A DISTRIBUTOR ASKS: I recently started writing a blog, which is accessible through my company website. In my blog I discuss issues relevant to the promotional products industry, but I was wondering whether I should be more transparent. I know that users today like to see the “human” side of a business apart from the strictly professional side, but is it possible for too much transparency to backfire? I was wondering how other distributors structure their blog content and the feedback they’ve received.

As a seasoned writer and promo products distributor, I would encourage you to be personal in your writings. Most distributors stay focused on the “stuff” and people can buy the “stuff” anywhere. The key is to share enough about you, your company culture, your values and strengths, so they have a reason to buy from you. In our FreePromoTips.com industry resource program, we share photos from hiking, running or cycling and mention the products we use (apparel, water bottles, headphones, cooling towels—whatever). Pets are always a hit. We just launched a new feature, “Pet Tails,” spotlighting pets. People are passionate about their pets. Your clients may appreciate being featured, which could lead to other opportunities. In a noisy marketplace, a good blog can be helpful in telling your brand story.

Jeff Solomon, MAS
All American Marketing Group Powered by HALO Branded Solutions
Santa Clarita, California

I try to avoid anything that relates to politics or religion. I think it’s important to provide your readers with something of value that can be read quickly. I try to ask myself before I complete my daily blog, “How will the readers benefit from my content?” The best advice I was ever given is to just be you—the rest will fall into place when you do.

David J. Hawes, MAS+
Brand Architect
Lewiston, Maine

Great question. In the speaking industry, if  presenters establish themselves as competent within the first segment of their presentation, a smaller error or hiccup will endear them to the audience. The result is the opposite for a speaker who doesn’t immediately achieve audience approval. Any errors put them in an even worse light. I believe the same is true for blogs. Once you establish credibility with worthy content, good communication skills and an empathetic, relevant voice, you will gain a stronger, more engaged following by sharing some bloopers or out-takes. In the end, we deal with people we like and trust. Being human can be quite likeable.

Jae M. Rang, MAS
President and CEO
JAE Associates Ltd.
Oakville, Ontario

I see two separate issues within this question. The first is regarding transparency, which dives into your company culture and how you share aspects of hiring, diversity and inclusion efforts, growth and performance metrics, pricing strategy and even revenue, to name a few. Traditionally, this kind of information has been kept private, but there’s more and more evidence that transparency increases trust, helps with innovation, leads to greater justice and results in more feedback. Being transparent isn’t without risk, however, so making decisions on what can be shared publicly needs to be done with care, contemplation and consensus. The social media tech company Buffer is known for its transparency about everything. They’ve written a great resource about why transparency in business matters and how to get it started: www.open.buffer.com/transparency-in-business.

The second issue in your question inquires about sharing the human side of business. Part of this may fall under the purview of corporate transparency, but I suspect you’re really wondering about the mix of professionally-toned articles versus casual glimpses into daily life at your company—everything from boxing up orders for clients to company picnics to trade-show attendance. When developing content, you must put your audience’s needs first. Instead of crafting messages like you want to say, flip it around and create messages that your customers need to hear. Instead of thinking like a marketer, think like a journalist. It’s a subtle difference, but absolutely essential if you want your content to connect with the audience.

Not sure what your audience wants? Look at the metrics of your current content. Do certain pieces get more likes, shares, opens or comments? If so, that’s one place to start. But the best way to determine an audience’s needs is to simply ask them. When you’re on sales calls, chat with customers about what kinds of information they need to make better marketing/purchasing decisions, what tools could help them perform better at their jobs and what kind of content they’re consuming now. Ask them how important it is to see what’s happening behind the scenes. Typically, the more you know about something, the more you care. Sharing candid details of what it’s like to work for your company and letting people get to know your team can go a long way in building loyalty. Also, ask what they love and hate about your current content and what they wish you’d publish but haven’t yet. This will help you tailor efforts to doing more of what they like, eliminating what they don’t and adding in new material that they need.

Can too much honesty backfire? Sure. So, you still must be smart about what you post. A late-night drunken pic from a trade-show after-party probably doesn’t shine the best light on your brand—unless your clientele is in the party scene, which, in that case, drink up. Whatever direction you take, make sure the direction goes beyond all selling all the time. A common content planning formula is that 3-2-1 model. For every three pieces of industry-related content, have two pieces of “proud” content (feel-good community content) and one piece of product/service-related content. This will help you maintain a varied and balanced mix of content that’s not overly sales-focused.

So, how transparent should one be? Rand Fishkin, formerly of Mox and founder of SparkToro, sums it up nicely: “Will sharing this bring value to my company? That’s marketing. Will sharing this bring value to others, even if it doesn’t benefit me/my company? That’s transparency. I don’t particularly care for the former. I’m all in on the latter.”

Lisa Horn, CAS
The Publicity Gal
Denver, Colorado


A DISTRIBUTOR ASKS: This week has proven challenging. I’ve lost three orders; two because the client did not like the samples I provided and another for imprinted water bottles, which I lost to a competitor. I know this is all part of the business, but it can certainly be frustrating and disheartening. How do other distributors bounce back from weeks like this?

Ask the right qualifying questions upfront. What quality does the client expect? Don’t assume you are in agreement. Do they have a reasonable expectation based on their desired spend? It’s better to find out early and adjust accordingly. Do they place any value on your relationship or only on price? If price only, let them go and be glad when they return because of poor service elsewhere or they don’t because they only shop on price.

Any time an order, project or bid is lost, ask as many questions as possible. Was the client really serious about ordering or shopping for ideas? Ask them to pay for samples upfront with the caveat that the amount paid will be credited toward an invoice if an order results. If they’re not willing to pay for a sample under that condition, they’re probably not serious about ordering. What did the client value in a competitor that you didn’t offer, but probably could? And if you really want to impress them, follow up with the client to see how the order went that you did not fulfill for them. If you’re willing to do that kind of follow-up, they won’t hesitate to consider you on the next project.

Mike Scott
Innovative Imprints, LLC
San Diego, California

Take your best friend out for a walk and a microbrew. If they are not available, Rubi and I will join you.

Roger L. Halverson
Matrix Resourcing Corporation
Minneapolis, Minnesota


A DISTRIBUTOR ASKS: I’m being contacted by a lot of clients asking for pre-sale virtual proofs after they narrow down their search, but don’t want to commit to an order because they want to “see it first.” What can I do to sort out the time-wasters from the real buyers?

What’s Your Answer?
Email answers along with your name, title and company name by October 15 to Question@ppai.org for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue of PPB magazine.  


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.