My Chrysler Imperial, aka “The Land Yacht,” has a fifteen-gallon gas tank. As I stood watching the numerals spin past $20, then $30 and so on, it occurred to me why gas is such a hot topic of the day.

What other product do you stand and watch the final tabulation of the bill? I can of course remember the cost of filling this same tank last year and even the year before because each time I buy it I am focused on those spinning dials.

We all know we are spending more for gas than this same time last year or the year before. However, I do not remember what I paid for health care, yogurt, tires, or cream filled donuts, last year or the year before.

Top of The Mind Awareness

In the advertising world this is called, “TOMA,” or “Top of the Mind Awareness.” It is the things we place at the forefront of our brains and think about most. It’s the advertising technique used by McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King.

It simply means that if you are not in front of your customer as much as possible, then your competitor’s messages will take your place in the customers mind. Which is why you will see fast food ads every hour of every day; even though McDonald’s is a national institution no one will ever forget.

As worried business owners watch the price of gas rise, there is an emotional reaction that their bottom line is going to fall, because customers are going to have less to spend. And if that’s the case, is there anything that can be done about it?

The short answer is yes. And there are several things you can do about it. After all wasn’t it Sir Isaac Newton who told us, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction?” It’s those opposite reactions that will save the day.

Price And The Mind Game

We live in Montana. What do people do in Montana? They hunt and fish. How high would gas prices have to rise before Montanans could no longer hunt or fish?

The point is that we have created life styles and we are resistant to changing those life styles. And we are going to move mountains to eliminate all the things that prevent us from enjoying those lifestyles.

When we modify a portion of our lifestyle, such as eliminating a morning latte on the way to work, that also eliminates a customer from that business for that day. But that same customer might become a customer at a convenience store by purchasing a less expensive cup of ordinary coffee. Wealth is transferred from one business to another.

A family who has recently taken up golf for family fun, and finds it too expensive, might become bowlers. They can still wear the same weird outfits.

As customers adapt to economic conditions they may move from one business to another. So how can you retain the ones you have as well as bringing in new ones? TOMA is the answer.

Where Do Customers Come From?

After 35 years in business I can tell you with no reservation that customers come from two places and two places only. Either you steal them from your competition or you create a new customer who has never been a customer before.

When times are tough you have an excellent opportunity to steal customers. Why? Because your competitors will often cut back on their advertising as a cost cutting measure, thinking that their customers will remember them.

This of course works in your favor because of the TOMA principle. Their most loyal customers will remember them but the rank and file customer will go to the places they hear about most often.

Secondly, new customers appear every day. For example, when a child turns 16 he or she becomes a new driver and is now a gas station customer, a tire customer, and oil change customer, a car wash customer and so on.

New people move into your area virtually every day. Contact Qwest Marketing and get on their list to send you new residential phone numbers each month and mail coupons or special offers to these new people.

Sell Em’ On Your Web Site

Due to higher gas prices customers may be driving less. Help them out by showing them they can shop at your business online. Post coupons on your site that customers can print out and bring to your store or discounts they can apply right on your order page. Have them place orders online for pickup at your business.

Show them cost savings and value on your site. More and more people are turning to the Internet to do pre-shopping. But before they can visit your site they have to know that you have one.

Make sure your web site is everywhere, even on your answering machine or voice mail. The more confidence they have in you and your business, the more business they will do with you.

Some Final Thoughts

Build a strong brand name. What is a brand name? It’s a promise, nothing more, nothing less. It says who you are and how you do business. Walk into any brand name franchise no matter where it is and you are going to get the same level of service at each location.

That’s what customers are really looking for. Consistency in service coupled with quality in products. Produce those two things, and let customers know you do, and you will always have TOMA and a successful business.

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