Once, I had to help a computer leasing company figure out what to emphasize in its marketing.


The company provided financing to computer buyers through the resellers that put together and sell computer systems.


Their marketing was targeted at resellers. The goal was to get the resellers to recommend the leasing company as a financing source.


The CEO said that these resellers chose them because of the free gifts they gave the resellers for recommending the leasing company – and the gifts should be stressed in the marketing.


The president was afraid that, if the company advertised free gifts too heavily (and gifts are rather lavish and high end, such as color TVs), the resellers would stay away, figuring that they were being charged higher rates to cover the cost – and therefore were not getting the best deal for their buyers.


I didn’t know anything about computer resellers, and the only one I knew personally is the one across the street from my office who sold me my system.


I told the client, “I’ll get back to you.” Then, within 48 hours, I reported the results of conversations I had with over two dozen resellers.


Did I conduct a phone survey? Mail a questionnaire? Spend the client’s money on a focus group?


None of the above. I simply went to an online discussion group of computer resellers, and started talking to them about what they look for in a leasing company – and what they thought of my client in particular.


(I didn’t mention that I was doing research for a client. I let the people in the group assume I was another reseller. No one asked.)


“[The marketer] must be able to form a clear conception of the class he aims to convince,” legendary ad man John Kennedy wrote in his classic book, Reason-Why Advertising. “He must estimate how the average mind of that class is likely to work, under a certain argument, and under a certain mode of expressing it.”


Thanks to online chat rooms, forums, and discussion groups, you can now gain a quick understand of the mindset of virtually any market or group of prospects that uses or congregates on the Internet.


The two best Web sites for finding online discussion groups are:


Click on either link and select a group that interests you. If you sell model rocket kits, for instance, click on the Hobbies and Crafts category on Yahoo.


You can rapidly and easily find out what rocket hobbyists want, what they like, and what they are willing to pay. And it won’t cost you a dime – just some time spent sitting in front of a PC. True guerilla marketing!


And what about the computer leasing company? We found that the resellers were split: half loved getting gifts, and the other half said gifts were a bad idea that drove rates up.


Based on this, the client focused on his strength, the gifts (a small company, he could never match the rates offered by leasing giants), and content himself to win the lion’s share of that half of the market.


Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books). He can be reached at or e-mail