This could also be entitled “What I’m learning from Malcolm Gladwell and Ron Popeil”.

I picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s new book,”What the Dog Saw“- a collection of some of his New Yorker pieces. Since I wasn’t as blown away by his recent Outliers book as I had been by The Tipping Point and Blink, but even in the first chapter, I’ve found a story that’s speaking ideas making it more than worth the purchase price already.
The first chapter talks about Ron Popiel, of Ronco, informercial, and Showtime Rotisserie fame. Ron himself comes from a long line of pitchmen, honing their craft on the boardwalk and fair circuit, before Ron introduced TV into the mix. Ron Popiel has had an affect on my life, as I look back on it, from the first time I bought a Ronco Record in the late 70’s. (Does anyone else remember Ronco and K-Tel? Play that funky music, white boy…..) While I consider most infomercials the height of getting people to buy stuff they don’t really need- this guy is a master marketer we could all learn a few things from, especially when it comes to social media.

How many Ginsu knives and ShamWows do you have in your house? Veg-o-Matics? Pocket Fishermans?

Gladwell does a fantastic job of talking about the art of the informercial, and of Ron as an inventor. Ron has managed to get people to buy stuff for years by mastering the art of show and tell. He makes the product the star, and while he talks to you about it, he uses it and demonstrates, convincingly, how the product in hand will solve problems you never even really knew you had. On top of this, he gains your attention, entertains, and then makes an elegant turn and knows how to ask for the money.

Even in the days leading up to the new FTC regulations requiring truth in advertising, celebrity endorsements and the end of the small print *results not typical*, it’s hard to imagine how any of this will effect Ron. Ron shows everyone, in a personal and empathetic, emotional way, that his products do amazing things, and that every result is typical- no one is surprised. Now, they may get home and decide they didn’t eat as much beef jerky or dehydrated food as they thought, or eat as much salsa as they thought when they bought the veg-o-matic, the product does work exactly as promised. Ron is in the clear.

What I’m learning from all of this, is that even in social media, we have to be clear on what we’re doing. What are we selling? What is the product? Is the product the star, or are we trying to compete for attention with the product? And most importantly, do we know how to convert the interest into money? Do we know how to ask for the money?

As a consultant, I’ve been working with small and medium sized businesses to educate them about what social media can and cannot do for their business. My “pitch” is not for a specific product, but to try to help companies understand social media as a portion of their marketing strategy and how to make the most out of it. I earn money by charging businesses for my time and expertise, and helping them tailor a business strategy that makes sense for them in a way they can measure. I show companies the tools, we discuss pros and cons, and then try to get them to decide where they want to put their time, money and effort, and proceed accordingly.  And as much as I can dazzle people with all I know- the “turn”- converting Spectators into Buyers is what needs to happen.

And this goes for every business, every product, every person who needs to sell something to someone else.  We need to have products that can sell themselves, because we demonstrate that they are relevant and necessary to our customers. We need to make sure they know how much they need our products to solve their problems, and be ready to ask for the money and sell the product to them when they are ready to buy- not too soon, and not too late.  We need to make our case, and the convert the swayed person into a customer.

Ron sure makes it look easy, all the time.

But he’s gotten to where he is because his products aren’t smoke and mirrors- they do what they say.  Yes, I have 2 ginsu knives that are as wonderful as they were when I bought them, years ago, impressed by a sales guy at a home show at a convention center.  I am a happy customer, and Ron has earned my trust as a result.

I think we can learn a lot from Ron, and from Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, if we just remember to let the product be the star, to make sure we understand show and tell, and  most importantly, how to ask for the money.