Q: I own a cosmetics company that manufactures and sells skin- and body-care products. I have gotten my products placed in beauty-supply stores and salons. I use distributors and have been featured in catalogs. But there is so much competition from brand-name products, it is very hard for a small company like mine to compete. Can you give me more suggestions for marketing these products? How can I take advantage of Internet marketing?
--Sherry Boloury, Shaneh Cosmetics,
A: You are halfway there. Getting your products placed in a competitive environment and being featured in catalogs is a feat. The next steps are easy in comparison, albeit labor-intensive and sometimes expensive. But if you consider this an investment for the brand, the financial burden you feel now may pay for itself in the near future.
The name of the game is attracting attention, standing out and reaching an expanded customer base. Consider the least-expensive route first by tapping the editorial media. If you can focus on one or more differentiation points from other similar products, you can entice new-product columnists to review your merchandise. Women's magazines are always interested in new products, as are health and beauty writers for major daily newspapers. Your success will depend on the creativity of your press package and the aggressiveness of your follow-up campaign.
You can find the appropriate editors and writers to target by checking Bacon's Directory, which you can find through the Public Relations Society of America, headquartered in New York City. You might also consider putting out "mat releases," camera-ready news releases that can be written and distributed by an outside resource.
You could also tie in with another product sold in the outlets that shares your customer profile, offering joint coupons and money-saving rebates, and tie in to organizations that share your customers, such as fitness clubs, or consider an offer of trial samples to new customers.
--Noemi Pollack, president and CEO,
Pollack PR Marketing Group, Los Angeles
A: Take advantage of what you can do as a small company that many large companies cannot--and that is, personalize your product. After all, to most customers, Revlon is just a company. They're not likely to hear from the CEO of Revlon personally. But as a small company, you can communicate directly with your customers, and if you are not doing so already, you should be.
Start by giving your end-users a reason to talk directly to you, not just to the retailer or catalog where they get your products. You can personalize your products with some kind of information on your labeling, hang-tags on your bottles or inserts in your product containers. You could make up product information sheets, skin-care tip booklets or even a newsletter. Don't make these direct sales pitches, but load them with information about skin problems and how your products can help.
As you start communicating with your customers, don't forget to ask them for feedback about what additional products they would like to see you develop, using your client database as a by-mail or by-e-mail focus group.
Over time, this kind of client base will grow, especially if you provide useful, fun information explaining why your products are better in price, quality or availability than those of your competitors. You will need to get professional help in setting up the appropriate computer systems to capture, analyze and use the information you'll be getting from your clients. If it is not set up well, you'll get frustrated with it and you won't use it.
You should also get professional marketing advice to make sure that any material you send out with your products dovetails with your existing labels, packaging and marketing. It should match the quality and style that you've already established. Do-it-yourself marketing usually looks exactly like what it is--and you don't want your customers to see that and start wondering whether you're making your products in the kitchen sink.
--Sylvia Rose, Client/Member Services,
A: Marketing on the Internet can be a great thing--and your products will work particularly well in this arena. The Internet will give you two immediate advantages: First, you can expose your products to new markets, both in the United States and internationally, and, second, your existing customers will be able to reorder your products online, which could significantly increase sales.
The key thing to remember is that Internet marketing is just like any other type of marketing: You need exposure. You can't just stick a Web site up and hope people visit it. You need to promote it. Make certain you get indexed in all the major search engines, like Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com), Infoseek (http://www.infoseek.com) and Search.com (http://www.search.com).
Make sure you can process secure transactions. Users are much wiser today and know how to tell the difference between a secure and non-secure site. Your site should use some type of shopping basket technology, which makes it easier for the user to purchase because their order is automatically tallied and shipping and tax are added in for them. You may also want to consider a virtual "mall" or marketplace, such as Choice Mall (http://www.choicemall.com). These types of destination sites can provide you with great technology, such as the shopping basket, exposure and traffic so people can find you.
If you are not technical, find someone to design and program the site for you. A good site is not as easy to design as some people believe. Also, remember to sit it out a while. You might not be an overnight success but, in the long run, your investment should pay off.
--Ken Burke, vice president of development, Guthy-Renker Internet
If you have a question about how to start or operate a small business, mail it to Karen E. Klein at the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia 91016 or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address and telephone number. The column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.