The Cotton Candy Effect

When I was a kid, going to the fair was a special treat that came each fall. Looking forward to the fair- for us it was the Deerfield Fair- started as soon as the weather turned in mid-September. Dad would pull the pumpkins from the garden and we knew it was soon to going to be fair time. The Deerfield fair is a small community fair where you can see oxen or horse pulls on Friday nights, run around the midway with your friends, sample some homemade fudge, see your school projects in the School Building and see your 4-H projects in the 4-H building.  It’s a place where you can find homemade strawberry rhubarb pie and find my mom at the horse show.

Each year, I couldn’t wait to go to the fair! I mean truly, where else can you get a purple feather ‘roach clip’ for your hair and a Def Leppard mirror for your bedroom, right?  Besides the freedom from my parents the fair provided as I got older, my favorite part of the fair was the food. Nowhere else could you get candied apples, caramel apples, and cotton candy. I would dream about eating that cotton candy. It was a fair exclusive and that made it even more delicious when fair time came and we could get some. Remember watching the man make the cotton candy? How he spiraled the stick around in the machine and layer upon layer of the sweet stuff piled on until you had a huge glob of the sweet goodness to eat? And remember how it made your lips pink and it melted in your mouth? Warm cotton candy was the BEST!  As time wore on the vendors started making it ahead of time and bagging it up, selling both bags and sticks of candy. This was an interesting complement in their product line because it allowed them to sell to the audience of people who wanted to ‘save it for later’. Even still though the candy was relatively fresh and the portions were huge.

Fast forward 30 years… now you can get cotton candy in the grocery store! It’s a travesty. True, those of us who had the fresh made cotton candy on a stick at the fair know the store-bought version does not compare, but try to tell the next generation that.

The cotton candy effect refers to over saturating the market with a particular product. For me it’s cotton candy, but there are other items where I’ve seen this effect happen. Taking something and changing its position in the market, can lead to more sales in the short-term because you have a larger audience, but in the long-run you’ll see a decline in those short-term sales as people realize there’s nothing special about the item, your prices go down and your margins will decrease.  When this happens the product has moved from the specialty market to the commodity market. Why should someone pay $5 for a stick of the puffy fluffy sweet stuff that’s bigger than their head, when they can get a condensed (and I mean dense) bag of processed gunk for $2 at the grocery store? There’s a shift in quality, quantity and price and with that is a commodity. I call this shift from specialty to commodity the ‘Cotton candy effect’.  Think of it as too much of a good thing.

Word-of-Mouth Marketing

You know the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? It’s who you know is all about word-of-mouth marketing. Earlier this week I needed:

  1. To hire a realtor
  2. To hire an electrician and
  3. To conduct market research

My search for the realtor began on the local Chamber of Commerce site for the city where I needed work done.  The Chamber is kind of big and so is the city so I quickly got overwhelmed. I thought about reaching out to realtors in my neighborhood, but I needed someone who knew the city where I needed to negotiate a lease.  So I reached out to a colleague who is well-known in the city. He recommended a realtor  and within 24 hours, I had spoken to the realtor twice and emailed with him once. Within 72 hours he had already worked through an issue with the seller’s agent (after 5 on Friday of a holiday week), assigned an associate to work with us, and the associate called me before the week was out with confirmation that we were all set for an upcoming showing of the property.  Home run! I was feeling really good about these guys because my colleague recommended them, but now I am on cloud nine and I haven’t even met them!

My search for an electrician started by essentially cold-calling some electricians in the city- only to get no response. So I contacted another colleague and got a referral. I sent an email- not even a call- and got not one, but two emails from two different company representatives within two hours. It turns out they were not the right kind of electrician for my needs, but one of the gentlemen called me and we talked for half-an-hour. During our conversation I learned that this nice man’s business was right around the corner from the place I was looking to lease-imagine that! I was able to find out from him some valuable information about the history of the location, occupancy of the entire neighborhood and some scoop on local competition. Oh and before we hung up, he gave me a referral of a good electrician who as he said, ‘has been around for 30 years and that’s good enough for me’.  Me too. Market research AND a referral for an electrician. A two-fer during a 30-minute phone call with a man who wasn’t even able to gain any business from me. Another home run for me and let me tell you, one for him too b/c I am definitely going to recommend him next time I come across someone needing his kind of work.

So that brings us back to the electrician. I emailed the electric company that the nice man recommended. By now it was about 3 or 4 pm on New Year’s Eve, so I wasn’t expecting to hear from anyone. I was wrong… I got an email from a woman assuring me they could meet our needs for our upcoming meeting and that ‘Rusty’ would call me on Thursday morning. New Year’s came and went and wouldn’t you know, my phone rang bright and early Thursday morning? It was Rusty. And guess what? He was looking forward to meeting me for my upcoming meeting and he already had the address including the suite #. So not only did they communicate with me, but they communicated with each other. From my perspective they already have excellent customer service and they haven’t even done any work yet! Priceless!

Folks this is the power of word-of-mouth marketing. In this fast-paced, self-centered, age-of-entitlement world we are living in, I encourage you to take some time to get to know the people you work with, go to church with, belong to associations with, walk on the treadmill next to, and sit next to at your kid’s archery tournament. You never know when you’re going to need a referral, a job, a dog-sitter, a realtor, an electrician or some market research. It’s all who you know.

Making the Most of Your Tradeshow

Participating in a tradeshow, craft fair or other similar venue, can be a daunting task for small business owners, not only because they can be expensive, but also because you’re essentially buying a small piece of real estate and creating a storefront for the length of the show, which can sometimes be out of your element. That’s a lot of pressure. And choosing which shows to attend is a confusing task.

Why should you consider attending a tradeshow at all? This is a good question. With all of your marketing efforts, the point is to get your name out there. You want to be the company someone thinks of when they need your service or product, so all of your marketing efforts should first and foremost be an opportunity to get your name out there. It’s hard to determine your return on investment if your only goal is to get your name out there, so you should consider some other goals:

  • Book a certain amount of business or sell a certain amount of product
  • Collect a certain number of leads
  • Meet a certain number people who can refer business to you
  • Launch a new product or service

Now that you have a few goals, let’s start with which tradeshows should you participate in? Definitely choose tradeshows that are going to draw people who fit the demographic for your target audience or participate in tradeshows that draw your target audience as fellow vendors.  Another thought to consider is whether you should have a booth or if you should just attend and visit the booths to promote your business to other vendors. Refer to your goals and think about which way you will best be able to meet them.

For businesses that sell to businesses (B2B), finding tradeshows to participate in are rather easy. If I were a builder and my goal was to develop a network of people to refer business to me, I would participate in shows that draw realtors, plumbers, electricians, painters, finish carpenters, etc. If my goal were to sell houses (business to consumer or B2C selling) I would attend a trade that draws homeowners, like a home show.

Now, the next dilemma is what should you have in your booth? You want to answer the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’s’ of your business. Your booth is your storefront for the duration of the show. The first thing people will want to know about you is the name of your business. At most tradeshows, the organizers will hang a small white sign with your company name in black block letters, so you can find your booth. This is NOT an acceptable sign. Either take it down or cover it up. Consider talking to a sign shop and having a 3’ x 6’ banner made of your logo or logo and company name.  If your company name does not identify what you do (like Tina Newberry Designs doesn’t really say Websites and Marketing) then add a tagline so people know right away what it is you do. You want to attract prospective customers to your booth, so make sure people know what you do. Place your sign/or banner at eye level or higher because your booth may be crowded (one can only hope) and the view to lower signs will be obstructed. If the booth is draped in curtains (a service provided by the tradeshow organizers) hanging your sign high on the back wall is a great idea (bring large safety pins!).  Make sure you ask the organizers how the booth will be laid out. If there are no drapes, you’ll want to make other arrangements for your banner or go with a different kind of sign. Maybe a hard-backed sign or two you can put on easels in your booth.

Aside from a sign, your booth layout is going to depend on if you have a cash and carry product you can sell on-site or not.

Cash and Carry Booths

If you’re selling a product that is small enough to set up in the booth, think of constructing or buying a display system that you can set up to allow people to shop in your booth. If you’re just getting into the tradeshow scene, you can rent enough tables to cover the three non-aisle sides of your booth and then consider using concealed boxes or crates to raise some items to eye level for visual interest. There are many display tactics out there. Be creative! Pricing your items is important. People want to see the price. Label the different items if needed. For example if you’re selling candles of different scents and sizes, have small signs throughout your display with the pricing structure and signs on each scent identifying the scent. Don’t rely on people reading this info on your packaging. You also need to have a means for processing payment and packaging purchases. While you’re at the tradeshow, scope out how other vendors display their products.

Non-Cash and Carry Booths

You should consider having a table in your booth to display product, brochures, and examples of your work. Table placement is important. If you have an 8 x 10 or 10×10 space and you push a table out to the aisle and sit behind the table, you have just created a barrier between you and your potential customers and you’ve invited walk-by-shoppers instead of creating an environment to draw people IN to your booth. For service oriented businesses or businesses with large products (like a house) I always suggest that you have a table under you’re your sign at the back of your booth. And then you flank the table on the floor with product or plants. A tablecover is important. If the organizer isn’t providing a tablecover or even just to set your booth apart from everyone else, pick up inexpensive solid-color king or queen size flat sheets to drape your table. It would be wise to wash it prior to the tradeshow and iron it or at least throw it in the dryer for a de-wrinkle cycle before heading to the show. Some companies do a lot of tradeshows and choose to have a table cover with their logo or company name. This is a great idea too, but not needed if you’re just starting out. As you grow, you may also want to consider purchasing a media rack for your brochures and literature. Sometimes your product is too big to show in the booth or your business is service-oriented. Here’s where you need to get creative. A model of your product is good or visuals –such as pop-up banners, posters, a video or a slideshow on a large screen. As with cash and carry booths, I recommend you check out the other vendors and see how their booths are configured.

Now let’s face it… you’re going to get tired of standing for several hours. So a lot of people like to put their table right at the front of their booth and put a couple chairs behind the table. I don’t recommend you do this. Instead put that table against the back wall, like I mentioned and then have a chair or two off to the side. Tall chairs are the best because you can talk to people face-to-face while you’re sitting down- though I recommend you get UP if someone comes in your booth. By far the best chairs I’ve seen are bar height director’s chairs. Not only are they visually appealing, but you can set one on each outer corner of your booth, right next to the aisle and engage with traffic in a relaxed tone. And if you add a plant or two around the chair legs, you’ve just made your booth even more inviting!

Should I offer a show special? Absolutely! Give people a reason to book an appointment with you or buy product. If you’re doing a cash and carry booth, the more you sell, the less you have to lug home. Offer them a deal they can’t pass up, but that doesn’t cut your profits too much. Some people like to do a drawing for a discounted or free service or for a popular gadget or electronics (iPad, grill, TV) and they’ll use an entry form for the drawing. You might think this is a pricey give-away. It doesn’t have to be. You can give away your service or product just as easily. The point of the entry form is to collect contact info for prospective customers. This is great for generating a lead list or establishing email marketing, but ONLY if you take the names and put them in a database or Excel spreadsheet and follow up with them within two weeks of the event.

Let’s talk about body language. When you’re in your booth, you need to interact and engage with the people around you. Meet your neighbors. Make eye contact with people walking by.  Every year there is a craft fair at the Florida State Fair and I like to stroll through the booths. Often times the artisans will either be sitting in the back of their booth in a lawn chair reading a book or they might be working on some new projects. I’m not in favor of sitting in the lawn chair in the back of the booth, but if you’re going to be crafting in the booth, I think this is a great idea if you set your work-station up in the front of the booth. People will want to stop and see you work, but if you’re in the back of the booth you’re not sending a good vibe. Now if you’re not an artisan, DON’T work in the booth. No working on computers or talking on cell phones! Your job is to engage people, you can’t do that with your head down or jabbering on the phone. And GREET everyone that walks into your booth.  Smile. Believe it or not I have seen tradeshows where the vendor has completely ignored someone who walked into their booth, thumbed through a brochure and walked out! A potential sale just walked out. Tradeshows are expensive; maybe that one potential customer could have paid for your whole tradeshow adventure. Remember your job is to engage people. Focus on that the whole time you’re there. A warm body in the booth is not enough.

A Few Miscellaneous Tips. When customers attend tradeshows there are three things that inevitably happen… 1) They get tired of walking. So maybe you have a bench in your booth and invite people to come in, hang out and take a load off. Great way to make friends with people. 2) They get thirsty. So maybe you have a water dispenser and some paper cups. Or maybe you invest in some water with your logo on it. Or maybe you just bring a cooler and some local spring water. The point is you will make some friends, if you hand out free water. 3) They get tired of carrying all the literature and promotionals (hats, Frisbees, stress balls) they’ve picked up along the way. Be the booth that gives away a quality tote bag or reusable shopping bag with handles and you will be friends with everyone. Plus your logo will be walking around all over the showroom floor and they’ll reuse your bag further promoting your company.

If tradeshows or other fairs are going to play a key role in your marketing plan, I recommend investing in some professional display equipment and graphics. I’ve been to shows for homeschool conventions, scrapbook conventions and turfgrass manager conferences in the past year and a half. I’ve seen booths with a footprint larger than my house and others about the size of a walk in closet. Bigger is not always better. The trick is to choose a booth size that makes sense for your product or service, is within your budget and meets your goals. Then put your best foot forward with the booth layout and equipment- while staying in budget. Remember people want to know:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • When you they can buy from you
  • Where you’re located and if you can serve them
  • Why they should buy from you
  • How you get it done

Focus on answering these questions from 10 feet away and then set up a booth that invites them to come closer for more information. If you need help with your booth, please give me a call. I’d be happy to give you some advice or help you figure out your plan.

The 30-second Commercial

I had the pleasure of attending a business leaders meeting in my community last week. The meeting was very informative. I was able to learn about 50 businesses in my local community. We each had a chance to give our ’30-second commercial’.  Think of the 30-second commercial as the opportunity to tell potential leads or referrers in a concise, informative and intriguing way what your business does while describing your target audience.

So for me, I usually start with ‘I’m Tina Newberry owner of Tina Newberry Designs- websites and marketing for smaller businesses’. But then I sort of fumbled a little. I should have delved into  ‘the perfect referral for me is a smaller business of 10 or less employees in need of a website, social media, logo, or other marketing materials,’ but I didn’t. Instead I spoke of my affiliation with a local organization and promoted my work on their website. You can tailor the 30-second commercial to fit the audience, but be careful to make the best use of the time.

30-seconds is a long time. Practice your 30-second commercial at home or in the car for two reasons. First practice allows you to choose your words ahead of time so they flow off your tongue and second practice allows you to time yourself.  You’d be surprised as how much you can say in 30-seconds.

The words you use are important, but so is your delivery. The room we were in was pretty large, there were round tables spread around the outside of the room. So in this layout everyone had their backs to one portion of the room. And there was no audio. The people who were most successful in delivering their 30-second commercial stood and walked to the front center or back center of the room. This allowed their voices to resonate and they were able to capture the most people face to face.

In addition to their position in the room, the people who waited to speak until they were standing still and who spoke slowly and clearly were the most likely to be heard. There were a lot of people talking while pushing their chair in or who were speaking so rapidly, I didn’t get a chance to hear their name, company or what they do. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an opportunity for everyone to pass out their card, so I left there thinking I had heard about several businesses who may be in need of my services or who would be great referrers, but I don’t know who they all are.

At this particular meeting, it was acceptable to pass out information about your business prior to the start of the meeting. Had I been prepared, this would have been a great opportunity to hand out a brochure of my services. I think it’s time to get started designing a brochure for Tina Newberry Designs, as well as honing my 30-second commercial so I can be more prepared next time.

Assessing Your Marketing Efforts- Part 2:  Setting Achievable Goals

In Assessing Your Marketing Efforts- Part 1: Putting the Cart Before the Horse, I talked about defining goals and making a plan to achieve them. So let’s talk about that for a bit. Whether you’re trying to grow your business, expand your sales territory, plan for the long-term, or even lose weight setting achievable goals is step #1.

I’ve learned the value of achievable goals over the years, mostly because I’ve set unachievable goals a lot of the time. Whether it’s wanting too much too fast or trying to keep up with the Jones’s or just being competitive, I’ve learned it’s important to set goals that work for me. Goals that fit in my life. Goals that are realistic for me.

Here’s a good example…. Going to a gym has been problematic for me and I seldom meet my goals. I get bored. I get sore. I plan to go five or even seven days per week. I get upset that don’t want to go. I don’t go. In comes the negative talk out goes the plan.  I hate it and then I quit.  The problem is… my goals have been unrealistic. Unachievable.

I recently started going to the gym but before I started, I assessed the challenges I’ve had in the past. I set an achievable goal and I tackled each of the obstacles that have derailed me in the past:

  • Goal– Go to the gym 3 times/week. Although it’s not as good a going five or seven days, it’s better than not going at all. And most weeks I end up going more than three times. A bonus I can feel good about.
  • Bored- I figured out how to watch my favorite shows on my tablet at the gym. It’s a little dangerous to be laughing through Duck Dynasty while walking intervals on the treadmill, but so far I’ve managed not to fall off and last week I walked long enough for the machine to time out on me (1 hour)! I also mix it up. Some days, I do a warm up on the treadmill and then circuit the machines. Some days I skip the warm up and go straight to the circuit or I just stick to the treadmill. I used to get wrapped up with form, function, repetitions, weight, but now I remind myself that anything I do at the gym is better than doing nothing at all and this is MY goal remember?
  • Diet– I’m balancing the exercise with nutritious eating. Am I on a diet? No. Am I conscious about what I eat? Yes. I learned I haven’t been eating enough protein, but now I am. And I’m listening to my stomach, not my taste buds. It’s working.
  • Soreness– I consulted a professional about the soreness. I learned about L-glutamine, which is an unnoticed addition to my post-workout protein shake and as a result I have experienced no soreness from my usual workout.

I slipped up a bit twice during the gym journey these past five weeks. First I joined in a six-week weight loss challenge. My competitive streak would normally derail me on this one because I lost one week and gained it all back the next, but I’m keeping my eye on the long-term goal. I’m down from where I started that’s all that matters, plus… I’m going to the gym- remember the original goal?  When you lose… you win!

My second slip up was to get lured into a boot camp type class for which I am grossly unqualified. The class put me out of commission for three days because I could hardly walk. I know if I stuck to the class I would eventually become qualified for the class, but I’m not into torture to reach my goal, plus I forgot my ‘slow and steady wins the race’ motto. I forgot the pace that works for me. I waivered from the achievable goal I set for myself. The one that works for me.

What is your goal? Is it realistic? What is your plan for reaching the goal? Is it realistic? Does it fit into your life? Your business? Does it work with your family values? Is it a goal that works for YOU? Yes? Great. Go after it. Slow and steady wins the race.