Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As my Nana Winston used to say, “Keep it simple, Stupid!” The old gal was not a charming conversationalist, but she did know how to get her point across. Come to think of it, she wasn’t the soft hearted Nana a lot of folks were fortunate to grow up with—for example, she was fond of using the word, “Dummy!” when referring to one of us kids doing something, well, dumb. She never let me win me at Scrabble, made me help with the dishes and her idea of a bedtime story was reading my brother and I excerpts from the true crime novels she loved so much. But, I digress. The point is, she was a smart lady and, when it came to getting things done the right way, she knew what she was doing. Nana realized that overly fussy throw pillows and fancy doilies were a waste and believed that apple pie was a better dessert than a pomegranate soufflé.

The same applies to your promotional marketing plan. I’m not one to call names, so I’ll just say that sometimes simplicity is the smartest thing you can do for your company. Don’t over think your promotional plan; sometimes the best course of action is right there in front of you. We are smack dab in the middle of football season, so why not develop a promotion around America’s favorite sport? There are many things you can do to capitalize on the spirit of the season—sponsor a local peewee football team and parents and fans right in your neighborhood will see your name every game day. Or, you can plan a fun give-away around football. Show clients, employees and prospective customers that you can play with the big boys by gifting them with a game of Football Paddleball. If you have a storefront, consider creating a game day promotion for customers who enter your store . You can give away Colossal Football Twist Pens imprinted with your company logo to the first 100 people through the door. Offering an incentive will bring clients in, and offering a great take-away that includes your company’s logo will ensure that your name will go out into the world when they leave.

Tom Brady may be out for the season but you have plenty of opportunities to score for your company. So, get out there and play to win. I’ve got to go help my son with his Columbus Day school project—we’re creating buttons imprinted with Christopher’s picture to hand out to the class. Remember, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me—at least not for very long.”

Dollars and Sense

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I went to my favorite coffee shop the other day and ran into my stockbroker, gulping a triple espresso and looking like he hadn’t slept for days. I reluctantly asked how he was doing and he launched into a tale of woe, the likes of which I haven’t heard since Nana told us stories about living through the Great Depression. The guy was a wreck. I reminded him that historically, the market corrects itself and that even though the current landscape was bleak, it would get better. He shook his head, smiled weakly and ordered an extra large piece of chocolate walnut cake to go. Apparently, the pressure was getting to him and he had taken up stress eating.

He’s definitely not alone—times are uncertain and many of us are feeling the strain of the shaky economy. While it’s no fun to worry and wonder, stressing out will not help the situation. In fact stress, defined as “a mentally or emotionally disruptive or upsetting condition occurring in response to adverse external influences and capable of affecting physical health, usually characterized by increased heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, muscular tension, irritability, and depression,” can be harmful to our mental health, as well as our physical health. I find yoga and plain old deep breathing helps quell my own anxiety but nothing calms my nerves more than a good belly laugh.

Sure it’s a cliché, but laughter really is powerful medicine and, although I’m not a medical doctor, I recommend you indulge as frequently as possible. In fact, think about injecting a little levity into your marketing campaign. Whether you are in the financial services or any other industry, your clients could use a chuckle. Rush Imprint offers a wide variety of Money Stress Relievers that will bring a much-needed smile to your customer’s face. Add your company logo and a clever message, and you will instantly be associated with relieving stress…rather than causing it. You know what they say, “if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

Well, I’m off for a double session with my yogi—his business is booming—so I’ll leave you with the wise words of Tom Rataj. “When stress is at it’s highest, just know it can only go down.”

Customer Service

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Everybody knows the importance of providing good customer service, but not everybody provides it. In fact, just last week I experienced the type of customer service that made me want to reach across the counter and strangle a person. But, being the reasonable, levelheaded type, I kept my hands in my pocket and let my closed wallet do the talking. That’s thing about bad customer service—unless you are a cable company, treating your customers poorly will eventually hit you where it hurts. Since you can find almost anything on the Internet, even companies who used to be the only game in town have had to step up their client relations or lose business. Frankly, that’s the way it should be. Competition makes everyone better—even when large conglomerates can undercut prices, smaller companies can offer a superior level of customer service to clients who appreciate being appreciated.

But what about the folks at your company who are responsible for providing great service to your customers? They need love too. That’s why, in 1992 the U.S. Congress proclaimed Customer Service Week a nationally recognized event, devoted to recognizing the importance of customer service and honoring the people on the front lines of the service revolution. So, while we all know what good customer service is and is not, you are wise to also remember the people who help you provide it. Since Customer Service Week begins October 6th, you still have just enough time to acknowledge the VIPs in your organization. Be a sport and get them something to let them know you value their hard work. The Clear Slant-Top Paperweight can be engraved with your company logo and the recipient’s name and accomplishment, and is an affordable way to show your appreciation for your whole team. For the superstars of your organization, go the extra mile and give them special recognition with the Medium Shooting Star. It’s made of made of 24% lead crystal and comes encased in it’s own gift box. The bottom line is, everyone likes to be acknowledged for doing a good job and giving well-deserved kudos will ultimately serve you well.

Well, I’m off to buy my assistant a well deserved gift and I can promise you two things: 1) I’ll put my name on it and 2) I won’t buy it at the sorry excuse for a store I visited last week. Until next time, I leave you with wise the words of Voltaire, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

It’s My Month

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I walked in the front door after my morning constitutional to find a giant bouquet of flowers—and my wife standing behind them, arms crossed. I froze in my tracks as I quickly went through a mental checklist of all the important dates I may have missed. Our anniversary had passed, my wife’s birthday was months away and Mother’s Day was a distant memory. I was in the clear! Or was I? “They’re for you!” were the first words out of Mrs. Winston’s mouth and her accusatory tone told me she wasn’t pleased. Flowers for me? Who on earth could they be from? I was stumped. Blushing like a schoolgirl, I opened the card and laughed out loud when I saw that the bouquet was from my Publisher. He sent them to me in honor of “Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month.” I was touched by his kind gesture but utterly thrilled that my wife of over 20 years thought I still had enough game to receive flowers from another woman.

I told her exactly that as I ushered her into the bedroom for a “nap.” I’ll have to call my Publisher to thank him—not for the flowers, but for the little bout of jealousy they inspired in my still beautiful as ever wife. Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of work done today but I did learn an important lesson. A little jealously goes a long way. Also, I am allergic to lilies, but that’s beside the point.

I encourage you to incorporate a little jealousy into your marketing plan. How? That’s your job—I’m just an idea man. Besides, the month’s not over yet and I plan to take it easy. If you are really stuck, take a few moments to peruse Rush Imprint’s impressive collection of Cross Pens. They will make your corporate logo shine and are sure to inspire a little healthy jealousy.

Incidentally, September is also “Marriage Health Month” so Mrs. Winston signed us up for a couple’s clay throwing class meant to encourage pair bonding. I tried to explain that a clay throwing class was in direct conflict with “Be Kind to Editors and Writers” month but my pleas fell on deaf ears. Remember, “marriage is sometimes hard but at the end of the day you end up throwing clay.”

Vested Interest

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Regular readers and fans know that I am a vest man. Sure it’s old fashioned, but it’s my signature look and it works for me. I have over 387 vests—more than enough to wear one every day of the year with a few left over. I have caught more than my share of flack for my vest obsession, especially from my fashion obsessed teen-aged daughter who calls my look, “old man chic.” So, imagine my delighted surprise when my little Princess sauntered in to the family room wearing…a vest! I thought I was dreaming but after pinching myself several times, I discovered that she was indeed taking a cue from dear old Dad and sporting a very sharp pin striped vest. Naturally I took the opportunity to bond with my eldest child and complimented her choice of attire. My normally charming girl looked at me, looked at my vest, looked down at her vest and back at me…and promptly ran to room to change.

After my failed attempt at filial bonding, I decided to examine the roots of my vest interest. I think I got my first vest at the age of five—at least that is what my mother tells me. She showed me a picture of the five year old me dressed up in a red vest, blue blazer and polka dotted bow tie for my first day of kindergarten. That explains a lot. All through school, significant events were marked by the acquisition of a new vest. I wore a striped vest for my second place finish in my third grade spelling bee, a plaid vest the year I became class treasurer and a black velvet vest the night of my first school dance. To be honest, my little trip down memory lane didn’t yield much fruit of understanding for why I have such a penchant for vests, but it does explain all the shiners and fat lips I had as a kid. Children can be so cruel.

Not surprisingly, today’s offering, in honor of my daughter, is a Women’s Vantek Microfiber Vest made of microfiber fleece, and featuring a stand-up collar, full-zip front, front and back princess seams with on-seam front zipper pockets. It comes in several colors, including pink, and like all promotional items Rush Imprint offers, it can be imprinted with your company logo. It’s the perfect fall gift for fashion forward female clients who need a little something to keep them warm as the weather begins to get cooler, but not yet cold.

I’m off to prepare for my speech in honor of National Dog Week. I’m the official MC and honorary top dog at this year’s parade. Until next time remember, “If the vest fits, you’re still in pretty good shape.”

Culinary Adventures

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My wife and I decided to spice up our culinary lives, so we went on a little adventure last weekend. We thought it would be fun to pick a cuisine that neither of us had tried before and pick the best restaurant in which to try it. After much research on chowhound (the website for foodies everywhere), we settled on The Golden Deli—a Vietnamese joint reported to have the best Bún this side of Hanoi. We arrived at noon to discover a packed house and a twenty-minute wait—a very good sign—so we browsed the neighboring shops while we tried to ignore our rumbling stomachs. The store next door was jammed with Chinese chatchkis and we had fun browsing the racks of necklaces, prayer beads and carved animals. I was actually very inspired and came up with an innovative promotional idea based on a laughing pig. I can’t say more now, but I have a feeling it’s going to be big.

At last our number was called and we sat down at a small table for two. After browsing the long, and overwhelming, menu we decided to order the Bún (vermicelli noodles, fish sauce, vegetables and shrimp paste), since we had read so many rave reviews. I was a little worried about the shrimp paste, but the dish was delicious. We loved our meal and I was pleased to find it wasn’t as spicy as I, and my ulcer, had anticipated. The waiter even taught us a few words in his native language. It was fun to get out of our comfort zone for an afternoon and try something new. Not only did we enjoy a great meal, I was inspired to create a new promotional product. Definitely a winning day!

The lesson here is simple; in marketing, as in life, it’s good to shake things up, do things a little differently and go out on a limb. It doesn’t have to be huge—like revamping your entire brand or scrapping your marketing plan and starting over. But you can try on offbeat, unexpected way to market your services. Sometimes taking a small risk can pay off in a big way. For example, I know a personal trainer who sent chocolates imprinted with her name and the message, “Eat this and I’ll help you work it off” to every member of her gym. It paid off with 5 new clients in less than a week. I also know a pest control specialist who sent an envelope filled with rubber cockroaches to potential customers. The message said, “If you don’t want them to move in, call Pete’s Pest Control.” Risky? Sure, but it was effective…and memorable.

The point is, sometimes you have to try something new, and a little out there, to get results. Rush Imprint doesn’t carry rubber cockroaches, but they have plenty of whimsical items that will help you promote your company in a fun, interesting and effective way.

Well, I’m late for dinner—Mrs. Winston was so inspired by our meal that she decided to try her hand at cooking Vietnamese cuisine. Wish me luck. Until next time, remember, “Every day is an adventure…especially when your wife tries a new recipe.”

Dog Days

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

It had been close to two weeks since the “animals,” my wife’s affectionate name for our children, had gone back to school. The house was quiet, eerily quiet actually, and Mrs. Winston’s smiles of relief hade turned to sighs of boredom or perhaps even loneliness. I admit that I don’t always have my finger on the pulse of my beloved’s emotions, but I knew she was missing…something. As a concerned spouse, I felt I had to act, so I brought home a dog. Now before you think I am a complete idiot, let me assure you that I didn’t go out and buy a puppy—I learned my lesson the last time—instead, I agreed to foster a dog until a suitable owner could be found. I thought this was the perfect solution to my wife’s malaise. I picked up Buster, a slightly hyper German shepherd / Collie mix, from the shelter and headed to Petco to load up on doggy accessories. Buster was pretty amped up after our shopping trip so I took him to the doggy park to play and run off some of his boundless energy before heading home for a bath so he’d be all ready to surprise the Missus.

Unfortunately, I was the one in for a surprise. I came home to find my wife in the middle of a late afternoon poker game with five other empty nesters and Buster proceeded to greet each and every one of them with a big wet kiss. One look at my wife’s face told me I had made a big mistake. This was worse than the time I brought home a 21-Function blender for Valentine’s Day. Buster’s exuberence broke up the game, and before I could grab the mutt and head out, Mrs. W gave both of us a piece of her mind. She calmed slightly once I explained Buster’s temporary status, but I was glad I didn’t purchase a doghouse at Petco—otherwise I am quite sure I’d have been sleeping in it. Needless to say, I had misinterpreted my wife’s sighs. She was most certainly not looking for a furry companion to shed all over her new couch and track mud on the carpet. So, after a week, Buster was gone. Don’t worry, Mrs. Winston is not heartless—he didn’t go back to the pound. A lovely family with a huge backyard and old furniture adopted him.

The moral of the story is obvious; when you are giving a gift, think about what the recipient would like to have, rather than what you would like to give. As it turns out, Mrs. Winston wanted a birthday gift of the sparkly nature…not another responsibility. When you are thinking about promotional gifts—think about your customer’s wants and needs and give them a gift they can really use. That way, when you put your name on it—they actually see it and remember you. Rush Imprint has oodles of practical gifts that your clients are sure to love—like the Men’s District Tee. This fashionable t-shirt combines modern style with a classic look. The fitted cut and modern styling will make this t-shirt a wardrobe staple. And for your female customers, the Ladies Short Sleeve District Tee should do the trick. A t-shirt is a safe bet and if you choose one that fits well, you won’t find yourself in the doghouse with your clients.

Well, I’m off to practice my talk for show and tell at my son’s school. I promised not to embarrass him so I’ve really got to nail the magic tricks I’ve been working on. Remember, if it looks like a dog, barks like a dog and smells like a dog—do a DNA test just to make sure…because it just might be a coyote.

Bright and Early

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I have been battling insomnia for years, which accounts for my encyclopedic knowledge of the plethora of ‘must have’ items sold on late night television, my expansive vocabulary (I often read the dictionary when sleep eludes me), and my renowned morning grumpiness. I am not a morning person. Sunlight streaming through the curtains feels like shards of glass piercing my retinas, the sound of birds chirping is akin to finger nails on a chalkboard and when my feet hit the cold floor, it sends an artic chill up my spine that can only be cured by a giant steaming cup o’ joe. So when I was asked to speak at a pharmaceutical sales meeting at the unearthly hour of 7AM, I was a bit, shall we say, hesitant. I am usually deep in slumber at that hour so the thought of standing on a stage in a chilly ballroom speaking to 800 type-A sales reps was rather unsettling. But when I found out my youngest was going to need braces and my daughter’s impending college scholarship wasn’t going to cover living expenses, I decided to let my good business sense win over my desire for more shut eye and accepted the gig.

Let’s face it, money talks—and sometimes you have to have the conversation at 7AM. It’s just the way it goes. Unfortunately the conversation with money can get ugly—especially in a dodgy economy. Companies are cutting back and oftentimes those of us in the marketing game find ourselves on a budget. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a small fortune to get your message across. Rush Imprint offers a multitude of promotional items that are low in price but deliver in a big way. There is no need to let a limited budget limit your creativity and you certainly don’t want to pull back when it comes to pushing your brand. The lesson is simple: when money talks, listen but don’t let it talk you out of promoting your business.

Well, I’m off to prepare my keynote for the “early show.” Remember, “money isn’t everything but it helps pay the rent…and your kid’s braces.” Now get out there and put your name on it!

Time For Change

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My wife woke up in a foul mood today and, as I am sure most married man can attest to, that makes for a rough morning—for everyone. When Mrs. Winston is crabby, I try and stay out of her way. Unfortunately this morning, I found myself to be the object of her considerable displeasure. She arrived home late last night form the neighborhood block party committee meeting and, unbeknownst to me, spend the night sleepless and fuming. Apparently our new neighbor, Mrs. “call me Gail” Chelsey read my book cover to cover and fancied herself a bit of a marketing maven. You see, my wife has chaired the planning committee for the past five years—until last night when Gail won the nomination due to heavy campaigning. Not only did she paper the neighborhood with flyers, she left voicemail messages and gave out homemade campaign cookies imprinted with the message, “Vote for Gail.” Simple…and very effective. I would never admit it to Mrs. Winston, but I was pleased as punch to hear that my advice worked like a charm. I managed to hide my smile behind the morning paper, which is a good thing since Sunday is waffle day and our waffle iron is pretty hefty.

Having been married for well over a decade, I learned long ago that this was not a “teaching moment.” Instead, I listened to my wife vent her frustrations, berate the usurper and generally rant about the unfair turn of events until she finally realized on her own that she could beat Gail at her own game. After all, Gail might have read the book, but she slept in the same bed with the man who wrote it.

She began campaigning for next year’s nomination straight away and searched Rush Imprint for a timely gift that would last all year. Thanks to my wife, today’s lesson is simple. Just because you have a long standing client, loyal customers and a big share of the market, doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. It’s important to continue providing excellent service, a great product and NSM (Never Stop Marketing). Otherwise you might find your own personal Gail standing ready to move in on your territory.

Until next time, remember the words of my father, “If you don’t use it, you might just lose it.”

Back to School Blues

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As the day my kids return to school grows closer, I can see my wife literally changing before my eyes. She smiles more, snaps less and is generally happier. I’d like to think she is appreciating the time she has left to spend all day every day with three kids, but I know the truth. She can’t wait for them to go back to school and get out of her hair. I can’t really blame her. I often shut the door to my home office just as the chorus of “I’m bored,” “There’s nothing to do!” or “Why can’t I play my Xbox?” begins. Don’t get me wrong, our children aren’t shut-ins—our daughter has a part time job, the youngest went to swim camp and our middle boy went to computer camp. But those activities only last so long. The rest of the time, they bug us for rides to the mall, hog the TiVo and make my wife’s life a little more challenging. So, now that September is here, Mrs. Winston is excited about getting her house back…and I’m happy to regain control of the television.

Of course, there are some drawbacks. This year is my daughter’s last in high school and next year she will go away to college, leaving our nest just a bit emptier. The real big change is that our “baby” graduated kindergarten and will officially enter the first grade in a brand new school with new teachers and new friends and he’s a bit stressed. I know from all your letters and emails that many of you are experiencing the same type of transition, so I thought I would share some tips I found to help make it a bit easier (for you and your child).

1. Be enthusiastic about the big change. If you are excited your child will be, too.

2. Prepare. If possible, visit the new setting with your child. Introduce your child to the new teacher in advance.

3. Arrange a play date with another child from the new school so your child will see a familiar face when he or she walks in.

4. Start daily routines that will add to continuity. Let your child become involved with packing lunch or laying out clothes.
a) We bought a Lunch Pak Plus imprinted with our son’s name to start the process and symbolize a new beginning.

5. Put aside extra time, particularly on the first day, for chatting and commuting together. But remember not to prolong the good-bye. If the child whines or clings, staying will only make it harder. Say good-bye and then leave.

I hope these few tips will help make your child’s first day of school a fun one to remember. And speaking of remembering, as my Mom used to say to us kids on our first day of school, “Get out of my hair before I give you something to cry about!” Mom wasn’t sentimental, but she meant well.