Why Raving Fans Are Money in the Bank

Blue Bell Ice Cream is an iconic brand for millions of consumers in the South. But this spring, a listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell Ice Cream shut them down from April to November. Normally, this would spell disaster for a brand. But not Blue Bell. Instead of customers flocking to other brands, they impatiently waited for the return of this iconic brand. Consumers weren’t concerned about getting listeria. They were concerned about …

How Blue Bell's raving fans reacted when their product came back.
How Blue Bell’s raving fans reacted when their product came back. From Nola.com.

Blue Bell Ice Cream is an iconic brand for millions of consumers in the South. But this spring, a listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell Ice Cream shut them down from April to November. Normally, this would spell disaster for a brand. But not Blue Bell. Instead of customers flocking to other brands, they impatiently waited for the return of this iconic brand. Consumers weren’t concerned about getting listeria. They were concerned about when Blue Bell would return.

Little was ever mentioned in local media or social media from consumers about the fear of getting sick. And when Blue Bell came back last month, there were lines of customers and local news reporting put Blue Bell in the headlines daily.

This level of loyalty is unusual, especially when tainted product could produce serious illness and in some cases death. Still, the Blue Bell brand prevailed.

It took millions of outside investment dollars from a wealthy Texan to keep the company in business, but this investor could see why throwing his money at this would pay off.

The reason? Blue Bell doesn’t just have customers. It has raving fans.

Credit to Memecrunch for this one. https://memecrunch.com/meme/3N7JY/i-has-blue-bell-ice-cream
Credit to Memecrunch for this one.

Cultivating raving fans is money in the bank. I’ve seen this with Blue Bell, and I’ve seen it in a niche market for a performing chorus whose marketing I oversee (where last weekend we again sold out Christmas Show performances and thousands of CDs and digital downloads of a brand new recording).

So what does it take to create raving fans? I think the foundational requirement is this: Consistently producing an extraordinary product over an extended period of time.

And how can you emulate a successful company to support an extraordinary product?

Blue Bell's Homemade in the Shade product announcement.
Blue Bell’s Homemade in the Shade product announcement.
  • Know what your customer wants
  • Stick with your product … be careful with changes or upgrades
  • Consistent message and brand
  • Meet your customers where they are, in the right channels
  • Always deliver exceptional customer experiences and service

When you have the loyalty of raving fans, even when things are down, they’ll support you. Raving fans will market your product for you on social media. In a crisis, local news media will often pick up the story because they’re driven to report what people want to hear or read (which drives more advertising dollars for the media).

Want to take more money to the bank? Cultivate raving fans.

“I Want to Go Back” Is Not a Solution

If you’re a baby boomer-aged marketer, there may be a good chance that you want to “go back.” That is, go back just a few years when we didn’t have to juggle so many marketing channels. In the past, as direct marketers, we relied on direct mail and catalogs mostly. We used print advertising, inserts, direct response television or radio, and other alternate media as well. And we’d have an in-house mailing list of customers.

I’ve too often heard a phrase from news commentators during interviews and politicians in recent debates that puts me off. The commentator or politician chirps, “I want to go back” after a point had been made minutes earlier, after the flow the conversation had moved on. “I want to go back,” is often not a solution that serves anyone.

There is no going back. Once the genie is out of the bottle, an attempt to “go back” is usually futile.

If you’re a baby boomer-aged marketer, there may be a good chance that you want to “go back.” That is, go back just a few years when we didn’t have to juggle so many marketing channels. In the past, as direct marketers, we relied on direct mail and catalogs mostly. We used print advertising, inserts, direct response television or radio, and other alternate media as well. And we’d have an in-house mailing list of customers.

Today, mailing list ownership gets fuzzy. We need to build more than a direct mail list. We need to entice customers to opt-in for email or SMS. If you get a lot of spam, you see, first-hand, the abuse of lists. Marketers build social media followers, but those followers aren’t like a customer a list, and they are never ours to own. They are merely rented, so to speak, and who’s to say that someday the big social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others won’t suddenly start to charge us for the use of the list (or somehow otherwise hold us hostage to access our followers)? Already, if you want your social media content to appear to your followers before sinking to oblivion at the bottom of the news feed, you have to pay.

Then there is the need to have a presence in multiple new channels to meet your prospects where they are in the world. Websites, landing pages, email, social media, video, remarketing, search engine marketing — the list of channel opportunities grows every season.

With concepts like nurture marketing and content marketing, sometimes we ask ourselves “is this different, or the same as, direct marketing as we knew it?” or “is this a subset of direct marketing?” So we ask: where do we, as direct marketers, fit in the mix with so many buzz phrases?

The speed of change and new channels is dizzying. As marketers we must prioritize what channels we’ll use. It’s tempting to boil it down to the numbers. But I don’t think it’s always that easy. Social media, for example, based on my experience and what I hear from others, generally doesn’t provide great conversion. It’s a glance-and-forget channel. It may be low-cost, but there is a real commitment to using effective content marketing and social media. Many organizations, depending upon the category, must have a social media presence to be considered relevant. If you’re going to play in that game, you must have a plan to bring those individuals into your sales funnel so you can monetize all of that time and effort.

Having a strong working knowledge of all these marketing channel choices is challenging, but I don’t want to go back to limited channel options. I want to look forward and embrace what’s new and coming on the horizon. Channel choices that better identify where to find, and how to serve prospects and customers, makes us more effective marketers.

“I want to go back” is the problem. “I want to look forward” is the solution.

Copywriting Showstoppers and One-Two Punches

What makes a direct mail package a success? It’s usually a combination of elements. Marketers and copywriters tend (rightfully so) to spend the most time developing the big idea and writing the perfect headline and lead for a letter. But two components are often relegated to being afterthoughts.

What makes a direct mail package a success? It’s usually a combination of elements. Marketers and copywriters tend (rightfully so) to spend the most time developing the big idea and writing the perfect headline and lead for a letter. But two components are often relegated to being afterthoughts.

  • Your outer envelope should be a showstopper.
  • The order device should pack a one-two punch to close the deal.

By showstoppers on the outer envelope, I mean six to eight graphic elements, each worth about a half a second of gazing time so the recipient pauses and looks more closely at the envelope. That extra involvement of a half a second per showstopper could mean three to four seconds of additional time that gets the reader more involved and inside. Showstopper ideas include:

  • Vivid colors and design
  • Tactile texture
  • Emblems (both front and on the flap)
  • Official-looking indicia
  • Handwriting fonts (Marydale Bold is a reliable choice)
  • Strong teaser copy
  • Personalization

Then there is the order device. Now, think about yourself: when you open an envelope, what’s the first component you look at? For many, it’s the order device. But these days, it’s my observation that many direct mail packages no longer include an order device (or what’s there is weak). Perhaps it’s a belief from direct marketers that the printing expense can be saved, since most of the time a prospect is being driven to the Web to complete the transaction. But a strong order device visually communicates something to the recipient.

An order device can be powerfully positioned to command attention and close the sale. Here are a few reminders about what you should include on your order device:

  • Re-use (or modify) the killer headline you’ve created for your letter
  • State (or restate) your guarantee
  • Specify pricing and terms (the order device serves as a contract of sorts)
  • Clearly state how to order
  • Add urgency to close the deal (if you fail, the recipient sets your package aside for another time, which often never comes)

Typically, when creating a new direct mail package, I start by developing these two components. They may not initially seem as interesting to develop as other items in the total package, but they may very well be the two most important items you spend time creating.

5 Tips to Position (or Reposition) Your Offer

Does bundling products together in your offer result in higher sales? Bundling can be an effective way to sell, but research suggests it can backfire if you don’t approach it thoughtfully.

Does bundling products together in your offer result in higher sales? Bundling can be an effective way to sell, but research suggests it can backfire if you don’t approach it thoughtfully.

Product bundling, good/better/best choices, add-ons and free bonuses have been a part of direct marketing offers for generations. Any smart direct marketer will test offers in small volumes first before rolling out the best performing test in larger circulation.

But product bundling can have its own set of purchase and perception challenges. Research from authors at Pepperdine University and Northwestern University suggests that consumers are not always willing to pay as much for a combination of items as they would for, say, two separate items. In this study, primarily for retailers but with application to direct marketers, reveals:

  • Consumers think in categorical terms. When an item considered expensive is combined with an inexpensive item in a bundle, consumers perceive the combination to be “moderately expensive.” Consumers forget they are purchasing multiple items and the bundle can result in a perception that they should pay less for the combination.
  • Sales declined 15 percent when an inexpensive item was added to the expensive item.
  • Consumers perceived that the combination of an expensive item and inexpensive item should result in a price decrease of 25 percent.

In direct marketing, our sales environment is different than retail. Fortunately, as direct marketers, we can test in a controlled environment. And we can be confident in the outcome of the test by applying sound statistical confidence intervals when evaluating the results. If you offer multiple products, here are a few bundling recommendations for testing. They can be done as A/B, A/B/C, or any combination of these five options:

  1. Bundle products together for one price.
  1. Charge full price for the expensive item, and give the less expensive item away as a free premium.
  1. Charge full price for the expensive item and price the second item at a deep discount.
  1. Create a “Good/Better/Best” offer, which makes it look less like a bundle and gives your customer choices.
  1. Position additional items as add-ons that enhance the primary product you offer.

Your offer is often considered to be a substantial contributor to the success of any direct marketing campaign. With multiple items, bundle thoughtfully and use your imagination to position your offer.

Stimulate Sales by Answering 4 Key Questions

When was the last time you performed a quick marketing check-up? Generations and attitudes continually change. A unique selling proposition from a decade ago may no longer resonate. Past customers, prime and ready for your product today, may have been overlooked in your marketing and sales plan.

When was the last time you performed a quick marketing check-up? Generations and attitudes continually change. A unique selling proposition from a decade ago may no longer resonate. Past customers, prime and ready for your product today, may have been overlooked in your marketing and sales plan.

Recently I had lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in a while. He was desperate for some ideas to stimulate leads for his business. That conversation reminded me that we all need a check-up from time-to-time about how we’re approaching marketing. The outcome is captured in these four questions that you, too, should ask yourself:

  1. Do you have a good feel for the persona your audience? After the conversation with my friend, he came to realize that most of his market now comes from the millennial generation. He was still thinking and marketing like a baby boomer and realized his dated materials probably weren’t being seen. With each passing day the millennial generation is becoming a larger influence. They are starting jobs, buying houses, and making the purchases that 20- and 30-year-olds naturally do. On the business-to-business side, these younger people are taking over key business responsibilities from an older generation. Don’t look dated and use the media channel your market frequents!
  1. Is your position, or unique selling proposition, clear? Does it pop out in just 8 seconds (the average attention span these days)? With even less time to grab attention, your USP must be easy to digest in just seconds.
  1. Do you leverage sales from your raving fans? My friend, who’s in the real estate business, has the names and address of over 1,700 past buyers. But he hasn’t contacted them in years, thinking they likely weren’t in the market for his services. But they might be now. And they certainly can be good for referrals to family and friends. Are you reaching out to past customers?
  1. Do you think just having a website is going to deliver leads? You have to drive traffic, probably more today than ever before. If you aren’t emailing past customers with a link to a landing page, using content marketing, search engine marketing or retargeting to bring people to your website, your traffic will suffer. People search online differently today than they did only a decade ago. Social media is now a significant way people get news. People search for educational content or reviews.

If it’s time to evaluate your business and marketing approach, ask yourself these questions. With adjustments and updates in what you’re doing, you stand a better chance to stimulate your sales.