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The Mount Washington Method of Building Cachet

by Marcia Yudkin

Has your company passed a significant milestone, won an award or survived an ordeal? Consider what you might call the "Mount Washington method" of spreading the news.

In practically any mall or supermarket parking lot in New England, you'll find cars sporting a bumper sticker that reads, "This car climbed Mt. Washington." The highest peak in the Northeastern U.S., Mt. Washington, in New Hampshire's White Mountains, has an eight-mile toll road that's among the steepest in the nation, with a gradient as high as 18 percent in places.

Driving up isn't difficult, but driving down you run the risk of burning out your brakes or clutch, and losing control of your car. Those who have experienced the wide-eyed, white-knuckle descent regard arriving safely at the foot of the mountain as an achievement.

The bumper sticker, given out free as a receipt for the toll, evokes reminiscences in those parking lots and recommendations - "Hey, you ought to go" - from those who understand why the message isn't worded simply "Visit Mt. Washington."

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How can you borrow this marketing technique for your business? Think about an achievement theme for your promotional message on giveaway T-shirts, pens or calendars. Instead of just your logo, your embroidered or imprinted message for employees might be "We survived 300,000 Christmas orders," or "The race to IPO -- May 15, 2001." Legends like "ArcticTrak keeps me in shape" or "Shear Genius - the terrifying makeover" fit this strategy for customers.

You can also emphasize the difficulty of an activity to ratchet up its appeal in a perverse but popular way. Several people I know call their intensive one- or two-day seminars "boot camps," after the no-mercy Army initiation programs. Not only do most readers and listeners smile at 
this metaphor, participants sign up in the spirit of "I can take it." 

Likewise in the 1970's, a personal development program called Erhard Seminar Training or "est" got a lot of media attention for long, grueling sessions during which participants rarely got the chance to use the rest rooms. While most commentators disparaged its claim of quick enlightenment, graduates of the training would proudly tell friends and relatives that they "got it" and that they had survived the ruthless rules.

The public also responds to exclusivity and the idea of being selected while others are rejected - a twist on the Mount Washington theme of self-selection and achievement. The more judgmental the door guard at a night club, the more people who value being cool want to spend money there. 

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Take Your Business on the Road Course

Writers often feel lucky about the prospect of giving up 15 
percent of their earnings to their literary agent because it's hard for many to become the client of an agent. And while I haven't heard of physical tryouts for adventure travel expeditions, I would guess they'd attract rather than deter the intrepid.

By casting being a client, patron or employee as an achievement, you ignite curiosity, instill pride and spur word-of-mouth publicity.

Copyright 2001 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved. 

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