Menushopping cart
Tools for Working Wood
Invest in your craft. Invest in yourself.

JOEL Joel's Blog

Advertising 101


Advertising 101  1

Should we take some cues from this guy? I admit I took a picture of his sign (above) - he plastered the neighborhood - and I wasn’t too shocked that he got coverage on CNN when the event happened. I don’t know if he kept his mask on; perhaps he didn’t want to be revealed as the Marketing Senior VP at a large corporation. He does know how to grab attention (and snacks).

I might like to spend most of my time designing tools, organizing the manufacture or tools and researching the history of tools, but I understand that unless we attract customers to buy tools, we don't eat.

Ultimately a sale depends on having the right product with a winning combo of price and performance. It helps to be a company that people want to deal with. But as our cheese ball fellow shows: getting new customers in the door is an essential skill.

Almost all of our architectural cabinet--maker customers rely on a small network of architects and contractors for all of their work. These are networks that take years to build. For a new person entering the market, it takes a while to get enough of a reputation to be included in a bid list.

Furniture makers have a far more complicated problem. You are not just selling a chair or a table, you are selling your take on how these items should look and function. And of course there are only a very small number of people who can afford bespoke furniture in the first place.

The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), which describes itself as “North America’s leading platform for contemporary furnishing design” will be held next week. Furniture makers and other designers from around the world show off their wares; it's comparatively an expensive show at which to exhibit at but people do it. I do not know how effective the show is in a practical sense. The point of the show is that decorators come see your stuff and eventually have you make stuff for their customers. It is not an end user retail show. When I have gone in past years I have routinely seen a bunch of our customers exhibiting. I just don't know if after six months or so they feel it was worth it - although many have told me they have met a lot of interesting people.

But this is the problem for everyone. How do you find and inform potential customers? Pretty much everyone I know has a website and most people either have an Instagram account or feel guilty that they don’t - but with varying success. The plus of social media is at its simplest it is free, and but requires a lot of hands-on labor. A trade show like the ICFF is expensive in actual cash flow but will expose you in a hands-on way to a very targeted, already motivated audience of buyers.

Unfortunately there aren’t too many shortcuts. Folks know that it isn’t enough to create a social media account - they must constantly feed it, ideally with a consistent supply of charmingly crafted and engaging videos, something that even our customers with filmmaking experience balk at doing. But at least I can recommend a few classic books that helped me understand marketing - and are also enjoyable to read.

The first is "The Book of Gossage,” by Howard Luck Gossage, aka “the Socrates of San Francisco,” a compilation that includes "Is there any hope for advertising?" Gossage was a wizard of an ad copywriter in the Mad Men era, who understood that you had to engage the customer. And the customer wasn't stupid, but rather just needed to be engaged. “Engaged” meant being presented with interesting and amusing ideas, not being swindled. I think Gossage’s wordy and plot driven approach is very appropriate to the modern age of internet marketing.

To address the visual side of things, “Forget All the Rules You Ever Learned About Graphic Design: Including the Ones in This Book,” by Bob Gill. Gill was not only a designer, copywriter, design professor and design agency founder, he was an impresario who (for better or worse) brought us “Beatlemania.” As his NY Times obituary described him, Gill was an “irreverent graphic designer who helped transform his profession from its decorative roots into a business of ideas.” “Forget All the Rules” definitely encourages you to distill your message.

The third book is "How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling " by Frank Bettger. Bettger was a washed-up baseball player in his early twenties who needed another livelihood and found it in sales. This is a book, published in 1949 and still in print, whose hardcover version had a groovy look and a blurb from Dale Carnegie, Bettger’s mentor. (The paperback version, not so much.) The book is full of insights about high-end personal sales. If your plan is to close the deal - the step after successful marketing gives you the opportunity to do so - it’s helpful to understand sales as well.

Even big names understand the importance of getting the word out in a cost-effective way. Last year Erykah Badu advertised her shows with billboards plastered across the city. I'm not particularly a fan but wow - did that poster grab my attention.

Advertising 101  2
By the way, marketing does not need to be original to be effective. Our cheese ball friend got his message out with a compelling easy to spot sign plastered on a parking permit machine. Great eye-catching graphics are important. But in NYC, signs are everywhere. Cheese Ball was competing with (among other things) a far less effective sign promoting an EP stuck a few feet away on a mailbox.

Advertising 101  3

In case you are curious: while the cheese ball guy did it all himself, there are companies in NYC that would be happy to paste up your poster everywhere. The rules are, you can put stuff up on construction sites covered in plywood barriers but not over real stuff that isn't temporary.

And if you’re in the NY area, I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Poster House Museum. Each exhibit is a master class in art and design, and in distilling a marketing objective.

A random display of billboards plastering a SoHo construction site
A random display of billboards plastering a SoHo construction site

Join the conversation
05/08/2024 William
Very interesting and informative. Thanks
Email (will not be published):
Website (optional):
Please enter your comment (HTML is not allowed):
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.