Project Natal

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

It is painfully obvious to anyone who knows me, even slightly, that I am not a “gamer,” the moniker commonly used to identify those who spend much of their leisure time playing or learning about different video games. Actually, the word gamer historically refers to someone who plays role-playing and war games, and literally refers to those who play all types of games—even board games—so technically, since I am an avid Scrabble and Scramble player, I am a gamer. But I digress—one of the hazards of being a word nerd. The point is, I don’t really play video games. My son owns a few and I have tried to play with him to facilitate familial bonding, but it usually ends with my throwing down the controller and my son giggling at my ineptitude. I am sorry, but playing golf by holding a vibrating piece of plastic and pushing a button does not resemble smacking a ball in real life. Not even close. But it might…very soon.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Microsoft press event at E3 on Monday and saw something I could not believe—the prototype for a controllerless video game called “Project Natal.” It provides much of the same functionality as a Wii controller, but without having to hold on to the controller. According to the videos and live, on-stage, demo given by the sunglasses wearing Kudo Tsunoda, motional control allows your body to be the controller. Want to kick a ball in a game? Then make a kicking motion. Want to buzz in in a game show setting? Smack your fist into your hand. One video showed a kid scanning his skateboard in to the sensor and then playing a skating game with his own board. That means I could play virtual golf with my own clubs! As far as I can tell, it blew everyone away, myself included. Microsoft is not saying when Project Natal will become a reality, but if they are showing it off now, the actuality of it being in living rooms around the world cannot be far off.

The lesson here is pretty simple—when you have an amazing product or service, if what you offer is innovative, industry changing and exciting, marketing is simple. I realize that for most of us, it’s not easy to innovate on the same level of a giant like Microsoft and most products are not going to change the face of the industry. But thinking big is never wrong. So, even if what you have to offer is small potatoes, find away to make a big splash. For example, when looking for promotional products to support your brand, think big…literally. Try something different like a Giant Logo Fortune Cookie. Imagine a fortune cookie the size of a football, hand dipped in luscious White Chocolate with a personalized fortune inside and a 100% edible image on the outside. This cookie is guaranteed to make a big impression! True, it’s probably not going to change the world, but it might just make enough of an impact to change your bottom line.

Project Natal isn’t a reality yet, so I am going to practice my swing—on a real golf course. Until next time, remember, “You’ve got to think big, to win big.”

First Class

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As a frequent traveler, I enjoy the perks of priority status, like being able to choose premium seats online, by-passing the extra long security lines, boarding first and of course, not having to pay extra for my checked luggage. If that makes me a travel snob, so be it, but I prefer to think of myself as a travel grouch and those little extras make the whole process tolerable. But as often as I fly, I have never had the pleasure of flying first class—a fact that adds to my grumpiness—and I don’t hang out in fancy airport lounges either…until today. I recently received a free one-day pass for my airline’s airport lounge and was looking forward to seeing what all the fuss (and $50 per day) was about. So, with my pass in hand, I opened the once verboten door, checked in and set out to enjoy all the free wi-fi, complimentary coffee, tea, water, juice and fresh fruit I could consume in the forty five minutes before my cross country flight. The first thing I noticed when I stepped inside was how quiet it was compared to the noisy terminal. Of course, there were plenty of very important people yapping on mobile phones about this and that very important deal, bar flies chatting up the busy bartender and the click clack of fingers on keyboards, but the relative peace was downright pleasant. I didn’t want to miss anything, so I grabbed a coffee, stuffed an apple in my briefcase and surveyed my new domain. I discovered a large TV lounge with oversized, comfy looking chairs, a spacious seating area with booths, nice tables and unhurried looking waiters to serve your every whim, or at least bring eggs. For those who crave silence, there was a cell free zone called the quiet room and a kid’s fun room so that even parents could enjoy a bit of quiet time.

After my tour, I settled down to a bowl of Cheerios and a second cup of joe (free coffee tastes better), and pulled out my laptop so I could catch up on my emails. The quiet, comfortable surroundings were so conducive to work; I didn’t want to leave. After all, even though I had scored an exit row, I was not especially looking forward to a five-hour flight in a cramped seat. I arrived a the gate, boarding pass in hand, ready to flaunt my priority access and cut the line, when my name was called. I had been upgraded to first class! I hadn’t requested an upgrade so I was quite surprised, and rather pleased, to learn that I was finally going to fly with the beautiful people, or at least those who could afford a first class ticket.

Having arrived safely at my destination, always the first priority, I have to admit that the best part of flying first class was watching the other passengers walk past me down the aisle. Oh, and the warm chocolate chip cookie was quite nice. The point is, in case you thought I’d forgotten to have one, is that first class accommodations are nice, but if you are very lucky, you won’t have to pay top dollar to enjoy them. Give your clients a taste of the good life and they’ll remember you when it comes to doing first class business. Gifts like the Essentials Luxury Travel Set will make your best customers feel pampered, even if they have to travel coach. Well, I’ve got to go check in to my room now—it wasn’t ready when I arrived so they are giving me a suite to make up for it. I could get used to this! Until next time, remember, “Flying first class is good, but flying free is

Let The Games Begin

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Memorial Day is just around the corner, and with the arrival of the first summer holiday comes the promise of long days at the pool, trips to the shore and a flurry of barbeques, beach parties and picnics. Being somewhat of a grill master, my favorite part of summer is spending time outside and flaunting my grill skills. My wife enjoys it too—she says she loves my cooking, but I know she is at least as excited about getting me out of the house and out of her hair. Truth be told, my role as master griller saves me from having to chitchat with the in-laws who seem to find ample time for summer visits. So, everybody wins.

And winning, dear readers, is what it is all about: winning business and winning customers. I find that summer time is the ideal time to inject a little fun into your promotional marketing campaign. While folios and computer accessories are handy, they aren’t what you would call light-hearted gifts and when your target audience is focused on fun in the sun, you should be too. Kick off the start of the season by giving gifts that your customers will want to take out of the office and into their after work life. Fun, summery gifts like Flying Disks or Beachy Beach Balls, imprinted with your company logo, send the right message at the right time. By remembering that your clients are looking forward to summer as much as you are, you will be in their minds when they are working…and playing. And in the marketing business, being remembered is the name of the game.
I’ve got to get outside, the grill awaits! Until next time, remember, “If you are aren’t in their minds, you’re out.”

Unhappy Campers

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I read an article recently that stated people are generally happier during good economic times than they are in bad, which struck me as remarkably obvious. Does it really take a PhD to tell me that turning my frown upside down is a whole lot easier if I have a few dollars in my pocket? Not that money buys happiness, per se, but it does at least eliminate or reduce the fear of not having enough when times are tough. I think we all know that. But what we might not know is how to create and retain happiness for ourselves amidst the fears and uncertainties brought on by recession or even depression. How does one stay upbeat when the economy is down?

As my great grandma Winston used to say, “Keep it simple stupid!” She was not an overly kind person, but she was extremely wise. The simple truth is, even when money is tight, we all have a lot to be grateful for and simple gratitude, for what we DO have, is a great way to gain perspective. I know I am grateful for my wife, my kids and my collection of promotional products dating back to 1959. As a marketer, I can’t afford not to be upbeat. After all, my business is built on other businesses remaining profitable in the future. So to make sure I stay on the happiness track, I keep a gratitude journal and write down five things I am grateful for every night before I go to bed. If you are a regular reader, you might be surprised to learn that a curmudgeon like me would do something as Pollyannaish as keep a gratitude journal; but the thing is, it actually works.

So, if you are feeling a little down in the dumps, try a little gratitude. It goes a long way. Encourage your employees, friends and customers to ride out the storm by remembering the good things in the Spectra Journal Book, imprinted with your company logo of course. Hey, who says feeling good can’t be branded?

I’ve got to go prepare for a long week with the in-laws; I am grateful it’s not a month. Until next time, remember the wise words of Buddha who said, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”

R.I.P.

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

April 25th was a sad day indeed and although I wouldn’t want Mrs. Winston to know it, I still haven’t quite recovered from the news that the much beloved Bea Arthur has passed on. She was eight-six years young and, I am not ashamed to admit, I had quite the boyhood crush on the old gal. I don’t know if it was her deep voice, her liberal outlook or her razor sharp wit, but I really had a thing for Maude. I remember when she appeared in “All in the Family” as Archie’s perfect foil and never missed an episode of “Maude.” Even then, she was ahead of her time, playing a thrice divorced single woman with an actual opinion. I often fantasized that my future wife would be just like her. I was a little disappointed when she signed on to do the “Golden Girls” as my fantasy was somewhat dashed by geriatric nature of the show. Fortunately, those old gals still had a lot of fire in them so my image of Bea remained intact. I did watch that show in secret however, since I had grown up enough to realize that others might view my Bea Arthur fantasy as a little weird.

She had a long, glorious career that included stage and screen, winning a Tony and two Emmys. Bea was not only funny and smart; the woman could act and was never afraid to poke fun at herself. I know her friends and family will miss her, but she will also be missed by me—her biggest fan.

I am too broken up to include a marketing message, but instead leave you with not one, but two quotes that bring a smile through the tears. Dr. Arthur Harmon says to Maude, [Looking at her black eye] “If the ‘Our Gang’ comedies ever come back, you could be the dog.” Not one to be out quipped, she retorts, “And if Mister Ed ever comes back, there’d be a part for you. I’m not talking about the part that talks.” And as the ever-sarcastic Dorothy, “You’ll have to excuse my mother. She suffered a slight stroke a few years ago which rendered her totally annoying.”
Rest in peace dear Bea. You will always hold a special place in my heart.

Rhyme and Meter

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

T. S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month.” And Edna St. Vincent Millay asked, “To what purpose, April, do you return again?” I bring this up, not to show off my knowledge of great poets of days past, but because April is National Poetry Month and had been since 1996, but I am willing to bet you didn’t know that. It seems the Academy of American Poets, who are responsible for making April the official month to read, write, celebrate and enjoy poetry, could use a little help in the marketing department. I must remember to send them a note. My point is, since the infamous April showers are keeping many of us indoors and the economy is keeping us away movies and pricey dinners, now is the perfect time to explore the poet lurking in the dark recesses of our minds. And being something of a wordsmith myself, I thought I’d try my hand at something a bit loftier than my usual prose.

April is waning
Taxes are paining
Kids are complaining
Wife is blaming
Arthritis is flaming

That’s as far as I’ve gotten but I think I may be on to something. Yeats I am not, but I do know that a few words stitched on a cap or imprinted on an Aluminum Alpine Bottle can make the difference between being a distant memory and company they remember. You don’t have to have a way with words to market your business; all you have to do is, “put your name on it.” Well, I’m off to dust off my old copy of Emily Dickenson—turns out Mrs. Winston swoons over verses.

Craigslist

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

When I grow bored of reading the dictionary and playing Scrabble online, I turn to craigslist to help me while away the early morning hours of sleeplessness. If you are one of the few who don’t already know about craigslist, or CL as regular users refer to the high-tech version of the classified ads, a guy named Craig started it in 1993 as a series of emails sent to friends about local events in the San Francisco Bay Area. It soon became an online service and has since expanded to include most major cities in the U.S. and beyond. Not only can you buy, barter and sell practically anything from real estate to a pile of dirt on CL, you can also find a hiking buddy, meet a mate or a date, locate the perfect apartment or simply rant about your annoying roommate, traffic or the guy in the next cubicle who clips his nails during lunch. The romantic in me loves “Missed Connections,” where shy coffee drinkers try to connect with the cute barista whom they are certain made eye contact with them over a double espresso earlier that day. It is fun to imagine an old couple telling their wide eyed grandchildren about a guy named Craig who reunited them after a lost cell phone number threatened to part them forever, but the curmudgeon in me knows that it’s unlikely the buffed man in the red Nikes a reticent librarian saw poring over organic produce at the farmers market on Saturday will ever actually read the posting begging him to stop by the Main Branch and check out a book on pesticide-free tomatoes she is holding for him behind the counter…just in case.

Since I found my missed connection long ago, I use CL for more practical endeavors, like searching for rare promotional products. Just last week I discovered a lanyard said to be worn by Ronald Reagan when he attended a Screen Actors Guild meeting in the 1930’s. One of my favorite finds was a button purportedly worn by during the women’s suffrage movement by Susan B. Anthony. Even though you can find almost anything on CL, you probably want to stay away from the vintage stuff when looking for promotional items on which to affix your new logo. Sure finding cheap goods on CL is tempting, but you can still save a bundle on brand new magnets, lanyards and key chains at Rush Imprint.

Well, I’m looking for a T-shirt with a Mr. Bubble logo to complete my collection of soap related promotional tees and I have to post ads in every city in North America. Until next time, remember, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and if it’s not in the city dump, you’ll probably find it on craigslist.”

Scrabble Day

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I don’t know how I missed it for so many years, but I recently learned that April 13th is Scrabble Day, a day that celebrates the popular board game that was created in 1938 by Alfred Mosher Butts. Hasbro’s Scrabble is currently sold in 121 countries, in 29 different language versions. To date, one hundred and fifty million sets have been sold worldwide, and sets are found in one out of every three American homes. My home has four—including one travel version. I also play on online at pogo.com, lexulous.com and facebook—you might say I’m a bit of a word addict. I blame my grandmother. She was a crossword addict and taught me to play Scrabble as soon as I could spell. The woman was ruthless and never let me win a game, not once. I was eighteen before I finally won and I have been winning ever since. Call me cruel, but I played with Grandma Winston on her death bead and beat her by fifty points. It was the last game she ever played. The thing is, the old bird wouldn’t have it any other way. Once, when I had beaten her in ten straight games, I tried to let her win, but she wouldn’t have it. She rapped my knuckles with her cane and said she’d rather break her hip than win the easy way. She was tough, but taught me well. I miss the old girl, but remember her fondly every time I lay a tile on a Scrabble board.

Scrabble Day is a perfect day to remember that playing games doesn’t have to be a bad thing and, especially in business, sometimes it’s the only way to get ahead—as long as you play fair. Show your traveling sales team that you care about their mental acuity by gifting them with a Magnetic Chess/Checkers Travel set. Naturally, you’ll want to imprint your logo directly on the case to make it a gift with legs. That way, mixing business travel and pleasure is seamless.

Well, I’ve got to dust off my boards, the kids will be home soon and we have decided to remember grandma by playing a Scrabble tournament in her honor. As my Grandma Winston used to say, “A word a day keeps dullness away.”

Death and Taxes

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I woke up in a cold sweat last night, certain that the grim reaper had descended upon me to ferry me away to the white light. It’s a dream I have every year, just before April 15th. I’ve spoken with my analyst about the dream and learned, to no great surprise, that the grim reaper is not death at all, but rather symbolizes the headless, blood-thirsty organization know as the Internal Revenue Service. Like many Americans, I do not look forward to April 15th, since I usually find myself speeding toward the airport mail drop at 11:50PM, hoping I make the 12AM tax filing deadline. I know I shouldn’t procrastinate; yet I do…every year. It’s a Winston family tradition. This year, I am hoping to break with tradition and get my taxes to the post office by April 14th. My analyst says taking baby steps toward a difficult goal is the best way to ensure success. Since I know I am not the only American shivering in his figurative boots from now until April 15th, I thought I’d share a few tax tips to help fellow procrastinators take a baby step as well. I’m no expert; so make sure you check with a certified tax preparer to make sure these tips will work for you.

Did you know?

1. While you can write off charitable deductions (if you itemize), you cannot write off contributions to individuals, nor can you deduct the value of your time spent volunteering or services you provided the group at no cost.

2. If you moved to start a new job, or to seek work in a new city, you may be able to deduct the cost of your moving expenses from your income. If you’ve been looking for a job in the same line of work you’re currently in, many of your expenses like phone calls, the costs of preparing and copying your resume, and career counseling are deductible.

3. You don’t need to report worker’s compensation, child support payments, military allowances, veteran’s benefits, welfare benefits and cash rebates from a car purchase—they are not considered taxable income.

Since your clients are probably looking forward to tax time as much as you are, show them you understand by giving them a gift that helps ease the pain…fashionably. The iCalc-Calculator has a circular keypad designed after the ipod and comes in pink, blue, black or silver. Simply add your logo and you have the perfect promotional product to ease your client’s into tax time and help them remember you when they receive a big refund.

I’m off to play golf—it’s the only thing I do that is more frustrating than preparing my tax return. Remember, “People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women.”

Peep, Peep!

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My kids are under the impression that Easter Sunday is the day the Easter Bunny makes his annual visit with baskets full of Cadbury Crème Eggs, chocolate Easter Bunnies and PEEPS®. They wake up at the crack of dawn (even the teenager pretends to be a believer) to hunt for treat filled plastic eggs that my wife has hidden all over the house before they dress in their Sunday best and head off to church. I love hearing my six-year-old squeal with delight as he fishes a pink egg out of the bottom of the laundry hamper. So, in honor of the Easter bunny, I am devoting today’s column to my kids favorite treat, marshmallow PEEPS®.

Did you know?

• The amount of PEEPS® chicks and bunnies eaten at Easter could more than circle the Earth’s circumference.
• PEEPS® are so popular, they have been the best-selling non-chocolate Easter candy for the last ten years. (I have single handedly purchased over 367 packages)
• Each PEEPS® chick contains 0 grams of fat and only 32 calories. (My wife will be happy to learn that)
• PEEPS® chicks and bunnies come in five colors—yellow being the most popular.
• PEEPS® were introduced to the Nation in 1958 by Pravin Pant Sr., a Nepali immigrant.
• PEEPS® are made from marshmallow, sugar, gelatin, and carnauba wax.
• PEEPS® cannot be dissolved in pure water…not even hot water. (I found that out when my eldest took a bath with hers)
• PEEPS® were invented by a candy company called, Rodda, best known for its jellybeans.
• Rodda was purchased by Just Born who mechanized the marshmallow forming process and made Just Born the world’s largest manufacturer of novelty marshmallow treats.
• My six year-old eats an average of thirty-three PEEPS® each and every Easter.

For those of you who enjoy more grown-up treats, order a Business Card Box With Gourmet Fills now and you’ll receive them in time to treat your clients to a sweet something with an important message.

Well, I’ve got to go help Mrs. Winston fill Easter baskets. Until next time, as my wife always says, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”