August 31, 2017


Three things happen as an industry consolidates:
  1. Knowledge is pushed out of brands and in to vendors.
  2. Vendor knowledge centers on tactics and not strategy.
  3. Brands, consequently, leverage tepid strategies.
Look at this tweet (click here). This is a classic vendor-centric view of the world ... the focus is on micro-tactics (which are absolutely important, don't get me wrong here).

But what about corporate strategy?

That's your job.

As an industry consolidates, somebody has to be a Leader, a person who provides a path out of the woods.

Why can't that person be you?

Yet Another Example of Low-Cost / No-Cost Customer Acquisition

You probably read Mailchimp's "What's In Store" ... and saw this earlier today (click here).

The key comment ... "they threw all the events". The Soda Parlor host non-stop events ... check 'em out on Facebook (click here). Look at 'em all!

I know, I know, you are a catalog brand and you don't have a physical location so how the heck can you have an event?
  • Hint - you can have online events - video - every single day if you want.
I'm not saying we don't work hard. We work "differently". Other companies hustle the living daylights out of their business. We hustle the living daylights out of decile eight of a co-op overlay upon lapsed buyers. If you view the world this way, we're not getting much of a return on investment on that activity, just like hustle generates minimal return on investment on in-store events. But there's one difference ... the hustle of in-store (or online) events aligns with the future ... the hustle associated with decile eight of a co-op overlay upon lapsed buyers does not align with the future.

Make sense?

Do you disagree?

If you disagree, send me your thesis, and I will publish it for all to read. Send it right now ( If you want to keep it private, send me your thesis and I won't publish it. Ok?

August 30, 2017


I have a running joke I repeatedly employ on Twitter:
  • "The future of retail is one CEO and no other employees. The CEO manages vendors and algorithms, both responsible for running the business."
As Private Equity and Catalog Holding Companies gobble up distressed catalog brands, the future becomes clear ... employees are going to pay the price.

I'm aware of a company that used to have a 25+ person marketing department ... now down to about 10 employees. Everything that can be outsourced is outsourced ... so far. 

A Catalog Holding Company with 10 brands will leverage relationships across brands.

  • HR: One department with satellite divisions.
  • Distribution Center: You only need one and you'll staff it with robots.
  • Call Center: Send it overseas.
  • IT: Outsource one corporate database to Merkle (or to Google long-term ... think Wal-Mart / Google relationship).
  • Creative: One centralized team in the short-term, outsourced to vendors in the long-term.
  • Merchandising: One centralized team in the short-term, outsource the math to IBM's Watson long-term.
  • Analytics: One centralized team in the short-term, outsource via voice to Google/Adobe/Amazon long-term.
  • Finance: Individual teams in the short-term coordinating through a central office. Cloud-based services in the long-term.
  • Marketing: One centralized employee pushing buttons in the corporate office - everything outsourced to vendors & algorithms (ultimately, everything is outsourced to Google + Facebook + Amazon + Co-Ops + Search Vendor + Email Vendor + Social Vendor).
  • Website Ops:  
You'll have specialized jobs ... for instance:
  • Chief Vendor Officer (CVO): Since everything is outsourced, you'll have a CVO (likely a Lawyer) who manages all of the relationships ... the CVO will have a small team to help across brands.
  • Chief CrossShop Officer (CCO): This person dictates to each individual brand what the brand might do to generate value for all other brands in the portfolio.
If you are a vendor, you'll be thinking five steps ahead and will create an offering that aligns with this worldview.

If you are an employee, it's gonna be hard to get a job at a traditional "brand".

One of the reasons so many people are exiting the catalog industry is because what I've described above has already been happening for more than a decade. Few want to talk about it, because it's painful to think about the repercussions.

Consolidation of the industry will yield consolidation of employees. We're in the process of outsourcing employees. Employees will move to other industries. Think carefully about what happens when an industry is gutted down to algorithms and vendors, and plan accordingly.

More Low-Cost / No-Cost Customer Acquisition Examples

Here are two of the show's sponsors ... first Boll & Branch (click here).

Neither company is fundamentally different than your company ... except they're pursuing low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition programs. Seriously - how much does it cost to sponsor a podcast?

Try something!!

P.S.: Click on the Membership Tab (I'll make it easy for you - click here). Look how easy they make it to get you started buying underwear. You are in their membership program and you're getting a new pair of underwear each month. Do you have a program to get the customer to buy something MONTHLY?! No? Then Try Something, ok?!

August 29, 2017

What Do I Need To Fix Before I Sell?

Here's a short list of things that need to be addressed if you want top dollar from your Private Equity partners.

Customer Acquisition: Your partners do not want to learn that 70% of your new names come from the co-ops. They know what you already know ... that the days of using co-ops to find new customers is over. Sure, you may get new names from the co-ops for 10 more years, but your future demands that you find new customers via low-cost / no-cost methods. Your partners want to know that you have the marketing chops to find new customers without being dependent upon co-ops, Google, Facebook, or Amazon. If you plan on selling in 2019, then you have a very short period of time (18 months) to fix this problem. Get busy, NOW! This was a presentation from eighteen months ago - use it as a starting point (click here).

New Merchandise: Your partners want to feel confident in your merchandising team. You are going to have to demonstrate that your new customers love your new merchandise. If the productivity of new merchandise is sinking, then your partners will have no interest in your brand - who wants to buy a business where customers like the merchandise less and less?? If you want to sell in 2019, then you have a very short period of time (18 months) to fix this problem. This issue and the customer acquisition issue are the two biggest issues that harm cataloger valuation.

No More Discounting:  Your partners want to be reassured that you can sell stuff at full price. If you have to sell at 40% off, you will sell your brand for pennies on the dollar. You fix the discounting issue by fixing the customer acquisition / new merchandise issue.

Five Year Forecast:  Your partners want to see what the growth trajectory of your brand looks like over the next five years. They want to know that your customers are capable of delivering growth if things "remain the same as they remain today". You fix the five year forecast by fixing customer acquisition and new merchandise.

Gross Margins: Your partners want to see that gross margins are improving. Would you buy something that looks less and less healthy over time? You might, but you'd pay pennies on the dollar. Spend 2017-2018 fixing gross margin performance, so that you can extract maximum valuation in 2019, ok?

70%+ Of Business Exists Without A Catalog:  Nobody wants to buy a business that is dependent upon catalogs ... this isn't 1993. You have to prove that at least 70% of your business exists when catalogs disappear, or you won't get anywhere near top dollar. Your buyer will want to cut costs, and you know that. Sell a business that is dependent upon merchandise excellence and not catalogs.

No Chaos: I run across this all the time. Your partners are scared by a business that has chaotic metrics, and as a result, they pay pennies on the dollar to mitigate risk. Spend 2017-2018 executing a consistent strategy. Your partners don't want to see a business with pricing increases and then decreases, customer acquisition increases and then decreases, wild new merchandise swings, wild gross margin changes, you name it, they don't like it. Staffing fluctuations don't help, either. The buyer doesn't want to know you've had three Creative Directors in five years and you can't prove that the decisions had any impact on sales.

Younger Customers:  Your partners want to see that you can acquire a 36 year old customer as easily as you can acquire a 63 year old customer. And your partners don't like it when you lie. Earlier this year, I ran across an instance where a vendor told a cataloger they were generating customers age 35-55 when actual age data told us that the average acquired customer was 60 years old. Enough lying!! If you cannot demonstrate that you can acquire a 36 year old customer, then spend 2017-2018 crafting a plan that you can acquire customers younger than your core customer, ok? The customer doesn't have to be 36 years old, but it wouldn't hurt if you can demonstrate you can acquire customers 5-10 years younger than average at "scale", as the pundits say.

Use this as your starting point. Map your plan for 2017-2018, so that you can generate maximum value in 2019 when you decide to sell.

Question? Email me at

Another Low-Cost / No-Cost Customer Acquisition Example

Here's the image from the tweet:

You use a product (a pair of products, really) to advertise how to prepare for a Fantasy Football League draft.

Yes, the tweet says it is an ad - so they apparently paid this NFL writer to tweet this (#influencermarketing). And if you want the grill, it's just $80 (click here).

How much does it cost to execute this strategy? Almost nothing.

Do you have a product that has a unique purpose?

Do you have the slightest bit of imagination?


Then why not Try Something!!

You can do this.

P.S.: I know, I know, you just want to pay Facebook a modest fee and have instant success. Ok then, click here and try out your version of this.

P.P.S.: Read what these two young ladies had to do to push the peanut (click here). My goodness. Again, creativity ... out of necessity. Try Something!

P.P.P.S.: Yes, I get it. You'll have to do 365 of these ideas a year, one idea per day, in order to hit on five or ten. And those are odds you don't want to buck. You can do this! I write more than 250 blog posts per year ... do you think that is easy? It's easier once you get in the habit of doing it. You'll get in the habit of producing a great low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition program. And you'll be rewarded for your efforts!

August 28, 2017

An Industry On The Ropes

As the kids would say, this is "prolly TL:DR" ... but I'm going to go there anyway.

Something is coming, folks. It's like a weather forecast that verifies across multiple initial conditions across different models.

Notice the end of the bullet points ... I talked about how the Amazon / Google / Facebook ecosystem would be obliterated by mobile. This didn't happen the way I suggested it would happen ... instead, mobile amplified that ecosystem and cut e-commerce brands off from new customers. Today, if you want a new customer in e-commerce, your choices are Amazon / Google / Facebook, and you will pay a lot for the right to poach customers out of their ecosystem. Didn't evolve the way I thought it would, and it is costing standalone e-commerce brands who can no longer easily find new customers - pushing them to be purchased. There's a reason so many e-commerce companies are selling out right now.

But that's in e-commerce.

Today, I'm talking about catalog brands ... the companies that back in 2010 when I attended Internet Retailer the owner of Internet Retailer said were "like the Confederate soldiers who didn't know that the Civil War was over". Notice that Internet Retailer sold out as well ... now part of a conglomerate where you pay 4x as much for the same content. Snarky commentary about catalogers who helped pay his bills leading to a fat checkbook. See how that works? Internet Retailer sold themselves at a time just before Amazon would obliterate e-commerce. Timing.

Why talk about catalogers today?

Buying and Selling: Private Equity folks looking to buy ... Owners looking to sell. It's in the air. Seriously ... half of my inquiries right now are from people wanting to do one of two things.
  1. Buy a Catalog Brand.
  2. Sell a Catalog Brand.
Fifty percent, folks. This hasn't happened in the 10+ years I've run my own business.

Many of the discussions come down to the co-op feedback loop.
  • Those who want to buy a Catalog Brand want to know if the company has a credible low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition program.
  • Those who want to sell a Catalog Brand want to know how to implement a credible low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition program or make the co-ops work 40% better immediately.
Isn't that interesting?

The catalog co-op feedback look accelerated an industry already on the ropes.
  • The Amazon / Google / Facebook ecosystem cut off names < age 45 from the co-op database. The names may still be there, but the transactions aren't, and that is fatal for the co-ops.
  • Catalogers, who accepted the co-ops as the primary source of new names 10-15 years ago, did not develop new sources of new customers.
  • Catalogers bludgeoned the 6,000,000 - 8,000,000 viable catalog names available via the co-ops, crushing productivity in the process.
  • With lower productivity, catalogers could only extend the lifetime value window (hurting profit) or cut circulation (hurting new customer counts). Both happened.
  • Because the co-ops hyper-optimized against the 6,000,000 - 8,000,000 viable catalog names, catalogers (indirectly) learned that these names have specific merchandise preferences ... hint - they're the preferences of the Baby Boomer generation.
  • Catalogers optimized the merchandise assortment based on what co-op customers liked.
  • The optimized merchandise assortment was not appealing to the Google / Facebook / Amazon ecosystem. Consequently, customers < age 45 bounced when arriving at a catalog brand website.
  • The result: Catalog brands are fundamentally disconnected from customers < age 45, because of the unanticipated outcomes of the co-op feedback loop.
This is the reason that half of the catalog brands I evaluate are "sick". The cataloger cannot find enough new customers, and paid sources (Google + Facebook + Amazon) yield names that are not interested in a merchandise assortment skewed to a customer age 60+.

This brings us to an interesting question ...
  • "It is time to sell?"
The answer is almost always "no", and for good reason.
  • "You don't sell your brand for pennies on the dollar."
In other words, we're headed into Fall 2017 with a unique dynamic.
  • "It is time to get our businesses healthy, so that when it is time to sell, we sell for top-dollar."
For many of us, it's time to craft an exit strategy (professionally for some, too). Some of our businesses are too sick to be purchased for a fair price. We need to restore the business to health, and we need to demonstrate that we can find new customers at low-cost / no-cost outside of the co-op / Google / Amazon / Facebook ecosystem.

This will be a topic this Fall ... restoring the patient to full health so that when the Private Equity folks call, they call knowing they're going to pay a fair price for your brand.

You can do this!!!!! You can restore your business to health. It's not a hopeless situation. We're talking simple basics, folks. Look at Hollister ... three straight quarters of growth by adhering to the basics. Focus on what matters.

When you need help evaluating your business prior to Private Equity inquiries, you will contact me (, ok?

August 27, 2017


Ok, the first tidbit has nothing to do with commerce, but it is a podcast worth listening to if you like poker and Phil Ivey and wonder whatever happened to him ... and pay attention to how these folks tell a story ... could your "brand" tell a compelling audio story?
Here's an image for you ... related to cord cutters. Depicted below are the percentage of HHs by TV content provider. Tell me what you see ...

You can see how "traditional cable" is dying ... ever so slowly. Catalogers went through this dynamic ... the blue portion of the bar is similar to share of demand captured over the telephone ... this graph looks like a graph might have looked in the late 1990s. And we all know how that story ended.

And then we have this one ... about a UK gaming store that is reinventing itself (click here). You can't solve the retail problem via discounts and promotions and pricing strategies. The future of retail is experiences.

Moving right along, I was at a minor league soccer match on Saturday night (gametime temperature = 103 degrees). Look at the right arm of one of the fans.

Yes, your minor league soccer jersey is sponsored by the Mayo Clinic (as were the jerseys of the players).

Now, how much do you think it costs to sponsor a minor league soccer team?

Low-Cost / No-Cost customer acquisition programs ... this doesn't have to be difficult. Do something!

And it is Monday (#HappyMonday), so why not share one more tidbit with you? We're getting eyeglasses fixed on Thursday ... we ask an employee where we should eat, and he says "Cafe Zupas" (click here). Two things to share with you ... look at the chocolate covered strawberry you get with your meal at no cost to you:

And if your phone battery is down to 33%?

Sure you could squeeze two more tables in where the Recharge Bar is, but instead you give the customer a free chocolate covered strawberry and a Recharge Bar and next thing you know some math wonk in Phoenix is writing about it to 2,500 blog subscribers and 6,600 Twitter followers. Low-Cost / No-Cost customer acquisition!!

Try something!

Try something!!

August 24, 2017

The Brand Isn't Active And Has More Than 20,000 Followers On Instagram

You read this one a few weeks ago, right (click here)? The brand launches on August 25 (next week) ... the brand has been raising customer awareness since March.

Five months of customer awareness work for a brand that hasn't even launched yet.

You know how much customer awareness via Instagram costs?

Not much.

It's another example of low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition ... being a reader, you likely work for an old-school brand leveraging old-school marketing to produce an old-school result.

Is there a reason you couldn't curate a portion of your assortment, based on a demographic analysis of your online shoppers ... and then create a "new brand" based on your analysis ... and then use low-cost / no-cost techniques to build an audience?

Try something!

August 23, 2017

Well, That's Interesting

I know, I know, just opening something doesn't mean the 26 year old watched it from start to finish.

Low-Cost / No-Cost acquisition ... it's the story we need to keep addressing.

Seriously - how much would it cost you to produce a two-minute daily video news update of what is happening in your industry? It costs nothing. You already have staff sitting there wishing they were doing something innovative. So go do something innovative.

And do this EVERY SINGLE DAY for TWO YEARS. Don't give up. Do stories about the news in your industry. If you don't like Snapchat, publish the stories on YouTube. If you don't like YouTube, then post them on your website. I don't care. But do the work!

August 22, 2017


Take a look at the line outside of the store.

It's 102 degrees at 5:49pm in Glendale, AZ. And they're standing outside, waiting to get into a VIP event where they can save $30.

How many of your customers would stand outside in 102 degree heat at 5:49pm on a Sunday evening in Late Summer ... to support an event you hosted?

We went in the wrong direction.

We invested our energy learning how to target a customer (and didn't do a good job) ... with CRM and then "Social CRM" and then "Personalization" and then "Engagement" and then "Content" followed by "Relevancy" we built a series of skills ... and we spent the better part of a decade honing these skills.

One problem.

We spent almost no time on creating events that people would spend time standing in line for in 102 degree heat at 5:49pm on a Sunday night in Late Summer.

Be honest - look at your job ... how much time do you spend on technical skills ... and how much time do you spend creating events that cause people to stand outside on a 102 degree Sunday evening in Late Summer?

August 21, 2017

Stranger Things Popup Store

When a niche television show on Netflix has a popup store in Chicago, something is wrong with our approach to business.

Here's a link to the popup store ... which will be open through the end of September (click here).

It's another example of a low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition strategy.

We cannot keep blaming Executives for not being creative - we have to convince Executives why creativity is necessary. If our "story" is boring and numbers-based and uninspiring, well, how can we blame the Executive for going to the Google / Facebook / Co-Ops again and again and again?

P.S.: Here's the other part of the story. We've de-emphasized creative teams to the point where they aren't creative teams, they're implementation teams. They implement imagery and copy ... they aren't doing anything creative. We got to this outcome when we demanded that every single aspect of creative has to pay for itself. We spent the past decade driving creative folks out of the business, and as a result there aren't any creative ideas, and then that leads to tepid performance.

P.P.S: What would your popup store look like? Could you sketch it out? What would the 10-20 featured products be? How would you staff it? How much would you have to sell to generate a profit? What geography would make the most sense ... urban vs. suburban vs. rural ... West Coast or East Coast or Midwest or Southeast or Somewhere Else (maybe in the upside down - yes, that's a Stranger Things reference)? Fashion mall or strip mall? Why not put together a business plan for your popup store and present it to somebody and see what happens? What's the worst thing that could happen - somebody says no to you? You've survived that one before, right?

P.P.P.S: We can make a page SEO friendly ... but the page doesn't have compelling product / copy / imagery. So when you put together your popup store business plan, make sure you have a compelling reason for the customer to stick around after you've created the awareness to get the customer to your website.

August 20, 2017

I Get Emails I Should Not Get!!

I have no idea what is going on with "some" vendors - but this summer, vendors are sending me emails (by mistake) THAT I SIMPLY SHOULD NOT SEE!

Here's how this works:
  • Email Should Be Delivered To KEVINSMITH@VENDOR.COM.
  • Instead the sender types KEV and my email address comes up and they plug my email address in by mistake.
  • Email is delivered to me and not to the vendor employee who should receive it.
And then I get to see stuff THAT I SIMPLY SHOULD NOT SEE.

I wouldn't bring this up ... BUT IT KEEPS HAPPENING.

And if your vendor does not have the discipline to audit an email address, how can you have confidence that your vendor can audit the actual work they're doing for you?

I get to see how your vendor is ripping you off.

I get to see the criticisms your vendor lobs at you, behind your back, to your vendor partner co-workers.

Worst of all - I get to see some of the innovations you are implementing, innovations you don't want me (or anybody else) to know about.

I'm begging you, the reader, to hold your vendors accountable. Your vendors are, in so many cases, mocking you behind your back (and I'm sure you do the same to some of your vendor partners).

Two years ago, I wrote a booklet called "Hillstrom's Vendor Academy" ... the booklet outlined a process I used at Nordstrom to score and evaluate vendors, and then hold vendors accountable (click here). In the two months after the release, I sold fewer than 10 booklets. FEWER THAN 10!!! I'll sell 10 booklets a day of new releases for a fair amount of time. It told me that you, the reader, do not care about holding your vendor partners accountable.

Given the emails I'm getting (by mistake) from your vendor partners, it is time for you to care.

What are you going to do about this issue?

August 17, 2017

10 Questions

Question #1: You are not allowed to acquire a new customer next year from Google, Facebook, Retargeting, or if you are cataloger any of the catalog co-ops. Describe what your strategy is?

Question #2:  Your business lost 8% of sales last year. Your analysis shows that Merchandise Productivity fell by 10%. Describe how you address this issue with your Merchandising Team, a group of individuals who believe you are Marketing the brand to the "wrong customer"?

Question #3:  You do not execute an email campaign for an entire month via an A/B test. You learn that sales are identical in the no-mail group as in the mail group. Describe how you respond to the results of your test?

Question #4:  You learn that 33% of last year's customers purchase again next year, and the best observed metric since 1999 is 37%. Describe how much of your resources you allocate to customer acquisition efforts next year?

Question #5:  You measure that 30% of last year's retail buyers will purchase online next year. Meanwhile, just 15% of last year's online buyers will purchase in a store next year. What tactics do you use to protect sales volume in stores, or do you just close stores and continue paying debt on the stores you close?

Question #6:  You learn that you improved your conversion rate online from 4% to 4.2%, but sales did not change - you simply reduced the number of visits required for a customer to purchase something. You spent $100,000 to improve conversion rates but did not increase sales. How do you explain your performance to Management?

Question #7:  A person with no experience at email marketing whatsoever is promoted ahead of you, and is now responsible for email marketing. Describe your approach for working with this individual?

Question #8:  You A/B test and learn that you can increase sales by 18% by personalizing your website and email campaigns. Your Creative Director tells you that "it is important to provide a consistent brand experience across channels, and personalization does not allow for a consistent brand experience".  How do you respond to this comment?

Question #9:  Every vendor tied to the paper industry tells you that catalog marketing works, even if your customer is 29 years old and shops almost exclusively via mobile. How do you respond to the vendor community when they take you out to lunch to encourage you to embark on a catalog marketing program?

Question #10:  Your EVP of Marketing left the company to "pursue other opportunities and spend more time with family." Alright. This is the third EVP of Marketing to leave the company in five years. Describe why you would or would not apply for this position?

August 16, 2017

An Absolute Must Read

You have no choice but to read this article right now, courtesy of Brian.

Click Here ... I'll Wait For You.

Ok, you're back. Good!

What did you think?

Remember last year when I gave a talk in the Czech Republic and my thesis was that all of retail / e-commerce / catalog marketing was trending toward Sports? In other words, entertainment and the ecosystem around entertainment would come to commerce ... as part of a necessary evolution of shopping.
Don't believe me?

Who is featuring in a few weeks?
  • Kobe Bryant.
  • Tyra Banks.
Neither individual will share best practices for email subject lines or non-branded paid search terms. They are there for one reason and one reason only ... to entertain you. And you'll spend the profit generated by 50 customers to attend and be entertained. You'll come back to the office and your boss will say "What did you learn?" and you'll regale your team with the myriad ways that Kobe Bryant inspired you to be great.

Remember that talk I gave in the Czech Republic last year? Evening DJs and a festive environment and food & beverage ... an entertaining environment ... one that caused 1,500 seats to sell out in eight minutes ... EIGHT minutes!

So back to the article. The Mall of America was criticized for their approach 25 years ago ... they ignore the moribund pundits who demand that you do things their way so that they get paid ... and now with 5,000+ store closures THIS YEAR ALONE the Mall of America is thriving. Did you read how they HUSTLE ... did you read about how hard they work? More annual visitors than DisneyWorld?

Your future is low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition.

You'll accomplish this not by paying Facebook another $100,000, but by hustling, by entertaining your customers. Fuse those concepts with great merchandise and fair prices, and you've got something.

August 15, 2017

Speaking of Competition/Partners ...

You probably saw this a few weeks back, right? (click here).

Sure, the buzzword "omnichannel" is thrown into the article for good measure, but the acquisitions have nothing to do with being omnichannel and have everything to do with having Partners possessing adjacent merchandise.

Did you know that 80% of my income in the past quarter was from companies looking to form Partnerships with Competitors? I'm really busy analyzing how customers respond to merchandise offerings. Folks are looking to figure out how to build a database of customers with adjacent merchandise interests. Professionals are taking charge of the Competition/Partnership agenda - not allowing Google/Facebook or Malls or Catalog Co-Ops to determine their future.

And make no mistake - over the next five years Google/Facebook are going to sort through the rubble and they're going to pick the next generation of e-commerce winners.

Have a plan for how you will move into the future - pick your Partners carefully!

August 14, 2017

List of Circulation Theory Articles

Surprisingly, the "Circulation Theory Series" was one of the most popular series of the past two years. Who knew?!

Here, then, is a list of the ten articles ... be sure to apply the articles to your business ... do the work and generate a ton of profit, ok?!
Bookmark this post and use it as necessary!

Email me if you need help applying the concepts via a consulting project (

P.S.: You simply cannot predict what people will like or what works ... we're in the latter portions of 2017 and a series about Catalog Circulation and then a long (TL:DR as the kids say) post about sprint car racing (click here) are as popular as anything I've done in the past four years. Keep that in mind as you think about the content you're going to share with folks later this year.

P.P.S.: This is the most popular article of 2017 so far (click here). Again, you'd never predict that, would you?

P.P.P.S.: Yes, I monitor what you click on ... it tells me a lot about how you think about various issues. For instance, yesterday you didn't click on this much (click here) but you clicked on this one a lot (click here).

August 13, 2017

Lots and Lots of Marketing Examples!!!

Here's what is awful about digital marketing and analytics ... both strip creativity out of a business. As a result, most modern marketing is pure dreck, and marketing has to be pure dreck because anything interesting and creative is not likely to work and as a result will be removed from the digital ecosystem by misguided analytics tools (yes, I know, I am exaggerating ... for a reason of course).

But it doesn't have to be this way.

If you step out of the digital realm and actually spend real time with real people in the real world, you might just stumble upon marketing brilliance.

In my case, that happened last Wednesday night when I attended the first of four nights of the Knoxville Nationals ... a four day celebration of sprint car racing (I know, I know, you hate racing ... this is a good time for you to tune out and read about Blue Apron's struggles - click here - and we'll see you tomorrow).

About 100 cars compete over four nights in an effort to take home the $150,000 first prize on Saturday night. The racing happens in a "tournament", if you will, as the best cars advance to the big race and get to start at the front of the big race while slower cars are slowly weeded out of the "tournament" and when they get to race they race at the back and have to pass everybody to advance.

Ok, want to see some marketing examples? How about this car - owned by one of the most popular drivers?

What do you see on the car? Sponsors!! Folks are paying money to be on the car ... and for good reason. About 17,000 will be in attendance on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. On Saturday crowd of 25,000 were in attendance. Those folks will see this car go past them over and over and over again.

Got $50,000 to be on the side of a car for six months? Sure you do ... you spend that much money in the blink of an eye with Google/Facebook/Co-Ops/Retargeters/Affiliates on anonymous customers who will never buy from your business ... you do that every week for crying out loud! And you do it because it can be measured ... even if you measure no return on investment whatsoever!

As you walk up to the track, you see the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

Here's an interesting question ... do you have a Hall of Fame?

Seriously ... you have customers who have spent $10,000 with your brand. Do you have a Hall of Fame where you feature these customers for all to see? No? You just collect their money and give them 30% off plus free shipping? Why not treat these customers like the Legends they truly are? I know, I know, you have a "loyalty program" where customer earns "points" that are redeemed for "merchandise". Why not start a Hall of Fame and truly reward the customers who allow you to have a job? Seriously, why would it be hard to have a Hall of Fame?

Ok, now we get to the track ... and look at this ... the staff let you walk right up to the track and take a peek at preparations for the evening.

So here's a thought ... do you let your Best Customers enter your corporate office and do you given them a chance to take a peek behind the curtains? What would stop you from allowing your best customers to get off the highway and visit you? Show them what the Merchandising Team is working on for Christmas 2017. Right? Right??

I know, I know, this is auto racing, and you are an aspirational brand. 

When you go to a big race, you have to eat dinner. This is where the staff "cross-sell" you on food. Stuff your Primary Care Physician would vomit all over the floor if she knew you were eating ... like a Pork Tenderloin sandwich with cole slaw. Look at that old-school bun ... not a mass-produced piece of sponge, is it?

Yup, that's what $9 buys you ... on top of your $47 ticket and on top of the $10 you paid the local church to park in their parking lot. A whole ecosystem exists, allowing you to spend your money.

What is your cross-sell / up-sell program? 

Did I mention it cost $47 to get in?

Not if you are under the age of 18. And not if you want to sit in bad seats. Tickets for adults drop down to $25 for less-than-optimal seats ... and are around $15 for kids under the age of 18. Hmmmmmm. So they have a strategy to lock-in teenagers ... you bring a car-full of four and you train those under age 18 to like this event ... so that they'll pay full price in their 20s and 30s and 40s and forever. 

This brings me to your brand. What is your strategy to lock-in a younger generation? Do those under 18 pay full-price? Do you have strategy like the cell-phone companies have to lock-in younger customers?

Speaking of younger people ... they don't consume information the same way as you or I, do they? And at the Knoxville Nationals, they have programs that appeal to younger customers. For instance, on Wednesday they had an hour-long radio show (internet radio and SiriusXM) that was also published as a podcast ... featuring popular drivers (the woman on the right is the only woman to ever win a World of Outlaw's Sprint Car A-Main, FYI ... today she's co-hosting the interview session).

Yes, they were broadcasting live via internet radio. And if you couldn't listen live, you could listen via podcast. And the races ... they were broadcast on internet radio and if you couldn't listen live you can watch in September on tape delay on a national cable channel called MavTV. So if you couldn't be in Central Iowa on a Wednesday night in mid-August, well, you had choices, didn't you? These choices "spread the word" ... low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition.

What is your media strategy? Do you own your own media channel, and make use of the channel to spread the word at low-cost / no-cost?

And if you were part of the studio audience in attendance at the podcast, you received swag at every commercial break.

Yup, that's a hat being tossed at the audience ... now be honest, how much would it cost your brand to give away five hats to be tossed to the audience? Be honest! Again, you pay retargeters $$$ to hound customers who have no intention to ever buy again all across the internet ... but you don't have money for five hats?

I know, I know, you don't offer "swag".

Moving right along ... the drivers played games with kids who got into the races on discounted tickets. Here's a famous driver playing with kids/fans.

Which brings me to an interesting point ... when is the last time your Merchandising Team ever spent any time with the General Public? Imagine what your Merchandising/Product Team might actually learn if they spent as little as five minutes with the General Public?? And I'm talking about in person, not via social media. Social media is easy. It's not as easy to spend time with real people in the real world.

Even announcers spent time interacting with the public ... this is a famous Network TV racing announcer hosting a booth ... where he spoke with fans.

When is the last time anybody on your Marketing Team spoke with a customer outside of social media?

I performed an informal and unscientific survey of fans ... about half were wearing a t-shirt that supported their favorite driver. About HALF! What a merchandising opportunity!

I know, I know, this doesn't align with the direction of your brand.

But these folks spent $47 to get in, $10 to park at the church parking lot ... they spent $9 on a pork tenderloin sandwich, and they spent $28 on a t-shirt for crying out loud. Might there be a comparable situation in your world where you might sell merchandise that complements the hobby preferences of your target/aspirational customer? 

Sponsors? There were plenty.

That's called a 50/50 ticket. You pay a dollar. Fifty cents goes to a local charity, and the rest of the money is pooled ... one ticket is selected at random (hint - it wasn't 607553), and that person wins the $25,000 that remained. All brought to you by KRCO Radio. Now how much could it possibly cost to get your brand on the 50/50 ticket at your local racetrack? Or high school basketball game? Instead of wasting $300 with Facebook, why not support your local community?

I know, I know, you are an aspirational brand, you don't do raffles and you don't sponsor raffles. And yet, your favorite email vendor sponsors all sorts of activities (click here).

I know, you think the ads on the wall look "tacky".

Now, you're not going to be able to tell this from the images, but a competing track in Washington State (Skagit Speedway) sponsored a portion of turn 2. Think about that for a moment ... would you ever let a large competitor advertise in your catalog or on your home page? No? And yet, this track happily takes the $$ and lets a competing track advertise. 

Heck, one of the sponsors is located right across the street. They gave away a piping-hot pizza to a fan in section Q or wherever during one of the breaks. How much does a piping hot pizza cost?

I know, I know, you aren't a fan of this stuff.

Did you know that the track has a mobile app with live updates as the races proceed? Fans all across the world can keep track of what is happening ... and I know this because on social media folks from Australia were talking about what was happening.

And did you know that they created a hashtag so that fans can communicate with each other (and the track can monitor what is being said)? And the hashtag advertises a major sponsor ... Five Hour Energy Drink ... do you have a hashtag that also supports a major sponsor of your brand?

After the event, the sanctioning body produces a YouTube video of the event (click here). Do you have YouTube videos of your big events?

And here's one last tidbit for you ... after the races were over, I drove to my hotel ... and guess who had business cards on the front desk of the hotel?

Yes, even Uber is indirectly capitalizing on the Knoxville Nationals. Via the promo code, they're tracking results.

I know, I know, this doesn't align with your view of the world.

I woke up the next morning, and somebody is outside of the local Culver's Store trimming hedges at 7:30am, making sure the store looks perfect for visiting fans attending the Knoxville Nationals.

People are working their rear-ends off to make this a great event ... even adjacent brands are working hard (Uber / Culver's) to make sure that fans have a good experience.

I mean, these folks are BRILLIANT marketers. They have a system in place, and they absolutely HUSTLE to make the event as great (and profitable) as possible.

Meanwhile, here's the kind of headline we're reading about in our industry (from my flight back to Phoenix from the Midwest).

Kinda makes you think, #amirite?

Do you understand what I'm trying to communicate to you?

I am not asking you to participate in auto racing.

I am asking you to DO SOMETHING, to TRY!!!

We desperately need low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition programs. We need awareness programs. We keep paying Google/Facebook (and for catalogers we pay catalog co-ops) all this money, and we know how that works for Google/Facebook. Can you take the ideas outlined here and apply them to your business?
  1. Do you have an event (not a sale event) that is the anchor of your year, an event that is the centerpiece of all of your marketing activities, an event that the customer truly cares about? Has the event become a tradition?
  2. Do you sponsor local activities in your community?
  3. Does anybody sponsor your business?
  4. Do you have a solid cross-sell / up-sell program that isn't driven by algorithms but is instead driven by adjacent products?
  5. Do you have your own media network that creates awareness at low-cost / no-cost?
  6. Do your Merchants / Product People / Marketers actually interact with real customers in the real world?
  7. Do you have employee "stars" who interact with real customers in the real world?
  8. Do you have a Hall of Fame featuring your best customers?
  9. Do you let customers in "behind-the-scenes"?
  10. Do you have a program that allows potential customers < age 18 to participate with your "brand" so that they become potential future customers?
  11. Do you have a hashtag for your big annual event, and is the hashtag sponsored by somebody so that you are generating revenue from your social media efforts?
P.S.:  Sponsorship doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Here''s a simple low-cost example from Wells Fargo Bank ... a "brand" trying to rebuild their reputation. You have a few thousand dollars you can spend ... I mean, Wells Fargo is spending nothing here.

P.P.S.:  If you made it this far, you deserve a reward. I have two decks of MineThatData playing cards to give away, swag for you ... the loyal reader. But I only have two decks of MineThatData playing cards. Two. Email me at, and if you are one of the first two to email me, you get a deck of MineThatData playing cards.

Best Practices? Probably Not. Sold Out? Yeah!

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