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Is your marketing pouring some serious money down the drain, because you don't have the cookie factor?

But first--just what the heck is a cookie factor anyway? And how can you apply this simple marketing and psychological principle to rake in some big bucks?

“You Buy $30 To Go, You Get Free Coke and Wontons”

My smile was bigger than the Great Wall of China the first time this happened. We were regulars at this Chinese food take-out restaurant. But this time there was something unusual. When we paid our bill out popped a 2-liter bottle of Coke and 6 wontons.

Confusion reigned. Was I paying for something I hadn't ordered? Was there some communication gap here? My knotted eyebrows must have revealed my bewilderment quite clearly. Before I could go “blah,” the little Chinese lady behind the counter held up her hand, smiled and said the words that entranced me forever: “You buy $30 takeaway, you get free Coke and wontons!”

She Had Us Trained Like Lab Rats…

Before that day, our Chinese take-out never totaled more than $25. Yet magically as we crossed the $30 mark, this entrepreneurial woman made sure we knew the value of instant gratification. Every time we hit the $30 mark, out came the goodies. Every time we didn't, we get our order and big smiles, but little else.

Now we had a choice. We could have our usual, or order just a little more and be rewarded with all the extra goodies that came with it.

What do you think we did?

Yes, just like you and every one else, our greed took over and our purchases hit the $30 mark as often as sunshine hits the Caribbean.

Say Hello To The "Cookie Factor!"

This, in short, is the cookie factor. You create a demand for a product with something so alluring that the customer forgets the product itself and concentrates mainly on the "cookies."

Psychologists call this the "‘psychology of second interest." This effectively means that people shift focus onto the goodies and end up buying the main product based on this tiny inducement.

How Far Can You Take $5?

Pretty far I'd say, judging from Marie's success. Marie (a friend of ours) is a freelancer who is called in when there are specific jobs to be done at various design firms. Like clockwork, she lands at the job with a box of yummy, scrumptious chocolate chip cookies.

It's bizarre I know, but clients earning in excess of a hundred grand a year, drool like little puppies over the prospect of free cookies. Five dollar's worth of cookies was getting Marie a red-carpet treatment and more work than she could imagine.

Without doubt, her work was exceptional, but then so was the work of her competition. The only tipping point in the game was the "cookie factor."

You can see the cookie factor in different dimensions. Here are three main avatars.

1) As An Inducement: Get That Vacuum Cleaner Moving!

People buy because of the added factor. They always have and always will. As long as they perceive themselves as getting something for nothing, they will be drawn to it like flies to honey.

The "cookie factor" makes firm believers out of hesitant buyers. Deep in the human psyche is the need for justification. The bonus that they receive fills that space and gets the credit card heated up once more.

2) As a Retention Tool: Stuck Like Glue!

The "cookie factor" is magical for retention. Imagine you had a law firm and you had these free educational training sessions for your clients on a regular basis. What you're doing is giving away something for nothing. You're drawing them back like the pizza parlor does every time.

This is a powerful retention tool to get customers back in your airspace. The inducement and the retention factor might look and feel the same, but there is a tiny difference. Inducement is instant gratification, whereas with retention, it's a slow moving process that shows results in loyal customers.

3) As a Deterrent.

This is the dark side of the "cookie factor:" The Darth Vader! Five-year rentals and leases come under this category. The cookie factor is used to get the client in at a low rate, but keeps them hooked into the product or service over a long period of time.

When you buy a fridge or a computer, you can get an additional "5 Year Peace of mind" by buying into additional warrantees. There is very little real benefit for the user here. But it exists, if only in the dark alleys of your marketing.

Are You Mixing Up The "Cookie Factor" With The "Hot Spot?"

If you are, it's okay. A "hotspot" in selling is finding out what is of most interest to the buyer and then going after that interest, often basing the entire sale on that one factor. The "cookie factor" is a tiny shift away from this thought process.

Let me give you an example:

If you were selling a house, a hotspot would be the proverbial "cherry tree." The buyer loves the cherry tree, has always wanted a cherry tree, and the sale of the home is based on this hotspot.

The "cookie factor" is slightly different. It is a deliberate act of placing "cookies" to entice the potential buyer to dip into their pockets for a brand new mortgage. I've known people who've bought houses based on the premise that they get the sofas, work desk or the artwork on the mantelpiece. I've known smart real estate agents that have placed this "cookie factor" as part of the deal and created interest where boredom existed.

This is the bait, the "cookie factor." It draws the customer in and tips them over in your favor. In effect, the cookie factor becomes the hot spot and you're on your way to a definite sale.

Where's Your "Cookie Factor?"

If you look into your business, you will certainly find one. When tested online, it was found that sales went up by over 30% (!) by introducing a bonus with the product. If you're in services, you can offer two or three add-ons at the time of purchase. If you're selling product, tag on a duvet to a bed sale or a book of stamps with a pen.

Relevance of your "cookie factor" is extremely important. A recent chain of restaurants offered a free dessert with an order of dessert. Does that really entice you?

If you're going to have a "cookie factor," dispense with the stupidity. Make it relevant and valuable and your customers will respond to it in hordes. If your cookies are stale or crumbly, find a garbage can they can call home.

And finally, remember it's not hard to find a cookie factor in your business. It provides you with additional ammo to make the customer happy.

And guess what happens when customers get happy?

Yeah, they buy!

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Sean D'Souza uses age-old psychology, marrying it to modern technology, on his Web site, Can "psychological tactics" make a difference? Go there and find out.