped future buyers into the market ahead of schedule. Thus, people who would have been shopping in June, July and August rushed their plans and bought earlier in the year, instead. (In a sense, the industry enjoyed a significant number of sales leading up to April that may not have occurred until summer; this increase in sales was stealing business out of later months.)

Another contributing factor to this continuing real estate slump is the sluggish job market. Home sales will not be “zesty” until people feel more secure about their jobs and incomes.
On the positive side, folks who are staying in their existing homes (against their true wishes) longer than they had hoped might consider doing things to take the boredom out of the old house. Think home furnishings, appliances, home theatres and other home improvements.

Also on the positive side, there are consumers who—through life stage progression, job changes, etc.—continue to move toward “prime” with regard to their need to sell a current home and buy a new home. A significant number of these folks obviously delayed acting on their dream home in July… but that does not mean desire does not exist. Watch for signs of “pent-up demand” to help move more people into the housing market, perhaps by late this year according to some pundits.

The recovery is going to happen in fits and starts. We knew that. But even in one category’s challenges there are opportunities in hiding for related and competing industries.

Mike Anderson

Friday, August 20, 2010

A lesson from the Blagojevich trial

Before it began, the trial of Rod Blagojevich may have seemed—to those not directly involved—like a simple formality. There were conversations on tape, after all. But this week, he was convicted on only one of 24 counts.

Implications: According to coverage in the New York Times this week, the failure to convict on any of the remaining 23 counts could be blamed, at least in part, on a law that was broken by the prosecution rather than a defendant: Keep your message simple. (Click here to read the story.) Knowing a retrial is almost assured, the jury foreman offered this advice to prosecutors: Streamline the charges, drop some, pick your shots.

Think about that. The prosecution had a confined audience (in jury box), and therefore, presumably, the attention of the people they were selling to. But by the time the case was over, instructions to the jury about how to deliberate and decide ran longer than 100 pages.

How complicated is the marketing message you’re trying to sell? Is your product or service so complex that it defends itself against consideration? Do you successfully sell the foundation (the value proposition) of your product or service before moving on to related features or less relevant details? And while it is obvious that you must sell to the buyer... are there family members or other decision influencers (hold-out jurors) who have the power of veto over the sale you're trying to make?

Mike Anderson

Y people buy: Cravings, convenience and cost

After a week’s worth of road assignments, I’m back in the office and catching up on “the trades.” The first story to catch my eye was this piece from Marketing Daily, which cites NPD data to explain what motivates the food purchases of Gen Y. It appears to not be just one thing or another, but a blend of what they yearn for, what’s easy to prepare, and what fits into the budget. Click here to read the story.

Implications: Life would be easier if consumers wanted just one thing from our product or service. But just as we all have a wide variety of facets to the way we live life, we form a wide variety of expectations about the products and services that fit into that life. Figuring out how your offering fits is the first step in defining your value proposition. It’s always healthy to keep your eye out for articles, incidents and experiences that shed light and clarity on the sometimes complex life of consumers.

Mike Anderson

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Common sense: Still the perfect gift

A story in today’s Marketing Daily indicates that during tough economic times, sales of food items has risen nearly 10%. Click here to read the story.

Implications: While many of the foods given as gifts could be classified as “specialty” or candy, the practice of using food or food baskets as a gift item seems to be pretty wide-spread. And why not: Everybody needs food, so it is a gift item that is likely to be used. (During a recession, especially, people seem to shy away from the purchase of things—including gifts—which might be seen as simply novel or unlikely to be used.)

Meanwhile, the sale of gift cards declined in 2009.

I understand the fall in gift card sales: If you’re a good shopper, you can find a sweater or power tool that looks like it cost much more than $40. If you buy a gift card for $40… it looks like $40 (except that the recipient has to spend it at a specific store or chain). The prior makes you appear more generous than the latter.

But this article left me thinking about the value of common sense necessities. Maybe some companies should be getting into the gift-card business. If food items are more popular during these kinds of economic times—everyone needs food—how about things like gasoline, automotive service, and restaurant gift cards?

Or, from your perspective—based on the business you’re in—maybe there are other forms of common-sense necessities that might make a great gift idea as we head toward the winter holiday season.

Now is a good time to be thinking of the possibilities.

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Your brain, "off the grid"

It is easy to skim a variety of national publications digitally; once in a while, I come across an article compelling enough that it makes me seek-out the printed edition of a story, so as to better absorb it. This week, that’s what happened when I read this piece about a handful of scientists that went “off the grid,” as reported by the New York Times. Click here to read the rather lengthy piece.

Implications: After reading this report, I caught myself not thinking about the scientists that went “off the grid,” but rather, I was thinking about the consumers who remain “on” the grid. If our attention span is so taxed by technology that we have difficulty thinking deeply about most matters, how does a marketer gain deep attention in the mind of the consumer?

I highly recommend this story. Click on the link above, and realize the implications for your marketing communications are many.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

About social media

I subscribe to the Iconoculture newsletter, which led me to this quote, which comes from Mary Rodgers, director of marketing communications, Cuisinart and Waring, at the 2010 Shopper Insights in Action Conference:

“Traditional marketing focuses on what brands attempt to portray to consumers. Social media allows consumers to tell brands about themselves, while simultaneously increasing brand awareness by promoting interaction and a sense of community.”

I don't need to write any implications for that remark; they should be self-evident. If you'd like to read the story from conference sponsor, click here.

Mike Anderson

As scrutiny follows the BP oil spill, what follows the scrutiny?

A story in today’s New York Times indicates that deep-water wells will face greater scrutiny than in the past. Click here to read the story.

Implications: While I don’t consider myself a futurist, my hunch is that deeper environmental reviews before permits are issued is only a first hint at greater scrutiny of the oil industry. Having earned the title of “worst environmental disaster in U.S. history” (at least by the media), we can assume that greater regulation of the industry is inevitable.

With greater regulation comes more expense (which I’m inclined to think will be passed from the oil company to the consumer), as well as possible delays in supply (we already see significant market swings from time to time, whether they be related to hurricanes in the gulf, incidents in the Mideast, or clogged shipping lanes for oil tankers). Both of these issues could lead to higher prices for fuel, and any product which consumers fuel in the manufacturing or transportation-to-market process.

Yes, that would cover just about everything.

I realize this might sound a bit repetitious from my earlier remarks about The Fuel Economy, but when a market trend seems so inevitable, it is worth repeating. Even though many marketing strategies are still so focused on price, it would be prudent to being (or continue) talking about how your product or service adds value to the consumer’s life; why it is worth the money. When (not if) your costs go up over the next few years, it will be easier for the consumer to accept if they own a long-held appreciation for your value proposition. Less so if a company tries to sell its’ worth at the last minute, as prices are already headed higher.

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Smaller stores require smarter management

An article in today's USA Today supports a premise that most of us already knew: The small, independent retailer faces challenges that bigger companies don't during a recession and its aftermath. Click here to read the story.

Implications: A while back, I was driving by a suburban shopping area that was loaded with the kind of big-box and discount stores that are now ubiquitous throughout most U.S. suburbs. He turned to me and said, "Welcome to Generica." I grinned, because the term instantly made sense to me.

The independent retailer must be prepared to offer customer services that are difficult to achieve in a mass-merchandise, build marketing messages and partnerships that are responsive, agile and effective... and finally, notice and respond to slight shifts in their customer's purchasing priorities.

Their advantage: Their companies are often a little bit closer to Elm Street, and therefore, their customers.

Mike Anderson

Thursday, August 5, 2010

So much for "cheap."

If you thought "cheap" or reduced margins was the only path to profit in a recession-impacted economy, this will be an entertaining read: Marketing Daily, 8/5/10, regarding Whole Foods.

Implications: It's about perceived value, not price.

Mike Anderson

Apples & Oranges: Tech gadgets in, other spending out

I’ve asserted—on more than a few occasions—that it’s not enough to compete with other contenders in your category; you must compete with people outside your sector, as consumers increasingly realize they need to choose from a world of purchasing priorities.

A great example of that came in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, in a story that suggests electronics are taking money from many other alternative categories. Click here to read the story.

Implications: It’s not enough to position your company, store, product or service as the best among similar alternatives. As consumers pick-and-choose between a number of competing desires—and knowing they cannot afford them all—they’re deciding to do without X in order to afford Z.

How can you demonstrate your product (and category’s) value to the consumer’s life? How can you demonstrate the way you deliver on core benefits, like common sense, family values, durability, and the reason you should be “the one indulgence” that deserves to be granted?

When you can do that, you can be Z.

Mike Anderson

Consumer research leads to creative, timely, topical (literally) customer service

Gatwick Airport in London did some research with people about anxieties they might have before going on holiday. Turns out, travelers were concerned about showing up at the sun and sand… without a tan. So, their promotional folks worked out a deal with a tanning company to provide pre-boarding “spray-on tans,” right at the airport. For more, click here to see the story in this week’s Springwise, or see how Gatwick positioned it at their event landing page. (Note that this is not the only clever promotion that the airport has done, recently!)

Implications: Often, innovation is less a matter of coming up with something creative, and more a matter of paying attention.

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Consumers head back-to-school a little smarter (kind of)

Back-to-school sales are a little sluggish, according to a story from today’s Media Post Marketing Daily. Click here to read the story.

You might also enjoy this article about the more “strategic” mom: Insights into the way parents are making ends meet with the influx of BTS expenses. This story appeared yesterday in Engage: Moms.

Implications: A few years ago, consumers would see something on a store shelf, and say, “Why not?” Post-recession, the consumer still seems to be scrutinizing every purchase with a shorter question: “Why!?”

Do I really need it? Can I live without it? Could the purchase of X serve two purposes, so that I can avoid buying Y? What function does this purchase help with?

Now… let’s go back to that first question: Do I really need it? Be careful about how consumers define “needs” and “wants.” What might seem like a want to you might be an inescapable need in the mind of your consumer. I was fascinated by this portion of the Marketing Daily story about weak back-to-school sales: “One exception… is likely to be consumer electronics, including next-generation cell phones, iPads, and new computers. …not because parents see themselves as splurging, but that these are now viewed as necessary, not discretionary."

What do you sell that is a back-to-school need, and what do you sell that is a back-to-school want? Do your consumers agree?

Mike Anderson

Healthy lifestyles likely to retain a high profile

There’s no question that many folks are thinking about healthy eating, exercise, and their long-term well-being. But the question is, is that awareness leading to overall change in behaviors?
A story in today’s New York Times suggests that obesity is not on the decline. Read the story by clicking here.

Implications: First lady Michelle Obama has been raising awareness for children’s wellness issues, including fitness and diet. And you can expect those kinds of initiatives to continue, as the obesity issue continues to be pervasive.

Again… do you sell any product or service that might contribute to a healthier lifestyle? If you’re a sporting goods store, don’t just sell the equipment, sell the outcome. If you run a restaurant with a heart-healthy menu, you might emphasize that you’re making it easy to relax and enjoy without over-indulging. If you operate a large discount store that could take some time to navigate, why not suggest that people “burn some calories, instead of their budget.”

Healthy angles of all kinds will be attractive to consumers for the foreseeable future, as the topic retains its high-profile position on the awareness landscape.

If you haven’t seen details of Michelle Obama’s initiatives, see the video overview below, courtesy of the New York Times and NBC.

Mike Anderson

An overdue upgrade?

When I logged-on to the Internet from the Sky Club at the Minneapolis airport this morning, I noticed something important. For the first time that I can remember, I didn’t need to grab the password of the day at the front desk. I just clicked on the SSID, and it took me online. I also noticed that instead of being dropped into the main Delta Airlines website, my opening page was a new Sky Miles landing page, showing me today’s weather, an app to track my incoming plane (to see if it was on time), and the major news headlines of the day.

But all of that is not the most important thing I noticed. I noticed my reaction: “It’s about time," I thought. I expected this kind of convenience, even thought I didn't realize it until it had been provided.

Implications: So, either I’m becoming a snob—which I don’t think I am—or my expectations of what to expect from the online realm have grown faster than many of the companies I come into contact with.

I know there are technically-oriented people who expect much more than myself… from the web, their smart phone, their service providers. And I know there are people who might expect much less than I, content to still write checks on paper, or make a bank transfer by telephone (voice call).

I wonder where I sit on the early-adopter-late-adopter continuum.

More importantly, I wonder where your most important customers might be. Are they click-happy tech-types, eager to text their way through any purchasing process? Are they the kind of folks who want a person-to-person conversation? Or, are they a little of both, depending on the situation?

[Note: This posting has been published courtesy free Internet service from T-mobile and Delta Airlines. I really do appreciate the upgrade.]

Mike Anderson

Monday, August 2, 2010

The new abnormal

My colleagues and I were at a staff meeting in north Florida most of last week, so most of us had less time than usual to peruse the various trade magazines we subscribe to. But this morning, colleague John Henley forwarded a story that he caught-up with over the weekend, from Bloomberg Business Week.

It’s a great read, which illustrates the conundrum of consumers who have gone through considerable economic trauma over the past few years, but who still can find a way to spend on those things they are strongly motivated to buy (whether that means a latte or an i-Pad).

Click here to read the story.

Implications: I’ve shared nearly 400 articles/observations about consumer behavior at this site over the past 2 ½ years… and have frequently found myself apologizing for the fact that there are a lot of consumer trends that seem to contradict each other.

This story suggests I don’t have to apologize… that the new normal is abnormal.

Perhaps all of this means that none of us should understand the world of consumers, but settle for the neighborhoods that matter most. The customers you serve now, and those you aspire to serve in the next eighteen to twenty-four months. The customers you’d like to tempt-away from a competitor. The customers and prospects in your local market. Focus on your most immediate, important, and close-at-hand opportunities: Forget the world, and focus on the folks who are heavy users of the product or service you sell.

Some executives think skilled targeting tends to complicate a marketing effort.

I think it lifts the weight of the world from your shoulders.

Mike Anderson

Milking for all it's worth

In my humble opinion, people-watching remains one of the most entertaining modes of consumer research.

My wife had some dress shopping to do, and I had some work to do. So yesterday, I drove her to Mall of America in Bloomington, about 45 minutes from our home. She could shop to her heart’s content, and I could hit the Caribou Coffee shop (a rustic version of Starbucks, for those not familiar), and work until she finished her mission.

Electrical outlets were at a premium this day, as the shop was particularly busy. (Locals, evading a summer heat wave, tourists touring this monument to consumerism, and parents shopping for back-to-school.) After waiting a few minutes, though, a table opened-up near a prized plug-in, and I was able to get down to business analyzing some qualitative research.

While my focus is usually pretty strong on projects like this, I consider the Mall of America to hold “Fourth Place” on my list of favorite places to people-watch. It is only behind Pier 29 in San Francisco at #3, any commercial airport at #2, and New York’s Times Square, which enjoys the first-place position as my favorite of people-watching venues.

Back at the coffee shop, I noted a gentleman fussing-about, looking for tables near a plug-in just as I had been a few minutes earlier. He was asking folks who were obviously wired whether there was an open outlet they would share, so that he could charge his cell phone. He was one of those louder-than-most folks—maybe even trying to be a bit flamboyant or “noticed”—and lacking in the art of respecting peoples’ personal space. He finally made one couple sufficiently uncomfortable that they abandoned their table, which he nearly jumped on, since it was close to a power socket. After settling in with his gear, he asked a young lady nearby if she would mind “watching his stuff” while he proceeded to the counter to buy his beverage. She shrugged in consent, and he left for the counter.

He returned with 1) the cup of tea he had purchased, 2) the pitcher of milk that is intended for customers to dilute their tea or coffee, 3) an empty cup, 4) the shaker of cocoa designed to let customers modify a beverage to their liking, and 5) several packets of sugar. Then, he proceeded to concoct an extra beverage that he had not paid for, pouring enough milk and cocoa and sugar into the cup to yield a large glass of chocolate milk. (Not what the baristas had in mind when making the milk, cocoa and sugar available, I presume.)

Humans are fascinating people.

Implications: I suppose it would be inappropriate for me to indict the gentleman who grabbed an “extra beverage” composed of free ingredients. After all, the coffee shop had given the man an extra cup (on request), and provide the milk, sugar and cocoa customers use in modifying their beverage to taste, at no extra charge.

At that same time, while waiting for my wife to finish her shopping, I bought a cappuccino and “plugged in” without a second thought, using the shop’s electricity “for free.” (And with considerable presumption; I didn’t even ask.) I have a few mini-shampoos in my drawer that are labeled with the name of this hotel or that, and more than one pen in my desk that likewise displays the logo of some convention center or other host facility. I’m not sure how they ended up in my possession, as I don’t recall being told, explicitly, to take them.

In other words, exploiting a value-added freebie is not a matter of guilt or innocence… it is more likely a matter of degree. Almost everyone will exploit a value-added item that is provided as a courtesy of the vendor and as a convenience to the customer. It’s just a matter of how often or how much.

In this economic environment, are your customers more likely to “milk it?” Are there loopholes in your gift-with-purchase or courtesy program that need to be tightened?

Mike Anderson