(Editors note: This is the first of a three-part series looking at different marketing techniques. The second week we talk with CP+B Chairman Chuck Porter, and the third week we explore search engine advertising.)
Newspaper, magazine, and TV advertising are expensive and ineffective, some retailers and manufacturers say, so they’re putting their marketing dollars toward events instead of traditional advertising.
And they’re not just sponsoring events; they’re actually organizing them.
“I think we’re doing the right thing, no question,” says Sarah Schuster, co-founder of Clear Water Outdoor in Lake Geneva, Wisc.
Schuster, who recently pulled her yellow pages ad, says she does minimal print advertising. She advertises in Lake Geneva’s local newspaper when there’s an event in town or when her shop is sponsoring one, but that’s about it.
“Just cherry pick it, and then pull the rest into what makes sense for you and your budget,” she says.
About half of Clear Water Outdoor’s budget is spent on organizing and hosting events – like its Turkey Trot, Paddlefest, and stand-up paddleboard (SUP) race series.
Instead of putting money into traditional advertising, the retailer buys event posters and T-shirts and spreads the word about the events via social media marketing. The best part about organizing events: the store develops long-lasting relationships with potential and current customers.
“You don’t get that through putting an ad in the paper,” Schuster says.
That’s why Skirt Sports, a women’s-only clothing company based in Boulder, Colo., started its Skirt Chaser series. Creating the running series in which Skirt Sports-clad women start a few minutes before the skirt-chasing men, was all about marketing the brand, says Nicole DeBoom, the company’s founder.
DeBoom wanted to create a brand that was unique and had the marketing plan to match. So far it’s working.
The race series not only puts women on a pedestal in a fun, party-like atmosphere, DeBoom says, but it allows customers to spend hours in the brand’s products – hopefully falling in love with them.
But is organizing events worth the time and money involved?
DeBoom and Schuster say yes.
“Financially, in the grand scheme, it works out,” Schuster says.
Short of swag and expected expenses to get the event going, there is minimal cost involved. And to help reduce labor costs – which is often one of the biggest expenses – volunteers usually step up if there’s a gift certificate or swag available as incentive.
“I think you can get away with running these events at a low to moderate cost,” she says.
Though Schuster’s shop collects registration fees to cover some administrative costs like timing systems, all proceeds go to a local nonprofit, which she says is very important as it helps attract people who want to support a cause rather than a for-profit retailer.
Getting people back in the store after the event is as easy as offering coupons, she says. Once they’re in, Clear Water has an adventure club that schedules various activities throughout the year as a way to get people outside, meet new friends, try new sports and, ultimately, buy gear from the retailer.
“If you’re smart, that’s what you’re going to do,” Schuster says.
Back at Skirt Sports, the Skirt Chaser has almost become its own brand, DeBoom says. It’s growing so much that the company can’t organize as many events as people want. That’s why it’s calling on its retailers to host smaller events.
DeBoom says the smaller events, Skirt Chaser Dashes, get people into vendors, which is beneficial for both Skirt Sports and the retailer.
And its newly-created Kick It Forward program, aimed at pairing hesitant women with running mentors for their first 5k race, DeBoom equates to cause marketing – but for a for-profit business rather than a non-profit organization.
“It’s not set up as a way to reap a ton of financial benefit, but if we were to lose a lot of money and not get anything out of it, we probably wouldn’t do it,” she says.