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The Chaos Theory for the Webmaster and Internet Marketer

By John Calder
Posted Friday, November 19, 2004

This is an independent examination of the idiotic promotion practices of some marketers. Pepsi and Coke are not sponsors or co-sponsors of this examination. Pepsi is a registered trademark of Pepsi Corporation. Coke is a registered trademark of Coca Cola Corporation.


I received the following email from a direct email marketing company. This is not the first time I have seen someone use this technique in his or her direct promotion campaign. At first, I had deleted the message for being the spam that it was... Then I realized what a good article this would make. So I dug the message out of my trash folder so that I could share it with you.

SUBJECT: Soda Taste Test

Dear Consumer,

Today, we're gathering opinions and preferences about popular soft drinks. Your feedback will help us determine the people's choice.



a. Yes
b. No


I understand what they are trying to do. They are trying to generate reader participation within their marketing campaign. And they are trying to do so within the strategy of using a question everyone generally has an opinion about.

A good friend of mine has often told me about his first job as a telemarketing sales representative. It was his words that prompted me to write my article today.

Eighteen years ago at the age of 19, my friend worked for a spell as a telemarketer. It was his first gig as a salesperson and it left a lasting impression with him.

It seems that his boss had read the same book that our direct email marketer had read. It seems both have asked the exact same question, although at different times and within different marketing mediums. Yet, I am sure that the response will be the same.


In 1984, it took less than a week for my friend to see the futility in this approach.

The goal of the Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola question is to create an opportunity for the consumer to interact with the telemarketer or the direct marketer.

This technique was born in the sales teaching manuals that suggest that the salesperson should stive to get the customer to answer three of four questions with a Yes before moving into the sales pitch.

Of course, the basis of the approach is legitimate in that you must create a dialog with the customer before you can ever hope to introduce the product or close a sale.

When dialing a number at random, the telemarketer would have to introduce himself, "Hello, my name is Bill and I represent" such-and-such charity. "Let me ask you a question. We are interested in knowing whether you prefer Pepsi or Coca-Cola?" Then the telemarketer was to insert a deliberate pause and await an answer.

Often times, the inserted silence would generate a hang-up. Other times, it would generate a very hesitant answer. And even if the question was able to generate the appropriate level of interest in the conversation, the consumer was often lost when the next step was to take the consumer into a sales pitch totally unrelated to the Pepsi vs. Coke equation. The change in direction was often rightly perceived as a deception on the part of the telemarketer.


My friend knew that there had to be a better way.

He had read all of the same books and had a desire to make more money while working this commission job. He was properly motivated to get the most out of what was available to him.

While working the phones, he continued to tweak and refine the script. The first thing to be dropped from his script was the Pepsi vs. Coke question. He had learned from the school of hard knocks that this technique created more problems than it helped to solve.

"How are you doing today," was just as effective as the Pepsi vs. Coke question, and it did not carry with it the baggage of deception.

With some tweaking and trial-and-error, my friend had managed to increase his closing ratio by 50%.

With his success in hand, he approached the boiler room managers and shared with them the secret of his success --- his new script.


The new script was employed immediately and the sales of the entire team rose in accordance with the results that my friend had accomplished. Within days, my friend was offered a position with the management team. Although my friend turned down the promotion --- a new town every 90 days did not appeal to him --- the lessons learned were taken with him into his other sales positions.


If you were to anwer the email concerning the Pepsi vs. Coke question, you would be asked for ALL of your personal information and told that you were "entitled to these great deals from our partnering sites. Simply check this box and you'll get dozens of daily FREE offers; coupons, special discounts and more sent directly to your email address."

Oh, I see. You did not care what my response was. Instead you really want me to give you permission to send me daily advertising from dozens of other online companies! Yeah, right.


During the everyday, I see promotional campaigns like this all of the time. Over the last year, I saw several companies use the same technique, but change the question to something that people felt more strongly about. Instead of asking about a preference in soft drinks, they instead asked about opinions about the Iraq War.

All of these companies use this technique to get people to sign up to receive advertising by email. Who would have thought answering a question such as this could generate so much email?

It is no wonder that direct email marketers have such a bad reputation.


A really talented telemarketer is able to talk to people and quickly create a dialog with the consumer. The utilization of the Pepsi vs. Coke question seeks to overcome the fact that most telemarketers are not talented in creating a dialog. No matter how you phrase the question, a stupid or deceptive question will never permit the salesperson to overcome the initial hurdle of creating a promising or productive dialog with the consumer.

Sales and marketing lessons taken from books are good, when they are utilized properly. As our examples show, a lesson that has value can easily be implemented badly. And, a badly implemented sales technique can actually cause more damage that having no technique at all.


I hope my examples have shown you not to take sales techniques out of context. Don't just jump into your sales campaigns with some half-baked scheme that is based on something you may have read somewhere. If you are going to expend resources to try to develop sales or leads, then make sure that you are going to get the best bang for your bucks.

About the Author
John Calder is the owner and editor of (http://www.TheEzine.Net) Subscribe Today and get real information YOU can use to help build
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