Archive for the ‘Marketing Plan Review’ Category

When Word-of-Mouth Advertising Isn’t Enough

Friday, December 31st, 2010

The number one way small businesses advertise and market is through word-of-mouth. This works because the owners of the business are almost always involved in the direct day to day business. They are the primary face of the business to the customers and clients.

This works extremely well if you see your customers every day or every week. Membership in the Chamber of Commerce and service clubs like Rotary, Kiwanas, Lions Club, and so forth are one of the main ways of doing this. When the subject of printed apparel comes up, you are the natural name that comes to mind.

This only works to a point. As the business grows, it becomes too much for the owner to do it all. Sooner or later a front office person is hired and they begin to take on some of the customer service duties. As hard as they may try, it just isn’t the same as being an owner. Now instead of seeing the owner every time they do business with you, they may deal with the customer service person.

As the order volume grows customer contact time decreases further. When this happens, you begin to lose the connection to the customer and that constant presence in their mind. If printed apparel comes up in a conversation, you may not get mentioned, or if you are, it doesn’t have the same enthusiastic response it used to have when there was the owner connection.

Over time, the situation continues to degrade, and WOM becomes less and less effective. It becomes an effort to maintain your existing customer base, much less grow the business with any kind of confidence.

To improve this situation, it’s a simple matter of increasing your contact time with your customer base. It today’s economy one of the most effective ways of doing this is e-mail marketing. Companies like Constant Contact are an excellent example. They allow you to create electronic newsletters and follow-up campaigns where you can keep your customer base informed of exactly what is going on in the business and present new opportunities, ideas, case studies, promotions, and so forth. You don’t have to be selling here, it’s more about the contact time.

The beauty of e-mail marketing is the automation of it. The cost is very inexpensive, and done right, you can significantly extend your reach with the existing customers you have. With the addition of “tell a friend” scripts, your customers simply have to click a button, add the email address of their friend, and off you go to someone new.

This is a very simple overview of a very powerful tool. In 2011 you’ll be seeing a lot more posts from me on how to automate your marketing without looking automated and impersonal.


Going Beyond Ink on Cotton

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

In my last post, I talked about the t shirt as a commodity and how it is much more than that, it is really the media of personal expression. This is a pretty high concept and would have difficulty standing on it’s own. Long gone are the days of having shirts printed for a promotion or advertising and having them readily embraced by the market. If you’re a well known brand, or have an exceptionally hot topic, it may be possible to have a successful promotion with little effort, but this is usually not the case now.

Indeed, for decorated apparel to really work it needs a couple of things to happen. The first is to have graphics that are so striking that they will stop the average person on the street. The graphics don’t need to be complicated, but they do need to impress. The need for great graphic design is critical. Simple clip art is rarely enough anymore.

The image needs to be printed crisply and cleanly. Registration and image quality have to be right on. Mediocre execution of the imprint is a sure recipe for not getting noticed. This is what separates the really great decorators from the sea of average printers out there.

Secondly, you need a story behind the image. Remember that the person wearing your shirt is wearing it for a reason. They identify with the message that’s on the shirt. What is that message? To use t shirts as media you need to be communicating the story and CONNECTING the story with the person wearing the shirt. This means they have to have some connection to the experience behind the graphic.

This is really easy to accomplish with an event like a festival, walk-a-thon, 10K run, etc. Pick a theme for the event and create the graphics to accompany it. The better the graphics, the better the connection to the event and the experience of the event.

If you’re doing images for advertising, it’s a bit more complicated. It’s not about a blatant commercial image, it’s more about the professionalism of the company and what they stand for. This is your chance to dialog with the business and see if they have a compelling vision of who they are and what they bring to the marketplace through their goods and services. You can learn a lot about a company and your own business through this process.

This is only the beginning. Creating compelling graphics that stop the viewer on the street and start a conversation is an art in itself. Anything you do now will be a starting point on a journey to become expert in this craft. But the starting point will be more than your competition is doing and it will also begin to differentiate you from the commodity mass of printers out there.


Connecting with Your Niche

Friday, August 14th, 2009

A niche is nothing more than an area of special interest. One of the very first things you can do to improve your business is to move away from being a generalist that does anything for anybody. When you target your efforts to a specific specialty, you move away from a commodity product or service to one of uniqueness. This specialization is the mechanism for increasing your profits. Today I thought I would share some of the elements necessary to make a niche effort successful.

When selecting a niche it really helps that it be something you are personally interested in. The higher your interest, the easier it is for you to become excited and engaged. This is one of the keys. Enthusiasm sells. It’s contagious. I’ve seen mediocre product sold very successfully in specialty niches simply because the company or site was enthusiastic about what they were offering.

Your role here is to connect. The more authentic and genuine you are, the more believable
you’ll be. Printed apparel in a niche area should reflect the look and feel of that market. The automotive racing and motorcycle niches have their own typical look. Likewise for major sports events. Fun runs, triathalons, and marathons (half and full) have their own look as well. You don’t have to try and reinvent the wheel for your niche. Look at closely related areas and see if you can identify a specific signature style.

Specialization usually means you know more about that area than the average supplier. The more you can incorporate the style of your market, the more you will sell. For instance, if you are selling to outdoor festivals, make it a standard practice to fold and bag all retail product. This keeps the inventory clean and protected and is a definite added value.

Talk to many different people in your area. These can be customers, other vendors, or participants and spectators. Find out from them what’s important, what they’re looking for. Ask them what’s missing or what would make for a better experience. You may be surprised at the answers. Be on the lookout for opportunities for you to partner with others selling into the niche. You can often piggyback onto their efforts to increase your credibility and reach.

Success in niche marketing comes down to three things: Market knowledge, passion or enthusiasm, and connection to the market. When you combine these three elements, you have a recipe for success and profit.


Going Outside Your Geographic Area for New Business

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

There comes a time when you have to decide if going outside your local market is necessary and wise. My experience has been that going outside can be one of the best things you could do. The physical location of your business is no longer as important as it was in the past. Doing business over the Internet is now quite normal.

If you still like to have the one-on-one contact a local relationship involves, here are a few tips that can be incredibly helpful for you. First, recognize that one of the most powerful things you can do is establish yourself as an expert in your field. You can do this with a direct mail newsletter, blog, website, or eZine (electronic newsletter.) When you send out informative articles and clips on a regular basis, you establish your credentials as an expert.

Secondly, use your existing customer base to make introductions for you. Go to your best customers and clients and ask them if they will help you develop some new accounts outside the area. Ask them who they know in their industry or field that would benefit from your services in the same way they have. Very few will turn you down.

Prepare a short introduction letter in Microsoft Word and give it to your clients to mail or email on your behalf. It should be written as if it is coming from your client. Don’t brag or pitch. It should say something to the effect that:

I normally don’t endorse other companies products and services, but today I’m making an exception. I want to introduce you to (your firm). They have done an amazingly professional job working with us over (some timeframe.) We’ve seen real tangible benefits by following their advice and using their services.

(your company’s) services may or may not fit in with what you’re doing right now, but I think this is a great match and I wanted to pass it on to you in the hopes they will be as successful with you as they have been for us.

In today’s tough economy we can all use new resources that will help to make our businesses better and improve our sales. If our success is any indication, you would be well served to talk with (You.)

When you’re endorsed from a distance, you gain immediate credibility as being “The Expert From Afar.” This is an incredibly powerful way of getting introduced, establishing your credentials, and shortening the sales cycle.


I’ve Got This Great Idea For a T Shirt! Part Two

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Having a great idea for a t shirt is just the beginning of the process. Getting it produced and marketed properly is a formidable job. Your two options are shortrun digital Direct-to-Garment (DTG) and traditional screen printing. DTG has a different look and fell than traditional screen printing and many consumers still feel screen printing is what they know and love.

For those who want the quality of traditional screen printing, there are a few things to consider. First, it takes more preparation at the front end to get the designs ready to print and on the screen. To keep your costs reasonable, you’ll need to do at least a couple of dozen shirts.

Second, before you go to all the expense of printing up a bunch of expensive samples do some basic market research to see if other people are as excited about your design as you are. Start by doing a Google Search (Your Design Idea) + T Shirt. So for instance do a search for: Michael Jackson Tribute + T Shirt and see how many other people are thinking the same thing you are.

Here’s an IMPORTANT TIP - you want competition. If you don’t find anybody who’s doing something similar, it usually means it’s a weak idea or you haven’t hit the key idea in a way others will recognize. If you find Michael Jackson Tribute T Shirts (and there will be a ton right now,) you’ll know there are other people who have gone to the trouble to develop and market a similar idea. This is a really good sign.

If you’re encouraged by what you find, it’s onto the production step next. With DTG, you pretty much go to the company website and follow their instructions. Screen printing is a bit more involved. The printers will tell you what they want you to supply and in what form.

Here’s a hint, DO NOT do your art work in Microsoft Word or Power Point. They are unacceptable formats. DO NOT do a screen capture from a web page. You’ll get horrible quality. Ask the printer for guidance on the file format and preparation.

Go the extra mile and get the art done right from the beginning. Great art is what sells shirts. When you have a great idea, you get their attention, but it’s the art that closes the deal. If you need to, get a REAL graphic designer to do the art for you. Having your cousin who has Photoshop do the art for you is like doing brain surgery on the kitchen table. Results are not going to be good.

Finally, when it comes to screen printed t shirts, NEVER use this approach: ” Give me your quantity price break on 1,200, but I only need 12 right now. We’re going to sell a ton of these.” It’s almost a sure way to get the boot. Every printer on earth has heard this line almost as many times as “I’ve got this great idea. . .”

Do this. Tell the printer you understand the set-up fees are front end costs. Ask them at what quantity the set-up is free. This becomes the point at which you can negotiate for the rebate of the set-up costs.

So if the free set-up is at 1200 pieces, negotiate a rebate of the costs when you hit this quantity. This way, the printer is covered up front AND you get the set-up fees back if you really do hit the big time. You’ll also find the printer has raised their level of respect for you because you’re sensitive to their issues, you talk the lingo, and you’ve done some homework on this project.

There is nothing that beats the excitement and satisfaction of creating a great t shirt and having it take off. Follow these guidelines and you’ll have a much better chance of being one of those successful few in hitting the big time with their great t shirt idea.


I Got This Great Idea For a T Shirt! Part One

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Over the years I bet I’ve heard this over a thousand times. It almost always happens when I meet someone I don’t know and explain to them what I do. As soon as they hear “I print t shirts” out comes the idea. They’re always excited about it and they all think they’re going to make a million dollars with the idea. So, here are a few thoughts on the marketing of t shirt ideas.

Before the Internet, having a good idea for a t shirt was like having a good idea for a book. The chances of anything happening were almost impossible. At best they would invest a few hundred dollars in art, screens, and production of a dozen shirts or so. They would give some to their friends and try to sell the rest.

In the 36 years I’ve been doing this business, I’ve only seen a handful of success stories. Those were people who already knew a thing or two about marketing anyway. All the others got an expensive education in Marketing 101.

With the Internet things have changed. The technology has changed too. Today you can use any one of a number of digital Direct-to-Garment (DTG) companies like Cafe Press, Zazzle, or Printfection. These companies allow you to create great one off images and they’ll even help you market your ideas across the Internet.

Second, before you go to all the expense of printing up a bunch of expensive samples do some basic market research to see if other people are as excited about your design as you are. Start by doing a Google Search (Your Design Idea) + T Shirt. So for instance do a search for: Funny Cat + T Shirt and see how many other people are thinking the same thing you are.

Here’s an IMPORTANT TIP - you WANT competition. If you don’t find anybody who’s doing something similar, it usually means it’s a weak idea or you haven’t hit the key idea in a way others will recognize. If you find 50 Funny Cat T Shirts (and there will be a bunch,) you’ll know there are other people who have gone to the trouble of developing and marketing a similar idea. This is a really GOOD sign.

If you’re encouraged by what you find, it’s onto the production step. In the early stages of your business, it’s probably best to go with digital DTG. With DTG, you pretty much go to the company website and follow their instructions to upload your art. Many websites will now allow you to build your design online in their design lab. This is an OK approach, but you are much better off doing your design work offline and simply uploading it through their order page.

You’ll want to make sure you have the art in the proper format. Here’s a hint, DO NOT do your art work in Microsoft Word or Power Point. They’re unacceptable formats. DO NOT do a screen capture from a web page. You’ll get horrible quality. Ask for guidance on the file format and preparation.

If you really believe in what you’ve got, go the extra mile and get the art done correctly right from the beginning. Great art is what sells shirts. When you have a great idea, you get their attention, but it’s the art that closes the deal. If you need to, get a REAL graphic designer to do the art for you. Having your cousin, who has Photoshop, do the art for you is like doing brain surgery on the kitchen table. Results are not going to be good.

With a few shirts in hand, it’s off to the races to see how many you’ll sell and how fast. Remember, the more people you can get your shirt in front of, the more exposure you’ll have. YouTube and Flickr can be great for this. Be sure to link to your sales page url so everyone who sees it can buy it.


The Principle of Reciprocity - Giving Free Stuff Away in Order to Receive

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

When I talk to printers about how they market, I get a number of different answers. By far the most common one is, Word-of-Mouth. This is great, but unless you have a plan in place to maximize the result, it can be unpredictable at best. There’s no doubt it’s the most cost effective (free) form of marketing, but you give up a regular stream of business unless you go about it differently.

Another very common one I hear is, “We sponsor fun runs and events in the community.” This usually means either contributing the shirts and printing, or heavily discounting the printing costs for the group or function. This leads me to the the discussion in today’s post; the value of Reciprocity.

Reciprocity is the principle that if you give, there’s an implied obligation to respond in kind. This is an age old principle. It’s led to the saying “There’s no free lunch.” Simply put, there’s always an expectation of a return favor. Obviously this can have sinister implications if it’s used for personal gain. On the flip side, we can use this principle to increase our marketing efforts and help give teeth to those weak sponsoring relationships and inconsistent Word-of-Mouth referrals.

We’re all aware of the practice of free samples. If you’ve ever been to a Costco on a weekend, they’re at the end of almost every food aisle giving samples of salsa, chips, sausages, cheese, salami, you name it. I know this must be effective because I watch how many people actually put the product in their carts after sampling. It’s amazing. If you’ve never watched, make a point the next time you have the chance.

We can do the same thing. We don’t even have to give away printed shirts or embroidered hats. We can give away information products that make it easier for the consumer to make a buying decision. One of the best ways of doing this is to put together a consumer awareness guide that contains all the right questions to ask potential vendors.

We’ve all see the comparison charts with the checklists. This is a great way to level the playing field. I even go so far as to provide a chart for them to fill in. They can add the name of the vendors they’re shopping at the top and then check off the answers as they talk to each one. This is a great way for them to realize it’s not about buying from the guy with the cheapest shirts.

You can expand on this concept and provide short pamphlets on specific subjects. Things like “Buying T Shirts for Your Family Reunion.” or “Making Your T Shirt a Hit at Your Event.” The idea is to inform and educate, but not sell. Of course you’ll brand every page with your logo and phone number. Be sure to add something to the effect of: “Prepared as a public service by (name of your company.)

The point here is two fold. First, it’s very inexpensive to do this. Secondly, the more information you can layer on, the greater the reciprocity factor. You’re seen as the knowledgeable expert doing the consumer a favor. Even if you don’t get the initial order, you can be sure you’ll have made an impression which will positively reflect on you when the Word-of-Mouth factor comes into play.


How Long Does Your Sales Cycle Take?

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

How long does it take to make the sale? With the pressure from the economy ever present, this is the question we should all be asking. Keeping your sales pipeline full of prospects depends on your understanding of the sales cycle and how long the development of the cycle is. The longer the cycle, the more prospects you need in it.

Our business is guilty of what I call “sales by necessity.” This simply means, when the pipeline gets thin, we go out and try to drum up business. I’m guilty of this just like you are. When times are good, we don’t do any of this, we simply let the work come in and we stay busy. When it slows down, we start calling past customers or start pitching potential new accounts.

This is confusing and annoying to the prospects at the same time. It’s no wonder the reception is lukewarm at best. This is sales driven by our needs, not the needs of the customer or client. I’ve been watching many different industries for several years now and the sales cycle question is common across all of them. The way it’s handled in each industry differs.

The Internet Marketing community has it together the best. They understand the real value of their business lies in the relationship to their list. The “list” can mean prospects, joint venture partners, endorsed mailings, past customers, and current customers. They have metrics in place to measure effectiveness and they can tell you exactly what it costs at each phase of the cycle. Very impressive compared to how we do it in this business.

I harp all the time about getting your customer list together and keep it updated. At the very least, regular contact via a physically mailed newsletter or even a regularly scheduled email will do wonders in reminding those you do business with that you’re still around and open for business. You don’t need to pitch anything, although having specials, sales, etc. doesn’t hurt either. It’s the common courtesy of keeping in touch instead of constantly going to them when you need work that makes them appreciate you more.


Moving Your Customers to Recommend You

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

A couple of days ago I posted on getting customer referrals and recommendations. The bottomline is you need to be in their head at the time it becomes appropriate for them to recommend you. Most will agree the best way to achieve this you need a fairly high level customer relationship with them. But it goes beyond that.

Unless your customer can see some immediate or tangible benefit to them for recommending you, they won’t be motivated to mention your name. There are many referral motivators, they’re not all monetarily motivated. Here are a couple that work well.

For instance, there are a huge group of people who pride themselves in being in the know and being connected. Think of the most popular kid in school who was always on the leading edge of anything. No matter what was going on he or she seemed to be in the loop on it, ahead of everyone else.

Who are those people in your community? Malcom Gladwell (The Tipping Point) calls them mavens or connectors. They receive their validation from the ego boost of knowing they’re ahead of the curve. The more you can do to make them feel that way, the more they’ll value you. You’re providing them one of the key drivers in their life.

If you keep these people fully informed of what you’re doing and how it’ll benefit the recipient, they’ll jump at recommending you. One of the best ways of doing this is through where interesed people “follow you.” You can post short updates telling people who you’re talking to, what you’re doing, where you’re going, etc. It definitely makes people feel more connected. Twitter is growing like crazy right now and lots of businesses are taking advantage of how this works. It’s not mainstream yet, but it will be soon.

The second way to get people to mention you is if there’s an organized reward involved. I call this the ethical bribe. You can give out referral business cards with the name of the referring person on the back and your company on the front. When one of these referral cards comes back to you, call the person who referred and give them some kind of reward. It can be as big or small as you feel is appropriate.

There is a patent pending business card system for doing exactly this. It’s called the Rip-Card and you can check it out at It’s an ingenious system that’s completely trackable for all parties. My friend Alf, who invented it, has come up with a winner.

Another way of dealing with this is to leverage your existing client base to create new traffic and business for them through your normal business relationship. It isn’t that hard to do and the results can be very well appreciated.

As an example, I’ll often trade restaurants the set-up fees for new work for buy-one-get-one-free lunch or dinner coupons. This drives business to the restaurant, introduces new customers to the restaurant, and generally stimulates business for the eatery.

On the flip side, your recommending customer gets a free lunch on us when they recommend us. It works for everyone. It also provides a great opportunity for you to take that client to lunch. His lunch is free and you pay for yours. You see the restaurant client and you have quality time with your recommending individual. The possibilities are endless.

Bottom line here is referral systems need to be organized and systematized. If you can track the referral rate, you can really grow your business in a very efficient manner with very little advertising and promotion budget.


Defining Your Value in the Client’s Eye

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Sales come when your customers and clients determine what you have to offer is worth exchanging their money. It has to be fair in thier mind. If they’re uncertain or if money is tight, it makes the exchange process much more difficult.

We’ve all heard about defining a “Unique Selling Proposition” or “Marketing Message.” This is the single sentence or few words that differentiate you from all of your competion. It’s much more difficult to do than you might thing. Some people call this the 15 second elevator speech.  Whatever you call it, it’s critical you clearly define your USP in a way that’s catchy and memorable. This is how you want to be known by your base.

Your value is built upon the USP. The USP is the starting point for separating you and gaining the attention of your market. That attention is brief and you need to keep them engaged. Engaging them means focusing on the benefits of doing business with you.

After many years of studying my competition as well as those who are highly successful, I’ve come to a conclusion. That conclusion is the most sucessful companies go well beyond just the technical aspect of delivering excellent quality printing. They create a complete experience around their goods and services. I can’t tell you what that is for you, but it’s a sure bet you can go much further than you are right now. Here are some ideas.

Understand exactly how your customers and clients use your decorated shirts. The more you know about exactly how they’re used, the more opportunities you can find and expand upon. Focus on finding ways to make it easier to use what you offer. Think about how you can cut time or increase organization?

Are there any other items, goods, or services you can add that would make the experience more complete or easier to use? For instance, if you’re doing event shirts, provide a complete contact list of the local media so the group having the event can quickly get the publicity they need to maximize turnout. This is particularly important for fundraising events and nonprofits.

Think about WHO you know that would also be able to help your customers and clients. These are people, companies, and organizations that’re complementary to those using the shirts. They could be other suppliers. It might also be someone who would benefit from a successful t shirt promotion. An example of this for a fun run might be restaurants, coffee shops, and juice bars located close to where an event is scheduled to take place.

Defining your value goes well beyond just the basic product. Make it easy and fun to do business with you. The more involved you are in how your product is used by the customer, the more opportunites you have to differentiate yourself from your competitors.