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Watch what you lick … it might be good for you

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"Don't put your tongue on that; you don't know where it's been." I have vague recollections of my mother saying that routinely while I was in toddlerdom. In retrospect, it does seem like sage advice but I wonder how many experiences I've missed by not indulging all of my senses.

In "On Looking," a new book by Alexandra Horowitz, the author walks around her block 11 times, each time with a different friend. And each friend—geologist, sound designer, physician and so on—experiences the block in unique and wonderful ways. The point is that while the city block is chock-full of sights, sounds and smells, each walker filtered out what the others experienced and concentrated on what was relevant to him … or her. (Side rant: The 70s were a godsend to women's equality but they played hell with our predominantly masculine language. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.)

As a marketer, I often feel as though I have to "rise above the clutter." The potential customer's workspace seems like a metaphorical Hong Kong blazing with competing neon lights. But I wonder if that's truly the case. I think in fact that our customers have, by necessity, learned to filter out what isn't pertinent and only deal with what truly impacts them. They have learned "not to put their tongue" on certain marketing and they never revisit the decision.

So what's a marketer to do? We all need to break out of our comfort zone now and again, but as Machiavelli said "There is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things."

The alternative then is to see the problem through our customer's eyes—to walk through the Hong Kong of their workspace and deliver a message that is in harmony with what they expect to see. It requires, in effect, mass customized marketing because the man who manufactures rolls of steel will swear he has nothing in common with the man who manufactures rolls of aluminum.

It's understandable that we look for economies of scale with our marketing. We perform cluster analyses to learn what our customers have in common so we can then build propensity to purchase models and cut quickly to those most likely to want what we have.

But what if we put on their ears? There's a reason Oikos offers traditional Greek yogurt and fat free Greek yogurt and Greek Yogurt Dips. I can buy my Greek yogurt in a single serve container, in something called a 4-Pack or even by the quart, in flavors ranging from apricot-mango to black cherry to pomegranate.

My point? Simple. We as marketers must try to see with our customers' eyes so that we surprise them with a new experience that they never saw coming.

My mother did have rock-solid advice for me, but still … I'm thinking my next direct mail piece will be something you can lick. The idea is fraught with peril but I find it very intriguing.

Ginger Shimp is marketing director for SAP America (www.sap.com). The views and opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily those of SAP. She can be reached at gingershimp@gmail.com.

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