Monday, April 27, 2009

How Postcards Can Get Their Groove Back

Cell Phone Trouble
It’s probably safe to say that the travel postcard industry isn’t booming right now. I have no facts to back this up, but in an age where it’s so easy to snap a picture with my camera phone and send it to all of my friends, I just don’t think postcard sales are through the roof right now. So what can postcards do to stay relevant today?

Limited Options
The way I see it, travel postcards have two ways to stay relevant:
  1. Sell inexpensive photographs that ordinary people can’t take by themselves.

  2. Sell something novel that’s worth paying a premium for.
Travel postcards have pretty much been following the first idea since their inception. But I’ve got a new idea for them, and it’s based on the second option…

I Smell a New Idea

Travel postcard printers should start selling scratch n’ sniff postcards. Think about the possibilities:
  • Dear Mom, I’m in Hawaii right now. The fresh pineapple is fantastic. Just scratch and sniff the pineapple on the front of this postcard and you’ll be able to smell for yourself.

  • Dear Dad, you’d love it in Chicago. The deep-dish pizza is incredible. Smell for yourself by scratching and sniffing the picture of the pizza on the front of this postcard.

  • Dear Tommy, India is fantastic. The smell of curry is everywhere, and you know how much I love curry. Scratch and sniff the bowl of spices on the front of this card and you’ll get the idea of what I’m experiencing every day.
Until camera phones can transmit scents, scratch n’ sniff postcards will have this market cornered. Is it a silly idea? Of course! But that’s what makes it a good one. It’s something new and different. And I’d fork over a buck to send my mom and dad a smell of Michigan apples even if I know that the smell won’t arrive to them until after I’ve already called and told them how my weekend getaway went.

Add This to Your To-Do List

Are there ways in which you can spice up your long-standing product lines in new ways? Are there ways to bring the other senses into your product offerings? Maybe you can add noise to something that has never made noise – just like Hallmark’s new line of singing greeting cards. Maybe you can add a new flavor. It’s okay to think of some silly ideas because silly can be novel, and novel sells. What smells would you send from your travels?

There’s never a lack of ideas.

A special thanks to my colleagues in the greater IES Abroad Marketing department for sparking this creative idea.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Table for 5,600 Please

That’s a Lot of Tapas
Mesón Sabika, a tapas restaurant in Naperville, IL, gives tables of up to four people a 40% food discount if at least one of the four people at the table works in one of the two local school districts. Between Naperville school district 203 and Aurora school district 204, that’s 5,600 employees who qualify for the discount.

A Brilliant Discount
The discount for school district employees at Mesón Sabika is brilliant for four reasons:
  1. It’s a significant discount. 40% off of food is a great reason to go to a restaurant. It’s hard to go anywhere else if you can get 40% at a great restaurant. It’s not a rinky-dink 10% discount. 40% off is a great deal no matter how you look at it.

  2. It’s a great form of word of mouth marketing. One person who works in the district can bring up to three non-district employees and get the discount for the whole table. Thus, the discount encourages district employees to bring their friends and families to the restaurant. The discount, itself, is a great form of word of mouth marketing – that’s how I heard about it.

  3. It’s still profitable for the restaurant. The discount does not include beverages – the most profitable item on a restaurant’s menu. So, if a table of four orders a few drinks, the restaurant makes out just fine even after discounting its food by 40%.
A Great Way to Get Involved with the Community
Kudos to Mesón Sabika for supporting its local community by offering this discount. It’s a win-win situation for the restaurant. It does good by supporting the local teachers, and it gains great feelings of good-will and publicity by doing so.

Add This to Your To-Do List
Are there ways in which you can engage the local community by offering discounts to a specific demographic of people? Look for ways to offer discounts that are significant enough to make people notice them, encourage more than one person to use the discount, and still leave you profitable. It’s hard to do all three, but doing so will certainly lead to increased business.

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Five Questions with Room & Board

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the oversized fabric swatches at Room & Board are fantastic marketing tools because they allow customers to truly see what they’re going to get when they’re looking into purchasing furniture pieces with custom upholstery.

The Room & Board Marketing department put me into contact with Sarah Garcia, a Design Associate in the Oakbrook store, who was kind enough to answer five questions about the fabric swatches and the marketing strategies in place at Room & Board. Here’s what Sarah had to say:
  1. How did Room & Board come up with the idea for the large fabric swatches?

    Several years ago we recognized the benefit of the larger samples as a working tool for design associates and customers. We worked closely with our upholstery vendors to implement the samples and our store visual team to create the best experience for our customers.

  2. Have you been able to judge the impact of the big swatches on furniture sales? Can you tell a difference in the way customers behave in the showrooms because of the large swatches?

    The large fabric swatches in the stores create a strong tactile and visual experience that increases customers’ engagement and interest. It's not uncommon to find sofas or chairs with large stacks of fabrics draped over them as customers contemplate their options. It's so easy to envision how your furniture will look when the fabric is draped over the frame. The large swatches also allow customers to interact more with the furniture, giving them the opportunity to sit on the fabric and get a sense of how their upholstery will feel once it’s on the piece.

  3. Room & Board will ship up to ten swatches of fabric to a household for free. How did this come about, and has it been successful?

    The idea of providing fabric swatches originated in our Shop From Home group. It was a logical progression and a natural part of the phone conversation to be able to offer the ability to show customers what their fabric would look like prior to a piece being delivered, but only if you were on the phone with a Design Associate. Several years ago, we made the swatches available online and as a result, saw a direct increase in upholstery sales.

    As a rule of thumb, usually when fabric swatch requests are up, we see an uptick in sales. Customers seem to appreciate this option whether they live near a store or not. All small fabric swatches are available in each store location for customers to take with them.

  4. In an industry that seems to be dominated by sales cycles, Room & Board seems to buck that trend and hold its prices constant throughout the year. So what defines the R&B brand and what makes it different from its competitors?

    We have established partnerships with small, family owned companies and artisans across the country with whom we collaborate to create quality furniture to last a lifetime (some of these partnerships go back 20 years!).

    Our design associates do not work on commission, allowing our customers to shop at their own pace and build relationships with people they feel comfortable working with. We are available to assist with everything from floor planning and offering advice on options, to providing in-depth product information. At Room & Board, customers have the flexibility to customize many products to truly make a piece their own (beds, chairs, sofas, pillows, dining chairs, solid wood cabinets, dining tables, rugs, mirrors, etc.).

    Customers can choose to shop at a store, online, or over the phone, and will receive the same high level of service – an excellent and consistent customer experience is what we strive for at Room & Board.

    Our outstanding delivery associates are also well versed on product knowledge and always ready to answer questions (in addition to removing their shoes when they come into your house to place your furniture).

  5. Would you ever consider having two of each large swatch per store and allowing customers to pay a deposit and check a swatch out for the night so they could take one home?

    Due to space constraints in the showrooms we only have one sample for each of our design centers, however we are always happy to bring samples to a customers home as part of a design housecall, and we also allow customers to check out samples overnight.
Add This to Your To-Do List
I said it in my first post on Room & Board and I’ll say it again:

Take a step back and look at what you sell and how you present your products or services to your customers. Is it really, REALLY easy for customers to picture the end product? If not, how can you make it easier? Brainstorm a few ideas and pick one to put into use. I’d love to hear what you came up with and how it went.

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dear Ashton Kutcher

A Pleasure to Tweet You
Ashton Kutcher is a force on Twitter. He has more than 900,000 followers on the micro-blogging platform. And he uses his fame to do good deeds. He has recently pledged that if he earns one million followers before CNN does, he’ll purchase 10,000 bed nets through on April 25th – World Malaria Day. If you’re not following him on Twitter, you should be. His name is @aplusk.

I really respect what Ashton is doing and I hope other celebrities follow his lead.

It’s Time for Ashton’s Followers to Give Back
Ashton is helping great causes through his prowess on Twitter. While Ashton has nearly a million followers on Twitter, he is currently following only 70 people. I think that Ashton Kutcher needs to hold a raffle for folks who want him to follow them. One winner would be chosen. Ashton would agree to follow the winner and interact with them on Twitter as he sees fit. Here’s how it would work:
  1. Ashton would work with his favorite charity to create a special donation page on the charity’s website.
  2. Through the special donation page, anyone with a Twitter ID could purchase a chance to be followed by Ashton for a donation of at least $5.
  3. Only one chance could be purchased per Twitter ID. We’re all encouraged to donate more than $5, but that’s all that’s required.
  4. After a couple of weeks, Ashton pulls a winner and posts a video of the selection of the winner online. Or he announces it on Larry King Live. Or Oprah. Or both – wherever he can get the most publicity for his charity.
Help Him Help Charity
I suspect that at least 100,000 of Ashton’s followers would kick in an average of $10 per person for this cause. Why? Because it’s fun and it will help a great cause!

That’s an immediate million dollars for charity. A MILLION DOLLARS!

Ashton, let’s make this happen. I’m in for $20 right now. Anybody else?

Add This to Your To-Do List
First, start following Ashton on Twitter. Then, send him a Tweet and tell him that you support this idea. Link to this blog post in your Tweet and let’s raise some money for charity. And remember – one lucky winner will be followed by Ashton Kutcher. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.

Now if I could just get Ashton’s wife Demi Moore to convince Christian Louboutin to raise money for breast cancer research

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

42 Cents – Sold!

Mail-In Rebates are a Pain
Nobody likes submitting rebate forms.

Sure, we all like the idea of paying a lower price for something. And in principle, it seems so easy to get a rebate – just cut out a UPC code, photocopy a receipt, and mail in a rebate claim. But let’s be honest, it’s a pain and many times we forget to file the rebate until it’s too late.

According to Businessweek, 40% of rebate claims are never submitted.

Having to fill out a rebate claim is one of my biggest beefs with buying a new cell phone. Almost every phone out there is advertised at a price that includes some sort of mail-in rebate.

A Surprise from Verizon

My most recent visit to the local Verizon Wireless store showed me how a company can take the pain out of filling out a rebate form – and it only cost them 42 cents.

After purchasing two new Blackberry phones, the salesman pulled out a pre-stamped envelope and handed it to my wife and me. He told us to use it to submit the rebate claim. He then showed us where to find the instructions about filing for the rebate form and where to find the UPC codes on our phone boxes.

I was incredibly happy with this small gesture. He wasn’t allowed to fill out the rebate form for us, but he did everything he could to help us through the process. Verizon even stamped the envelope for us. That showed me that he cared about us, and I sincerely appreciated it.

Add This to Your To-Do List

Are there small gestures that you can make to your customers that will go a long way to making your customers happy? What’s the most difficult part about your company’s ordering system? Can you help them through it? I’d love to hear your ideas.

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cable Needs a New Pricing Model

How Much is Too Much?
It’s expensive to have cable television.

By the time I add up the charge for a DVR and a basic package that doesn’t include any movie channels, I’m out at least $70 per month. But I don’t even watch half the channels that I get. So what am I paying for? And how many people don’t have cable because of how expensive even a basic package can be?

Cable companies need to offer a new pricing model to attract new price-conscious consumers. They need to offer a pay-per-channel (PPC) model. Think if the system was set up like iTunes. Each channel would cost $0.99 per month. High definition DVRs would come free with service. Installation would be free. There’d be no low initial fee that eventually balloons. No contracts to sign. Pay for what you want.

People who don’t currently have cable because of its cost would flock to the new PPC model.

In the PPC model, you could turn on the channels that you want and turn off the channels that you don’t want each month by using your remote. Most price-conscious consumers would probably purchase the local channels and a few of their favorite cable channels every single month. That would provide the cable company with a solid minimum monthly income from this customer segment.
  • Want to watch the big game on the NFL network? Purchase the channel for that month.
  • Looking forward to that movie on HBO? Purchase the channel it’s going to be on for that month.
Bundles Would Still Do Well
Cable would still do well with its large, more expensive, channel bundles because many customers like having hundreds of channels. Instead of paying $0.99 per channel for 250 channels, customers could select a 250-channel bundle (like they do now) for only $89 per month.

There’s room in the market for both pricing strategies to work because each pricing model serves a specific segment of the market.

Attract Newcomers
I’ve run this idea past a few people that I know who don’t have cable and they tell me that they’d buy cable if it were priced per channel. Why? Because they want a less expensive option and the ability to choose their channels. They want to pay for what they watch. They want a mix of basic and premium channels without all of the channels that they won’t watch, but they can’t get that with cable’s current pricing model.

Cable companies would more than make up for the loss of revenue from people like me who have expensive packages that would downgrade by picking up a host of new budget-conscious customers.

Add This to Your To-Do List
Take a look at your pricing model. Does it offer flexibility? Does it serve all customer segments in the best way possible? Test a new strategy out with a small group of customers and see how it goes. You might be pleasantly surprised.

There’s never a lack of ideas.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Christian Louboutin Responds

In the Beginning…
In my first-ever blog post, called Christian Louboutin: Seeing Pink?, I wrote about an idea for high-fashion shoe designer Christian Louboutin to create and sell a pink-soled shoe that could raise millions of dollars for breast cancer research while increasing his brand awareness.

Recently, I received a response from a Christian Louboutin representative in New York about my idea. This was the response I received from Christian’s Director of Communications in New York:

Dear Mr. Scarpino,

Thank you kindly for your interest. However, while your event is certainly worthwhile, we will be unable to help you. Due to the trademark of our red soles, we cannot ever produce a shoe with anything but the red sole, nor would we.

Please do not hesitate to offer any further ideas in the future, and we would be happy to review for consideration.

My Response

While I am happy that someone from Christian Louboutin’s company took the time to write me back, I don’t think that she took the time to really read about my idea (after all, she called it “an event”). So, I responded with this message:

Thanks so much for the response. I really appreciate it.

Just to clarify, I am not asking for help with any specific event. I'm simply suggesting that the Christian Louboutin brand could raise a lot of money for breast cancer research AND score huge publicity by producing pink-soled shoes that sell for a suggested price of $100.

I understand your trademark issues. If you were still interested in the idea, I would suggest that you create a separate organization (most likely a non-profit) in order to produce the shoes. That way you'd be free from restrictions that you've created by trademarking the red sole. Where there's a will, there is certainly a way.

Since publishing the idea on my blog, I've received an overwhelming amount of support for the idea. Note that I don't stand to make a dime from this idea, and that's not why I'm proposing this idea. I, along with a ton of other people, simply think that the idea could raise a lot of money for a great cause and could also be extremely positive in terms of brand awareness for Christian Louboutin's other shoes.

If you could hear the outpouring of support for this idea that I've heard, you wouldn't even think twice about going forward with this idea. There's really nothing to lose. Oprah would bring Christian Louboutin on her show to promote this idea. Breast cancer research and Christian Louboutin would do very well for themselves as a result of this idea. Thousands and thousands of women who have never been able to buy a pair of Christian Louboutins would purchase a pair to support a good cause. I'd love to buy my wife a pair and I'd be first in line to do so.

I understand if you do not want to change your mind, and I appreciate you reading my response. Thank you very much for your consideration.

Next Steps?

I have yet to hear back from the representative who contacted me.

I didn’t start this blog to start a crusade or push my ideas on companies, but I really think that Christian Louboutin could raise a lot of money for breast cancer research by producing pink-soled shoes. So I open it up to you – my readers. What should I do next? I’ve written Oprah several times to no avail. Many of you have done the same, to no avail. Should I contact breast cancer research foundations? Should I let it go? I’d appreciate your thoughts!

Add This to Your To-Do List

Let me know what you think. What should I do next? PS This is NOT an April Fool's joke... I swear!

There’s never a lack of ideas.