Don’t Give Away The Store

Over at Feeling Finite, Alan Lenzi shared an abstract of a paper he will be giving at the 2010 ASOR session. The ASOR session is entitled, “Communication and Power in Mesopotamian Civilizations.” His post with the abstract is “Advertising Secrecy, Creating Power in Mesopotamia.” I guess that’s also the title of his upcoming paper. The role of scribes being one of my abnormal interests, I’m looking forward to the paper. More by free association than useful analogy, the problem faced by how and where ancient scribes advertised their exclusive secret knowledge and not just their technical skill reminded me of my market research days.
For several years, Shirley and I ran a small market research operation out of our home. If you’ve ever wondered about Abnormal Interests’ strange domain name, it is a legacy from those days. Among the difficult questions we faced was how to advertise our wares without giving away the store? How to show credibility without exposing too much the very product we sold? We collected data (our secret knowledge) on the retail market for high tech, primarily telecommunications, products, repackaged it, and sold it to corporate clients in the form of monthly reports. We had annual contracts with clients. While established clients knew the value of our reports, there was always a sort of tug of war with potential new clients over how much we would show them before they ponied up to see any more. Generally we gave them a three-month-old report for inspection. But the real dilemma came from the trade press. Every month a couple of reporters, they called themselves editors, would call for an “update.” And every month we gave away something we valued and for which our clients paid. References in the technical press were very good things when it came to developing new accounts. Only trade shows were better. But that’s another story. We developed the habit of providing the latest information on a single limited topic or issue each month and then highlighting a different topic the next month so that, overtime, the press got a sample of everything we covered in our reports without getting too much at once. Sometimes they would want to follow-up on the previous month’s topic and, to a direct question, we would answer truthful but very concisely and then quickly transition to what we wanted to talk about that month. The trick was to provide very tasty appetizers that left potential new clients hungry and that didn’t make our current clients think we were giving away too much of what they paid good money for.

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