The tokoloshe and the Drakensberg

Tips for Entrepreneurs: People like to do business with people just like themselves.

January 9, 2012 00:10
Businessman looking into a mirror

Businessman in a mirror 311. (photo credit: Digital Vision)


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Gasp! You mean you’ve never heard of the tokoloshe? Those scary critters that cause nightmares and cause many a South African’s bed to be placed on brick under the bedposts?

Here’s something you should know: I didn’t grow up in South Africa. Nor have I ever been there. But the fact that I know what the tokoloshe are, and I know about the Drakensberg and that Johannesburg is called Jo’burg by the locals, gives me a leg up over someone else when I speak to a South African.

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Why is this? Well, because people like to do business with people just like themselves. When politicians mail letters or postcards to potential voters, they will always try to use the most advanced technology possible to appear to mirror, or seem as similar to, the recipient as possible.

When I lived in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, Michael Bloomberg was running for mayor of New York City. With a vast personal fortune at his disposal, his team tried as best they could to get the many Yiddish-speaking families in the area get Yiddish-language postcards telling them to vote for him in the upcoming election. (But technology isn’t perfect; some computer has my first name, Issamar, as being that of a Spanish speaker, which probably made me the only person on the block to get a Spanish-language card instead of a Yiddish or English one.)

If your last name is Smith, you might be disturbed to learn that companies whom are trying to get your attention might use someone with another last name beginning with an S.; or if your name is Rodriguez, you might have someone with a different Spanish last name signing the letter.

The more you see a reflection of yourself in a piece of marketing communication, the more likely you are to feel rapport with the sender, and therefore the more likely you are to interact and accept whatever it is you are being offered.

In the world and business of mailing lists there are what are called overlays. This means that you might spend a significant sum of money before you send out a single mailing. The reason for the added expense is to get a high-quality list of contacts from, say, The Wall Street Journal subscribers. Then you pay even more to “overlay,” or match, that list against a list of people who subscribe to Parenting Magazine. By using such an overlay, you are able to focus on attracting affluent (Wall Street Journal readers) parents (since they subscribe to Parenting Magazine).

Once you have such a clearly focused list, you can afford to mail fewer pieces. On the one hand, you’ll have a smaller budget because of the cost of the overlay. But on the other hand, your response rate and sales will be higher. Why? Because the overlay allowed you to reach an audience that is much more likely to respond to your message.

You can craft a more focused and targeted message now because you know exactly who your audience since you used a laser-focused list. Because your message is more personal and reflects the values of your audience, you make it harder for them to resist. If you had just sent a generic message to your marketing list, you wouldn’t identify or mirror very many of them, and they’d be less likely to respond to you since you couldn’t effectively identify with them.

Take the following headline, for example: “How will recent changes in trust law affect your children’s inheritance?” This headline has to be on target to the group you are mailing to if you want a response. In other words, your audience must have enough money to leave an inheritance large enough to be affected by changes in Trust Law. If your audience has no savings and nothing to leave their children, they’re not likely to read much further than the headline. Then you’ve wasted your money. You can be this specific if you’ve done your overlay because you know the recipients of your mailing have children and they have enough wealth that they would worry about it being eaten by probate.

Even if you send only 100 test letters like this to begin with, the chance of the letter being opened by someone who can afford you and would be interested in using your services increases tremendously. Even a simple test sample will tell you quickly whether your headline and message hit the mark.

Take the information you currently know about your clients and start segmenting or grouping them accordingly. Separate them into two to five major groups. Depending on your particular niche, perhaps your groups would be something like retirees, married with children, single or very affluent.

Then create a slightly different marketing message for each group. You can use almost the same marketing piece; just target each group with the headline, the first bullet point and your call to action. Make all those points something relevant to that group specifically, if just tangentially. And if you change the picture on the mailing as well to match, that’s extra credit for you.

As many advertisers know, where a lead comes from can also make a difference in how you respond. If someone responds from a high-class business publication (say The Economist), the info package might be sent with overnight mail. If a response to an ad that looks exactly the same comes from a second-level publication, the advertiser might send it via regular mail or not include the fancy tchotchke along with it.

Which brings me back to my original point. If you deal with South Africans, know about the tokoloshe, or how to pronounce “Witwatersrand.” If you do telemarketing, have someone with an accent similar to the country you are calling make the calls. Every group of people or professionals has a certain “in” lingo that you want to know and use when you deal with that crowd.

Tea and crumpets, anyone? That’s me when talking to the British. It might seem like a lot of work to be a chameleon, or at least appear to be a chameleon, but once you get the knack of it, it can be fun. Not only that, as you learn more and more about each demographic and their culture, language and needs, you can also discover new markets for your services. It’s in your best personal and financial interest to start broadening your own background.

Issamar Ginzberg is a rabbi, businessman, public speaker and marketer.

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