Online Loyalty Shopping: 21st Century Green Stamps

Hanson Marketing forms specialized channels for makers of various goods and services, that link them to customers worldwide. Each time we dig into a new project, we find that no matter how we slice and dice the desired customer demographics, there exist e-commerce websites that cater to them. Whether the targeted customer is an avid RVer who hits the road with Good Sam Club card intact, a government purchasing officer buying IT equipment on contract, or a frequent flier, these online shoppers are introduced to e-commerce sites by the organization they have in common, sites that enable them to shop as usual while rewarding them with points or discounts or rebates.

My mom used to collect S & H Green Stamps with every transaction at the gas station and grocery store. Licking the stamps and filling up the pages was a fun chore for me, despite green tongue and sticky hands. Once I filled in the books, she would visit the local Green Stamp storefront to swap them for merchandise. What a satisfied feeling you get from earning points and free merchandise for being a loyal customer.

Collecting and redeeming trading stamps has evolved to online shopping malls, frequented by like-minded loyal members. Such online malls are powered by affiliate marketers, which collect and publish various loyalty sites; and by such service providers as Google Affiliate Network. These enabling services extend the reach of even the smallest manufacturer by connecting them with millions of loyalty shoppers, routing buyer to seller and collecting transaction fees.

So, if you’re a retailer, a dealer, or even a manufacturer of goods that sell particularly well among like-minded consumers – professional or leisure – then take notice of loyalty shopping sites, and talk to those enabling service providers who can accelerate that link. Their negotiated discounts are a bargain, with fees based solely on sales; and their marketing programs are as focused and timely as you’d expect from any online campaign. Word of mouth recommendations fly further and faster, too.

And what of Green Stamps? Sperry & Hutchinson, the people who invented rewards currency, brought them into this century as S&H greenpoints, a site launched in 2000. And, while they no longer operate neighborhood redemption stores, loyal S & H members still get the same thrill as they got when turning in a book full of stamps, by redeeming points online.

International Business Pre-Flight Checklist IV

Previously, I touched first on the need to Get Executive Thumbs-Up, then to Analyze Market Horizons and Prove Demand. Up next: Allocate Resources.

Can you afford the trip? Or, rather, trips. Lots of them. Face time with selling partners and customers is your key to success, especially when up against local competitors. Your sales and support co-workers and staff can count on a few new passport stamps every year, as you cultivate international revenue for your company. So budget accordingly across all departments to cover the special skills and resources that are needed when dealing globally.

Yes, your company may be in for an extreme makeover: accounting, product management, operations, and sales teams will take on new duties, and have to re-think basic procedures. For instance, does your accounting department need to hire foreign exchange and letter of credit experts? Does your HR director know how to recruit, hire, compensate, and motivate employees located in local markets? Will you need to contract with a logistics company to outsource fulfillment, support, and warehousing?

If you’re the one in charge of developing international markets for your company, you will quickly find out which of your co-workers will be on your case about moving their cheese, vs. those who become avid cheerleaders for you as you build up international sales. Like it or not, nearly all American workers have a direct hand in international trade. Most of us work for small to mid-sized companies, which in turn contribute the lion’s share of export/import revenue for our nation’s economy.

Handling most international transactions usually requires extra time, flexibility, and patience … all of which are in short supply in many businesses these days. In your role as international sales leader, have a weekly to-do item that will advance the cause of team-building. Enlist the help of those cheerleaders and your bosses to help you convert angst to adulation across add departments. Jumbo-sized boxes of chocolates from faraway lands won’t hurt, either, so leave room in your bag and shop the duty free retailers before taking off!

Socially-Aware Branding

“Brands belong to customers, not companies.” The authors of Groundswell posit that social networking phenomena have turned the tables on how brands are conceived, launched, and shepherded towards their intended customers. Readers are encouraged to view those ominous clouds looming on the horizon not as threatening hailstorms, but as promising abundant rainwater and bumper crops.

I recently advised a client to let his company’s reputation for personal service and quality craftsmanship make its own way into the social networking sphere. How? By gathering customer and prospect fans in such venues as Facebook. Let the good word on stellar service and top-rate products linger, in places where friends and families talk about everything from soccer tournaments (“silkscreened T-shirts, free delivery”) to prom dates (“buy one corsage, get one free”) to new blenders (“let’s pulverize Chuck Norris… if we dare”).

I’m especially gung-ho on this idea for providers of community-based goods and services, who can place calls to action that trail user social networkers of a certain age or affinity group or sports team who live within a slice of nearby zip codes. And that, dear friends, is why the latest Yellow Pages is about as hefty as my 8th grade yearbook.

Although your brand’s reputation roams far and wide online, you can still help shape its perceptions. Forrester Research (see Groundswell) reports that over 75% of online shoppers rely upon word-of-mouth endorsements. We fill virtual carts and book travel while hanging on the words of anonymous reviewers, as if they were yakking with us across the back fence. How do those vital ratings make it to e-tailer sites, you may ask? From the likes of companies such as the delightfully-named Bazaarvoice, who make tools that gather unbiased reviews seamlessly into any e-commerce page — yours or your retailers — wherein your products are displayed and sold.

I purchased Groundswell at Amazon because it was recommended by another marketing professional whom I trust, and because Amazon hinted that I might enjoy it. I then gave it a high five because it improves how I earn my living. Socially aware brand campaigns lead to high customer rankings and abundant business. Reap the harvest with the right tools!

Hello world!

My name is Tom Hanson.  I make a living in marketing by linking products to markets worldwide. My bag of tricks is hefty: I have worked in a host of industries, promoting products to help people live and work smarter. My hope is that this blog will spark some ideas for you, allowing you to see your work from a new angle. It’s my aim to convey how amazing I find the world of international commerce to be.

Why marketing? Well, I inherited a mish-mash of family genes for creative writing, avid reading, wanderlust, wry humor, silent observation, and, well, for yakking with anyone who fogs a mirror. Along the way, I became fluent in Spanish and hijacked a workable French and a smattering of Japanese. All this jived, and into the work world stepped a fellow who likes to communicate and gets paid to do it.

I started out carrying a sales quota and a bag, pitching and wooing my way deep into a territory known ominously as ROW (Rest Of World, i.e., “them”). I learned how building channels and alliances that put feet on far-away streets would help me make my numbers, easing my bosses’ angst over those always-suspect expense reports. I soon realized that when it comes to marketing strategies, one size does NOT fit all. So, sure enough, I joined the thundering herds of marketers, striving to ensure that my sales colleagues would carry timely, focused, and practical selling tools in their own bags, always suitable for local consumption.

In the ensuing years, I’ve worn holes in my soles and stamps in my passport, and gained valuable insight into what works in the world of international marketing. I invite you to read my blog — peek into my bag of tricks, listen to some stories, and get my views on what’s happening in the market that moves customers and makes them take notice.

I don’t think any of our childhood dreams involved growing up to become a bleary-eyed wage mule, so I hope to have some fun along the way as I cover a variety of topics related to where I work and what I do. All work and no play makes for a deadly boring blog.


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