2 Cons and a Prostitute: The Best Qualitative Marketers I’ve Ever Met

Who doesn’t?

It’s what I used to say after the ninth or tenth time I hear it in a given week.

“I want to increase my conversion rate. Seriously, I need it to skyrocket.”

I smile, nod, poke at random crap on my desk.

It’s become harder and harder to give a genuine response to that, because I’ve said it so much it feels cliche.

But lucky us, it’s not.

And even luckier us — I found a better way.

When I was digging deep into the primal confines of my caffeine-addled brain, I realized that there was a more effective way to teach conversion strategy to my clients.


Not made up fairy tales about skittle-pooping unicorns and ogres and elves, as deliciously fun as those are.

Real stories — life stories.

There’s only 2 stories that popped into my head, BUT they’re chock full of sex, innocence, naivety, drugs, monolithic marketing methodology, and some cute little kids.

Not all lumped together.

The first conversion rates formula was taught by the cutest pair of Vietnamese marketers I’ve ever met.

A Brilliant Qualitative Marketing Experience

I had just arrived in Saigon.

It felt like I was swimming in a humid mist of sticky sweat.

A pair of the cutest little urchins I’ve ever seen ran up to me, grinning from ear to ear.

“Hi mister!”


“From where?” They pointed at me.

“Uhm, America.”

“Ah America! Statue of Liberty, Grand canyon, White houses, Holly-ood…”

“Yep yep — wow.” I was impressed.

“You need help mister — tour maybe?”

“Dear Lord — just get me a cold drink and shade, I would really appreciate it,” I said.

Well, they gave me that and much more. In fact, I’ve never met better tour guides.

In 10 minutes they told me pretty much everything they knew about Saigon, and my tour ended in the sweet, cool shade of a cafe whose name I can’t pronounce.

They recommended the mía đá — an icy sugarcane juice worth its weight in gold.

At this point, I felt wined, dined, relaxed and ready to part with my hard-earned money.

Smart little buggers.

I reached into my pocket to give them a tip.

They looked at the 20,000 đồng ($10 or so) and shook their heads.

The older one said, “no money please — papa, he drinks.”

I felt for those kids.

“Is there any way I can help you?” I asked.

“Please, just buy us some coconut milk.”

I followed them through the winding streets for a bit, until we came up to a street vendor. He gave them a big can of milk, and off they ran.

The man said,

“2,878,953 đồng please.”

“What?” (That’s about $130)

“2,878,953 đồng mister.”

“Oh man. Here you go.”

This happens to be one of the world’s most common scams — something I learned later from my only friend in Saigon (Google).

They know the kids will only get tipped about 20,000 đồng.

So they wrap your emotions up in a twisted, web-of-lies knot with a sad story about their drunkard dad, then close with the coconut milk.

You take the can and they disappear.

After, they return the milk to Fagin and get their cut — 40,000 đồng — their handler keeps the rest.

I was pissed, but inspired.

Those little girls had taught me the most effective conversion rate upsell I‘d ever seen.

Qualitative Marketing and the Power of Emotion


Here’s what they did, step by step:

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] They narrowed their focus to a single target demographic: me, the naive tourist. 

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] They asked qualitative questions — and listened to my answers.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Knowing what I needed, they gave it to me, and in the process, they created a buyer’s environment.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] The drink, advice, shade — all of this piled into an immense emotional value to me, which triggered the law of reciprocity.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] They didn’t settle for an average tip.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] They told me a story that stirred up my emotions. Facts tell, stories sell — and people make purchasing decisions with emotion, and then justify the purchase with logic.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] They closed with a simple call to action, left me with my mouth drooping and collecting flies at their slippery checkout.


And by far the best 2,878,953 đồng I’ve ever spent.

Qualitative Marketing vs Quantitative Marketing

Qualitative vs Quantitative (1)

My next story takes place in another part of Malaysia, again with girls — but these ones weren’t cute little girls.

They were beautiful, sensual, fully grown women.

I think I was somewhere near Kota Kinabalu.

We’d been given orders to only venture into the city in our assigned groups of four.

To break that order would mean the typical heavy-handed punishment of the Marine Corps, which could be anything from reduction of paygrade to weeks in the brig with nothing but bread and water — plus a reduction of paygrade.

So I was stuck with them.

These young Marines enjoyed throwing their money at scantily clad women who couldn’t care less about them beyond their moronic ability to empty their bank account into glittery purses.

I was loyal to a sweet girl at home, and had a sneering prejudice against wasting money and gender exploitation (on both sides of the sexes) — but none of that changed the fact that I was outnumbered.

So in we went.

It really is comical looking back on it — walking around with my head down, bumping and tripping my way over to the bar.

I grabbed a seat and faced away from the poles.

“Buy me drink?”

I couldn’t see the harm in it — she had all her clothes on and seemed relatively normal.

Oddly, the drink she ordered looked like an oversized shot glass of cranberry juice.

She started asking me questions about the States, and after we’d talked for a while, I asked her about life in Malaysia.

Her dad was an heroin addict who beat her, they were poor, and I was the sad schmuck who believed her story.

She looked tired.

“Buy me drink?”

I was a young Marine with no bills except a cell phone.

I bought her another.

It was only when her leg touched mine and her hand fell on mine that I realized how dumb I was.

I paid for the drinks and walked outside.

It was technically against the rules, but it was well worth it.

Those drinks cost me 90 ringgits (about $24) and a good bit of my dignity.

When I looked back on it, I realized that I had learned some serious life lessons — and a marketing lesson of a lifetime.

Qualitative Conversion Rate Steroids and a Massive Upsell

The Upsell

Here’s how she worked, step by step:

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] She narrowed her focus to a single target demographic: me, a naive Marine with money to throw away. 

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] She asked qualitative questions (buy me drink?) — and listened to my answers (usually when a guy buys a girl a drink and makes any kind of eye contact, it means he’s interested).

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Knowing what I needed, she tried to give it to me, and in the process, created a seductive buyer’s environment.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] The conversation, innocent flirtation, smiles — all of this piled into what would have been an immense emotional value to me (had I been a different man with different values), which triggered the law of reciprocity.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] She attempted to close with a story that stirred up my emotions. Facts tell, stories sell — and people make purchasing decisions with emotion, and then justify the purchase with logic.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] She closed multiple times with a simple call to action, then went in for a massive upsell with a slippery checkout.

Scary effective for most.

I was pissed, but it was the best 90 ringgits I’ve ever spent.

Bonus Lessons: 

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Break the rules. Sometimes they have to be broken. Don’t be afraid to break rules that force you to compromise what you know is good and right.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] The Smokescreen. Always offer the best quality you can, but if your product is overpriced, you’d better make the selling environment immaculate.

Breaking it Down: Qualitative Marketing Research

madmen focus group

So let’s dig a bit deeper.

What makes qualitative marketing research so important?

Here’s some research from the Case Foundation’s 4-Year Millennial Project Report:

  • Millennials engage with causes to help other people, not institutions.
  • Millennials support issues rather than organizations.
  • Millennials prefer to perform smaller actions before fully committing to a cause.
  • Millennials are influenced by the decisions and behaviors of their peers.
  • Millennials treat all their assets (time, money, network, etc.) as having equal value.
  • Millennials need to experience an organization’s work without having to be on site.

Helpful study right?

But that’s just the quantitative side of things.

It answers important questions like who, and what BUT, it doesn’t answer why.

That’s where qualitative research comes into play.

A recent Howe and Strauss study states that the 7 core traits of millennials include:

1. Self-Worth: Millennials have a tendency to believe that they are special in what they can offer the world. This has been fostered by media and previous generations disseminating this message.

2. Sheltered: Due to increased health and safety regulations and a move towards protection for children over the past few decades, millennials have lived more sheltered lives than previous generations.

3. Belief: Collectively, millennials tend to have a positive outlook and believe that they can actively take part in creating important solutions for problems around them.

4. Team Players: Millennials have been encouraged to work with others as part of a team through community projects, education, and sport clubs.

5. Low-Conflict: Millennials are less competitive with previous generations and, instead of attempting to usurp social conventions, are more likely to reaffirm their parents’ values.

6. Hard Working: In the increasingly competitive education systems developed since the 1960s, millennials have grown up encouraged to study hard and achieve high grades. This has resulted in a desire to plan ahead and take advantage of any opportunities which present themselves.

7. Achievement: Lastly, millennials are defined by their desire to achieve their goals, largely being more focussed than previous generations.

Notice how this qualitative study answers the why as well.

Both qualitative and quantitative marketing research are important, but it’s the qualitative answers that contain the raw, primal power of human emotion.

Because when we ask the question why, we get to the core of behavior, and the root of all human behavior lies in emotion.

Digital Qualitative Marketing Research (How it’s Done)

Qualitative marketing research traditionally involves watching subjects from behind a one-way mirror, MadMen style. 

But this is how you keep it simple and insanely cost efficient.

Do it online!

The vast majority of the qualitative research you need should come from analytics software. My favorite is Google Analytics, because it’s free, and just as good as any other paid option I’ve tried.

With digital qualitative research, you aren’t limited to one way mirrors — you have forums, blog discussions, website analytics and a lot more.

Whether you wield the power of observation or one of the qualitative formats below, you’ll need to follow a template similar to the one our scammers gave us:

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Single out your target consumer. Find the people who fit into your target demographic. Use Google Analytics to observe your visitor demographics.

Demographics Reports

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Develop rapport. Know what interests them — this is also found in your Google Analytics — and talk with them about it.

Interest Cat

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Ask qualitative questions. And even more importantly — listen.


[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Give them what they want. If your restaurant’s followers are raving about chicken and waffles, give them chicken and waffles. Going above and beyond in your giving triggers the law of reciprocity.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Create a buyer’s environment. Clutter is never your friend. Create a crisp, clean, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing environment, whether it’s your home page, landing pages, or checkout.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Always tell your story. Unless it’s boring and Spock-like. If your story doesn’t invoke emotion, use another. Everyone has a good story to tell.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Close with a simple call to action. If you can fit your CTA into 3 words (buy me drink) do it. Just make sure that it’s clear, and it’s okay to reformat the call to action more than once.

[mks_icon icon=”fa-check-circle-o” color=”#81d742″ type=”fa”] Upsell BEFORE your slippery checkout. What’s a slippery checkout? It’s a checkout that takes the least bit of time possible, creating the least amount of friction in the buying process. Simple. But you need to upsell before the checkout, because upsells add friction and they can be annoying. Offering your upsell at the checkout only work if you’re scamming people with coconut milk.

So now, when my clients say, “Josh, I really need to increase my conversion rate, like now,” my answer is no longer “who the bleep doesn’t?”  

It’s, “heck yes you do.”

“That reminds me of Vietnam actually…”


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