Talk is cheap; Marketing is harder than expected

Today’s Friday so I feel lazy and chatty. Think I’ll share with you guys some things I’ve been idly pondering about the online shop I launched. This isn’t a rant, just mundane and pointless musing.

I knew going into it that I’d have to learn and do some marketing. I never had the impression that “if you build it they will come”. However, I am surprised at just how much marketing is needed. I’m starting to see that it needs to be a constant effort, doing various different marketing programs one after another and sometimes simultaneously. My shop is new so I have to get my brand name known and build a reputation. I knew that. The surprise is that until that happens, sales are lower than low, very close to nil.

For example:

I worked my personal network and had people distributing discount coupons for my store. Result: 0 sales

I did a few weeks’ of SEO (Google Adwords). Result: 0 sales

I posted a fun challenge to get people to participate: if they posted a picture on my Facebook page of their dog destroying a toy, I would send them a 10% discount for a new toy from my shop. So far one person posted a photo. I would think that implies she was interested in the discount, yes? I sent it to her. Result: no sale.

I’m constantly blogging, and posting my blogs on Facebook and Twitter. Result: 1 sale (woot!)

All of those things have greatly increased the traffic of people browsing my shop, which is terrific. I believe I just need to keep doing them and gradually the sales will come. (Thus, this isn’t a rant.)

Most interestingly, though, is this:

I found a well-known blogger in my market space who works with companies on online promotions. One of the promotional offerings is a product giveaway. I, the sponsoring company who gives away the product, can write up a short article on who I am or why I’m promoting the product. That gets posted on the blogger’s site for two weeks and they publicize it through their Twitter and Facebook and newsletter channels, as well as my own. It’s going gangbusters so far, with well over 16000 entries on my giveaway and over 300 comments on my article. Tons of people browsing my site. No sales yet. But this is the interesting bit: somewhere upwards of 80% of the commenters say they love the products and would totally buy one from me. Some go into detail, like saying they would like the red one or they’d prefer a different (specific) product. Have they actually gone the added step of buying one? Nope!

I think that’s so odd and funny!

I’m also going to be doing some in-person sales starting in a few months. We’ll see how that goes! People like to touch and handle things, so hopefully I’ll sell some stuff.

Did you get email addresses for those giveaway entries? A lot of them may just be hoping to get something for free, but if you follow up with a coupon for something you may trigger a few sales.

I’ve seen some of your threads on this, not sure what you sell though. It’s difficult to find the target market, even if you’re selling something with broad appeal you have to find those people who want to buy from your site specifically, so everything they see on your site and in any communication has to highlight your site’s unique qualities.

Getting started is difficult, just be patient, and follow up on every actual sale to find out what motivated the buyer and what will motivate them to buy more. Hang in there, best of luck to you.

Yeah, I got many email addresses, twitter handles and facebook names. I think the blogger may send me a summary report at the conclusion of the giveaway. Collecting email addresses for my newsletter was an option also, but I don’t have a newsletter*. I’m thinking that doing a second giveaway in a few months may be a fun followup to this one. Part of my writeup was to ask for reader’s opinions on a new product idea - it forced them to look at my site in order to answer! The feedback on that was extremely positive, so a subsequent giveaway may be a fun “thank you” to the responders on the first one, as well as a way to publicize the new product. (And of course, to see if the new product actually has a market and it wasn’t just all talk is cheap! :wink: )

The one part of marketing that I really struggle with is my own personal attitude about advertising/promotions. I want all spammers, telemarketers, people who leave flyers on car windows and front doors, and attempt door to door sales to die a flaming death. It greatly annoys me to visit a website and have a plea to sign up to their newsletter shoved in my face first thing (usually in a lightbox, hiding what I was attempting to read/view). It pisses me off that companies sign me up to their newsletters or email marketing lists when I buy things from them, and I have to then opt out. So for now I refuse to do any of those things to market my shop.

I may have to change my attitude on that at some point, but so far the more customer-friendly methods have such low response that I can’t imagine being an obnoxious twit would work any better. I want to see if staying true to my principles will work out in the end - coming back to building my business reputation - as people start to buy from me and realize that I’m not doing those asshattery things, they may come back.

That’s a big part of the problem, everybody is sick of spam. You have to give them something valuable, 10% off won’t do it, and even then most of the emails will be ignored anyway. I don’t know if you can afford it, but a significant discount, a 2 for 1, or 50% off or more coupon may get you some purchases, and spur word of mouth sales too. And then a lot of those customers may never return anyway if they have to pay reasonable prices in the future, but you do need some actual transactions.

You are the seller now, you’ll have to own that and become an annoying marketer. Don’t worry about it that much though, your real customers won’t mind.

Yep. It’s becoming clear to me that it’s a numbers game. Something like (numbers pulled out of my butt) 2% of ads/referrals result in a site visit, 1% of site visits convert to sales. So I think as long as I’m getting people browsing the site, and the occasional sale, things are okay. My livelihood doesn’t depend on it, so I can grow it slowly over time, make mistakes and learn from them.

I have a nifty analytics tool attached to my shop that actually records the visitors. I delete them every week or so, and the only identifying information on them is the referral (for example, google or bing or a forum), and the state/country. They’re super useful for verifying if someone is having trouble with the site, for example is the checkout button hidden (happened on someone else’s shop). I have fixed a few things as a result of seeing what my visitors are doing, but have mostly confirmed that people are browsing. Browsing is good.

I want to be careful about the discounts and giveaways, though. I positioned my shop at the higher end market, rather than discount goods. So I have to maintain the appearance of quality and the tone of “because she’s worth it” (to borrow from Clairol).

That’s a tough position to be in. I’ll use the example of a high end restaurant, they want to avoid big give-aways that wouldn’t attract returning customers also, but they can get their friends to fill the restaurant and get some expensive looking cars in the parking lot. For an online business the equivalent is testimonials that describe the customer’s status or from celebrities. You may want to throw some goodie bags at all the bloggers and reviewer types in your market to try to get some good ink.

Also, you could let us know about your site, just ask the mods for permission. Whatever you’re selling there has to at least a couple of dopers who would want it and give you some good feedback that you can broadcast (especially if you give us a nice discount ;)).

I thought about paying for a subscription so that I could post in the Marketplace but my marketing budget is slim right now so I have to pick things that give me the most bang for my marketing dollar. I can tell you that I’m in the pet supplies business and it’s the kind of place you might shop at if you want something special. :wink:

Trying not to advertise here. But if anybody is clever enough to figure it out, I’m always happy to get feedback on the shop even if you don’t buy anything!

Jeez, pet supplies, there’s a market with a ton of competition, and I’m sure a slow process of acquiring customers. PM me a link and I’ll give you my unvarnished opinion, and my wife’s opinion which is based on a strong marketing background and patronage of many online pet supply stores. If you like I’ll just relay her thoughts and leave mine out or varnish them :slight_smile:

BTW: Are you getting listed as a sponsor for any pet charities? You certainly want customers who care about pet charities and have money to donate to them.

I took a look at the site, and I’d suggest polishing up the design - if you want to appeal to a higher income customer, you don’t want it to look like a mom n’ pop site.

I also see you have some products that should appeal to a certain customer base, and I’d suggest expanding that. There’s some products in that arena that I have a hard time finding these days and I’d love a place I could purchase those, plus having a ‘one stop shop’ for an array of these products would be great. Having to get product A from one place and product B from another is a pain. Marketing the crap out of that segment might be a good idea …

I also think more dog toys would be great, but I know inventory is going to be an issue. Right now I don’t see anything there that my own dog wouldn’t lay waste to in a matter of minutes.

Yeah, I’m trying to position myself so I’m not in direct competition with Amazon, Petco, Petsmart and Drs. Foster and Smith. When I did the competitive study pre-launch I found that while there are some online pet boutiques (read: higher end) they are all super-targeted, for example dresses, hair bows and toys for yorkies, that kind of thing. Nobody that I found does a range of species. However, I’m finding that there may be a reason for that: Cat owners who are willing to pay more for cat products are few and far between, and there just aren’t any high end/designer products for rodents and small mammals (rats, ferrets, etc.). So I may end up pulling those off my shop and focusing on just dogs. Bird people do want to pay more for quality because they pretty much have to or end up with dead birds, but it’s not a demographic that I have a lot of knowledge of, not being a bird owner myself. I’ve been participating on a really awesome bird forum to educate myself, but that may take some time.

I would like to get to a point where I can sponsor a charity or two, but since my sales are so low, I can’t honestly afford to forward any money to them. For the moment I’m participating in some greyhound and pet events as a vendor. That helps a little - a wide mix of vendors brings foot traffic to the event so that people see and talk to the adoption groups who are there. Also the discount coupons I mention were distributed to greyhound rescue groups who then distributed them to their people. And I also donate free merchandise to groups to be auctioned off in their fundraising events. So I do find ways, wherever I can. Small effort that I hope to build as I become more successful.

I’ll PM you my link. I’d love to hear feedback from you and your wife.

Your first comment is interesting. It implies that a mom and pop site may look less professional than a pro site… say Drs. Foster and Smith for example? (Slightly snarky, Fosters and Smith is a horrible, cluttered mess.) I am kind of going for a small, locally owned, boutique shop look that says you’ll get personal service, but I also do want it to be polished and professional looking. Can you point to something specific that looks the opposite?

It does sound like you “get” my marketing approach, though. Can you tell me which products you can’t find elsewhere so I can try to find them? One thing I would love to do is to find some craftspeople to work with: they build the toys/beds/furniture and then I market and sell them. Using the craftsperson’s name as a brand name if they like (if they already have a following). That would get me away from the commodity products so that I’m competing less with the majors. So I’m always looking for leads on other merchandise.

Lastly, your comment about your dog laying waste to the toys… Note my Destroy-a-Toy challenge… :wink: Everybody knows that dogs love to destroy their toys. Why not just go with it instead of fighting it? In fact, the product that I mentioned doing a market study with the blogger in the OP was for a Mighty Dog toy of the month program. Some dogs destroy their toys that fast, so how about buying them a new one each month? We’ll see how that goes, if all those people who said they’d love it actually do buy into it.

JcWoman, it’s heartening to hear how you keep positive in the face of the numbers game.

Back in college, an econ major friend told me, quite authoritatively, that any endeavor worth pursuing has a 1 per cent or less success rate. What you don’t understand when you’re that young is that it’s about the journey, what you learn and how you change along the way.

Presumably one finds these things out as one perseveres. However - at the start you need to persevere without that understanding, which requires a certain naïveté. (Mine was mostly scuttled by taking my friend so literally - which is why I was a history major and not an econ major).

It might be that you’re just now coming out of the naïve stage, and understanding that it is the journey and learning that are necessary if you’re to get further.

I can’t exactly say “happy trails,” because even a “nontrepreneur” like me knows building a business requires many joyless hours when you will need the vision born in naïveté to sustain you. But I will say bon voyage and bonne chance.

I agree with a website redesign.

Your website right now doesn’t tell your story. It seems to me what you are going for is a well-curated selection of unusual, innovative and/or high-end pet supplies. It’s along the lines of the Grommet, but for pets.

That’s not coming through. And without the story, it’s going to look like a fairly random selection of rather expensive stuff- which is too much work for consumers used to one click shopping on Amazon. You really need the story to tie it all together. People shop at this sort of place not just for the products, but also for the emotional experience of buying something high-end. Your website has to create that experience.

People will buy your items when you tell them a story that they want to be a part of.

I’d look at sites outside of the pet space that do what you are doing, and pay particular attention to people who are marketing items off Kickstarter. Don’t just look at their asthenic; look at how they create a narrative. Look at how they tie together all of their products under a single story.

Good luck!

First of all, what even sven said.

My background is in design, not marketing, so the best I think I can do here is give you examples of small higher-end pet-related businesses that I think are successful in conveying a more exclusive, personalized high-end look and feel, and they also have the story that even sven refers to. I have personally purchased items from all of them:

In the Era of WordPress, it’s cheaper/easier than ever to pull off whatever look and feel you want. What’s harder is photos - people love photos, but high-quality ones can be a challenge.

I agree that finding craftspeople would be great. I searched all over to find some nice looking bowl stands - I was finally able to find some wrought iron ones that would take standard stainless steel bowls, but it took just about forever looking on the 'Net to find them, and the pet stores in town had absolutely nothing. They are a perfect combination of nice looks but practicality - easy to clean, sturdy and long-lasting, etc.

For specific products I have trouble finding, that would be the Premier martingale collars and the Sure-Fit harnesses (the company has changed its name to PetSafe). These are sturdy, well-made and great for daily use, and the Sure-Fit is one of the few ‘off the rack’ harnesses that can be adjusted to fit a Greyhound well. If you plan to expand the Greyhound section of your site that’s one thing that might be a good addition. It seems we can get fancy collars easily everywhere these days - there’s a couple local high-end pet stores here that have those, but not the Premiers.

Personally, I want toys that last. I do not want to pay for new toys every month, especially not expensive ones. We’ve tried the Mighty dog toys, and while they are cute and well-made, since they are animal-shaped, the ears, tails, fins, etc. get immediately ripped off. I don’t want to clean up all the chewed-up pieces and I don’t want to take the risk that any of it might be accidently swallowed. But that’s me and our particular dog situation, that MMV widely between dogs and people.

I’m with **even sven **and romansperson. The quality of the design is acceptable, but that doesn’t do your product and your business any service. It would be fine for a discount or overstock site; in those cases I only care about price and availability. And remember, the customer can’t really inspect the merchandise, you have to do that for them. Tell us more about the product in a way that makes it feel special. Stick in some customer stories as you get them maybe.

Last but not least, the web is a visual medium. On your category pages, the pictures are tiny. On the item pages. The pictures are larger but still could be bigger, I think.

This. Nothing is bad, but nothing is great.

As a dog person who is on a constant quest for the “perfect” dog bed, nothing in your landing page for dog bed makes me think you have anything different or better. I did click on the dog bed that folds out like a mini-futon, which is a brilliant idea for people with small places, but you have to read all the way through the description to get to that nifty feature. It may be as simple as having one of those stamps (similar to your sale stamp) that is just for apartments might be a good selling feature. In fact, if you have enough items like that, it may be worth having a “small spaces” or “apartment living” page.

Oh yes, if you can find someone who can make good replacement dog bed covers … fleece on top, good quality fabric on the bottom, with Velcro or button closures …

Don’t know if you’ve looked yet, but Etsy might be a good place to search for possible partners in higher-end custom goods.

Great feedback, guys, thank you! I appreciate it and will look at those other sites and try to integrate my story into the site like they do. I love that you guys “get me”, so your feedback on this is perfect, and actionable.

I also appreciate the feedback on the Mighty Dog toys, Romansperson. My dog isn’t a complete toy destroyer, so they last a few weeks to months with him. But I know other dogs are more “dedicated to the cause”. I have never heard exactly how long, on average, they last but I know the manufacturer has a toy tester program where they solicit feedback on how many days it takes for a dog to destroy a toy. I’ll ask them if they have some metrics they’d like to share with me. Integrity is also important to me, so I don’t want to be proclaiming that they last for months if most people’s experience is that they last two days. Along with the “durability scale” I think it will be a nice addition to the marketing would be if I could (honestly) say something like “this toy lasts around 2 weeks for the average dog” or whatever. Something specific so people know what they can expect.

Also, I love Mareit’s suggestion to call out specific features of a product in an icon or splashy thing on the image. That’s not something that ever occurred to me, but I love the idea. I’ll definitely do that!

One thing to ask about this: the supplier of the beds I have does sell replacement covers. If I included them in my shop, do you think that would help sell them?

The tricky thing about just selling replacement covers in general is that there is an infinite variety of bed sizes and shapes, so unless you also sell the beds that go with the covers, it would be a bit of a crap shoot, I think.

Here’s a data point re: toy durability. My dog, a regular sized Australian Shepherd, is the most destructive animal I have ever seen. He’ll take one of the toys the local boutique pet store sells as indestructible and have it in a thousand pieces in less than an hour. They offer a guarantee, but I won’t take them up on it in exactly the same way I wouldn’t use the no-scratch guarantee the comes with my glasses if I regularly used sandpaper to clean them.

These toys are the pinnacle of indestructablilty for us. They’re seen together into multiple plies, then the edges are bound with some sort of Cordura-like material. These things last months.

We have some of those. They do tend to last longer. Also the Fat Cat Suspicious Chicken - the dog is eleven years old - and we get half a year out of a chicken. And most of that time it still has the squeeker.