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What do a new car purchase, choosing a career, and marketing have in common?

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When I was 22, I was fresh out of college and the country was mired in the worst recession since… well, since the one we’re in right now. Jobs were so scarce that I took an hourly retail job at Staples. While I was there, I worked with a guy that made 2 lasting impressions on me about cars and careers.
staples-store

When the work schedule came out and I realized that I was stuck working another Friday night until closing, but he had the night off, I asked him how that always happened. He said it’s easy, “I just told them when I was hired that I played in a band, and that we practice on Friday nights, so I couldn’t work them.”

It was so simple a concept that I could only shake my head and laugh at how right he was. I didn’t even play an instrument at the time, but years later I picked up the drums and found myself in a bona fide group. While I don’t think I used it quite so blatantly to avoid work, for three years I never worked past 5:30 on a Monday night (practice), and a few times a month I took off early — and rolled in late the next day — because of gigs.

But the employee also did something in my eyes that was so wrong it dumbfounded me to the point where it bordered on anger. One weekend he got in an a car accident. Thankfully, he walked away completely unharmed, but his car was totaled. That Wednesday, he showed me the $8,000 check from the insurance company.

Let me set the stage here and flashback to a 22 year old marketing guy for those new to the program…
– I love cars and everything about them
– I had the deep-dive analytical research brain that you see in action now
– I was dirt poor and making $6 an hour
– I was driving a rusted out, 1975 Dodge Dart

The concept of having eight grand to put toward any car would have sent me into a giddy, 3 week research cocoon.

So when he walked in on Thursday – the very next day – to say he had bought a car, I couldn’t believe it.

“Sure, I’ll show you.”

We walked out into the parking lot and he pointed out the brand new, light blue, 1991 Toyota Tercel 2-door.

toyota-tercel
I stammered… “A Tercel? That’s what you bought??? How? Why?”

He replied, “I dunno, my dad and I just went to a dealer, they had this model there that was the same amount as my check, so we did the deal and I drove it home that night. I don’t love the color, but it’s ok.”

My head nearly exploded. Who could possibly buy a car in one night? How could you buy a car in a color you don’t like? How could you walk onto a lot and take the first thing you see without comparing it to others? You bought this particular car because the cost of it happened to be the same as the check you were holding? And what kind of self-respecting 25 year old guy in a band has no further car aspirations than a Toyota Tercel Sedan???

In looking back, the problem I had was that he let the solution come to him, vs. him seeking out a solution.

The advice I’m going to give you is the same for car shopping, career progression, and marketing communication.

CARS
Right now my parents – in their late 60s – are in need of a car, and it’s been incredibly frustrating for me to try to help them without being by their side (they live 4 hours away and my schedule hasn’t let me visit them recently). They are visiting various dealerships, and although salespeople are working within their price range, the staff is clearly trying to sell them what they have, not what they want.

used-cars

What I’m urging — pleading — my parents to do, is to first just drive the 5-10 models that I recommended after a lot of research, then once they let me know which ones they like or hate, then we can focus on the right deal.

Can you believe that one of the salespeople tried to pull the “this deal is only good for tonight” routine? Really? My parents walked away, and shocking — the guy called back the next day with a lower price. I told my Dad to lead with the following… “Wait, I’m confused. You told me yesterday it was a one day deal, but now you’re giving me a better deal and this isn’t the case? So are you saying you lied to me last night? Or how do I interpret this?”

My point to them is this… do your research, drive some cars, get your butts in the seats, and determine what you like and dislike first, and then I’ll help do all the work negotiating and getting down to finding the perfect car at the perfect price.

CAREER
The same goes for your career. I see a lot of people starting their job search at what is available on Monster.com or Hotjobs, which is just like walking into the dealer. You can narrow down the general specs, and certainly you can get lucky, but you’re risking that you’re going to be influenced by what is available, not by what you want.

monster-hotjobs

I can honestly say that in my last two positions, the first thing I did was research the industry, the companies, the location, and positions that I wanted to work for before I ever checked if a job was available. I literally targeted only 4-5 companies that I truly wanted to work for, then I stopped at nothing to find a networking connection to those companies.

You might say that with this economy you don’t have that luxury, and that I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time, and of course to some degree that is correct. There are many people that have been out of work for months, and are willing to take the first thing that comes along. Kind of like how I ended up at Staples. But I also think having that singular focus and controlling your destiny will put you ahead of other people that stumble into the job by accident.

MARKETING
By now you can probably guess how this ties into marketing. The old adage that marketers need to deliver the right message at the right time is as true as always. Simply blasting your branding message out for anyone to see in hopes that you hit the right target is certainly not the best use of your budget.

It’s no secret how Google became a multi-billion dollar company through their search algorithm. If I’m a car dealership, I can spend a lot of money advertising the latest Chevy Equinox or Honda Accord to the watchers of Grey’s Anatomy or How I Met Your Mother in hopes that one of those viewers is in the market for that type of vehicle. But if I buy Google keywords and someone searches “Used 2006 Volkswagen Passat GL Wagon,” you can be pretty sure that the person is in buying mode.

google-results

The same thing goes for the continued trend in social media marketing. Putting an ad banner for the 3rd generation Toyota Prius throughout Yahoo is good. Targeting it to their cars section is better. Doing an integrated buy in Wired Magazine and Wired.com, where research has shown that the readers are thought-leaders that influence decisions and recommend purchases to others is even more intelligent. And taking the last step by creating a Facebook page where 37,000 fans can interact and be part of the conversation around your product?

That’s just brilliant. As brilliant as telling your boss you just joined a band.

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Like this article? You might also like:

How to network like your life depends on it

Job searching in the digital age

Driving customers – 10 marketing hits and misses at the NY Auto Show

Porsche vs. iPhone

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