Going To The Well Once Too Often

Large parts of my youth were spent hanging out at the playground of my primary school during the summers playing what we used to call “wall ball”.  It was kind of this modified version of baseball that we played a lot of in the area where I grew up – literally everyone played, even the kids who weren’t very athletic.

The local community where I grew up was poor lower middle class and kind of rough.  It was very easy for young kids to go off the rails and get in trouble, so my parents encouraged me to spend as much time as I could playing sport.  Their logic was impeccable, if I was playing sport, I probably wasn’t getting into trouble.

Rough neighbourhoods have a pecking order that usually revolved around how tough you were, which in many respects came back at least in part to how old you were.  Today there’s all this talk about bullying, we just called it the natural order – older kids were tough on younger kids.

Wall Ball was a leveller.  If you were good at it, then you could hold your own against the older boys and that got you some respect.  By the time I was 13 or 14, I was as good as the guys who were 18 or 19, so I’d get brought into their games.  That kept me safe because the older guys wouldn’t let the 15 and16-year-old kids mess with me.

What’s funny is that my friends I grew up with, all of whom are now in their 40’s still get together a couple times a month on weekends and play Wall Ball back at my old primary school.  They’ve all moved around the city, started families and yet the game still brings them back.

A few years ago I was home visiting my mother, bumped into a school friend at the shops and he says, “Hey, are you around this weekend?  I’ll organize some Wall Ball, we’ll have a barbecue and have a few beers.”  No joke, 40 people turned up that weekend from a single post on Facebook.  It was great, there were people I hadn’t seen in 25 years who came, brought their families and had a laugh.  That’s the thing about poor, rough communities, they’re pretty tight knit for the most part – you end up building strong bonds because you all went through that experience together.

Anyway, we broke into teams the old fashioned way, with much cursing and calling each other cheaters for trying to stack the teams until everyone agreed the sides were fair.  It was funny to watch how some guys were still athletic and obviously played regularly and other guys who were always pretty bad, still were terrible.

I hadn’t played in decades, but I’d coached my son at baseball and I still visit the batting cages every so often, so I can still hit a ball pretty well.  My first couple of at-bats were uneventful but then I came up with a good opportunity to put some points up for our team and the guy pitching was one of my best friends growing up.  It was just like old times, we’d probably faced each other like that thousands of times over the years – it brought back good memories.

It also brought back some old knowledge.  I knew for a fact that if I waited long enough in my at bat, he’d throw this pitch her called a “slurve” which was a quicker version of a curve ball with a slightly smaller break.  I also remembered that he had a tendency to hang that pitch and if I caught one, I’d crush it over the wall for a home run.

Third pitch, out comes the slurve, I know the action of his hand and I read it before the ball leaves his fingers, I sit back an extra tenth of a second and then launch my bat at the ball and it was gone from the moment I hit it – monster home run.

Much laughter and taunting from everyone to my friend about it being just like old times and I have to admit, it was exciting to feel that rush again like when I was a kid.

After we were done, he and I were having a cold drink, eating some hot dogs and talking about the home run.  I said to him, “Ed, you always go to the well once too often.”

I knew what he was going to do because he always did it.  It was predictable and even after some twenty years, he still did it.

I see this in people’s businesses all the time.  Frank Kern is pretty much a legend in the internet marketing world, but I always know that once or twice a year, I’ll get an email from him that will lead into him trying to sell me his old Mass Control info product.  That’s despite the fact that I bought it in 2008 when it first came out.

Kern’s approach usually starts off with some email talking nostalgically about how much fun it was in the early days of creating products and selling them online.  Then the next day he hints at pulling something out of the archives.  On the third email he always says that his printer made a mistake and created a bunch of extra proof copies of his Mass Control product and while they’re not as nicely made as the originals, the proofs are just as good and he’s going to let you get them cheaply to clear the oversupply.

It’s the same story every time, his printer created too many proof copies.

I know it works because Kern is a smart cookie and he keeps doing it.  But for people who’ve been on his list for a long time, it must become quite funny to see and eventually you just tune it out.

Frank Kern can get away with that kind of thing, but normal humans like us, we really can’t pull that off.  You can’t keep going to the same well over and over again thinking that it will constantly refill itself like a magic pudding.

For me, the big one people do is false scarcity – “Oh, for this weekend only, you can get my best product for just this low amount but it will never be this price again!”  Then three weeks later, there’s another reason to have a sale (ie. they want to make more money) and once again there’s that same low price.

It can be more than false scarcity though – consistently discounting your products leads people to just wait for the discounts.  They know that you go to the well on a regular basis so they’ll let you bring the water to them.

You need to keep things fresh in your business and keep your audience guessing a little bit so that when you do apply a bit of sales pressure, that pressure will seem real and not overly familiar.  You want people to feel as though you’re doing something new for them and they might miss out if they don’t take you up on the offer.

And whatever you do, get a printer that doesn’t send you too many proofs on a fairly regular basis because that’s just sloppy.

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