“If I ever see Christine Cook in person, I’d like to punch her in the face.”
Every man has a breaking point, and I’d just reached mine. It occurred on a recent Saturday evening just after 7 pm at the Outback Steakhouse in Grapevine, Texas. I was enjoying my usual Outback Special, medium well, and chatting with my wife when a television somewhere in the distance echoed the noxious sound.
♪ Sleep Experts. ♪
Sleep Experts—as in, that stupid commercial that’s on every TV station and every radio station every five seconds. As in “I’m Christine Cook, President of Sleep Experts.” As in, the mattress store chain that seems to have a perpetual sale, and that will always give you a “free box.” As in “I’m Christine Cook, and I’m going to invade your earspace every waking moment until you finally give in and buy a freaking mattress from me.” THAT Sleep Experts.
♪ Sleep Experts. ♪
Judging by my wife’s non-reaction to my threat of violence toward a woman, the feeling must have been mutual. She just nodded and kept talking about her friend Kelli’s bad experience with a spoiled piece of chocolate. She also knew—based on her first-hand knowledge that I’m a skinny little wimp with a big sarcastic mouth—that I probably wouldn’t follow through with the face-punch anyway, if the opportunity ever actually presented itself.
But who wouldn’t want to take a swing at Christine? Her chain of 44 Dallas-Fort Worth-area mattress stores (and 11 in Austin) have only been open for barely 10 years, but she’s already crammed 50 years of advertising and branding into that short timeframe. And even as an experienced marketing professional, Christine’s cheery voice and that annoying little jingle at the end of each commercial really grates on my nerves.
♪ Sleep Experts. ♪
Of course, that experienced marketing professional part of me is also fascinated by Christine’s ability to make me want to hit a girl by simply etching her mug and slogan into my brain. I’m not exactly sure when my relationship with Christine started; I must admit I never became consciously aware of Sleep Experts until September a few years ago. That’s when my schedule changed radically and I became a “morning guy.”
My son had just entered 9th grade, and as such, had an opportunity to be a part of an early morning Bible study class for high schoolers. The class started at 6:20, and I experienced first-hand what Robin Williams meant in Good Morning Vietnam when he said in the military the “Oh” in “Oh six-hundred hours,” stands for “Ooohh my gosh, it’s early!” This meant a whole new sleeping schedule for a guy who was used to burning the midnight oil 4 or 5 nights a week.
The new schedule went like this: Wake up at 5:35, flip on the radio, and hop in the shower. 5:45—Shave, brush my teeth, and gel what’s left of my hair while listening to the radio. 5:55—Hop in the car, flip on the radio, pick up two other kids, and deliver them all to the church by 6:19. Then change the radio station and arrive at work by 6:31. Somewhere in there I get dressed.
♪ Sleep Experts. ♪ ♪ Sleep Experts. ♪ ♪ Sleep Experts. ♪
On any given morning, between my shower, shave, and driving routine, I’d hear Mrs. Cook as many as three times on two different radio stations. One morning I swear they played “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch and followed it immediately with “Omnipresent” by Christine Cook. That’s when it struck me that Sleep Experts really was everywhere, and had probably saturated the consciousness of tens or hundreds of thousands of potential mattress buyers across North Texas.
♪ Sleep Experts. ♪
This isn’t an easy feat, of course. But it is certainly worthy of study and emulation by other marketers—including contractors. Marketing, when broken into its simplest elements, consists of just three steps: 1) have something good to say, 2) say it well, and 3) say it often. I can’t honestly tell you if Sleep Experts is any better than other mattress stores, and I can tell you with some certainty that there’s nothing special about the way Christine says what she says in all those annoying commercials. But on step 3—saying it often—she gets a gold star on her forehead and line-leader privileges for a month.
So how can you pull it off? Pouring a couple hundred thousand dollars a month or more into local media will certainly do the trick. But unless your last name is Gates (and first name Bill or Ben), you probably can’t afford the cash it’s going to take to emulate Christine’s strategy. The key, then, is to approach it the same way you’d approach eating an elephant: one bite at a time. Here’s a specific five-step formula for you to follow:
- Start With One Medium: Radio is a good medium to for B2C companies to reach a local audience, but it’s certainly not the only one. Local newspapers, local TV stations, and some local magazines can all consistently deliver the same prospects over and over. (If you sell B2B, stick with me, I’ll address that below.) The key, for starters, is to just choose one medium that allows you to really target your market.
- Allocate A Tiny Budget: Here’s a bad idea: plunge the majority of your contractor marketing budget into something you’ve never done before. Here’s a good idea: allocate a tiny percentage of your budget to something new. Tiny means 5% to 20%, depending on how well the other, bigger part of your budget is performing. If everything else is flopping anyway, you can probably afford to allocate more to terra incognita.
- Exploit Creatures Of Habit: I like radio because you can predict with a high degree of accuracy exactly when an individual listener is going to tune in. Review my morning routine for some clues: I got up at the same time every day, did the same things at the same time every day, and listened to the same programs on the same stations at the same time every day. Christine Cook knew she could reach me at precisely 5:48 each morning on 102.9 FM. Why such predictable behavior? Because I’m a human! And us humans tend to follow daily routines with astonishing reliability.Don’t worry about the ranking of the station or the size of the circulation of the newspaper. The fact that the station or paper isn’t super popular to the masses is irrelevant to the people who listen to it or read it daily with Metamucil-like regularity. The key is to be able to pound the same people at the same time every day.♪ Sleep Experts. ♪So take your tiny budget and laser focus it on an extremely small part of the day. Start with 1 spot per weekday at the EXACT same time. If you can afford two spots run them within 15 minutes of each other—you’ll catch your prospect before and after his shower. If you can afford 3 daily spots, run them within the same hour. Whatever you do, DO NOT listen to the radio sales rep who will want you to spread your spots out throughout the day so you can increase the number of people you reach. The key isn’t to reach a ton of people a couple of times each; the idea is to reach a relative few people a bazillion times each. If you’re in the local newspaper, insist that your ad runs on the exact same page each day.
- Stay The Course: Christine Cook knows that I’m probably not going to buy a mattress this week. Or this month. Or even this year. I just don’t need a new mattress all that often. But statistically speaking, I’m probably going to need one sometime in the next FIVE years—which means that about 20% of us are going to need one this year, and just 1 to 2% of us will need one this month. That means if 2,000 people listen to your chosen station at the same time every day, only about 20 to 50 of them are in the market at all this month.Now comes the hard part—sticking to the plan, especially in the early going. Let’s say you start this plan this week. After 5 weekdays, those 2,000 people are going to have a maximum of 5 to 10 of your impressions in their brain. That’s good, but it’s also competing with the 22,621 impressions that are already in their head from every other mattress ad they’ve heard or store they’ve ever seen. It’s going to take a little time to break down their will to resist. You have to acknowledge this and employ Yoda-like patience as you build momentum.♪ Sleep Experts. ♪But build it will. Think forward 12 months. The same 2,000 people have been hearing your ad 2 to 10 times a week for a whole year now—that’s 100 to 500 times. Now when the statistically-likely 20 to 50 people need a mattress in a given month, you’ll be at the forefront of their brains most of the time. Thinking that this advertising formula should start producing huge results right away is as foolish as thinking you can drop a watermelon seed into the ground on June 12th and have them ready for your 4th of July party. It just takes some time.
- Rinse & Repeat: Once the tiny part of your budget begins to produce an acceptable ROI, then repeat the process again by increasing the number of spots you buy on that same station, or ads you buy from the newspaper. After all, there’s a whole other set of people that get out of the shower at 6:15… and 7:08… and 7:44. And once you’re making money on all the morning people, the start capturing the afternoon drivers. Then the middle of the day listeners. Then move on to another station that matches your demographic and do it all over again.
The rewards for implementing this plan are tremendous—you can start to literally monopolize your marketplace by capturing your desired target market one small group at a time. As your plan succeeds, your budget will grow, and you can afford to expand your influence to a larger and larger percentage of your target market. At some point you will be making so much money that you’ll have to move to other stations, other publications, and other media outlets.
So what does all this mean for me and my Christine Cook problem? She’s definitely doing something right—the fact that I know exactly who she is and what she stands for even though I don’t even remotely need a mattress is very impressive. The fact that she’s grown her chain of stores from startup to 44 (+11 in Austin) locations in just 10 years is very impressive. The fact that she does all of this while raising a family and donating resources to several area charities is very impressive. Come to think of it, I’m not really sure why she’s so annoying after all. In fact, she’s setting a great example of how to grow a business through brilliant marketing.
If I ever meet Christine Cook in person, I’m going to shake her hand and congratulate her on a job well done.
♪ Sleep Experts. ♪
Note: April is Radio month, a series of 12 articles all focused on everything you could ever want to know about making money by advertising on the radio.
March 31 – I Want To Punch Christine Cook In The Face
April 2 – Why You Should Immediately Allocate 10% Of Your Budget To Radio
April 4 – How Radio Stacks Up Against Other Media – The Pros & Cons
April 8 – The Nuts & Bolts Of Making Radio Work For You
April 11 – 5 Ways To Totally Screw Up Radio & FAIL
April 15 – How To Choose The Right Stations & Out-Negotiate The Sales Reps
April 17 – Client Success – Small Town Remodelers Experience Big Success On Radio
April 22 – Reader Mail: Should I Use Radio DJs For The Voice Of My Commercials?
April 24 – 2 1/2 Years on Radio… And Still Going Strong
April 28 – How To Write Great Radio Ads… & A Bunch Of Examples
April 30 – The Radio Ad That Made Listeners’ Ears Bleed
May 2 – Take The Plunge – Let Us Help YOU Get On The Radio
© 2014 – 2016, Rich Harshaw. All rights reserved.