My First Marketing Professor Was a Melon Merchant

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As marketers, we always strive to be in learning mode. Some might have studied psychology and some management, but a common denominator seems to be the need to learn continuously as the newest trends influence our work. Being close to graduating, I looked back at the fantastic instructors who taught me valuable lessons over the past few years. I realized that my first marketing crash course took place before I could even tie my shoes. 

Every summer in Romania, I would love to buy watermelons with my grandparents. The melon merchant was the first business teacher I have ever had. As they saw a six-year-old approaching their stand, they knew exactly what to do to turn us into loyal customers. I will try to unpack the melon merchant process by using the principles formulated by one of my favorite researchers and authors, Robert Cialdini, in his book Influence. 

  • Liking – knowing how to make a compliment.

Every interaction with the melon merchant would start with a wave of compliments. They would also make sure to remind my grandparents of what a handsome and strong grandson they had. Little did I know that the merchant was intuitively leveraging a persuasion principle. Who doesn’t like a person who gives them compliments?

  • Authority – proving who the expert is.

After building the rapport, the merchant will always start the show. He knew how to make watermelon picking look like rocket science to us, sometimes taking up to two minutes to choose “the right” melon for us. He was the expert in engaging in a teacher-student dynamic with us. He was building his authority image, the person we would trust to choose what is best for us.

  • Reciprocity – give before asking.

Even to this day, this is my favorite part of all. If the first two approaches to persuasion did not convince us to buy, the merchant always had an ace up his sleeve. The question I was always looking forward to was, “Do you want to try one?” Sampling is a very common and effective way of persuading people in food markets. I would argue that it touches upon both authority and reciprocity. It establishes authority as it proves to customers that the merchants are confident enough to let you try them to see for yourself the quality and taste. Reciprocity is effective in this instance because you cannot only perceive the melon sample as a gift, but you would feel embarrassed to refuse the melon after eating a piece of it. 

  • Consistency – ask the right question before the sale.

The end of a sampling ritual always had a trick question that took me long to uncover its purpose, as it seems pretty trivial. The merchant would ask, “Do you like it?” after we tasted the melon. This question is “checkmate.” Once we said “yes,” there was no going back. To show consistency and what we perceived as common sense, there was no pertinent reasoning not to buy the watermelon in the end.

If you ever consider paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to learn about persuasion or sales, my suggestion would be to first stop by the farmer’s market or a bazaar. Looking back at my childhood, I see that my passion for the field stems from my grandparents’ trips to the farmer’s markets. So when did you fall in love with marketing?

My First Marketing Professor Was a Melon Merchant

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