Basil-rific

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

For those of you who missed it, my birthday was September 7th and my dear, lovely wife threw a little soiree to celebrate my successful passage into another year. She has always been a creative party giver and this one was no exception. Since we happened to have a bumper crop of fresh basil (our little plant that could has turned into a monster), Mrs. Winston decided to plan the party menu around the fragrant herb. She made a tasty appetizer with a lemon-basil dressing, put together a nice Caprese salad (our tomato plant is thriving), and created refreshing basil infused cocktails. And for dessert, basil olive oil cupcakes, which in spite of the odd sound ingredients were surprisingly delicious. The party was a huge success and everyone raved about the basil themed food and drink. It was a fun way to celebrate our flourishing garden and, since we had many of the ingredients on hand, the party didn’t break the bank.

The lesson today is simple: find a way to use what you have. It works when throwing a party and it works in marketing too. People will remember the party, not because I turned another year older, but because the theme was memorable. Lots of people have costume parties, but how many basil parties have you attended? You don’t have to spend a lot of money when marketing your business if you use the resources you have on hand. If your company has a surplus of goods, find away to turn the excess into success. You can donate the goods in the name of your business, throw a party or invent a new way to use an old product. So, think about what your company has to offer, or what you have a lot of in the storeroom and find a creative way to use what you already have to get the word out about your business. If my wife can create a whole party around one tiny little herb, think about how much you can do with the resources you have on hand. For example, we had a few hundred Zippo Grip It Twist pens (imprinted with my logo of course) lying around, so my wife topped the night off with parting gifts for all of our guests. I guarantee that when they use that pen, they will think of the fun, basil-rific evening spent at the Winston house.

Well, I’m off to the gym—getting older has motivated me to renew my membership—so I’ll leave you with this thought: “If you don’t use it, you lose it and if you use it, you’ll never lose.”

Sausagefest

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

What does an alligator and rattlesnake have in common? On the face of it, not much, alligators and rattlesnakes can both be dangerous and I wouldn’t want to cross paths with either of them, but other than being reptilian, that is where the similarities end. What they do have in common is that they both make pretty darn tasty sausage filling, a tasty fact I discovered on my recent visit to a gourmet sausage place in downtown Los Angeles. I don’t claim to be an expert and I don’t write restaurant reviews so you can take my opinion for what it’s worth. I do write about what’s on my mind, and for the past three days, all I can think about is rattlesnake and rabbit sausage topped with sweet peppers and spicy mustard.

My new client is a sausage aficionado and took me to his favorite place after a particularly successful meeting. Wurstküche, which means sausage kitchen in German, sells three things: gourmet sausages, French fries and good beer…which is enough to make the place a hit. We arrived at 1pm on a Friday to find a line fifteen people deep—I was surprised to see so many people lining up to eat encased meats, since LA seems to cater to vegetarian models and actresses who don’t eat anything more than lettuce and the occasion grape for dessert. After looking over the list of traditional sausages made with pork and turkey, I settled on rattlesnake and rabbit with twice-fried fries and a German beer. We took our number and headed for the dining area, which consisted of a bar on one side and large open space filled with long picnic style tables covered with butcher paper and benches, and found two spaces between a group of bankers enjoying lunch and two hipsters staring at their iphones.

I won’t give you a bite for bite description of the meal, but you should know that it was the finest sausage I have eaten outside of Germany. I even ordered a couple of brats to go so I could share them with the family. The whole experience was so memorable that I have told half a dozen friends and as many clients about the place and a few of them have made the journey to sausage Mecca for themselves. Which brings me to the marketing lesson of the day—word of mouth works. When you have a great concept and you execute it well, people will flock to you. They will stand in line for you. And, most importantly, they will tell their friends, family members and colleagues to do the same. So, before you plan your marketing strategy, make sure your product or service is rock solid, because when you have a great offering, your marketing plan will get a boost from word of mouth. That’s why, even though they don’t run ads, use direct mail or send email blasts, Wurstküche frequently has a line out the door.

Well, I’m off to pitch a potential new client an old marketing guru so I’ll leave you with one final thought. If, as Alan Patrick Herbert says, “A highbrow is the kind of person who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso,” then a marketer looks at a Picasso and thinks about how to sell it to the masses.


Mall Rats

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Devoted readers have probably noticed my short absence and for that I sincerely apologize. I hate to disappoint my fans and I hope you’ll forgive my recent lapse in posting. I have been on a mall tour with one of my top clients for the past few weeks and, in my travels, have discovered a disturbing phenomenon…shopping malls are the new parks. One mall we visited literally has a kiddy playground, complete with sand and a jungle gym, right in the center of the property. The grassy areas, which I had always assumed were for decoration, were all being used by mall “patrons” for picnicking, lounging and children running amok.

The event I was working on was housed in a temporary glass walled structure with wood floors and tempting stairs. The structure was placed smack dab in the middle of the grassy area and my client and I were shocked to discover that many of the parents view it as an extension of the playground and paid no mind as their children ran up and down the stairs, jumped off the deck and pounded their tiny fists against the glass walls.

I’m a parent myself and I like kids a lot, for a curmudgeon, but I was appalled at the wild behavior on display. My own children wouldn’t dare step out of line for fear of what their mother would do to them once they got back home. And I distinctly remember my own childhood forays into public when my mom would grip my arm as she grit her teeth and threatened to take me to the car if I didn’t shape up. I was so afraid of what terrible fate awaited me at the car that I never actually found out. But it seems that kids today have no such fear. They run wild—screaming, jumping off chairs, climbing scaffolding and generally causing trouble—all with no parental reproach. It’s not that their parents don’t see them misbehaving, they just don’t seem to care.

I don’t want to rant (although I fear it’s too late for that), but why are parents so afraid to say “no” to their kids? I cannot wrap my head around it—probably because my head is still pounding from the tension headaches I suffered form being around so many little monsters. Which brings me to today’s offering, the Pasteur pill case, perfect for holding enough ibuprofen or acetaminophen to cure the worst headache. It’s a great gift for clients too—and when you put your company logo on the top, they are sure to remember you for your ability to cure what ails them.

I hate to rant and run, but I’ve got to finish the last leg of my tour. Until next time, I leave you the words of Samuel Butler, “Parents are the last people on earth who ought to have children.”

Thai One On

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I was complaining about my sore neck to a friend of mine who promptly recommended I try Thai massage and insisted I see his favorite masseuse, Bee. Since I am a fan of Thai cooking, I assumed I’d enjoy a Thai massage and was looking forward to a relaxing hour. Those of you who have experienced Thai massage are probably giggling as you read this because you already know what I recently learned; Thai massage is about as relaxing as a root canal and at least as painful. My excitement about the inexpensive procedure (an hour only set me back forty dollars) waned after meeting the infamous Bee, a tiny rotund woman with a big smile and firm handshake. I am not a huge man by any stretch of the imagination, but I could not see how a woman who was barely five feet tall was going to have the strength to deliver an effective massage. She led me back to a row of “rooms” separated by only a thin curtain—not as private as I expected, but I soon learned that this is not a “lie down on a table in your birthday suit” type of massage. Bee tossed me a pair of loose shorts and instructed me to lie down on a thin matt on the floor.

What followed was some of the most intense pressure and directed pain I have ever experienced…and I have been married for over twenty years. Bee was far from a weak woman and proceeded to dig her hands, elbows, knees and feet into every part of my body. I think I may have blacked out when she stood on my legs for what seemed like an eternity. At some point, I found myself practicing breathing exercises I remembered from my wife’s Lamaze class and praying for the hour to end. The only thing that kept me from shrieking aloud was the knowledge that my neighbor was just on the other side of a curtain and I didn’t want to frighten him. I could hear him groaning in what I imagine was agony on par with my own as I heard his masseuse giggle and exclaim, “No pain, no gain.” A philosophy Bee clearly shared as evidenced by her stifled giggle as I felt her foot came to rest on my neck.

Don’t get me wrong, Thai massage is not completely devoid of pleasure—there is pleasant back, neck and foot rubbing, soothing music and warm scented oil—it’s just that the moments of bliss are punctuated by pain that can only described as exquisite. After the hour was up, I got dressed and was greeted at the door with a bottle of water and a candy and sent on my way. I was in a bit of a daze afterwards so it took me a while to notice that I felt great. My tension was gone and I could move my head without wincing—after a couple of days, I was pain free and as good as new. So, even though it was not what I expected, Bee’s massage was exactly what I needed. And you can bet I’ll be making another appointment.

Which brings me to today’s marketing lesson—if you give your clients what they need, rather than what they think they want, you’ll have a customer for life. I know Bee does. In honor of my newfound need for Bee’s special brand of healing, today’s offering is the 5-Point Massager. I doubt it will cure all that ails you, but it will work in a pinch. Until next time remember, “Make a consumer want you, and you make a sale; make them need you and you make a customer.”

Summer School

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Much to her chagrin, my daughter is attending summer school for the third year in a row. It’s not that she’s not intelligent, it’s just that being studious takes a backseat to being social and my eldest child tends to let her homework go undone a bit too often for her teacher’s liking. I wasn’t a stellar student myself so I am not one to come down too hard on her but my wife feels differently and so summer school has become part of our daughter’s high school experience. Fortunately we live within biking distance of the high school so I no longer have to listen to her complain about her lack of summer vacation on the ride to and from school. Instead, I get to listen to my son complain about his swimming lessons on the way to and from the community center—but that is another story.

The point is, my daughter came home from summer school a few days ago and announced that she wants to go to law school after college. Her mother was thrilled and, after getting over the disappointment of realizing she won’t be joining the Winston family business, I was too. After all, our litigious society will always need attorneys and heck; attorneys need branded mugs, personalized stationary and gift baskets, so she’ll at least be contributing to the family business. My wife was so excited she ordered her a personalized briefcase. It’s a really cool Dark Brown Leather/Twill Nylon Trolley Case with Exterior back zip pocket with ID window, secure luggage strap, interior zip pocket with padded laptop compartment, side strap handles, 37″ extending trolley handle and matching luggage tag. Unfortunately, before she could give it to her, our daughter announced she had decided she wants to be an actress instead. Since the bag is personalized and cannot be returned, Mrs. Winston is searching for a prospective giftee with the initials S.J.W.

The marketing lesson here is simple—before you put your name (or anyone else’s) on a gift or promotional product, make sure the gift is appropriate. It will save you a lot of money, time and aggravation. Well, I’m off to pick up my kid from swim practice—I think his coach is named Sam White, so I’ve got to find out his middle name. In the meantime, I leave you with the wise words of my good friend, Stuart H. Britt. “For a business not to advertise is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but no one else does.”

Smiley Face

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I recently read an amusing article about the city of Paris launching a smile campaign to induce tourism. Paris is often thought of by (American) tourists as snobby and unfriendly and has recently experienced a significant decline in tourism, due in part to the city’s unfriendly reputation. In attempt to change that negative image, the Paris tourist board decided to ask its citizens to help out and turn their frowns upside down and sport a smile instead of a snarl. Personally, I enjoy Paris and have never thought the city dwellers to be particularly unfriendly. In fact, I find their tendency to be curmudgeonly rather comforting and familiar. I like a city where even little kids sneer at you for mispronouncing Côtes du Rhône. Apparently I am alone in my enjoyment of a somewhat surly disposition as the tourist board is quite adamant in their belief that something as simple as a smile can help the city’s lagging economy.

Maybe they are right—after all smiles are a big a part of popular slogans like “Smile and the whole world smiles with you.” And who can forget the Coke campaign telling you to “Have a Coke and a smile.” People like smiles. They also like toast; which is why the Logo Toaster-Smile Face is the perfect brandable gift since it combines the popularity of the smile with a delicious and nutritious treat. Let your clients and prospects know you have a sense of whimsy by giving them a smile every morning. That way you will be with them at the beginning of every day.

I’m dashing off to a meeting with the Paris, Texas tourist board—I’ve got a rock solid idea for generating more tourism. In the meantime, do as W.C. Fields says and, “Start every day with a smile and get it over with.”

Clean and Clever

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Two words that describe me to a tee are clean and clever. Truth be told, there are probably a few more descriptors that fit (most of which I cannot print in mixed company) but for the sake of symmetry in today’s blog post, I am sticking with clean and clever. Although my cleverness is apparent, most of you probably don’t know that I am a closet neat freak. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t stay up at night cleaning toilets or scrubbing floors, but I am meticulous about my personal grooming. You won’t ever find an uncoiffed hair, untrimmed nose hair or trace of 5 o’clock shadow on this guru. My pants are always pressed, my collar starched and a crooked bow tie is cause for a mild panic attack. Even my pocket protector is perfectly centered in my vest pocket. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bragging—quite the opposite—my neat-nick behavior is a point of contention between me and the Mrs. She simply cannot grasp how someone so into good grooming can let the garage drown in clutter or the bed go unmade. I’ve tried to explain (in the cleverest possible manner) that my neat freakishness doesn’t extend much past my person but this seems to anger her more.

I don’t see how perfect personal grooming can be a bad habit, but since my wife bristles when I mention it, I try to avoid the subject altogether. That’s why I was so surprised to find the gift my beloved left for me this morning. We sometimes get each other “just because” gifts that we are only allowed to spend $5 or less on and are meant to show our appreciation for one another. Today I received the Aladdin Clean & Clever Water Bottle imprinted with the words, “To the cleanest and cleverest.” I was touched, and a little proud, that my wife did such a bang up job of picking the perfect promotional gift with the perfect message. I guess I’m not the only born marketer in the family. It just goes to show that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a big impression if you put a little thought into the right gift for the right person.

Well, I’m off to clean the garage, which proves I may not be the cleverest person in the house after all. Until next time, remember what my good friend Tom Hopkins says, “You are your greatest asset. Put your time, effort and money into training, grooming, and encouraging your greatest asset.”

Candy, Candy

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

For my money, there is no better gift than chocolate. It’s delicious, comforting and simply irresistible, which is precisely why Milk Chocolate Day was invented. The unofficial holiday falls on July 28th but why wait for a pretend holiday to get your chocolate fix. Any day (including today) is the right day to enjoy a bit of sweetness. Which reminds me of a funny story about the first time I gave Mrs. Winston chocolates. It was a hot summer day, early in our courtship, and I was late to pick her up for a dinner date. Tardiness is one of my wife’s pet peeves, so I was speeding and so focused on getting to her house, that I didn’t see the cop behind me. As he pulled me over, my mind raced to come up with a plausible excuse, but he took one look at the sweat on my brow, the flowers and candy box on the front seat next to me and chuckled. “What kind of candy is that?” he asked with a big grin. “Caramels.” “Caramels? Oh boy,” and he started writing on his pad. I braced for the ticket I knew was coming but instead he had written down the name of a local confectioner who specialized in fancy chocolates and handed it to me with a warning. “Women like chocolate son, don’t forget it.” Then he reached in, took the box of caramels and walked back to his car.

Mrs. Winston was a little angry at my being late but the flowers seemed to make up for it. The next day I made the trip to the confectioners and bought her best chocolate I have ever tasted. It seems that old cop was right and I never forgot his advice. To this day, whenever Mrs. Winston is mad at me, I head to the chocolatier and buy as much forgiveness my arms will hold.

So, in honor of Milk Chocolate Day, today’s offering is good old-fashioned Milk Chocolate Bars custom wrapped with a four 4-color process printed wrapper. The full color magazine quality printing it makes a gorgeous presentation and gift that is perfect for tradeshows, sales person leave behind or a new product introduction. The best part is, these tasty treats are very affordable, making them perfect recession busting promotional gift that will leave a very sweet taste in your customer’s mouth.

Well, I’ve got to go practice my speech for the upcoming Dental Floss Association meeting. If you know any good gum disease jokes, please send them my way. Remember, “Nine out of ten people like chocolate. The tenth person always lies.”

Snooze-O-Rama

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I’m not much of a nighttime sleeper—insomnia often keeps me up reading the dictionary and surfing the net until the wee hours—but I am a world champion napper. Nothing gives me more pleasure than lying down on the sofa in the late afternoon and taking a refreshing siesta. Now that summer is here, I have stepped up my napping to include outdoor snoozes on my hammock* (a Father’s Day gift) in the backyard. Nothing is better than kicking off my loafers, loosening my bow tie and reclining under the old oak tree while I review my latest manuscript or jot down blog ideas before drifting off to sleep and catching up on some much needed rest. I do some of my best thinking as the gentle breeze rocks the hammock back and forth and lulls me to sleep.

That is why I am pleased to inform you that July 22nd is “Hammock Day,” a day of relaxation that falls smack dab in the middle of the work week, making it the perfect time to play hooky and put your feet up. Okay, I realize that not everyone works at home or has the luxury to enjoy a mid-week holiday, but we can dream. That’s why I suggest gifting your hard working employees with the Lazy Swing Hammock emblazoned with the company logo. While it’s not the same as giving them a day off, it comes as close as company policy will allow.

All this writing about hammocks has made me sleepy so I’m going to jump in mine and take a quick nap to recharge. Remember the wise words of my late friend Sydney J. Harris, “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

The Grill Master General

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Summer, and barbeque season, is in full swing and I have been grilling like a mad man every weekend. I’ve grilled up steaks, chicken, hot dogs, brats, sausages, ribs, burgers, vegetables, and have even tried my hand at grilling dessert. Suffice it to say, I am the go to guy in the Winston household when you want something cooked on the grill. As such, I have scoured my brain (and the web) to come up with five hot tips for successful grilling this summer.

1. Safety first. It may seem like a no-brainer, but don’t grill in an enclosed area. Your garage is not the best place to cook up a mess of ribs. Use baking soda, rather than water, to control a grease fire, and be sure to keep a fire extinguisher, bucket of sand, or garden hose near by—just in case.

2. Safety second. Food safety is as important as fire safety—I learned that one the hard way after a rare piece of chicken found it’s way onto my plate. Check for proper doneness with an instant-read thermometer and use separate platters for cooked and raw foods. If you use a marinade as a sauce, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service says to either reserve some that hasn’t come in contact with raw foods, or to boil it first to destroy any bacteria.

3. Speaking of sauce, don’t make the rookie mistake of saucing too soon. If you brush on sauces at the beginning of cooking, chances are they will burn and taste less than good when the food is finally done. If you practice patience and wait until the last few minutes to apply sauces, you’ll get a nice glaze instead of a black, charred mess.

4. Give it some room. Leave a small, unheated space on the grill so you’ll have somewhere to move food that is cooking too fast.

5. Cleanliness is next to godliness. If you use cooking spray when grilling (before you start the fire), clean up will be much easier. I also clean my grill after every use—it’s easier to cut through the grime when the grill is still warm. If you allow the cooked bits to burn off the inside of your grill every time you use it, you shouldn’t have to work as hard at scrubbing the inside. Simply brush off baked-on grease with a wire grill brush. If you really want to go to town, use warm soapy water and a sponge or dishcloth after brushing.

So there you have it, not quite everything you need to know about grilling. The most important thing to have, besides a grill, is a complete set of tools. The Grill Master Barbeque Kit is complete set for barbequing—including a stainless steel grill brush, spatula, basting brush and tongs. Naturally it comes with one color imprint so you can blend grilling with branding—a winning combination.

Well, I’m off to the races—literally. My son’s summer camp is having a three-legged race and they asked me to MC. Remember, “If you grill it, they will come.”