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A Chicken-and-Egg Conundrum

With a very successful Charlotte (Fla.) Boat Show wrapping up last weekend to lead off the winter boat show season, followed by this week’s Daytona Beach Boat Show (Jan. 14-16), many shows around the country are set to go despite cancellations and rescheduled events. It means hundreds of dealers will beg, borrow or steal whatever inventory they can to stage a good exhibit as product shortages persist.

In fact, between now and Easter, hundreds of dealers will experience the value of face-to-face contact with current customers and, equally valuable, fill their sales funnel with future prospects. After all, there is no other marketing medium that comes close to the power of face-to-face interaction at shows.

So as dealers prepare their exhibits, the inevitable question will arise: Should pricing signage on boats show the dollars off or the percentage off? One might assume it makes no difference — kind of, which came first, the chicken or the egg? In the case of chickens, it doesn’t matter because we’ll eat them both.

Truth is, it does make a difference. Sales prospects definitely react differently to discounts depending on whether they’re presented as an amount off the price or a percentage, according to a long-standing study led by Eva M. González of Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. Even more important, it’s especially true for more products. Can you say boats?

“Even when people understand percentages and dollar amounts, consumers tend to focus on an absolute number in isolation,” said González.

Similarly, a study by Blue Hornet Marketing asked 1,000 consumers which they preferred. The result: 42 percent of respondents said dollars off was the more attractive offer. Showing percentage discount ranked a distant second.

These findings aren’t really new. Many years earlier, an e-commerce company got a similar result in a coupon study. The “$50 Off” coupon generated 170 percent more revenue than the “15 Off” coupon.

Why? It’s psychological. Some who study behavioral economics have this explanation: It’s the art of positioning. What’s happening is the creation of a perceived value, and while the two discounts are identical, one feels bigger. So good positioning says all deals aren’t created equal, even if they are. The dollars off savings are right there in black and white — no mental calculations — and simply appear more compelling to most prospects.

So is there something even more powerful? Apparently, if you really want to turn heads, the word “free” rules with power. Forget the dollars versus percentages for a moment. Free is considered among the most powerful words in marketing. It stirs excitement like no other, according to the experts. Studies clearly confirm free commonly gets people to even change their choices.

For example, offering a free electronics package, accessories, dockage or a maintenance program or similar incentive and strongly noting the value as “you save XX dollars” has genuine appeal. The auto industry is blasting such dollar positioning with great success right now. So if you need a word to get prospects into your show booth, free could top them all.

The end game, of course, is sales success during and following the show. So, if you’re going to use discounts in any form as an incentive, the way you frame it will affect how generous your sale is perceived and, in turn, the success for your sales team.

If perception is reality, then take time now to carefully consider what each of your display signs will say. Go with the study results and show dollars off rather than percentage off. And it doesn’t hurt to have a freebee leader prominently featured in the display, too.

Despite inventory problems, the success of the fall season proved again that boaters love shows and will show up.


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