During our many interactions with businesses at trade shows and training events, one of the most common requests among sublimation users is for new marketing ideas. Are there newer ways to sell permanent, photo-quality imagery on a variety of dynamic, ready-to-decorate products? Often, as the conversation continues, it is discovered that the request is not so much for “new” marketing ideas but for marketing ideas, period.
Sure, some businesses in the fast lane with specialty products might employ alternative marketing techniques, but when you’re first starting a business or you’re just introducing sublimation, it is important to study the marketplace. Before you leap into purchasing a yellow page ad and waiting for the phone to ring, consider some tried-and-true simple guidelines that will help you successfully market sublimation and build up your customer base. You’ve got the printer, inks, heat press and blank products. Now what?
Many decorators have never developed a marketing plan for sublimation. This is often a result of not knowing where to begin. The idea of coming up with a marketing plan seems daunting and tedious. A marketing plan doesn’t have to be overly involved. It doesn’t have to be expensive. When it comes to successfully promoting a sublimation business, all you need to do is adopt some of the basic marketing rules that are used every day by savvy businesses and people.
For example, you might take a page from marketing playbooks of ever-in-demand celebrities and media savvy public personalities from Hollywood to Washington, D.C. whose names appear in the headlines on a consistent basis. These front-page names seem to always be associated with the biggest parties, the trendiest grand openings or the latest-and-greatest newsworthy cause of the day.
Only the right people are allowed within the confines of these exclusive events, and the guest lists are strictly enforced, no exceptions. These well-known personalities are always adorned in the latest fashions designed to fit the occasion. The appropriate media outlets always seem to be on hand to record these events—whether by force of habit or grand design—ready to instantly broadcast, print, text or tweet hand-picked images and carefully worded copy.
Of course, as business owners and people of the world, we see a more symbiotic relationship between all parties involved. If you’re a business or cause, the added exposure from a celebrity spokesperson usually correlates to additional contributions and funding. This is all contingent upon contracting with the right celebrity who complements your mission statement, one who reflects the values the company wishes to project and who will ultimately be attractive to a key demographic your company is attempting to reach. This association can be lucrative for both parties.
If you’re an actor or a politician, being seen publicly as a civic-minded, socially-active creature means that your name is more likely to be considered when it comes time to buy a ticket to an upcoming performance or to cast a ballot in an upcoming election, respectively. And, of course, you can’t dismiss the advertising and subscription revenues generated by the same media companies who more often than not serve as both marketing catalyst and promotional vehicle.
Regardless of the product being promoted—be it a political persona, movie, album, cause, etc.—it is the combined efforts from all parties involved that, in the end, results in greater product awareness and brand name recognition. Thankfully, the process of marketing sublimation is not as cutthroat nor as fickle as the tongue-in-cheek examples described earlier. Whether or not you like this modern-day marketing dance is not as important as your ability to understand the moves and implement similar strategies to better focus your own marketing energies.
In today’s fast-paced, high-tech marketing world, a world populated by gigabytes and sound bites, you might find it reenergizing to focus your marketing efforts around a reliable, proven platform from which to market your sublimation products and, by extension, many of your other product lines. We’ll discuss five sublimation marketing rules and associate each to a technique employed by today’s media savvy politicians and celebrities.
TENET # 1: Choose Your Theme Or Cause/Identify Your Market
Start by identifying your target market along with the products you’ll be selling into this market. A common misstep when starting a sublimation business lies in lack of market focus. There are so many products and markets from which to choose, it pays to narrow your vision to better streamline your marketing efforts. Even if you have grand ambitions, tackle one market at a time.
For businesses adding sublimation products to an existing line-up, don’t be afraid to start with the low hanging fruit. Screen printers and embroiderers might find it easier to start by marketing sublimation apparel rather than jumping into something less familiar like the tile mural market.
TENET # 2: Admit Only The A-Listers/Insist On The Best Graphics
When approaching product design, you absolutely have to insist on using only the best graphics. With sublimation’s true, photo-quality decoration, even the smallest imperfections will show. Bad graphics on even the best products can kill your business quickly, especially if the product is getting a lot of exposure. If it looks pixilated on your screen, it will look pixilated on your product. Though you can get away with a little less, look for at least 300 dpi, unedited bitmap images at 100% size. Also, if you don’t insist on editable, vector versions of company logos or clip art, you can’t expect to output for proper color or best quality.
When it comes to making sample products, there are a number of sources for quality photos and vector artwork. In addition to capturing your own images for use on products, there are dozens of websites featuring royalty-free, high-resolution photographs and artwork. Many have little or no restrictions on graphic use; others are more structured. Graphics websites like istockphoto.com, shutterstock.com and corbis.com do well because all of their photographs and graphics are of professional quality. You always know what you’re getting.
Industry website unisubgraphics.com offers high-quality artwork in ready-to-go formats (CorelDRAW and Photoshop) designed for specific sublimation products. There are over 100 designs for name badges alone! When you’re making your first set of samples, it might be worth it to purchase a few graphics until you get the hang of things. Remember to always read the royalty agreements to determine what you can and cannot do with any purchased or downloaded graphic.
TENET # 3: Always Dress To Impress/Carefully Choose Your Product Offerings
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the sample products you choose might be worth the same amount in dollars. While there are hundreds of available sublimation products, not all of them make sense for every target market. Choose a small, core handful of quality products that you’re comfortable producing and which your target demographic would likely purchase.
If you’re going after the sports fanatic, you might have more initial buy-in by promoting products like stadium seat cushions and car flags as opposed to arched photo panels and tile murals. However, the opposite might be true if you’re targeting the photography market. With the hundreds of available sublimation products, there are offerings for almost any market. Make sure you know any limitations about each product (time to produce, color restrictions, etc.). By knowing the product well, you help eliminate surprises later.
TENET # 4: Don’t Shy Away From The Camera/Take Pictures Of Successful Products
While memories might warm you in your old age, you need to show people the goods in today’s fast-paced, plugged-in marketplace. Just as important as choosing solid graphics and the right products, once you get it right you need to document your successes. These photographs are essential for use in your marketing efforts whether electronically (website, e-mailing samples to customers, etc.) or print (magazine or newspaper advertisements, brochures, catalogs, etc.).
Start by investing in a good camera, six megapixels or better. Choose either a static, indoor spot that can be well lit or create your own “photo box” for lighting and staging products. When selecting an area, it helps to select a surface with a neutral finish that can be used for all future product photographs. Continuity and consistency look more professional. If you’re going to be removing the background from around the product, make sure to use a solid background and lighting to eliminate shadows.
While there are programs out there designed to remove subjects from backgrounds via green or blue screen technology, any contrasting solid color will work. Often you can find materials on hand which will work for product shots. The goal here is to allow the product to act as a sales tool whether a customer is viewing a product shot on your website or while flipping through a magazine, so keep away from using busy backdrops or too many props. Always keep back-ups of your original shots. [Hint: taking photographs of ruined or faulty product can often help speed up resolution with tech support issues.]
TENET # 5: Embrace The Media!/Use Media Outlets Which Makes Sense
Today, it is not uncommon to receive live, continuous updates about companies, products and personalities via smart phones and online services such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. While there are dozens of trendy marketing processes and avenues available to the savvy entrepreneur that can be used to promote your products or services to a mass number of people, you should make sure that the opportunity meshes with your target market.
Do some research, look at the service and its demographics, and ask your customers how they like to get information. Just because Facebook and Twitter are wildly popular does not mean they are the right vehicles to promote your business. Cover the basics first, then move on to flashy.
Here are some essential media outlets and promotional techniques to consider:
Website: No matter how you slice it, you need a website. Period. In today’s fast paced climate, a website legitimizes and grounds your business. End customers browsing your website who contact you for product don’t usually care whether your business takes up space on Main Street or in the main living spaces throughout your home. Using the collective “we” in all appropriate website descriptions allows the sole proprietor to put a bigger face forward to better attract business.
Even if you don’t offer e-commerce or anything fancy, having a simple brochure website with clear, quality photographs of sample products and concise product descriptions can bring you thousands of unsolicited dollars. Also, don’t miss a prime opportunity to market your website whenever someone asks for your e-mail address. This means setting up e-mail account names of your choice through your domain host (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). Say goodbye to your favorite hotmail, gmail or aol.com account.
Brochures/Catalogs: Options that were cost prohibitive a couple of years ago are today more economical, and businesses are taking advantage. Whether it is the much lower entry prices for commercial printing equipment or low-cost physical print jobs offered by web-based print shops with low overhead, small businesses on a budget can better compete against the marketing machines of much larger enterprises.
The same graphics and design elements used on your website can be used within your print brochure. Besides taking out unnecessary hyperlinks and web menu references, there need be little or no difference in format and content between a brochure page on your website and a printed brochure page designed for a postal mailing. This makes it easy to update your marketing copy and helps ensure consistent messaging across mediums.
Giveaways/Promo Items: Choosing the right group of giveaway products for your target market and promoting your ability to mass produce a personalized design can help you capture time-sensitive or impulse orders. These orders are often based on recent events and current trends. Don’t be afraid to spend a little more on a few special items.
Giving a higher-quality promo product to the right decision maker can yield unexpected results. When you go after specific groups, choose products and graphics that fit that group. When promoting yourself to a youth soccer camp, take products featuring photographs of soccer players, not football players.
Local Events: Whether it’s a more organized retail opportunity sponsored by your local chamber of commerce or you’ve found a high-traffic venue all your own, if you expect members of your community to support you, plan to be outwardly supportive of your community. Take advantage of appropriate opportunities to get in front of your customer base, and don’t be afraid to occasionally donate products toward a good cause.
Print Advertising: Due to competition from online news and other media sources, traditional print media has suffered catastrophic subscription losses. To help recoup some of these lost revenues, newspapers and magazines offer greatly reduced advertising space and can often package together recurring ads for additional savings. Choose media outlets and sections that cater to your demographic and market. If you’re specializing in wicking performance apparel, target the sports section and print advertising sponsorships of local sporting events.
Make sure to set up and publish a unique landing page on your website for each individual print publication in which you advertise (e.g. www.yourwebsite.com/citypaper/) even if you use the same ad in different magazines or newspapers. This will allow you to measure the effectiveness of each print ad based on the subsequent web traffic and click-through rates with each associated landing page.
By better focusing your promotional efforts around these five marketing rules, you can develop a successful marketing lifestyle, and you stand a much better chance of attracting new customers. As with most product embellishment businesses (unless you own and operate manufacturing equipment), you should always strive to be known as the high-quality/customer-friendly business and not as the lowest-cost business.
By strictly focusing on the five fundamentals, you’ll not only greatly increase your potential for growth, but you’ll shorten the inherent ramp-up time between start-up and profitability. Remember that the businesses that stay in the spotlight year in and out don’t have to rely on flashy gimmicks or shock value. In the end, it’s your products and customer service that speak for themselves.