Louise Curtis is the owner of Lollypotz, a hamper business offering a wide range of gifts for all manner of occasion and type of person.
Louise has been in business since 1999; that’s 20 years. The interesting thing about that is that, when you look at a hamper business, it doesn’t have low barriers to entry and it is very easy for competitors to browse other’s sites and copy product offerings and even price them lower.
That’s an important point and really does go to underline the abilities of Louise and her success in growing her business including being either a finalist or winner in various categories of the Telstra Business Awards, over numerous years, including being named as the winner in the Business Owner category of the 2013 Telstra ACT Business Women’s Awards.
As part of the service, I have had this episode transcribed. Transcribing, proofing, and editing a podcast episode is A LOT of work. That’s why I use a service called REV who provide professional freelance transcriptionists who are vetted for quality. While they offer a 99% accuracy guarantee, I do not proof-read their work extensively. Instead, I simply copy and paste below and, as such, please note that this is not a verbatim transcript of the episode and I have trimmed things like the intro, close, and mid-show ad.
Daniel: If someone had upset you, and they wanted to smooth things over, what sort oft hings would they need to put in a gift basket for you?
Louise: For me, for it to be successful to me would have to have a good quality bottle of champagne and chocolate.
Daniel: Just those two things?
Louise: Just those two things, not the [inaudible 00:00:12].
Daniel: Very good. Okay. Let’s jump into this series of questions. Louise, what unique elements of your business or industry even as a whole really need to be taken into account when executing new marketing?
Louise: I think that where do we want to send the geeks? Who do we want to tie that track clients. Whilst we operate out of Canberra, we send to 60% of our business out of Canberra. What we’ve established over time is that we don’t really want customers. All customers are good, but we don’t really want customers in North Queensland or [NWA or fab 00:00:53] Australia because we can’t make any money on our orders going to those states because of the cost of freight. What we have done is really targeted our marketing on the East Coast of Australia, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, where we’re actually positioned very well to be able to send parcels overnight to all those areas. Looking at our big picture of where we map it to, we only market on the East Coast and we target our digital marketing only to those areas.
Daniel: So focusing on the East Coast of Australia, you’ve got a number of marketing tactics that you execute now and very successfully. But in the past, has there been a piece of marketing that you’ve tried, that you’ve executed that you clearly thought was going to be successful or hoped it was going to be successful but it just didn’t work?
Louise: There’s been a few things that haven’t worked over time. I’ve invested significantly in them and they’ve failed. Probably the two things that come to mind, mainstream newspapers. For example, the Canberra Times here in Canberra has never been able to deliver any results. The other one that I’ve really not seen success in is where we have gone to other internet sites that have sold a space on their page. A new site, for example, in Canberra and that we may have invested money to have our banners scrolling across the page, the digital page. That has not worked for us and I’ve found that we’ve had more traffic organically through our side than what we would have ever driven through those other sites. Those things haven’t worked well for us.
Nugget: Marketing Nugget.
Daniel: What Louise is talking about there is what we call display advertising. It’s no wonder Louise hasn’t had success with it because traditionally, it doesn’t perform well. On average, the overall click-through rate for display advertising like that is just 0.05%. For perspective, the click-through rate for Facebook ads ranges from 0.5 to 1.6 so display ads, banners and tiles on websites only achieved click-through rates of between 3% and 10% of what Facebook can deliver you.
Daniel: Instead, if a website looks attractive because they have lots of traffic that is your exact target audience, then ask to use their database. If they’re doing their job well, they will be working really hard to convert their visitors onto their database so that they can contact them directly as such. Maybe utilizing their ADMs is a better play for you. However, with any advertising, the question always is, can this channel help me reach my target audience easier and/or more cheaply than the next channel or how I can do it myself?
Daniel: Do you think that’s a reflection on the fact that the top of product that you sell to people comes to people’s front of mind and they need to do something about it around significant dates, like birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, retirements, those sorts of things, and that their first action is to jump online and search? They’re not really carrying around brand awareness in their head and trying to remember ads that they’ve seen in print publications or on a random website six months ago.
Louise: Yes. I think one of the key things to my business, and it’s now easy for me to say, it wouldn’t have been easy for me to say 20 years ago, but I’ve been in business for 20 years. We have an enormous amount of repeat business and having been in business in a town like Canberra where we’ve only got less than half a million people. We are a well-known brand in Canberra. It is far easier once you’ve got some longevity and some runs on the board because you’re not front of mind for people. They are not thinking about you day in, day out. But when they’re thinking I need to send somebody something, you’re often the first port of call because they’ve already used you before or they know that you’ve been around for a long time.
Daniel: Interestingly, I always tell a lot of people that trust in that word of mouth is really a result of doing a great job the first couple of times that they’ve used you. As you mentioned, you’re well-known, you have longevity and you’ve got a great reputation. You’ve obviously built a very successful business and marketing’s played its part in that. You’ve probably got a lot of tactics that you rely on, but what’s been your most successful marketing tactic? The one that you just can’t do without.
Louise: Okay. There’s two things that I have done over the period, I guess, on and off for the last 15 years. I couldn’t afford it when I first started out. When I first started, it was very much word of mouth, database, business where I was just getting orders from corporate. I wasn’t really hitting the right town market. But in the last 15 years, there’s two things that I’ve done. One is I’ve invested in radio advertising, which I have done basically one year on, one year off. I found that has always given us, I guess what you suggested earlier, you have front of mind, people still know you’re around. I haven’t found that I’ve needed to continually have ads running day in, day out. But having that brand awareness of ads just I guess coming in and out of people’s mindset over a longer period means that we’re just letting consumers know that we’re still here. So, radio has worked very well for me in Canberra.
Louise: The other thing that’s worked for me across Australia is when I’ve invested heavily in SEO. In 2012, I made a significant investment into SEO. It is fair to say that even today, I am still getting the benefit of that investment. I haven’t invested in any SEO, for example, for the last two to three years, but I know that I’m getting benefit from what I did and what I spent all those years ago. It’s very important, I guess, for a online business to make that investment. But, I also understand that a lot of people don’t want to make the investment because it’s a very long lag time. It’s often six months before you can see any results. People generally want instant gratification and they want to spend their money on SEO and see immediate results. It just doesn’t happen.
Louise: When I did it, we’ve got so much business that we couldn’t cope. We actually pulled it because we pulled that continual investment because we just couldn’t cope with the volume of work we had. But, it was a slow burn and it did take six to eight months for it to kick in. But when it kicked in, it was just unbelievable.
Nugget: Attention, attention. Marketing Nugget.
Daniel: When people ask me what they should be doing with their marketing, I often ask, do you need sales right now and maybe next month because the business desperately needs income? If so, you have to put all your money into advertising. But if you want to build a more sustainable, diversified and less of that hand to mouth approach, you do need to put some time and money into longer game marketing like SEO and content marketing and nurturing your database just like Louise has with her SEO and the email, which you heard a little snippet of at the start of the show. But, you’re going to hear more about Louise’s approach to email later in the show.
Daniel: Your business and the products that you offer people, you’ve got lots of competitors. Some are probably good and you respect them. Some of them are just dodgy dealers and just the baskets of full of not great stuff, but sometimes there’s consumers on the other end of a computer we can’t tell the quality of the product necessarily. What do you find difficult about marketing a business like that?
Louise: Well, I don’t find anything particularly difficult about. I think one of the things that’s very important when you’ve got an online business is the quality of your photos. I’ve had so many people try and copy my business. Generally, the people who are trying to copy my business have really crappy websites with really crappy photos they’ve taken themselves. One of the most important things I can say about anybody selling any product online is the quality of your photos have to be incredible. That speaks volumes as to what the end result will be. If you’re prepared to invest in good quality photos, you are prepared to invest in good quality products. That is why I honestly feel about any online business. If they got crappy photos, then it’s going to be a crappy result at the end.
Daniel: I think that’s some outstanding advice. Louise, business owners like you have lots of balls to juggle when it comes to getting things done. It’s a lot of stuff that goes on to make a business run successfully. But in the cold hard light of day, we all have to prioritize because we have limited budgets, time and skills. How much of a priority do you place on marketing compared to other areas of your business?
Louise: I probably don’t place as much now as what I did when I first started. There’s a number of reasons for that. I think when you first start a business, you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and you’re spending all your energy on driving business, being in business for 20 years, one of the things I see, you’re holding all the balls in the air, you’re managing so much. But, you also do lose a bit of that excitement and it becomes a very much a job and it’s very hard to maintain big finance if for the innovation and for the marketing and for driving new ideas. I probably don’t spend as much time on it now is what I did. But that’s also because I haven’t needed to because I’ve got that continual business and it’s something that I’m very fortunate to have that I’ve got a very strong client base of what customers who have been with me for that whole 20 years.
Louise: It’s not something that I’m not losing any sleep over marketing. I’m not, I mean it’s a nice position to be in, but many days I come in and I’m trying my hands in the air because I’ve got too many orders. I know that’s a drain for a lot of people. But it’s about, I think, the foundation is, or what I call the foundation using your business and that’s the first five years. If you do everything right in the first five years, then you will be right for life. I did everything right in the first five years. As a result, people walk into my shop every day and say, “Oh, God. How long have you been here? I think I haven’t been here for 10 years and still here you are.” I made a gift and that’s the thing, that longevity has enabled me to take my foot off the pedal, so to speak.
Louise: In terms of marketing, I don’t need to sit here and think, “Oh, God. I’ve got a market, I’ve got a market, I’ve got a market.” That’s a nice position to be in. But this year, I haven’t done radio advertising, but next year I probably will. It doesn’t mean again that I’ve got to spend tens of thousands of dollars on it. It just means that I’ve got to have some, it’s important again, like I said, to remind customers that you still exist.
Daniel: Now that you’ve got some sustainability in your business, you would be using some tools to help execute your marketing. Are there any that you just can’t live with that?
Louise: We don’t send a lot of newsletters because we don’t want to be spamming people, but we do send offers from time to time leading up to important events. For example, it’s now September. In the first week in October, there will be an email that will go out to our database. We’ve got about 70,000 people in our database, which is significant. In that newsletter, it will be a discount for Christmas orders. That will be the only discount we will provide for Christmas. When we do that, the results are spectacular. We will get probably half of our Christmas orders from that one newsletter. Because people take advantage of that if we have a discount in it. People take advantage of it and it works beautifully.
Louise: But, it works beautifully because they know our customer base now when they’re getting newsletter from us, there’s a good discount in it. They know that it’s not spamming that we’ve got another product today, I’ve got another product. We’re not trying, we’re not discounters per se, we don’t discount on everything. But, we do have special offers from time to time leading into important events. The same would happen in Valentine’s Day. We would do one at the end of January and leading up to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and all those times. So probably, we probably only send five or six emails a year and they really have an enormous benefit to business.
Nugget: Attention, attention. Marketing Nugget.
Daniel: I’m always pushing people to make one of the main parts of their business and their marketing their database. It is so important because it is people literally giving you permission to market to them. But, we all get those emails that are sent too often and we just know it’s all about them and then pushing something because they want to make a sale and we ended up just not opening them. We just ignore them. Half the time, we couldn’t even be bothered opening them to unsubscribe. Sure, we’re in business. That’s what we’re trying to do. Sell stuff. But, your most job with your database is to treat it with respect.
Daniel: As Louise said, they don’t want to be all spammy, but when they can add value and be of help around key dates, when people are looking for gifts, their database actually appreciates and responds to the emails because Louise doesn’t spend in the rest of the time and make them tired of hearing from her or worse, they unsubscribe. Make your emails more about adding value and being helpful and your open rates and click-through rates will be well above the averages. That’s good both for your business and the people on your database.
Daniel: That’s a digital marketing tactic. Do you execute any traditional or non-digital marketing tactics there now or in the past that have been really successful for you? If you have, why do you think they’ve been successful when so much advice that market is give people is digital, digital, digital?
Louise: The best marketing that I can do because my product is very visual. It’s visually appealing. The best thing I can do is to put my product out there. We get requests from sporting groups, schools, charities, every day we get usually about five requests a day. We find that at least every week, we’re donating to something and that gets my product at an event where there might be 500 people or might be a raffle prize or whatever. That is important to me because, like I said before, showing that you still exist, people know the brand, showing your products, which is very visual, so people can see the quality. That is something that is very, not obviously non-digital, but very traditional. Just being at the end, putting yourself in front of people.
Daniel: Louise Curtis, owner at Lollypotz, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your business marketing experiences with our listeners.
Louise: You’re welcome.