Have you noticed there is never anything good in the fine print of an agreement? All the good stuff is up front and in large print. The bad stuff is buried in the back somewhere, deep inside a long paragraph, sometimes in hidden text.

Thinking about this earlier today, I recalled a client I worked with many years few years ago — a successful small telecom company in the business of international termination. They wanted to move into higher margin retail services and retained me to create the marketing plan and lead the development of an international calling card service.

The first thing I did was buy approximately 20 different calling cards — study them and compare and contrast their service. I looked for what worked best and what didn’t work at all. What I found was the most important aspect of each card, it’s stated price per minute, was a lie. Not in one case was the stated rate per minute what you actually paid when you used the card.

An example of fine print business

A card might advertise a service for $.05/minute, but it adds a $.50 connection fee per each call. This means if you talk for 5 minutes (average international long distance call) your total cost of that call is $.75, that’s $.15 a minute – three times what is advertised.

Games were played with various connection fees, minimum billing per call, and billing increments of up to 3 minutes! Everything was hidden. Nothing was as stated on the front of the card. Everything important was hidden in the fine print. You had to master advanced mathematics to figure out how many minutes you could talk on your $25 card promising $.05/minute.

The opportunity was to create and market an honest calling card — a card where nothing was hidden. As silly as it sounds, my plan was simply to differentiate my client’s offering by positioning it as the only honest card in the business.

Here’s your homework

Take a careful look at your own business — the markets you participate in and the customers you serve. Are you or your competition doing business in the fine print? Can you remove all caveats, restrictions, and exceptions in your customer relationships? Can you catch your competition off guard by changing the rules of your market? If so, prepare yourself for fierce customer loyalty and more business.

Your greatest opportunity may be to be the honest card in a marketplace that isn’t.

Do you have any frustrating fine print business stories to share?

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