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Beating a Recession – 10 February 17, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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David DirksI’ve written quite a bit about the fact that now is the time to keep some marketing and promotional steam instead of slashing and burning your marketing budget.  This time I thought we’d take a stab at how to bring some discipline to a marketing spend.  I would never advocate spending valuable dollars willy-nilly on just whatever strikes our fancy.

Here are my thoughts on marketing spend:

In-store merchandising: For most retailers, this is worth spending some money on but only if you are committed to keeping it fresh.  Stale merchandising signage is a quick way to see your sales go stale too.  If you have foot-traffic, make sure your in-store merchandising catches the eye and helps to create a sale. Keep it fresh but don’t go crazy and think you have to change it everyday or every week. Change up your merchandising schematic to keep your store looking fresh and a bit different for customers.

Promotional Items: Depending upon your business, most promotional items, which includes everything from branded pens to elaborate tool-like items, are not worth the money you spend on them.  I recently read an article written by someone who owns a promotional items firm.  The title of the article was something about ‘getting an ROI from promotional items’ or words to that effect.  I read the article and was left empty.  The article could give you all kinds of reason for buying promo items for your business but not one way to measure the “ROI”.  You know why?  You can’t very well measure the ROI of promotional items.

Look, here’s the deal: people will decide to do business with you because you offer them something they want or need at a price they are willing to pay…not because you gave them a pen.  When was the last time you bought something and could even remotely connect your purchase to the premium your received?  That’s what I thought.

Instead of buying premiums to ‘promote’ your business or brand, how about investing that money in more advertising or targeted direct mail instead?

Trade-shows: Whether you continue to invest in trade shows is really dependent on two things:  1) the type of business your are in and 2) whether you are able to track the results.  Some businesses, especially business who sell products or services to other businesses, trade shows are very important.

Here are my rules on tradeshows:

1.  It has to be a well-attended, well-promoted tradeshow.  Well-attended as defined as both currrent and potential customers.  Only do the best tradeshows and leave the marginal ones to everyone else.

2. Have a booth that is a magnet for data.  Design your booth so that people will be interested to stop by.  I don’t care if you have a gimmicky game they can play to win a prize or what.  What you’d better do is collect name, email, phone numbers, etc. from everyone you meet.  It works like this: Want to play our great game or win the iPod Nano?  Then give me your information please.

Advertising:  If you’ve been advertising for some time, you should have a good record of which media (print, radio, local TV, etc.) are the most effective for you.  Cut out everything else that isn’t effective.  If you haven’t kept records on your advertising performance, I can’t help you.

Here are my rules for advertising:

1.  If you can’t maintain a reasonable amount of frequency, don’t bother.  If you think running 2 ads a month in your daily paper will help, you’re wrong.

2. Every ad is trackable (in print in particular).  Make sure you offer the customer something in it and they have to bring the ad into the store to get the offer.

3.  Focus on the benefits of doing business with you, not the features.  In my area, there is one indoor shooting range.  The seem to be doing things right buy maintaining a very good frequency in their advertising and sometimes taking premium (like front page) positions.  Good except that they missed the boat to a degree.  Outside of explaining how nice and big their range is, they are flat.  How about a special offer to first time customers?  Or a coupon for X% off on your first purchase?  Maybe a special intro class for those interested in the shooting sports?

4.  Avoid free circulation media.  Everybody seems to like the paper that offers those great ad sizes for almost nothing.  You know why it’s almost nothing?  Because they can’t guarantee anyone is reading the thing.  If a publication has free circulation, run away.  It’s a mass-market rag that is more expensive than it sounds.   Why?  Because the sound you hear in the background are the crickets, not sales.

There’s more to advertising than this but this is a good start.

Direct mail: Do you capture the name, email, and mailing addresses of every customer for every purchase?  No?  Why?  Takes too much time?  Most retailers and other businesses fail this test miserably.  If you want to keep your current customers, one of the best ways is to communicate with them frequently enough where they remember you.

Here’s a case in point.  I recently purhased some furniture at a local store near my home.  It happens to be the place where we have purchased almost everything we own from them over time.  Yes, we check everyone else out but we come back to this store and end up getting better quality at a better price.  We’ve spent literally thousands of dollars there over the years and you know what?  They don’t know us.  They know where we live and have our address but don’t do anything with it?  How about a quarterly newsletter that had tips and ideas on room decoration and furniture care?  Some smart-aleck will say:  they don’t need a newsletter if you’re already coming back to buy from them?  Sure, that’s me but what about the customer sales they lose because they weren’t ‘top of mind’ when it came to a purchase?

So, do this:

1. Capture your customer data at the point of sale.  Most businesses I know miss this one completely.

2. Send them something that keeps your  name in front of them with enough frequency to stick.  I like newsletters (mailed or emailed) but you could do well with a simple postcard with some special messaging sent out once every quarter.

3. Work with a good graphic designer who can help you design direct mail items that are professional looking.  Unless your are a graphic designer, don’t try to save a few bucks here.

4.  Make your direct mail efforts trackable.  If you can’t track it, don’t do it.

Beating a Recession: Don’t Play on Price Alone! January 4, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in A New Webinar!, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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David DirksI recently saw an ad in my local paper from a tire dealer.  It was a good sized ad and it had one focus: price.  Price as in ‘here’s the old price (crossed-out) and now here’s the new low price’.  No doubt, this is a retailer whose sales have  gone down to some degree as this economy grinds to a near halt.  Competing on price is a typical knee-jerk reaction to slowing sales.  It’s also a good way to spend precious money on advertising that will NOT move the sales needle much at all, if any. Trust me, it won’t.  Advertising is a good thing and should be done in the face of a recession, despite the urge to cut those costs.  However, advertising spending that focuses only on price will only frustrate and cause a business owner to make the mistake of cutting out advertising at the point when they need it the most.

Competing on price, in any economy, is the kiss of death in my book.  Here’s why.  In a commodity business like the tire business, for example, you can get your tires from many places these days.  Cut your prices and I’ll find someone else who either can match it or come pretty dang close.  I firmly believe based on experience that the only way to win is to find ways to DIFFERENTIATE yourself from your competition.  Is price all you’ve got?  Is that it?  Yikes.  You’re in trouble because everybody can play that game.

Instead of competing on price alone, compete on services or create value added items that your competition doesn’t.  For this tire dealer, I’d recommend figuring ways to bundle additional services along with pricing to show the customer the value-added services that  come with that pricing.  What kind of ‘additional’ services?  How about:

  • Free tire check ups and rotation
  • Free car wash (make a deal with a local car wash and you’ll help both businesses)
  • Take an extra X% off your next tire purchase on top of advertised sales prices for returning customers only
  • Special customer discounts for automotive parts purchases at a local car part dealer (work a deal out with a local parts retailer and create special coupons just for your customers who purchase tires with you).
  • Free gas card for $xx dollars for each purchase?

You get the idea.  Bundle as many direct and indirect services as you possibly can and keep coming up with new ones and new combinations all the time (because some of your competitors will get the drift of this too and copy you).  Bundle. Bundle. Bundle.  Show them that they get more out of their purchase from you than just the idea of saving a couple of bucks.  Anybody can cut their prices and most do.  Do more.  Think outside the  knee-jerk reaction of depending on price cutting to solve your sales revenue problems.

Big Dogz Webinar Now Available!!  Want to learn more about how to beat a recession and keep your business moving forward on the sales and profitability fronts?  Check out the “Beat the Recession” page on this blog.  Sign up before January 23rd and save $50!  You can register at: http://www.regonline.com/CBP1250

Don’t miss out on this webinar…it’ll be the best low-cost investment you can make in your business!

Beating the Recession Webinar Now Available! January 2, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in A New Webinar!, business strategy, Buzz Marketing: Lowest Cost/Highest Payoff, Increasing Your Profitability, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Public Relations Strategies, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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David DirksYou’ve asked for it and now we’re offering it…

If there was one webinar that you could attend and spend a few bucks on, this is the one.  With business conditions as they are, you can either choose to ignore it or do something about it.  This 5-hour webinar is designed to help you impact those marketing and sales issues that you can control…and there’s a lot you can control!

We’ve designed this webinar to be jam-packed with actionable marketing and sales strategies that are designed to move your business forward and keep it moving in any economy!!

For registration information, go to:


Note:  There is a significant discount for those who sign up before 1/23/09…don’t miss out on that.


Driving Retail Sales: Groo’s Shoes October 22, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in Building Foot Traffic, Local Brand Development, Marketing Buzz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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If you read this blog long enough, you’ll get the hint that creating a growing and profitable business comes down to creating a business that can differentiate itself from the competition.  If I had one key word to describe the process of marketing and selling, ‘differentiate’ would be all the word I’d need.  The Big Dogz know how imperative it is to keep creating and refining the ways you can differentiate your business from the crowd.  The only crowd you want is the one that will beat a path to your door.

I make it a habit to scan my local paper, The Times Herald-Record (www.recordonline.com) to see what kinds of advertising creative and marketing campaigns are out there.  Just today, I found a local shoe retailer who’s been in the business for many, many years with their latest ad.  When I saw it, I immediately said to myself, “That’s the kind of event that helps to position a local store like Groo’s Shoes in a different light with its customers.”  And create new ones.

Like many local hometown stores, Groo’s has to compete successfully against giants like Kohl’s and Target.  Groo’s probably knows that it cannot compete soley on price against the giant chains.  What the ad below shows is clearly an effort to create the kind of shopping experience that you can’t find in the big boxes.

Groo's Creates an unique event designed to attract female shoppers

Groo's creates a unique event designed to pull the female shoppers in!

So here is a local store that gets it.  As I scanned the pages of the newspaper, this ad just naturally popped out.  It was located in a sea of similar sized ads but stood out and looks to be a great event that might just create traffic to their store.  The point is, they are making the right effort to create differentiation in a tough retail market.

While that is all good, there are a few things missing here.  The website doesn’t promote the event!  To get the most mileage from your advertising, you’ve got to integrate all of your marketing together.  Your ads promote not only the event, but should push customers and prospects to the website for more information.  Maybe a special offer only available on the website but connected to the “Girl’s Night Out” would have been a great way to leverage the marketing tools that Groo’s already has available.

Other than that, this is a classic example of creating unique events to drive store traffic.  The enticement of free High School Musical 3 movie tickets is a great tie-in.  If they keep on track and continue to create events like these (not like the usual ‘sales days’ crap you see most often), they will continue to build their local brand.  Good stuff.

Making Promotional Signage Work June 5, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in Sales Strategy/Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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The other day I’m driving to work and slow traffic had me passing by a series of promotional signs stuck into the side of the road. You know the signs…they are those small type of ‘election’ signs you frequently see around election time. I call them ‘roadside signage’. As I slowly pass the sign, I strain to read what it says. I can’t. And there’s enough copy in the sign to create a book chapter.

Here’s the challenge: someone spent probably a few hundred dollars on signs with the idea that they could cheaply promote their business to the thousands of cars that pass by that intersection every day. The only problem is that no one can read them. I have no clue what kind of business it is or even the name of it. I could see that it had a phone number at the bottom but again, I couldn’t read it. And who thought I would have the ability to write it down if I could see it?

What I’ve just noted above is not uncommon. Years of observations (marketers are always on the lookout for marketing collateral) have led me to believe that nearly 95% of small roadside signage is poorly thought out and executed. The other issue I have is that roadside signage is clearly mass-market oriented, with no targeting of customers whatsoever. You have absolutely no control on who sees your signage or not.

What attracts business owners to this medium is the idea that, for a few hundred bucks, you can place signage at highly traveled locations and everyone will see them. What they see is a blur to them. The truth is, only on the rare occasion will you get even a call from that kind of signage and usually when they can stop and get out of their car to write down the phone number.

This morning, after dropping the kids off at school, I pass a little fenced-in sports complex that some coach is building a sports coaching business on. He provides your tike with additional soccer, baseball, softball, teeball, etc. coaching to make them better athletes. He signs, although larger than the election sign, was handwritten with either crayon or marker. Oh, and almost impossible to read as you drive by.

So here’s a business owner who decided to go the cheap route and have one of his kids make his signage. Cute but highly ineffective for his business. It’s also a poor way to represent your business to those that may actually be able to read the sign.

So, here are a couple of summary points on roadside signage:

  • If you can find a more effective way to target your customer base, then do it and skip roadside signage. Just because its relatively cheap and gets you in front of lots of cars doesn’t mean the phone will ring. More than likely it will not make the phone ring or at least not often enough to justify the time and expense of creating them. For the sports coach, probably passing out special offer flyers to parents attending their kids baseball, soccer or other games would probably be much more effective. That’s a better way to target those who would be most interested in his services for their kids.
  • If you insist on doing roadside signage to promote your business make sure people can quickly read the info. Keep it to what your services or products your selling and a phone number. Less copy is much more effective. Why people feel they have to cram as much copy as they can onto a small space that speeding cars will not be able to see anyway, boggles my mind.
  • Whatever you think you saved by using roadside signage to get to the ‘people’, you lost when you do the math on how much actual business in brought into the door.  While there is the rare exception, generally roadside signage doesn’t deliver the results to justify the cost.

There are much more effective ways to market and promote your business than a roadside sign. Direct mail, public relations promotions, and alliances or partnerships with other businesses who already cater to the types of customers who buy your product or service are examples of this.

Sales Flyers Stink February 21, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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dirksphoto.jpgDo you know what the life expectancy of a sales flyer is? About 5 seconds…before it ends up in the vertical filing system (trash can). For effectiveness, they rate about as low as you can go. Yet, they are the bane of many businesses that merrily keep designing them and printing them in seemingly endless quantities and colors on 8 ½ x 11 paper! You’ll find them stuffed into envelopes (that’s personal!), stuck on your windshield, or sitting on a counter.

How do I feel about flyers? They stink. How’s that. Ok, you say if they stink, why do so many businesses use them? Because they are the cheapest ploy around. Also because many business owners are under the spell that if they print it, somebody actually will read it and buy something.

If only that were true.

Sales teams love flyers. Gotta have them. Over the years I can recall many sales teams who told me that if they only had a certain kind of sales/marketing flyer, they would do more business. So, we’d design one, with all the elements of an effective design (that in another blog posting), including a strong call to action for the reader. Result: despite having the flyer they couldn’t live without, no one ever could claim it did anything to their sales efforts. Ever. Never. They’d go away until the next great idea for a ‘gotta have’ flyer and we’d go through it again. And again.

The fact is that flyers are a cheap, mass-market, untargeted way to sell or market your business. Sure, the local design/print shop will be happy to tell you how good they are. That’s so they can sell you more of them!

Here are some things I’ve learned about using flyers:

1. Cheapest is not always best. Actually, for the results you get from them, they are actually very expensive. Here’s the math: 0$ sales – Cost of flyers = your loss. The low price of this medium may make you feel good, but the results are enough to make you sick.

2. Quantity is not better than quality. Many businesses are under the spell that if you print a whole bunch of flyers and distribute them widely, the odds are you’re going to get some sales that will more than pay for the cost of the flyers. Call me when you do.

3. Blast distribution to the world never works. Print lots of flyers and blast them out everywhere…the numbers have to work in your favor…right? Perhaps not. Perhaps it would be better if you figured out ways to deliberately target your potential customers instead of reaching everybody. Meaning, you end up reaching people who have no interest in buying your product or service anyway.

4. Flyer life expectancy: 5 seconds or less. When was the last time you picked up a sales flyer and kept it for future reference? Or even bothered to read it?

5. Bad flyer design is…bad design. Many business owners decide that they are not only experts in their business, but they are top-flight flyer designers too! Or someone in his or her family is known to have ‘artistic flair’ and gets the job. Sure, you save money instead of having a professional design it but it generally will look awful. You and I have seen plenty of those. Hideous and not very memorable either. So, if you’re convinced that I’m full of it and want to do a flyer despite my best efforts to convince you otherwise, take it to a good graphics designer. Please.

So, how do I really feel about sales and marketing flyers?

Selling Like Harry and David September 13, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Sales Copy that Sells, Small Business Advertising.
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dirksphoto.jpgA few posts back I was talking about using Ebay for selling excess inventory and doing that on a regular basis to improve cashflow.  Writing good copy for an ad, brochure, flyer, catalog, etc. is a combination of art and science.  If you want a good series of lessons (because we know that good copywriting can be learned), you needn’t go much farther than your mailbox.

Everyday, you receive mail offers to buy something.  Direct mail pieces galore bulge from your mailbox all the time.  Some of the best examples of highly effective copywriting are in some of the catalogs you get for free.

Take the Harry and David catalog.  Here’s how they describe one item:

Grand Fruit Basket

Demonstrate your flair for the fabulous. (We make it easy and fun!)

The day turns festive when this gorgeous basket arrives.  The deep, rich luster of this dark, stitched willow basket is attractive and immensely appealing.  We fill it with our famous Pears and Apples, three Cheeses, Fruit Preserves, Mixed Nuts and Mint Chocolates.  Fact:  It’s America’s best basket value, easy  to send and a real joy to receive. 

As you read the copy for other items, you’ll see that they don’t say the same things.  They creatively and tastefully weave a mental picture of what you are seeing…better than the picture of the product itself!  Now that’s great copy.

Of course, the copy that Harry and David provide in the catalog is matched to the type of product (food gift baskets).  If you sell automotive parts, or service heavy equipment, or provide financial consulting services, you need to use desciptors that are tuned to your business and customers.

Outside of hiring a good copywriter (which I would encourage if you can do it), make sure you write copy that does justice to your product or service offerings.  The Big Dogz, like Harry and David, know how to make it work to the tune of millions of dollars of sales volume.

Trust me, your local competition is not paying attention to the copy they write.  I see what they write in their ads, brochures, and…well, it hurts my eyes to read it.  It’s just another marketing and sales edge.

Bring Your Expertise to Expert Village September 12, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Buzz Marketing: Lowest Cost/Highest Payoff, Sales Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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How can I expand my business brand and showcase my expertise to the world for little expense?

A great question which deserves a solid answer. ExpertVillage (www.expertvillage.com) is one way you might consider doing it if you have a little time and some filmmaking ability (or know someone who does!). With the cost of higher quality video cameras coming down rapidly and software like Apple’s Final Cut Express, you can do this.

First, let’s talk about ExpertVillage. If you go onto the site, you’ll immediately see what it’s all about: an online warehouse full of ‘how-to’ video footage on almost any topic you can think of (with some notable exceptions like no ‘adult’ stuff or that distasteful slapstick you find on YouTube). They provide you with a written package of production guidelines that will keep you on track.

expertvillage.jpgAnyone with a decent video camera, basic sound equipment, and some inexpensive and easy to use software (like Final Cut Express) can record, edit and showcase their talent via ExpertVillage.

Did I mention that ExpertVillage pays you for your efforts too? Yes, it’s true. After you shoot and edit your ‘how-to’ project for them, and if they accept it (they do have basic standards you know), ExpertVillage posts your footage on their site. They own the footage and you get to share with the world your knowledge.

If you don’t see a topic that covers your expertise, you can suggest the topic to them and they might just offer it.

When you sign up, take the site tutorial to learn how this all works. ExpertVillage makes it’s money when it matches up your topic with potential advertisers. It’s a great idea.

The key point is that you can get additional (and very valuable) online media exposure and get paid for it at the same time. They post your bio on the site and will list your business website as well. After you completed one, you could send out a press release to all of your local media, noting that ExpertVillage has now made your expertise available for all to see online. It’s a great thing.

Just take a minute and find a topic and you’ll see some very astute small business folks who understand how to make this work for them. And they pay YOU for the effort! Only in America.

Craigslist for Expanding Sales & Services August 25, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Sales Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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dirksphoto.jpgHow can I advertise locally and without great expense to get the word out on my goods and/or services?

While sites like EBay can help improve sales, grow revenues, and increase profitability, a site like craigslist (small ‘c’ is how they brand it!) can help do the same. If you haven’t seen or used it (www.craigslist.com), craigslist is an online service that provides FREE local classified ads and has nearly 25,000,000 visitors each month and growing. They make their money on selling help wanted ads but all other ads are free.

This morning I went on craigslist to see what was being posted in my area for goods and services. On craigslist, you can click on your state, then find your local area, and then select what you’re looking for from a broad list of categories.

I clicked on ‘creative’ and found one enterprising person who just opened her own PR shop with an ad that announced her services. Excellent! She’s using craigslist (and surely other online and offline ways) to market her services. My point would be: you need to utilize every possible way to get your name in front of people in your local market. That said, craigslist is somewhat mass market so you don’t know who’s really looking for PR services but hey, the ad is FREE. So who cares?

If you have merchandise you want to move or services you want to sell, then I would give craigslist a try. The key is it provides another local avenue for you to get the goods or the word out.

TV Advertising: Not Just For Big Dogz Anymore!! March 16, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Small Business Advertising.
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dirksphoto.jpgHow can I effectively use TV advertising in my market like the big dogz do and do it on small business budget?

In the past, most small businesses wouldn’t even contemplate TV advertising. Creating commercials and then buying the airtime could easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you have a few bucks for advertising, you’ll do what you can with local newsprint, radio, or maybe dabble in direct mailings.

So, TV advertising has been pretty much out of the question for most small businesses and within the exclusive world of the big dogz. Enter an internet-ad agency called Spot Runner.

Spot Runner (www.spotrunner.com), is most likely the first internet-based ad agency that provides a very cost effective way for small, local businesses to participate in TV advertising. Here’s how they do it:

First, the service is internet-based. So you can get an entire TV ad program up and running from your PC. You choose from a library of thousands of 30-second TV ads and personalize it for you business. They have ads for a wide variety of business categories. Everything from Arts to Sports is available. You can preview any ad you want. I went through a few of them and they are professionally done and sharp. In particular, I looked at a fishing tackle ad under “Sports & Recreation”. It was an exceptionally well-done ad that would put any of the usual local “car dealer” ads to shame (you know, those ads you see on your local channels that look a few bars below professional).

Each 30-second ad costs you $499…that’s it. The same ad, if you tried to hire a professional ad agency to do it, would literally cost tens of thousands, if not more. You couldn’t produce a better ad than Spot Runner has for that price.

After I selected an ad, I told them (online) about the demographics I am targeting. Then Spot Runner asked me where I wanted to run the ad, so I chose my zip code. It gave me the option of running ads in Orange County and/or the greater NY area. I chose both.

Then I could set my advertising budget and determine the number of weeks I wanted to run the campaign. Then, with a press of button, Spot Runner developed a full TV campaign that I could review. My 4-week campaign would cost me $1990 (plus the $499 for the ad) and would run 123 times on such channels as TNT, TV Land, USA, etc. For each network, Spot Runner told me how many spots would run on each and the dayparts (when during the day the ads would run) for each network.

Wow. Where else can you find a way to run 30 second spots for about $16.17 per spot? Spot Runner is the answer for the small business owner who wants to maximize their exposure in their markets for a price that they can afford. You want to run with the big dogz? Check out Spot Runner.