Lessons from the Bahama Mama

My husband and I enjoyed a vacation to the Bahamas recently, and we were both struck by the people on this island. I’ve posted before about how to sell to Americans, based on my experience in the Dominican Republic. I would say the Bahamians have mastered this art far superior to their Dominican counterparts. The biggest difference?

Education. This was by far the biggest difference I found when thinking about why the Bahamian residents did so well selling to Americans. First, the cab drivers were extremely knowledgeable. They’d make “idle” chatter with their fares about the history of the island, American pop stars, commerce and economics, and entertainment recommendations based on the length of stay on the island. Our driver from the airport pointed out an excellent place to get chicken wings for a snack, and told us all about the New Year’s Eve festivities. Another cab driver told us that the government created a program to educate everyone in the tourism industry about how to make sure tourists had a great experience. They made everyone take the same state-approved course, from the hotel owner, to the waiters and cab drivers. Even the residents of the island, who were seemingly uninvolved with tourists, learned that tourism is a major contribution to the Bahamian economy, and they would regularly welcome us to the island as we passed on the street. The Bahamians understood that good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster, so taking preemptive action to ensure satisfied customers was in their best interest.

The soft sell. As I mentioned in my post about the Dominican Republic, hard-selling became a huge nuisance on the trip. Conversely, the Bahamian people have perfected the art of the soft sell. For example, the cab drivers use their education and knowledge of the history of the island to soft sell a guided tour later in the week. This is genius! They can collect not only an additional fare, but a premium for the “guided tour”, using their conversation to show that they have interesting information that you might want to pay for. Further, all of the “recommendations” from each of the service providers are soft sells. We ended up getting chicken wings from the stand recommended by the cab driver twice during our stay, without feeling like we were “sold” to. This particular driver also got another fare from us by offering to set an appointment to pick us up on our return trip to the airport. He offered us the convenience of the guaranteed fare with on-time, curbside pick-up. We didn’t feel that he “sold” us on choosing to ride with him, but rather that he had provided a valuable service to us. No one badgered us, and they were willing to leave us alone with a simple, “No thank you.” We weren’t afraid to roam around the market, wondering how many people would hound us about a purchase.

Presentation is everything. We noticed that the cab drivers and waiters were really well-dressed, and one cab driver mentioned that this was part of the requirements in the industry. Waiters wore, at minimum, khakis and a polo shirt, maids in several hotels wore dress uniforms, and cab drivers wore neckties. The city in general was very clean and well-lit, making us feel safe enough to make a 2 mile exploration walk from downtown to Paradise Island. And, these people know how to celebrate the New Year! Their fireworks display on the water was AMAZING, rivaling any display I’ve seen stateside on July 4th, and the entire city erupted with horns and music at midnight. They put on an elaborate parade called Junkanoo, with intricate costumes and floats. Aside from the extravagant nature of the parade participants, it goes on for a staggering 9 hours! They put up bleachers and block off the entire downtown main street to accommodate spectators, and there are plenty of cops for crowd control. When you visit the island, you feel relaxed, catered to, and safe, because they have made a concerted effort to create a flawless presentation.

You can go anywhere for sandy beaches and blue waters, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find people like the Bahamians. The people of this island made our trip memorable and enjoyable, and I think the top-down education plays a huge part in creating their successful tourist haven.

The Great Debate: Coke vs. All Other Soft Drinks

Did I mention the open bias in these posts? You were warned in the first post of this category! Today’s Great Debate focuses on soft drinks, and as the title indicates, my favorite is Coke. Most people would pit Coke and Pepsi against each other, but being from the South, I feel that Dr. Pepper has a huge following as well. Then there’s the diet drink fans, who often separate themselves into a whole different category than their full-calorie counterparts. Thus, to avoid an extensively long title, I just lumped all the lesser soft drinks into one category 🙂

Coca-Cola Classic

I love Coke, and I’ve always loved Coke… and I assume I always will. There really is something about that first sip that makes you say, “Ahh”. It’s a completely refreshing moment, just like the commercials show! It’s not too sweet, and the flavors blend wonderfully, without overwhelming your palate like some of the competitors’ offerings. What’s their marketing secret? They’ve made themselves a classic, a staple of the all-American way. The taste of Coke classic hasn’t changed, and the brand remains a consistent, tried-and true experience. I know that a Coke in Spain will taste the same as a Coke in China, and that both of these experiences with the product will be just as good as my experience here in the States. (Yes, I have had Coke in all 3 countries mentioned).


Alright, it’s my responsibility as a marketer to perpetuate the Coke vs. Pepsi war, so I’ll include it. One notable marketing endeavor was the taste challenge a few years ago. Pepsi set up taste tests to see which drink consumers preferred. Pepsi won their own taste challenge, and promptly plastered this win all over their marketing campaign. However, I found some interesting information related to this win. Pepsi is much sweeter than Coke, and the first sip of Pepsi triggers the pleasure center in the brain due to the sugar rush, thus producing a “preference” by consumers. The problem is, after the first few sips, the pleasure center of the brain is no longer stimulated, and actually starts to be over-loaded. So, for people who want to drink a whole can of Pepsi, it’s often too sweet for the brain to handle. Thus, if Pepsi really wanted a true representation of preference, they should have had taste testers consume a whole can of each beverage.

Dr. Pepper

This is a favorite here in Texas, as this beverage started out in Waco. It has a very distinct flavor, which I find to be a bit biting and over-powering. I will give them props for their marketing efforts, though. There’s a Dr. Pepper museum in Waco that features the stories, packaging, and serving of the product, and they’ve created a culture among fans that view Dr. Pepper as a Texas loyalty. With Texas’ intense state pride, branding yourself as a “beverage for real Texans” is a surefire way to garner a strong fan base.


I’ll also include Sprite in this list, as there’s nothing like a Sprite when you’re stuck at home, sick. My mom always gave me Sprite and Saltine crackers when I wasn’t feeling well, and to this day, I’ll still grab those same remedies for a sick day. Sprite is also the one soft drink allowed backstage in my theater circles, as it’s clear coloring won’t mess up costumes if it spills! Sprite has also done a great job with their marketing, taking a young, fresh approach. They usually come at you with some kind of in-your-face music, animation, and colors to keep their image updated. And, I don’t feel too bad promoting Sprite, as they are owned by Coke 🙂

Care to weigh in on the Great Debate: Soft Drinks? I love Coke, and this topic has spurred many a fight among marketing undergrads, so I have no problem contending that this is a serious topic for debate among marketers!

Part 2: Forecasting “Needs” and creating “Solutions”

In Part 1, I talked about the “evil” marketers who create frivolous problems in order to sell unnecessary solutions, as highlighted by a Forbes article focused on the fitness industry. However, there is a difference between “creating” a problem and “forecasting” a need. Marketers should be able to identify needs that people don’t know they have YET, thus informing people of the need and the solution before people identify the need on their own. As long as the product or service adds value to a person’s life, I wouldn’t consider this to be “evil” marketing, as discussed in Part 1.

I think fire is a great example of forecasting a need. The ancient man who discovered fire probably stumbled upon this need accidentally, but he helped his fellow cave-dwellers solve problems that they didn’t even know existed. For example, the heat from fire can be used to cook food, which kills harmful bacteria, which decreases the likelihood of food-borne illness and the undesirable effects of food-borne illness. Early humans did not know they needed to cook their food to achieve more desirable results when eating, but the person who showed them the benefits of fire helped illuminate a need, and solve a real problem. He wasn’t trying to dupe his peers into giving him something in exchange for fire they didn’t need, he was trying to give them a “product” that would provide benefits like warmth, sterilization, power, etc. At the time, humans knew they needed some of these benefits, like warmth, but they didn’t know about the “product” of fire to provide these benefits. Before “forecasting” became popular, I think a lot of these product benefits were discovered by accident, but then disseminated with purpose. Now, marketers make a habit of trying to forecast the next big need, and then create a solution to meet this need before the market realizes the need themselves. Today, this is usually called “innovating”, and falls under the “research and development” category after the initial discovery.

The problem is that now that our society has evolved beyond meeting the basic needs of survival, forecasting the next big need becomes much more complex. Instead of finding solutions to feed people to make their bodies function, we must now find a way to make them enjoy the feeding process. But, it’s not just about the taste of the food anymore, it’s about the other sensory experiences, and the emotions that those sensory experiences invoke. Thus, marketers are trying to find the next emotional need that is related to food. This is where it gets dicey, because it’s hard to define valuable needs at an emotional level. Part 1 of these posts suggests that solutions are not valuable if they don’t meet a need, but in our current world, “needs” are subjective. People “need” to have a high self-esteem, which is often tied to how the world views their appearance. Thus, the fitness industry has come up with “solutions” to meet the “needs” associated with high self-esteem as defined by the world’s view of a person’s appearance. The lines start to blur between offering knowledge of valuable solutions and “selling” through shady “marketing” activities.

These types of discussions provide a glimpse into why the cynics think marketing is “evil” or “hype”. It’s become extremely difficult to decipher and define true needs and problems for which actual solutions are needed. While the Forbes article focuses on the fitness industry and its’ shortcomings, these issues can be seen across all industries and marketing activities. While these issues are difficult to navigate, I feel that we as marketers must do our best to forecast needs and provide solutions to our customers, rather than creating problems and selling “solutions” that exist solely to make money. I believe we’ll improve our bottom line and our world by adhering to the more noble ideals of marketing.

Part 1: Creating “Problems” to Sell “Solutions”

This is also known as “Evil Marketing Hype” by the cynical types, who think that marketers are just trying to dupe them into buying things they don’t need. As mentioned in my “About” paragraph on this site, I don’t believe that it’s a marketer’s job to “sell” things to people, but rather to make them aware of the best solutions to problems they actually have. This article on Forbes struck me as a perfect example of the “evil” marketing: creating “problems” to sell “solutions”. The article discusses how words like “diet”, “firming”, “optimal”, “healthy”, etc. are used to convince people to adhere to certain fads that include high-end food, supplements, gym memberships, and other generally unnecessary products and services you must pay for.

First, “problems” are created when industries use words in a way other than their intending meaning. For example, the Forbes article talks about the words “health”, “diet”, and “optimal”. Essentially, each of these words should mean the actions people take to make their body function at its’ highest potential. However, the fitness industry has turned these words into verbs with very little substance. For example, “diet” should mean the food you put into your body, but the fitness industry tells us that a “diet” is something you do to lose weight. When you start using words without respect to their original definition, you start to plant the idea that there is something inherently wrong with a person who is following a regiment based on the original definition of the word. This progresses into a “problem” that must be “solved”… therefore, the problem of “diet” becomes solved by adding unnecessary supplements or expensive food programs to create “optimal” results. But what is “optimal”? Well, I want to improve my “health”. But what is “health”? A person needs a measurable goal of “health” in order to reach “optimal” results. For example, one could define health as running faster or decreasing body fat by a certain percentage, and then take the necessary actions to achieve this goal.

Second, solving “problems” doesn’t actually add any value. In the article, the author mentions the immeasurable goals of “firming” or “toning”. In fact, muscles can only get larger or smaller, so there’s no value in saying that you want to “tone” a muscle. Are you looking to increase or decrease the size of the muscle? That’s the valuable question. For a solution to truly be a solution, it must add value. To use an example related to the Forbes article, let’s look at the Zone food program. This program aims to deliver “healthy” meals to your home to help you lose weight. In reality, a person can go to the super market and pick up these items and make the food themselves. Thus, the true value of this program is not that the healthy food will help you lose weight, it’s that the home delivery will help you save time and stress. If your goal is to save time and stress when making meal choices, the Zone program adds value. If your goal is to lose weight by changing your diet, the Zone program does not add value to your goal. I also touch on this theme in The Underlying Need post.

The Forbes article and my blog post are not to suggest that people don’t need help obtaining their fitness goals, but rather to highlight the practices of some marketers in the fitness industry. Instead of focusing on real problems with measurable progress toward a specific goal, many marketers create “problems”. These “problems” are followed by “solutions” that add no value to customers’ lives, but exist solely to make money for the company. There is, however, a difference between “creating” problems and “forecasting” needs, as discussed in Part 2.