Step Right up to New Revenue Streams

If you have ever been to a state fair, a home show, a health expo or any other gathering of hundreds of vendors, chances are you have seen the smooth talking Vita-Mix salespeople hawking their amazing blender.

They turn ice cubes to slush in five seconds. They whip up fruit and veggie smoothies in minutes. They pass the tasty samples around the audience as the line forms to buy the Vita-Max Super 5000 blender.

I will admit that every time I go to the Topsfield Fair here in Massachusetts, I always make it a point to go hear the Vita-Mix pitch. It’s so deliciously schmaltzy. I’ve considered a purchase, but every year I walk away empty-handed.

Well, my blender blew out last week. And although I’d forgotten the name of the Vita-Mix manufacturer (despite having been pitched the product at least 50 times over 20 years), I did manage to find the Vita-Mix web site. I ordered one. It arrived the other day, and it works just like promised. I’m a happy camper.

But that’s not what this column is about.

You see, when I went to the Vita-Mix site, I was greeted by a tacky-looking home page with links to its commercial blender division, its foodservice division, company history, and so on. Or I could order spare parts or find out which county fair they will be appearing at next. All very important from Vita-Mix’s perspective. But for me, the prospective Vita-Mix customer, it was a bit of a turnoff.

Many of you may be like Vita-Mix in that you have a popular product you sell through a number of different venues. You’ve done the obligatory web site, even adding online ordering just in case someone comes straggling through the door wanting to buy your product like me.

If tomorrow, I got a phone call from the CEO of Vita-Mix offering me untold riches if I would become the company’s chief Internet officer, and (in a fit of delirium) I actually accepted that flattering offer, here is what I would do:

I’d begin by firing the jabroni outfit that designed their web site and invest some serious dollars into hiring some quality designers and programmers like the big boys do. I’d want to create a feel of quality but accessibility. I’d look to create a certain friendliness and hominess about the site.

I would create separate sites for the commercial and cookware divisions, providing links to them from the home page, but dedicating the Vita-Mix site solely to the blender and what we might call the blender community.

Yes, it would have to be a community site a community based around all the wonderful and amazing things their customers are doing with that amazing little appliance.

We would have fresh recipes served up every day, all of them gleaned from the thousands and thousands of Vita-Mix fanatics, complete with photographs of the fine folks who sent them in.

We would have tips and tricks. We would have a discussion forum. I’d have product managers monitoring and participating in all discussions not offering the company line, but honestly listening closely to and carrying on a dialogue with those who care enough to say something.

And if a customer says that a particular aspect of the product is faulty or not well thought out, the product manager has to acknowledge it and ensure that that person knows he or she has been heard. They need to engage with the customers in the honest, straightforward ways our friends at Cluetrain have challenged us with. It takes guts to do that as a business, but that’s the way things are headed, folks.

We would have a number of email newsletters and e-zines for special interests: fitness freaks, mothers making their own baby food, singles, gourmet cooks… The list is endless.

And yes, throughout all the content there would be links where you can buy Vita-Mix products and parts. But when it’s a branded site like that, you don’t need to go overboard.

I’d create another revenue stream: online advertising. That’s right: banners, text ads, sponsored content, sponsored links, buttons the works.

There are a vast number of health, food and fitness-related companies who would benefit greatly by having their brand affiliated with a community site focused on those issues. Who cares if it’s part of a blender company? The people they attract are real and they are passionate otherwise why on earth would they spend over $300 for a blender? You have to ask yourself: If they’d spend $300 on a blender, aren’t they open to spending a whole lot more on quality health, fitness and food products? I would think so.

So I’d have my newly hired business development team out there attracting sponsors and developing partnerships with the top brands, seeking ways to develop win-win agreements that further build our base of customers. Not everybody likes to listen to the pitchmen at county fairs, after all.

You may be a pure commerce play like Vita-Mix, but the strategic use of highly relevant content can in fact grow your customer base and add to your revenue streams if you use it wisely.

Look at it from your customers’ point of view. Broaden your perspective to encompass all the various ways you can help them reach their goals even if your company doesn’t sell it. The beauty of e-business is that you have that capability, more so than in any other medium.

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