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Marketing Lessons from a Criminal Moron

Way back when, before email and the internet, I was a newspaper reporter working in Belleville, IL.

My fellow reporters and I used to pass time reading the arrest logs to hunt for juicy stories. Here’s one of my favorites:

A checkout clerk at a local department store was arrested for theft after a customer left her credit card at the cash register. Upon noticing the card, the clerk didn’t run out to the parking lot to return the precious plastic to the customer. Nope. She took a break, grabbed that dress she always wanted and filled a cart with a dozen other things from the store’s racks and shelves.

She completed her impromptu spree by paying with the customer’s credit card. When she ran the purchase, she did what she always had done when making purchases for herself at the store…

She entered her employee discount number to knock five percent off the total bill.

D’oh!

It didn’t take a CSI unit or Sherlock Holmes to crack that case. She was busted faster than that cell phone I dropped on the sidewalk. And, oh yeah, she was fired and sent to the St. Clair County Home for the Criminally Stupid, or maybe the county jail. I don’t remember.

When the newspaper’s “cops-and-courts” reported submitted the article about the criminal shopping spree, I suggested the following headline: “Why Steal for Full Price, When You Can Steal at a Discount?”

My editor said, “No.” He didn’t have a sense of humor.

There is a marketing lesson in this story — several, actually — which is good because this is a column about marketing.

Last week, I shared this story with a client who said he didn’t want to invest in a content marketing plan. “I can wing it,” he said.

My response: “Ummmm… Winging it usually doesn’t turn out so well.” And then I told the story of the clerk who held someone else’s credit card and decided to, you know… wing it.

To those of you who like to wing it: I’m not (necessarily) calling you stupid, nor am I calling you a criminal. If you’re reading this newspaper, you must be bright, and you might be law-abiding.

But if you think your marketing (email, social media, blog posts) will be just as effective (more leads, more sales, and so forth) WITHOUT a plan… Well, let’s just say I won’t be betting on you to win the three-way IQ contest with President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson.

Two other marketing lessons from this story:

  • Deceit doesn’t pay. The marketing world is full of deceit — misleading subject lines, bait-and-switch offers, and other tricks. It doesn’t take a CSI unit or Sherlock Holmes to see through most rotten marketing tricks.

  • Storytelling works. I set out today to teach a few marketing lessons. I could have done so by penning a treatise. I chose, instead, to tell a story. It worked. How do I know? You’re still here with me at the bottom of this article. You would have bailed far sooner if this were a treatise.

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