Why aren’t you marketing your product at a State Fair?

big-e-entrancebig-e-ctI’ve only been to one other State Fair in Ohio and it was a regional fair and not for the entire state but it was pretty much what I expected. Animals, produce, music performances, rides, funnel cakes, and corn dogs. Did I mention it was fun? It was not only fun, it was a nostalgic slice of America. The Big E was much larger but had all of the above and more.

Also there were pavilions in which crafts and consumer products were displayed and sold. There were products for the home, car, travel, and crafts of virtually every variety. What was also interesting was that several of the vendors had multiple “booths” located at different areas of the Big E. Traffic was heavy but there’s so much there that it would be easy to skip a few of the exhibit areas/halls/buildings. By having more than one, brands are able to be more certain that they are seen. Smart, right?

Display booths to sell products (almost all products and few services although I did see GEICO there) vary in size and cost. One small booth inside for one of the vendors cost under $5K as described to me. $300/day in rent does not seem crazy. The display booth still has to be built and staffed so it will cost more than $10K for the exhibition for one small booth. Not surprisingly there were a number of direct response marketers exhibiting – and selling! However there were not as many as I expected.

One well-known national brand of pillows told me that at the Minnesota State Fair this year they sold 1.1 million pillows! For the record just under 2MM people attended this year’s 12-day Minnesota State Fair (167,000 people per day on average). To say I am impressed is an understatement.

We spent more than 5 ½ hours at the Big E and could have spent more time as we did not listen to bands playing very long and did not linger in every single exhibition although we covered just about every area. No I did not go on any rides, but I did have a couple of fried Oreos.

State Fairs – it’s something brands should consider to get right in front of their prospects and customers in an environment where people are happy to be there and often more receptive to new products. What do you think?  big-e-geico


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How U.S. Millennials are like Chinese tourists

u-s-millennials-traveling-in-paris chinese-traveling-to-parisU.S. Millennials clearly behave differently than their mostly Baby Boomer and Gen X parents. What I have observed from many millennials is a different value system when it comes to how they like to spend their time as opposed to their forebears. Generalizing is always risky so it’s important to acknowledge that in painting with a broad brush in no way do ALL millennials behave the same way.

Being the first truly digital/mobile natives, so many millennials (to me) appear to be ALWAYS engaged in something at any given moment. The default option is to look at their phone. Obviously that practice is hardly limited to millennials. A large number of college-educated millennials have taken to moving to cities in and around the United States. Living in a metropolitan area is often extremely expensive. It’s common to find millennials living 4 or more people to a two- bedroom apartment and even that does not make things necessarily ‘affordable’.

Today’s Chinese tourists also are digital and mobile savvy much like U.S. tourists. Their mobile devices complete with translation apps and great GPS enable those tourists to navigate foreign places with some degree of confidence. In fact, while group tours remain popular they are not the be-all and end-all anymore and individual Chinese people, couples and families are traveling apart from group tours more frequently than ever before.

U.S. Millennials behave much like Chinese tourists when it comes to what they want to do and how they want to have ‘awesome’ experiences. Living as inexpensively as possible and eating ramen to save money affords both Chinese tourists and Millennials the opportunity to create memorable travel and life experiences that they document in social media in real time. The days of inviting friends and family over to watch a slide show of a recent vacation to Yellowstone are over. Now you can watch it as it happens on Facebook Live or Snapchat. Thankfully.

An excerpt from this week’s China Skinny helps bring the point home.

At this time three years ago, we were celebrating the 94 million Chinese travellers expected to jet abroad in 2013.  Only three batches of mooncakes later, and that number is expected to grow to 133 million – an extra 39 million travellers spending up large overseas.

In 2013, the big tourism stories were the nightly TV clips from Beijing to educate Chinese travellers about behaving better and the ringing tills of luxury retailers abroad.  This year, a good shopping experience still remains the top reason for choosing a holiday according to an HSBC survey.  Yet when the top three reasons are factored in, nature/hikes and tasty food are more important than shopping to travellers overall, representative of the increasingly diverse Chinese tourist.

The attraction of nature and hiking is reflective of China’s youth growing more interested in healthy exercise, and the ability to escape the polluted concrete megacities that most Chinese travellers come from.

Mín yǐ shí wéi tiān: “Food is the God of the people” is an old Chinese idiom that is as relevant today as ever.  Increasing exposure to foreign cuisine in the Mainland has whet consumers’ appetites to experience more on their holidays.  On previous tourism-related marketing campaigns, China Skinny has found that food and beverage are some of the most engaging communications for Chinese.

Destinations are increasingly going beyond just talking about food and beverage to Chinese, and are enhancing related attractions to appeal to them. For example, New Zealand’s vineyards are hoping to tap into China’s growing taste for wine with one vineyard hiring the greensmaster from the “Lord of the Rings” movies to advise on landscaping around the winery and cellar door.

Food-related tourism is not just great business for attractions, but is also good for building sustainable sales of food back in China.  A study earlier this year found that Chinese tourists to Australia spend 40% more on Australian products after returning home to China.  But it’s not just the travellers who will buy more.  The obligatory social sharing on holidays is also influencing their family, friends and colleagues back home to buy those products in addition to influencing their travel decisions.

Sounds familiar right? And when it comes to educating tourists on behaving better there are some U.S. Millennials that could use more than a few tips (are you listening Ryan Lochte?)

There are still too many people who get left out of having memorable travel, dining and other entertainment experiences because it’s simply too expensive. But I would argue the desire is there particularly on the part of U.S. Millennials and Chinese tourists and they will go out of their way, to find a way.

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Assembling relationships – One of my favorite hobbies

build-better-relationshipsWhen strategy and development are critical aspects of your professional life, the people you know, meet, and work with are your most valued assets. I won’t say that it’s who you know more than what you know. Both are important and for different reasons. Who you know constitutes your network and everyone seems to agree that having a well-developed network of smart capable contacts is foundational to professional success.

For me, since I am truly interested in other people’s experiences and insight, developing new relationships is something I think about every day. To add value to any professional situation there has to be a mutual exchange of useful ideas and information. Many times sitting down and talking with someone one-to-one for the first time is the most important meeting with that person you will ever have. And sometimes that’s the only meeting with that person you will ever have – or at least have for a very long time. At least until you come across the right opportunity in which to involve your ‘assembled’ relationship.

In using the term ‘assembled’ I am keenly aware that it sounds a bit manufactured but my intent is to highlight the ongoing process of creating greater trust and professionalism between you and the people in your network.

The idea in taking meetings with people you don’t know at all is to hopefully create a circumstance in which you can help one another at some point in the future. It’s your job to keep track of the relationship. It does require thinking, and perhaps even the occasional interaction when something of mutual interest arises or comes to light. There often is not any particular future opportunity that is being explored, simply an exchange of ideas and thoughts/philosophies such that at some time in the future you might realize that this ‘assembled’ relationship might be the right person to be involved in something on which you are working.

My cousin came up with the idea that people like to “have a guy for that”.   Something breaks in your house or on your car – and he has a guy for that. Need tickets to a hot show? He’s got a guy for that. While metaphorical, the idea that you have a network that you can tap when you need something specific is useful in all aspects of your life – professional and personal.

How do I go about assembling relationships? In different ways of course. Movie director Woody Allen once allegedly said – “90% of life is just showing up”. Well I show up. At meetings, lectures, discussions and conferences. I never know whom I might meet. There are blind alleys and sometimes, wasted time involved in the process but I have had multiple instances where I showed up for something and met people that later on became trusted business associates, (and even personal contacts and long-term relationships).

Putting the right people together takes steady effort but if you like to meet people and learn new and interesting things then start to add to your assembly of relationships. It’s a great investment.


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The best investing opportunities are all about Deal Flow

deal-flowOne of the things I enjoy most about my daily professional activities is finding the right opportunities to help companies and individuals with their success. The term that I hear most often thrown around is ‘deal flow’. Whenever I meet with investors, angels, VC’s, or family offices and I mention that it’s so important to have good deal flow I am universally met with a nod and smile of acknowledgment.

In using the term ‘deals’ I paint with a broad brush. Deals can be simply finding the right investor for a hot opportunity and we (along with our team) may or may not work on the brand and marketing side although my favorite deals do involve both aspects.

As any good salesperson will tell you, having a deep pool of good opportunities is a key to success. I’ve written about the idea of making the most of those opportunities. Deal flow is obviously different from finding good sales opportunities as frequently matchmaking skills are employed. Bringing good people that have good ideas together with the right investment partners is tricky business.

Maintaining good relationships with entrepreneurs and even established companies seeking growth capital, along with various investors as described requires a delicate balance of putting the right people and right potential deals together. If you show an investor a few deals that do not match up well with what they like to do, you run the risk of losing the confidence of that investor. Correspondingly, putting the wrong investor together with an entrepreneur and or company seeking capital also can cause a loss of confidence and simply be a waste of time.

How do you know the difference? You watch and learn from people you admire, you read a ton of stuff on the subjects, and most importantly as far as I am concerned, you continually keep in mind the personalities and desires of all of the stake holders. I always go through the process of thinking how a meeting will go when I put people together. What is the best outcome? What is the worst outcome? Will a review of concept and subsequent discussion (whether by phone or in person) be worth everyone’s time? If I am not sure then I back off.

Keeping track of every deal should be a detailed and organized process. It’s no surprise that most deals take time occasionally there are quick ones). Since the deals are at varying stages of development given the many contingencies, staying involved, interested and in touch becomes important to all the stakeholders. Often times it’s go, go, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait and then GO NOW!   You need to be in touch so that you are not caught by surprise when tides change.

What about success rates? Well in my experience there are way more dead ends and even a few blind alleys than there are successes. But if you personally believe in the mission of the company and of the potential of their success, you have the best chance to add value while knowing you can’t win them all.

Deal flow. It’s all about deal flow. Happy hunting.

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Facebook provides a lens of your life

Lens_Academy_facebook_tvFacebook is still only 12 years young and there are still plenty of people that remember LBF – Life Before Facebook. And even if Facebook usage is waning amongst millennials and Gen Z’ers (younger than Millennials), I would not bet against Facebook being the long-term most popular default Social Media application. This is because by far Facebook is more established than any other social network and therefor is able to offer offer a lens of your life.

When I was growing up I recall several instances of being involved with the creation of a time capsule. The time capsule would be “buried” for eventual unearthing at some point in the far future (which actually wasn’t that far). Clearly time capsules were invented to provide a lens into people’s lives at a particular place and time. There were no real negatives other than the fight in deciding what to put into the time capsule. (James Brown or Elvis?)

But with Facebook, (and the internet in general) there is no longer a need for time capsules as photos, memories, and events are captured and saved for FB users automatically.

When it comes to anything having to do with Facebook, without question there are positives and negatives. Since worrying about EVERYTHING is standard operating procedure today, let’s start with the negative.


Loss of privacy. One can take all the pains to keep data sharing private on Facebook, and still be surprised at what gets shared and how much Facebook wants to ‘help’ you get more out of the social network. So helpful, yet so intrusive and even creepy in terms of the ramifications of what ends up being social engineering as much as social networking. Deep down you know this and try to make excuses for why it does not bother you even more.

There are more that can be added to the list. But that’s a big one.

Things both positive AND negative about Facebook.

#1– Learning things about people you thought you knew that surprise and disturb you. I am actually not certain if this is a good or bad thing. But mostly it makes me sad when I see something on Facebook that makes me then think differently about someone I have known for some time – or thought I knew.

#2– Being behaviorally targeted. Again it’s something that can be both good and bad. On the good side I don’t get served with as many irrelevant stories, offers, etc. I am one to avoid clicking on articles and things both that I think I would like or not like since I do not want to add to my profile and further limit what Facebook algorithms will show me based on what I click.

The positive in my opinion outweighs the negative. In my ‘circle’ of Facebook friends which number in the hundreds (not thousands), there are many that I have known for a long time but not seen in decades. In many cases Facebook has facilitated an easy path to a somewhat renewed Facebook friendship. You know what I mean, the person that you correspond with occasionally but have not seen in ages but might sometime. With life events being posted, photos of family relatives, children, parents, and pets (so many photos of people’s pets) through these photos and posts you get a little sense of how someone’s life might be going – well at least as it pertains to what they are willing to share. Some people over-share on Facebook. I know. Perhaps you have seen that yourself.


My 87 year-old mother-in-law is somewhat new to Facebook. She’s pretty much the ultimate Facebook voyeur never posting anything, never commenting. She’s just looking at and enjoying photos of her family (and now great grand-children) that has spread far and wide across the map. We all love that she can do that and she’s in touch to a degree that has never before been possible. BIG positive.

Facebook is far from perfect. But in providing a lens of your life there’s tremendous utility Facebook provides for more than 2.5 billion people are connected in ways impossible a mere fifteen years ago.

Facebook is not the only lens of your life but for now and the near future it’s the one that counts for the most people. Even if you choose to ignore Facebook (and I guarantee your life will be no less fulfilling in so doing), so many other people are impacted it has an effect on their behavior and yours AND the added bonus is that you have a lot more time on your hands than Facebook users do.

What do you think? Is FB a lens to your life or not?







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Amazon and Google are fast becoming like public utilities

amazon googleI’ve noted on several occasions that I am an admirer of both Google (now Alphabet) and Amazon.com. As marketers we are involved with both every single day on behalf of our clients AND ourselves. We have a number of clients who offer their products on Amazon via the Amazon Direct Seller platform. Additionally paid search (SEM) is still dominated by Google (something close to 70% of all searches are done on Google).

But like most things, while both Amazon and Google provide impressive utility for countless businesses, I am disturbed enough about some of their collective business practices to dare to suggest that in becoming all-powerful, Google and Amazon are becoming TOO powerful. This is not necessarily a novel concept as plenty of people feel there’s innate evil when it comes to Amazon and Google. That’s not how I feel but I am coming closer to that notion.

I should also add that I am no fan of rampant regulation and yet my thought is that there is a possibility that at some point in the future both Google and Amazon may be regulated (like the phone companies were years ago), by government(s).

Why? Both Amazon and Google have the ability to severely impact a company’s business on their platforms. Temporary and even permanent account suspensions due to what Amazon or Google considers a ‘compliance’ issue or problem occur all the time.

We all recognize that public companies in public markets have to make decisions in the best interests of their shareholders and constituents. However in the process of trying to be good stewards, companies that rely in large part for their livelihoods on the two platforms have found themselves with a risk of losing their business that they never imagined.

Both Amazon and Google have policy review teams that are not ‘client facing’. Account managers act as liaisons from the policy team. There are some sound reasons for this which start with not allowing ‘Influence’ from clients who might be willing to throw money at an issue instead of rectify the actual problem. That is sensible until you become aware that often times the reasons for the account suspension are not clearly identified nor are the steps outlined on how to get back into compliance.

You can understand that it’s incredibly frustrating and aggravating to be in the position of being taken off the playing field without clear indication of why or how to get back on. Meanwhile your business is suffering, employees are worried about losing their jobs, and the business can quickly end up on life support.

With both Amazon and Google policies are ever changing and it’s critical for involved businesses to keep up with those changes. There are plenty of companies using both platforms that do not have the best interests of people at heart and protecting consumers is critical.   But, and it’s a big BUT, arbitrary suspension of a company’s presence on either platform often has serious impact and sometimes, I know it might be hard to believe, Amazon and Google get it wrong.

So my question here is – acknowledging that it’s a slippery slope, do you feel that there might be a time in the future that Google and Amazon may have to be regulated by the U.S. Government (or any other government)?

Posted in Amazon, Google, Internet Marketing, Marketing stuff | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dollar Shave again shows the power of direct marketing

From Fortune Magazine

From Fortune Magazine

My eyes opened wide when I saw the news last week that Dollar Shave Club was sold to packaged goods giant Unilever for $1B. I knew Dollar Shave was disruptive and a fairly new company (five years old). I did have questions never having used the product, as to what a ‘Dollar’ shave meant. More on that later.

While I pondered what does the dollar shave mean it’s apparent that it means an increasing market share and as Farhood Manjoo wrote this morning   hin his regularly excellent column, a warning shot across the bow of many retail brands.

In fact another of my favorite columnists is from Steven Davidoff Solomon and he too yesterday opined that …’every company should worry’.

How did Dollar Shave do it? As Mr. Manjoo puts it “by cutting out on retail, and shipping products to people’s homes on a subscription basis, the company made buying shaving products more convenient than going to a store.” Shipping directly offered better pricing, more convenience and a better customer experience.

So a little research into the category turned up this from Huffington Post last fall:

…‘Does the service live up to its name? Can you really take care of all your shaving needs for a dollar a month? In a word, no. The minimal cash outlay gets you a basic two-blade razor call The Humble Twin. Each month, you will receive five replacement cartridges at the advertised cost of just one dollar per month, hence the name Dollar Shave Club. However, the true cost comes in at three dollars per month as you are on the hook for a two-dollar shipping and handling charge. I guess the Three Dollar Shave Club didn’t sound as snappy.

The Mid-Range Option

The next option offers a fancier four-blade razor called The 4X. You will only receive four cartridges per month with this option at a cost of six dollars per month. The good news? Shipping is included. But that’s still twice the price as the cheapest option.

The High-End Option

The ultimate package includes a six-blade razor called The Executive that also features a special trimmer edge. Like the mid-grade plan, you will receive four cartridges per month, but at nine dollars per month, including shipping. That puts you out more than $100 over the course of a year.

These prices are competitive with buying full-price, name-brand razor cartridges at retail stores, but you could do better by buying cheap, no-name razors or shopping the occasional sale. The Club does offer convenience, though; since the service is automatic and they will keep shipping you new cartridges every month until you cancel, you should never run out of razors (unless you go through your monthly allotment too quickly). If you want to maximize your savings, however, better deals do exist to ordering razor blades online.

Dollar Shave Club Alternatives

Dollar Shave Club does not manufacture their razors. In fact, they reportedly buy them from a company called Dorco. You can cut out the middleman and order razors from Dorco yourself and keep the savings.

Surprisingly, there are no savings to keep if you’re a fan of The Humble Twin. To buy a year’s worth of cartridges plus a razor handle, you would pay $49.40 through Dorco and only $36.00 through Dollar Shave Club. Unfortunately for Dollar Shave Club, Dorco wins the pricing battle with The 4x and The Executive. The 4x would cost you $72 through Dollar Shave Club and only $61.60 for the first year through Dorco. The Executive would cost you $108 through Dollar Shave Club and only $92.75 through Dorco. In both of these cases, you’d get a few extra blades to boot.

Is it making more sense to you now? Another upstart brand in the space Harry’s is similarly gaining market share and awareness.

Being a direct marketing practitioner I always tell clients that digital is direct. Dollar Shave has done a great job of using tried and true direct marketing techniques – digitally. Precise targeting and measurement is undoubtedly a key to Dollar Shave’s success. Mr. Manjoo closes by offering:

“…It’s striking how few of these online companies could have taken off in the presocial age. At the very least, they would have been sunk by the inability to target ads to the demographics they’re aiming to serve.

“Look at Dollar Shave,” Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of ads and business platform, told me. “They were just trying to reach men. If they’d started advertising on TV, they definitely would have wasted half their money.””

Right on. Do you understand why I love direct marketing?




Posted in Brand Advertising, Digital media, Direct marketing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment