#HolidaySales Tip #10: Better In The Loop, Than Out Of Mind

Better In The Loop, Than Out Of Mind

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The holiday season can be maddening for sellers for multiple reasons. Over the course of this blog series, we’ve tried to address each of these key reasons.

Our last blog saw us deal with what may seem to be an innocuous issue like shipping. But as we read in that blog, even simple things have the potential to get out of hand when things get busy around the store both offline and online.

In this final part of the series, we’ll look at the last step to monitor once the holiday season finally kicks off – keeping customers in the loop about the stock of your products.

Understand The Difference Between ‘Clocks’ And ‘Clouds’

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When it comes to producing an item, nothing is particularly ‘easy’. Even products that may seem easy to make such as a t-shirt has to go through several layers of production from selecting the material, to stitching the shape, to adding the colour. You may already be aware of this as a seller, but for your customer understanding the difference between production cycles of different items may be harder than you imagine.

But there is a simple rule-of-thumb you can stick to when trying to explain inventory shortages to your customers. There will always be certain products that are ‘clouds’ i.e. they have a production or delivery cycle that matches most products but consumers think they are quick or relatively simpler to make.

Then there are products, which customers see as ‘clocks’ i.e. they recognise the difficulty in producing these items and are a bit more willing to wait to see these items get through their schedule, before they reach store shelves.

Your job is to try to identify which products are perceived as ‘clouds’ and try to convince customers that they are in fact, ‘clocks’. This brings us to our next point.

Don’t Be Afraid To Acknowledge Shortages

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Every seller reaches shortages at some point.

Especially during the holidays when demand for certain products spirals upwards in a relatively short timespan. What is important to remember is this – customers are aware that shortages occur and most of them are willing to be reasonable with sellers when this happens. But there is a caveat. Sellers have to be upfront in acknowledging their shortages and give their customers a compelling reason to wait for the item to come back in stock.

Now, as a seller when you do acknowledge the shortage, try to keep the following in mind:

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute to make an announcement: If you have a good idea that certain products will be going out of stock soon, start prepping customers for the news as early as possible. You can do this by setting up a countdown for the number of items you still have in stock for a particular SKU or even estimate the number of days you believe current stocks will last.
  2. Don’t play the blame game: Every seller wants to maintain a good reputation with his customers. But many imagine (wrongly) that the best way to achieve this is by diverting the onus of stock maintenance on someone else. In fact, the exact opposite is true. If you make an honest admission that you failed to anticipate as much demand for a particular product as you are now seeing, customers will respond to your brand’s honesty and reciprocate with patience.
  3. Try to switch perception: Like we mentioned earlier, to convince customers to wait, you have to make a ‘cloud’ sound like a ‘clock’. You can do this by explaining just how the product is made and hence justify the time delay. Or you can outline how your end-to-end delivery systems are strained during the holiday season and thus shipments which would have come in faster in the rest of the year, slow down considerably during this season.

Don’t Just Be ‘Sorry For The Delay’

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Once you have admitted to the shortage, you have to be prepared for a certain amount of customer ire.

At this time, the worst thing you can do is hand out platitudes such as “being sorry for the delay”. This kind of stock messaging only makes your brand sound automated and less concerned about the inconvenience being experienced by your customers.

Instead, you need to empathise with your customers during this period. Send out messages on your social media channels stating how you are genuinely concerned about the delay. Maybe share a possible story from your own experience about waiting for a product. Or even just setup a countdown (if you have exact delivery dates) for when the coveted product will be back in stock.

Each of these small steps helps divert the customer’s attention away from being angry. It also shows them that you’re not just a money-grubbing seller but also a customer just like them. A customer that understands the agony of waiting for a product to arrive and thus among the least likely to inflict such behaviour on someone else.

Focus On The Experience, Not Just Time

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Now that the shortage has been admitted and you’ve outlined your concern for your customers, it’s time to move to the next step – handling the actual waiting period.

According to the Customer Experience Report by RightNow, most customers abandon a brand altogether due to poor quality of customer service, citing this 18 percent more often than slow or untimely service.

Now, if you’re asking, “How do I service a customer who’s just waiting?” that’s the first step to correcting your mistake. You see, through the year, you might be able to get away with offering a sincere apology and giving customers an accurate timeline for when products will be back in stock. But during the holidays, this just isn’t enough to keep a customer satisfied.

What you need to understand is during the holidays; customers are on their own deadlines to buy gifts for their loved ones. And even a single day’s delay might not be time the customer has to wait around. This problem is exacerbated further by tight delivery deadlines. This means that if a certain product isn’t immediately available during the holiday season, most customers are happy to take their shopping somewhere else. And in the mobile era, that action is literally an app click or a browser tab away.

So, once you’ve told your customers the delay is genuine and your product is worth waiting for, you need to have a plan for the impatient ones. Here are some tips we suggest:

  1. Offer them a better deal on the item: This is the first step you must take when trying to retain a near-sale. Try to convince the customer that you are actually paying for the time they have to wait by offering them a discount on the item that’s out of stock now.  
  2. Offer the next best thing, cheaper: In some cases, a discount may not cut it or if the item was not too expensive, then a discount doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t add any value to the transaction. In such a case, you should look deep into your inventory. Search for any similar products (either in utility or within the category) that you could offer at a lower rate.
  3. Offer them a storewide discount: This may sound a tad lazy but at a time when every customer is bargain hunting because they have multiple purchases to make, offering a discount might just do the trick to keep them from migrating to another seller.

Think Of Loyal Customers Differently

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While waiting can be laborious for any customer, not all waiting times are equal. The time spent by a loyal customer waiting for a product to come back in store is worth much more that the time spent by just a casual one-off customer.

And as such, you need to recognise and reward loyal customers differently for taking the time to wait for your products. This helps build precious brand loyalty and depending on what products you offer, might even increase the ticket value of the sale when the customer finally comes back to complete his purchase.

With that we come to the end of our #HolidaySales blog series.

We hope you found each of these tips useful and have already begun incorporating them into your business plans for the season. But in the midst of all this planning, just remember not to lose sight on the joy that comes with the holiday season. Be sure to take time out for yourself and your family and try to have fun while selling this holiday season.

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #26

Cool Conference Swag You Could Laser Cut For Pennies!

Packing for a conference is a lot like packing for a hike.

You have to pack the essentials, you want to pack a few standby items and you’d like to bring certain vanity items along, just for the heck of it. But as you pack, you also need to keep a check on the weight of your pack. Plus, unlike a hike where you probably won’t encounter more than one or two people at most, a conference is full of people who are eager to hand you bags of stuff!

Yet before you begin rummaging through conference bags for stuff to keep, here’s a quick list of things most attendees wish they had brought along which can be laser cut really cheap.

Simple Conversation Starters.

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Laser Cut Wristbands.
While you will do your best to network before the session and during the breakout periods, the fact is you won’t be able to approach as many people as you’d like. But rather than rush through conversations with multiple people, you can use a little laser cut panache to draw people to you.

If designed well, this is bound to get you noticed even when you do something as simple as answer a phone call. It also helps you stand out in a crowd by acting as a distinct visual marker. Within a conference setting, you get instantly noticed if you have to raise your hand. And finally, it can be a great way to share your personal details without having to repeat them over and over (just in case your name or email has a complex spelling). Plus, if you run out of business cards, or don’t feel the need to share a business card with certain people … you can redirect them to your wristband for your details instead of the awkward fumble for a pen and napkin.

Things That Make You Memorable.

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Laser Cut Business Cards.
Getting noticed is only half the battle. Your next step is to leave a lasting impression on your new acquaintances. Here are some easy to produce laser cut items, which can do the trick.      (more…)

Stand Out
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How To Guarantee Your Product Delivery Before The Holidays

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Miss our early order deadline this festive season?

That’s cool … you still have time to place your laser cutting orders and guarantee delivery before the Holidays.

How To Strap A Rocket To Your Product Delivery Speed

Just place your order as normal, then upgrade your making speed or shipping speed. And if you’re in a real rush you can upgrade both for the fastest possible delivery … made and delivered to you as fast as next day!

Here’s how to upgrade your making speed for your products to be made and shipped as fast as same day if you order by 11am each weekday. Then you can upgrade your shipping speed to as fast as next day too.

This means you are in control of your product delivery date :-)

Just be sure to double check during checkout that your Estimated Delivery Date is before December 25th. Then you’ll be good to go.

How To Guarantee Your Product Delivery Before The Holidays

Because this is silly season when our team, our materials suppliers and our shipping suppliers can get a bit stretched due to the volumes this time of the year, we like to add a little safety buffer to ensure we can guarantee your deliveries before the Holidays …

Hence, if you place your orders by midnight Friday December 11th with an Estimated Delivery Date before the Holidays, we guarantee they will reach you on before Christmas Day.

And in the highly unlikely case of us failing at this, we’ll refund 100% of your making speed upgrade fees and send you a credit equal to the sum of your order’s making and materials costs. It’s the least we can do.

FYI – all orders placed after this date will be delivered on a best efforts basis. Past years tell us we’ll get most if not all done (call it good planning ;-). It’s just that we can’t hand on heart guarantee it. As always, we’ll be sure to keep you updated.

Sooooo – to get your products delivered before the Holidays just place your orders before midnight Friday December 11th 2015. Easy as.

And if you’ve got any questions about timeframes, just hit us up here : )

Biggest Sale Of The Year Has Arrived!!

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This is it – our biggest sale for all of 2015!

Your chance to make something new, something a little crazy, or to stock up on your favorites.

You get 35% off the making cost of all laser cutting orders placed between 12:01am Black Friday November 27th 2015 and 11:59pm Cyber Monday November 30th 2015.

This special offer is good for one laser cutting order from your USA or NZ Free Personal Factory account only, and cannot be used in conjunction with any other vouchers or promotions. The usual costs for materials, shippings, speed upgrades, samples and showroom orders apply as normal.

To make it happen just enter this coupon code at checkout – E3RFAQ.

Go wild makers!

Maker Story: Bandynami

How A Maker Used Ponoko to Crowdfund Their Idea.

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We took the chance to talk to Jerry Barccia, creator of The Bandynami, about his experience getting from idea to completed product using Crowdsupply.com & Ponoko.

How did you get started designing and making your own products?

“I began to dabble with 3D software and third-party bureaus while a design student, about 2006. I thought it was magic – sending out a laser cut or 3D computer file (nothing) and in the mail, the objects appears (something). I could then mold and recast as many of “the thing” as I wanted. Incredible!
As the technology advanced on the hardware and the prices of software became more reasonable, prototyping whatever was in my head became much easier. With the advent of crowdfunding and its growing popularity, I knew it was time to revisit every single “make” idea I’ve ever had. The wall of ‘gatekeepers’ involved in creating and bringing products to the masses shrunk considerably enough to climb over.”

What was the inspiration behind Bandynami?

“As part of a design course at the School of Visual Arts, we were tasked to redesign something on our desk: simple stationary items for beginners’ intro to 3D. I have a lot of art supplies, some as thin and long like an expensive watercolor brush, some thick and nubby oil pastels, and Japanese brush pens that I prefer to store downward (so the nibs stay fresh). I’ve also inadvertantly stabbed myself (more than enough times) with a quill pen nib because I can’t see what’s hiding in all my organizer-bins.
The project went well and it was surprising what you could fit into the prototype without it falling over or breaking. It took two years for my balsa wood prototype to finally implode.”

What led to you try Ponoko?

“I tried Ponoko because of the laser cutting choices and options. I didn’t find comprable speed, service and material choices anywhere else. 3D prints of the Bandynami couldn’t withstand the pressure of the rubber bands, and would bow and buckle. Monolithic ABS FDM printed models worked great, but it wasn’t something I could easily reproduce for a reasonable cost and the resolution just wasn’t really dazzling yet.
I wanted to experiment with different rigid materials and different colors representative of the final product. Ponoko allowed me to do all that, with great articles to help someone like me, who at the time didn’t know what ‘kerf’ meant.”

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Can you tell us about the process of making and selling with CrowdSupply & Ponoko ? How is this different from your process before Ponoko/CrowdSupply?

“I feel it is very important to showcase your ideas and let people interact with them. For example, while at the 2015 Bay Area Maker Faire I met a member of the Crowdsupply team, who explained their philosophy. They have been great – it is a leaner, very curated experience meant to get the thing you made into the hands of like-minded people who want one, and they have an open-source spirit that applies even to something as ‘analog’ as a ‘Modern Pencil Cup.’

The Crowdsupply campaign is actually my second crowdfunding attempt. At the time of this writing it is 64% funded with 24 days left, so I’m very optimistic. I felt kind of lost in a sea of many, many ideas in other crowdfunding platforms, and working alone, I made pretty much every crowdfunding mistake you could make. I knew Crowdsupply.com was the right home because of the help and the spirit of their other projects.”

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How long did it take to go from: 1) idea to design; 2) design to prototype; 3) prototype to final piece;

“I’ve dabbled with this project on and off for years trying to create a mix and match design using 3D prints I could easily recast in resin. Then I found Ponoko, and once I decided on simple box joinery and acrylic it took me a matter of days (literally) to have exactly what I wanted from Ponoko. In the prototyping phase I nested different sized Bandynamis within each other to maximize output from the P3 template. This helped me nail the correct size for using regular office #33 rubber bands.”

What are the top things you love about Ponoko? Why?

“From the ease of uploading my files to opening up the box that says ‘Yippee’ on it – the experience of making on Ponoko really is one of a kind. Also, whenever I have to prototype something, for a personal project or for work, it’s the first place I think of.”

What’s next for Bandynami? Any projects on the horizon / new ideas / Next steps?

“More Exhibitions. More Maker Faires and Gift Shows. Input from others just keeps making the concept better. A particularly great look comes over people’s faces when they pass by and realize what it does, and how, and their level of excitement over the object is very encouraging.
I’d like to take Bandynami into different colors, materials and sizes. I like the idea of stamped metal, ceramic, sustainable wood veneers, or even stronger injection molded ABS plastic. I was surprised how many kids were into it at the Bay Area Maker Faire, so perhaps it has life as a ‘looming toy’ – something I heard repeatedly.”

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What advice do you want to give to other folks trying to get started making products with Ponoko (or laser cutting 3D printing in general)?

“My advice would to just keep experimenting. Don’t give up. You don’t have to be a trained engineer. You will eventually figure it out. If two pieces don’t fit, alter it and try again until they do. Use the forums – someone else most likely has had your exact problem.

Make sure what you are making is something that YOU want, or are making specifically for someone you know, and NOT what you think other people would want or buy. Bandynami didn’t ‘work’ until I made it for me, and only me, and not because I was trying to ‘sell it’ to Staples or something like that.

There is no global ‘pencil cup’ problem to be solved. I needed a solution to the way I worked and I have it now (many actually) thanks to Ponoko. Anyone else can access it and modify it to their needs if they too find it useful.
Work with others to expand your thinking and challenge your assumptions. Most importantly, display your wares somewhere – anywhere – people can interact with them. Feedback from actual people opens wonderfully surprising lines of thought.”

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Are your pencil cups available for sale anywhere else I should mention besides crowdsupply? Or anything else we should mention in general?

“Crowdsupply.com is the best source to purchase a kit ready to go. I will also make the plans available, for free, here on Ponoko very soon.”

If you’d like to be featured for a future maker story get in touch with us via service@ponoko.com. We’re always looking to showcase the talent of our makers on our blog.

#HolidaySales Tip #9: A gift in time is worth nine

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In our last blog, we saw the importance of getting your social media messaging right during the holiday season. But while words are important, as a retailer your gestures during the holiday season speak as much and as often about your business. And during this busy season, the most important gesture you need to extend to your customers is punctuality. Over the course of this blog, we’ll examine the simple tips and tricks you need to bear in mind to ensure everyone has a surprise waiting for them at the right time during the holidays.

Don’t promise what your courier can’t deliver

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As a seller, it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking as many orders as you can during the holiday season. But you have to consider this – every order you take is a promise you make to a trusting consumer. And if you fail to deliver on even one promise, you’ve ruined someone’s holiday gifting plans. Not just that, you’ve potentially set yourself up for a shellacking on social media because while all lapses in delivery are bad, having one during the holidays is especially intolerable.

But there is a way around this. If you keep customer expectations in check, you ensure they remain happy with your delivery schedules. Also, you need to find the cut off date for popular couriers like UPS and work backwards from that date when accepting orders. In most cases, the last day UPS will deliver a package is Christmas Eve, since Christmas Day is a holiday across services.

This means you need to have a store order deadline planned according to that date. You also need to take into account the mode of shipping – Ground, One Day, Two Day, Three Day and Next Day. To avoid any confusion and to ensure the onus of placing orders in time lies with the customer, you need to do two things:

 

  1. Ensure you word your cut off dates properly: Be extra specific in your cut off dates on your store and checkout pages. The format should be something like this – “Order by <day> on or before <time> to receive your order by <date> via <courier name>. When listing the time be sure to include all variations (EST/Central/Pacific) to avoid any miscommunication.
  2. List all the deadlines from your courier: While your store deadlines help you plan for stock and packaging at your end, listing the courier’s deadlines closes the loop on final delivery and ensures customers make the relevant choice depending on when they decide to place their order. For instance, here are some deadlines for UPS which you could incorporate into your site’s shopping page:
  • -December 17 – Last day to order items using Standard Ground Shipping.
  • -December 19 – Last day to order items using 3 Day Shipping.
  • -December 22 – Last day to order items using Two-Day Shipping.
  • -December 23 – Last day to order items (by 2pm) using One Day Shipping

It pays to keep USPS in mind too

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While the option of courier may make perfect sense for many products in your range, there might be certain products, which just don’t need fancy packaging.

Also, in many cases the cost of shipping smaller items by courier actually increases the overall cost of the item, making it a bit prohibitive to order. And sometimes, when you just need to send a package across town or maybe even deliver it down the street, you don’t need a courier just to get it right.

For all these instances, you can (and should) safely rely on USPS. Not only are they a cheaper alternative across the U.S., but also may be able to bring down the overall cost of shipping for many items, thus making your product line-up even more appealing.

However just like UPS, there are deadlines you have to adhere to with USPS too. To make it easier for you, here’s a list, which you can republish on your site:

Mail-by Dates (Domestic Services)

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Dec. 15 – Standard Post: Ground service for less-than-urgent deliveries and oversized packages.

Dec. 19 – First Class Mail: Service for standard-sized, single-piece envelopes and small packages weighing up to 13 ounces with delivery in 3 business days or less.

Dec. 21 – Priority Mail: Domestic service in 1, 2, or 3 business days based on where your package starts and where it’s being sent, variety of Flat Rate options.

Dec. 23 – Priority Mail Express: Fastest domestic service, guaranteed overnight scheduled delivery to most locations. Some restrictions and exceptions do apply. Also, please note Priority Mail Express postage refund eligibility is adjusted for shipments mailed Dec. 22 through Dec. 25.

While it’s unlikely you’ll use USPS to ship packages internationally, they do offer this service for the holidays. Here’s what the international shipping schedule looks like:

Mail-by Dates (International Services)

This handy chart shows you exactly how long your package will take to be delivered based on both the location and type of shipping being chosen. However, when mailing and shipping internationally, customers must also remember to follow the necessary customs guidelines.

 

International Mail Addressed To Global Express Guaranteed® (GXG)*** Priority Mail Express International™ (PMEI) Priority Mail International® (PMI) First-Class Package International Service™ (FCPIS)
Africa Dec-21 Dec-8 Dec-1 Dec-1
Asia/Pacific Rim Dec-19 Dec-15 Dec-8 Dec-8
Australia/New Zealand Dec-19 Dec-15 Dec-8 Dec-8
Canada Dec-22 Dec-17 Dec-11 Dec-8
Caribbean Dec-21 Dec-15 Dec-11 Dec-8
Central & South America Dec-21 Dec-11 Dec-1 Dec-1
Mexico Dec-22 Dec-15 Dec-8 Dec-8
Europe Dec-21 Dec-15 Dec-11 Dec-8
Middle East Dec-19 Dec-15 Dec-11 Dec-8

***GXG Notes: 1) Cut off date does not take into account time needed for customs clearance. 2) Should allocate extra transit day(s) for delivery outside major cities.

Stock up on supplies to make things easier

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This may not sound like a shipping tip per se, but during the manic rush of the holiday season…every little bit matters. And any time you can save in the order-packing-shipping process can prove to be a real asset to your business.

Rather than scramble for packing supplies during the holiday rush, it’s a good idea to stock up on them ahead of time. As an added convenience, USPS offers a wide variety of shipping supplies in multiple sizes at local Post Offices and online on their website.

In fact, some supplies, such as Priority Mail products, can also be delivered to the sender free of charge. Shipping supplies available online and at local Post Offices include:

  • Priority Mail boxes: Complimentary with Priority Mail shipping service.
  • Priority Mail non-padded Envelopes: Complimentary with Priority Mail shipping service.
  • ReadyPost Boxes: Beginning at $4.29.
  • ReadyPost Bubble Mailers: beginning at $1.79.
  • ReadyPost Clear Packing Tape: $3.29.

In addition to being a time saving tactic, using the options available from USPS can hep bring down your shipping costs too. In our final part of this series, we’ll be looking at keeping customers informed on stock and new arrivals though the holidays, so that you can maximise sales this season.

#HolidaySales Tip #8: A Happy Fan Leads To A Successful Brand.

In our last blog of the series, we saw the importance of planning your retail production cycle to ensure a smooth selling process during the holidays. But, stocking up on products in only half the battle. You also have to focus on grabbing the attention of the right audience through your social media channels.  

While there are many aspects to building a successful social campaign, we’ll be focusing on how to engage your fans during the holiday season.

Make Them Feel Special

The holiday season is when literally hundreds of brands start pawing at customers trying to get their attention. This means customers develop an even more acute filter to drown out the noise from most brands.

At this time, any brand which takes a break from ‘selling’ and focuses on making the customer feel special will not only stand out from the crowd but instantly gain favour with customers.

Best of all, you don’t have to use incentives to achieve this. A simple but genuine token of gratitude or holiday cheer is enough to get you noticed. Since you already have a database of customers, you can start by sending out a holiday greeting card with a personalised message.

Consider adding a company photo in a festive theme to let your customers see the faces behind the brand they like. If you have the time and the correct information, a postcard or small letter in the mail is a good way to get past the digital distractions of other brands and make sure customers remember you. To ensure, this offline activity resonates with your social presence, create a hashtag and ask users to upload a photo with their personalised letter to your Facebook page or Twitter handle.

You could also consider creating a small ‘thank-you’ item from your catalogue and sending them out to customers. Again, to help this tie back to your social campaign for the holiday season, ask customers to send in positive experiences they’ve had with your brand and reward each of the entries with this ‘thank-you’ item.

Lastly, you could also engage customers by using their pictures in a special way across your social media. Ask them to send your holiday themed pictures of themselves (preferably posing with your products too) and create an exclusive gallery of these images. Maybe even (with their permission) use them on your site as the backdrop for the holiday season campaign.

Give Them The Inside Scoop

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Every customer wants to enjoy special treatment from they brands they like. If you can make them feel like they have an inside track on the best deals, customers are likelier to spend more money on your brand, simply because they feel privileged.

One of the critical ways to achieve this is by being a little more attentive on milestone days during the holiday season (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day). On these days, every customer is scouring the web for bigger, better deals. Show your fans you value their commitment to your brand by offering them exclusive invite-only deals. Give them advanced access to the sale before it opens to the public. Maybe even let them reserve a few items a day ahead.

You could also use your existing fans to drive more traffic in-store during the holiday season. As the rush of the season begins to build up, you could hold in-store previews of some of the limited edition items you plan to sell during the holidays.

Alternatively, you could combine online and offline purchasing by giving your fans a discount for your online store when they drop by your physical store and make a purchase.

As always, use these face-to-face interactions with your fans to build valuable content for your social channels especially Facebook and Instagram. You can also leverage these interactions to gather valuable feedback from customers who use your brand regularly.

Pander To Their Needs

While you must spend time building goodwill with your fans, you must also make the time to focus specifically on their needs during the holiday season. For starters, all your fans will be sweeping the web for gifting ideas. This is a perfect opportunity for you to capitalise on a genuine need and demonstrate value to your loyal customers beyond just your product line.

Start by creating a content series on gift ideas. This could be anything from a blog post with ideas to just a tweet of something quirky to add as a stocking stuffer. But be careful. If you use this opportunity only to promote your own products, you look like you’re advertising rather than being helpful. So, make sure you think outside of your own products for gift ideas.

Don’t be afraid to think laterally. The holidays are as much about food as it is about gifts. See if there are ways, you can incorporate recipes or food tips into your social calendar. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or divert too much from your core brand. But even just a few well-placed mentions of food around the holidays (eggnog, Christmas pudding, Christmas cookies) adds a little holiday warmth to your brand tone and goes a long way in helping fans make a more personal connection.

Finally, think practically. One of the most fun tasks around the holidays is decorating. Yet, it can quickly become the most daunting as well (just ask anyone who’s had to untangle a string of fairy lights). If you can offer practical, easy-to-accomplish decorating tips, you are bound to be a hit with your fans. Again, you don’t have to go too deep into the subject, just enough to keep it useful yet light-hearted.

If there is a way, you can help fans find what they are looking for, outside of just shopping you will instantly be seen as a brand that cares. And in turn, that perception actually leads to more sales.

Keep The Conversation Going

The holiday season is probably the noisiest time across social media. And asking brands to actually ‘talk more’ may seem counterintuitive. But if you have fans that care about your brand, they actually want to hear more from you around the holidays but only as long as it’s engaging and relevant.

One way to keep a healthy conversation going is to build a bank of rich posts. Maintain a good mix of visual and video based posts. Try to find interesting ways to merge your product line into the holiday theme (for example, you could try setting up a Christmas tree featuring your product line as the decorations).

Also, be adventurous. Around the holiday season, most brands tend to follow a similar festive colour palette and after a few days of browsing, many consumers develop a blind spot for such blanket messaging.

If you’re looking to escape this trap, don’t just stick to churning out content to fill your calendar for the holiday season. Experiment with channels such as SnapChat and even Periscope to add a sense of quirkiness to your messaging in this season.

 Also, make sure to schedule your posts in advance. Whether its blogs, Facebook or twitter posts, make sure you get a head start on writing them, right now. While your campaign calendar organizes the big picture of how your promotions and blog posts interact, create a separate social media content calendar to track your posts across all of your social media channels.

And as you form your calendar, don’t be afraid to repurpose social posts across your various channels. Use the time leading up to the holiday season to perfect the content and voice of your posts, as well as plan optimal timing. The more you do now, the more you can focus your social media efforts on responding to customers once the holiday season is in full swing.

Be sure to add reviews to product pages. This may not sound like a conversation channel, but around the holidays it certainly can become one. As a brand, consumers don’t always have to talk to you to get an informed opinion. Sometimes, they need to hear from other customers too. In fact, according to BazaarVoice, 71 percent of consumers change their perception of a brand after seeing how they respond to reviews.

And if your fans write you good reviews, you can leverage that as social currency across your other social media channels. Conversely, if you receive negative reviews, you can turn a successful resolution of the issue into a social media story.

Reviews also act as a great litmus test to let you know which products are doing well (and are likely to do well through the holiday season). It also lets you find the squeaky wheels in your inventory and adjust your shelf space accordingly in near real-time.

Consider Giving Back To The Community

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The holiday season is a season of giving, even for retailers. Consider a charity or cause you can donate a percentage of your revenue to for a portion of the holiday season.

Since nearly 90% of consumers say they would switch to a charitable brand given similar price and quality, it is likely worth it for your business. Once you pick a cause, look for opportunities to add a social spin to your efforts and encourage your followers to share your posts with special promotions.

In conclusion, remember that it costs more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. And existing customers serve a dual purpose of buying your products and being brand advocates. But in order to achieve that, you have to make them feel valued and appreciate their efforts on an on-going basis.

This goodwill from loyal customers goes a long way in steering newer customers towards your brand during the already crowded holiday season.  Now that we’re getting closer to the holiday season kick off, look out for our next blog on making sure you’re on top of all your production and delivery deadlines.

#HolidaySales Tip #7: Don’t Reinvent The Wheel To Get More Sales

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It’s an idea that strikes every retailer around the holidays – to invent something so unique that customers just have to flock to stores to buy it.

But like we saw in our previous blog on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, getting a share of people’s already fragmented attention isn’t always a linear path; especially around the holidays. What’s worse, in the time you take to get your ‘killer idea’ through, you tend to lose customers who simply get impatient during the holidays and just shop elsewhere in the meantime.

Here are some of the merits of working in seasonal batches over trying to develop one-of-a-kind products.

Novelty Fades Faster Than You Imagine

The era of mobile digital has fundamentally changed the way we shop.

Shopping used to be a straightforward experience – walk into a store, browse and buy. But as confirmed in Nielsen’s U.S. Digital Consumer Report, it’s a completely different story today.

Now before the salesperson starts their sales pitch, people are already turned to their phone for ‘expert’ opinions. From price comparisons, research on complementary items, referring to lists, reading online reviews and using online coupons, you are light years ahead in the decision curve the minute you step into the store.

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Adding to this, a Google executive said, “More Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.” Overall, the company also acknowledged in Q4 2014, US mobile queries (tablets + smartphones) were roughly 29 percent of total search volumes across the entire industry.

What this means is people are constantly discovering novelties. It’s practically being thrown at them every minute! In such a constant rush of the ‘instantly new’, your new product idea faces two challenges:

It May Not Make The Cut
This may sound like a harsh pill to swallow but in the race to the holidays better this pill than impending losses after the season ends. Sure, your new product idea may be great on paper; it might even look cool and have some interesting utility. But all three factors (concept, design and utility) are completely subjective. While you may consider your idea a winner (and there’s no reason why you wouldn’t) but customers may be enamoured by something shinier, something more unique or simply something quirkier than your newest idea. 

Its Novelty May Not Last


This is a genuine problem faced by every product during the holiday season. Even established products that have shown promise during the year may not be hot sellers during the holiday season. But unlike your new idea, no additional time would have been lost in design and production, thus allowing the seller to shift focus to another product that is showing more demand.


New Is Good. Cheap Is Better.

The long-standing debate on this subject has led to polarising opinions. On the one hand, there are artisanal craftsmen and handmade goods creators who feel that a price tag alone is not enough to sway customers during the holiday season. On the other hand, sellers with larger inventories and robust distribution networks are convinced a strategic drop in prices during the holiday season is guaranteed to win them a better share-of-wallet.

While neither side of the debate is wrong, one does tend to be more accurate than the other – customers are looking for the best deals around the holidays and to a certain extent will compromise on the ‘latest’ deal for the most cost-efficient one. This hypothesis is also being tested out by some of the bigger retailers, including Amazon itself. The retail monolith is so convinced that price will be the deciding factor that it has taken a punt on the idea in perhaps the unlikeliest market of all – electronics.

Right now, Amazon is selling its cheapest tablet ever at just $49 and offering them as a six-pack! In fact, to offset how ludicrous this offer sounds, it’s even throwing in the sixth tablet, free.

Now while smaller sellers shouldn’t (and couldn’t) use this example as a benchmark, there is one thing to learn from this example – the willingness to experiment with pricing.

Have A Frank Chat With Your Vendors

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Setting up your inventory for the holiday season is all about being able to have the right products at the right time. There are different ways to figure out which items from your inventory during the year will make an impact to your holiday sales (we’ve discussed this in detail in our first blog of this series).

But once you have sorted out which products you want to push, the next step is to talk to your vendors to understand the production cycle for each of those items. This includes having a discussion about:

Time For Production
During the year, getting your supplies restocked may be a bit more relaxed. That’s because you have time to move those items off your shelves and you’re not competing with too many other offers at the time. But during the holidays, every day matters. So, even if a certain item seems popular but takes a longer time to produce than an item, which is slightly less popular, opt for the faster item.

Variants In Design
In case the items you’ve chosen come in multiple variants, take a long hard look at each variant and evaluate if you need to produce each of them at the same quantity you would through the year. For instance, clothing should always be produced in all its colour ways since people prefer choice when it comes to things they wear. But if you are producing a phone cover, you don’t have to offer it in say 12 colours. Just pick the top 3 or 5 highest selling ones and focus your production cycle on those items.

Speciality Items
There will always be certain items on your list, which are complicated to produce, but are too popular to ignore. Discuss these items with your vendor and see how you can shift around schedules to fit more of these items into your next production run.

Multiple Commitments
You have to understand and accommodate for the fact that your production vendor (especially if they are based in China) will be dealing with multiple sellers’ schedules before the holiday season. Be frank and ask them to give you a realistic time estimate for your shipment, based on their other commitments.

If any of these factors run into a roadblock, be prepared with a Plan B or an alternate vendor who can take the load. Also, it’s prudent to keep one or two smaller vendors on standby to take over your production schedule just in case something goes wrong with your primary vendor.

Account For Extra Shipping Time

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This feels a bit counterintuitive – why should shipping during the holidays take longer? Given the extra demand, shouldn’t it be as fast if not faster? In theory, this is correct. But the on-ground reality is vastly different. The pre-holiday season rush is perhaps the most telling on most major logistics and delivery companies with literally millions of shipments being generated and moved at approximately the same time of the year.

This makes it natural for certain shipments to be delayed, misdirected and in the worst-case scenario, misplaced by the cargo companies. While shipping may seem like it has little to do with the actual production, it still accounts for time. It therefore has to be added to the production equation and thus product decisions have to be varied accordingly.

What’s Next?

Now that you have a better understanding of managing your production runs for the holiday season, it’s time to get the word out to your followers on social. In our next blog, we’ll look at how to reach out to customers on social media.

In the meantime, just remember that picking the right products to manufacture is as important as selling them during the holiday season. And by optimising every minute of the manufacturing process, you give yourself more time to focus on selling and thus maximising your returns.

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #22

Laser Cut Pop Up Text

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It makes sense that with many promotional products and messaging items, the choice of typography plays a major role in whether your messaging gets through to people. One way to literally stand out from the crowd can be to create something that looks interesting and encourages a simple physical interaction, all within the text itself.

This eye-catching example of 3D text with a difference came from the forward-thinking fashionistas at Anthropologie. The event invitation would have looked appropriately refined and stylish printed onto white card, if only a more traditional approach had been taken. However, the simple transformation of laser cutting a portion of the font outline completely changes how the recipient reads the message. Each word can be folded out to stand proud from the surface, making perspective, light and shadow all contribute to a more memorable sensorial experience.

Could your corporate messaging take on a whole new impact using the Ponoko Personal Factory? Let us know in the comments below. For more ideas for Agencies and Brands, see the other posts in the series.

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How To Help Your Client Launch a Kickstarter Campaign

Head off Crowdfunding questions with these useful tips and resources

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Crowdfunding campaigns give entrepreneurs, artists and businesses a unique opportunity to test the viability of their ideas. Yet for many, the thought of running a Kickstarter campaign can be a daunting prospect.

So how can you help de-mystify the process, and give your client the tools and support they need to embrace all that Kickstarter has to offer? Let’s take a look at some of the contributing factors that enable campaigns to reach – and indeed exceed – their funding goals.

Choosing the right platform
The first question to ask is whether or not this method of raising funds is actually suitable for your business proposal. Each crowdfunding platform has its quirks and benefits, and in the example of Kickstarter, many submissions do not even pass the approval phase. It is well worth taking the time to identify which crowdfunding option best suits your business model and potential project outcome.

Don’t be dazzled by dollar signs – just because there are campaigns raising millions of dollars does not mean that every campaign will be an overwhelming success. For the majority of campaigns, a few thousand or even just a few hundred dollars over the target amount can be a big deal.

Be prepared to work hard
Although crowdfunding has been shown to be surprisingly lucrative for some, successful outcomes are not guaranteed. It takes more than just having a bright idea; you have to know your project very well and be prepared to put time into every stage of the funding process. Understand that for every hour you spend (and there will be many!) on preparing the campaign, there will be just as much time required to maintain and promote the project through to completion. Yet even then, your task doesn’t end when the countdown stops. Assuming you are sitting on a pile of money after a successful campaign, you will need to get moving on production and manage the distribution of rewards to your backers.

There is a misconception that a crowdfunded campaign is something that can be done on the side, in your downtime or on the weekends. This is simply not true… one thing that all successful campaigns have in common, regardless of funding levels or project outcomes, is that the campaign itself was a full-time commitment.

Engagement 
There is a strong social media component to the Kickstarter process, with communication and personal interaction playing a large role in backer satisfaction. It can help to remind yourself that Kickstarter is not an online store, even though some backers continue to treat it like one. Integral to successful campaigns is the way people love to feel like they are involved in making things happen. This is a different consumer experience than traditional online shopping, and with careful planning you can use that to your advantage. Choose a variety of rewards including smaller contributions that can help keep people interested in your progress, even if they aren’t in a position to commit larger amounts of money during the campaign. These potential future customers can become informal brand ambassadors through their own social media activity, expanding your reach before the campaign reaches its conclusion.

Be realistic
Not all campaigns are successful, and that is ok. The reasons why a campaign does not reach its funding goals can be quite varied, and are sometimes just as mysterious as to why other campaigns dramatically exceed expectations. When setting up a crowdfunding campaign, plan out how you will navigate through both failure and success, so that your business can continue to evolve beyond the campaign timeline.

Assistance
Don’t be shy – a Kickstarter campaign is a lot to take on, and it is perfectly ok to seek out help. In fact, many services are popping up that enable a streamlining of each aspect of the campaign. Gathering and processing information beforehand will help to protect you from nasty surprises and also empower you to fully exploit successes and opportunities should they come your way. Here are a few to start you off:

The Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding
Presented by Shopify, the ecommerce solution of choice for many successful campaigns. This thorough walkthrough over 23 chapters covers all the key considerations to be aware of before taking on your own Kickstarter campaign.

How To Make a Successful Kickstarter Campaign
Using the Pebble Watch as a case study, this detailed investigation looks at how a 24 year old guy’s project with a goal of $100,000 became a $10 million record-breaker.

Tools for Kickstarter: Planning Calculator
A handy tool from Reuben Pressman, you can generate a quick overview of whether your numbers will all stack up. The calculator also includes a valuable Incentives component that will help to resolve the allocation of backer rewards.

Social Media services: Backercamp
Communication and Marketing for your campaign will get a huge boost if you call in the experts to lend a hand.

Manage your Mail: Green Inbox
With so much content flooding your clients’ email and social media, direct personalised messaging gets through to people and saves you time.

Look your best on camera: Elevant Productions
The influence a refined video clip has on campaign success rates is huge. Get it right first time for maximum impact on the small screen.

Case Studies: Success Stories
Also from Shopify, this breakdown of eleven campaigns highlights what they did right and what they did wrong, providing many valuable insights.

Analysis and Infographics
In-depth analysis of campaign metrics, trends and a very handy infographic that helps to navigate The Untold Story behind Kickstarter Stats.

The task of setting realistic goals, achievable rewards and establishing effective communication with backers is often more complex than people first anticipate. By investing a little time in making the most of these resources, the entire campaign experience becomes a whole lot more manageable. Don’t underestimate the impact that thorough preparation can have. By approaching your campaign with the knowledge that you are prepared for any surprises that may pop up – whether they are positive or negative – you will be ready to rise to the challenge.

Are you using the Ponoko Personal Factory to produce rewards for a campaign? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll discuss the best way to help you reach your funding goals.