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Businesses go all out during the holiday season to get us to spend our carefully-collected coins in exchange for glittering goods and services.

Every form of media jingles and jangles with inducements for us to get to an establishment or website and partake of the delights offered.

No wonder we become jaded.

And no wonder that so much of the advertising and marketing on offer isn’t very effective.

Advertising is the screaming headline that says: Buy This Now 50 Per Cent Off!

Marketing usually involves more subtle inducements to get the potential customer to want and then buy a product or service. Not all marketing is equally effective.

As a speaker, I’m often at gala dinners, usually fundraisers. Companies often seek to do both good and well by sponsoring these events. As sponsors, they do good by supporting the cause. As companies, they do well by offering goodies and swag that they hope will induce the usually well-heeled attendees to buy their products.

Two such events I attended were in support of women’s causes and largely attended by women.

At one, each guest was presented with a luxury lipstick that would retail for well over $10. The cost of providing hundreds of these to all the guests was significant. I took that lipstick and used it for a long time. But I can’t tell you what brand it was, nor did I ever buy another. That’s not a good marketing investment.

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At the other such dinner, there were no fancy cosmetics offered. Instead, there was an little plastic tube at each place that couldn’t have cost more than a few cents. In the tube was a piece of paper that said: Take this into any of our beauty stores and we will fill it for free with any product you like. Cost of the promotion: negligible. Chance of getting customers into your stores: very high. Exposure to your whole line of products: very likely. That’s an example of excellent marketing.

We all buy stuff regularly, including a great deal of food. But with home cooking on the wane, restaurants increasingly vie for our business. They work to get us into their dining rooms and to ensure that we keep coming back.

Hungry and with an impending appointment, my husband and I popped into a chain restaurant for a quick bite. As we stood in line waiting to be greeted, we realized there was no way we could be seated and served within the time we had and turned to leave, with a negative impression of this restaurant chain. It didn’t meet our needs so we wouldn’t plan to rush back.

But the hostess ran after us as we went out the door, apologized and handed us a little card. The card offered us a discount for each person in our party the next time we came to that chain.

Not only did we return, we brought family and friends to make maximum use of the offer. We had a great time and left with a very favourable impression. Only later did we realize that, by the end of the meal, the seductive discount barely covered the tip. More good marketing.

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Right now, almost every eating establishment is anxious to sell you gift certificates. They make great presents. They’re easy to wrap and ship – and everyone eats. Which one will you pick?

One chain induces you to buy their gift cards by giving you an additional certificate – but you can only use it in January. The amount isn’t quite enough for one meal. But what’s an almost free meal for you will benefit the restaurant in two ways. First, you may well bring others when you use the gift. Second, by limiting the time to January, the restaurant ensures at least some business in what can otherwise be a very slow month, during which even covering overhead costs is a challenge.

The best marketing benefits the business and the customer. Here’s wishing you many such benefits.

Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker. 

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