17 Ways to Market Your Award Business

Copyright © 2010 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in March 2010, Volume 35, No. 9 of The Engravers Journal
Rex Tubbs, owner of Engraving Connection, Plymouth, MI, developed a second website targeted specifically at the wedding market. Resin Fine Arts award from Classic Medallics, Mt. Vernon, NY.

   If you think back to your marketing and advertising resources and opportunities, say, even just ten years ago, it quickly becomes evident that times have changed. Seriously. The last time you needed a phone number or the name of a local plumber, did you grab the Yellow Pages directory off the shelf or did you do a quick Google search on your computer? And sending promotional E-mails, marketing through a website and advertising on social networks was not even in the realm of possibilities.
   Not everything has changed, of course. Salespeople still hand out printed business cards and brochures, and potential customers still keep and refer to them. Business owners with storefronts still use classy in-store displays as a key marketing tool. And community involvement will likely never go out of style as a means of keeping your business name in the public eye.
   Last year was an “interesting” year for award dealers, to say the least. Some engravers have reported a significant decline in sales, others say they held their own and still others say they actually increased their revenue. In any case, after a tumultuous 2009, we could all use a little business jump-start, and what better place to start than with revamping your marketing campaign?
   It’s very easy to become too involved in day-to-day operations and even easier to lose focus on marketing, especially for small retail businesses with limited staff. On top of that, many retailers worry that any type of advertising campaign is just too expensive and time consuming. But the bottom line is, if you don’t spread the word, how will anyone know what you sell and who you are? There are many ways to effectively market your business. So let’s take a look at what some industry-based businesses are doing.
Target Marketing is Important
   It is critical before embarking on any marketing strategy that you determine your target market, particularly for small retailers and especially in today’s economy. Successful retailers have realized the importance of targeted marketing as opposed to a “shoot from the hip” approach. “When it comes to marketing, a major concern of ours has been making sure the marketing program reaches our target customer. Our marketing strategy has become much more rigidly targeted and as it has, it has become more successful,” says Ed Duprey, Great Lakes Trophies & Engraving Inc., Garden City, MI.
   Engraved awards and gifts represent a distinct market but it’s not always an all-encompassing one. There are market segments within the awards/gift industry and the segment you choose to target will depend on the products you offer and to whom you want to sell them. From there, you can develop more precise marketing strategies.
   For example, if your business specializes in high-end awards, you will want to reach the corporate award market, and to do that might mean developing and selling corporate award programs. If engravable gifts are your specialty, you may want to zero in on the bridal market by developing a website geared around engravable gifts and showcasing your products at area bridal shows. If trophies, medals and ribbons are major sellers in your business, then schools and youth sports may be your target markets so you may want to increase your community involvement in those areas.
   In a nutshell, to get the most out of your time and money, you need to focus on that group or groups of people who will buy your award products, and tailor your marketing programs accordingly.

 

Clean attractive displays are an important marketing tool, such as these found in aai Trophies and Awards’ (Plano, TX) showroom. Rising Star Award from Crystal by Design, El Monte, CA.
What Works Today
   So, in today’s technological business world, what really works for R&I businesses? Here’s a look at 17 different marketing tips and strategies for 2010, a few you may want to consider putting on the back burner and some sage advice from successful business owners.
   1. Hire a sales manager. While small business owners tend to do it all, realistically you can’t, or at least not effectively. If you are serious about jump-starting an effective marketing program, consider hiring a salesperson or manager to oversee it, as Ed Duprey did. If a full-time salesperson is really not in your budget, take a look at your existing staff. A little extra training in customer service can go a long way, or training them in key aspects of your business could leave you more time for marketing.
   2. Time it right. One of the biggest issues in launching a marketing campaign is timing. Through effective timing you can capture the attention of prospects when they are most receptive and show them that what you are offering can meet their needs.
   Rex Tubbs, owner of Engraving Connection, Plymouth, MI, and a well-known marketing “guru,” does online research to determine when companies and organizations give out awards. With this information, he can ascertain when the company is going to make a purchasing decision and target his marketing appropriately. “Most large companies and organizations like to brag about the awards they give. I use Google Search and Google News Alerts to find the information for specific markets and businesses,” Tubbs explains.
   David Takes, owner of Expressions Engraved, Inc., St. Joseph, MO, takes a seasonal approach to timing his marketing. “Without a doubt, the most cost-effective time of year to promote a retail awards business is from November 1 through the end of the holiday shopping season. This is when people are most likely to break away from shopping the same old crowded big-box stores to explore smaller shops they’ve never been in before. It’s the best time to pull out all the stops to draw new foot traffic into your business.”
   This past year, Takes embarked on a promotional campaign that touted his business as having the largest selection of Christmas ornaments in the city, and ended up attracting the most holiday traffic in his business’ history. Anticipating increased foot traffic, Takes made sure his in-store displays were up to date and were set up to convey everything his business could offer.
   “It wasn’t the wonderful ornament sales that I got excited about, it was all of the new exposure my business gained from the expanded foot traffic. By offering a lower-ticket item such as ornaments, I was able to maximize the number of shoppers coming into the store. Once in the store, they were pleasantly surprised with our selection of gifts in crystal, pewter, silver, wood, etc. I call this time of year my planting season because I am able to plant seeds for business that will come later on as occasions present themselves throughout the year,” Takes says.
   Expressions Engraved’s promotion was so successful that next year Takes plans on setting the bar even higher by hosting a late-night sneak preview party in September to introduce some of the exclusive new ornaments he plans to create for 2010. “My goal is to become the first place people will think of when they want an ornament. Those of us in this industry have such an advantage over the competition because of our ability to personalize,” he explains.
   3. Get creative. As a member of the recognition and identification industry, you have to be inherently creative, so why not put some of that creativity to work in your marketing plans? When Rex Tubbs targets large corporate accounts, he often has difficulty getting past the “gatekeeper” when trying to reach the decision maker. To get around this stumbling block, he uses a “shock and awe box.” Before he visits a potential customer, he packs a box with sales materials, including a plaque engraved with his sales message, catalogs, a CD and anything else that might impress the CEO, and labels the outside of the box “Awards.” “It rattles a little bit, it looks important and guess what? It gets past the gatekeeper,” Tubbs says.

Acrylic Idea Factory, Atlanta, GA, has a wide variety of acrylic awards, including the new EasySTIQ line. Imprinted ad specialties, such as pens, are an inexpensive way to promote your business. Plastic retractable pens from Beacon Promotions, Inc., New Ulm, MN. High quality optical crystal blanks are available from SCT Crystal, South El Monte, CA.
   4. Track customers. Both Tubbs and Duprey use customer relationship management (CRM) software to organize customer information and automate marketing activities. Duprey’s system, for example, is used to track a variety of customer characteristics, including whether the client is a new or repeat customer and how the customer heard about the business, e.g. word of mouth, Yellow Pages, direct mail flyer, Internet, drive by or business card. Based on that information, Duprey can determine the best approach to reach that customer. “It’s a great tool for knowing where to spend marketing dollars,” says Duprey. There are many different CRM software packages available in a variety of price ranges, depending on your needs.
   5. Mail campaigns. Mail campaigns remain an effective way to sell products and services. The difference today, of course, is that in addition to direct mail, E-mail has entered the picture as a cost effective way to instantly reach customers. Here again, good CRM software can make E-mail marketing campaigns an automatic process.
   For example, after Tubbs makes a sale, the customer is automatically signed up to receive a sequence of E-mails that highlight different areas of Tubbs’ business. The particular E-mail sequence that a customer is assigned depends on the product purchased. For example, a customer purchasing engraved wedding gifts will automatically receive a promotional E-mail about etching toasting flutes, then one on engraving cake servers, etc. “This goes on for multiple E-mails and has been very effective for me,” says Tubbs.
   6. Develop a website. Business websites have gone from being an optional marketing tool to an essential one. With a website, you can effectively compete on any level—local, national or even international—because your business is accessible to anyone who has an Internet connection, anytime, anywhere. (It is reported that over 25 percent of the world’s population utilizes the Internet.) Through an effective website, potential customers can find information about your business, including products, services and contact information, and even make purchases while you’re home sleeping. And while the website itself is a fantastic marketing tool, it also opens a floodgate of opportunities for not only marketing through that website but establishing an overall “Internet presence.”
   You can get the most out of your website by utilizing the many different tools that are available, such as shopping cart capabilities, online web forms that can capture names and E-mail addresses, and links to your site on affiliated sites.
   Another current trend is the concept of establishing multiple websites or sub sites that are specific to a niche market. This strategy can give you great placement on search engines and it also opens the door to highly-targeted marketing strategies based on specific customer data. Tubbs has had great success with his website www.weddingengraver.com which he developed to target the wedding market specifically. (For more information about online marketing, read our two-part series “Online Marketing Strategies” in the 2008 Awards Advisory and the Feb. 09 issue.)
   Note, too, that some industry suppliers have free end user websites that you can use in your marketing strategy. These are established websites that you can direct your customers to through links on your own website that highlight various products. LaserBits, Phoenix, AZ, recently introduced a marketing site called LaserPlaces that showcases a variety of laser engravable products, including photos and descriptions (www.LaserPlaces.com).
   7. Hit the show circuit. Attending shows and events in industries where your products and services might be needed is another way to expand your customer base. For example, set up a booth at a dog show to engrave dog tags on the spot, show your line of engravable golf accessories at a golf show or offer engraving services at a gun and knife show. Once you get your foot in the door, the potential for additional business is great. Instead of just engraving dog tags, next year you might be the business selected to provide all of the awards for the dog show.
   Tubbs regularly displays his products and services at major bridal shows where he attracts some 2,000 brides from all over the metro Detroit area, southeast Michigan and even Toledo, Ohio. He pushes his website with great success at these shows.
   You might also consider organizing your own “show” of sorts. Rex Tubbs has started a “wedding workshop” show promotion in cooperation with other area vendors that is held several times times a year at a local banquet hall. Couples come to the event to visit each vendor’s table and receive advice from various wedding experts; every nine minutes, a bell sounds and the couples move on to the next booth. The entire event lasts 90 minutes and is not designed as a venue for businesses to sell their products but rather a place where couples can receive expert advice in one place in a short period of time. Tubbs, for example, offers hints on how to avoid engraving problems, e.g. have the wedding bands sized before engraving to avoid distortion of the engraving.
   The event is promoted through flyers handed out at bridal shows and E-mail blasts inviting couples to sign up for the workshop on the event’s website (Wedding Specialists United). “Think of speed dating events. This is where the idea came from. We usually get around 40 to 50 couples attending the workshop, it’s a lot of fun and time goes very fast. It has been a very successful event distinguishing my business from the competition,” Tubbs says.

 
 
 

Calendars imprinted with your company information can keep your business in customers’ minds year-round. Photo courtesy of Norwood Publishing, Sleepy Eye, MN.

 

   8. Business cards. The good old-fashioned business card is a time-proven marketing tactic and retailers agree that this is a selling tool that has definitely not gone out of style. Duprey purchases them by the thousands and Tubbs says he hands out 500 business cards in a month’s time.
   When printing your business cards, be sure to take advantage of both sides of the card. For example, print your company information on the front and the products and services you offer on the back. Always carry them with you and hand them out generously at your sales counter, with all orders shipped out, at shows and any other networking event. Consider asking permission to leave them at a business or organization that your targeted buyers might visit.
   9. Brochures, catalogs & flyers. Another marketing tool that has stood the test of time is printed media, including brochures, catalogs and flyers. Nearly every major supplier in this industry offers printed promotional materials either for free or for a charge that you can customize with your company’s information. You can use these in your shop, as direct mail pieces or insert them into outgoing orders. They also make good handouts at networking events. “At bridal shows, you have to put something in the customer’s hands. Brochures are the answer with an offer and call to action. Without an offer and a call to action, you are wasting your money,” says Tubbs.
   10. Company branding. No award should ever leave your store without a label on the bottom or the back side printed with your company name, logo, phone and fax numbers, and web address. A customer may not remember where he purchased those soccer trophies a year ago, but by picking one up and turning it over, your business name is immediately in front of him. Plus, there’s always the opportunity for a potential customer to do the same thing.
   Company branding also means consistency. If you see a product marked with an apple that has a bite out of it, do you know what company made it? Of course you do. Ed Duprey is a big proponent of consistent company branding and makes sure that everything associated with his store is printed in the same colors, logos, fonts, etc., including letterhead, banners, website, store signage, business cards, catalogs and advertisements. He uses the same colors, logos and fonts on the corporate apparel and name badges that his staff wears every day. Not only does this reinforce his company brand, but it promotes a high level of professionalism.
   11. Promotional drawings. Drawings for free products, gift certificates, merchandise, etc., is not a huge marketing tactic in this industry, but it can come in handy in certain situations. Duprey will occasionally hold a drawing at events where they are hosting a booth. “It takes very little effort and it is possible to collect potential customer contact information,” he says.Tubbs holds a drawing at bridal shows where the winner receives one wedding band engraved free. “There is no cost of goods to me and I know the other ring is coming to my business to be engraved,” he says.
   12. Networking. Networking is, of course, a broad term and is something you probably do every day. With the Internet, however, online networking opportunities have exploded. Ed Duprey is a member and strong supporter of Business Network International (BNI), an organization designed to offer business members the opportunity to share ideas, contacts and business referrals. “We have, on average, thirty other entrepreneurs in our chapter who have gained and earned our trust over the years. Those business owners are also out ‘spreading the good word’ about Great Lakes Trophies,” Duprey says.
   In addition, there is the social networking phenomenon taking place right now. You can use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to market your business in different ways, something that many other businesses are currently doing and something that R&I businesses may soon want to look into.
   13. Community involvement. Being involved in your community has the benefit of making your company look good while giving you some free advertising at the same time. Most business owners find it beneficial to be involved in local organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Authority.
   Many businesses also support various charities and local organizations. Great Lakes Trophies, for instance, supports organizations such as American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Awareness, Leukemia Foundation, Leader Dogs for the Blind, several fraternal causes and numerous sports teams and is also a major sponsor of the Corvette car that tours the country as the “Corvettes Conquer Cancer.”
   Engraving Connection focuses heavily on local charitable giving. For instance, each year Tubbs donates the awards and ribbons for the city’s annual Ice Carving Festival in exchange for major sponsorship for his business.
   14. In-store atmosphere. If you have a storefront, then you need to have a clean showroom with attractive displays. Rex Tubbs modeled his showroom after a jewelry store and, as a result, says it is very seldom that a customer comes in looking for “discounts.”
   Ed Duprey recently remodeled Great Lakes Trophies’ showroom to reflect his company colors, logo, etc. His showroom also features a warm, welcoming waiting area and an ordering area with comfortable chairs and PC order stations.



 
 

 

Many suppliers offer free web-based marketing sites that you can direct your customers to. LaserPlaces.com is a free end user website available from LaserBits, Phoenix, AZ.  

   15. Sales, promotions and discounts. There are many ways for R&I retailers to offer customers “added value” on their purchases. “Giving a little something extra is the way to go. I offer six letters of free engraving with just about everything. This cuts down on the perception that engraving is expensive,” says Tubbs.
   Great Lakes Trophies offers “free engraving” with every purchase. “Of course, our engraving is not really free, we simply bundle that cost into the products we offer, but customers perceive it as ‘free’ because the fees are built into the merchandise prices. It’s a huge selling point!” Duprey says.
   Duprey also recently started selling “Mr. Trophy Closeouts” at greatly reduced prices to move slow-selling and outdated products. (Mr. Trophy is the legally registered name for the company’s Production Manager, Ray Boujoulian, who has decades in the awards and engraving business.) Duprey says he was always hesitant to “push” this type of product, but in the current stressed economic climate, many of his customers have had their budgets curtailed and this offers a nice economical alternative. “We have eliminated a lot of stock that just sat there! We will continue this and have set up a dedicated area in our showroom for this promotion,” Duprey explains.
   16. Ad specialties. Everyone likes something “free,” and handing out ad specialties and promotional products can please your customers and provide great advertising for your business. “I am a strong believer in our branded promotional products that we generously give out to our family of customers. We get a great return on this,” says Duprey. The selection of ad specialties available today is huge. Just a few examples include pens, sticky note pads, business card magnets, calendars, water bottles, mouse pads, key chains, coffee mugs, memo clips, paperweights, etc. You get the idea.
   17. Word of mouth. What marketing discussion would be complete without mentioning word-of-mouth advertising? The concept is pretty simple: Go above and beyond to provide great quality products and services and focus heavily on top-notch customer service, and you will be rewarded through the free advertising that these satisfied customers will generate for you.
   “I have always believed word-of-mouth advertising works the best. We are very proud of our fifteen-year customer service history. Statistically, at least two out of three people will tell others about a bad buying experience, whereas only a small percentage will spread the word about a good experience. Nothing can hurt a business more than nonrepeat business. We thrive on repeat business and do all we can to turn those margins in our favor,” Duprey says.



 
 

 

Tower Ribbons, Topeka, IN, now offers a line of MX resin awards in a variety of themes, including swimming, billiards and scholastics.  

What Doesn’t Work
   Times have changed and, although there are tried and true marketing strategies that have been around forever, there are also some that have been, or are being, replaced. And there are also some great marketing strategies that just don’t seem to work well in the awards industry. Here are six ideas you might want to reevaluate if you are still, or were thinking of, using.
   1. Yellow Pages. Thanks to Google and other Internet search engines, perhaps the biggest advertising medium to take a hit in this age of technology is the Yellow Pages. From a consumer standpoint, it is much easier to search for a business, product or service on the Internet than it is to look it up in the hard copy of the Yellow Pages. From a business standpoint, you can target market much better on the Internet; instead of being forced into general categories in the Yellow Pages, you can use an endless list of keywords to increase your search engine ranking. For example, if someone Googles “Baby Cup Engraving, MI,” Engraving Connection is the first company listed. Many award retailers have either eliminated Yellow Pages advertising or dramatically scaled it down.
   2. Coupon mailers. Coupon mailers are great marketing tools for certain types of businesses, but typically not in this industry. Award dealers are not really known for discounting and customers generally don’t seek major discounts or bargains. Unlike an oil change shop, customers aren’t going to look for a coupon mailer to buy an award. Marketing awards requires a more targeted approach.
   3. Newspaper advertising. Advertising in newspapers and other print media is another area that retailers are using less and less. Although it has never been a great marketing vehicle for award businesses (again, the target audience is often too general), it’s being used even more infrequently today. For one, retailers say it’s just too much money for the response. “Our sales from newspaper ads and coupon mailers were well below the one to two percent return we expected,” says Duprey. Added to the mix is the fact that nearly every newspaper in the country has downsized, cut home delivery or ceased publication completely.
   However, don’t completely shut out newspapers as a potential avenue for marketing. For example, it can be worth your time to send out newsworthy press releases, especially to local newspapers. If your company makes a notable donation to and/or participates in a charity, school or nonprofit organization, that is news. If your business is celebrating a milestone, contact the paper about a possible feature article.
   In addition, you might want to consider other types of local print media as advertising possibilities. Great Lakes Trophies, for instance, frequently places quarter-page to full-page advertisements in programs for events that their customers are hosting or sponsoring, such as school yearbooks, community theatre programs, etc.
   4. Mass mailings. Mass mailings involve either compiling or purchasing mailing lists and sending promotional materials to everyone on the list. Once again, this works fine for some businesses (restaurants, hair salons, grocery stores) but unless the list is very specialized, it is too general of an approach for most award dealers. “We sent out mass mailings from third-party marketing lists that we purchased. It was a huge waste of our resources,” cautions Ed Duprey.
   However, most retailers acknowledge a notable exception in making mailings to your existing customer list. If you maintain your client list, you have an unbelievably targeted audience of proven buyers who already know you and with whom you have an established relationship.
   5. Radio and TV. Generally speaking, radio and TV advertising are not ideal resources for most R&I businesses. But, then again, it depends on how you utilize the media. For example, Rex Tubbs’ local Chamber of Commerce periodically hosts a “community buy” in which local businesses participate; the live DJ will highlight specials from one or two local businesses during each segment.
   6. Random advertising. Lots of marketing books and articles promote the idea of advertising in creative places, like park benches and restaurant placemats. In most cases, this type of marketing will not be cost-
effective for award businesses. Remember: Your advertising must be targeted to a specific target market(s) to be effective.
Conclusion
   In the end, is marketing worth your valuable time and money? Yes, and successful business owners have proven it. Should you experiment with different strategies? Yes. Times change and there is always something new to try.
   As Rex Tubbs explains, “Most of the marketing strategies I have tried have had some success. After I try something, I ask myself, ‘Was it worth it? What is the potential for short term benefits? Long term? How quickly can I get a return on my investment? How can I do it differently and more effectively? You’ve got to always be thinking. Marketing is an ongoing process.”

 

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