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Marketing Secrets Of A Class Clown

Creating a strong brand and establishing a leadership position in the marketplace is one of a franchisor’s greatest obligations. Most franchise companies, at least when they’re getting started, have underwhelming ad budgets with which to do this. Too often, they take a cautious marketing approach, wary of making a mistake. They end up taking the most obvious, logical course, and become indistinguishable from the rest of the pack. Those who create break-through brands are rule-breakers. They understand the power of a bold idea, undiluted.

Though they may have been A-students, they know the Marketing Secrets of the Class Clown (MSCC). Here’s how I learned the MSCC. I was class clown laureate of Sacred Heart Grammar School and, later, a clown-in-residence while attaining my highly prized Masters degree in Fiction Writing. I proceeded, to the continued delight of my parents, to become a banjo-playing street musician, appearing outside of some of Chicago’s finest venues. Street music was actually the best possible preparation for my career as a marketing and brand development guru.

When your business model includes giving away your product away for free, then convincing your customers they should pay you for it anyway, you learn to engage and delight quickly, or else. Sometimes it takes a village (idiot) A couple of decades ago, in the mystical land of Ohio, I registered for a banjo contest at an upcoming festival. I regretted it as soon as I arrived. There was a sea of spectators, most looking (intentionally or unintentionally) like civil war reenactors. There were literally dozens of A-student banjo-playing competitors, all joined by the common bond of being at least twice as good as me. Halfway through the competition, the emcee called my name and I climbed reluctantly onto the stage, clad in a derby hat, paisley pants and rainbow suspenders. The reenactors started to chuckle. The emcee asked me how many banjo contests I had been in. “Including this one?” I asked. “Yes, including this one,” he said.

I thought hard for a few moments, then answered, “One.” The crowd broke into such uproarious laughter that it frightened me. They kept laughing and laughing, like this was the funniest joke they had ever heard. Sizing up the situation, I ditched the difficult tune I planned to play, and launched into my comic “Schizophrenic Dueling Banjos,” in which I frenetically play both parts of the famous tune. The applause was thunderous. I took a technically undeserved 3rd place out of about 40, and was a celebrity for the rest of the day. Among the serious banjoists there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. A class clown had beaten the A-students. It was an important marketing revelation for me. All the serious, technically proficient competitors were all playing the same tunes.

They were all trying so hard to do what they were supposed to, trying so hard not to make a mistake, that they became indistinguishable from one another. The crowd wasn’t there for technical proficiency: they wanted some fun on a Sunday afternoon. Some personality. Some entertainment. Some relief. Send in the clowns In the late 70s, before my freshman year in college, we all had to submit pictures to the frosh publication the New Student Record. Every guy sent his coolest picture, the one where he’s leaning against the fake birch tree, his puka shell necklace visible from his open shirt. The idea, you see, was to get chicks. I felt so pathetic as I looked through my pictures that I took a quick shot of myself wearing a Groucho Marx nose & glasses, and sent it in. When the NSR was published, I was flooded with calls from people who wanted to meet me.

In fact, every time I’ve risked looking exceedingly stupid, I’ve been rewarded in some way. The point is not that humor is the appropriate approach to every ad campaign. It’s not. But nonconformity usually is. Your goal is to engage interest. To stand out. To distinguish yourself from the pack. When it comes to CFO, hire the A-student. But when it comes to calling attention to yourself, you need the guy who sat in the back row.


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