November 8, 2012

Using the Ground Game Strategy for Growing Your Business

If you followed any of the coverage of the US elections this fall, you probably heard the pundits talk about two things: how much the candidates are spending and who has a better “ground game”. This is interesting because the same exact tools that win elections can help you win as a business. It’s pretty well acknowledged that a big part of Obama’s success was his ground game, and I’m a big believer in developing a ground game for your business too. You can win by spending money — many elections have been won that way — but it’s not the only option.

Here are three ways I’ve used our ground game to boost sales this year, even though we didn’t spend much money on traditional advertising:

1. Shaking hands and kissing babies
When people feel a personal connection to a brand or a political candidate, they’re more inclined to throw their support that way. This is why political candidates get out there in front of voters and it’s why I spent most of my year getting out in front of my customers. By the end of 2012, we’ll have appeared at 16 pop-up retail events all over the US. We traveled north to Boston, west to Chicago (twice). We did events in Philadelphia (THREE times), DC (2x), NYC (3x), Pittsburgh, and Baltimore (3x). In March we’ll head south to Orlando. We travel to large events with tens or even hundreds of thousands of consumers, and our primary motivation is to get them to meet us and love us — even if they don’t buy anything right away.

We know just showing our line to people and chatting with them will help spread our brand awareness. They might not buy from us today, but there’s a good chance they will remember us and buy from us some other time.

You can employ this strategy, too. Think about festivals, craft shows and outdoor markets, but also think about trunk shows and home parties. Choose activities that appeal to your target customers and enable you to talk to them one-on-one.

2. Making It Stick
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: give people a reason to remember your brand. Political campaigns are usually happy to give you t-shirts, bumper stickers, pens, all sorts of stuff with the candidate’s name on it. They want you to remember their candidate so when it’s time to vote, you’ll remember to vote for them.

We employ the same strategy. We are always giving away loads of fun free stuff. We give it out at shows, we give it out with our orders. We give out cute vinyl stickers with our characters on them, 1″ pins, funny comic strips. We don’t give out stuff that looks like marketing material; we don’t just give out a business card, we give out something our customers would actually want so they’ll keep it and remember us.

Just yesterday a customer told us he ordered from us because a friend of a friend who lives across the country came to visit, and had one of our vinyl stickers on something. That’s how he found us.

3. Staying on Message
If you have a message that resonates with your audience, you’re more likely to attract their support, whether you’re running for office or promoting your brand. What does your brand do? Does it make life easier, does it make your customers more attractive, does it help your customer be a better parent? My own products are conversation starters — we design items you could wear out to a bar and it’s likely that someone will strike up a conversation with you based on what you’re wearing. We’re not just selling clothing, we’re selling human connections.

When you’re presenting your product on the ground, think about how you can present more than just the product: how can you present the benefits of owning your product? Think about employing signage, videos, live demos or brochures depending on the item you sell.

Have you used ground game this year to boost sales? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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May 2, 2012

What You Can Do To Make Your Own Characters More Famous

Filed under: Branding — Meredith @ 8:22 am

Yesterday I ranted about how much I hate to see anyone using unlicensed characters in their designs. I’d much rather see people creating their own characters. This can seem like a tall order though, how can you gain any traction with your own creations when there are so many established famous characters already out there? Here are some things to try:

1. Make it Awesome
This seems like no-brainer advice, but it’s crucial. Create characters that appeal to your target demographic. Make them cute, funny, interesting, etc. Think about what’s so appealing about existing characters like Hello Kitty, Pikachu, Darth Vader, etc. What makes people love them and how can you infuse those qualities into your creations?

2. Market It
If your characters are awesome the next step is getting them in front of people. Have a strategy for getting your characters out there. This can include viral videos about your characters, handing out free vinyl stickers or 1″ buttons featuring your characters. The goal is to get them in front of as many people as possible as fast as you can. It’s easier to get people interested in your characters if you present them in a way that’s fun and engaging. That’s why things like funny videos or free swag are perfect tools.

When we do live events for Ex-Boyfriend, we give out thousands of stickers featuring Fuzz Aldrin and Victorious Yeti, two of our flagship characters. We often vend at comic cons, and by the end of the weekend half the people walking around are displaying our stickers in their badge holders. The more we do events, the more people tell us they’ve seen our characters before.

3. Try Collaborating
Doing a mash up with another designer is a great way to cross promote your characters with another designer’s work. Look for a collaboration partner who has an audience similar to your own so you can both introduce your creations to one another’s fans.

4. Tell a Story/Create a Universe
A lot of popular characters got popular because of the stories they came from. A great story is what helps fans relate to your characters, so when designing characters for your brand think about a back story for them and how you can share the story with your fans. Think about ways your characters can pop up in different products and settings.

When we first introduced out Victorious Yeti in 2010 he was on a weather forecast design, but since then he’s popped up on belts, and acquired a ski resort. He often acts as our mascot, wearing a Santa hat in our holiday newsletter or cuddling a kitty in our promotion for our animal rescue fundraiser. He cemented his place in the Ex-Boyfriend universe by appearing in our who’s who of regular characters. The repeated use of a regular character in different contexts helps add consistency to our branding and helps our fans recognize our characters more easily.

Don’t forget, publicist Lauren Aseff is spilling her secrets about how to get your products into TV and movies. The deal is running this week ONLY, so don’t miss out.

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February 23, 2012

Are You Just Another Jewelry Designer?

Filed under: Branding — Tags: — Meredith @ 9:02 am


I’m picking on jewelry today, but this isn’t actually about jewelry (so listen up if you sell bags, soaps, sock monkeys, etc.). I’m picking on jewelry today because it’s the most common product type out there in the handmade/DIY scene. Everyone seems to think they can make some jewelry, put it on Etsy and make a zillion bucks.

It’s totally possible to launch a successful jewelry business; plenty of people have done it. However, if you want to be one of the lucky few who makes it in a saturated market, don’t count on just doing what everyone else is doing — it ain’t gonna cut it. When you move into a crowded space you need to have a very clear answer to the question “Why should I buy from you instead of your competitors?” Here are some ways you can tackle that:

1. A Special Twist on Your Product Line
One way to set yourself apart from your competitors is by making an otherwise common product in a way that’s special for an overlooked customer base. Products with a special service, feature or target market can do well, even in a saturated space. There are a zillion diaper bags on the market, but maybe not so many specially designed for handicapped parents. There are tons of shoe stores out there, but not so many that focus on unusually big or small feet. There’s certainly a shortage of cute-looking orthopedic shoes.

Think about a niche audience you can serve with your product. If you can’t serve with a niche twist on your product, consider ways you can provide niche service. Zappos sells a lot of the products their competitors sell, but they offer free shipping, free returns, and a 365-day return policy. Their bend-over-backwards customer service helps them shine in a crowded retail space. If you can’t make your product stand out, find a way to make something about your service unique.

2. Killer Marketing
If you can’t stand out with unique products or unique service, you can stand out through brute force and clever marketing. Snorg Tees has become nearly synonymous with online t-shirt shops, mainly because their ads are everywhere. has become an online retail giant, despite lackluster customer service and pricing that’s not as awesome as they claim it is, simply because they advertise nonstop. TOMS shoes has tied charitable giving to their brand, making them attractive to consumers and the press. When you’ve got a brand story that’s tied to doing something positive, it’s easier to get people to talk about you.

Think about what you can do with your marketing to stand out. Can you saturate your audience with ads? Can you spin a story about your line that’s so interesting that the media and customers won’t shut up about it?

3. More Than a Product Line, A Lifestyle
Another way to make your product line special is to make the product line less of a focus for your brand. It sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes this works. Plenty of brands have found success in selling a lifestyle. Sure, they sell products, but what they sell is almost beside the point. They’re selling an image and that offering is so powerful that the products sell simply because customers want to buy a piece of that lifestyle. Tiffany & Co is a terrific example of a brand that revolves around a lifestyle. They don’t just sell jewelry, they sell luxury, elegance and timeless good taste. They can sell a $125 keychain (and they do) because of the brand image they’ve cultivated. They reinforce this branding with their product photos, store merchandising, product packaging, etc.

Harley-Davidson is another great example of this kind of brand positioning. They don’t simply sell motorcycles; they sell the dream of appearing tough and rebellious, even if you’re really a middle-aged, suburban soccer-dad. They sell belts, jewelry, jackets, you name it! It all sells because it’s emblazoned with their logo and that logo is shorthand for a lifestyle their customers aspire to.

If you think this could be your brand’s ticket to standing out, think about what your brand can do for your customers’ sense of self. Can you position your brand to make customers feel hip, elite, eco-minded, or rebellious? What can you do with your product photos, web design, marketing copy, etc. to convey that kind of message?

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December 6, 2011

Using Exceptional Branding and Package Design to Sell Your Products

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , — Meredith @ 1:30 pm

In yesterday’s post I made reference to Blue Q’s clever use of product packaging to sell a mundane product. I wanted to talk about that a little more today because I think it’s a very valuable tool for selling your wares.

Creating a product that no one else is selling is extremely difficult, I’d be willing to bet the vast majority of my readers aren’t doing this. So if you can’t be without competitors, marketing, branding and package design are your next best options for standing out and appearing to be unique. There are too many people selling soap, bags, candy, necklaces, t-shirts, etc. to simply start another brand with products that are pretty or smell nice or taste good. To be successful, your branding and marketing needs to have something buzzworthy or unique about it.

Below are some terrific examples of companies that are selling completely unremarkable products. Stuff you can pick up at any Rite Aid for less than $5.00. These companies have turned the mundane into something awesome with clever packaging and branding.

So Stinking Sweet has done an amazing job of turning soap into a brilliant holiday stocking stuffer. People might not rush out to stick a bar of Dial in a stocking, but shape the soap like coal, add a cute little gift tag and snap a picture of the soap in front of a spring of evergreen and you’ve got holiday season gag gift magic.

You can get a good old Whitman’s sampler for a few bucks, but that starts to look a little less fun when you can order A Christmas Story themed fudge from Candy Crate. The deliciousness of the candy is almost beside the point, the product packaging is what makes this novelty item pop culture gold.

Archie McPhee is the master of making mundane products fun with great package design. They’ve turned something as clinical and dull as a tongue scraper into a terrific gag gift for a bachelor party.

DippyLuLu cleverly turns a book of matches into a novelty gift with great package design. You can usually get matches for free at your neighborhood bar, but add clever presentation and suddenly the same item becomes a fun little hostess gift.

The Pirate Supply Store is another great example of selling mundane products with clever packaging. Pictured above, is their monkey leash. The leash is literally a length of rope with a label on it, selling for $9.00!

Takeaway for you:
If you can’t create exceptional products, find another way to be exceptional. Product presentation is just as important (and sometimes more important) than the product itself. If you’ve been struggling with a way to make your products stand out take a cue from the examples above. Think about ways to reframe your products in a way that appeals to your customers’ sense of humor, sources of aggravation, personal style, etc.

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August 8, 2011

Brand Aid: Using Inspiration Boards

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 5:25 am

When you’re trying to establish a loveable and cohesive brand that people go crazy for, it’s important to have a really clear and consistent aesthetic. You want your branding to be consistent through your product photos, web design, and marketing materials.

A great way to start thinking about brand cohesion is by using inspiration boards. Inspiration boards can be helpful in a variety of ways, such as:
– Communicating your brand aesthetic to a web designer you hire
– Keeping yourself consistent with products you design
– Keeping your marketing collateral consistent with your brand’s image
– Collaborating with another designer on a finished product.

We frequently use inspiration boards when doing new designs for Ex-Boyfriend. It’s especially important for us because I often generate the design ideas but my partner actually does the design work. It’s impossible to just download the ideas from my mind’s eye to his and I can’t draw so much as a stick figure. Inspiration boards allow me to easily communicate to him the ideas that I have for executing a design concept.

Contents of your inspiration board can be anything. You can look at fonts, color palettes, magazine cut outs, song lyrics, stills from movies, photos, advertisements — just about any visual elements you feel represent the mood and look you want to achieve.

Once you have an inspiration board, you can share it with designers you hire or collaborate with or just keep it at your own desk or workspace to keep yourself on track.

Not sure what an inspiration board might look like?
Check out Polyvore is a community of inspiration board makers, so you can get ideas on how to build an inspiration board for your own brand or product designs.

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August 1, 2011

Would You Pay 5 Cents for a Permanent Advertisement for Your Brand?

Filed under: Branding — Meredith @ 8:19 am

I am totally fried from my crazy awesome weekend at Otakon — an anime/comic/pop culture festival with over 30,000 attendees. As always, these weekends not only bring us a loads of new sales and fans, they also bring lots of thoughts and ideas about business.

We had tons of people tell us our booth was their favorite one at the show. We has a regular old booth in a sea of hundreds of professional vendors who do this kind of thing every weekend. What made us stand out? We were giving away really cool free stuff people wanted (A.K.A ads for our business).

While other vendors were charging the attendees a buck or two for a vinyl sticker, we were giving ours away for free. And our stickers featured our most beloved and iconic character, Fuzz Aldrin. The stickers looked so cute, that people happily took them and put them on their guitar cases, car bumpers, laptops, etc. By the time Sunday rolled around, people were seeking out our booth and asking us for stickers, saying they’d seen them all over during the weekend.

Why not sell them and make a quick buck?
I have no doubt that some people would have given us a buck or two for our stickers, but we might have only sold 100 or so stickers that way. Giving them away for free means thousands of people are promoting our brand for us. The stickers only cost us a few cents each, so it was a small price to pay for what amounts to a ton of (almost) free advertising. Not to mention brand affinity.

How do you get people to seek out your marketing materials and enthusiastically share them with the world?

1. Have marketing materials they can use
If your marketing materials are functional, they are less likely to be thrown away. This is why things like buttons and stickers are good. People will hang onto stuff like that and display it to the world.

2. Have marketing materials that are cool
Having beautiful iconic design associated with your brand is highly important. If you’re not a designer, hire one. You can’t skimp in this area if you want people to promote your brand. Think Hello Kitty from Sanrio. She’s essentially a brand logo, but she’s so adorable that everyone wants her.

3. Have marketing materials that are iconic, memorable and most of all GOOGLEABLE
Having iconic unique branding goes hand in hand with having cool marketing materials. Really effective marketing materials are so memorable and iconic that people see it once and remember it. If they look it up online, they’ll find it right away.

If you’re trying to build a brand, you want your iconography to be easily identifiable and so ingrained in culture that your iconorgaphy is instantly associated with you. After all, the whole idea is to make everyone who sees your ads fall in love with your brand, seek it out and become a fan/customer.

4. Give away your marketing materials at every possible opportunity
Selling your marketing materials is short-sighted,. Unless you’re already such a household name that everyone knows your branding, you’re not in a position to charge for it. On the other hand, flooding the universe with your branding is a great way to make your brand a household name.

Give away your marketing materials at pop up retail events. Insert your marketing materials in every order you ship to customers. See if you can get other businesses to take your marketing materials. In Baltimore City, one of the most recognizable brands is Big Boyz Bail Bonds. They’ve accomplished this by giving free pink and yellow pens to every restaurant and bar in the city. You can’t eat or drink in Baltimore without seeing an ad for this business. The pens have a distinct look and they’re so ever-present that everyone in town knows about them. All this cost them was the price of the pens.

A final thought about cost
You may notice I rarely talk about marketing being free. This is because there’s really no such thing. There’s marketing that costs time and marketing that costs money, but all marketing is going to cost something. The type of viral marketing I describe in today’s post isn’t “free” but it can be inexpensive.

When you’re producing marketing materials like the ones I described in this article, your best bet is to buy in bulk. You’ll get a cheaper price per piece if you buy 10,000 pieces instead of 100. It will be a bigger up front cost, but in the long run it is significantly cheaper.

You also have to remember that if you’re doing it right, each piece of collateral that cost you only a few cents, is going to get thousands of views out in the world. You can’t buy cheaper advertising, so if cost savings is your goal, this is the route you want to go.

P.S. Want to get custom stickers for your business? We used PS Print for ours and we were super happy with the price and print quality!

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June 29, 2011

7 Little Tricks For Making Your Company Look Like a Big Deal

Ever hear the expression “dress for the job you want”? What it means is, if you keep showing up to the office in cut off shorts and ratty t-shirts, people will think you look like you belong in the mail room and that’s where you’ll stay. If your business is, figuratively speaking, dressed like a ragamuffin, it’s always going to be one. If you want to run a million dollar business, then fake it til you make it. Below are 7 ways you can make your business look like a big deal:

1. List your Phone Number
Real businesses have phone service. If you want to look like one, include a contact number on your website, ideally some place easy to spot. It says “we’re a real company, with real staff waiting to take your calls.” Even if you can’t man your phone line 24/7, have a professional voice mail greeting that implies that customer calls are returned in a timely fashion. (And then actually return the calls in a timely fashion.)

There are dozens of services that provide phone numbers for small companies. You can even get a free number from Google Voice (though it does have Google Voice branding on it). If you are willing to spend a little, you can get a toll free number for less than 10 bucks a month.

Bonus: Having a phone number ups your website’s trust factor, an important component of conversion rate optimization. People want to give their money to businesses that seem trustworthy. Having a phone number listed makes your business seem more like it can be trusted to take a credit card number and deliver products.

2. Have a beautiful web design
Not just any old website will do, you need a website that looks really great. Having an attractive professional website makes your business seem successful. It makes journalists more willing to write about you. It makes wholesale buyers more interested in doing business with you. It makes consumers more willing to trust you.

If you’re thinking “web design is hard” or “a web designer is expensive”, consider all the money and opportunities you’ll lose by having a terrible website.

3. Have great product photos
Great looking product photos are an extremely important part of your company’s image. Don’t bother with indoor lighting and a cheap camera. You want your photos to look compelling. Like a great web design, great product photos impress all kinds of online visitors from customers to the press.

If you want to take your own product photos, do some research to see how other people have staged photos of similar products. This will give you ideas on how to stage your photo shoot. Then be sure to work with proper lighting, so photos don’t look murky or gray. Finally, do some retouching in a program like Photoshop, so your photos look perfect.

If you’re not up for all this work, consider hiring a professional photographer to shoot your items. There are even photographers that specialize in doing product photography and will shoot your products for a pretty affordable rate, usually charging per product photo.

4. Merchandising
Merchandising products on your website in a variety of ways is useful for several reasons. It makes your product catalog seem bigger and it makes shopping for products easier. I wrote a detailed piece for Design Sponge last year on ways to merchandise a shop. You’ll notice a lot of bigger companies merchandise their online stores using the same strategies.

5. Publicity
Getting a mention from a major media outlet is not only a great way to increase brand awareness and give your sales a boost, it also makes your company look important. These placements give you credibility with both retail customers and wholesale customers, so they’re a valuable boon to your business if you can get them. Once you’ve scored them, you can use them on your website, adding logos like “as seen on” to product pages and your home page.

Not sure how to get publicity? Check this out, I’ve written a very detailed how-to.

6. Engaged Social Media Followers
Want to convince media outlets, wholesale buyers, competitors or potential new retail customers you’ve got an army of rabid fans? Of course you do, and social media makes that easier than ever. By truly engaging your fans on sites like Twitter and Facebook (instead of just selling to them), you can get them to talk to you and about you, thus making your fans seem like they’re crazy for you.

Some tricks that help:
– Ask questions that prompt responses
– In your product packages, include a note that asks customers to share a photo of themselves using your product on Facebook
– Take photos of fans at live events using your products and tag them on Facebook/share them on Twitter and Flickr
– Shoot videos of live events and interview your customers. You can just ask a couple of quick questions such as “what did you buy from [insert brand name] today?” or “what did you enjoy best about today’s event?” Then post to Youtube and let fans know they’ve been featured.

7. Product Presentation
If you’re just shoving your products into a mailer with an invoice print out from Paypal, STOP IT! You’re leaving the customer with the impression that you’re simply a transactional seller and not a real brand to be remembered. You want every customer who gets your package to remember it, so make sure your packaging isn’t an afterthought. This includes creating a stylish branded invoice and adding other little details to make your brand seem like a big deal. This can include hang tags, branded products or little freebies like branded vinyl stickers. These same rules apply to samples that go to the media. If your shipment looks impressive, it’s going to make an impression on anyone who gets it.

Bonus Tip for Wannabe Big Shots: A lot of small businesses who sell online take Paypal. It’s super easy and inexpensive to implement. The problem is, it makes you look pretty small time. Having the ability to take credit cards makes you look like a bigger company. If you’re a Paypal junkie, consider their virtual terminal product. It’s a nice all-in-one solution. This isn’t your only option, of course. A little research on merchant accounts will help you find plenty of other vendors that enable you to take credit cards online. And you need not completely ditch Paypal. Accepting both cards and Paypal is a great way to look professional and satisfy customers who have a preference for one of those two payment methods.

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June 21, 2011

Converting Customers from Marketplace Shoppers to Fans Who Shop on Your Website

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , , , , — Meredith @ 8:10 am

Last week I started a discussion about how Etsy and other marketplace websites hinder customer relationships. For a couple of years now I’ve been trying to talk my readers into getting their own ecommerce websites, and not felt like I was getting through to people. I finally hit on a point last week that got some more people thinking. To reiterate, I said “when people ask your customers where they got products they purchased from you, they’re going to say Etsy, not your brand name.” If you want to build your own brand, this is a serious problem.

Last week I also talked about ways to emphasize your brand in the actual package customers receive, but today I want to talk about ways to actually get customers who found you on a marketplace site, to make their future purchases on your website.

Before we talk about this, let’s discuss the 3 things marketplace sites are good for.

1. Hobbyists
If you knit for fun and want to make a few extra bucks, sure sell on Ebay or Etsy. You aren’t trying to run a business and sites like this offer an easy way for hobbyists to make a few bucks.

2. Testing the waters
If you are thinking about starting a business, but not totally committed to the idea, marketplace sites are a great way to test drive the experience. You can see if there’s a demand for your product. You can see what it’s like serving customers, shipping orders, etc. These sites are a great place to try things out, before getting serious about a business.

3. Affiliates
Affiliate marketers are marketers that market products for other people. When the products sell, the affiliates get paid a commission. Traditionally, you would establish an affiliate program on a site like Shareasale, affiliates would join the program on their own, market your wares on their own, and get commissions as they referred sales.

Sites like Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, etc. can be thought of as glorified affiliates. Unlike traditional affiliates, you have to take a more active role in working with them. You pay them fees even if they don’t sell product. You have to list your stuff on their site. That said, they have a huge user community and by virtue of this, they are in a position to refer customers to you, and they do get paid a portion of your sales as a result.

Affiliates are great for customer acquisition, so if those marketplace sites are delivering sales, by all means, maintain a presence there. But don’t hand over your whole business to them. The thing they are doing for you is driving traffic to your shop. In exchange they are getting listing fees and sales commissions. That’s plenty. You don’t need to hand deliver them all of YOUR potential customers that you worked for with marketing, PR, etc. Why should they get a commission on those sales? They didn’t earn them.

So now that we’re clear on why you might want to use a marketplace site, let’s look at some ways to get customers who found you on a marketplace site, so become fans of your brand and users of your website.

1. Brand your products
I can’t state the importance of branded products enough. I’ve purchased more things on Etsy than I can remember. I can only name one actual shop I purchased from. Their name is XS Baggage. I bought a bag from them and their brand name is on a label sewn inside the bag. Every time I use the bag I open it up and see their brand name. That is why I remember them and not anyone else. Next time I need a new bag, I’m going to seek out XS Baggage, not Etsy.

Note that I say branded products, not packaging. Branded packaging is also important, but it is not the same as branding the product. The packaging gets thrown out. If you can find a way to permanently affix your brand name to the product, that is more effective. Some products are easier to brand than others. Earrings may be especially tough. You could get around it by designing a nice case or box to store the item in, like Wild Gems has done. The goal is to give the customer something they will keep that has your business name on it. You really want them to see your brand name every time they use your product.

2. Use Gift Cards and Coupons
Several small business owners reported success with using special offers in their product shipments to customers from marketplace sites. Brett from Scrubadoo says “One of the things we do to make sure our customers know that we appreciate their business is send them a hand written thank you note. We do this for everyone, no matter if they buy 1 item or 10… In those cards we include a gift certificate for free shipping at We have had a decent amount of success with this strategy. In fact, in one of our “client feedback’s” on Amazon a client even mentioned how awesome it was to receive the note and gift certificate.”

Offering a customer a gift card or coupon code for your primary website is a great way to entice them to do repeat business with you directly, instead of a marketplace website.

3. Go Digital
Amber from XMittens says that when she gets orders from marketplace websites she sends “a personalized thank you email from my website’s email address that includes in the signature links to my regular website, to my email list sign up and to any recent press or a recent blog post. Many of my repeat customers originally found Xmittens on etsy and now shop at my ecommerce site instead!”

Following up a marketplace purchase with a branded email inviting the customer to connect with you via your blog, mailing list or social media accounts is a great way to get around the problem of marketplace sites disallowing direct links to your newsletter, blog, Facebook, etc.

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June 15, 2011

Branding in a Box: 3 Ways We’ve Created a Brand That Sticks

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , — Meredith @ 5:29 am

Yesterday I promised to talk about putting your brand experience in a box. This is exactly what we try to do at Ex-Boyfriend. We do tons of things to try to build brand affinity and keep our brand interesting to customers, but here are some examples of how these efforts carry over to the packages our customers receive:

1. Memorable Brand Name
The entire premise of our brand, is that we’re creating products that act as conversation pieces. We are deliberately creating things our customers can wear that make people want to talk to them. Our brand name is part of this, it’s a name that’s funny enough to get people asking “What the heck is that about?” Just the other day the UPS guy told us the staff over at UPS was all chuckling about our brand name and trying to imagine what sort of business we are. All that from seeing our brand name on a shipping label. These are guys that see thousands of packages every day, and our brand name got their attention. That’s a sure sign our brand name is doing what we want it to do.

Of course having a kooky brand name isn’t enough, we want our customers to remember it. That’s why every single thing that comes in our packages has our brand name on it. Every finished product we sell or give away has our company name labeled on it. That way, every time a customer puts on our tees they see the name Ex-Boyfriend in the neck label.

2. Freebies in Every Box
We always include a free, unexpected extra in every package we ship. We include things like stickers, buttons, postcards with a blank back, magnets, pens, etc. These freebies are designed to look cool enough that our customers will want to keep them and use them. The idea is that it puts another thing in our customers’ hands with our branding and helps them remember who we are. It also makes receiving our packages a little more fun, because you never know what fun free extra will be inside. If it worked for Cracker Jack, it can work for us. People might not buy what you sell just to find out what fun freebie is inside, but it does make getting the shipment more memorable.

3. Invoices That Stick
A few months ago I got on my partner’s case about our invoices. I didn’t think they were exciting enough, we’re a fun brand and I wanted everything about our shipments to be fun, including our invoices. I knew I wanted to re-design them but was having trouble getting ideas. I actually tried to do an article here on Smaller Box showcasing other companys’ cool invoices, but when I put out a call for examples, I didn’t get a lot of great stuff back. I finally settled on just taking a stab at a re-design and here’s what we came up with: (click to see an example).

We came up with a design that infused our brand’s graphic theme, took on a more personalized tone, reminded people of our friendly customer service and invited our fans to keep in touch with by sending us a customer photo. We used a conversational tone and graphic elements to add interest to something people usually throw away and never look at twice.

I know a lot of readers are big on detailed handmade package design. While these packages are always nice to get, these ideas don’t scale well when you start shipping dozens of orders every day. When designing a package your customers will remember, always think about cost and scalability (both in terms of labor to prepare the package and the materials used to create it). Try to think of ways you can make your package special for your customers, while maintaining efficient and cost-effective shipping processes.

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June 14, 2011

Is Etsy Hindering Your Customer Relationships?

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 5:08 am

Last week I wrote about the difference between transactional and relationship-based business models. When Etsy mentioned this article in their round up, it drove some readers to Smaller Box who said they were focused on a relationship-based business model, despite having Etsy as their primary venue for an online presence. While you can make this your goal, marketplace websites work against this type of business model. Here’s why:

1. The relationship is with the marketplace
A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who shops on Etsy but is not a crafter. She asked why we don’t run Ex-Boyfriend through Etsy. I said “You shop on Etsy a lot, right?” She nodded.

I continued, “Imagine you found the scarf you’re wearing on Etsy. If I said to you, ‘hey that’s a great scarf, where did you get that?’ what would you tell me?”

She looked confused and said “I’d tell you I got it on Etsy.”

And that’s why Ex-Boyfriend isn’t run through Etsy. I know when Ex-Boyfriend’s customers are asked where they got their tees, they’ll say Ex-Boyfriend. It’s the only possible answer. They won’t say Ebay, Etsy, Amazon or any other marketplace website. While we do sell some overstock items via Etsy, the hub of our business is through our website, and the main reason for this is that we want the customers to have a relationship with us, not a marketplace website.

I know as a consumer, I think the same way that my friend thinks. I buy stuff all the time on Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, etc. I couldn’t name a single individual seller who I actually bought from on those sites. The entire time I was seeing the marketplace’s logo, getting email from the marketplace website. Of course, that’s the branding that stuck with me.

If you want to build a relationship with customers, they need to know who the heck you are. If another brand name is stuck in front of their face during the transaction, how will they remember you instead of the marketplace?

2. The user experience is dictated by the marketplace
In my article about relationship-based business models, I talked about how these businesses place their emphasis on creating a unique brand experience. This starts the minute a customer steps into your virtual doors. The brand experience is communicated via the web design, product photos, website features (i.e. VIP customer clubs, virtual dressing room aps, etc.) and even on down to product packaging, customer emails, website copy, etc.

Sites like Etsy and Amazon do create a brand experience, but the experience is with Etsy or Amazon, not the people who sell products through them. Etsy looks like a modern indie website, if it had a storefront it would be in Williamsburg Brooklyn. That brand experience is conveyed through the site’s design, features, etc. If that’s not the brand experience you’re trying to create, and you sell there, you’re kind of out of luck.

Check out the different vibes cultivated at sites like Lochers vs Brooks Brothers. If the exact same products were for sale on Etsy or instead of those branded websites they might look like just a phone case or just a polo shirt. It’s the branding these companies have created that make their customers want their cases or shirts over the others. Those brands would be incapable of communicating their specialness if their products were featured on marketplace websites.

3. Marketplace websites inhibit lead-nurturing activities
In my article last week, I talked about how relationship-based business models focus on getting customers, not transactions. A marketplace website is designed to give you the opposite result. It might bring you sales, but since you don’t get to build a relationship with the customer and you can’t communicate the uniqueness of your brand, it’s very hard to turn one-time buyers or casual browsers into die-hard fans. Aside from the limitations already discussed, the technology is also a problem.

Marketplace websites don’t make it easy for your to direct the casual visitor to your blog, Facebook page or newsletter. There’s no single click access to any of these tools that would help you foster relationships with visitors. You certainly can’t employ banner ad re-marketing. Even if a customer makes a purchase, you can’t simply have them check a box to get on your mailing list. Repeated marketing communication with the person buying from you is almost discouraged. So how are you going to keep the conversation going with that person who was interested but didn’t buy today, or did buy today but may forget about you by next month?

What can you do about all of this?
People sell their products on marketplace websites for 2 reasons: either because those websites can send you customers since they have a large user base or because they’re easy/convenient to use. If you are serious about growing a real business, neither of these reasons is especially good. A profitable business can bring its own customers in the virtual doors, and after I talked about all the disadvantages of relying entirely on a marketplace for your online presence easy/convenient seems like a weak excuse compared to what you’re giving up for ease and convenience. So here are some options:

1. Get your own ecommerce website
Treat your business like a real business by investing some money in an ecommerce site. If you’re not ready to go whole-hog, consider ready-made solutions like Yahoo stores or Big Cartel. You will still need to invest in a web designer, but it’s still easier and cheaper than creating an entire ecommerce site from scratch.

2. Get your own website and leave the ecommerce where it is
If you aren’t ready to create your own online shop, you can at least create a website with a professional design and links to your blog, social media accounts, etc. Then you can direct customers to your marketplace store (Etsy, Artfire, Amazon, Ebay, etc.) to make their purchases. It’s not ideal, but at least the customers meet your brand before they meet the marketplace.

3. Have two online shops
If you can’t give up the traffic and sales that marketplace sites deliver, there’s no reason to leave them entirely. But treat them like an ad venue instead of the hub for your business. Create your own site and sink all your marketing efforts into that, then leave your Etsy/Amazon/Ebay shops where they are, so that visitors using those sites as marketplaces can still find you.

4. Create an experience in a box
If you are determined to stick to the marketplace entirely, you’ll need to work extra hard on product presentation. Make sure everything about the finished product that gets into customer hands reinforces you branding. You want to get your branding into your product packaging, inserts that go into the package (i.e. stickers, buttons, etc.) and the product itself. Make sure your logo is on the products, on your invoice, etc.

Your goal is to deliver a package that is so memorable and so branded, that the customer’s lasting memory about the transaction is your brand instead of the marketplace.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, I’ll show you some examples of how we try to do this with Ex-Boyfriend.

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