Picture Imperfect

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I just heard from my editor that my book is going paperback and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Of course, like a lot of good news, there is a bit of a “but” that came with it. Apparently part of the reason my book took so long to sell enough copies to make it to a second printing is because my book jacket photo isn’t “cool” enough. Unbeknownst to me, the Publishing Company organized a few focus groups and discovered that my picture projected an image that didn’t cause books to fly off the shelves. Some of the comments said that I appeared “stuffy,” snobbish,” “crabby” and “nebbish.” Potential book buyers were turned off by my pipe smoking, disliked the vest I was wearing and said I looked like a grouch. Harrumph! Personally, I don’t see it, but I can’t argue with market research—as much as I’d like to. Mrs. Winston found the whole thing hysterically funny and wasn’t able to look at me without bursting into gales of laughter for a full three days.

My editor made an appointment with an edgy young photographer who promised to make me look as cool and hip as possible—under the circumstances. She has a lot of “interesting” ideas that include shooting in an alley, having me sit in an armchair with a graffiti backdrop and shooting me atop a Harley. I’m not sure how any of these will work but I’m willing to give it a try. Stodgy? Me? I’ll show them.

It just goes to show you that even the most experienced of us have room to expand our horizons. That’s why today’s offering is about expansion. The Northwest Expandable Saddle Bag contains a deluxe organizer for phones, business accessories, and files and a detachable, adjustable shoulder strap. Naturally, it has a place for your company’s logo so whoever receives it will think of you every time they use it.

As my great grandma was fond of saying, “If you ain’t learning, you’re dying.” Eloquent, she was not…but she made her point. Well, I’m off to pose for my new headshot. Wish me luck!

Summer Olypmics

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Every year, the whole Winston family looks forward to watching the drama of the Olympic Games unfold. It’s exciting to watch athletes go for the gold for the first time, or perhaps take their last shot at being the best in the world. Adding to the excitement this year was the assurance of an over the top opening ceremony that promised to deliver high impact drama—and China delivered big time in a four-hour ceremony. We sat down as family, popcorn in hand, to watch the pageantry and were treated to a spectacular performance by over 16,000 performers and a fireworks display that was second to none. I particularly loved the lighting of the Olympic flame by gymnast Li Ning. Let’s face it, summer TV is pretty bleak, so even if you’re not a sports fan, the Olympics offers human drama on a global level. It’s real reality TV with people who actually worked hard for the opportunity.

In the spirit of the Olympiad, now is the perfect time to celebrate the award winners on your team. Fostering a sense of teamwork, belonging and pride in being the best is important in every type of business. Sure your sales teams loves the monetary benefits that come with being a top earner, but being recognized as a leader is often just as important. Everyone from the CFO to the mailroom attendant deserves to be recognized for performance excellence and Rush Imprint has a variety of awards designed to do just that. Whether you have a gala awards ceremony or more of an awards spoof, ala The Office’s famous, “Dundies,” Rush Imprint has what you need to make the night, and award recipient feel special. If you take winning seriously, the Dramatis Award with Lighted Base is the perfect way to recognize a significant achievement, this award features an optically perfect piece of crystal mounted on a lighted base which produces an intriguing array of reflections. The crystal’s facets form elongated diamond shapes making them well suited for etching your company’s logo. If you pride yourself on being a fun boss with a healthy sense of humor, the Hand Clapper is a handy way to give your best employees a hand for their hard work. Either way, you (and you valued employees) win.

Well, I’m off to accept my award for cleaning the garage—Mrs. Winston promised a “special” reward for finishing in under a day and I intend to collect. Until next time, remember, “Winning isn’t everything…except when it is.”

Games People Play

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I sat next to a young gentleman who was on his way home from E3. For those of you not in the gaming industry, E3 is an annual trade show for the computer and video games industry presented by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). It is used by many video game developers to show off their upcoming games and game-related hardware. I’m what they call “old school,” so my idea of a video game is Tetris, Super Mario Brothers and Ms. Pac-Man, and I only had a passing interest in those during a few lonely years in my 20’s. The video games of today exist in a whole new world, literally. Game developers have created virtual worlds in which real people are transformed into imaginary heroes and villains with super human strength and special powers. I am more of a word nerd than a gamer geek, so video games aren’t really my style; but I do like to keep abreast of what’s “new,” so I enjoyed chatting with the sharp young developer with whom I shared the coveted exit row. He was more than happy to educate me about the ins and outs of an industry that changes more often than my wife’s mind. He explained in great detail how games are developed, which game Publisher is top dog (EA), and of course who their market is. He was a developer, not a marketing guy, so I was surprised at his acumen. He was certainly dialed in to branding, as it’s a big part of the gaming game.

Our conversation started me thinking about how marketing is relevant in every industry—every business uses it and is subject to its rules. Every single company in every type of industry from clothing manufacturing to packaged foods to video games must develop a brand and market their product or service. There are no exceptions—at least none that I am aware of. So, even though I get killed off in the first moments of Halo 3 and the kid next to me probably hasn’t read a book about something other than programming in the better part of a decade, we have more in common than not. I just love how marketing brings the world together. So the lesson for today is, “Everyone is a teacher and every product or service has a market.”

In honor of gamers and geeks everywhere, today’s featured item is Magnetic Backgammon packaged in a CD-style jewel case with all playing pieces. Sure, it’s primitive by today’s game standards, but it’s fun and challenging nonetheless. Let your clients enjoy a little light distraction on you. They’ll remember you when it counts—even if they aren’t hardcore gamers.

I’m off to play Guitar Hero with my son. Remember, “Life is the one game you can’t afford to lose.”

Ode to the Lanyard

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I returned from a conference in Atlanta to discover that my wife had thrown out my lanyard collection. Before you begin mentally flogging her for such an obvious and unspeakable transgression, her mistake (though horrific) was not malicious. In fact, it was quite accidental and she felt, and continues to feel, absolutely terrible—not as heartsick as I of course, but at least I know she suffers from the same type of guilt pangs I have felt after more than a few forgotten anniversaries. And yes, I do realize that a forgotten anniversary is not nearly as serious an offense as tossing a treasured collection (that I have been building for the better part of forty years), but she is only human and I will find it in my heart to forgive her…after I wallow in the memories of my mislaid anthology of lanyards.

I had amassed over 472 different lanyards—each one unique and reminiscent of a moment in time that, like my lost lanyards, can never be recaptured. I had all kinds—red, green, rainbow colored, imprinted, knitted, cotton, silk, leather and classic black; lanyards made of 1/8” cord lived side by side with those made of knitted cotton. I had lanyards that lit up, relieved stress and played music. I even had the very first lanyard I ever wore when I, at the tender age of five, attended my very first marketing meeting with my father. It was way too long for my tiny frame and my dad had to tie knots in it to keep it from hanging to my knees. My mother says I wore it for a week straight when I returned and wouldn’t take it off, even for my bath. My favorite was the one Grandpa Winston, God rest his soul, wore at the last meeting he ever attended. It was navy blue and made of 1/2′” thick braided cotton, with a break-away cord—it was spectacular. He gave it to me just before he passed…not only was it a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, it was a symbol of our shared love of marketing. That one lanyard meant more to me than the other 471 in my collection.

So, it is with mixed feelings of pride, longing and reverence that I dedicate this column to the memory of my dear Grandpa Winston, a true marketing genius, and say goodbye to my beloved lanyard collection. May they both rest in peace.

Ride, Winston, Ride

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Last month my family spent a total of $969.45 on…wait for it…gasoline. We aren’t ostentatious—we don’t drive Hummers or giant SUVs; we don’t commute hundreds of miles a day, we observe the speed limit, have our oil changed on a regular basis and make sure our tire pressure is properly maintained. Yet, unbelievably, my wife, daughter and I collectively spend almost the amount of my mortgage payment (I bought at the right time) on fuel for our three, non gas-guzzling automobiles. I work at home, so my driving is limited to business meetings and trips to the airport. Mrs. Winston pulls car pool duty and my daughter commutes to school and two jobs—one of which she holds down just to pay for gas. All in all, we don’t drive a lot yet we, like all Americans, are feeling the pinch.

I am sick and tired of spending more money on gas than I spend on food, entertainment, and clothing combined. That’s why, after doing the math on the Solar Desk Calculator I received at the Sunny Side Up Convention last fall, I decided enough is enough and purchased bikes for the whole Winston clan. Never one to miss a branding opportunity, I had all of our brand new bicycles, safety helmets and bike locks imprinted with, “Team Winston” and my company logo. Not only will we save a bundle on gas while marketing my expanding business, the whole thing is a tax write off. Sometimes I amaze myself with my business acumen. My daughter isn’t overly thrilled about the logo on her bright pink helmet, but she is happy to save her paycheck for more important things like lip gloss and skinny mocha lattes. Mrs. Winston still drives her weekly carpool shift but she has taken a real shine to two-wheeling, and I’ve lost 7.2 pounds! Not only am I saving money while promoting Winston Enterprises, I’m getting exercise and getting into shaped in the process.

The lesson today is simple—if you put your mind to it, you can turn any situation, good or bad, into a marketing opportunity. Like I always say, “ABP…Always Be Promoting.” It may not be original, but it works. Well, I’m off to train for the Century Ride—sure, it’s a physical challenge but it’s also 100 miles of pure promotion!

Out of Gas

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

It seems that all anyone can talk about this summer is the high price of gas. Watching the prices rise to unprecedented and heretofore unimaginable highs is about as much fun as a trip to the dentist sans Novocain, but it has become somewhat of a national past time. Most people see this state of affairs as the glass being half empty, but I like to look for the upside in every situation, and this one is no exception. For example, the price of fuel caused my mother-in-law to rethink her annual cross-country visit. I thank my lucky stars everyday that the woman decided on a Caddy. See what I mean?

Politicians know how to look for the upside better than anyone. Remember McCain’s proposed gas tax holiday? Many thought it was a hair-brained idea meant to win votes, rather than actually help the economy. I don’t like to get too political (there are other blogs for that) but I do think his idea could have been helped by better promotion. Rush Imprint has a huge variety of handcrafted polyurethane foam stress balls. The 55 Gallon Drum, shaped like an oil drum, would have been a fantastic way to promote his plan in congress. I can just imagine all those politicians sitting around, debating issues while squeezing their stress away. I think stress balls are always a fun gift and right now is an ideal time to promote any business with the promise of eliminating or reducing stress.

Some of you may have a little trouble finding the silver lining and my advice is, well to be honest it’s my Great Grandmother Winston’s advice but it’s still relevant, “If you can’t find the good in a bad situation, make your own.” It’s time to start getting creative about promoting your business, so stop whining and start thinking. Do you have an on-line store? How about finding away to remind customers about the benefits of buying while sitting at their computer? Not only is faster, more efficient and, let’s face it, fun, but buying online saves you a fortune in gas. Try adding an incentive, and promoting your business, by giving away shopping totes with every major purchase. A Give-Away Tote imprinted with your company logo is always a winning promotion, especially now that many stores are charging for plastic bags.

Look, there are a multitude of ways to market your company, even when the economy is in a down turn, you just have think a little more creatively. So, the lesson for today is simple, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade…or Limoncello…or lemon bars…or lemon cupcakes. You get the idea.

Fair Play

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I spent all day with my six year old at the county fair. It was great fun and we both ended up with the stomach aches to prove it. I haven’t eaten that many honey roasted peanuts, ice cream sandwiches and corn dogs since, well, since last year. We rode every ride three times, pet piglets, baby goats and sheep and even participated in a root beer drinking contest. My son lost to a chubby eight year old who was visiting from Iowa. He cried for a minute but forgot the trauma of losing as soon as he took his first pony ride. He loved the tilt-a-whirl so much he threw up his slurpee as soon as he got off for the fifth time. Fortunately his mother had the foresight to pack an extra shirt for each of us. I guess the third kid’s a charm.

My favorite part, aside from spending quality time with my boy, was seeing all the grass roots marketing going on around me. The fair provides ample opportunity to market almost any product or service because it attracts such a wide audience. During the day, families fill the sawdust-covered grounds and at night, the teens and young people flock to the fairgrounds to ride the rides, listen to music and have fun without their parents looking over their shoulders. I was please to see a plethora of fledgling marketers passing out all kinds of branded swag. I came home with a bag full of refrigerator magnets and pens promoting everything from pet sitters to plumbers. One enterprising young future marketing genius realized that the only thing better than a magnet or pen, is a Magnetic Pen. I just love a kid who thinks outside the box. Nothing warms my heart more than a fistful of imprinted give-always, except maybe a fistful of honey roasted peanuts—I love those things. All in all, it was a perfect day filled with three of my favorite things–family, food and marketing.

Speaking of food, I’ve got to go prepare for my neighborhood’s annual chili cook off. I’ve got a recipe that can’t miss. Remember, “Marketing is like eating, everybody loves to eat, but not everyone knows how to cook.”

Dream a Little Dream

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I recently dreamt that I was a celebrated bullfighter named Pablo Federico Prometheus Escobeche living in Pamplona. The entire dream was in Spanish, which I don’t speak, so I’m not entirely sure what happened but from what I could piece together, I was on a caliente streak. I was a local hero, taking on bulls the size of small buildings as if they were little more than oversized puppies. I wore a hand made costume with a blood red cape made from the finest silk. I had a long mustache that I was in the habit of twirling while drinking Rioja and smoking imported cigars. I dated a different girl every night of the week and never paid for a meal, as I was a friend to the best restaurateurs in the city. I was living a charmed life and loving every moment…until I was hastily and rather rudely awakened by my rather angry wife. Apparently, I was whispering names like Lola, Perla, Alicia and Gabriella in my sleep. I tried to explain that I was only dreaming but I still spent the rest of the night in the guest room. That’s the last time I watch Telemundo before bedtime.

Truth be told, I’m not sure what the marketing lesson is here because the whole dream was in Spanish, but I do know one thing. If you ever dream that you’re dating a woman other than your beloved you’d better dream that that woman has the same name as your wife or you’ll end up in the doghouse—and on the couch. Oh, and don’t bother trying to explain that a dream is not real and that it doesn’t mean anything and of course you still love her as much as the day you were married and yes, you are still attracted to her and no, you don’t want to be with anyone else. Rational explanations will get you nowhere. I have found that a demonstration of affection is a much better way to dig oneself out of a marital hole. This particular dream cost me a case of Love Custom Chocolates imprinted with my wife’s name. I gave her one a day, every day until I was invited back into the bedroom. Works every time.

I’m off to the annual Marketing Mavens Meet & Greet in Manitoba. Remember, when love is not enough, buy chocolate.

Improve your IQ and Help the Needy at The Same Time?

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that I am a word aficionado and am always on the look out for a new word game to tickle my brain. This week, I found two! It’s like Christmas, my birthday and my anniversary all rolled into one. In an effort to strengthen the filial bond with my eldest daughter, I decided to open a facebook account so I could stay in touch (spy on her) while she is away at tennis camp this summer. For those of you who don’t know, either because you don’t have kids, have an important job or are too dignified, facebook is one of the social networking sites that all the kids are on these days. They trade pictures, comments, check out music and cyber flirt but one of the best features on the site is access to games. You can play everything from poker to scrabble against fellow facebookers and I have to tell you, it’s addicting. Last night I played Scramble for three straight hours. Before you raise your eyebrows at me, let me assure you that, while fun, playing word games is also good for your brain—a type of mental callesthetics if you will. I played with a particularly tough teen from Duluth, each of us vying for first place. I am happy report that my way with words helped me put a very brainy thirteen year old in her place.

Earlier in the week, I was introduced to a website called, “Free Rice” by a long time reader who goes by the name of “Wordsworth”. It’s a sort of do-gooder site for vocabulary fanatics and is a great way to increase your brain mass while helping the less fortunate. You play by identifying, or in some cases guessing, the correct definition of a particular word out of four possible answers. If you get one wrong, the computer gives you the right answer and retests you later in the game. As you play, the site’s sponsors donate grains of rice so you feed others while feeding your brain. I donated 1240 grains of rice just this morning. So not only do I feel good about myself, I’m smarter too.

And speaking of being smart, nothing says more about high intellect (and class and style) than a really great pen. I don’t mean a garden variety pen you can find at your local office supply store, I’m talking about a quality writing instrument that lets the world know you care about words more than the next guy. Today’s featured product is such a writing implement, the Century II Medalist Selectip Rolling Ball Pen is fashioned using a striking combination of polished chrome and 23 karat gold plate and the roller ball tip guarantees a smooth writing experience. Add your logo and you have the prefect promotional piece for your most polished clients.

I’ve got to go prepare for a rematch with “Duluth Dynamo, ” and if you want to play, my facebook handle is “Mad Marketing Man.” Remember, the English language is like a diamond, polish it and it sparkles, otherwise it’s just coal.”

Marketing is for Everyone

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

So, you don’t think your business is big enough to worry about marketing? Well, as my great granddad used to say, “Marketing, like a good cigar, is for everyone.” His example may not be relevant, but he was right about marketing. Whether your business is big or small, growing or around forever, it will benefit from a good marketing campaign—and a few well-placed promotional products.

For instance, my daughter works as a babysitter and is so popular, that she has to turn down business. Is it because she is great with kids? Does she know better bedtime stories than the other sitters? Or is it because she can stay up past 11:00pm? While all of those things are true, the real reason she is in demand is simple—refrigerator magnets. She created hundreds of them with the slogan, “Put Your Kids in My Care” and her phone began ringing off the hook. One of the neighborhood boys started a lawn care business three years ago but wasn’t successful until he started giving out branded key chains that promised a well trimmed lawn and a smile. The campaign worked and he now cuts every lawn in the neighborhood, including mine. I can’t resist a good promotional piece!

My point is simple, even a child knows that a clever promotion product with a simple message pays off. So, if you don’t have a marketing plan, create one. Start big, start small, but start now. In the meantime, remember, “A day without marketing is like a hot summer day without cold lemonade; you end up thirsty.”