The Stationers Guild

Posts Tagged ‘affiliate marketing’

Maybe Affiliate Marketing is Not Dead

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

When informed of his rumored death, Mark Twain stated that “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”    Perhaps, the death knell for the stationery industry has not yet sounded.  Yesterday morning  I reported that William Arthur would be terminating its affiliate program on May 25th.  Shortly after the article was published, I received a phone call from a representative of Crane indicating that the announcement was “poorly communicated” and that Crane would migrate William Arthur to Crane’s Pepperjam affiliate program.  Commission structures would remain intact.

When I pressed for more details (i.e. “will William Arthur maintain their own ecommerce website?”), I was told that Crane’s IT people were working on it.  Frankly, that is not particularly reassuring, but I guess we can hope that Crane’s “rocket scientists” will let the Crane brand have a decent burial rather disappear in the paperless ether.

One of Crane’s fundamental problems has been its inability to manage its Online presence.  For years, we have witnessed Crane manage its online business as something distinct (dare I call it a profit center?) from its stationery business.    The silly idea that there is an “online” consumer and a “bricks-and-mortar” consumer is about as stupid as saying that consumers can be segregated by those who use fixed phone lines and those who use cell phones.    Just look at the phone or cable company:  The services are simply bundled!

Crane is mistakenly focused on tinkering with distribution channels rather than building a loyal base of savvy consumers who understand the difference between low resolution digital images found on the internet  and fine engraved stationery.  Just take a look at the jewelry industry:  Sure, you can buy a knock-off Timex (or Rolex) for $20 from one of the many street vendors in Times Square, but many buyers will think nothing of shelling out $25,000 or more for a Patek Philippe watch.  Why?  They want quality.  Both brands tell time, but only one makes a personal statement.

As I have said before, I don’t have a clue as to what is going on in Crane, but I suspect that the people who work there don’t either.   A company that has been in the “communications” business for over 200 years should certainly have a better message.  It’s dealers and Crane’s legion of loyal buyers of their brand certainly hope so.

Let’s keep the “personal” in personalized stationery.

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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The Greeting Card Dilemma: Do you need to compromise standards?

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

I participate in a number of forums related to the stationery industry.   For the most part, these forums are used by the participants to promote their products rather than provide useful advice to newbies and a few old-timers (like myself).  As the groups grow larger, the level of relevant communication diminishes which I guess helps explain why those who speak loudest or more often tend to dominate forum discussions.

Over the last couple of months a couple of themes have emerged:

  • How to outsource to China and get cheaper products
  • Advice on how to market store retailers to sell products that are now currently sold online.


Outsource to China

I have often been accused of denigrating the quality of products from China.  This is simply not so.  Let’s face it, the people who outsource to China are Gringos who insist on the “lowest price,” not the “highest quality product.”  I have no doubt in my mind that Chinese craftspeople can (and do)  make or design products of unmatched quality and design.  The problem is that these “outsourcing Gringos” want the “cheapest product” rather than the “best” product.

Therefore, if you are buying greeting cards manufactured in China, would you really like your client to lick the envelope?

Should you promote “new” products that are now sold exclusively online?

A common problem for many “new” artisans in the greeting card industry is that they first begin to sell their greeting cards online directly to the consumer.  It is a relatively inexpensive way to get your product out in front of wider audience, but requires a great deal of online marketing skills that these artisans don’t possess to develop a sustainable business.

Frustrated, they now reach out to store retailers to market their greeting card line.  Should your store carry their line?   In most cases, I would simply say “no!”  The reason is quite simple:  Why should I invest my time and resources to market an undifferentiated product for a new vendor that sells the same product online?    I am often told in these forums that “the customer wants the convenience and choice of shopping online or in a store,” as if that were sufficient justification for marketing a new line.  Sorry, but it simply doesn’t make  business sense.   Why use my expertise, store space and limited marketing budget which often tends to drive clients to an online store?

As most of my advertising and promotion is online, I am extremely careful to market stationery products and custom invitations lines that have either an affiliate program or do not sell online.    The goal of my online marketing campaign is to drive people to my store.  Nevertheless, we need to talk about products and lines that we actually carry in the store and, I suspect, that the first thing the online buyer does is to visit the suppliers website.  While I am certainly disappointed not to make the sale in the store, I feel my marketing efforts have not been lost if that “marketing lead” generates an affiliate commission.

Affiliate programs by leading companies in the stationery industry is, in my opinion,  an important way to raise the standards in the industry and provide the consumer with useful information about quality stationery.  Personally, I no longer feel threatened by promoting the brand of our vendors, using their images and promotion campaigns.   In effect, it is good business for my store, my supplier and the industry as a whole.

I do hope other stationery stores will soon embrace affiliate marketing to help the cream rise to the top.   Read more on how affiliate marketing can help your business.

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Local Search & Affiliate Marketing

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

In general, local stationery store owners feel threatened by the internet. It’s tough to sell quality stationery and custom invitations in a two-dimensional medium which is dominated by thousands of online printers masquerading as fine stationery designers.

Indeed, when I last checked (about 2 minutes ago) there were 37 million Google-indexed page results for the search term “wedding invitations.” To be honest, even Walmart looks good when compared to the thousands of shoddy stationery and invitations lines that now call themselves “green,” “beautiful,” “elegant,”or some other descriptive adjective that is either exaggerated or simply dishonest.

Despite online claims to the contrary, the customer is often disappointed with the outcome after spending several hundred dollars on wedding invitations or fine stationery. Frankly, there is simply no way for the consumer to make an informed decision without the wise counsel of an independent and experienced stationer who works with many lines and can help the consumer explore design, paper, printing and pricing alternatives. Where does the consumer get this advice and information? Sadly, only in a store since the internet search market is totally dominated by companies of questionable integrity pushing their particular brand.

Stationery store owners – like many local businesses – have been slow to embrace the internet and social media to promote this business, there is a paucity of quality and relevant information available to the consumer. The Stationers Guild has long encouraged qualified stationery stores to take a more active role in promoting their business online. Some have acted, but most have not seen the benefit of promoting their business online or, more realistically, understood the threat to our industry posed by online marketing specialists.

If your client has moved online for information and your business is not well represented in cyberspace and on social media platforms, your business simply doesn’t exist and will soon become as extinct as the Dodo bird.

Affiliate marketing is the last opportunity for store owners to effectively establish an online presence and encourage consumers to shop locally.     As such, I will be redirecting much of my time and that of the Guild  to aggressively support affiliate programs that support our vendors and preserve the rich heritage of fine stationery.   

If you are interested in learning more about affiliate marketing and how you can benefit in your market, please contact me at the email address below.   Alternatively, I will regularly be providing detailed information on how to do it yourself at our technical website, Rite4u.com

With 37 million web pages promoting wedding invitations it is a long uphill battle, but together we can make the cream rise to the surface.  Consumers deserve better quality than the hyped fast-food invitations which now flood cyberspace.   

Richard W. May
rmay@stationersguilld.org

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How Affiliate Marketing can help your store business

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Found below is an affiliate ad for Crane & Co. 

This is an affiliate ad for William Arthur.

Each of these ads can help grow your store business and send a powerful message to the consumer that “quality is not dead in the stationery industry.”

Supporting the affiliate programs of your vendors should - and most probably will - bring  the following benefits to your business:

  • Properly used, affiliate marketing will drive traffic to your store;
  • Affiliate marketing is a far more effective marketing tool than the Yellow Pages and most paper media advertising;
  • Affiliate marketing allows you to build an online presence without the expense and fuss of doing it yourself;
  • Affiliate marketing gives you an opportunity to talk about and promote fine stationery and custom invitations;
  • Affiliate marketing gives you credibility with your customers to “see” that your store has online product capabilities;
  • You earn affiliate commissions when customers buy online through your affiliate ad referral;
  • You support your vendor by promoting their brand online;
  • Most importantly, you support the stationery industry by promoting quality brands.

If you are not yet engaged in affiliate marketing to support the brands of your in-store vendors, you should do so now.    Need help?  The Stationers Guild’s technical website Rite4U will give you plenty of instruction on how to do it yourself.    

For those who are more interested in selling “real” stationery than marketing affiliate programs, we will show you where you can get access to affordable talent to replicate the Stationers Guild affiliate programs.   The NYC Wedding Invitation website is an affiliate marketing website focused on driving foot-traffic to our store, Therese Saint Clair.    It promotes the same brands we carry in our store, but subtly encourages visitors to shop locally.  Shouldn’t you have a similar website for your local market?  

Learn how at rite4u.com.

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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Affiliate Marketing and the Stationery Industry

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

People shop online and most stationery companies have been obliged to provide consumers with an online alternative.  For many years, people thought that Jane or John Doe consumer would either buy online or exclusively at a bricks and mortar store.  As we well know, they are likely to do both depending on circumstances which are not easy to predict.  The industry has been tip-toeing around channels of distribution for quite some time and it is clear that bricks and mortar stores require some level of online presence to engage clients who may wish to visit their store or purchase products online.

I recently picked up the Summer 2011 Instore Magazine that was published for the Dallas Gift Show.  In this magazine, there are several interesting articles that are most useful to store owners getting their feet wet in online marketing:

  • The ABCs of SEO by Cindy Baldhoff
  • Use YouTube to Engage with Your Customers
  • Getting Social with Email Marketing by Ron Cates and,
  • Where’s your ‘Stupid List”?

Now, I have no way of knowing if anyone is going to read these articles, let alone act on them, but they contain plenty of very good advice and suggestions.  I suspect that people’s eyes will glaze over and they will get back to business as usual.  It’s understandable, but a real shame.

Crane and William Arthur now have affiliate marketing programs.  There is no reason why bricks and mortar stores can’t share in the online revenue stream if they do a little work.  Will they?  I suspect not, because they lack the tools and the knowledge to do so successfully and are perhaps frightened that they may end up cannibalizing their existing business.  Is this a reason to stay out of the fray?  No, but most will choose to sit on the sideline and surrender the bounty to professional affiliate marketers.  Let me explain.

Online affiliate marketers will hype anything and many have become quite rich by focusing on key words and building website devoted exclusively to capturing affiliate income.  The acai berry diet (14 million search pages) that is hyped by online marketers is a perfect example of how this works.  In fact, I have attended several online seminars that teach you the techniques to optimize your site for acai berry diet searches so you can capture affiliate income.  Even if you decide not to activate your affiliate program with Crane or William Arthur, someone else will to your detriment.

Let me give you an example of a website I setup over a year ago (no affiliate links as yet) to test various automatic “content-generating” products in the market.  The site is nycweddinginvitations.org.      I have done relatively little to this website, but will soon be adding graphics to make it look attractive and begin to add affiliate links and perhaps add an online store.  This website was FREE and costs about $1.50 a month to run.  I then use several Wordpress tools to skim the Internet to look for articles that use my key words (“nyc invitations,”  “nyc wedding invitations,” nyc wedding stationery,”) and then these articles are automatically “spinned” (term for substituting synonyms and rearranging sentence structure to avoid duplicate content) and then published automatically on the NYC wedding invitations website.  You can establish multiple websites using the same strategy built around different key words but perhaps using the same graphics.   All of this is basically FREE and by using the appropriate Wordpress Plugins, ALL OF THIS IS FULLY AUTOMATED  (i.e. no human intervention).

Now, you may have a much prettier website than I do, but because my website has been optimized for search, it is far more likely that it will appear higher in a Google search result than your store.  The first listing in Google’s Organic Search (not paid!) statistically receives between 30% and 46% of the clicks.  Pretty scary, isn’t it?

This is how professional affiliate marketers work.  Sure, there are a lot more wrinkles using Facebook Fan Pages, YouTube, Landing Pages and other strategies, but I can assure you that just because you decide not to actively and aggressively support the Affiliate Programs kindly provided to you by your Vendors, others will!

Is this good for the industry?  I think not, but this is why Tiny Prints and many other online “printing” companies who wouldn’t be able to pick out an engraving press from a lineup of toilet bowls will eat your lunch and mine too!

Isn’t it time to figure out what we can and should do to preserve the quality standards in our industry?  Together we can do this the “right” way and preserve the integrity of our industry  Rest assured that there are plenty of people out there who will and can sell anything and make a fine living doing so.  They are real pros and I admire their spunk.

Call me at 203-661-2927 or email me at rmay@stationersguild.org with your ideas and suggestions.

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

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National Stationery Show: Don’t Take it Personally!

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Reflecting on the 2011 National Stationery Show, I came across this  Blog post entitled “Don’t take it personally”  by Seth Godin, who was the Keynote speaker at the NSS Future Conference.    Here is an extract from his post:

QUOTE (Slightly Edited)

“Don’t take it personally.”

This is tough advice. Am I supposed to take it like a chair? Sometimes it seems as though the only way to take it is personally. That customer who doesn’t like your product (your best work) or that running buddy who doesn’t want to run with you any longer…

Here’s the thing: it’s never personal. It’s never about you. How could it be? That person doesn’t truly know you … All they know is themselves.

When someone moves on, when she walks away or even badmouths you or your work, it’s not personal about you. It’s personal about her. Her agenda, her decisions, her story.

Do your work, the best way you know how. Is there any other option?

UNQUOTE

Indeed, is there any other option?  Sure, you can exit the playing field and move on, having let someone else’s opinion determine your relevancy and/or artistic value.   Seth Godin’s advice is for leaders or “tribal chiefs” as he refers to them who are not intimidated by failure and certainly not the opinions of others.

With these words of caution from Seth Godin, I would like to reflect on some of the major trends I saw emerging from this year’s National Stationery Show.    Most certainly, you shouldn’t take my views “personally” since my objective is to create a dialogue and not to discredit anyone’s work or business strategy.   The business is hard enough for another naysayer in our midst.

Stationery Trends & Observations

  1. The Chinese have Landed:   This is the first time that I can recall a strong Chinese presence at the NSS.  It seemed that they occupied a dozen or so booths and while I didn’t see a great deal of activity, their presence signifies that more cheap imports will be arriving soon.    I admire the craftsmanship and work ethic of the Chinese; however, their business model is very much different than our own.  Designers and manufacturers who outsource production to China do so at their own peril.    You may win the cost-efficiency battle, but you are most certain to hasten the demise of your brand and, quite possibly, the industry.
  2. Too much Letterpress:   I adore letterpress, but there are simply too many suppliers.   Let’s face it, most anyone with an old press and Photoshop can produce “unique” and “eco-friendly” stationery and invitations.   As a stationery store, I am reluctant to take on new lines since many of the designs look the same.  While I commend everyone on “doing your own thing,” it seems to me that only the established lines that maintain quality standards and continue to innovate will survive.
  3. Pricing Models -  Established Lines Hold the Line:    I have long been concerned that manufacturers and designers of quality paper products would succumb to the temptation to lower quality to compete with the “fast-food” paper companies that now dominate our industry.   Meetings at the NSS convinced me that a line in the sand has now been drawn and serious brands will no longer follow Alice down the pricing hole to oblivion.    I welcome this change and believe that consumers will opt for higher quality products at price levels that can sustain the industry.  Maybe this is wishful thinking, but this is the first time in several years where industry leaders have said “No mas!” to price cutting. 
  4. Online Sales & Affiliate Marketing:    It is good to see that Crane has re-established an affiliate marketing program.  Other companies that sell online should do the same thing.  While this is all well-and-good,  these affilitate programs will be of little use to bricks and mortar stores unless they take advantage of them.  Affiliate marketing is like learning to ride a bicycle:  lot’s of bruises and scrapes as you learn to ride and pretty easy after you get the hang of it.    I fear that many stores will not do so and the benefits of leveraging one’s sales by providing an online option will be missed.  In effect, Crane and others have given  stores a vital piece of online real estate and it is our responsibility to make it work.   In order to accelerate that process, I will shortly be expanding the functionality of the StationersGuild website into an affiliate marketing laboratory to test various online marketing strategies.  In addition, an affiliate website, Rite4U.com will be focused on best practices to build, maintain and market your local business online.  There is a lot to learn and it is changing each day, but at least you won’t have to repeat my mistakes.

Again. let me thank the organizers of the National Stationery Show and particularly Patti Stracher for keeping the flame burning.    Everybody approaches NSS differently and if I have stepped on anyone’s toes, “don’t take it personally.” We are in the boat together.

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Google changes the landscape of Local Search

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

It has been awhile since I have posted articles on the Stationers Guild website. It isn’t for lack of interest, it is simply that I have found that the landscape of SEARCH and INTERNET MARKETING is changing so radically that  it is difficult to know how to position one’s business.  The new search parameters imposed by Google are so impactful that most local business owners need to seriously rethink their overall marketing strategy. 

For the most part, I believe that these changes are “good” (where “good” is a relative term) for local business owners since geo-targeting capabilities in most new cellphones raise the importance of local search results.  The bad news is that if a local business doesn’t have a website or has a website that is not properly configured for local search, they will be left out in the cold.  Found below are – in my estimation - some of the more impactful implications of Google’s emphasis on “Google Place Results”:

  1. In the past, a local business did not need  a website to be listed on the Google 7 or 10-pack list of local businesses.  The Google Lucky 7-pack has now disappeared and has been replaced by Google Place Search.   Don Campbell of Expand2Web describes the impact of these changes on local search.   If you don’t have a website, get one now!
  2. New and growing constraints on AFFILIATE marketing by Google are designed to provide an online  buyer or visitor with improved or more relevant SEARCH results.  Gone are the days when one could throw up an affiliate website designed to generate commissions if one clicks on the embedded link and buys something on a sponsor’s site.   In fact, I have recently discovered many websites designed to link to third-party websites may have already been deindexed by Google and may not even show up in search registries. 
  3. While all of these factors are positive for local businesses over the long term, it does require a greater commitment by local business owners to embrace internet marketing.  Fortunately, there are a number of relatively inexpensive ways to do so.  Nevertheless, it is important to act now.

Because of these changes, I have decided to overhaul the Stationers Guild website.  These changes will occur over the next several months but are designed to enhance the visitor’s website experience and  promote affiliate programs with established vendors who have a commitment to excellence and support their storefront dealers.  I think you will find the Guild website will become increasingly more valuable as it will begin to support your local marketing initiatives.  More on this later. 

For those who wish to learn more about creating a viable online presence, I have established a sister website called www.rite4u.com which will give you the lastest insights into the latest changes in internet marketing and the “best” tools to take advantage of these changes in technology.  Through this website you will be able to access valuable affiliated resources such as Don Campbell’s Expand2Web which builds local search friendly Wordpress websites. More information on Expand2Web will be forthcoming shortly. 

If you value your business and seem confused or concerned about the evolution of the stationery industry, I suggest that you register now at rite4.com and learn how you can protect and grow your investment.

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

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William Arthur’s bold new website affiliate program

Friday, October 16th, 2009

I just received an announcement from Hank Beresin, Vice President of Sales for William Arthur, advising me that William Arthur had launched a new website affiliate program for their dealers.    The program is open to all registered William Arthur dealers.  The affiliate program provides dealers a 20% commission on each retail sale that links from a dealer’s website to William Arthur.  The website affiliate program is managed by  LinkShare, “a well recognized and respected third party agent who will track and manage all outgoing activity and payments.”

In a very simplied form, the William Arthur website affiliate program works like this:

  1. You signup for the program by linking to the website provided in Hank’s letter (I am not providing hyperlink for reasons of confidentiality).
  2. You complete the application at LinkShare (about five to ten minutes of your time).
  3. You then provide the William Arthur Sales Department  your “Site ID number” which is generated by LinkShare.
  4. Using  your unique LinkShare’s ID number, you will be prompted to auto-create some html code that must be copied and pasted into your website.  Some have images and some are text links.  You can and should use both. 
  5. Insert the LinkShare code into your website and each time a visitor clicks on that link, it will take the visitor to the William Arthur website.
  6. Your unique code tells William Arthur and LinkShare that you are the referring website and should the client buy online from William Arthur, you will receive a 20% commission.

Let me provide a hypothetical example.  Let us assume that you write a Blog article about William Arthur or include a link to William Arthur on your website.  Instead of using the standard hyperlink to the William Arthur website:  http://www.williamarthur.com , you will now use the  special SiteID html code generated by LinkShare.  It might read (entirely fictional):  http://www.williamarthur.com/linkshare/?!xdbTr33.  Somewhere in the html code provided by LinkShare is a unique code that identifies your website/Blog as the referring website to William Arthur.  If the client closes the sale online with William Arthur, you receive a 20% commission on the sale.

While one can debate the conceptual merits of this program and online selling in general, I for one applaud this bold initiative by William Arthur.    It sends a clear message to its dealers:  Let’s work together to promote the William Arthur brand in whatever media or distribution channel the buyer prefers to use.  Furthermore, it is a strong inducement to storefront dealers to adopt “21st century” marketing and advertising strategies.    The quicker we start using these affiliate marketing strategies, the stronger we will become as independent dealers.  This is just the first of many changes I see sweeping through the industry.   As independent dealers, we have the best product(s) in the industry and far more experience and knowledge than online newbies.  Get started now!  This is one industry where a little knowledge goes a long way.  As Heraclitus said “A man with one eye is King in a land of the blind!”  Go for it!

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

P.S.  Heraclitus also threw himself into a volcano to prove that he was a god.  Just settle for being a king.

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