Thursday, January 05, 2006

My Noon Field Trip to Staples – and Some Priceless Marketing Lessons

I went to Staples today to pick up some odd-sized envelopes and accidentally got schooled in marketing 101 and new color printer technology.

The first tip off was a huge, colorful Hewlett-Packard van parked in the lot. I walked in the door, and a couple of young ladies asked me if I’d like to see their printers. They had a little demo area set up. In keeping with my character, I glanced away and game them the “oh gosh, I’m just so busy” shrug.

But as I picked out my envelopes, I realized – maybe I could learn something from these demo reps. They’re schooled by HP. How bad could they be?

[I don’t plug anything but my book in this blog – so don’t take the following as any kind of pitch. Everything I write about I’ve tried and like. I don’t get paid by anyone but my publisher and my own clients (for actual writing work). This is just part of the story.]

I asked the young gals if they would give me a demo. I told them that I write blogs for eBay sellers, and that maybe there would be interest in color printers for small promo and flyer print runs. They were excited, because they understand the small biz market and they know that they’re competing with low-run print houses and online printers like VistaPrint and iPrint (both services which I use and recommend, BTW).

They showed me a couple of nice printers. I forgot what the third one was. It was beefier, faster and more expensive then the others. The printing was nice. The multifunction (fax, copier, printer) one did photos, too – comparable to what you’d get at the drug store.

Anyway – the point is, this is an option. If you include flyers and promos in the boxes you ship, you should consider this option and compare it to the rates you get from your printer (and factor in the flexibility that’s available with an in-house machine). HP has a nifty calculator that helps you estimate per-page printing costs based on how much of the page you cover.

Please let me know if you’ve considered this. I haven’t, so I’m a bit clueless. I suspect it’s only an option for eBay sellers that do low volume but want to provide superior promo and customer service (for high-ticket items that include nice photos). You’d have to be graphically inclined, too.

The second part of this story is about the marketing methods used by the ladies at the demo table.

They demonstrated the machines and features well. They could have asked more about my interests or the interests of my blog readers, but no biggie. The impressive part was that they gave me a free marketing toolkit that integrates with MS office. It’s nice software for simply and quickly creating everything from brochures to post cards. I’m guessing that you could even export/print to a PDF (I use a program called PrimoPDF for this) and then send it to the printer.

The thing is – it was a gift. And I probably would have been hard pressed to write anything about my experience if I hadn’t received it. That’s how gifts work. You end up feeling obligated (thus the phrase “much obliged”). I’ve posted on this obligation and gifting psychological phenomenon before.

They also gave me a 64M thumb drive. It had the logo of another company on it (a logo design company), which made it a cross promotion. I’ve talked about cross-promos before, too. (There’s lots more on that topic in the 7 Steps book.) So their costs were probably pretty low, because they were shared with the other company. I wrote about LogoYes before. This is a similar outfit called LogoWorks.

Gifts, gifts, gifts. I was very happy. And I’ve got a good feeling about HP and their printers. Good marketing. Good lesson in the real world of Staples at noon.

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