(The following was published in the print edition of the PHC Profit Report newsletter, now available as a FREE weekly electronic newsletter. Subscribe by visiting the PM Web site www.PMmag.com. Look for the e-PHC Profit Report icon atop the left-hand column of the opening page.)

Consumers are bombarded with literally thousands of marketing messages every day. It's hard to be heard above the din. So once in a while, it just might pay to do something that defies conventional wisdom. Here are some ideas.

Let the customer name the price.

PHC Profit Report once heard of a restaurant that had no prices on the menu. Instead was a notation along the lines of, "pay what you think the meal was worth." The owner supposedly made more money than he did in previous tries at the restaurant business with conventional menu prices.

We're not recommending that any PHC company turn its entire business into a "pay what you think it's worth" establishment. But this might be worth experimenting with on selected jobs from time to time. Compare the prices paid with your normal rates and what competitors charge.

PHC Profit Report isn't certain, but suspects that many flat-rate firms would get shortchanged doing this, because most flat raters have prices well above the market norm. However, we wouldn't be surprised if many "going rate" firms were to find that customers value their services more than they do.

Give it away for free.

Budget a certain amount of work to give away each month for free to institutions or individuals down on their luck. Involve your customers by inviting them to nominate deserving recipients.

You can do this via a "leave behind" nomination form, which also can be mailed once or twice a year. So you end up giving away a few thousand dollars a year in charitable service.

What's more likely to endear you to customers: an advertisement costing tens of thousands of dollars a year that brags about all the good things you do, or the same money spent on charitable offerings and attendant publicity?

Reward complaints.

Debra Koontz Traverso is a marketing consultant and author of "Outsmarting Goliath: How to Achieve Equal Footing with Companies That Are Bigger, Richer, Older and Better Known." She tells of helping a Philadelphia bar owner establish a complaint system from patrons. Each month the winner's picture was placed on a Complaint Wall of Fame. The program was talked about around town and written up in a daily newspaper.

All of you get complaints whether you want them or not. Consider holding a contest similar to that bar's, with a suitable award for the best complaint of the month. Criteria should focus on pointing out a genuine shortcoming in your services, especially one that leads to a constructive solution. Treat the winner to a restaurant certificate, and publicize the results to the local press and in a customer newsletter. Give second, third and honorable mention prizes to other entrants consisting of discount certificates to your own company's services.

Naturally, you don't want to go overboard publicizing incidents of poor performance on your part, especially where legal issues may be at stake. Focus instead on drawing attention to misunderstandings or minor goof-ups that everyone can identify with. Tell what actions you took to correct the problem and make sure it doesn't happen again.

Create more customer awards.

You don't have to limit them to "Best Complaint." Hold contests for Nicest Customer ... Best-Kept House ... Neatest Pet, etc. Have your service techs and customer service reps nominate people for these awards.

Be sure to publicize the heck out of them. Become known as the "fun company" in your business.

Accept all coupons, and advertise the fact.

Don't bother printing up your own discount coupons. Simply publicize the fact that you'll honor the discounts offered by any PHC firms in your market. You'll save on the printing expense and reach more people with this offer than by distributing your own coupons.

Show and tell.

Every service technician should be supplied with a camera to document vehicle or jobsite accidents. You can also get marketing mileage out of the cameras by taking pictures of equipment problems. Showing is always more effective than telling, especially to nontechnical customers, and it enhances your professionalism.

Market your firm to potential employees.

Most PHC firms have more business than they can handle, but almost none have the people they need and want. So concentrate your marketing efforts on recruiting top-notch people with pitches that portray yours as a top-notch company to work for if they can make the grade.

Guess what? Potential customers will notice these ads, too.