The King of Marketing

Last month, I offered a free one-year subscription to the first person who identified how JCK‘s hometown—King of Prussia, Pa.—got its name. The winner is Sheldon L. Wernikoff of Wernikoff’s Jewelers in Skokie, Ill., who knew the town was named for a tavern. Congratulations to Sheldon, but there’s a marketing lesson to be learned by the tale—the importance of knowing who your real customers are.

Locals still debate the origin of the tavern’s name, but the most popular theory goes as follows:

The area called King of Prussia borders Valley Forge, where George Washington and the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777-78 camped out—freezing, hungry, and barefoot—waiting for spring and a chance to rout the British from Philadelphia. The Americans were a ragtag volunteer bunch, few of whom had proper military training, so General Washington brought in mercenaries from Prussia (comprising parts of what’s now eastern Germany and Poland) to help train them.

Nearby was an establishment called Berry’s Tavern. The American soldiers had little money to pay for what they drank, and while the tavern owner may have been a patriot, he was also practical: He needed paying customers, and the Prussians had money. To attract them, he renamed his tavern the “King of Prussia Inn,” after Frederick the Great, the king of Prussia from 1740 to 1746. The rest, as they say, is history.

The tavern building still exists. It’s a historic landmark, but until a few years ago it sat in the middle of US Route 202—right in the path of the road construction this column periodically bemoans. The construction to reconfigure a spaghetti-like juncture of five major highways meant the tavern had to be moved or torn down. The township, along with government and private donations, paid to have the historic building moved, and it now houses the township’s Chamber of Commerce.

Back to Mr. Berry, a man who understood his marketplace. Are you equally certain of yours?

Are you sure the loyal customers you see every Christmas buy jewelry only once a year—or do they buy it once a year from you and three times a year from someone else?

Do you see yourself one way, while your town perceives you another? And even if you know your customer base, are you serving customers effectively?

Two recent seminars addressed this issue. One was by Stanislas de Quercize, CEO of Cartier in the United States, who gave the keynote address at the Luxury by JCK Show in Las Vegas. The other was a class at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas given by Paula Peterson, president of Crown Luxury Consulting and a former executive with stores such as Tiffany and Van Cleef & Arpels. Among the points de Quercize made in discussing emerging trends and opportunities in the luxury marketplace was an emphasis on defining who you are—i.e., editing. Resist complexity, he said, and don’t try to sell to everyone or sell every brand. His words apply equally to middle and mass merchants. Peterson taught jewelers how to understand the mindset of affluent customers, but her underlying theme—less is more—echoed that of de Quercize.

Berry’s marketplace was divided into two customer groups: paying and non-paying. Yours is far more diverse, but the information you need to understand it is available if you take time to look. It’s time well spent, because a targeted message to fewer people who really do buy will yield a much greater profit than a blanket message to a lot of people who probably won’t buy.

It’s a 225-year-old lesson worth repeating!

hschupak@reedbusiness.com