Category Archive: Agencies & Partners

Topics and trends that affect your retail marketing.

Are BMW’s Sales Floors Going Digital, LinkedIn Opening Blogging Platform, and more…
SilverGrass Clippings
Welcome to SilverGrass Clippings, a weekly round-up of news and opinion in the retail marketing world.

‘Geniuses’ to Replace Salespeople in BMW Showrooms

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The Wall Street Journal reported last week that BMW has some major changes to its showroom floors on its wish list, knocking out cubicles and signage and replacing them with digital displays and Apple-Store-esque ‘Geniuses’ to answer customer questions. (Subscription required:

It’s an interesting concept, and one that would definitely rock the automotive sales world. As the Millennials move into BMW’s target demographic, it makes sense for the European luxury brand to court the more affluent early adopters among them.

But the article leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Apple’s ‘Geniuses’ don’t work on commissions or get SPIFFs, both long-standing mainstays of the automobile sales world. Instead, the average Apple retail employee makes about $12 per hour. Will commissions go away? Will the geniuses get a piece of that pie? Will the traditional salespeople go away entirely? And what will become of price negotiations on the vehicles?

And what of BMW’s non-Millennial customers, who for the foreseeable future will continue to make up a large part of BMW’s target demographic? Will the prospect of these young ‘Geniuses’ be enticing or alienating? Is there something inherently tactile about the car-buying experience – especially in the luxury sector – that can’t be replaced by digital screens and young product experts?

In short, there are more questions than answers at this point, but it’s an interesting development in an industry with a sales approach that already leaves many feeling uncomfortable and alienated. It certainly bears watching at BMW to see what changes happen, how successful they are, and the impact they’ll have on the American automotive manufacturers’ approaches.

LinkedIn to Open Blogging Platform to All Users

LinkedIn’s page views are dropping. So to try to increase members’ usage of the site beyond just looking for jobs, it’s opening its blogging platform – now used only by its influencers – to all LinkedIn members. (

The move aims to create a business-focus feed similar to the social feed users are accustomed to seeing on platforms like Facebook.

We think it has potential to be another element of content marketing, exposing a person or a company’s content to an audience beyond just its site visitors. And it will be a fantastic tool for users who don’t have another outlet for longer-form industry writings, say a company or personal blog on the topic.

But what of the individuals or small businesses that already post that type of content on their own blogs or company sites? We’ll have to see what LinkedIn’s policy is on back linking to those original articles so the LinkedIn content doesn’t just siphon views and decrease site traffic for the poster’s own site. And they promise analytics, but will they be as good as what Google Analytics can provide if you host that same content on your own blog?

Still, it’s a platform with which I’ll be eager to experiment, and I hope it’ll help target people who might not otherwise be visiting this site.

Brutal Winter Taking a Bite Out of Restaurant Sales

January and February are traditionally slow months for restaurants, but this year’s brutal weather throughout much of the country has taken an even bigger bite than usual out of restaurant sales. (

Plainly put, it’s just been too darn cold / wet / snow / miserable for people to want to make any non-essential treks outside. Analysts expect restaurant traffic to bounce back when the winter weather abates, but until then, it will continue to be a challenge.

Our advice? If you deliver, remind people of that. Do an email or direct mail campaign. Post it on social media. Make sure they know you can let them stay cozy in their own homes.

Still need to get them to come out to your location? Plan special one-time events that appeal to your demographic. Have a theme night, a community class, an author appearance – and make sure to publicize it. If you have a bar, offer happy hour specials and let neighborhood residents and businesses / employees know all about it. It’s easy to say, “Yes, I’ll stay for dinner” after a cozy happy hour.

“Buy Local” Campaign Thrives in Lincoln Square – Ravenswood

Don’t mind us if we toot our own horns… We were excited to be a part of the “Unwrap Lincoln Square – Ravenswood” campaign this past holiday season, providing the creative for outdoor signage, CTA signage, posters, brochures, and business cards, as well as designing and implementing the official website. The campaign generated nearly $95K in holiday spending at the neighborhood shops and restaurants. Kudos also to Ripson Communications for a job very well done with promotion on the event. (

S&P: Not Standard & Poors, but Security and Privacy

If you’re capturing data for mining or retargeting purposes or executing e-commerce, you’re aware that your policies need to defined and ‘water tight’. But that doesn’t mean those policies always are, and often they are not clear to customers. In 2014 that’s likely going to need a change.

The poor old forgotten Privacy Policy link buried on the bottom of websites is getting more and more notice due to the NSA being in the public eye constantly and retailers such as Target who’ve been, well, targeted. Will consumers start to read and understand the legalese? History says no but that doesn’t mean businesses should just stand pat.

The Better Business Bureau announced recently that it could penalize companies (including publishers and ad networks) that don’t provide real-time notifications to users when collecting data for behavioral ads. Should that come to pass, we’ll be sure to let everyone know.

In the meanwhile California, who has always been ahead of the legislative curve (see their Shine The Light legislation from 2003) has enacted the Do Not Track law, which went into effect on January 1st.
In summary, that law says “Do Not Track requires operators of commercial websites, apps and other online services that collect personal information about consumers in California to disclose how they handle DNT (Do Not Track signals) in their privacy policies. DNT signals are managed in individuals’ browser settings.

If you’re wondering “how do we know if we’re compliant or how do we get compliant?” you can obviously consult your attorney, but there are also apps and online businesses such as Iubenda that exist strictly to help develop your privacy policy. (Note: SilverGrass has no relationship with Iubenda)

If you’re wondering who the big winners and losers in this will be, Forbes has an interesting take on it here.

It’s a new year, which is always a great time to review all of your online policies and procedures. If you have questions or concerns, feel free to reach out to us.

Email Strategy: The Struggle Between Format and Content

We all hear or read similar reports– email open rates continue to drop, and yet click-through rates are holding fairly steady. Maybe that’s due to great content, compelling writing or a change in the way we engage with email. We’re betting heavy on that last one. (Bad subject line? Delete. Received three generic emails from your brand in the last week even though I’m a loyal customer? Delete. Data-driven subject line with an offer designed for me? Engage!)

The reality is that even when you’ve built a list, cleaned it continuously, and refined your message, the time and place where that message is getting read changes continuously. A new Experian report shows that 50% of all email is now opened on a smart phone and when you add in tablets those numbers jump up above 60%. The old model of ‘early mornings and late afternoons’ doesn’t fly anymore because we’ve trained ourselves to view email during all down-times, not just in front of the desktop. Your recipients are scrolling through those messages at lunch, at home in bed or even illegally while sitting at stoplights.

So remember two key points for formatting to help get that email opened.

1. Subject Line Brevity
Shorter subject lines have better open rates, this is well documented. Keep it short and on point.

2. It’s critical to format your content in a style or template that works on mobile devices. Approximately half of all opened ‘Brand Related’ messages are viewed for less than 15 seconds. Roughly 25% get less than three seconds. Wherever possible, make that first line of the message your strongest, because it’s the only line that will show up in the recipient’s preview window.

Simply put, if the message is difficult to grab “take aways” from, its going to end up in the trash bin. You can make it easier on your audience by using a scrolling format, large visual cues (appropriately sized images, obvious links to longer stories), and other visual tricks like separating text and photos completely to create blocks or fields. See the two samples pulled from our mobile phone earlier today to see an actual example. We love the actual news we get from the New York Times, but digesting their email (compared to the Velo News) is going to be a challenge.



Some data in this article is referenced in this report:

Social Shopping and Heuristics

It’s Social Media Week here in Chicago but rather than blog about a lot of sessions that we’re attending (and boring you with details), we thought “let’s focus on one area”… and so here we are at shopping. Because who among us doesn’t a.) like to shop at least a little and b.) more importantly we need to drive sales for our own products.

Analyzing the ‘social psychology’ of shopping is not new – it’s been documented on the internet for years and there are entire books* written about the Heuristics** of the social sciences.

But much like an old favorite record album or your go-to workout at the gym, it’s good to revisit them frequently to stay focused. Rather than hashing through all six in one shot and send you running for the proverbial door in search of a spa treatment, lets take a look at them day by day over the next week. I’ve listed all six at the bottom of this article as reference but today let’s focus on number one: Social Proof.

What is Social Proof?

We hate to call it peer pressure, because its not really ‘pressure’ but more the power of peers. When something is popular, we assume that is proof that this option is the best or one of the better options available.

How does this apply to marketing?

Ever browsed the New York Times bestseller list at the bookstore ‘just because’? Or bought a product because it was “the #1 selling item in the market place”? That’s social proof and it often takes the form of lists.

How does this apply to me?

If you have any awards, mentions, nominations or confirmations that have appeared in print or online that are applicable, do not hesitate to use them in an appropriate manner. Meaning, if you won an award for ‘best of show’ in 2003 it’s probably not something your customers care about in 2013. But any kind of confirmation that solidifies your product as a quality alternative shouldn’t be overlooked.

Tomorrow: Authority

Six Heuristics of Social Shopping

1. Social Proof: Reaching out to friends and family members on social networking sites for advice before purchasing.
2. Authority: The ‘who and where’ that shoppers use to make purchase decisions (online reviews, trusted sources, etc.).
3. Scarcity: Exclusive offers. Quite simply, we humans assign more value to products that are less available.
4. Likes and Recommendations: Similar to social proof— we follow those we “like” and do the things they do based on recommendations.
5. Consistency: If we trust the brand, we’ll come back.
6. Reciprocity: Ever felt bad because you received a holiday card from someone and felt compelled to send one back? Of course you have. What does this mean in practice? Simply responding with a purchase to something that has been given to you unexpectedly.

* Check out Andrew Abbot’s pint-sized classic.

**Heuristics: Aids for learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and “trial-and-error” methods

When Small Companies Mean Big Business

We’ve had countless discussions with printers large and small who target large enterprises as the holy grail to keep capacity filled and to maximize profits. Few, if any, large operations want to be bothered with short-run jobs for local shops. Even companies with a large number of digital presses would still rather focus on large run, highly personalized jobs than a 1,500 piece order for a small- or mid-sized business.

But when we’ve spoken with those companies, they see the challenges in the smaller jobs (too much administrative time for a small amount of money being the key issue), but not the opportunity to be had in offering services to aggregate these types of orders.

We also hear about missed opportunities, where large clients will go to their printing partners, and ask if they can support sophisticated web-to-print tools that include other online marketing resource management components, and often they can’t. The manufacturer then has multiple vendors to manage for their channel marketing programs, and the printers are missing out on strengthening that relationship with their existing customers.

What’s a printer to do?

To be honest, we HAVE seen the growth in the number of printers who’ve started to bill themselves as full-service ad agencies as their print services have been commoditized and as print money has fled to other types of marketing.

But we often see these companies trying to take on the aspects of largers, Tier 1 branding agencies in their expertise and their offerings. They want to help create beautiful print pieces that really emphasize the brand. Or they want to help buy a 10 million name list for a national mail campaign for a loyalty program. And many of them are doing this fairly well.

But the HUGE missed opportunity is leveraging relationships with those existing clients to help create intelligent direct marketing programs for those clients’ channel partners. Many of these printers lack team members of with the specialized store-level retail knowledge to create truly effective programs based on 1,000 or 1,500 mailings. And unless you know the ins and outs of these channel marketing programs, your initial thought might be, “Oh, no. I’m not playing collection agent to 1,500 small businesses.”

Those misconceptions are what continue to make this segment of marketing (and revenue) a distant dream for MANY printers and direct marketing providers.

The major opportunity

As we’ve established, you HAVE a good relationship with that mid- or large-sized OEM. Do you know how they fulfill their channel marketing printing? Are they even offering direct marketing support to their channel marketing partners? If not, is it because they don’t really know how?

All of this is support that printers and other direct marketing agencies can be providing. Plus, if you understand how the fund collection and reimbursement process works for these channel programs, in many, if not most cases, payment methods are already in place that will ensure you don’t actually have to become a full-time collection agent, as well.

Let’s look at the example of Apparel Company A, who has 5,000 channel partners who receive, on average, $1,500 a year in marketing and advertising support from the Company A. If you ran a single Back to School or Holiday campaign in which each of those retailers ordered 500 postcards, you have a 2.5 million piece run. Yes, you’re going to likely be able to offer customized overrun sections on those pieces, but it’s going to be well worth it.

You have to know how to sell these types of programs, though, and how to speak the language of individual retailer marketing and how those trade funds support programs work. You have to be willing to ask your customers what they’re doing in these areas and how you can help. And you have to know how to find those points of pain and pitch solutions that suit their business needs while being something you can reliable fulfill.

How We Can Help

Here at SilverGrass, we have more than a decade of experience working with manufacturers, dealers, and distributors on getting the most out of their co-op programs. We’ve also worked with dozens of printers and direct marketing agencies to develop distributed channel programs that increase retailer revenue while opening up new streams of business for those printers and agencies.

We have the knowledge of these types of programs, how to sell them, potential pitfalls, and best practices. We’re available to help you put together programs and service pitches for your customers so you can increase your revenues and offerings. Contact us to learn more.

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The slippery slope of SEO

Clients are always asking ‘How can I be sure to know if I’m getting the most value out of my SEO package?’  Nobody wants to hear “it depends” but evaluating your current SEO strategy is something you should be doing frequently so you’re comfortable with your baseline and know that you’re meeting your targets. This might mean reviewing it several times a year depending on how much you rely on SEO.

The root of the problem is that the algorithms used in search engines are constantly changing and (theoretically) improving based on new methodologies and the way we interact with the web. Google changes their algorithms several times month, sometimes dozens of times. They have just made a major change involving two methods called Co-citation and Co-Occurence (which are often cited as the same thing). See more on that topic here.

You don’t necessarily need to be up to speed on every change, but you absolutely need to remind yourself that the process is always changing and evolving. Make sure your SEO provider can explain how they adapt to changes and what it means to you. Armed with that information, your historical reporting and clear goals for what you want to achieve, you’ll be well on your way to knowing that SEO is working for you and not just draining your budget.




The P Word: Pantone.

The last couple SG blog posts have been pointed toward those struggling to make sense of the marketing partner landscape but a long and exhausting conversation I had yesterday reminded me of an ongoing issue for small retailers and those who don’t spend a great deal of time in the print world. It revolved around Pantone colors and what they mean.

If you’re familiar with terms such as spot color, aquos coating, substrate, etc then you can probably jump off safely now. But for the rest of you, here we go in a couple hundred words or less.

Your printer needs a high resolution file- you know that- but did you know that your art designer had the choice of creating it in RGB (short for Red/Green/Blue) or CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and ‘K’ for Black)? I suspect you probably did, you just might be used to hearing the term “4 color” and that’s almost always referring to CMYK. Here’s where things get murky. You may be printing bags, or printing on menuboards and non-traditional items and your printer wants to use a very specific color, one that is mixed with Pantone ink.

The Pantone color system is a standardized color system to match very specific colors. Often its used in lieu of 4 colors to hit the nail on the head exactly; that can come to you at additional cost but let’s save that for another time. There is no one generic ‘Pantone’ color number for any situation and this causes people some distress. The Pantone number for a specific color may vary slightly based on what you’re printing on top of— is it coated paper? uncoated paper? Are you using a pastel shade or are there metallics in the ink (ex: a good looking silver often contains some actual metal in the ink)?

If your printer requests the Pantone color you can be reasonably sure they want either the Coated or Uncoated PMS (Pantone Matching System) number and your designer can convert the CMYK file to ascertain that PMS number using Adobe Illustrator if they have a little experience. But don’t blindly fire off a PMS number to a printer without knowing what type of stock is being printed on— your end result might not be the beautiful shade of blue or orange that you had hoped.

Vexed By Variables

I posted this on another site about a year ago but was struck recently by how little has changed, While this topic is specifically relevant to those people who find themselves in the role of “channel partner” (as a data source, a printer, or an agency) I think you’ll find it’s an interesting glimpse behind the proverbial curtain if you’re a client.

Digital and inline print variables have become much more complex and quality issues have improved significantly in the last two or three years. With advent of 600 DPI inline variables for text and pushing the envelope (no pun intended) on color images, its often hard for agencies or clients to distinguish between the two. One of the unfortunate by-products of these advances is that agencies and clients will make copy changes (color, font, formatting) at a very late stage and not understand how it affects the piece’s production. In a nutshell, when you say “that is not a problem for us, we can manage it” on a project, the client interprets it as a guideline for future projects, even though the production process isn’t intended to be the same at all for a variety of reasons (target dates, cost, facility).

Printers strongly dislike ‘placeholder’ copy for this very reason; much like agencies dislike it for other reasons (client approval still pending) and clients themselves are often frustrated by it (ex: copy is pending legal review). The endless tug-of-war between agency and printer usually goes something like this:

“Send us what you have, so we can alert you to any possible trouble…”

“Art and copy are not ready to be released, so we can’t do it.”

“We understand that but we are looking for potential issues that may impact scope and price, which may be unavoidable at a later date…”

“But we have a price quote, is that quote not valid and if not, why not, based on what we’ve presented?” Ad nauseum.

A couple simple steps or reminders can be implemented and avoided if the Project Managers / AE are on the ball:

1. Keep a list of outstanding / pending items as part of the timeline, particularly as pertains to variables. This sounds elementary, but its not at all unusual for the text variables to hide in the larger scope of the project. After all they are usually data… and data is not front and center in the agency’s mind.

2. There is a reason variables are traditionally colored magenta. This is not an accident, its to remind you that they’re hanging out there. Variables need to be reviewed at every step as the project advances to keep it marching lock-step to success. Review all variables any time one of the following happens:

  • New art is supplied
  • Timeline / Scope changes are requested
  • The print / fulfillment plant changes
  • The nature of the data itself changes, eg what, how and when it is supplied

Good luck, and as always, shoot me a note with any questions.

Balancing Customer & Internal Projects

Resources should never be completely unavailable for your internal design and marketing goals, but neither should they be endless. If they are, you’re probably not putting your money where it should be. These days that’s not much of a concern for organizations. Usually the opposite is true and your creative staff holds up the “I’m working on a billable project” shield to ward off secondary or “other” projects. There are two distinct and important items to weigh when you’re letting your own projects wither (or dominate) your timeline:

1. What are the financial ramifications of lowering/raising the project’s status and who will influence the decision?

2. Is the project likely to go through on track or will it be impacted by internal struggles (thereby impacting other projects more than anticipated).

The first are fairly easy to identify on the surface, but the second is potentially the most insidious. When you talk of ramifications, do you look hard at the impact of the deliverable once its “out in the market”? And if you do… are you looking merely at costs or are you considering other criteria? Example:

– If I delay this Direct Mail / pURL project for 4 weeks, and the project is designed to attract customers who have a long acquisition cycle and a long launch cycle, what is the overall impact? A 4 week delay for a cycle that takes 10-12 months is relatively low- less than 10%. If the size of the projected ROI for the deliverable is something that the company can withstand not having on its Accounts Receivable for an additional month or two, then you really haven’t impacted anything.

– If I delay this Direct Mail / pURL project for 4 weeks and impact ROI that was relied on (or expected) for a financial quarter about to close…or the target customer has a short cycle from acquisition to launch – let’s say six weeks – now I have a problem. I’ve essentially poisoned 66% of my six week window.

– Are there bonuses or internal goals that play a part in someone’s decision? Simply, if you are required to close a certain number of contracts and you are on the fence, then there is no question which way you’re going to push other staff members on this matter.

Moving on to the second matter at hand: if you greenlight an internal project at the risk of pushing some billable deliverables out, how realistic is it for your project to be completed with the resources and the plan at hand? Internal projects often require input from team members who aren’t usually involved in your arena, resulting in more meetings, more education, more “group-think”. A deliverable that may typically only affect a couple pieces of business is now impacting four or five or more projects. Logic dictates that if you’re going to give an associate creative control to execute in these situations, you’ll tell others the rules of engagement or dis-engagement to keep the task on track. But the reality is that intangibles can impact the process – people get passionate about internal projects, or fear making the wrong decision because it will be remembered a long time from now or, possibly the worst, the team involved in the project can’t find the proper motivation or voice because they’re too close to the material. They draw others in for input or clarification and end up destroying momentum.

Essentially when making the decision to move forward or punt, you’ll be forced to deal with quantitative and qualitative factors. The quantitative will be easier to explain to people with a vested interest, the quantitative will stir some passionate response. Balancing the two is an art, but when done well the results can be very positive.

Coming Out Of Your Shell

I want to kick around the idea of teamwork as a “mental gym”. (Thanks to DK Holland over at Communication Arts for the term- see previous posts.) The topic is too broad to cover in one shot, so let’s just say this entry is Part I.
If as designers and coders we do our best work ‘undisturbed’ and make no mistake I hear this claim often, then we have to create enough discipline in our routines so that we can comfortably interact with the others on the team— the Proj Mgr, the Client, the Dev Guy, even the end-user potentially. We pay a lot of lip service to dynamic PM tools and collaboration tools that frankly aren’t all that helpful at building teamwork…you don’t get the finer points of the conversation, the true points of pain and joy, when you insert and remove yourself from the process. Its a fine line between “groupthink” and successful collaboration, but at the end of the day its the job of the Project Manager to take the unique parts and put them together in a symphony. That takes considerable pain and time, and if your players have been practicing by themselves for days or weeks on end, then the result is not going to be harmonious.
Takeaway: Designers and Coders: work on your communication skills so that when the critical moment comes, you’re not left spilling words onto your feet.