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e - tailing: What's Your Story?



Mitch Goldstone

The floral scented aroma permeating from U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer's office was overpowering from dozens and dozens of roses. Actually, thousands and thousands of roses, mailed from constituents across the nationnot so much because it was Valentine's Day, but to honor her positions concerning the Condoleezza Rice Senate confirmation hearings. And those weren't just individual acts, but a concerted marketing strategy envisioned by a lone florist who rung up record sales in the process. The flower shop was smart. It had a story, inspiring passion to rally people together behind a sensational story.

Other stories are less strategic but just as impactful for creating "buzz" about their business. At the recent PMA convention, we heard of nail salon staffers who walk patrons to their cars, open the door and even start the engine so their clients don't ruin a nail. Or the mystic story behind Starbucks: You can make a gallon of coffee at home for 55 cents, or you can spend $33 for the equivalent there. That's the type of story that helps develop lifelong customers.

With the commoditization of the imaging industry, where a perception is that a photograph is a photographwhether printed at a pro lab, chain store or at homewe need to create unique stories to resonate and build loyalty. We all need that "buzz" and favorable word-of-mouth.

At the annual photo industry convention in Orlando, we saw banks of automatic photo kiosk designs. The output of each is very similar, but each one has unique features.

This e-Tailing column is designed to make you think outside the box, even beyond your unique selling proposition. We need to forge something new to motivate customers to think of your business as a destination place and with the emotion that compels them to tell your story to others.

In his book A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, Daniel H. Pink explained the art of storytelling to promote a product, in this case wine bottles. Personally, I select wine by price: a higher sticker means better quality, right? Mr. Pink explains that beyond the perceived pricing value or appealing graphics on a bottle's label is the out-of-box marketing that captures new customers. 2 Brothers Big Tattoo Red uses an unusual label to explain the history behind their wine. They're unique because the label profiled their mother who died of cancer and how proceeds from each sale were being donated to charity. Rather than mailing advertisements, some Realtors, explained Pink, write narratives about a buyer's experience or the genealogical history of the home. This creates a warm-fuzzy, unique story that gets noticed.

Creating "buzz" and a unique story doesn't necessitate retaining a screenwriter, but rather just merging your passions with opportunity. A lesson I learned at the University of Southern California's School of Business and Entrepreneur Program was that all successful businesses need to identify and link three corners of a triangle. The first is the product. That element is easywe all turn images into real photographic memories. Second is the customer, and the third essential component is marketing, or the catalyst for connecting the product with the customer.

Years ago, photo retailers routinely used universal promotions like buy-one-get-one-free, or a free 8 x 10 enlargement with each order to create "buzz." Today, online photo retailers are knitting similar promos, like Happy Mother's Day: Save 15% or the three-thousand- free-prints photo contest offer. What a yawn. There's not even a tiny pinch of creativity there.

Rather, the story I'm suggesting to create "buzz" isn't from a bee sting. I'm talking about an explosion. Something so vast that you get noticed throughout your community and beyondperhaps even through national news and coverage by all the photo industry publications. Have I piqued your interest?

Allow me to share a story that invites you to think of how you, too, can merge your passions with a marketing campaign to draw in entirely new clients and a whirl of "buzz."

"Operation Photo" began with an early morning phone call to me from professional photographer Jennifer Petersen of Ledera Ranch, CA. She knew of my prior national grassroots initiatives that garnered media attention and results. After 9/11, I brought 5,000 people to New York City (www.epiccusa.com). Other programs like www.supportthegames.org attracted media interest and business leaders to travel abroad to Athens for the Olympics last summer. A year after 9/11, travelers were fearful of flying and the planes were nearly empty. That's when my partner, Carl Berman, and I founded "Fly With Courage" to demonstrate through action that air travel was safe and essential for commerce. On September 11, 2002, we flew all day, from Barcelona, Spain, to New York City. Our final destination late in the evening was Los Angeles, where we were met by TV news crews.

Jennifer's call passed the "elevator test"; her idea was clear, understandable and I got it within 30 seconds. Within hours, I had located www.operationhomefront.net, a national nonprofit military family support organization connected with bases across the country. At first I used Valentine's Day as the point when all cameras were to be donated, but due to the media coverage, we extended the campaign through Independence Day.

This project is the perfect example to link that metaphorical triangle, merging my passion for civic involvement and photography with a group of people. Operation Photo quickly set out to donate used digital cameras in working condition to military families. Those who donated to the nonprofit group received receipts for their contributions and customized online promotions from my company.

The primary benefit of Operation Photo was to use photography for bridging the divide military families faced from deployment abroad and to help boost their morale. I involved the media to promote the effort, which quickly was picked up by most photo industry publications, Web sites and PMA. Then we were added to the Department of Defense Website and military family support sites nationwide. The Chicago Tribune published a feature, which led to a call from the assignment desk at Fox Network News and a national live interview. Imagine having the Web site for your photo business superimposed on the TV screen of an international broadcast? Using our national database of online photo customers was most helpful for the initial reach. Every one of them owns a digital camera. We asked them to open their appliance drawers and send in their used cameras. The benefits were to remedy landfill waste issues, make it easier to get rid of your cameras than auctioning it on eBay and for our industry an added "win-win." Operation Photo gave an incentive to consumers to upgrade their camera models and feel good about donating their older models to a worthy cause.

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