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Marketing Strategies
Nine Tips For Tackling Promotion Challenges
By Shane Dale, Kenneth Hein and Nicole Rollender

1. Approach A Competitor’s Top Client

The clients with the budgets are the ones you want these days – even if it means going after a competitor’s loyal customer. For Geiger (asi/202900) independent sales rep John Festa, it was a local hospital. He got an appointment with the marketing director, who said that she always deals with the same people. But catching her off guard, he presented her with a flurry of samples and creative ideas and quickly got an order.

While it’s necessary to take your competitors head-on, Festa says, "Don’t talk against them. They will bury themselves."

Another key is to do your research. To be able to prove your value over theirs you need to know your competition’s brand positioning and go-to-market strategies. Do they stress customer service or low prices? Do they offer services (like Web site design or marketing copywriting)? Once you can find these things out, then you’re more equipped to go to a competitor’s client and prove the value in a different strategy or approach.

Lastly, network hard. Good client contacts can first be made through the people you meet in networking situations. Customers are always going to complain about their vendors when they trust somebody they’re talking to. Be ready to pounce when you hear a first complaint. 

2. Write A Good E-Mail Subject Line

Everyone gets too much e-mail. The key is to make people open your e-mail marketing efforts. Here are three tips to make sure that your subject line stops them from just hitting delete:

1. Write the subject line last. "It makes more sense to come back to the subject line after you finish writing the content," says John Arnold, author of E-mail Marketing for Dummies and Web Marketing for Dummies. "Look for the most compelling topic to highlight in your subject line."

2. Give a hint. "A vague subject line is a waste of space," Arnold says. For example, consider a monthly newsletter with the subject line of "Bob’s Bistro Newsletter: July, 2009." According to Arnold, "This fails to tell the recipients anything about what they will find when they open the e-mail and offers very little reason to do so. A better approach for a newsletter is, ‘Bob’s Bistro: Our favorite recipes shared.’"

3. Keep it short and simple. In just three seconds or less, recipients will either open or delete your e-mail, says Arnold. And "with only 30-50 characters, including spaces, to create a winning subject line, you must convey your most powerful statement into those few words." – Kenneth Hein

3. Make an Online Video 

Michael Miller, author of YouTube for Business, says business owners need three pieces of equipment before creating an online video:

1. A high-definition camcorder – available from Sony for $600.

2. An external microphone – available from Sony for $50-$100.

3. A supplemental lighting kit – available from Sunpak or Smith Victor for $100-$200.

In terms of content, Miller says there are three types of videos that get watched by casual Internet users. "It can be something purely entertaining, it can be something that is informative, like if you’ve got the latest industry news, or it can be educational, like if you’re showing your customer how to do something," he says. "These videos really do get watched."

Miller recommends placing any online video on YouTube. "YouTube makes it very easy," he says. "You can upload it in mpeg or Windows Media format. If you have a high-definition camera, you can do it in a 720p resolution."

To place a video on YouTube:

Mouse over to the upload button at the top right corner of, and click Upload Video File.

Enter information about the video, including the title, a brief description and tag words that will allow YouTube users to find the video by typing in keywords.

Videos must be one gigabyte or less and may not run more than 10 minutes.

"You can host videos on your own server and write in the HTML, but you might not have the bandwidth to handle the traffic," Miller says. "You can have YouTube host the video that’s on your own Web site. YouTube supplies you with a little snippet of HTML code so you can embed it into your Web site. The video will look like it’s on your Web page, but it isn’t. The bandwidth isn’t coming to your site; it’s coming to YouTube. So, you aren’t going to be overloaded." – Shane Dale

4. Succeed With Twitter

First it was MySpace, then it was Facebook, and now the latest social media phenomenon is Twitter. For many, the idea of "tweeting" thoughts written in 140 characters or less is intimidating or, at first glance, even silly. Still, there are numerous advantages to being active in social media.

Boundless Network (asi/143717) at press time had 200-plus followers, while the company’s president, Jason Black, himself had about 400. Whenever Black sends out a message, he is communicating with all of these people who have opted to hear what he has to say. In his opinion, his personality helps give Boundless "some flavor and color."

Tonia Allen Gould, president of Tag! The Creative Source (asi/341358), says she has just start Tweeting. And she now encourages all of her sales reps to use social media "to cast their net out. I’m a big believer in, it’s not what you know – it’s who you know," she says. "You can use it to have a dialog with people in the industry."

Better yet, Black says, "Marketers are the ones who are driving Twitter. It’s smart to try and make relationships with these people."

Twitter, though, shouldn’t be used as an overt sales channel. There needs to be more of a personal element to your posts on Twitter. "I’m not looking to whore myself out all of the time," says Black. "My tweets are about sports, politics, family and stuff that I observe that has zero to do with promotional products. People appreciate authenticity."

Consultant Patrick O’Malley says, "Tweet only quality items. The goal should be to only tweet something that is valuable enough to be retweeted." This means people will cut and paste your message into their entry. Join ASI’s more than 1,100 followers on Twitter. – Kenneth Hein

5. Start a Showroom 

In August, Melissa Mackberry will have a whole new showroom, and she is thrilled. As a sales rep for Impact Signage (asi/230381), she has very little space to show off her promotional products. This is due in part to the fact that she has to share it with signs and lighting displays.

Despite only having opened the showroom a couple of years ago, the company quickly outgrew it. By doubling its size, Mackberry will be able to better present her products and will have more room for samples. She will also have a sitting area where customers can peruse the latest catalogs. "People like to look at pictures," she says. "They like to look and say what they want."

The key to starting a good showroom is to put together a group of items that your company has worked on. They should be varied, with logos from a diverse set of clients. The point is to prove your company’s abilities – and versatility. Tag! The Creative Source’s (asi/341358) President Tonia Allen Gould uses her showroom as a compilation of her work, "vs. just having a bunch of suppliers’ samples," she says. "You’ll never find anything on our shelves that we didn’t produce for a client."

The challenge for anyone creating a new showroom is to keep it tidy. Gould says she will often grab samples on the way out to a meeting. "Keeping it clean is the biggest chore." – Kenneth Hein

6. Network At A Chamber of Commerce Event 

Networking at a Chamber meeting is relatively easy because everyone else there wants to network and "is just as anxious and uneasy," says Eric Gelb, a CPA who runs But it’s important to get an attendee list in advance to prepare for the meeting. "The key is to dissect the attendee list and focus on those you want to meet and can help you achieve your goal."

Once you’ve identified the people you want to speak with, there are three important things you can do, says communications effectiveness trainer Dan Weedin:

1. Never try to sell on the spot. Your goal is to establish if the other person is a buyer of your products and to set an appointment to discuss their needs further.

2. Get good background info. Learn as much as you can about them, their company and their frustrations.

3. Get a name and card and follow up. Too many business professionals make good contacts at Chamber events and fail to follow up. 

7. Expand Into Embroidery 

It’s a fairly common story among distributors who decided to become embroiderers: Either they couldn’t find a decorator they were satisfied with or they decided it would be more profitable to do the embellishment work themselves. However, the decision to be a distributor-turned-decorator is a big one, especially since a commercial singlehead embroidery machine can run you at least $5,000. Here are three steps to take before you make the tough decision to become a decorator:

Decide whether you can decorate. Not everyone is going to have a flair for running an embroidery machine or turning clients’ logos into good-quality stitch files. And, you may not have the time to do this if you’re also trying to land new clients. If you have the manpower to add embroidery services to your business, first attend basic embroidery and digitizing classes at trade shows or at local decorator shops to see if you have the skills to do better work than decorators you’ve used.  

Evaluate multiple vendors and types of machines before you buy. You’ll need to determine whether you should purchase a singlehead or multihead machine, based on the order volumes you anticipate. Plus, you’ll need to see if the machine and supplies you need (thread, hoops, trimmers and blanks) will fit in the space you’ve allotted for them. Most manufacturers will give you in-depth demos of their machines before you buy, and will offer training when you purchase a new machine or digitizing software. This kind of education is extremely helpful, as is attending trade shows to talk to suppliers and decorators.

Get ready for the learning curve. Most decorators and digitizers will tell you it takes about six months to really become proficient at running your machine and software. Deanna Duncan, president of Olympic Embroidery (asi/287459), says a beginning decorator "kind of just does it. You end up making a lot of stuff for yourself, your kids and neighbors" because of trial and error. Decide whether your business can handle that profit lag before you sign on. – Nicole Rollender  

8. Entertain A Client You Hate

It’s a fact of business in 2009: Sometimes you find yourself footing the lunch bill for a client you simply can’t stand. Yes, all revenue is important these days.  

In the case of entertaining a nightmare client, Jody Ferrer, president of The Perfect Promotion LLC (asi/293518), tries to let them steer the conversation as much as possible. "I let them talk and try to find common ground," she says.

Ferrer’s not afraid to cut an annoying client loose, but she knows that sometimes the money bad clients generate is too much to turn down. In those cases, she lets the client do the talking and quietly reminds herself of the payoff for tolerating an unpleasant personality. Plus, "When they start talking about themselves they become more pleasant and more likeable," she says.  

Other experts recommend actually seeking out more contact with the person. The reasoning: People tend to like people better the more they see them. Also, giving a client a brief, subliminal touch, such as a quick tap on the shoulder, increases that person’s sense of well-being and may spark more positive behavior.

Finally, reflect on reasons to feel grateful that this person is your client. (He’s got a lot of buying power? She is willing to pay top dollar?) Keeping these happy thoughts in mind will keep you upbeat during your time together.

9. Run a Self-Promo Campaign  

It seems easy enough: Use a promotional product to promote your products and your ideas. However, creating an impactful self-promo can be challenging. Often, the key is in finding something that not only helps impart your marketing message, but is also useful and will remain on a client’s desk for a long time.

For Sharie Stewart, owner of Abacus Enterprises (asi/101830), her most well-received item came as a surprise. It was a 3-D bookmark ruler from Enduraline (asi/52480) with a butterfly on it. "People got it and held onto it," she says. "They figured ‘If I liked it and held onto it and can’t put it down, my customers won’t be able to either.’ You have to pick the right product."  

Distributors can improve their chances by personalizing an item for clients, says John Lockhead, president of Brand It Inc. (asi/145034). He recently created a bottle jersey koozie during March Madness. The koozies look like basketball jerseys, imprinted with the clients’ names on the back. Lockhead’s reasoning: It’s more difficult to throw something out if it has your name on it. "It adds a lot more value to the item," he says. "It had a real wow factor when they turned it around and saw their name on it."

For added impact, Lockhead hand-delivered the products. "Personalization and hand delivery is the key," he says.  

Stewart says even if the self-promo doesn’t generate a sale, it’s worth it because you’re giving people something for free and getting your company’s brand out there. "A lot of it is about goodwill." – Kenneth Hein
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