Thursday, February 20, 2014

Don't Waste Your Hard-Earned Cash on Irrelevant Company Swag - Create Gifts Instead

Just about every company that manages to get off the ground for a few years at some point makes the decision to acquire ad specialty items or swag. But many don't take the time to consider the intended effect they are hoping to create with their customers before forking over hundreds of dollars for these promotional products. Instead, with no real strategy at play, a logo that has no business being there, is slapped on a random object and passed out to customers with the hope it will create a sale. I mean just how many company logo branded pens, calendars, koozies or stress balls can you have? Are these things really so compelling that you are immediately going to start buying from the person who sent it to you?

When swag serves no purpose, it truly falls into the category of trinkets and trash (with an emphasis on the trash part). And the trash continues to pollute the world when marketers fail to address the most critical component of a promotional product buy - that the swag must create an emotional connection to the user for it to be effective. When that happens, it's no longer just swag, it becomes a gift.

Think about one of the most successful swag items of all time: the Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt. The Hard Rock Cafe is a themed, rock-n-roll, museum-like experience with memorabilia on display throughout. But at the end of the day it's still just a restaurant. I mean doesn't your local Italian restaurant have Italian-themed pictures and paintings on the wall? So why don't you go buy their t-shirt? You don't buy that t-shirt because more than likely it creates no logical or emotional connection.  

What the Hard Rock Cafe does that makes their promotional product so successful is that it puts the city name underneath the Hard Rock Cafe logo on the t-shirt. And because there is only one Hard Rock Cafe in every city, the location is able to create a meaningful connection to that place. I mean come on, do you really go on vacation to New York City to dine at the Hard Rock Cafe? No, but I bet you want the cool t-shirt that says you went to New York City!

To create gifts of value (not useless swag), you need to be thoughtful. To be thoughtful with any marketing simply means you are able to connect your company, idea or product in a meaningful way to the needs of your prospective customer. Really, that is the magic formula, and it doesn't matter what industry you are in, you can create a connection to your customers with swag and immediately start to earn brand loyalty. But you'll actually have to do some critical thinking first to accomplish this feat. To identify the appropriate promotional product, you must completely understand when your customers want to see you, where they want to spend time with you, and of course, why they want to interact with you. 

When Do Your Customers See You?

Do your customers see you in the morning or afternoon, when it's cold or hot, night or day, etc. - you catch my drift? When you think about the timing of when your customers interact with you, is there swag that can help facilitate that interaction? A common promotional item you see are branded coffee mugs and tumblers. Half the time you see these branded coffee cups, they have some random logo of a manufacturing company or consultancy who has nothing to do with coffee or when people drink coffee - no connection. But say you are trying to promote a morning radio program or T.V. show. I can think of no better giveaway than a coffee mug or tumbler as it immediately helps prompt the recipient to tune in while they enjoy their morning coffee. Timing of course is everything, even with promotional products.

Where Do Your Customers Spend Time With You?

As we previously touched on, are customers spending time with the Hard Rock Cafe in just the restaurant or is it really the city that they're visiting for the first time? The affiliation with each city that the Hard Rock Cafe has is what makes the experience extra unique. So a t-shirt that says you've been to New York City, Chicago or Nashville is extremely appropriate. That's an instant connection. So of course, thinking about the right promotional product must take location into account, and it doesn't just have to be in the geographic definition of location. For instance, would the creator of the latest popular app really make a connection to their customers with branded notepads or t-shirts? Probably not. Those items don't connect to the customer's location. Rather with an app, your customers are of course spending time with you on their phones (think screen cleaners, pens with an end for touch screens, etc.).

Why Do Your Customers Interact With You?

The last and most critical consideration of an effective swag piece is to think about why customers interact with your brand. This can be the trickiest concept to identify but once you clearly understand why your customers interact with you, you'll immediately be able to come up with promotional gifts that help to strengthen that interaction. For my printing business, many of our long-term customers choose to interact with us because we've developed deep personal relationships. When it's personal, you can reflect this relationship in your gifts, and that simply means choosing gifts that you know the customer will personally enjoy (branded golf balls for the golfer, food and gift baskets for the foodie, etc.). It works because you know them on a personal level. However, a brand new customer, one where the relationship hasn't yet developed beyond simple professional interactions, might be turned off by a gift basket as it's a little more personal (I emphasize might as everyone loves free food!). Instead, for the professional-only relationship, you should focus on gifts that reinforce how your business can help them (ex - a personalized Yankee Candle given to businesses by a cleaning company might help to reinforce a cleaner, better smelling environment).

When choosing swag, the careful consideration of the when, where and why of customer interactions can't be understated. So if your next promotional product doesn't cover at least one of these points, don't be disappointed when your customer trashes it! Buying swag can be one of the best ways in the world to promote your business, but like any gift, if you don't thoughtfully spend the time necessary to make it great, it won't be memorable.

Friday, January 3, 2014

No Soup for You - Does My B2B Company Really Suck This Much?

Recently I was looking for a few new ways to give my printing company a little social media boost and I ran across a small company that has created a full-service social media management solution, Main Street Hub. After visiting one of their landing pages, I submitted my information to their online form requesting a free social media assessment. A few days later they sent me back an email thanking me for my interest but letting me know that it doesn't seem like my business is one that they can service. Instead, Main Street Hub solely focuses on providing their social media management solution to local, brick and mortar retail businesses.  Overall the email was cordial, but at the end I was left with the same problem I started with, how can I improve my social media marketing efforts?

I applaud Main Street Hub for knowing who they are. There is something to be said for creating a niche and getting really, really good at that type of business. We could all be so fortunate to be in a position where our business was growing so fast we can pick and choose our clientele. They simply believe they can't service me or choose not to because I don't fit their ideal customer mold. I get it, I'm not in a business-to-consumer (B2C) industry and I can certainly tell you from experience, it's not exactly easy to engage with customers through social media as a printing company. It's a hard problem to solve. But when I look at this email, all my mind sees is opportunity. What if there was an expert who understood exactly how to help me with my type of business? Chances are there are a few brave soles like this out there but I just haven't found them yet. But that is something I'd certainly be willing to pay good money for!

I know a lot of business owners might be familiar with this type of rejection, especially those with business-to-business (B2B) companies. And when you look at all the marketing resources available out there, it seems a majority of ideas and solutions are created with B2C businesses in mind. In fact, it is extremely rare to pick up just about any marketing book off the shelf and find that many examples of brilliant marketing strategies implemented by B2B companies. Why? For one it's harder but two, it's probably because it's boring content as well. No one wants to hear about marketing strategies of the Dunder Mifflins of the world! Instead they'd rather focus on some cool new digital campaign by Zappos. And while it makes sense to me that a brand like Zappos would bring more social currency and buzz with it, as they have a significantly larger customer base than your average B2B, what doesn't make sense is why so many marketers avoid the challenge of solving problems for B2B companies. B2B or B2C, money is still money. After all, a recent article in the October 2013 issue of Inc Magazine pointed out while promoting the benefits of investing in B2B start-ups, "They are really good at making money." Call me crazy, but a company with solid cash flow probably has a few extra dollars to spend on marketing.

I know my printing and marketing company solves problems for just as many B2B outfits as we do for our B2C clients. As a B2B company ourselves, it seems only natural that we should help our own kind. But the true irony of the message I received from Main Street Hub is I bet they are extremely good at B2B marketing and would actually be the perfect company to help my business! After all, they got me to their site through the use of good PR and well placed banner ads, they got me to download an informative white paper from their cleanly-designed landing page, they offer good content and they subscribed me to their email list. Not to mention they have over 3,000 likes on Facebook. Not bad for a small B2B company. So if they are going to go to the trouble of collecting all these leads from B2B companies, do something with them!! Heck sell these leads to me, I'll find a use for them.

My challenge to those reading, if you're a marketing company trying to grow your business, stop ignoring us! Yes, our businesses can be extremely difficult to understand and rather boring but once you get it, you suddenly become an expert in a less competitive landscape. How many other agencies would you be up against who are self proclaimed experts at marketing third-party logistic services for example? Also, while the response rate for B2B marketing efforts may be low at times, the ROI can still be very high as a B2B sale is typically in the thousands of dollars range. While a consumer facing marketing campaign may require a year round investment of both time and resources to generate results a B2B company can sometimes make their year with just one simple deal. I think I'd rather solve the problem of trying to find just that one B2B customer rather than the thousands needed to sustain a B2C.