retail marketing

Why Services and Subscriptions Businesses Need A Promotional Holiday Retail Strategy

Black Friday is here.

Everyone is shopping.

It’s the time when you look at a bunch of deals and go buy stuff for your family and friends (and you) because of the deals! And everyone does it: Some type of shopping for gifts. At home or out and about, the Friday after Thanksgiving (and even now earlier with Thanksgiving) is the kickoff to the rush to get Christmas shopping done. Traditionally and expectedly, everyone things about what physical products they can get, but I think there’s an incredible missed opportunity for service and subscription businesses that needs to be taken advantage of around the holiday shopping window.

Last year, I was doing my 3am shopping on Black Friday and started thinking, “Hey, I wonder if any of these things I subscribe to have any deals.” So started going around, first with Evernote and then with a few other apps and services I pay monthly for. Interestingly not a one had an offering or deal or promo for Black Friday. In fact, there was zero recognition on any of these service or subscription sites that there was any seasonal event happening. Evernote bummed me out because they had nothing — for new customers or existing. Nothing. Like it was just another Friday.

But Black Friday is the most significant purchase period for a household. You need to be out there in a big way because everyone IS shopping. Not just for others — but for themselves. It’s the new era of loving others and oneself: The Giving/Getting. It is the one time people ignore their budget if they find a good deal. And even further, people use this time as a stock piling period for annual purchases…if the price is right.

I buy everything on Black Friday and get all my Christmas shopping done in about 3 hours. And everytime, I pick up a few more items myself — for now or under the tree. How convenient.

If everyone is shopping for someone, don’t you want it to be what you have to offer?

If everyone is also shopping for themselves, you want a share of their wallet.

So how do you take advantage?

Acknowledge the seasonality. This is the biggest time for shopping — the next three weeks, all gloves are off for purchases in every category.

Promote yourself no matter what. Deal or no deal? Deals obviously work better, especially if you never deal. But even without a deal, making your service or subscription available and extremely visible so it’s in the line of site of an open wallet, and that could be enough. You want a share of that wallet.

Because while the focus is been in physical products, there’s a huge advantage to be made for subscription and service businesses.

As a service or subscription business, you have two goals during this period:

  1. Get prospects who have been hesitant and move them to purchase

  2. Get current customers to lock-in for as long as possible (and profitable)

First, let’s talk about new customers.

How do you get them over the hurdle? If you have the major pain points or hangups on why they hesitate, now is the time to break through. See if you need to shorten your term, lengthen your term for the same price, offer a free trial, offer a longer free trial, bundle and discount, unbundle and discount, etc. Lots of options. If you are confident in your product, offer a trial and then offer a follow-up discount to sign up as a loyalty continuation.

Of course you don’t want to discount beyond your margin and this needs to be smart, so have a few offers handy to test or go with a single one that you promote everywhere so you can’t miss it.

Next, let’s talk about existing customers, next (Don’t be AT&T and only offer the good stuff to prospects).

I think you have two solid approaches here.

The first one is a current customer referral program. Word of mouth from happy current customers can help prospects get over the hurdle (see above). Or it may be the first time they are hearing about you in a non-media way. Sharing referrals to give something (to prospect) and get something (for the current customer) continues the magical mix of giving/getting of the holidays. Make it easy with gift card plus-ups (think about places that offer a $10 gift card when you purchase one for $50 — that $10 gift card is for you!) or tagging extra time into their current plan.

The second one is offering extensions. This can be a version of the new customer offers mentioned earlier but intended to create customer lock-in for longer time. Get them to re-up while they have their wallet out for everything else. All the same offers for prospects can apply here and push a current customer past their average subscription window. And that’s what you really want.

This needs to be efficient but we know it’s cheaper to keep a current customer than to go get a new one.

If Evernote had a current customer extension offer, I would have grabbed it in two seconds, even if a free 3 months or add 12-months for the price of 10 months. Instead, since they had nothing, I’m no longer a paying customer. I found it irritating that they would ignore their current users without a loyalty offer benefit and moved to the Free version (where I’m drafting this blog post).

In closing, analysts will say it’s dying, but Black Friday is less an actual day and more a time period starting with Thanksgiving Week through Christmas that the majority of household spending moves into the marketplace. If you are a service, an app, a paid subscription, personal training, or some other type of recurring model, pay attention and focus on your offers for Black Friday and the entire period through Christmas where you could create a massive continuation lock-in through next Black Friday for your current customers. And find a ton of new customers courtesy of your loyal base through rewarding both groups with thoughtful offers.

Because everyone is shopping, not just for products. And they should be shopping for you.

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Why I Don’t Shop on Amazon Anymore

Lots of noise around Amazon’s moves on AI, Whole Foods, entertainment, and move, and how they are driving success while the retail giants fall. Even more noise about their efficient dynamic pricing models, endless marketplace inventory, and ease of Prime 1-Click shipping. And when you have Prime, the unlimited everything they include provides so much value, it’s like you don’t need anything else. 

Or do you need something else?

I was in a good debate on LinkedIn about the Walmart and Amazon pricing models, and it made me look back and think about my experience with Amazon — and I realized that I haven’t ordered anything from there in weeks. Part of it has been a bit of a conscious decision but part of it has been an unconscious passive migration to other shops because I don’t find the value in what they deliver.

Here’s why I don’t shop on Amazon.

It’s too easy. Amazon shopping is quick, easy, and surgical. I need some new hair product, boom, 1-click and done. There’s no friction and the only delay is the two-day turnaround for shipping. But I find myself missing the surprise and delight and discovery of an in-store shopping experience where I find and touch new things and leave with more than I planned, but items that were never on my list.

I like surprise, delight, and discovery. I love Target. Unlike Amazon, going to Target is an experience. Grab a Starbucks, a cart, stop here and there, see something new, put a six pack of beer in your cart, check out the iPhone X, etc. Every time I shop, I find something new, maybe buy something a little extra. I like the surprise and delight in the discovery. Amazon tries to recommend me things, but they are all derivative — never new and interesting.

Delivery is too slow. Two-day shipping was a revelation. Amazing that this could be for free. But I have to plan ahead. And sometimes I can’t. When I want something right now, I drive there. Increasingly and now always, Amazon’s Prime promise of 2-day shipping has been missed by 1–2 days. In fact, now it’s completely unreliable (and I’m in the 4th largest city in the US — 5 miles from an Amazon distribution center). The unreliability is my critical issue, but in companion with the need for items when I want them, I make the store trip. 

The inventory is inadequate. I search. And I search. And I search. Lots of searching on Amazon to find what I want. Or a version of what I want because they don’t have that brand on Prime or it’s more than it was last time since it’s from another marketplace partner. The inconsistency in the availability along with the dynamic pricing along with the lack of brands that I care about puts me back at the search box…and then off to Target to find what I want.

I don’t care that I get unlimited* digital content. Unlimited has an asterisk because they include video, music, photo storage, etc but it’s not really unlimited. If I want Music, I have to pay more — but I like Apple Music better. And if I want good content, I’d rather go to Netflix and Hulu because I find the library and original content much better. And I don’t watch Twitch. If I want an Audible book, I’ll buy it and not subscribe. Storage plans have changed 5x since I started so I just moved everything to Dropbox because it’s consistent, faster and much easier. I already spoke to thoughts on shipping benefits above. So what’s left in Prime that matters? Nothing really. A consumer can get a ton of extra benefits ‘included’ for the Prime subsidy, but if I don’t use them, they don’t matter. I can find better elsewhere. And if I drop Prime…that $109 per year can pay for my other bundle of services completely.

I like small businesses. Unlike me, lots of people love Amazon. While I’m moving away, more are joining. Meanwhile small businesses are being damaged. It’s not about innovation or their lack of effort — it’s too hard to catch up now. So if you care about small businesses, you need to shop them. Etsy, Instagram businesses, local shops, and others need our support or they will die. I’d rather take a few extra minutes out of my day to bring back the ‘browse’ in a local store then just turn-and-burn in a 1-Click that only satisfies your instant need.

Amazon is easy, simple, fast, and convenient. However, in February when my subscription comes up, I won’t renew my Amazon Prime. I’m sure it provides incredible value to someone, but in light of how it misses the mark for what I need and care about, and in light of the swath of retail destruction that is discouraging innovation and diversity in the shopping experience — I will watch Amazon for business reasons and admire the growth, but I will not miss the cold, transaction experience that is destroying the joy of shopping and moving all of us closer to mere selfish consumption.


If you like this, find me on Twitter and LinkedIn as @tuckross

A Simple Guide: Use Pokemon Go for Business Promotion

Tips, Tricks, and Ideas to Get Marketing with Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go is taking over the world, and it’s having a real-world effect
If you aren’t familiar, you are probably under a rock because it’s everywhere.
Even my Uber driver is playing it, but thankfully not while driving.

What’s Pokemon Go?
It’s a mobile, location-based, augmented reality game (AR) that essentially uses your phone camera and Google Maps as the playing field for the interactions in the game. In the playing field, your character avatar walks around the map interface, using your real life steps, to find Pokemon creatures, score goodies, level up, battle, and do other things that everyone ages 5 and up can figure out.

You might have seen people walking around, turning this way and that, looking around for their next Pokemon, even inside your business. Despite launching last week, it’s already built a very active audience of over 21 million active daily users (and growing!), with over $1.6 million in daily revenue from in-app Pokemon purchases. It’s already bigger than Twitter and Tinder in daily active users and being used more than WhatsApp and Instagram, spending 43 mins average per day (vs 30 minutes for WhatsApp and 25 minutes for Instagram). So there’s a good chance you know someone that’s playing it (or playing it yourself).

What’s the goal in the game?
Find all the Pokemon. The more Pokemon you find and catch, the more points you get, the more levels you move up, and so on. There’s a ton of detail on why, how, what, etc that I won’t go into, but suffice to say almost everyone is playing this. It won’t change your life, but it gives a minor peek into how AR can change behavior and drive real-world activity through an artificial gamification layer.

Search for Pokemon Go, you can find a ton of lengthy user guides on how to play. That’s not the point of this piece.
Instead, perhaps more interestingly, businesses have started to see foot traffic increase simply due to the ‘Pokemon effect.’ In the basic, the game mechanic is a scavenger hunt based on physical locations which is why it becomes interesting to businesses with physical locations or activations such as events.

Let’s talk about how to use Pokemon Go to promote your business location or business event.

Get Engaged Now
As a business, what’s your goal with Pokemon Go? Maximize your exposure and ride the wave.
The game can be a foot traffic driver, but also a brand awareness driver with positive halo that you are engaging with something that they are involved with, that provides them value as a player. Who knows how long Pokemon Go will capture the national attention, but tackle it now before saturation.

Before you start
Warning! Check your business risk tolerance. With their head down in a phone, many people have already been injured driving, getting run over by cars, even walking off cliffs. If you have a risk group, make a judgement call on running this by them. This likely won’t apply to your business specifically, but overall note is that people playing this game aren’t as attentive to their surroundings as usual.

Download the App
Go to your app store (iPhone or Android), and search ‘Pokemon Go.’ Unlike other ad campaigns or promotions, you cannot centralize the usage or spend like in Facebook Ad Manager — each app install is a separate instance so you will have to use an individual smartphone to run Pokemon Go. If you have a corporate phone or a shared team phone, that could be a good option to have a single install that can be shared by a team. Next, open the app, login with a Google account (idea: use a shared team Google account), and follow the steps to get setup.

Setup Your Payment Method
Make sure after you download, that your payment method stored in the app store of the associated phone is your desired payment method for business promotional expenses. In-app purchases are how you will run the promotions for your location. Depending on how you handle promotional expenses, you may want to add a different card to your app store’s payment options so it’s correctly charged for expensing or just have employees submit proof of in-app payments (eg screenshots and app store receipts) for reimbursement. Anytime you ‘Shop’ in the app, you will use this payment method.

Find if you are PokeStop
Now that your app is setup and you have it open, you want to find out if you are PokeStop. PokeStopes are desirable locations where in-game goodies are stored. Other than finding Pokemon creatures, players want to find PokeStops to score bonus goodies to help them…get more Pokemon. You want your location to be a PokeStop since players are looking for these. PokeStops cannot be added at this time, but if there’s one at your location, it makes it easy to handle the next steps.

If you are a PokeStop, drop a Lure
Good news! Your location is a PokeStop or very near a PokeStop. Now you want to attract players with a Lure.
What’s a Lure? A Lure is an in-game tool to attract more Pokemon to a PokeStop location. Activate a Lure and Pokemon generate at that location at an increased rate. More Pokemon = more people showing up to the location where a Lure is active to try to capture that Pokemon. Pokemon are rare, so a Lure essentially creates a beacon to draw players looking for Pokemon. Each Lure lasts 30 mins, so purchase as many 30 minute increments you want the Lure live (eg. if you want to run Lures for an 8-hour window, you need 16 Lures.). And since Pokemon keep appearing when a Lure is active, you might actually see players hanging around, waiting for the next Pokemon to appear.
How to activate a Lure? Tap the red/white Pokeball at the bottom of the screen. Tap ‘Shop.’ Scroll down and find the package of Lures. Once you tap, you will need to purchase.
From there, tap the desired Pokestop module in ‘Items’ and then tap the purple Lure module to add it to the PokeStop. Pink hearts will now float around the Stop, letting you know you are live and starting the 30 minute countdown timer, letting you know how long the Lure is active.

Not near a PokeStop?
Find a PokeStop and move there, if you can. Some places have clusters of PokeStops, so if your business is mobile (eg food trucks) or you can move your presence to one of those areas, there’s a strong chance you will have people showing up regularly, especially in more metro areas.

What’s the cost?
Super low. Here’s the math.
With $100 netting you 14,500 Pokecoins, the in-game currency to buy Shop items, and an 8-pack of Lures costing 680 Pokecoins: 14,500 PokeCoins / 680 = 21 eight-packs of Lures = 84 hours of Lures active = $1.19 per hour

How do you measure results?
Keep track of incremental foot traffic and watch behavior of new traffic (face down in phone with odd turning behavior is a good sign). The ROI here could be significant. Even if you add 10 people incrementally, that’s $0.19 per person.

Not near a PokeStop?
Time to get creative. Even if you aren’t specifically a draw for players, showing you are participating is a way to show your business is active, current on trend, and participating in a nationwide meme. Take screenshots as you see and capture Pokemon and share with your fans.

Here’s some other ideas on how to engage with the game, even if you aren’t a PokeStop:

  1. Discounts to teams that control Gyms: Offer discounts to teams that control Gyms nearby to reward their presence in the area and game participation (Gyms are essentially uber PokeStops where players gather to compete). A player would just need to show their phone and which team they have joined for the credit to their purchase.

  2. Gift cards for PokeCoins: It’s easy to have a stack of gift cards (simple cash or App Store specific) to promote purchases = Free $5 Gift Card for PokeCoins with $20 Purchase. Use in-game screenshots of playing the game in your location to post on social media.

  3. Leverage the AR: When a Pokemon appears, you have to capture it using your phone camera. The Pokemon appears to be in your environment. For in-store promotions, screenshot when the Pokemon is in-view, and share on social media with a comment about your location, promotions for that day, or even positive commentary about stopping by ‘to pick up a coffee and a Pokemon.’

  4. Rest Stops: Especially in warm/hot areas in summer, people are out and about hunting Pokemon. Offer your location as a Pokemon Rest Stop (maybe it’s your cool a/c, free beverages, phone charge stations, and/or free WiFi)

  5. Dayparting: Think about when you run these promotions too. Do you want to increase foot traffic during peak times like lunch or dinner? Or do you want to push foot traffic during down times to fill the gap?

Promote your Effort
After you determine your concept, it’s time to get moving. Have an employee or employees understand the promotion, the schedule of Lure timing and when a Lure needs to be placed/refreshed, and then what tactics you will employ to activate players awareness of your efforts. Done right, this could turn your location into a viral destination while the plan is in play.

  1. Use signage: Sure wouldn’t hurt, whether you are a PokeStop or not, to put signage out that shares your promotion or even just that you are a PokeStop.

  2. Use your site: Add a quick landing page directed to from a hero graphic on your homepage and/or from social media that communicates your Pokemon promotion. Tag that page with display retargeting for your mobile app, mobile shopping channel or products you feature in your screenshots or promotion.

  3. Use social media: Take screenshots of Pokemon showing up in your area, screenshots of your PokeStop with Lure active, in-store cam screenshots of Pokemon found in your location, in-game stats, whatever relates to your promotion. Then geo-target that on Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram or Snapchat (use the Memories feature). For Twitter and Instagram, use hashtags like #pokemon #pokemongo to ride the trending topics. Consider boosted posts on Facebook to increase the reach of your posts.

  4. Ask your fans for help: Bonus players who share screenshots of Pokemon found in your location or area with PokeCoins. Have them email or comment their screenshots on social so their followers will know about you too. A unique hashtag will help with the tracking of this. You can even create a gallery of these images on Facebook or other platform.

Is Pokemon Go a Fad?
Maybe. But Pokemon was supposed to be a fad 20 years ago…and it’s still here. No marketing channel is evergreen. Pokemon Go has captured national attention in a happy and engaging way — but it’s hot right now. Now is the time to capitalize on it.

There’s two major benefits to your participation or engagement effort with the game right now:

  1. Mobile first: If they are into it, you know your customer is mobile first. And that’s a benefit to businesses that need customers that are mobile. They are engaged, making in-app purchases, and interested in experiences, especially gamification.

  2. Trendy and current: Adoption is huge, but it’s still early. These players are into the newest thing. And that’s the customers you want creating experiences with you, participating with you, and helping associate your brand with ‘cool factor.’

Participation in Pokemon Go is cheap. Unique. Get creative and it can create a way to surprise and delight your customer in a new way. Some may think it’s silly, but for those invested in the game, you could expose your brand to them in a very new way, creating an emotional connection that lasts longer than they play the game.

Will it drive sales? It could. Foot traffic? Possible. Will they remember that you had a bit of fun with them? Yes. Delight them and give them an experience they will enjoy so they will remember you after today.


Find me on LinkedIn and Twitter at @tuckross