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Alright…yeah, P.T. Barnum’s infamous quote is a bit more colorful than that, but the ideal behind this revelation lead to an interesting Sales Promotion turning point in the relationship between businesses and their customers.

That philosophy was one of his 10 “rings of power” – tenets he had for creating a business empire. These tenants still being some of the most ground breaking and time-tested concepts for marketing and sales. (If you want more info about his 10 “rings of power”, check out There’s a Customer Born Every Minute: P.T. Barnum’s Secrets to Business Success by Joe Vitale, there’s a link at the bottom of the page. It’s a good read.)

The creativity he showed is a recipe for success that every marketer strives to attain. Some ideas he had were going bigger than anyone else, creating a buzz, and utilizing the media for publicity.

Barnum’s ventures pinpoint what has become a fundamental belief in today’s public relations: “perception” is the key.

“It’s not what they know, its what they believe.”

Make them believe they are listening to the greatest proposal of all time, and you will have them signing on the dotted line. Make them believe that your product will give them exactly what it is they want and they will scamper to clear out your shelves.

It all comes down to perspective and perception.

But there is a big difference between the age of PT Barnum and today. A sense of responsibility in the exercise of the craft of marketing. Barnum was the absolute showman, but many of his attractions were mere hoax.

Today, no legitimate business person will have a use for PR or a sales promotion without credibility.

All that does is destroy trust, ruining any type of confidence in the marketers brand.

This is why it’s understandably important to use positive perception garnering ventures that are legal, effective, and help your business build credibility, not ruin it.

P.T. Barnum poster

P.T. Barnum was well-known for the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.

How you Develop a Positive Perception and Garner Credibility

There are many basic business methods to garner customer confidence:

    1. You can make your widget stronger, with more attractive package design and branding.
    2. You can make sure your widgets are dusted off and lined up on the shelf nice and neatly.
    3. You can answer all of your customers question with a smile on your face.
    4. You can even return their money if they are not satisfied to build loyalty.

These are all fantastic ways to start developing customer confidence and increasing your products perceived value. But the one draw back is that it takes time for them to have an effect. That’s where a sales promotion kicks in. They’re a fantastic method of gaining some marketing traction.

The basic goal of a sales promotion is to make a product look like a better deal than it’s competition. All the while, making more profit and increasing sales.

But just like Barnum’s diverse shows, there are many different types of sales promotions. Discovering the best one for your current business situation is vital.

For more about the power of perception, check out a great TED Talk video by Rory Sutherland where he highlights the importance of perspective on marketing: Click here.

Your Sales Promotion Tool Box

It helps to develop a ‘marketing tool box’ for your product line that you can pull from. That way, if you have an event or time of year that needs PR, the base for a promotion is already set in place. This is called an ‘On the Shelf Promotion’.

Not every promotion would be feasible for you because of your profit margins and type of products or services but let me give you a list of some ideas that you can customize and draw from for your own business and products.

Bounce Back Promotion

Get your customer back in the store with a bounce back promotion.

Bounce back promotions are usually in the form of a coupon. It gives your customer an incentive to come back again. It can range from discounts or additional product on their next purchase.

You normally see these at stores that sell physical products, where they may offer you a percentage off your next purchase.

Co-op Promotion

Form an Alliance with a Co-op Promotion.

Create a partnership with another company, complimentary to yours, and start a promotion that will benefit both of you. This not only enables you to split the cost, but allows both companies access to each others audiences. A fresh client base to tap into.

It may take some time to find a company that will be a good fit, but you will be surprised how receptive some marketing people will be to you.

Typically products that relate together work best. An example of one we’ve done was with Pepperidge Farm cookies and Bustelo Coffee. We attached a sample size of espresso coffee to the bag of cookies.

This gave the cookies an added value and acted as a tasting sample for the coffee company. A win-win for both and they shared the promotion costs. They also both included bounce back coupons.

Keep in mind, a lot of these promotions can be joined together for extra combo effectiveness.

Self liquidator

Add some Physical Value.

Think of something, not too expensive that would go well with your product. For example we did a self liquidator a few years ago for a ketchup company.

We found a cute ketchup and mustard dispenser that were nestled in a miniature picnic bench. The item was branded with the ketchup companies logo.

We flagged the product with an image of the premium and a deal that offered the premium for free with an extra $4.99 for shipping and handling.

People were willing to pay $4.99 for the shipping and handling of the free premium – where in reality, the $4.99 covered the cost of the item as well as the shipping for the item while motivating the additional purchase and adding extra incentive to buy.

Loyalty program

Build some Loyalty!

One of the most popular promotions, a loyalty program can be as simple as a cheap business card and a fancy whole punch all the way to something more complicated that’s integrated into your electronic POS system.

Some companies issue cards, or little key ring ID’s. Typically the way it works is every time you make a purchase, it’s registered and after you register several times you get some reward such as a product for free or a discount.


With Loyalty Cards, It’s generally a good idea to set a goal for a customer to hit, where they’ll get a reward. (i.e. a free sandwich after 5 visits)

Another benefit of this type of promotion, other than the obvious ones, are the analytic possibilities. If setup correctly, it can help give you an insight into your customers buying habits and preferences. Helping you tailor your products and services.

Premium incentive

Create value and give yourself some branding with a Premium incentive.

This is similar to the self liquidator, but costlier. The key is to offer an item with your logo and attach the item to your product as an incentive to buy. An example would be a bottle opener with a purchase of a case of beer. Your customer is getting a free gift and your branding is hanging around his house for a long time.


Add an air of good will to your product.

Everyone has a special charity they love to support so your accomplishing a few goals with this promotion. Rather then giving a discount, your customer knows that they are contributing to a charity.

If done right the charity will help you with your promotion through some of their own advertising. You’ll inspire some new customers to try your product through supporters of the various charities plus you’ll be doing some good for the community which will always help you strengthen your brand.

This works even better if the product that you’re selling with your specific donation promotion had some noticeable difference to your normal product or service. A good example is Under Armor and Dick’s Sporting Good’s latest line of pink fitness wear, where every purchase includes a donation to The National Breast Cancer Foundation.

The color provides noticeable proof of the customers donation.

The color provides noticeable proof of the customers donation.

This works better because the people purchasing your product that are incentivized by the additional charity want other people to know that they donated.


Reward your customers!

If anyone is old enough to remember S&H green stamps, that was the ultimate reward program and an industry in itself.

Different stores would give you stamps with any purchase. The more you buy, the more stamps you would receive. You’d paste your stamps in a book and collect the books.

There were green stamp redemption stores all over that you could bring your books to and turn them in for products.That was then and this is now but the programs, although complicated, still exist. They are popular with credit card companies and airlines.

These are some S&H Green Stamp books that you collect your stamps in.

These are some S&H Green Stamp books that you collect stamps in.

I’m sure if you used your imagination this promotion could be simplified and successful.


Offer a big prize.

Sweepstakes were really popular a few years ago but most people tend to be callused by them now. Towards the end of their popularity we began running sweepstakes with a positive response.

We used a sub headline that read “Everyone wins every time”! The sweepstakes would always include a big prize and a handful of secondary prizes with several very small prizes such as a discount coupon, two for one, or even a free product.

The delivery would be a rub off game ticket similar to a rub off lottery ticket in order to give that instant reward. Older sweepstakes made your customer fill out a form and mail it in. Of course there were only a few winners, so people often grew tired of participating.


Everyone loves a challenge.

These, like the sweepstakes, have lost their popularity. They don’t fit well with today’s fast paced Internet society and are difficult to monitor. Most promotions that offer instant gratification and take little effort are the most successful.

One type of contest that does work very well on the internet today, and is extremely beneficial and easy to do, is a Facebook contest. For more information, click here to check out this blog post.


It’s incentive…ish.

I always laugh when I hear this word. The word has always been around but only became mainstream in the seventies during the gas shortage when the government issued gas rebates.

A customer would send in a proof of purchase and you send the customer a check for a pre determined amount of money. It’s what I call a better than nothing promotion. It may give the customer an added incentive but has a very low redemption rate.

Percentage more

This promotion promotes people trying your product.

A very simple incentive, promoting a larger percentage of a product helps your product stand out on a shelf. Print a larger box, add 10% more product, flag it by saying that the customer gets 10 % more.

Multiple purchase

2 for 1!

A very popular promotion in most club stores are Two pack’s, three packs etc. A promotion that promotes additional sales.

The club stores have even managed to really make it a popular part for their store types ‘culture’. Something that their customers want and expect.

A double pack of Nutella?! What could be a better promotion?

A double pack of Nutella?! What could be a better promotion?


A very popular and effective promotion with food products.

Sampling provides a customer the opportunity to try a product, which is an extremely important point for any new product. Sampling can be done several ways:

  • Set up a display and pass out samples at grocery stores
  • Cosmetics and perfumes are given away in small quantities or even in some cases sold in small packages at a very low price that just covers cost. It’s also common for perfumes and cosmetics to offer samples in small pouches in magazines and various publications.
  • Restaurants may do it to introduce a different recipe or beverage.

Get creative with this. In many cases, getting people to try a product is one of the most important steps for a new company or product.

Time Frame

Duration of a sales promotions is important. Three months should be the average length of a promotion, but it can vary greatly.

Keep in mind that your competition might have a promotion up their sleeve and launch it when you least expect it. Having one on the shelf is a smart strategy.

There are hundreds of subtle nuances, strategies, and differences between products, services, and industries. So, when implementing a promotion, be sure to take time and plan it fully. If you’re interested in any of these, please contact us for a free consultation.

We’ll work close with you to custom tailor your next promotion and lead you to the result that you’re looking for!


If you want more info about P.T. Barnum’s 10 “rings of power”, check out There’s a Customer Born Every Minute: P.T. Barnum’s Secrets to Business Success by Joe Vitale

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About the Author

Xavier Cimetta

Xavier Cimetta is part owner and the head Designer/Front-end developer at Cimetta Design, Inc. As an entrepreneur and work-a-holic, his mission is to help fellow entrepreneurs & businesses design beautiful brands, websites, packaging and experiences to reach their goals.

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