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Marketing: Make It A Top Priority!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Marketing: Make It A Top Priority!(GIFTBEAT)You know marketing is key to business success—and that much of the publicity you generate can cost little or nothing. So why leave marketing tasks simmering on your store's back burner? Shirley Frazier, gift and gourmet industry specialist and president of New Jersey-based Sweet Survival, helps you turn up the heat on your marketing efforts.

Q. Why should every retailer have a marketing plan in place?

A. A marketing plan assures that your business continues to thrive and not just exist. It truly brings more traffic through your door month after month and increases sales based on what you plan to promote. Of course, you [want to continue to draw in] your loyal customers, but you want to steadily bring in new customers. A marketing plan will assure that more people find out about your store.

Many retailers fail with their marketing plans because they see them as time-consuming and something that nets little results. But I find that it's relatively easy to get in the habit of documenting specifics about your marketing plan. You don't need to write War & Peace! You want to pinpoint what will be done in a certain month, what works and what doesn't, and more. A retailer may feel he or she is not strong in determining how to put a marketing plan together and implement it. But [marketing] is part and parcel of operating a store.

Marketing really does connect with people when you listen to current customers and market your business with buzzwords that your customers are already saying to you. Put those words in print, and they'll help new people find a comfort zone [in your store] before they even enter the door. Buzzwords or phrases could be "I'm looking for gift wrapping" or "I want a place where I can get quick, small gift items that affordable." Gift-wrapping items like paper, cellophane and pretty bows are not difficult for retailers to stock today.

Q. How much do most retailers spend on marketing each year? What realistic objectives can they set for their marketing goals?

A. The rule of thumb in most industries globally is to spend 3 to 5 percent of annual gross income on marketing. Objectives depend on a retailer's goals. I suggest you look at your store's previous year income for one quarter, and plan to increase the [same quarter] current year's income by a minimum of 10 percent. Most store owners want 20 percent and more. But in certain areas [of the nation], that might not happen.

In today's economy, fewer people are buying because of their own strained incomes. You need to consider that when deciding how you will bring people in your store to loosen up the change in their wallets! Also, you need to give them an idea of why they should come into your store.

This can be done in several ways that don't cost a lot of money. These ways will cost time, and this goes back to planning. Call a staff meeting and have a brainstorming session with staff on different ways to increase income in the store. Out of that brainstorming can come ideas for contests, student window displays, artist demonstrations and more. Only one activity per month or every other month will increase foot traffic.

Q. What are some marketing ideas that can generate free publicity?

A. Anything to do with children will bring customers and the media out. It could be a face- painting event or an art contest where children's art is put in a window display or hung on store walls. Everyone loves to see what young people have created, and whole families will visit your store. One retailer's brainstorming session resulted in a window display that was created by incoming high school seniors. Their displays had to do with going back to school.

Contests that take consumers back to the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are popular, especially those involving home decor. Have participants bring in the items they have from those eras and let people judge which are the coolest, wackiest or tackiest. These retro items can be for display only and placed in a store area with current retro-themed products.

One of the best ways to get the media involved in an event is to have them take part as a judge. So many reporters are stuck taking notes and really like being involved. At one retail store, customers were being shown how to wrap gifts with different types of tissue and bows. The store owner asked the reporter to wrap a gift, too. She put her pen and paper down, and went through the motions. She absolutely loved it!

A contest could be for the person wearing the most outrageous shoes, hat or sunglasses. You want something that's fun, trendy and that all ages can participate in—from stroller children to tweens to adults. Because tea is so popular today, there can be contests for the most flavorful or smoothest teas. Or customers can set up tea place settings on round tables, and judges could pick the best setting. Decorating contests can also be themed around coffee, food or home décor.

Costume events also bring in customers and the media. These costume contests don't have to be just at Halloween. There can be "flapper" costume events during the summer. Or you can time a contest with the premiere of a movie and judge the best costume based on the movie. An example would be the best "Iron Man" costume.

Q. What tips can you offer for writing press releases and contacting the media?

A. Press releases must give readers [and reporters] a good reason to travel to your store. Keep superlatives like "best" and "greatest" out of the release. It's better to describe the event or product in relation to how your customers would think. They will think about how an event will benefit their lives or streamline their time.

It's acceptable to quote yourself in a press release, but the quote is best when it has benefit-driven information in it. If you have photographs of your store or from past events, include them right before the text in the press release begins. Or it is very helpful to type in that "Photographs are available." Be sure to include your day and evening phone numbers in releases. Also, have an alternative person to speak with the press if you're not in the store. [If not,] a reporter will be working within a deadline and will pass you over. Remember that it's okay if your first press releases don't get picked up. The more you write [and send] monthly releases to reporters, the closer you get to getting the publicity you deserve.

Research your local newspaper to find the food, lifestyle, health and local section writers. Send press releases to [them] every month about upcoming events in your store. Call the editor directly to ask what type of stories he or she is working on. You may have a chance to be part of the story or become a source for an upcoming feature. Call the roving reporter at your local television [or radio] station, telling him or her about your store's upcoming event. If requested, send a short letter by fax or e-mail regarding the event. Call the media two weeks in advance of an event. It's also okay to call a day or two before an event as a reminder and to learn if [a newspaper or TV or radio station] will have a reporter or photographer in your store for an event.

Note: You can reach Frazier at 973-279-2799 or Log on to for marketing articles, a free newsletter subscription or to order Frazier's book, "Marketing Strategies for the Home-Based Business" (2008).

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