Open Secrets (Business Brilliance #7)

29 March 2018 | 27 Comments

A few weeks ago I was waiting in line with some friends at a local sandwich shop, Gioia’s Deli, when the man behind us got our attention. “Hey,” he said, “do you all know the secret word?”

For some reason this seemed like a perfectly normal thing to say, so we responded that we didn’t know. He clarified that Gioia’s reveals a secret word every day on social media, and if you say it at checkout, you get a $1 discount. I can’t remember the exact word he told us, but it was something like “bananas.”

When I got to checkout, I handed my credit card to the cashier and said, “Does the word ‘bananas” mean anything to you?” He nodded solemnly, and I got the discount.

The experience stuck with me because (a) I felt special as a customer, like I was in on a secret and (b) the guy who told us the secret word felt special because he shared a secret. As a result of, Gioia’s will also benefit in the long run from returning customers who feel like they’re “in the know.”

What does this mean for other companies and entrepreneurs?

The most obvious examples that come to mind are other restaurants. The most famous one I can think of is In-N-Out Burger, which has an extensive secret menu (Gioia’s actually has a secret menu too, though it’s considerably less well known).

The thing I like about these secret menus is that they’re not exclusive. You can look them up online and order anything from them. They don’t save you anything or cost the restaurant, but there’s added value in the feeling of being in on a secret.

What does this mean for Kickstarter creators? 

I’ve struggled to think of a parallel here. In my experience, there are a million ways to mess up a backer’s order if you start applying special rules and exceptions–the more streamlined and the fewer favors, the better. Also, I think transparency benefits creators and backers–that’s why I don’t like backer-only project updates.

Project updates are a good opportunity to provide backers with “secret” information even if it’s potentially public knowledge, though. I loved giving backers a peek behind the curtain in my project updates, and it let backers feel like they knew something that others did not (even though anyone could read the updates).

What does this mean for tabletop game publishers?

I think we have quite a bit more flexibility on our websites than on Kickstarter. For example, you could literally have a secret menu of various components from your games. Share it with a few people but don’t publicly list the URL, and see if it spreads.

Another example is what I’m doing with Stonemaier Champion and new product pre-orders. If you’re a Stonemaier Champion–which has a $12 annual membership fee–you not only support this blog and the YouTube channel, but you also get free, early US shipping, and our webstore displays a discounted version of Visit from the Rhine Valley that other customers can’t see on the Viticulture page. It’s open–anyone can become a Stonemaier Champion–but it’s still a bit of a secret shared among champions.

If you want to implement something like that on your Shopify store, I use the Bold Recurring Memberships app combined with a free shipping discount code that only champions can use (it looks for a “champion” tag in a customer’s account on Shopify).


What are some examples of open secrets that have made you feel special or more loyal to a company?

This series features innovative strategies from non-Kickstarter, non-tabletop game businesses as they might apply to creators and entrepreneurs.

27 Comments on “Open Secrets (Business Brilliance #7)

        1. Jamey, I can’t believe you don’t know what COMBO means :) Ask that question on the Stonemaier groups to find out, as they are probably the only other people who know what that refers to.

          1. Yes. Just having fun. But it’s a secret between you and the playtesters, and it’s a locked public secret. The public know the secret exists. So my fun comment also serves the blog post as a an example.
            P. S. I think you might have trouble behind behind the checkout at Gioia’s Deli :) joke.

          2. Not even the playtesters know what the names represent (they know the actual game names, but not their codename equivalent…though they could probably guess). :)

  1. Must be my Dutch genes, but I would not be happy if it was revealed that I have been overcharged by a shop and it was secretly avoidable. I can handle those “get 10 stamps for a free whatever” cards, although I always forget them and usually have several half stamped cards floating around. In the latter case the deal is made clear upfront.

      1. I think he is assuming Gioia’s Deli increased the price by $1 to be able do the open secret without losing revenue. Kind of like free shipping, when the shipping price is actually included.

      2. I think what Freddo is suggesting, is that when everyone knows a way to get a $1 discount, then the norm is $1 cheaper. A customer that ignores that pays $1 more than the norm, and not the norm itself.

        I also think what Jamey suggests in this post is that the company found a way to get people to search for them, not the other way around. I would also be glad if I didn’t pay to advertise my company, but organic search made my company a special find.

        1. Hm. The way I see it, the price of a Gioia’s sandwich is $9 (or whatever it is), and customers have the potential of getting it for $8 if they follow Gioia’s on social media. At $8, they’re undercharging you ($9 is just the normal price).

          1. I would be pissed if the guy in front of me paid a dollar less and when I asked why I was told “he knew the secret password”.
            Then I would have to step out of line to google search to get the product at (what I also consider) norm price, i.e. 8 dollar!
            I would never buy from that company again!
            Don’t know if that’s just me or because we in Denmark have strong consumer organisations who work for transparency in pricing?

      3. Shutterfly! There’s a million 25 percent off codes floating around. If you don’t know someone willing to share their secret code you are effectively being overcharged

  2. I think it’s very interesting that you’re a fan of the secret menu concept. Obviously, it’s working well for those companies, but they’re what Kickstarter exclusive content has always reminded me of. It’s great if you’re in on the secret, but if you find out after the fact, you’ll feel left out. I personally tend avoid those kind of places, just like I’m less likely to purchase a retail version of a game if it has a deluxe, Kickstarter exclusive version.

    1. Steven: That’s a good point–I don’t want anyone to FEEL excluded, even if they aren’t actually excluded. KS exclusives are on a whole different level, though, as they’re a commitment to never again sell a specific component.

      1. I guess a better way to present KS exclusives would be to say you’re getting future promo content early and free? That way there’s leeway for selling it later

        1. Mike: Right, I like that method too. It’s not a KS exclusive and shouldn’t be advertised as such, but “content included at no extra charge now, available as a separate purchase later” is what I did, and what I highly recommend.

  3. With smaller companies , some open beta and rules rewrites are accepted by a majority of backers. Sodapop”s projects looked too much like CMON”s projects- where the game is practically finished and just waiting for someone to turn the crank. SPM wanted to use the Kickstarter as an opportunity for an open beta (for both Super Dungeon and Relic Knights) and from the way they”ve updated, it is clear that they took the feedback they got seriously (both games have improved through some major revisions). But the delays caused by this has had a lot of backers shouting for them to turn the crank, and has eventually led to some really strong negative attribute bias.

  4. Jamey,

    It’s a clever way to incentivize folks to your store/product/KS. By the way, how were the sandwiches?


  5. Damn it you mentioned In-N-Out and I have a massive craving again. Shame i’m back living in the UK and it’s a long trip to get a burger!

    These ‘public secret’ promos do seem to be a great idea but I think outside of the US they may not go down as well. I’ll admit that the world is changing into a more global landscape where there is a general cross-pollination of ideas from one country to the next however as Freddo and Jesper pointed out there is some potential for cultural backlash against these ideas when presented to the global internet marketplace (oh god I just realised I’m starting to sound like marketing drone).

    Taking that into mind how would you go about approaching a potential ‘secret’ bonus scheme. Obviously you have the Stonemeier champions but that comes across as a discount for people who are paying for membership (something that is accepted a bit more globally) after all they’re paying their $12 a year so if they get a discount thats fine they’ve paid for it.

    Part of me would think that perhaps instead of it being pushed as an ‘open secret’ do it a bit like an ‘online treasure hunt’ where the clues are hidden in various places which could lead to your discount codes/promotion. Everyone loves a contest and if someone puts in the effort to solve a riddle then they deserve a little for it right?

    An interesting topic for thought though!

    1. John: Thanks for your note, and good luck getting that In-N-Out burger!

      The points you mention are something I’ve thought about a lot recently, especially leading up to the creation of the Champion program. Of course, it’s much more than just about free shipping and discounted pre-orders, but that’s certainly part of the appeal, and I’m hoping it can evolve into something that is appealing to US and international customers.

      I like the idea of a treasure hunt!

      1. Yeah, the treasure Hunt idea gets around the sudden backlash you might get of “oh they’re getting a discount simply because they knew a password” by equating a certain level of work to get said password/discount code.

        And don’t worry Jamey, i’m sure there are plenty of us outside the US who find the Champions scheme good, after all it does support your constant stream of useful blog posts which is worth it in and of itself.

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