Are You Ready For the Holidays?

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Mar 20, 2012

The end of the first quarter is always an exciting time for the photo publishing/merchandise industry. By this time, the heavy volumes generated from direct holiday sales have slowed to a trickle and gift cards have been redeemed. The party is over, the cleanup is done, and the headaches from Q4 have dissipated. As we approach the end of Q1, it is a time for reflection. Vendors and retailers should reassess their current relationships, profit margins, marketing and production strategies, and start planning for Q4 2012.

The reality of the photo publishing industry is that the planning window is relatively short. Retailers typically release bid requests in the spring, with partnerships between vendors and retailers needing to be formed by June, and end-to-end testing needing to be completed by the end of August. By September, vendors have plans for staffing; while marketers prepare to implement their promotion strategies. By the end of October, when the Halloween candy is taken off the shelves and replaced with Thanksgiving decorations, wreaths, and candy canes, photo publishing vendors and retailers will be hunkering down for another Q4 holiday season.

These 4 to 5 months before the end of August are a critical window for vendors, new startups, and retailers. It is a time for vendors to install and test new hardware and software while also creating, testing, and selling new products to retailers. It is a time when startup companies that were not able to hit their launch dates from the year before resurface and look for vendors and distribution channels to partner with. It is also a time when marketers adapt to consumers’ preferences for media consumption and shift their marketing tactics.

Last year, I saw retail marketers shift their tactics from online marketing to offline marketing. Traditionally, online retailers like Shutterfly, Blurb, and Walmart have used SEO, banner ads, email marketing, and retargeting (banner ads that follow you) as their primary method for marketing. As 2011’s Q4 holiday season approached we started seeing direct mail catalogs being sent to existing and prospective customers.

Figure 1: Shutterfly’s direct mail catalog

Included in the catalog were ideas for gift items to make, coupons, and information about holiday specific products. For many smaller service providers in either the photo or commercial print markets with digital press capabilities, direct mail catalogs of this nature can be very cost effective marketing tools, especially since they can be printed and mailed using internal resources.

Another marketing tactic I have noticed this year is getting photo merchandise into the hands of bloggers. Getting recognized by bloggers, whose readers fall into the same demographics as your target audience, is an ideal way to create buzz. Pinhole Press has done this with great success. The designs and high quality of Pinhole Press products caught the attention of bloggers from Martha Stewart Living. In addition to being endorsed by the bloggers at Martha Stewart Living, Pinhole Press cards were featured on the Martha Stewart Show and this past December, their layflat book products were featured in Martha Stewart Living. Bloggers, PR campaigns, social media marketing, and even guerrilla marketing can be all low cost marketing strategies that if done well, can have a big impact.

Figure 2: Pinhole Press layflat book featured in Martha Stewart Living

For vendors, new startups, and retailers, marketing remains at the core for driving consumer awareness and developing a customer base. My recommendations during this time period are:

1) Identify niche markets within your customer base

2) Partner with vendors and designers to create desirable products for these niche markets

3) Develop a niche focused multi-channel marketing strategy that incorporates online and offline media channels

As this short window of opportunity to prepare for the holiday season begins to close, now is the time for marketers to start generating buzz and awareness among consumers, if they wish to reap the rewards of the holiday rush.

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