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Using Marketing Devices to “Beef Up” Your Business Image

By Bruce Freeman

Ronnie Fliss of Montville, NJ is a self-described “IT person” who was downsized during the recent economic downturn. She looked for work for a year before a friend suggested she look into baking gourmet dog biscuits. A dog lover, with a personable basset hound named Murray, she founded Fat Murray’s Doggie Treats, a company which bakes and markets healthy, fresh baked treats for dogs to pet stores, health food stores and on the web. Now, she regularly services 35 stores and takes Murray, her “Sales Manager” who steals the show, and any stray dog treats, along on her sales calls. Murray is a terrific example of a marketing device that works because it’s an integral part of the business.

There is a well known actor’s bromide, “Never work with dogs or children.” That’s because they are so cute, so hard to resist, that no one pays any attention to the other actors. This may be true in the world of theater, but in business, you may find just the opposite.

If you’re in the business of marketing welding compound or hazardous chemicals, you may think that devices aren’t for you. But don’t forget that there are very effective devices, including “Smokey the Bear” and “McGruff, the Anti Crime Dog” which also promote topics you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as “cute”.

A marketing device doesn’t have to be an animal or a child to be effective; it can also be a cartoon character or a real person. Ever hear of the Michelin Man or Ronald McDonald? The benefit of a device is immediate identification and recognition of your business service. These days, that could mean a lot in terms of new customers and sales.

Devices can also work on a short term basis, for example for a sale or special offer. I’m showing my age with this example, but there was a time when all diners served a “Blue Plate Special” and everyone knew what that meant. Blue is the favorite color of 75% of Americans and K-Mart used to have customers practically knocking each other down to get to the display with the flashing blue light, which offered a lower price for a short period.

Of course, questionable devices can also backfire and do harm to your business image. I know of a local painter who uses his children in his newspaper ads, sort of a “please let my Daddy paint your house so we won’t starve” kind-of plea. I was having my oil changed the other day and unfortunately for him, overheard one of his customers reflecting that it looked like he let his kids do the painting when he was finished at her house. Not a great association for a painter. And don’t think that less than successful devices are confined to small businesses. Consider Microsoft’s MSN Butterfly. What were they thinking? Hmm. Do you really want a strange looking guy in a butterfly suit looking over your shoulder as you tool around the Internet?

Professor Bruce’s Words of Wisdom

If you are looking to increase recognition of your business, consider creating a gimmick on a short term basis. If it isn’t working, you can always pull it. There are few times when a short-term experimental device will do lasting harm to your business. If the device does work, you can always extend it. Make sure to talk to your customers and ask them how they feel about it. Stick to devices that work well with your business type and style. Remember that devices become well worn and well used when they work. Don’t be afraid to do something that’s been done before. Early-bird specials, tent sales, huge helium balloons or search lights-crossing the night sky work time after time. It isn’t necessary to re-invent the wheel to bring in some new business.

(Bruce Freeman, owner of a small business and an adjunct business professor at Kean University, is always looking for interesting success stories and lessons learned. Entrepreneurs can e-mail their ideas to bfreeman(at) or visit

Case History:

Fat Murray’s Doggie Treats [EXTERNAL]

Entrepreneur’s Strategy:

Family dog functions as Sales Manager, a marketing device to promote business

Could This Work For Me?

Most businesses can benefit from marketing devices. Risk can be lowered by testing the device on a short term basis.




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