Three Lessons from the Tacoma Chief

by Dr. Joe Vitale
www.mrfire.com

NOTE: This article was written around 1996…

Tacoma Guitars makes a miniature acoustic guitar called a Papoose, and a larger model called a Chief. I’ve been seeing their ads in Acoustic Guitar magazine for maybe a year. Their most recent ad caught my attention in the strongest way: It shows a large, striking photo of their Chief, with a few words of copy suggesting that their new guitar is a breakthrough in design in the same way Da Vinci’s inventions were breakthroughs in his time.

I decided to find a Tacoma Chief and check it out. I went to a local guitar store. They didn’t have any Tacomas. Never heard of them. I went to another store. No luck. I then went to one of the giant national chains, a guitar store with two locations in Houston alone. Again, no luck.

Hmmmmm. Are Tacomas bad guitars, or badly marketed?

I went back to their ad, got an email address from it, and sent a note asking for the location of the nearest Tacoma dealer. Someone replied, telling me to visit Rockin Robin, a famous guitar store here in Houston, a friendly place where such guitar slingers as the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan used to shop.

I went to Rockin Robin. The first thing I saw was a policeman giving out parking tickets outside the store. I parked a block or so away, walked into the store, and couldn’t find anyone to wait on me. Since I had been to the store before, I knew where they kept their acoustic guitars. I went there, browsed the room, and couldn’t find a Tacoma anything. After a few sighs of frustration and some stifled anger, I went looking for a salesperson. I found some guy in the drumming department and asked him if he knew about the Tacoma guitars. He did, but said they were sold out and they didn’t plan to stock any more of them.

“Why not?” I asked.

“They didn’t move very fast,” he said.

“Are they good guitars?”

“Oh yea. Very unique. But they sat here too long for us to want to carry them again.”

He then tried to sell me a Taylor guitar, a new small acoustic model called a Baby Taylor. Very interesting, isn’t it? Tacoma’s ads sent me into a music store where I began to consider buying a guitar from one of theircompetitors! But I held on to my wallet. I was too curious about the Da Vinci inspired Chief to settle for a baby anything. I left Rockin Robin, thankfully without finding a parking ticket on my windshield.

I decided to call Tacoma and talk to them direct. I looked at their ad. To my surprise, they didn’t have a phone number.

I wanted to send them a FAX. Yep. No FAX number, either.

OK. I don’t give up easily. I then decided to write a letter. I did. I included information on my new Project Phineas sales and marketing course, and even offered to trade it (with all of my books) for one of their Tacoma Chiefs. I began to address the envelope when I realized their ad didn’t give their zip code!

What’s going on here? Do these people want to make a sale or not? Sometimes people in business sabotage their own best efforts. While Tacoma’s ads are intriguing, not being able to find their guitars, see them, play them, or even order them destroys the use of their advertising dollars. In short, they are blowing it. Big time.

Finally, I decided to send another email to Tacoma. I did. Within 24 hours their head of marketing wrote back. It was a nice letter, softly reinforcing the idea that their guitars are unique, and then urging me to visit the store in Houston that carries them: MARS. Well, I’ve never heard of a MARS store. So I looked in the phone book. You guessed it. There isn’t a MARS store listed!

Let’s pause while I take another deep breath and count to ten…

Okay. Let’s turn this frustrating experience into a Marketing 101 lesson.

What can we learn here?

1. You must consistently advertise to let prospects know you exist.

Tacoma has this one down. Their ads are large, attention getting, persistent, and placed where their target audience will see them. That’s smart. And note that I did not begin to search for a Tacoma guitar until I had seen their ads for more than an entire year. Repetition works. Consistency works. Tacoma gets an A+ here.

2. You must give all essential details in your ads.

Back in 1897—that’s right, eighteen-97—Nath’L Fowler wrote, “The best way to write an advertisement is to write all that one thinks the public wants to know about the article…” He added, “Brevity is always a consideration, but brevity must not be allowed to interfere with advertisement completeness.” Oops. Tacoma left out their phone, fax, and zip code. While they do include their web site and email address, they are forgetting that only a sliver of the public have computers, let alone Internet access. Tacoma is missing sales. That’s an F.

3. You must make it easy for people to buy.

If you want people to buy your guitars in guitar stores, or books in bookstores, or clothes in clothing stores, be sure that’s all set up. This should be obvious, right? There’s nothing more frustrating than a potential customer going through the trouble of getting to a store, only to find what he or she wants isn’t there. Not only is that a lost sale, but it can tarnish your image for life. Word of mouth alone could kill you. And if you want people to order from you direct, be sure to let them know HOW to reach you. Tacoma gets an F here, too. But more important than the grades, they are losing money. Isn’t that what counts?

I’m still interested in a Tacoma Chief. I’m still willing to trade my entire marketing course for one. Lord knows Tacoma could use the help. (For details on the course, go to http://www.mrfire.com/hypnotic-articles.htmland scroll down to the article on the advertorial that sells and sells.)

But I don’t think I want to buy a Chief. Not now. Not after what I’ve been through.

Listen and learn. This experience may explain why a lot of people aren’t buying your goods.

Joe “Chief-less” Vitale.