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The Sam-I-Am Guide to Marketing: How Dr. Seuss Got it Wrong

Nyla Smith | Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"I will not eat them in the rain. I will not eat them on a train. Not in the dark! Not in a tree! Not in a car! You let me be!" Sound familiar? Read on.

“I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I will not eat them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them ANYWHERE!
I do not like green eggs and ham!
I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.”

For those who have forgotten their childhood, Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham follows the journey of Sam-I-Am and the poor unwitting victim who is being pressured by Sam to eat green eggs and ham. Now, I realize this is a children’s book, but just for fun, let’s look at it through our marketing lens.

Sam-I-Am ultimately succeeded. But it took 53 (FIFTY-THREE!) pages for him to do so. Oh, Sam. If only Sam would have followed some tried-and-true marketing basics. We could've gotten through the story in half the pages.

Sam-I-Am was persistent, plain and simple. He won by being a pest. He won because his target wanted to get rid of him. I do not condone the methods of Sam-I-Am. In fact, if you insist on calling me at dinnertime every single night to sell me the same timeshare I said no to the night before, your persistence will only backfire. So Sam-I-Am was lucky because he’s just a character in a kid’s book that gets a happy ending. In the real world, Sam would not be nearly as successful.

Here’s the problem Sam-I-Am had that many business owners share: He knew he had a good product, but that the consumer would not immediately recognize that.

So, he understood the consumer’s “no” as an automatic reflex to the constant inundation of asks and as a hesitation to try something different, not necessarily as a denouncement of the value of his product. Sam believed that with the right information, the consumer could realize what he knew to be true – that the product was fantastic and would enhance his life! If you’re a business owner, you probably share Sam’s conundrum.

You may do what Sam did and try a few different angles to break through. (In a boat or with a mouse? No? How about in a tree?) There’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact, a bit of trial and error is necessary when doing things like conversion optimization or testing different messages.

Here’s what Sam did that was bad, though, and I can't stress this enough: He didn’t take “no” for “no.” No means no. In marketing, if someone says “please unsubscribe me” it means “please unsubscribe me” – don’t ignore their request to never hear from you again. (That makes you Spam-I-Am. Don’t be Spam-I-Am.) So what this means is you want to position your offerings in a light that doesn’t automatically trigger a no. In these days of constant overstimulation and marketing messages every which way you turn, that’s difficult to accomplish. How do you get a “yes” instead of an automatic no?

Well, the first and most obvious thing is to talk only to those who want to listen to you. That means you really have to know who your target market is.

Beyond that, here are some ways that Sam could have improved his campaign, and some tips that you should consider when marketing your product or service to an audience that is either reflexively tuned to say “no” or is difficult to break through to:

1. Make sure you stress how your offering can help the consumer. Address a desire/need of theirs, and/or address a fear/objection.

  • “Are you hungry for something new? Green eggs and ham might look strange, but they taste better than any green superfood!”
  • “Looking for a healthier breakfast option? Green eggs and ham are enhanced with nutritious whole greens, and thanks to a proprietary infusion process, taste exactly like the original!”
  • “Turn your bacon and eggs into a superfood! Your doctor will thank you, and your tastebuds won’t even notice a difference!”

2. Use social proof: connect with influencers or focus on word-of-mouth or testimonials.

  • “Oh, you haven’t had green eggs and ham yet? Your friend Bob eats them all the time.”
  • “9 out of 10 foodies preferred green eggs and ham. The tenth one was a pig.”

3. Offer an incentive or a guarantee.

Like a bribe, Nyla? Yes, like a bribe. But let’s call it an incentive. The classic WIFM (what’s in it for me).

  • “If you try just a sample of these green eggs and ham, I’ll give you a coupon for $5 off your next purchase!”
  • “We’re so sure you’ll like green eggs and ham, we’ll give you regular eggs and ham for free if you don’t!”

4. Don’t jump right to the ask!

In general, people like to come to decisions on their own, without feeling pressured or manipulated. So focus on giving information that the consumer needs to make a decision instead of pressuring them too soon to make a decision that they don’t feel comfortable making.

  • “Have you heard of green eggs and ham? They are a nutritious alternative to your boring bacon and eggs. They’re green because of a special phytonutrient from fresh algae that has been infused into the eggs and ham. But they don’t taste like seawater; on the contrary, people love them because they taste so good! Curious to try some? Get your green eggs and ham here.”

I could go on. There are a lot of good practices to use in your marketing strategy. The point is, if you EVER see yourself being a Sam-I-Am, take a step back and re-evaluate your tactics. Marketing sometimes gets a bad rap, lumped together with deceptive advertisers, sleazy salespeople, and annoying telemarketers. But at its core, marketing is simply making sure the right people are aware of your offering and the value it brings to them. There’s nothing wrong with that, when you do it the right way.

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, and Front-End Web Developer with over 11 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support to small- and medium-sized businesses that need creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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