Marketing Lessons from a Santa Cruz Street Urchin

I’m working tonight– though it’s Saturday night. The internet never closes.  I took a dinner break at Sitar, the local Indian buffet, and I was carrying my leftovers in a box to bring to the refrigerator at Nextspace, where I work.

A young, skinny black-haired girl in  her late teens got off the bench she was sitting with some guy to approach me. I didn’t hear her the first time, but I assumed she was asking for money.

“What?” I said. We fifty-year olds tend to be a little  hard of hearing on a crowded street with a lot of background noise.

“Sir, do you have any leftover food you could give us?”

I quickly handed her the small box of Sag Paneer, which is creamed spinach with curd cheese, that I had intended to be part of my Monday lunch. It was as easy as could be.

That young waif knew a little something about marketing.

First off, she had a unique selling proposition. Everyone else who was begging on the street was asking for money. She just asked for food.

Secondly, she could see I was her target market. I was clearly qualified to give her what she wanted. In fact, I had been prepped by all the people who had signs proclaiming that they wanted money because they were hungry.

And finally, she had overcome my biggest objection in advance. I don’t give money to beggars on the street (save for three homeless guys that I have become friends with) because I’ve been told that most use the money for a fix by a credible source. Renate, a white haired German woman who owns the hot dog kiosk on Pacific Avenue told me that over the years, the people she believed were honestly using the money they collected turned out to be junkies who wanted to score.

But my teenage waif marketer asked me for food, not money, so I didn’t have to worry that she was going to take my donation and use it for crystal meth or something.

Thus, I learned three marketing lessons from her.

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