In The Social Media Mind I detailed how much I love street markets and how I try, whenever possible, to experience them. There are many reasons for that, that go way beyond the purely social or cultural ones.
1. The Human Dynamic – Despite our advances in technology the way these markets are set up and operate has remained unchanged for centuries. You have a stall, set up next to other stalls, selling products that (usually) have a sale-by date (which adds to the urgency) with largely an unknown audience passing through the centre of it all in a bi-directional stream. Form dictates function and both have remained unchanged because there is no logical way to change them in a street market setting and maintain the street market aspect of it.
2. The Outbound Marketing Element – Stalls (and the produce on them) is arranged as attractively as possible. The key unique selling points (USPs) of each are made as visible as possible (freshness, point of origin, price, quality, etc) with hand-written signs on (usually) brown cardboard. Then each seller has a spiel they yell at, at the top of their voice at appropriate moments as people go by. If you have never experienced anything like this before it sounds like total mayhem. Smells, sounds, voices, selling slogans and conversations all mix under the (in my case here) hot Med sun to transport you back into the distant past. But there is a method to this madness. Listen to the calls carefully and each slogan shouted at the top of each seller’s lungs has a message that has character. Some are sassy, some are purely informational, some are funny or streetsmart and some are simply advertorial in nature. Each one has something that ties in with the personality (and style) of the person shouting it. Despite the over-the-top style of the setting, sustainability (they need to keep this up all day, day after day in their case, all week) requires that whatever they do (and they all do something) it has to be true to who they are.
3. The Inbound Marketing Element – There are limits to just how loudly a person can yell and how long they can sustain their yelling. So despite a setting that requires, by design, outbound marketing, there is a lot of inbound marketing with repeat custom going on. Stalls that have a reputation (and sellers that have an established character) do good business week after week, regardless. Despite the fact that market sellers must see hundreds and hundreds of different people each week they have the ability to remember faces and respond to them creating an instant air of familiarity. They are quick to smile, quicker still to establish contact and then totally personalize their marketing spiel. The fact that it all happens on the fly, by a seat-of-the-pants approach makes it all the more remarkable.
4. The Hook and Reel Approach – The best advertising does one thing and one thing only: it catches a prospect’s attention. Once that is achieved it should then allow the seller to reel the prospect in and close a sale. Consider how some of the best street market sellers I have seen are masters at personalizing a throwaway comment with just enough wit, humor or factual remark to capture attention and then quickly make a sale by explaining the USP of what they sell (fresh, local, just ready to eat, etc).
It all comes together in what I call "The Watermelon Test". Watermelon's are 92% water. A bad one (that tastes of nothing) looks just like a good one (where the 8% that's not water imparts sweetness and flavor). It takes a very special sales person to have such solid confidence in their product that they can afford to invite a customer who's picked a watermelon to try it out before they paid for it (which is what the picture used to illustrate this article shows).
The point of all this is that we spend countless hours explaining how marketing works, we have MBA courses that focus on Inbound or Outbound marketing or cover advertising and each time we approach it all like it is new. It isn’t. Get to a street market near you, better still, if you can get to one in the Med where the weather is sunnier, the markets are itinerant in nature (they are packed up at the end of the day and set up somewhere else in the city the next) and the produce is fresh enough to actually add that extra pressure to sell it all in one day (I’ve seen street markets in the Med where fishermen had set up stalls to sell fish that’d been caught just a few hours earlier).
What you will see is that the things we frequently talk about and analyze forever in the social media space are actually as old as the hills and the uniting thread in all this that stretches from the street markets of downtown ancient Antioch to the modern day street markets of Manchester and London is humanity. Everything that is done and the way it is being done is designed to make people connect with people and when that happens, everything else happens afterwards.
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