Saturday, August 29, 2009

You Have to Have a Website

In today's business climate you HAVE to have a website. It is a minimum requirement of doing business.

Over 70% of all households have Internet access. That number grows even higher at higher incomes and lower ages. According to a Pew Report study, shopping is one of the top uses for both men and women.

The key word is "shopping". According to Merriam-Webster, shopping is defined as, "to examine goods or services with intent to buy". The wealth of information on the Internet makes examining goods or services easier than it has ever been.

From this data many of you might make the false assumption that you have to offer e-commerce on your website, that you have to join the throngs of online merchants. Although you certainly can be successful selling online, here's another statistic to make you think.

According to the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, online sales in 2008 were a whopping 3.3% of all retail sales. Yes, that's right. Only $3 out of every $100 spent at retail were spent online. I guess the demise of the brick and mortar store might be slightly overblown.

Here's the point. Over 60% of Americans are shopping online, but only 3% are buying online. So how are they using the Internet to do their shopping? They shop online four main ways.
  1. To see what is available
  2. To find information about features and benefits
  3. To read reviews from other users and experts
  4. To find stores that carry what they want
Yeah, the first three are pretty much the same stuff they could get just by entering your store and asking your staff (if they found you with #4). But they are doing it online for a number of reasons.
  • The Internet has more information than most sales people
  • The Internet is open when your store is not
  • You can surf the Internet anonymously (in your pajamas)
  • You don't have to show your ignorance
Those last two points are important. According to the Pew Report above, men are more aggressive shoppers online, which only makes sense. Men do not like to admit they don't know something. They don't like to ask questions. They certainly won't ask for directions. The Internet allows them to get all the info they need before entering a store so they do not feel inferior. Another group that prefers the anonymous aspect of Internet shopping are Introverts. They also like to get all the information they can before they have to interact with someone.

Men and introverts - two groups that collectively make up 75% of the population - give you all the reasons necessary for you to have a website. Think of your website as the Silent Salesman for your store. He costs a fraction of the other staff, yet he works tirelessly 24/7 building trust and goodwill and making customers more comfortable with your business. And he gets to embody all the qualities of your best salesman because you get to create him.

You have to have a website and you have to have the following components:
  • Your hours, location and contact information - make it easy to find, many people are using the Internet as their yellow pages
  • Your purpose for being in business - what you do and why (from a customer's perspective) you do it better than everyone else
  • What customers should expect when they visit - products, services, policies, etc.
  • Pictures - the Internet is a visual medium
  • More information - keep the basic pages simple (everything on one screen), but offer more for those who wish to click on it
The key is to make your site pleasing to the eye with minimal but well-written copy that answers the questions potential customers would ask about your business. Make it interesting and always about what the customer will find or experience in your store. And keep it consistent with your Character Diamond.

You don't have to do e-commerce. You don't even have to show all your products. But you do have to make sure you are linked to all of your vendor's websites as a place to buy. And make sure at the very least you talk about what product categories you do offer. List the best known brands and let them advertise for you. The goal is to give enough information to make potential customers interested, comfortable and willing to do business with you.

In today's business climate you have to have a website. Do you agree or disagree?


PS If you're doing e-commerce, I highly recommend you read the book Call to Action by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg. It will help you convert more lookers into buyers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Email Marketing - Free and Easy or Spam City?

As we continue the discussion of how advertising works differently in different media, we enter into the new, scary online world of Email, Websites, and Social Media.

Today's topic is Email.

At a fraction of the cost of direct mail and with the availability of templates and email services, many consider Email to be the easiest, most inexpensive way to reach your customers multiple times with multiple offers and tons of information. Some call it the perfect solution to more costly traditional advertising.

And in many ways, they would be right. Here are some of the inherent advantages of Email Marketing.
  • It is relatively inexpensive to use. Constant Contact, one of the largest email services, offers plans as low as $15 per month, and only $30 per month for lists up to 2500 emails. That's $360 per year, or the equivalent of 818 first class stamps.
  • You can do it as often as you like at no additional charge.
  • It is quick. Within minutes of hitting the send button your Email is in the inbox of your recipients.
  • It is easy. You can write, edit, format, add pictures, do surveys and more with just a minimal amount of computer skills.
  • You can track your results quickly. Three simple ways to track the ROI include: How many emails get opened? (Is this number growing or shrinking?) How many coupons were used? How many people are subscribing/unsubscribing? If your list keeps growing, people are finding value in the info you send.
Email might be one of the best ways to utilize the new technologies to grow your business. But you have to cross a few hurdles to get there.

First, there is the list. Where did it come from? Who is on it? Do the people on the list want to get your email? To be successful, your email list has to be permission-based. It has to be people who gave you permission to send them stuff, people who want to hear from you. Otherwise, you're just sending spam and making people angry at you.

How do you get a good list? By asking for it. Put a fishbowl on your counter and ask customers if they want to sign up. Offer a $25 gift certificate drawn monthly for anyone who signs up that month. Put a link on your website (Wait, you don't have a website? We'll discuss that next). Put it on your Facebook page, register receipt and front door. Ask, ask, ask.

Second, you have to commit to sending out regular emails and checking your list regularly for accuracy. How often should you send out an email? Some people say weekly, others say daily. I say, whenever you have something new to say. At the very least, say something once a month so that the people on your list don't forget about you. At the very most, say something new EVERY time you send an email. And check for bounce backs. If an email address doesn't work, delete it.

Third, you have to have a thick skin. People will unsubscribe to your email for a variety of reasons and you'll get a report of it. You can't take it personally. But if too many people unsubscribe, either you have a bad list, or you're sending out a bad email (probably both). Tweak your message and see what happens.

The bottom line is that Email can be an extremely successful marketing tool if you follow these simple practices:
  • Get a good list. Get permission up front and let people know what they are signing up to receive. Grow your list by asking everyone everywhere if they are interested.
  • Use a professional service to send your email. I use Constant Contact, but there are other services. The professional services have templates for you to use, know how to avoid spam filters, ensure that you use best practices such as unsubscribe notifications, and can manage your lists more efficiently than you ever could.
  • Add pictures to your emails. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but images are eye-catching and interesting. They also help the people who just like to skim and scan move from topic to topic.
  • Make the content fresh and new. Say something new with every email. It doesn't have to be a discount or coupon, but it does have to be fresh and new and consistent with your Character Diamond.
  • Send it out often enough to be remembered but not so often as to be annoying.
  • Measure the ROI. Is your list growing or shrinking? Are more or less people opening each email? Are coupons and special offers being used? If the ROI is not good, keep tweaking the message until it turns around.
If you have the time to write the copy, you have the time to send out Emails. And at the current rates, it is an affordable way for you to reach your loyal customers often and keep them coming back regularly.

If you can grow a good list, you should definitely be doing Email Marketing.

Do you agree or disagree?

PS Sign up for the Toy House Email Newsletter at

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dipping Into the Well of Magazine Advertising

Every form of advertising has it's pros and cons. Magazines are no different.

To understand magazine advertising, you have to understand the magazine business model. Ray Bard of Bard Publishing explained it best when he said:
"When you're thinking about writing a book on a subject or considering a
business to go into, it's essential that you find out 2 things:
  1. How widespread is the public's interest in it?
  2. How deep is that interest?
"If interest is not widespread and not very deep, you're looking at a Puddle. Never invest time or money in a puddle.

"If interest is widespread but not very deep, you're looking at a Swamp. Be careful of swamps. They look like oceans at first because everyone is interested. But that interest is shallow, not deep enough to drive action. Investors go broke when they see a swamp and think it's an ocean.

"If public interest is wide and deep, you're looking at an Ocean. But you're going to need a platform on which to navigate your ocean. If you don't have a platform, you'll drown. And you're going to need a plan or you'll drift.

"If public interest is narrow but deep, you've got a Well.
Don't underestimate it. You can draw a lot of water from a well. I once knew a
writer who wrote a book called The Care and Feeding of Quarter Horses. The book held no interest for readers who didn't own a quarter horse, but those who did had deep enough interest to buy the book. It was extremely successful."

Magazines are Wells. Interest is narrow but deep. If you sell to rock climbers, there are magazines exclusively for rock climbers. If you sell to perennial gardeners, there are magazines for perennial gardeners.

No matter how niche your product, there is most likely a magazine that perfectly fits that niche. And unlike almost all other forms of traditional advertising, only magazines can consistently give you potential customers that exactly fit your profile.

So what's the downside? Two things...
  • Frequency
  • Cost
The more niche the magazine, the less often it is produced, meaning the less often your ad has the chance to be seen. And being a passive ad, there is the possibility it won't get seen at all. This can be tough if you're trying to promote an event or special sale and you miss getting seen in time. This can also be tough if you're trying to raise top-of-mind awareness (branding). Since frequency is the key to memory, lack of frequency works against your long-term goals.

And costs for magazine ads can be astronomical. If it's a full color magazine, you probably need a full-color ad just to have a shot at getting seen, and those ads typically cost more.

But if you think a magazine might be the right avenue for your advertising campaign, here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Make sure the readership fits your customer profile as closely as possible. Ask your current customers what magazine they read to help you choose which magazines would be the best fit.
  • Understand the goal of the magazine and match your ad to the goal. If the magazine is used primarily to give event information, you should advertise your events. If the magazine primarily is used to give information, make your ads informational.
  • Ask for discounted rates and priority placements in return for signing full-year contracts. The best customers get the best ad placements. Be one of their best customers.
  • Use professional production for your ads. The magazine is using professionals. You should too.
  • Keep it simple. Print ads are like billboards, only a limited time to get your attention. Your ad should be able to attract someone's attention is less than 3 seconds. Pay special attention to your headline and your graphics.
One of the biggest benefits of magazine advertising is the fact that people hold onto and re-read magazines often, giving readers multiple chances to see your ad. Add to that the chance to reach your very specific niche audience and magazines can be the well that fills your profit tanks full.

If there is a magazine with the exact right readers, a purpose aligned with the purpose of your business, a decent frequency, and a cost you can afford, you should consider it as a viable advertising option.

Do you agree or disagree?