A Marketing Lesson For My Local Sex Shop

So I’m in a sex shop today, because that’s the kind of thing I do on a Tuesday morning. (And they ask me why I work for myself.)

It’s fairly new, and it’s one of those women’s only deals that markets nice things, not sleazy things. Body balms, belly dancing costumes, very lovey dovey. It’s a good idea, and from what I can tell, business is going gangbusters. (Do things “go gangbusters” or do they “do gangbusters”? Is “gangbusters” really a word I should be using when discussing sex shops?)

So I go in and it’s all pink lighting and nice displays and there is a zero sleaze factor. There’s even a sign on the door that says, very politely, that they don’t sell novelty items so don’t even ask. Everything is going well. My could-be shopping experience is all good.

There is a charming little dog that comes up and sniffs my shoes and then goes back to biting his chew toy. There is a woman behind the counter talking to someone on the phone. The person she’s speaking to appears to be her girlfriend. She says the F-word a lot, but in a nice way, like I do.

By all accounts, this is the kind of a place I wouldn’t mind shopping.

So I head over to the books, the DVDs, the massage oils. There are even locally made massage balms that come in 100% post-consumer recycled tins. What more can you want in a sex shop? I mean, really!

I pick up a set of three of these little balms, very much like the Body Butters that you buy at the Body Shop. These things are so classy I would give them to my mother-in-law in her Christmas stocking. They’re beautiful. They have little testers that smell heavenly. I’m a little bit in love. I turn over the tin to see the price, bracing myself for something I imagine will be terrifying.

Oh, it’s terrifying alright. There’s no price.

Hmm. Weird. I look at the other ones. No price. No price, no price, no price. No price on the movies, no price on the books, no price on the belly dancing bindi things. There’s a sign that says clothes and candles are 50% off, but 50% off what, we’ll never know.

Everybody’s heard the term, “If you have to ask, it’s too expensive.” This is true when it comes to high-end call girls and Lamborghini’s, but I don’t think it should be true in retail stores located between a teapot shop and a dog groomer. We’re not exactly on Saville Row here, people.

Here’s a little lesson for sex shops everywhere:

“How much for the pink vibrator?” is not a question anyone ever wants to have to ask.

I’ve said it a trillion times before, and I’ll keep saying it until I’m dead.

Eliminate barriers to purchase.

Making me say “vibrator” in front of my toddler constitutes a barrier to purchase. If I feel uncomfortable, I’m going to leave. If I’m going to leave, I’m not going to buy. Bottom line.

Lesson for everyone who does NOT run a sex shop: Have someone impartial and inexperienced check your sales process for barriers. Have them try to buy something from your online store. Have them try out the Contact form on your website. Listen to what they say. You might be surprised.

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Originally published in 2008.

How We Killed Social Media

Publishes August 8, 2008

“Should I write pieces made for the front page?”

“Should I spend more time on StumbleUpon?”

“Can Twitter seriously do my blog any good?”

“What about Reddit? Del.icio.us? And what the hell is Sphinn?”

If I go four waking hours between hearing one of these questions from a home business client, it must be a religious holiday. Everybody wants to know about social media. But they don’t want to know just anything about social media.

They want to know what they’re doing wrong.

They’re doing all the right things. They’re getting involved in the community. They’re putting all the right buttons in all the right places. They’re networking. They’re making friends. They’re voting up other people’s content. They’re doing everything they were told to do.

So why is nothing happening?

Even a few months ago, your article would get Stumbled. You’d get a few thumbs up. You’d feel pretty good. Your article would get 5,000 visitors in a day.

Today, a comparable article gets Stumbled. You get a few thumbs up. You feel pretty good. Your website gets a few visitors. You get a few more thumbs up. Your article gets 5,000 visitors in a month.

What happened?

What nobody’s talking about is that you’re not doing anything wrong. The rules got changed and we didn’t get the memo.

So who changed the rules? We did.

We exploited the loopholes.

Let’s imagine you find an IRS loophole. You make a killing, and then you tell everyone you can find — you want to be seen as an expert, after all. “What a cool idea!” they say, and they try it themselves. They tell all their friends. Some get in themselves, some don’t, but soon enough, the IRS catches on.

If one or two people exploit an IRS loophole, it becomes the IRS’s dirty little secret. Not worth the time and money to fix it. When dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people exploit the same loophole — especially after the originals publicly broadcasted how they made their killing — it becomes worth it, and the loophole gets shut.

No killing for you. You lose.

Digg made headlines in January when they changed their algorithm, insisting on a diversity requirement for submissions to succeed. Why did they do that? Because we tried to screw the system. We said, “Hey! If I get 200 people to Digg all my stuff, I’ll be on the front page every day. I’ll be the Social Media King of the World!”

Uh, did we seriously think they wouldn’t catch on?

We watered down the hooch.

Let’s say you’re having a party, and you’ve set aside a certain amount of booze for all of your guests. When you have 10 guests, everybody gets happily loaded and goes to bed with the wrong people and the world is as it should be.

But imagine that each of your friends invited 10 of their own friends. Or 100. Or 1,000. Then you’ve got 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 people sharing the original amount of hooch. No-one’s drunk, and everybody’s looking at each other and wondering why.

What the hell did we think was going to happen?

I don’t use StumbleUpon anymore, but I still have the toolbar installed. Clicking “Stumble” three times got me these three cream of the crop websites:

Support Save — “For just $897 per month each, you can have a full-time dedicated employee or team of employees with the skills you need. Your employee(s) will have excellent English skills with almost no accent.”

Franchise Direct — “Franchise Direct’s directory provides you with a wide list of franchises for sale and business opportunities for sale. It represents top franchises and businesses.”

Wikipedia List of Acquisitions by Google — “This is a list of acquisitions by Google, a computer software and an online search engine company. Each acquisition is for the respective company in its entirety, unless otherwise specified.”

Is this seriously the best of the Internet? The best of the best? The crème de la crème? We added shit to the wine and then wondered why the wine tasted like shit.

We didn’t lose the point. We tried to screw the point.

Let’s think about the colloquial definition of “stumble upon”. When you’re going about your business and you STUMBLE UPON something noteworthy, so noteworthy that you think you should tell your friends, you want to have a way to tell them. StumbleUpon gave you the opportunity to do so. The key here was that you were going about your business. Not paying a few thousand bucks to a marketing consultant to pretend like you were going about your business.

How about Digg? According to their website, Digg defines itself like this:

Digg — All News, Videos & Images.

News. Video. Images. Go take a peek at the last thing that you dugg. Was it video? No? Was it an image? No? Was it news? I highly, highly doubt it.

Everybody’s freaking out about the bury brigades, storming around Digg and burying what they believe to be “spam”.

“But it’s not spam!” we scream.

No? Is it news? Would Dan Rather cover it? The New York Times? Hell, Kelly Ripa? USA Today? No? THEN IT’S NOT NEWS AND IT’S NOT FOR DIGG.

What about bookmarking? Remember bookmarking? You’d find something you thought was worth coming back to later, and you bookmarked it. Del.icio.us made it possible for that to be web based, so you can access your bookmarks from anywhere. If you wanted, you could even give other people access to your bookmarks and they could check out what you thought was cool.

Then people started writing posts about common factors of articles that made the front page of del.icio.us. We noticed the headline tricks and that the number 7 worked in the title and that if we put a “bookmark this” button in our copy, that we could screw the system.

Now the system is screwing us.

Is social media marketing dead? Of course not. Will it ever be the same again? Ditto.


Image credit: freeparking

Turning Weakness Into Strength

Something about your home business is weak. I know this. You know this. If it wasn’t weak, you wouldn’t be reading small business blogs on the internet. You’d be somewhere in the southern United States charging people to join your church.

Weakness is inherent. No strength exists without a corresponding weakness. The reverse is also true.

Trying to avoid weakness is like trying to avoid fear. It is an act of futility. Your job as a business owner, a freelancer, or frankly a human being is to spin your weaknesses into strengths.

The first thing to know is that not all weakness is true weakness – sometimes it’s only perceived that way. For example, in a 2007 post, I mentioned that you shouldn’t use inkjet printers for your business communications. While I maintained that most inkjet printers yielded really crappy documents, one reader (we’ll call him Matt) brought something to my attention in the comments section:

“Can you expand on that? I have trouble telling text printed by a quality inkjet from text printed by a laser printer. And I know printing cost per page is lower with a laser than an inkjet. But inkjets have a significant advantage over laser printers: Inkjet printouts are much easier to recycle. Laser printing basically fuses the black toner to the page, which makes it a lot harder to get rid of when it’s time to recycle.

I try to run my business in an environmentally sound manner. But if my using an inkjet printer instead of a laser printer for my business communications is harming my business, then, well, I guess I have a hard decision to make.”

Concern for the environment is certainly not a weakness. You know that and I know that. However, you and I aren’t Matt’s clients. Matt’s clients are Matt’s clients, and I’ll hazard a guess that most of them didn’t read his comment. They could still be humming along, thinking that Matt’s just cheaping out and using his Dad’s photo printer for his contracts.

Matt’s responsibility now is to find a way to maintain both his integrity and his professional image.

What should Matt do?

If we were to take a look at Matt’s specialties page, we’d see that his targets are largely environmentally-minded folks. This means that they will dig the fact that he’s doing cool stuff for the earth. They will not, however, dig feeling that he’s playing to their heartstrings. No big “I HEART MOTHER EARTH” signs for Matt.

Here’s what Matt could do.

In the footer of his outgoing communications – I’m talking letters, memos, promo materials, not contracts – he could include text that reads something like this:

“Did you know that documents printed on inkjet printers are 8 bazillion times easier to recycle than those printed on laser printers? Just one more thing [Matt’s Company] is doing to protect our environment.”

Assuming the rest of Matt’s text is black, this copy should be grey. If the rest of his text is navy, this should be a paler blue, and so on. By doing this, he accomplishes three things.

  1. He gets to mention his personal ethics.
  2. The use of small, light text makes his message unobtrusive – or so Matt’s customers’ think.
  3. Marketing for Dropouts rule 71 says that everybody reads the P.S. immediately after reading the salutation. People always shoot to the bottom of the page. They see his message first, without even realizing they did it. They then read the remainder of his copy with an existing positive impression. To them, Matt already looks like a rockstar and they don’t even know why.

Matt gets the sale and doesn’t look like a cheapskate.


Figure out your business’ actual and perceived weaknesses. You don’t need to do anything with the information yet. Just let it simmer in your mind.

While you’re thinking (or rifling through your junk drawer, trying to find your business plan), subscribe to the IttyBiz Daily. All the cool kids are doing it.

Originally published in 2007.

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