A Marxist Approach To Growing Your Business

When I was a kid, I loved watching the old Marx Brothers movies. One in particular, Go West (1940), has a train scene which is now a classic.

Running out of coal and faced with a deadline, the brothers decide to start chopping up the train itself to use for fuel. When they finally limp into their destination, laughing and cheering, there’s not much left to the train except the wheels and engine.

Not exactly what you would call a long term transportation solution.

And yet today, 60 years later, the Marx Brothers strategic planning philosophy is alive and well in many businesses.

Consider for example my experience the other day at a local cafe. Everything seemed perfect: Classical music, leafy plants, comfy chairs and a great coffee smell in the air, all wrapped together into an experience that said, “today I’m going to treat myself to something special.”

All went well, until they actually handed me my coffee. Wrapped around the paper cup, obscuring the cafe logo, was a piece of cardboard with an ad printed on it for an unrelated business.

What are these people thinking?In the blink of an eye, that ad broke the fragile spell that lets me rationalize paying $1.65 for a 10 ounce cup of coffee. It diminished my overall experience with the business.

After all the dollars spent creating the perfect style and atmosphere, after all the effort expended to train staff on how to properly manage the store and produce the perfect cup of coffee, somebody at that company decided that there were a few extra dollars to be made by selling ad space on the coffee cups. In the process, they put their entire business model at risk.

Like the Marx Brothers, these guys are chopping up the train for fuel — they’re selling off the asset they’ve built, one paper cup at a time.

The online version of this same approach is the selling of advertising into company enewsletters.

Sponsorship ads in enewsletters (banner ads at the top and bottom, or “brought to you buy company x” attached to each article) are the big rage these days, thanks to their targeted readership and high response rates, and advertisers are willing to pay a lot of money to get in front of the right audience. If you write a newsletter for dog owners for example, and have a large enough base of subscribers, Alpo may be willing to pay you to place a product ad in your publication.

Tell them to keep their money.

After taking the time to create a high quality interactive vehicle for communicating with your customers and prospects (i.e. your newsletter), working diligently to ensure that you use industry accepted opt-in and opt-out procedures, and developing and adhering to a privacy policy that puts your readers at ease, you’ve finally developed a long term asset that can both grow your business and serve as a weapon against competitors. This is not something you want to chop up and auction off to the highest bidder.

Think of it this way: The Gap doesn’t sell ads on the walls of its stores, even though it gets plenty of “wall views” every day. Fedex doesn’t sell sponsorships on the sides of its trucks, even though they are seen by hundreds of thousands of people each day. Both companies recognize that the overall customer experience they provide is worth much more to the business than any short term boost to ad revenue.

Here’s the bottom line. Rather than trying to “monetize” your actions at every turn, step back and think about what it is you are trying to accomplish. If one of your primary reasons for starting an enewsletter is to create and sustain a strong relationship with customers and prospects, it makes little sense to diminish the value of that asset for a few short term dollars.

Learn from Groucho’s mistake: If you’re in it for the long haul, you’re going to need your train for more than just one ride.

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