Gateway Drugs

I saw a billboard on the way into the office today. McDonalds is offering their soft drinks for $1 all summer again; any size, any time. I think they’ve used this promotion for at least the last three years. It’s a great idea designed to create traffic based on a simple deal. Summer is hot, pop is refreshing, and McDonalds has it for cheap. Most likely, when people come in for their drink, they’ll drop a few more bucks on a burger.  Cash flow secured, advertising successful. So, what can small business owners learn from this strategy?

  • Find your gateway drug – McDonalds offers a desirable product, at an opportune time, for an enticing price. When we delve a little deeper we see that they’ve strategically picked soft drinks for another reason. They are very inexpensive as well. In fact, I’m sure they probably make 95 cents on every $1 drink anyways. The soft drink, is McDonalds ideal “gateway drug.” Your business may not have an option that will still make you money though, and that’s ok. We don’t all have products with comparable margins on offer. Don’t worry! You can still use this method. In fact, it is ok to lose money on a product if you ultimately make money on another. More concisely, it’s worth selling something for cheap if people will likely buy something “not cheap.” For a plumbing store, lure people in with a $5 faucet, because many people will outfit the rest of their bathroom with you as well. Look deep, you’ll find something within your business worth offering.
  • Timing – Cold drinks on a hot day are an easy sell. Make sure your offer has the same value to see the best result. An auto glass business offering $2 rock chip repairs in the spring is an easy sell. The gravel has been swept from the roads and people are getting their cars summer ready. Fixing a few windshields pro-bono will bring you multiple windshields that may need full replacement. If nothing else, you’ve gained a satisfied customer who will be more likely to return.
  • Length of the offer – McDonalds offer is good all summer. They cut it off when winter rolls around because the deal becomes less interesting. As a small business owner, you may want to make your offer shorter. Giving away free hot chocolate on the coldest day of the year will get you plenty of attention if advertised correctly. It’s up to you how long you should run the campaign. The longer you run it, the deeper your brand impact will be. Aim for long runs if you can. Let your new client base fall in love with you. They’ll be more likely to stay after the deal runs out.
  • Make it count – Everyone knows what McDonalds offers. Therefore, pop is as good as anything to offer up. Everyone already knows what a Big Mac tastes like. The same can’t be said for your business. So, when you choose your “gateway drug,” make sure you lead with something great. It shouldn’t be from your back catalogue. If you run a restaurant, offer up your most popular item. Put your best foot forward. We’re trying to garner new customer relationships. If your shiny new visitor leaves unimpressed, you’ve likely lost them for good. A great offer encourages them to try again. So, start with your best.

Your homework is to figure out your very own “gateway drug.” What can you offer for cheap that will keep someone coming back? When should you offer it and for how long? When you have that decided, I can help you with the advertising part.