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I read an interesting article this past week by Matthew Boyle in Business Week (“The Accidental Hero“) about a Subway franchise stumbling upon a great sales idea and the process they undertook to take the idea to upper management for use in a national launch.

The intriguing aspect was the guerilla-style marketing approach of the franchisee to handle the challenge of a sagging economy and slow sales by simply reducing their footlong sub cost to $5…  For his insight, he and other franchisees who followed suit achieved record sales, increased profits, productive staff. Sounds good, right? An easy sell? For the public, yes. Long lines at the stores to get the sandwich.

It took a little more convincing of the franchise leadership before being rolled out nationally. Certainly the process defied many standard marketing protocols – no research to back up the program rationale, advertising campaigns that came after the launch of the sales promotion in many locations, not one that coincided with them. And yet, it has propelled the chains’ sales into the stratosphere. Partly because the franchisee was willing to take a risk, and while he did not conduct exhaustive studies first, he did comply with the first golden rule of marketing – KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. He knew that an inexpensive sandwich you could share with a friend or save half for dinner later was a novel but realistic way that consumers are saving money in a slumping economy.

Sometimes a good idea is just that – a good idea. While I am the first to promote marketing as a tool to grow business, and spending time making a strategy, you have to have a good product AND a good strategy to make it work. And no amount of scientific analysis will make a bad product sellable. No amount of creative, ground-breaking advertising will make a bad product succeed over time, especially if the ad concept is more intriguing than the product. (Think of most Superbowl ads — memorable ads, but what were they selling again?)

Kudos to Subway for coming up with a winner, despite the novel approach to getting there. And uber-kudos to the franchise owner (Stuart Frankel of Florida) who followed his marketing instincts without all the hoopla.