Istanbul Through a Marketer’s Eye

Just back from a few days in Istanbul, Turkey, where I spoke at a conference and then got to play for a few days.

As with all my trips, I keep my marketing eyes open. Here’s some of what I noticed:

  • Turks are  maniacs for food freshness (and the food is WONDERFUL!) to the point where packing dates as well as expiration dates are common on packages (which I have seen occasionally in the US) and the packing dates are extremely recent (not very common in my own country). I walked into a very small supermarket in kind of a backwater neighborhood on the Asian side and bought a bag of nuts that had been packed just one week earlier. And they tasted amazingly fresh. That tells me that supermarket turnover has to be very fast, and that the customers are looking at those packing dates and rejecting anything too old, if even this small and uncrowded market had food so fresh. If I were marketing any product in Turkey, food or otherwise, I’d think about how to include a freshness campaign.
  • Like many tourist destinations, Istanbul has an army of men (I didn’t see any women doing this) whose job it is to get the tourist into a particular shop (especially carpet shop) or restaurant. In Turkey, they were really personable, and often started by meeting tourists on their way into an attraction, giving some useful pointers, and then saying they’ll meet you at the end and escort you to the shop (and all of them kept those promises). At least the “like” part of the know-like-trust formula is very much a part of doing business. However, most of them lack any discernible USP (Unique Selling Proposition—a reason to do business there rather than with someone else). One that did told us that his partner would give us a discourse on the history of rug-making, which was accurate (I’ll be posting an article soon based on that fascinating conversation).
  • Most of the Turks I saw had dark hair and a medium skin tone, darker than Northern Europeans but lighter than Arabs or Greeks (kind of like my own skin tone, in fact). I did meet several fair-skinned blondes and redheads. Yet if you look at the ads, you’d think half of Turkey is blonde. I could interpret this as blondes having higher status (as they seem to do in the US as well—remember “Is it true Blonde’s have more fun?”), or as rejection of the principle that marketing should use images that resemble your market, or as something else I wasn’t there long enough to understand. Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s coincidence.
  • For green marketers especially: if you want to move society to go green, make the green alternative much more attractive. Public transit in Istanbul is cheap, fast, easy to navigate—and extremely heavily used. Car ownership, by contrast, is expensive and full of hassles from icky traffic to high fuel prices to very limited parking in many areas. The result? Only 1 in 10 Istanbul residents have a car. I’m betting that once the rail connection between the Asia and Europe sides is complete (my understanding is that a tunnel is being constructed), public transit will become even more popular.

Green/social change business profitability expert Shel Horowitz shows businesses how to turn poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance--??while making a good profit. An international speaker and bestselling, award-winning author, his 10th book is Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World.

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