Invest For Success–Why it is MORE Important To Spend When Sales Are Down

Our economy, and many businesses, are slow. There are times of great uncertainty in the US. I hear it every day “we can’t spend that right now. We are slow, we have to cut back marketing budget.” That is the knee jerk reaction to low sales. Marketing just spends money, right?

Well, history tells us that is the wrong answer, and while we need to be SMARTER with our budgets and our marketing strategies, cutting back or even discontinuing spend is not the right answer. A Nielson data study suggests that marketing contributes 10-35% of a brand’s equity and cutting back on media spend entirely can take 3-5 years to recover equity losses.

Another quick reaction is to offer promotions to try and incentivize sales. Depending on your product or service, this may seem like a quick win at the cash register. But offering too many promotions just trains your customer that your product will always be on sale–and that the value really isn’t the regular price. Luxury goods rarely offer discounts because the perceived value is there for full price purchases. Alternative ideas are to add value to your regular price with offering a bonus or sample of another product, or a gift with purchase type situation to entice purchase (while hopefully getting them to try another product you offer). Perhaps team up with a complimentary brand to offer a trade and help each other out.

During the Depression, brands like Kellogg’s, Procter & Gamble, Levi’s and Pepsi increased their marketing and created new strategic avenues that resonated differently with a changing target customer. Their success in the last 80 plus years was built upon marketing spend during the lowest economic times in the last century.

During tough times, integrated marketing (which we preach here at V Strategy) is even more important, as it maximizes budget spend and brand recognition. It’s time to be even MORE strategic and get more for your marketing spend, not to cut back. Economic slumps rarely last more than a year, and when the sun shines again, you need to be top of mind. Those that sit this time out will be forgotten quickly.

Rock Your Product Photoshoot: 6 Tips

Rock Your Product Photoshoot: 6 Tips

Sell more product by maximizing your photoshoot.

I recently helped a very well-known photographer on a product photoshoot. Personally, I have directed client product photoshoots with a full staff, drones, fancy lighting setups, on-site, off-site, and in studio for a variety of products including clothing, $250k horse trailers, saddles, bits and spurs, equine apparel, sporting goods, cowboy boots, and more. And I take some photos for clients as needed. So I’m not a stranger to product shoots for marketing purposes.

What shocked me is that this client and their marketing person did not maximize their investment for a product photoshoot. It made me wonder: are there others out there that are spending significant money on pro photographers and staff, travel, etc., and not getting the best possible results because of being ill-prepared? Luckily the photographer and myself were able to help with some things, but we couldn’t fix everything that was overlooked by the client, and it definitely made the photographer’s job more difficult and potential results more risky. Here are six tips on making the most of your product photoshoot and selling more using those amazing images!

  1. Get the BEST photographer for your product category. Just because someone is brilliant at shooting weddings or family portraits in a studio doesn’t mean they can handle photographing shiny horse trailers in natural light, action photos, or in our industry, HORSES that need to look appropriate for the customer to take you and your product seriously. Fashion photographers usually do NOT know how to pose horses or people with horses. Your end customer will know. You need to look like you know what you’re doing for them to take you and your product seriously. If you’re shooting horses, bring horse people, especially in a specific discipline.
  2. Scout locations. Your photographer may have some favorite spots, but be sure they are available (public locations often need permits for commercial shoots and are busy, private places may want you to sign liability releases). Think about access with vehicles, trailers, and horses. Is there plenty of room to turn around? Is the ground good? Is someone going to get stuck? Is it a danger to horses? Are you going to need additional horse savvy people there to stay with horses at the trailer (to keep public away) or handle them? Are liability concerns taken care of for models and passersby? Locations often can get quite scary for the horses which equals dangerous for people.
  3. Bring “all the things.” When I run photoshoots, I have a bag of tricks. Clamps, safety pins, duct tape, fly spray for animals, bug spray for people. Sunglasses, chapstick, water, snacks, lint rollers. Extra rain gear. Also, if you have to carry things a long way, some sort of wagon or cart that folds up can be invaluable. A backpack? Racks for clothing or horse apparel to keep it out of the dirt. Coolers for water. A changing area/shade structure if on long shoots. Photoshoots are tiring!
  4. PRODUCT! Your marketing/brand manager and the shoot director should know these products in and out! Make your photog happy by being organized and having the shoot run quickly and orderly. The good light only lasts so long, horses and models only behave for so long. The faster you can get through each product and line out what shots you need, the better! They will appreciate it! Have a list of which products you have to shoot so nothing gets forgotten, and what shots you need of it. Full front? Features? Close-up? Does the shot need to be vertical or horizontal to fit a slot? Do you need space around the image for words? Do you need it to match up with one you did of another person or product? Is it for a website, catalog, etc? What new features are you calling out? Colors? Nothing is more frustrating than having one product that gets missed that isn’t going to match the rest of the campaign. And no one wants to sit around wasting light while you dig through the trunk to find a product.
  5. PREP YOUR PRODUCT. If your product is in a package, it needs to be taken out and ironed, steamed, pressed, etc. ahead of time. You can photoshop out wrinkles, usually, but why create more work and a potential “weird” look? Make sure the product is in great shape. We once steamed 40+ horse blankets and borrowed a cargo trailer, put a hanging bar the entire length, and hung them all to drive 5 hours to a shoot location. All the products stayed wrinkle-free! Shiny fabrics are especially difficult to keep smooth.
  6. Get models that are pros at what you want done. Not just any pretty person or fancy horse will fit your target, and often can distract from the product. Be sure to get releases from horse owners and models. And be sure that the product is going to fit properly.

In order to maximize your product photoshoot, be sure to know what shots you need, what the features are on the products that you need to showcase, and prep your products so they are shown in their best light. Hiring a great photographer and models that know their job and appeal to the target audience is important! A great photo does more for product sales than anything else, so be sure to get the most out of your shoot!

Are All Your Eggs In One (Social Media) Basket?

Are All Your Eggs In One (Social Media) Basket?

It’s 2021, and due to world events and our addiction to our little cellular computer devices that are glued to our hands 24/7, we are more and more living on social media. LIVING ON IT. ADDICTED and getting ALL OUR NEWS, ALL OUR SHOPPING, and ALL OUR INTERACTION off of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, etc.

But the multiple glitches and outages need to teach us something. I’m fortunate that I have a mix of clients, some are old school and don’t do very much social media or digital marketing. Is that a missed opportunity? Yes and no. Because guess what? They didn’t really care or notice when Facebook and Instagram were down for 6 hours. They didn’t miss sales, they didn’t miss messages, they didn’t lose customer conversations or data. Their videos and customer lists don’t live on social media. They kept right on rolling.

I tell businesses to not rely on social media. YOU DON’T OWN IT. A famous quote says “don’t build your castle on rented land.” I have a good friend and client who lost her business (30k followers) and her personal FB accounts. For no reason, she works in a very benign industry, doesn’t post political posts, doesn’t post with animals or controversial topics/images, doesn’t post memes. Just poof! Can’t get it back. No reason given. Luckily that isn’t how she made her sales, but she’s out 10 years of information and candid pics from events, not to mention her family photos. That can happen to anyone! Try to get ahold of someone at Facebook to get your account back.

It is easy for a small business to get sucked into hosting everything online. They make it very easy! You can use your phone to quickly take pics and sell product and or post cute videos. But when those items only live on your social media, or your customer conversations only take place on messenger, you have a HUGE risk. Your business can literally be gone overnight with all your assets lost.

You NEED to own your own land. Build a website and keep it up to date with product, blogs, etc, host your photos and videos on other, less volatile “land.” Back up your assets to YOUR cloud or hard drive (or both). And do other types of marketing. Marketing existed before social media. Please take time to collect emails, communicate with customers offline, build email lists, attend or sponsor events, cultivate PR, editorial, print, build up your SEO and e-commerce on hosted sites that you own. These are all other tactics. Especially, take your customer data off-line. Or at least to a place that you have PAID and OWN. So if social media deletes you, you can pick up and not lose a beat or your entire pipeline of customers.

Don’t put all your eggs or sales in one basket. Relying on social media is a very risky place to be. I use integrated marketing tactics to build my customers a robust marketing strategy using many tactics that build upon each other. If one tactic fails, we have assets that we OWN, to build another funnel and communicate with our customers and potential customers in a variety of methods, each building upon the others. Social media is a fun and exciting place to market, but the party is built on quicksand.

Working With Influencers: Why Most Brands Fail

Working With Influencers: Why Most Brands Fail

Social media. Do we love it or hate it? In this day of e-commerce and online brand presence, many marketers and business owners think that Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc. are the be-all and end-all. I disagree, but that is not the topic of today. Many of my clients work with influencers, or as we used to call them, endorsees/endorsers. Basically people with a reputation or celebrity that we want to use and recommend our products to their followers or clients. But how can you do that with the most impact?

First of all, using influencers is not cheap or easy. If that is the top of mind benefit of your “strategy” here, you won’t be happy with the results. Just like any marketing tactic, you have to put thought and planning into your approach in order to reap maximum rewards.

I mostly work with brands and product companies. The goal, of course, is to have “important” people promote and recommend your product to their followers and clients. I have worked with large fashion/apparel companies, sporting goods, automotive industry manufacturers, etc. We want “winning athletes” and “popular” people to show that our brand was the chosen option, in order to increase brand recognition and sales. Sounds easy, right?

The biggest mistake I see companies making is being reactive instead of proactive in their choice of influencers. It is easier to say yes or no when someone asks than to proactively look for influencers that will work for you. It is pretty common that “influencers” send requests to a company to ask for free products in return for some social media exposure or vague “I will show your logo/product” type promise. At one company, I regularly got emails and phone calls, (sometimes up to 10 a day) asking for sponsorship. Almost all of those resulted in a no answer. (If you’re an influencer, how to better craft those pitches is another service I offer).

The next mistake is to not have a plan or strategy in place that incorporates the influencer or sponsored person in a professional marketing manner. Just like a website or an ad campaign, the influencer is a professional business tactic/service provider and should be treated as such. They are not doing you a favor to use your product. It is not free to you.

Here are the top level tips on how to work with an influencer or sponsor someone with your brand or product:

  • Be Proactive Not Reactive. For many of my clients, who are very busy, doing the research before collaborating with an influencer is time they do not have. You, as a brand owner, need to seek out influencers that fit with your brand, not just take someone who approaches you. If they do look like a good fit, do your research. Often, influencers do not have organic followers; you can’t trust the numbers (they may have bought likes/followers that aren’t real people). Also, just because someone is active on social media doesn’t mean they get engagement, or that they are a fit for the target audience of your brand. I would rather have 5 followers that are my target audience and buy, than 50,000 that aren’t shoppers or don’t have the money for a premium product. Influencers often run contests or the like to gain followers. Those followers likely aren’t going to purchase your product at full price.

  • Don’t Just Send Free Product! It sounds great, someone wants your stuff! It’s flattering when a “big” name wants to use your creation or sends flattering words. Well, many influencers just want free stuff, they have no intention of doing much for you in return. Just posting a pic of them and tagging your Instagram isn’t much.

  • Have a way to EASILY CONVERT. If you don’t have an easy way to capture money, using an influencer is a very vague tactic. The best option here is if the influencer can post a link directly to the product they are showcasing. Influencer uses X in a photo/reel/video, and the link is there to buy the exact X they are using. Easy, done. If it is a brand building strategy, then at least have a code or a link to the page where they can buy or get more information. If you don’t have e-commerce, tracking sales or even getting sales off an influencer is a long-range strategy and hard to judge or maximize effectively, especially with a small budget.

  • Have a Plan and an Agreement. If you research your influencer, you can outline guidelines of how they can best represent you. Remember they aren’t doing you a favor, this is a business agreement. In return for product/money, outline what you want in return. Number of posts? Quote? Images that you can share/use on your print/packaging/social media for the future? Do they have a professional photoshoot? Will you get those high-resolution images (commercial copyright released so you don’t have to pay the photographer to use them in the future?). Do you have a specific look or timing in mind? Be fair in compensation for value, but this is a two-way street. For longer-term or more lucrative endorsement/sponsorship contracts, I also include a clause of brand disparagement. If they do anything that is unbecoming to my client’s brand, I can immediately terminate our association and they can no longer associate or use our brand marks, logo, or products publicly.

  • Have A Way To Measure. This can be an affiliate link, a coupon code, a specific product, etc. Sometimes “measure” isn’t an exact
  • number, but there should be a way to gauge if an influencer is working for you or not.

  • Have a Brand Strategy Goal. Obviously, the goal is to increase sales. But what is the reason behind using a particular influencer? Is it to build awareness for a new product? Is it to reach a different target audience? Include this influencer strategy in your overall integrated marketing plan as a tactic, and put the associated product/mailing/pay/affiliate cost into the budget to accurately account for the strategy.

So many businesses reactively jump on the bandwagon of using influencers, just because they ask. But many “influencers” just declared themselves as such and do not have a BUYER AUDIENCE that trusts their opinions or recommendations enough to make a purchase. Also, not all followers are buyers, or your target. Influencers are a service provider, just like a web designer or an ad agency. They should be treated professionally as such, and the cost of all sample products, shipping, etc need to be accounted for in a marketing budget.

Do your research on an influencer’s background and followers, have a strategy, and account for influencer marketing as a full tactic in your integrated marketing campaign to ensure that you get value for your product and money investment. Using endorsers or influencers to build brand recognition and sales is a great tactic, and can work quite well, if you use the appropriate steps and manage the strategy correctly using a business collaboration mindset, but you can’t just send things and hope for the best. Using influencers and endorsers is a tactic that requires proactive managing from the brand side to maximize impact to your bottom line sales! Let me help you set your influencer strategy up for success!

Quality Copywriting: Worth Every Penny

copy, copywriting

copywriting in metal type blocks

A penny for your thoughts? Well, that’s about what most copy is worth. Many companies are trying to build engagement, SEO ranking, website traffic, etc. by posting blogs and articles on their websites and social media. Products are being thrown up in online stores as fast as possible with little regard to giving pertinent information. But companies don’t want to spend money or time on finding qualified writers or even writers with expertise in their industry. Sure, you can find writers extremely cheap, pay them a penny a word or $20 a blog. But what are you getting?

We have all clicked on articles or blogs on searches and ended up on a site that seemed like gibberish. Chock full of key words jammed together, these articles rank really high on search engines, but give very little useful information and often sound very strange, because they are written by people in other countries, or people just trying to churn out anything with key words to get their $20.

What does this do? At the least it annoys people because you’re “tricking” them to your site but not providing value. You’re turning them off and cheapening your brand. At the worst, you’re providing erroneous information that can even be dangerous. A recent example, an RV website posted two blogs on what you could tow with small vehicles. The person writing the article obviously didn’t have any real life RV or towing experience and was recommending that people could tow a 3500 pound listed trailer with a 4 cylinder car that said it could tow up to 3500 pounds. This is incorrect, and anyone with actual towing experience would know that dry weight is always low, you have to add people, cargo, fuel, propane tanks, spare tire, camping equipment, dogs, chairs, etc, and ALL of that needs to be less than 80% of max to be safe. They also know that towing a camper (windblock box) is not the same as towing a boat of the same weight, and they also know that not all vehicles can handle tongue weight of trailers. Someone at the company should have vetted this article, especially if the writer was not an expert.

Worst case scenario for that brand, is that anyone that has actual knowledge that reads those articles is going to immediately distrust anything else that site has to say. They have hurt their brand credibility by ostensibly saving some money or time on a writer.

Spending money on effective and useful content is key to building your brand image, selling your products, communicating and engaging your target audience, and creating a body of assets for your company that can be useful in multiple ways. Copy is key when selling online, this is not an area to be cheap. There are experts out there, and more professional and knowledgeable writing will help your sales and your brand equity.