Back in the dark ages I owned record albums with hidden soundtracks and “back-masking.” Monty Python's “Matching Tie and Handkerchief” album had a second groove on one side that only played if the stylus hit it accidentally. We called this the “third side” of the album.

The Beatles' “White” album has a message recorded backward under the song “Revolution Number 9.” I had access to a radio studio turntable, so I could play the album backward and hear what the words really said. These were the surprise prizes that were shared from person to person; the inside information made us feel “in-the-know,” clever for having figured it out, and part of a special crowd.

DVDs now do the same thing with “Easter eggs.” They're exciting to discover, and the customer feels special and rewarded. And the best part for the customer — sharing the secret with someone else. For example, the DVD for the recent animated movie “Cars” has hidden treasures aficionados enjoy. If you've seen “Boundin' with Mater,” you are an Insider! (If you want to know how to access this Cars Easter egg, e-mail me at thebigguy@thinkbigguy.com and I'll give you the directions to access it.)

What are you doing to create the buzz of word-of-mouth marketing for your company? Have you considered creating your own surprise prizes?

Do you know about the secret menu at In and Out Burger? Have it “animal style!” Are you a Maker's Mark Ambassador with your own barrel of private stock bourbon? Now you want to be an Insider don't you?

Define the Insider

Insider: A customer who feels special. A customer possessing special knowledge. A customer who has been given a unique and remarkable gift. A person who resists the invasion of the masses.

Insiders are going to be the best salespeople you have — they will sell your company and products for free and with greater enthusiasm than many in your paid sales force. At the speed information now travels across the Internet, a single person can create a tidal wave of information and buzz.

Create the Insider Special

Resist the temptation to overexpose an Insider opportunity. Let your customers do it for you. Avoid publicity. This flies in the face of conventional marketing wisdom, which is, in fact, its special power. It's unconventional. It creates selectivity. Here are steps to consider in creating your Insider program:

  1. Define who you want to qualify

    Who you want to qualify establishes your parameters. Are you looking to create buzz through a membership program? Let your customers create the “inside” information? Do you want customers who occasionally make discoveries and tell others where to find them? Your Insiders need to reflect the culture you are creating with your organization and products.

    Maker's Mark is a small distributor of high-quality bourbon that's worth the extra expense to its clientele. Maker's Mark's Ambassador program is focused on those loyalists who want to be part of the Maker's Mark family. Both the company and the loyal customer enjoy the family feel and status identification of their product.

  2. Plan the discovery

    Insiders love the discovery. It's the surprise prize. The discovery has to be exciting, remarkable and valuable. In the early days of HBO, the movie channel used to offer a gift movie at midnight one night during the holidays. In the printed TV listing it simply said “movie” with no fanfare or promotion. One year, it was the movie “Ghostbusters,” which was a real surprise because it hadn't been released on videotape and was barely out of the theaters. The unexpected discovery was exciting. I got to tell everyone the next day what they missed. I was an Insider who got a treat others missed out on. The discovery creates buzz, creates scarcity and makes the Insider feel special.

  3. Prepare the gift

    Maker's Mark sends gifts to its Ambassadors, unannounced. They just appear in my mailbox. Surprise! They are always gifts of quality that I can display, use and share with friends and they're linked to the use of their product.

    Some are gifts of immediate practical value such as engraved glasses and stirrers and some are gifts of prestige. I'm proud to say there's a barrel of Maker's Mark in their warehouse with my name on it. It's a gift of recognition that my Ambassador status has significance.

    I received a certificate announcing the birth of my barrel. I receive updates on its progress. My barrel will not be ready to be tapped for seven years (how's that for anticipation marketing?). Notice how I say it is “my” barrel. Roughly 18 names are on that 50-gallon barrel, but it's mine! I can even have special engraved bottles made to share with friends. The extra expense for these V.I.P. bottles? Who cares? I look like I'm “The Man!” giving those away. This is what most Insiders value: the peer recognition of owning such a gift. I have given some of my Insiders golf towels from Augusta National, home of the Masters. It's not the towel; it's the comments from their friends that are the gifts.

  4. Create the access pass

    Insiders like special access. Whether it's the password to a special Web site page or access to a “forbidden zone” at your facility, Insiders like the special treatment. On a distillery tour, the tour guide decided to take the small group I was with where “we really shouldn't go” — through a door with a sign that read “No Unauthorized Admittance.” The buzz of the group at the end of the tour was being able to see behind the scenes.

    It was doing the forbidden that made us feel special. It's the backstage pass. It's the press credential to get onto the field. All Insiders want to feel special. It's what we tell our friends about.

  5. Keep it fresh

    McDonald's Happy Meals regularly change the toy inside with savvy movie tie-ins. The kids may not be in the driver's seat, but they make the fast food selection. They are the Insiders who were able to get the “limited edition” Mater toy.

    You need to keep your Insider's attention fresh. Your Insiders want to be intrigued. If every year you send out pocket knives (as one of my vendors still does), they lose their appeal. Since I fly so much, a pocket knife is now actually undesirable because if I forget it's in my pocket, not only will I lose it when I go through airport security but I now have the inconvenience of getting pulled for a special security check. I no longer feel special. The vendor is no longer in touch with my needs, therefore I no longer feel like an Insider.

    Insiders want to be appreciated, they want to be pampered and they want to know the company is in tune with them. The minute you lose freshness with your Insiders they will feel less appreciated.

  6. Let the Insiders create their own buzz

    If your organization is lucky enough, your customers will create their own Insider information (I mean the good kind.) Nothing is better than word of mouth you never had to initiate. It's information that takes on a life of its own. Be familiar with the buzz, enjoy it, and work to keep it for Insiders only without trying to overly capitalize on it. Why? Read on.

How to Lose Insider Buzz

Allow the masses in.Waffle House once had its Insider lingo. If you were among the after-midnight crowd, you could have your hash browns “scattered,” “smothered” or “covered.” It was the inside way to get special treatment. Word traveled fast about the lingo, and people knew there were options but weren't sure what they meant. Sadly, now some menus actually explain the words' meaning and promote those options. Insiders no longer feel part of the inside few because now everyone is an Insider. Let the masses become the Insiders, and the buzz will be lost.

Easy-entry premium clubs. Airlines have their premium clubs that try to make frequent flyers feel special but the clubs have lost much of their meaning. What good is early boarding for premium-club members if 85 percent of the passengers are in the club? What good are upgrades to first-class seating if the bean counters are removing 25 percent of the first class seats and replacing them with coach seats? One flight attendant told me the company saw this as a way to make more money, once they realized 25 percent of first-class seats were being filled with premium upgrades. Thanks, USAirways! Now I feel so special!

A premium club has no meaning unless it has scarcity. What are your scarcity items Insiders crave? What is the Top Secret information only given to Insiders? How are your customers creating buzz about your company or products? What are you allowing Insiders to discover? It's the multi-million dollar marketing advantage you need to get in on.


The author is president of Russell J. White International Inc., Lake Wylie, S.C., and known in speaking and consulting circles as “The Big Guy.” He is an author, trainer and international speaker with 25 years of experience as a Fortune 500 manager and consultant. White is the author of “Debunking the Designated Decoy: Get to the truth in your organization!” and “Little White Truths: Lessons for Leadership.” His articles appear in national trade magazines and regional business newspapers. White can be reach at (877) 275-9468 or by e-mail at mail@thinkBIGguy.com. Visit his Web site at www.thinkBIGguy.com.