Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marketing techniques: what not to do

Close your eyes and imagine this (you can peak to read it): you've created a product/service that you would sell to your mother, brother and neighbor.  You're probably thinking of lining some stalkings with it this Christmas.  You think you know your target market, you think they love it, and you think that marketing is going to be fun, successful and swift.  You go out on your first day, meet the mayor, Guy Fieri, and hundreds of others, which boosts your ego almost beyond capacity.  It's hard to change shirts because your head is getting so big.  You sign your autograph on your dogs chest when she greets you and you go to sleep dreaming of happy, sun-filled meadows with butterflies and ice cream scoops.

You wake up from your blissful dream world and listen to a voice mail detailing why your marketing plan is horrible, fear-based, and preventing someone from enjoying their Cheerios.  They are not going to ever use our services and think we are terrible, just terrible.

Okay.  You can open your eyes now.

I returned this call to find what I did to create such a negative reaction, and I must say, I was asking for it...

I handed this 'parking ticket' promotional flyer out to pedestrians at the Mpls farmers market.  Apparently, one of them thought it would be funny to put it under the windshield wiper of a marketer in St. Paul.  He apparently did not think it was as clever as me.  He mentioned his affinity towards old people as his main concern.  Sharing this concern, we stopped the marketing campaign shortly after....  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Funny stories from paddleboarding the Mississippi

If enough time is spent doing something, one is bound to experience the tails from the bell curve of 'normal.'  These experiences break the comfort found in expectation and take us to someplace new.  I find these can be either terrifying or hilarious, maybe both, at different times, depending on the subject.

Earlier this month, a tour stopped at Blue Heron Bay, the island/rookery which is home to around 10 different heron families.  We found 2 dead heron, both laying on the beach, where we landed.  Both were fairly large, one laid peacefully (cause of death unknown), and the other lay painfilled, awkwardly, on it's side.  These birds spread an impressive 5 foot wingspan, and are amazingly thin.  This was all too evident when we found this bird, head twisted back, mouth open, large fish wedged half-way down it's throat.  It was obvious this bird bit off more than it could chew/swallow.  Some kind of sadness, dark humor came over me, which then turned into chaotic surprise as one in our group screamed that she had just been struck in the head with multiple fish!  The herons above us were throwing fish onto us.  Were we desecrating their burial grounds?  I felt urged to give them a proper water burial, so the critters wouldn't do what is natural in front of the families.  After I pushed off, I couldn't help wonder if nature was telling us something.  This wasn't the first time, either...


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Groupon - a necessary monster?

Soo.... Groupon is one of the most successful companies of our recent, recession-feared times.  I once thought it was a great idea: saving 50% or more on my favorite activities and stores?  Sign me up.  No surprise why their model is being copied by more and more segmented groups around food, entertainment and who knows what else...

This perspective has changed now that I've been to the inner layer of the beast, and back.  After my marketing efforts (consisting mostly of social media, walking the streets of Minneapolis, and passing out flyers at beaches) did little to bring in paying customers, I almost felt summoned to prostrate myself before the specialists at Groupon.

Don't get me wrong, working with Groupon was a semi-pleasant experience for this college-educated business owner.  They let me propose which service to offer, which price, how many, and when they would expire.  One of the main caveats, and first major surprise, was a promise to let them write the script and pay them 50% of total revenue from the sale.  [So, if you have a service that is worth $100.  You discount by up to 50%, bringing in $50, $25 for Groupon and $25 for your business to provide $100 in value.]  While this might be practical for low-overhead businesses like fortune telling gypsies, we could not pay this rate and talked them down to 20%.  Look at me!  What a businessman, or so I originally thought.  I barely understood that we are still paying them 20% for their email list and screwing around with our, already affordable, prices.

It felt pretty phony to increase our prices by 30% in order to be able cut them by 42.35%.  But this is exactly what I did.  And it worked.  We sold 197 packages for $98.  Not bad for 2 days of marketing!  It ended up costing us over $4,000, but at least we were in business!  The next puzzle came in the form of providing 394 people with $32,640 in value with only $15,366.

(I will have to provide a breakdown of our costs in another post, because this is getting long)

One of my main concerns is for the small business owners who don't know they can negotiate, or what others have been paying.  They tell everyone that 50% is required...  I've met people on tours who have signed up with a discounter out of desperation and end up giving all of their profits away, getting discount shoppers who may not return again, end up skimping on the service and end up shooting themselves.
I could sit here, listening to Ben Folds, and argue this survival-of-the-fittest competition is always bound to produce collateral damage in the form of dead businesses, but it hurts to know that this is being done and that small business owners are being, dare I say, unknowingly put to sleep by the collective American dream of a free lunch.

 NPR did a story on how these businesses change how we shop, and I wonder if it has changed the way we shop or if the way we shop has changed the supply.  Isn't a common critique of America (and maybe capitalism) one of instant gratification, shortsightedness and spendthrift?  It's hard to defend America (or myself) with a negative national savings rate (shown below), rising child obesity rates, Costco and Walmart loyalty, and current federal and state deficit issues.

Enough with the problems, let's talk solutions. After all, September is obesity awareness month.

This experience may not change your perspective, but as for me?  I try to not use Groupon, Living Social, or any other discounter, always tip any service provider 20%, pay for the value I receive, ask everyone before signing anything, automate repetitive processes, self-schedule appointments, clearly state policies, cry to my friends, over-perform for my clients, and no matter how phony it can feel at times, keep on smiling...

- listening to Ben Folds

Entrepreneurship - a relationship killer?

Separating your business life from your personal life....  Work/life balance...  These simple sentences seem like advanced calculus to this backyard business owner.  With so many demands from suppliers, clients, partners, competitors, and regulators, and a seemingly always-growing task list, just how does one balance anything, let alone something as fragile and important as another person's feelings.  

This has been one of the latest trials I have found myself in and currently am working through.  It calls into question the very reason for working, trying, being...  I have said before that businesses are like relationships, well this analogy (like most) breaks down quickly.  A business cannot provide us with warmth on a cold night, listening ear on a bad day, or any kind of intimate personal connection!  Things it can do: mask fears by coddling our ego, occupying our psyche, and potentially destroying any chance of a relationship with a real human.  

Maybe I just need to figure out what work/life balance really means?

From my dining room table in St. Paul,
- Austin