“Sam” draws diners to Ginger & Spice Thai restaurant with his friendly wave. Photo by Phil Houseal
by Phil Houseal
I love marketing.
Not the MBA kind. I’m talking about street level, guerilla type marketing, that doesn’t require a string of letters after your name or immersion in the tentacled ocean of social networking. Here are three examples.
The first revelation was when I was attending a conference about marketing a national nonprofit organization. We were ensconced in one of those cookie cutter hotel ballrooms all day, hearing from high powered and highly paid experts leading brainstorming sessions on building a national marketing campaign. We studied examples from Coke, and Southwest Airlines, Nike, and other leaders in the field.
That evening I emerged from the hotel, thinking only about finding a good place to eat. The first thing I saw was a vintage blue pickup truck parked on the corner. On its door was a sign that read “Eat at Joe’s Crab Shack.”
My head was filled with marketing concepts, but my stomach was filled with hunger. Here was a message that hit me in my gut, literally. I ate at Joe’s.
Another example is when I was hired to market a series of events that draw thousands of visitors. While getting my hair cut at a local shop, I was explaining to my stylist what I did for a living. I kind of puffed up describing the current event, when she simply asked, “When and where is that? I’ve never heard of it.”
My first reaction was exasperation. We had done all the conventional marketing, including press, radio, TV, social networking, and posters. Why hadn’t we reached this person? Before I could form a response, she said, “Why don’t you put up a banner at the entrance so we can see it?”
Boom. Schooled by my cosmetologist. She was right, of course. I went out that day and bought a $69 banner.
My third example is back in Fredericksburg, where I was driving from a meeting at City Hall last week. I noticed a gentleman waving at me from the sidewalk. He was wearing a bold tie, sitting in a chair in front of Ginger & Spice Thai restaurant, smiling and just waving as if I was a long lost friend.
So I pulled in.
The gentleman introduced himself as “Sam.” That’s the Americanized version of his given Thai moniker Samlee Namsombat.
Even though he doesn’t speak much English, Sam still manages to communicate his friendliness with that universal symbol, the smile.
“I like everybody,” said the 73-year-old family patriarch. “I want everybody to know me. So I wave.”
He has done this for the three years Ginger & Spice has been open in Fredericksburg. He dresses up, wearing a different tie every day from his collection of 50. Does this work? Yes, according to his daughter-in-law Tai.
“People see him and say, hey, let’s eat Thai food,” she said. “When they eat here, they think it’s good.”
That view is confirmed by a local I found inside eating lunch.
“I’m driving around thinking to myself, where am I going to have lunch today,” said Marc Bennett, who stops here once a week. “I see Sam waving and I say, that’s a good choice.”
There is probably much more to Sam’s story. He showed me his ID card which read: Samlee Namsombat, Embassy of the Czech Republic in the Kingdom of Thailand. With the language barrier, I wasn’t able to figure out what that involved. Perhaps another column.
After my meal, Sam showed that international courtesy so often forgotten in this country. He held the door, then walked me to my car, where he watched for traffic as he signaled it was okay to back out. My last image was of him waving and smiling in my rearview mirror.
That, my friends, is marketing.