Marketing Along the Gray Line

For shortwave radio listeners, few things are more exciting than a fantastic gray line opening. As the earth rotates and travels around the sun, a gray line delineates the areas that are in sunlight and darkness. This line moves 24 hours a day from east to west, and reception of shortwave signals is often best when the path traveled by the radio waves is entirely in darkness. When the sun is rising in Tanzania the gray line periodically makes it possible to hear Radio Tanzania and other shortwave stations from southern Africa at about 10 p.m. in Chicago. These stations will be audible for several weeks until the darkness path makes its way west and the stations disappear until the next time the earth and sun are in alignment. The gray line phenomenon doesn't guarantee you'll hear a particular station, but using this technique will definitely increase your odds. The concept of the gray line also applies to marketing. Although it's impossible to predict when someone will buy your product and service, there may be a time when they are very interested. Psychologists call this phenomenon selective attenuation. An example is when you're looking to purchase a new car. Suddenly those car dealer ads you've ignored for the past two years become very important to you. Once you buy the car, the ads fade back into the static. This is the essence of making CRM work--understanding what the gray line is for your customers, when it comes into play, and how to use it to your best advantage. Obviously, visibility is an important element. After all, a radio station has to be broadcasting for people to hear it. Your Web site needs to be up-to-date, your contact center workers have to be thoroughly trained in the latest offers, you need to be seen in industry articles and product roundups, and you need to actively advertise or otherwise market to your customers and prospects. Once they know you're out there, position yourself as a trusted advisor. When customers are along the gray line for major purchases they're generally in research mode, gathering all the data they can. I know that's what I do. If you can provide helpful, reliable advice that makes sense of all that data, most people will pay a little more. It also helps to act like you really want the business--it's surprising how many people or companies don't. When I was looking to buy my latest car, the salesman at one dealer couldn't be bothered to break away from listening to the Cubs game to take me on a test drive. Needless to say he didn't get my business. Answer phones in two rings if possible. Be friendly. If the agent doesn't have the answer and says he/she will get back to the customer, make sure it happens. Finally, make sure you thoroughly understand what motivates customers when their gray line opens to your message. Use your CRM and other analytical software to track patterns and identify trends so you can get right to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible. You can't predict when a prospect may need your products and services, but you can stack the odds in your favor. That's what marketing along the gray line is all about. About the Author Mike Nikolich is CEO of Tech Image, one of the industry's most experienced technology-focused public relations firms, providing 100 percent senior level talent, plus the resources of Worldcom Group, the number one global network of PR firms. He has written numerous articles on effective public relations for technology products for both the business and academic communities, and is currently cochair of Worldcom Group's technology practice. Write to him at
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