After reading all the rosy reports about post-Thanksgiving sales this past “Black Friday”…
Along with the rush of online buying excitement yesterday, it what’s been dubbed “Cyber Monday”…
Why do I think we should all feel… torn?
First let me catch up on some of the details.
A Boom or a Time Bomb?
You’ve heard, I’m sure, the report that the U.S. is not just “in a recession”… but that it turns out, say those who know best (or claim to), we’ve been in one since December 2007.
Recessions are hard to call, except in hindsight. But, they say, this one isn’t something in the rearview mirror at all.
Rather, like the fog on the bridge that’s so thick you’re tempted to cut your driving speed by half — lest you careen into the chasm below — we’re smack in the middle of this. And not likely to roll out of it until as late as 2011.
If you’re worried… as a marketer, an investor, or a family bread-winner… maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Then again, we’re now hearing lots of dazzling stories about retail excitement that shouldn’t have been. Strapped homeowners, credit card holders, and the masses of potentially unemployed… rolled out last Friday and shopped their little hearts out.
Department store traffic — Macy’s, Bloomingdales, and the like — was up 10% over last year. Throngs of shoppers stormed Best Buy shops to pick up tech toys. Toys R Us sold lots of kiddie toys. Old Navy saw clothing sales bump higher over sales at the same time in 2007.
Online sales were just as swift, with buyers jamming the The Gap’s website so heavily it slowed to a crawl. The J.Crew site got so many orders, it had to shut down temporarily.
Frenzied traffic slowed the pages over at Staples.com too. Traffic and sales on Buy.com were running at double-digit percentages above last year’s numbers, by yesterday afternoon.
Here’s the thing…
On the one hand, you can credit all this to the ingenuity of marketers who understand what it can take sometimes to get an order. On the other hand, what it took to get the orders doesn’t bode that well for the short-term of selling and marketing.
Because what it took was, in a word, discounts.
Heavy, heavy ones.
When Discounts Run Too Deep
Nearly 85% of retailers offered either big price breaks or giveaways — or both — this past weekend, says the Economist. And traffic on discount “coupon” websites shot up 33%. Meanwhile, the Sears Outlet store, says BusinessWeek, had to give away a free washer with every $700 dryer purchased.
And those scarves Old Navy sold at a record clip?
They were priced at only $1 a piece.
Across the board, sales of things like clothing shot up. But not at the specialty shops that focused most on clothing sales. Rather, the discount and outlet stores racked up most of the numbers. Along with related websites.
That reflects the kinds of products buyers are targeting this year too. The sales on big ticket items are way down. On average, customers spent about a half to a third of what they spent this same weekend in 2007.
In other words, the marketers have gotten the people in the door. And they’re making high volume. But they won’t necessarily make money at the same time. The discounts and promotions will eat into the take at the register.
Now, what’s all this mean?
The “Need-to-Know” Outlook For 2009
For a marketer, it means it’s time to stay on your toes… or get on them, if you’re not already… and start thinking more carefully about offers and how to write them.
Whether you’re writing copy that sells your own product or a clients, start studying across markets to see how they word pricing, what kinds of breaks or deals they make, what kinds of guarantees they write, and so on.
The best place to start, of course, is with the kinds of products that compete directly with what your copy tries to sell. But some of the best ideas can come from a completely different kind of market altogether.
For instance, this past Friday, my wife and I were on our way out of a large chain supermarket kind of store in Paris (think Wal-mart, but with French accents and escargot in the freezer section). Near the door they had a display rack of “experience” gift boxes.
These are really just well-packaged gift cards dedicated to things you don’t normally see sold in supermarkets… or in any kind of store, for that matter…
Bungee jumping and parachuting, weekends at a country chateau, local wine-tastings and gourmet meals, cooking classes. In each gift box, you would find the card that showed you had a credit due for the amount stamped on the box. Plus you’d find a directory showing the place nearest your location (national to France) where you could cash in your gift.
That gave me an idea for gift offers and discount giveaways that I couldn’t wait to get home and send to some colleagues in the publishing business. By the time I’d pounded out my idea, it was a lot different from what I’d seen in the boxes.
But still worth testing.
Keep your eyes open as you read the papers, walk through shops, read ads on subways or hear them play on the car radio. Online, you can try going to those same “coupon” sites I mentioned earlier. One of the heavily visited ones, Black Friday Ads, is still up and running even though Black Friday is water under the bridge. Another coupon and offer-research site that’s open year round is the popular Retail Me Not website. Or you could try Fat Wallet.
The idea is to go there not with a credit card in hand, but a pen and notepad. Write down what strikes you. You just might find a way to state your offer copy in a way that could make all the difference over the almost guaranteed rough times ahead.
Here’s another thing you should take away from this: there are times it’s especially important for a copywriter to know more than just the details of the product he or she is selling or the customer he’s selling to. And now is one of those times.
What you need to know, but might not know already, is something about the overall business strategy that’s directing what you’re about to try to do as you write your next sales piece. That is, what’s the aim of the business owner (and that includes you, if you’re your own marketing and sales team)?
Are they trying to pump up total revenues? Are they looking to give great deals to loyal customers to keep them on board? Or are they trying to get as many new customers in the door as possible?
Each strategy is a little different. And each is going to change the way you write your pitch. It’s also going to radically change the products — and clients — you choose to work with.
In fact, even after the worst of the market froth is well behind us, getting to the level where you’re part of the business strategy conversation is the next important step once you’ve honed your chops as a copywriter.
In good times as well as bad.
Will there ever be good times again? Of course.
If you count the tumult of ’92, the lull of ’94, the scare of ’97, the Internet bust of 2000-2001, and the gutter-gouging market of 2002… this latest staggering market blow is just one more of those moments when it feels like nothing will ever go right again. Granted, by comparison to all the rest, it’s a doozy.
But this too shall pass.
One good thing, by the way — and maybe this is why I’m really torn — is that over-indebted consumers seem to want to think before they buy again. And is that really such a bad thing?
Sure, we all love a capitalistic feeding frenzy. But if nothing else, hard times keep marketers honest. And nimble. To survive, you’ve got to offer a good product. With a good offer. And do it all without breaking your own bank.
Meanwhile, it’s not just lip service — or shouldn’t be — to say that good marketers want what’s best for their customers. And that includes watching them do what’s best for themselves. Which, right now for many of them, is to buy nothing at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still write copy that’s engineered to sell. And laden with as much promise and ambition as ever. I hope you will too. But hey, should we go through a few months where we have to work harder than usual to make it all happen, let’s try not to take it personally… shall we?
Republished by Blog Post Promoter