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“Greatest Promotion” Wouldn’t Scale

Washington DC-area California Tortilla restaurants offered a $1-off your purchase if you beat the cashier playing Rock, Paper, Scissors.

A really cool idea.

I just heard about this from John Moore (from Brand Autopsy), who saw it on the website of Seth Godin, who read about it on the Freakonomics blog, who spotted it on the DCist blog, a site about all things Washington DC… Whoosh!

I agree this is a buzz-worthy promotion. Just look at the path it took to get posted here!

At his site, Seth comments that this idea showcases the front line worker. Makes them “part of the deal.” He adds how great it is to allow them judgment. Perhaps even build enthusiasm among employees who are typically gears in the business machine.

Seth then suggests… What if you could get a free biscotti if you told a great joke to your Starbucks barista? Or what if the customer service team could give a prize to the nicest person who calls in that day?

A neat idea… but not at all realistic for a large company.

The California Tortilla idea works because they don’t have very many locations. Smaller businesses can get away with bigger ideas like this because there is less ‘exposure’ to risk. What California Tortilla hoped was that enough people will talk about it… and visit the stores… and the $1-off discount offer would be offset by increased traffic for the day.

I’m sure that California Tortilla is prepared to give EVERYONE walking through their door on that day a dollar off. So, for them… the extra 100 customers who visit each of their 10? locations? That’s a discount budget of $1,000. Not too risky.

While I like Seth’s sentiment… Could you imagine if Wal*Mart or Starbucks actually tried this same promotion? It wouldn’t work.

  • They’d have to be prepared to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars
  • I’m certain that the “rock” of the Rock Paper Scissors, would be used as what it really is – a fist – and someone would get hurt.

So often, the marketing tactics of small, fast growing companies are admired… But doing it while small isn’t the same as when you’re big.

The hotshots we were watching a few years ago… Build-A-Bear Workshop, Krispy Kreme, and Whole Foods were the darlings other companies wanted to be like. We were scrambling… benchmarking and doing store tours of these guys… How can we be more like them?

I’ve always argued, it is easy to do “cool” things when they had 5, 10… even 50 locations… Wait until they have more locations. It isn’t the same. It isn’t easy. And now, each of these businesses has growing pains…

  • Krispy-Kreme has had financial problems.
  • Build-A-Bear has gone public and now watered down their concept by offering pre-made stuffed animals in the toy aisle of Target.
  • Whole Foods is in a whole lot of hubbub in trying to get bigger.

So, realistically… what ideas would work for the big guys? What could a 7-Eleven, Starbucks, or Subway sandwich shop do? Anyone?

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