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  • Nick Hague and Paul Hague

How do you make a difficult offer appealing?

Everyone reading this blog will have had thoughts about the American election. What struck us as interesting in the Trump-Biden contest is how Trump built appeal among women and Latinos – two groups who one might imagine would have been put off by some early insults. Is there something alluring in an offer that at face value is offensive? You would think not. So how did Trump manage to do so well among his audiences? In business terms, is there any way that an offer with some difficulties can be made appealing?

Marco Pierre White, a chef based in the UK once hit the news for throwing 50 customers out of his restaurant in a single evening. On one occasion a customer asked for an order of chips (fries to you guys over the pond) which MPW eschewed in his restaurants. He condescended and prepared the order but made the customer wait an hour and then charged him £25 for the side dish (this was some years ago and would be much more today). He's not the only chef to insult his customers. Gordon Ramsay is famous for telling customers what he thinks of their comments if they are in any way derogatory about his food.

You can see how insulting customers can work in the restaurant business, at least if you are a famous chef with a few Michelin stars. If you suffer the indignity of being turfed out of a famous restaurant, at least you will be able to dine out on the story. However, we can't see the chucking out ploy will work if yours is just an average kitchen.

So here is a clue. You can get away with a bad reputation if you are famous and if there are other aspects of your offer that are sufficiently alluring. We remember a woman being interviewed on the TV before the UK elected Boris Johnson. She told the interviewer, “I know Boris is a bad boy but I like him”.

Some people like a challenge with their offer. The story goes that Sir Ernest Shackleton placed an advert in The Times newspaper when planning his journey to Antarctica. It is said that the advert read – “Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success”.

Jim Young used to be an advertising executive in America. He started another business growing apples which he sold by mail. One year's harvest was nearly ruined by a violent hailstorm that marked the apples with small bruises. Young was afraid that if he shipped his apples in this condition he would receive lots of complaints. If he didn't ship his apples his business would be destroyed. He had an idea. In each box of apples he enclosed a card that explained their appearance.

“Note the hail marks which appear as minor skin blemishes on some of these apples. These are proof of their growth at a high mountain altitude, where the sudden chills from mountain hail storms ‒ which these apples receive while growing ‒ help firm their flesh and develop the fruit sugars which give them their fine flavor.”

Not a single order was returned and next year, many customers requested "hail marked apples".

Let's get back to what appeals to customers in businesses or in the High Street. In general people prefer a strong Shiraz to a mellow liebfraumilch. Shiraz has a strong USP. Marco Pierre White has a strong USP. So does Donald Trump. It is often the case that when there is a strong USP there are aspects of the offer that may not be appealing to some customers. No matter, as long as the USP is strong, the offer should build a good base of enough loyal customers.

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