Shoestring Marketing

Advertising is something that most small businesses can’t afford to do very often.  But it doesn’t have to be.  You just need to think of advertising differently.

It’s true that buying an ad in a newspaper or magazine can be expensive and running an ad once isn’t very effective.  But there are other ways to achieve effective results without the hefty price tags.

Your Advertising Mindset

You need to think of advertising as “any way that you can think of to let people know about your business.”  To begin with, don’t jump around from one message to another.  Use one message consistently anywhere that you advertise.  And it’s preferable if this message is a benefit rather than a product.  Remember to use strong action words.  Think of a thought provoking header that will make your readers curious.  You want them to pick up the phone, visit your website, or stop by your business.  Curiosity is an excellent motivating power to make them do just that.

If you’re spending money for the ad, test how effective it is by including a coupon or code.  Testing is essential or you may be wasting your marketing dollars.

Think of simple, affordable but effective ways to get the word out.  To get you started, here are a few:

  • Advertise on your invoices or receipts.  Offer a deal that is too good for them to pass up.
  • Advertise on other company’s blogs that offer complementary products or services.  They’ve already attracted the customers for you.
  • Print up some advertising postcards and place them on other store’s counters in exchange for advertising at your store or web site.
  • Give away free samples.  Many times that is cheaper than advertising.  Mrs Fields started her cookie company by standing on the corner in her town and handing out samples.
  • Every time you attend a mixer, take a basket of inexpensive products (packaged candy, mints, or think outside the box) with your business card or a “special offer” card attached.  Hand them out to everyone you meet.
  • Think of a unique marketing idea and write a press release about it.

These are just a few ideas to get you started.  Put on that “thinking cap” that we talked about in a former post and start marketing on a shoestring.

What Did You Do To Market Yourself Today?

Many of us think of ourselves as Creative, as Designers, as Artistic.  And yet we fail to apply these traits to our marketing process.  We tend to play it safe–practicing the tried and true “me too” marketing strategies that others have used.  Fearing to tread where others have not.  But extraordinary marketing results are rarely achieved by playing it safe. 

If you look at the front-runners in any industry, you’ll see that their marketing ideas are definitely not ordinary.  All of their individual marketing ideas may not be as successful as they had hoped, but long-term, their brand is created and they thrive.  Look at Coke as an example.  They’ve been creative with all kinds of new slogans, new products, and new campaigns.  Many have fizzled.  But their market share in their industry remains strong.

Like this sunset, which I photographed last fall, extraordinary marketing isn’t an everyday occurance.  It is rare, but when it occurs, it can be dynamic.

The Keyword is Strategy!

There are several ingredients to an effective extraordinary marketing strategy.  And the keyword is strategy.  A revamped website or logo or even a great new tagline may be very original but you have to create a plan to make your customers or website visitors sit up and take notice.  Effective marketing doesn’t have to have a huge budget. Guerrilla marketing can be creative and use unconventional methods of promotion.  As a small business, you can be more agile than the bigger companies and you have a greater ability to create personal relationships with your customers.

But the core of  that strategy must be a promise to deliver a specific benefit to your customers.  A benefit that can’t be claimed by your competitors.  It takes time and effort to understand what your customers want and need most from your business and to then exceed those expectations.  But a successful marketing strategy depends on it.

The company that jumps into the field with a unique new product may blossom and bloom for awhile but with nothing more than a product, the bloom gradually fades and disappears.  Remember the hula hoop?  The pet rock?  And all the other unique new products?

Improvisation is essential.  Those who excel at marketing focus on their core benefits while finding new ways to sell what their customers want to buy.  They frequently offer several layers of products which will meet the changing needs of their customers.  As an example, in today’s market, many are looking for ways to say “I’m thinking of you” on a budget.  The marketer, who is on top of his/her customer’s needs, will add a layer of less expensive products to the larger more elaborate gift baskets that sold easily during the boom years.

Know Your Marketplace

The marketplace is constantly changing.  In the 17 years that I’ve been in this industry, I’ve seen many, many businesses begin with a shout and then die with barely a whisper.  There are always new competitiors entering the fray with unique, compelling products and benefits.  Once again, successful marketers know what to change, when to change, and what to hang on to and continue to develop.  Basically what I am saying is that it’s essential to develop and stick with a core message or benefit while improvising to meet the changing needs of your customers, the economy, and the general marketplace. 

Long-term loyalty comes from shared values and your ability to create a marketing process that reflects those values.  Customers want change but not in what you stand for.  They want to see you and your company as one that they can depend on to be there when they need you and to provide the benefits that you promise.

Marketing is a continuous process.  There is no start nor no end.  A failure to keep your business in front of your customers on a regular basis usually means that they forget all about you.  A good question to ask yourself at the end of each day is “What did you do to market yourself today?”

Do You Need a Gift Company Doctor?

We, as gift basket companies, are not the only ones struggling to survive in today’s recession.  I’ve seen the size of newspapers and most of my trade magazines — from promotional products to website information to general business among others– diminish as vendors are finding it difficult to come up with the funds to advertise.  I’ve even seen some of our vendors and gift basket companies disappear.

The financial publications, as well as the business news broadcasts, have been preaching gloom and doom for months with good reason.  And during the holiday season, much of the retail community jumped onto the Wal-Mart Express, cutting prices to the bone as they tried to attract customers. They will most likely be doing the same, as well as offering free shipping, this coming season.

What do you do about all this?  Fold up your business and go home?  Of course not.  There’s business out there to be had and many of us are finding it.

snowstormIf your business is having problems, think of it as a long trek through a snowstorm.  Everything is white around you and you feel all alone.  It’s hard to see where you’ve been and it’s even harder to see, through the blinding snow, where you are headed.  It’s time to go into SURVIVAL MODE.

Even though it may seem like it, you are not alone.  There are others around you, going through the same storm.  Some are moving ahead with little problems while others are barely making it.  Some are stumbling with each step, ready to fall into the snow, and simply go to sleep.

Gift Company Doctor At Work
Gift Company Doctor At Work

But wait!  You can survive!  What you need right now is the Gift Company Doctor!  There are several good Gift Company Doctors out there, and like the medical profession, there are also some quacks.  The good ones are ready and willing to offer you advice, provide survival gear, and get you moving through the storm–stronger and better prepared to survive it.

Reputation and proven ability is about the only thing you have to go on when determining which Gift Company Doctors to put your trust in.  This industry has been around long enough that there are a number of those who have contributed their time, their energy, and their money towards helping the weaker ones to stand.  You’ll remember hearing these Gift Company Doctors speak at a Convention you’ve attended or reading their regular long-time contributions to the gift basket themed bulletin boards or articles in our trade magazines throughout the years.

I could name a lot of them for you but each of you have had your own experiences.  Like any medical doctor, each Gift Company Doctor has his or her own bedside manner and degree of willingness to share.   If you’ve been in the industry very long, you know of several.  Just like choosing a medical doctor, you need to choose one that you feel comfortable with.  If you’re fairly new to the business, and haven’t been participating in the Conventions, reading the trade magazines, or the active boards, I suggest that you ask someone who has.

Like most medical doctors, I don’t often advertise my own services.  Most of you already know me as one of the available Gift Company Doctors.  I’ve been consulting small businesses as a “Small Business Doctor” for a number of years–first as a counselor for SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) and now as a business counselor for Coconino County Business Empowerment Program.   If you need general business advice, these programs, along with the SBDC (Small Business Development Center) are excellent resources.

But if you have specific Gift or Gift Basket company concerns, using the suggestions that I mentioned earlier in this post, find a reliable Gift Company Doctor and take advantage of their help.   I invite you to consider this blog as part of this Gift Company Doctor’s  prescription for survival.  If you haven’t gone back and read all the posts from the very beginning, you’ve missed some important prescriptions.  If you have survival concerns or questions that you would like to see covered in a future post, just ask.  And if you know of another company that could benefit from it, tell them about it.

I also invite you to join the many other companies in the industry–both big and small–who are taking advantage of another prescription for increasing traffic to their website businesses and that is  There are other directories that have been around for enough years to provide traffic as well.  But GiftBasketNetwork  is much more than a directory.  It is an actual network of members helping other members.  The sister websites and provide a free community bulletin board (forum) where advice and information is shared as well as an excellent must-have magazine for the industry.

“But I can’t afford it,” you may say.  And my answer is “Can you afford not to?”  Some of the bigger companies, such as Wine Country among others, have decided that they needed the service.  These companies are your competition.  Can you afford NOT to receive the same kind of traffic that they value.  You can choose a specialist or a general practitioner.  The price is different.  But so is the knowledge available and the benefits received.

The survival gear, that your Gift Company Doctor helps you choose, should fit well and have adequate protection from the storm.  We don’t know how long this storm will last or how soon we will be able to see the path more clearly but the choices you make now for your business can make all the difference.

If you’re feeling weak and fear that you’re stumbling, it’s time to go into survival mode!  And this Gift Basket Doctor, as well as many others who have been in the business long enough to survive multiple recessions,  is here to help you on your way.

Unique Marketing Products from our Featured Business – Creative Cookie

For the second in our “Featured Business” series, I’ve chosen “Creative Cookie”, a company that has been a part of the gift industry for even longer than I have.  Even though they are long-timers in the industry, owners Marty and Joan Schwartz are never too busy to provide the excellent customer service and friendliness that I and other gift company owners have come to expect. 

I first met Joan at a tradeshow a number of years ago when I stopped by her booth.  Since that first meeting, whenever I see her at a show, she remembers me and takes time to talk.  When I call for a special request, she is one of the most accomodating vendors in the industry. 

If you aren’t familiar with Joan and Marty Schwartz and Creative Cookie, you should be.  They only sell wholesale and don’t try to compete with their own customers as many vendors do.  Their fortune cookies are available in such a wide variety of themes that there’s a theme for any occasion or holiday.   Each colorfully designed pail contains nine individually wrapped cookies.  Custom fortune cookies, bulk fortune cookies,  and personalized fortune cookie pails are available.   And for our Jewish friends, these fortune cookies are certified kosher.

celebration-cakesBut Creative Cookie isn’t just about fortune cookies.  Their Celebration Cakes are a party just waiting to be celebrated.  The round hard plastic container contains everything you need– from the cake to the balloon– for your own personal party.  We include these in most of our Birthday gift baskets.  But don’t stop with birthday parties, there are themes for just about any occasion.  And, pssst….I’ll let you in on a secret.  They can create custom Celebration Cakes just for you and your business.  What a great unique marketing tool!

And then there’s their “to die for” gourmet fudge, gourmet chocolate “Sweet Talkers” (another great marketing tool for your business).  If you’re a retail business, you can buy direct from Joan and Marty through their website at

But, if you aren’t a retailer, contact me at [email protected]  and I’ll be happy to give you pricing and information.  You can see more of the Fortune Cookies on my website at

Do you sell based on price?

moneyIn today’s economy, price is important.  But even more important is value.

If all you talk about when marketing your gifts and gift baskets is price (whether on the internet or in person), that’s what your customers will base their buying decisions on.

If what you feature is the needs and benefits to your customers, they  will base their decisions on how well you meet those needs and desires with your product or service.

What do you talk about?