Better Together

Tired of fighting the competition? Embrace ‘coopetition’

The promotional products community is a densely populated one, and sometimes it can feel like you’re being squeezed by the competition. But what if, instead of fighting over dollars and clients, you could come together to make more opportunities for everyone involved?

Robert Keane has seen and felt the same stresses in the printing industry, so to stay relevant and continue creating revenue, the CEO and president of Cimpress, parent company of Vistaprint, has chosen to embrace ‘coopetition.’ What does coopetition look like? Think about Amazon and Netflix. The product-selling powerhouse supports Netflix with IT infrastructure, even as the two compete in the on-demand video space.

Keane’s printing company found itself needing to differentiate and compete in the digital space; as a result, Vistaprint was born. Since then, Cimpress has grown its supply-chain partnerships for back-end operations, while Vistaprint partners with brick-and-mortar businesses to resell its products.

In the case of promotional products companies, coopetition might be as basic as recommending a competitor to a client when you can’t fulfill a particular request for product or decoration, with the understanding that your competitor will do the same for you, all in an effort to keep customers coming back to the industry for years to come.


Family Friendly Football

Advocacy group launches fundraiser to replace beer company as British club’s sponsor

Football (or soccer, for us Americans) means big money for sponsors, whose names are plastered on jerseys for fans to see and hopefully remember when choosing which airline to fly, or gasoline to buy, or—in the case of Everton FC, a football club based in Liverpool, England—which beer to drink.

Thailand-based Chang beer has been a longtime sponsore of Everton, which is the only remaining professional club in the English Premier League to have an alcohol distributor for its jersey sponsor. But because Everton FC is loved and followed by fans of all ages, many feel this team deserves a more family-friendly sponsor.

International advocacy group BigAlcohol. Exposed launched an online fundraising campaign in May to help a tiny family-run barber shop, Sean & Sean’s Barber Club, outbid Chang beer. The online effort raised just over $2,100 through an indiegogo campaign (not the $23 million it would have needed to purchase the sponsorship), but awareness of the dangers of marketing alcohol to youth has echoed around the globe, from a Facebook page to a Twitter campaign to a full-page article in a Sri Lankan newspaper. Big Alcohol

Five Minutes With Howard Schwartz, founder and CEO of distributor HDS Marketing

Going The Extra Mile For Clients

HDS Marketing embodies the consultative approach to build long-term relationships with corporate clients

PPB What’s the story behind the HDS tagline: Merchandise As Media?

Schwartz This is actually an adopted tagline from the company I purchased; they were in the sports merchandise world, but it fits [with what we do] because the media industry is exactly what we’re in; we just communicate with promotional products.

Media is anything that tells a message, and “Merchandise As Media” portrays what we do. We’ve also used the tagline “Our business is promoting your business.” But we’ve changed that to “Ideas. Innovation. Integrity.”

PPB What misconceptions does your team encounter when pitching premiums as custom/promotional items?

Schwartz Cost is one misconception. People think they can buy one piece at a time at retail pricing, but that’s impossible. Take the cost of headphones, for example. We can’t compete with Best Buy on a single set of headphones, but when you want 40 pairs, we are going to be competitive. We also provide personalization, tracking, individual drop shipping—Best Buy can’t do all that.

Additionally, the margins on premiums, particularly electronics, are much narrower. Interestingly, many clients ask for discounts on gift cards, but the only way money is made on gift cards [with cash value] is to charge a service fee on the administration of a gift-card program.

PPB You work with a group of “preferred” suppliers. What’s the strategy behind selecting suppliers to include in this group?

Schwartz It’s a multi-pronged approach. Obviously there’s a financial component, but the three things we’re looking for are price, quality and service. You have to figure out what’s best for your clients, and you need to gather metrics on suppliers so you can figure out what’s going to fit.

PPB Your clients include regional and global brands; what common pain points and challenges do they present, and is there a universal ‘solution’ that you use to address them?

Schwartz No client is exactly the same. Their pain points are different, but you can look at similarities based on budgets, for example, and craft a solution that’s going to work for them.

PPB What qualities and work habits of your team elevate HDS from ‘distributor’ to ‘promotional consultant’?

Schwartz We want to be somebody who goes the extra mile. A distributor, to me, is someone who is just trying to sell you something. We do it in a consultative manner, so it’s a partnership. We are looking for repeat clients and long-term partners, so we provide a value proposition.

Promotional consultants will also make sure mistakes are mitigated as much as possible. I once heard a presentation on ‘ding happens’ (a substitute for the more common saying), and it was based on a premise that I always tell my salespeople: ‘Ding’ is always going to happen. But when the job is hard, that’s what sets you and your value proposition apart from another distributor.

We want to become an extension of our clients’ organizations, so that we can make their jobs easier.


Two Thumbs Up

New mobile app aims to improve real-time customer feedback

You want to know what your customers think about your business, but do they want to fill out an online form the size of War and Peace? Of course not. That’s why Digital Marketing Sapiens in San Antonio, Texas, created a customizable mobile app that asks customers just one question about their experience.

One. That’s it, you ask? Yes! The beauty is in how the response is handled; if feedback is positive, respondents can post it to social media and boost exposure for a brand. If it’s negative, the response is forwarded directly to the business so the issue can be addressed immediately.

While the company’s initial target group is hospitality businesses such as hotels and salons, the medical sector is also ripe for opportunity: patients will often switch providers after experiencing poor service at infrequent visits. The app’s analytic reports can be delivered on a schedule, and it also can record on-the-spot video and audio reviews that are housed on a micro-website.


A Dose Of Ingenuity

Want better results from your B2B branding efforts? Inject innovation into your marketing.

With manufacturing and creativity at the heart of the promotional products industry, it seems logical that B2B marketing efforts should reflect the same level of ingenuity. Take a look at your brand. Does it need a shot of innovation? Take your cues from GE, which is rebuilding its reputation by taking the same no-holds-barred approach to its marketing as it does to research and development.

1. Take Risks. You probably go to great lengths to create genius campaigns for your clients; why not do the same for your own company? GE eschewed traditional marketing tactics, producing a National Geographic TV series and launching out-of-the-box social media campaigns to reach an audience it believed would respond favorably to the company’s renewed focus on industry and innovation.

2. Treat Branding As A Behavior. Taglines, logos and catch-phrases aren’t enough anymore. Brands should do more than bring customers to the table; they should engage customers throughout the life of the transaction.

3. Give Your Brand A Job. If your company is all about products, the brand you present will be rather one-dimensional. You’re a firm that engages in transactions, and that’s okay. But if you want to build long-term relationships with consumers, your brand should further your company’s mission. GE challenges students to describe experiments using the company’s technology that can disprove the scientifically or technologically “impossible.” It’s not the product itself that sells best, but rather what the product can do for the customer.

4. Fine-Tune Your Target Audience. Don’t aim for the most customers, aim for the right customers. If they truly believe in your company’s mission and the value proposition you preach, the right customers become brand ambassadors for life.


Pokémon GO Fans: Catch ’Em All

Small businesses cash in on augmented-reality revival of popular game

The launch of Pokémon Go as a mobile game this summer sent millions of players into the streets and beyond in search of characters to “catch” on their phones, and local businesses saw the sudden boom in foot traffic around town as an opportunity to capitalize on the trend.

Speaking to AdWeek, Jamie Gallo, president of digital advertising agency Wunderman, said, “Pokémon Go essentially breaks down the wall between technology and real-world experience, so as brands drive people into new locations, there’s a real opportunity for them to do more ambient marketing.”

Not only could store owners purchase game features called Lures to bring customers in, they also developed special offers exclusively for players. CitySen Lounge in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and IconoCLAD in Salt Lake City, Utah, were among the small businesses seeking to make bank off dedicated Pokémon players. The town of McKinney, Texas, even went so far as to educate local businesses on using the app to boost traffic.

In a blog post in July, Kate Masewich of commonsku shared three ways for distributors to take advantage of the recent craze by offering products to clients that help connect them with Pokémon Go players and, hopefully, their business.

1. Offer products with a relevant tie-in. Portable chargers and power banks are perfect for players whose phones are sapped by the game, and clients will appreciate the apropos offer.

2. Pick a side and cater to it. Incentives for teams, which you must join to play, cater to the demographic as a whole by appealing to loyalties. Give one team a discount on a certain day, and another team the same discount—or a different but equal incentive—on the next day.

3. Publicize participation. Show your involvement in the trend through social media sharing, including photos of game characters in and around your place of business.