In 1931, Ted and Dorothy Hustead purchased a small drugstore in the town of Wall, South Dakota located on the outskirts of Rapid City. Ted had recently graduated from pharmacy school and knew his calling was to open his own store. Wall was literally referred to as the “geographical center of nowhere” by the residents of the state. The Great Depression had just begun ravaging the resources of the small town as the young couple struggled to gain traction in their new business to no avail. After the first few months, business had not improved. Ted had begun to think he had made a serious mistake as he watched travelers and military personnel pass through the area without stopping. He would think to himself*, “I wish they would just stop for a cup of coffee.”

One day, Dorothy attempted to cheer up Ted, stating*, “Don’t worry…the monument at Mt Rushmore will be done, and then there will be an endless stream of people going by. I’m sure they’ll visit us!” Five years later, the business was still struggling. Dorothy laid down to take a nap during a sweltering July afternoon. The sound of the cars going by on the highway kept her awake. Then, suddenly she sprang from her bed with an idea about how to get people to stop at the store. After miles of driving across a hot, dusty prairie, the people must be thirsty. “They want water. Ice cold water!” she exclaimed. Ted began making small signs that read, “Free Ice Water! Stop at Wall Drug.” He drove out to the road and began placing the signs every few miles so people could read them while they drove by. Before he could return to the store, Dorothy had already begun furiously handing out water to the droves of people who had stopped. Dorothy was also busy selling ice cream and a myriad of other sundries the store offered.

To this day, you can see these signs along the highway. Wall Drug is now a lucrative landmark and one of a dozen stores in town, all bustling with tourists stopping to visit the legacy and of course, get a drink of water. You may be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with marketing?” Well, there are several lessons within Ted and Dorothy’s story to glean from. Here are just a few:

You may have what the people want but until you create exposure for yourself, they will never know to look for it with you. One of the purposes of marketing is to increase awareness for products and services. Direct mail postcards, internet banner ads, social media postings…all create awareness for your organization.

Lead with an irresistible offer that no one can refuse. You may not have free water to offer but what other product or service can you use to generate traffic that leads to exposure? Once consumers are aware of you and receive something of value, they are more likely to return. Send out a mail piece with a coupon or offer that tempts and entices your market place to try you out.

Sometimes you have to give it away to gain everything. In marketing, we call this technique a loss leader. You offer a product or service at such a great reduced rate that one cannot help but take advantage. You may lose a few dollars (and it’s a marketing investment not a loss) to gain a lifetime of clients who purchase other things from you.

Go where the people are and make noise. Notice Ted and Dorothy did not just put a sign outside of their store. They went to the highway and ultimately created the modern-day bill board to advertise to people as they drove by. Do you really know where your market is located? Or are you spraying messaging everywhere in hopes you gain attention?

So next time you begin to craft a marketing strategy and the tactics that follow, go back to the basics of a good marketing plan. Know the personas of your market, where they are located and what they really want from you. Then design a program that delivers.

Not sure where to start? Plumb Marketing has several tools to start your thinking. Sign up for a free one hour marketing discovery session with our team. We will bring the water.


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