This Is What It Means To Do Facebook Successfully

Today’s posting is about a pretty remarkable guy, and his passive use of Facebook, which resulted in 2 million followers. The lesson is that what he accomplished is within your reach as well. But first, let’s set the stage….

Why Facebook?

A few months ago, one of my subscribers emailed asking if I could come speak to the owner of her company about other catalogs that were successfully using Facebook to grow. I asked if she meant running ads on Facebook.

“No, not advertising. But getting tons of likes and followers from customers that are interested in our content, that then respond to our Facebook postings. Our owner is expecting this to be a huge growth channel for us. We are closing some of our stores, and she expects all our customers – especially the former retail ones – to follow us on Facebook, and then their friends will follow us, and we will grow exponentially.”

Her comment seemed like a line from a Dilbert cartoon.

I told her that most of our clients – even the big ones that had over 1 million customers spread out over the past 5 years – usually had about 50,000 to 100,000 followers. LL Bean – which has millions of 12-month customers, only has 800,000 followers on Facebook. So, it is not inevitable that all your customers will convert to being Facebook followers. Plus, I pointed out that “tons of likes and followers” was no guarantee that sales and new customers would necessarily follow. (I can attest to that with this blog – although it is Datamann’s #1 source of new clients.)

I did not end up visiting the company because I told the subscriber I was not going to deliver the message the owner probably wanted to hear.

Who is Paul Boynton?

In 1982, my first job out of graduate school was serving as Director of Marketing for Easter Seals of New Hampshire and Vermont. In case you are unaware, Easter Seals is a national organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities. My office was located at our large rehabilitation center in Manchester, NH’s largest city.

In that center, we had a school for children with disabilities. These were students that the public-school system in NH could not serve. The head of that school was Paul Boynton. He was and still is today, a real nice guy. He was always concerned about his students, the teachers, and the other staff.

Fast forward to the present. Paul has been the CEO of another organization in Manchester (the Moore Center) dedicated to helping people with developmental and intellectual disabilities for 20 years. That’s his day job.

But about 10 years ago, Paul realized that over his career, he had amassed a large amount of information on optimism and self-responsibility. So, he wrote a book called Begin With Yes. To date, he has sold 35,000 copies.

Here is the amazing part of the story. Paul has his own personal Facebook page, with just shy of 5,000 friends and 1,300 followers.  Popular guy.

But he also started a Facebook page for Begin With Yes, which has 1,882,000 followers and 1,934,000 likes! According to Paul, between 800,000 to 1 million of his followers engage with his posts each week. And this is not even his day job.

People that know me know I’m not likely to spend a lot of time on a website or Facebook page that promotes warmth and self-awareness. But I can still appreciate what Paul has achieved.

In an article that appeared in this month’s BusinessNH Magazine, Paul stated his philosophy toward his social media presence: “The key to social media success is to be an authentic voice, don’t always be trying to sell something, be consistent in your posts, interact with your audience and create content your audience wants to share and engage with”.

Let’s talk about engagement. Does it drive sales, does it drive response? Think about your business. You have a catalog which you are mailing to your customers throughout the year. You think they love you. You think they are engaged with you. To a certain degree, maybe they are, since at some point they purchased something from you. But, if you have a presence on Facebook, is your content so strong, so engaging, so authoritative that you have 2 million followers, half of whom engage with you every week?

I will confess that my thoughts on “engagement” have changed over time. I have always felt that most catalogs spend too much emphasis and too much money on trying to “build brand” creatively with their catalog, partly because they do it wrong. Building brand awareness with the catalog is the print version of online engagement. These catalogs think that lots of inspirational and aspirational photography will build their brand, and they don’t focus enough on the product – the merchandise which consumers want to buy – to build and enhance their brand. All of that is still true and has not changed.

But what has changed is consumer behavior. Consumers no longer simply engage with your catalog. Your catalog is not your brand. They want more than that. They want to post your cool products on Instagram. They want to like stories that you post on Facebook. They don’t care about your catalog or your store per se. They care about how much interesting information you will share with them. They want you to tell them about their lawn, not about your grass seed.

Paul Boynton’s positive messages found in Begin with Yes are motivating to close to 2 million people on Facebook, double the number of followers that LL Bean has. And he is just one guy with a great attitude and great personality. That is what you are up against when you think that you can use Facebook (or other modes of social media) to drive your business. You are kidding yourself if you think that simply posting yet another picture of your latest product is “engaging”.

Will having 2 million followers help you sell more Halloween decorations? It does if those followers are “engaged”. But don’t let anyone kid you – including yourself – developing that “engagement” is not easy, not automatic and not guaranteed.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

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Why You Stink At Merchandising on the Web

This is a critical issue. Can you sell products online without aid of a catalog?

A few weeks ago, a reader sent me an email with this comment: “As an aside, I am somewhat at odds with you about digital.  So often customers will opt out of our emails or print catalogs with the comment – ‘I know what you carry.  If I want it, I will come to your website when I want it.’  But they don’t truly know what we carry.  In each catalog, 40% of our merchandise was not in our last catalog. Those who think they know what we sell are missing out on serendipitous discoveries.  The internet is great for directed search if you know what you are looking for.  But how do you search for something interesting for your aunt and her new housewarming gift when you have no idea what would really be something you haven’t seen before?”

The reader was referring to my previous comments that we need to make our websites stronger than our catalogs, because catalogs alone just aren’t going to cut it anymore. He echoed a similar comment from another reader who recently wrote “I have yet to meet a cataloger selling to the demographic that most do, that is selling things “nice” to have and not necessary to have, that can sell [a significant amount] of anything that is only on the site and is not shown in the catalog.  We have tried it many times.  The sales are just not material.  We have to promote it in the catalog.”

Both of these comments also tie back to my recent comment that just because something does not work with your catalog, doesn’t mean that it will not work for others.

So, let’s address this in parts.

First, we know it is possible to sell products online without aid of a catalog – just look at Amazon. Their sales of $136 billion are not just people buying stuff that they need – there is some browsing going on. A better example would be They have a catalog (which gets a little better with every issue since I gave them a very critical catalog critique in this space a few years ago) which carries less than 1% of their product assortment. Their catalog is truly meant to get you to the site, where you’ll wander around looking for things for your home.

But both of these companies – and hundreds of other sites – have built their “brand” around being the source for “something”. In Amazon’s case, the “something” is everything.  For, it’s everything for home renovations. So, if you are a savvy consumer, and you get the catalog, you know it is just a sampling of what they have on-line.

But the challenges to this concept I receive are mostly from companies with gift or hard goods catalogs. They fail to realize that what is needed is a different approach to their website, not a different approach to their catalog. They will go to great lengths to be great catalogers – doing everything right from an “A Team” catalog perspective. They have a high percentage of new products. They are taking advantage of every postal discount they can. They are extremely efficient in cranking out each new catalog because they are unencumbered by any need to do anything different. They don’t want to do anything different. They believe their customers want that sense of “serendipitous discoveries”.

But what is really happening? I get so tired of saying this, but your great strategy of being efficient, regardless of the percentage of new products you have, is boring to the customer.

The first reader mentioned above, with the customers who say “I know what you have”, features a new and often very unusual product on the front cover of every catalog. I assume that upper management at this company thinks this is a great strategy as it gets the consumer to look inside, and to always be expecting something different. But the “overall theme” for the covers, and the overall pagination of the book itself is too repetitious – it has not changed, literally, in years. Yes, I understand the products change, but the “look” doesn’t change. They have put their customers to sleep. Their customers tell them they know what is in the catalog because in the customer’s mind, they do know. Of course, they don’t know specifically what is there, but they know this company sells “widgets” (I don’t want to use the actual product category, as I don’t want to identify this reader or catalog).

Further, the cataloger has given their customer NOTHING truly new to catch their attention.  In my opinion, it is a perfect example of catalog narcissism, because although the cataloger believes it changes all the time, the customer/consumer thinks that it never changes.

What does this have to do with selling products online that are not in the catalog? EVERYTHING. Here’s why: I think the problem with most catalogs is that they are lousy web merchants. When they first started selling online, the “web-only” products were the overstocks and lousy products that never sold in the catalog, so they stuck them on the web to clear out the inventory, where they sold no better. Thus, these catalogers have a basic sense that web-only products are dogs.

But, in the past few years, they have created web merchant positions. They usually assign “web merchandising” to a junior person, and give the person no support, no PPC funds, and would never think of putting new products on the web first. (I’ve had clients tell me they hold all new products to introduce in the catalog, so that the catalog is “special” to the customer.) Worse, due to internal organizational structures, I know that in some companies the catalog merchants can “steal” web-only merchandise, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Consequently, it becomes self-fulling that if you only keep the good stuff in the catalog, no one is going to think of going to your website to see what’s new, or if there is anything else. Old school thinking is killing most catalogs, and most of those old-school practitioners seem unaware that the front of the ship has slipped beneath the waves.

I love having Frank Oliver as a merchandise consultant now, someone I can turn to with just these sorts of questions. Frank of course agrees that catalogers need to see that extra web presentations can “fill out” the line of products, especially if you want to show category authority. A pedal-to-the-metal merchant like Frank sees web-only products as a huge testing lab. Products destined for the catalog always have a formal “vetting” process, which vary by cataloger, but tend to slow the introduction of new products, giving online-only companies an edge at introducing new products. On the web, a merchant like Frank can test 20 new products where as in the catalog he might have only tested 5.  “Yes, for most catalogers, web-only products do not sell in the volumes of on-page items, but there must be a “multiplier”. When I test 20 web-only products and pick the best five to run on-page next season, you start to build a “how much better” factor for on-page exposure. Small bets start to yield large returns in future catalog performance.”

What is the ultimate answer? We know products sell online without a catalog, it works for hundreds of companies. Can it work for “nice to have” products vs. “must have” products? Yes, if the consumer recognizes a reason to go to your website to see that bigger assortment. Think of it this way – your local supermarket puts an FSI is the weekly newspaper – you remember newspapers, right? It advertises what is on sale. Many shoppers plan their trip to the store with these specials in mind. But it is not a comprehensive list of everything in the store. They know when you get there you will browse and you will be influenced by endcap displays and POS merchandising. The FSI is just to get the customer to the store where the “discovery” takes place.

Most of you are never going to create that sense of discovery with your website, or give the customer a reason to go beyond your catalog. So, you are correct, in your case, the product has to be in the catalog to sell.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

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My Wartime Consigliere

This week, I want to tell you why I asked Amy Africa to join me as one of our keynote speakers at Datamann’s seminar called Who Is Looking out for your Interests? on February 19.

If you know Amy, or have ever heard her talk, you can appreciate my dilemma in writing this. Where to start? There are so many reasons I had to include Amy in this seminar. In the world of catalogs, retail and ecommerce, Amy has been part of the internet and website conversation for the past 20 years. She has spoken before hundreds of audiences at an endless number of conferences and seminars. She has her devotees and plenty of detractors too.

But there are two main reasons I asked Amy, and a minor third reason.

First is Amy’s unwavering belief that the number one reason you have a website is to generate orders and sales, not to build brand or to drive customer engagement. You have a website. If you think otherwise, Amy’s “delivery” of her message will soon dispel any prior doubts you had. There are drill sergeants in the Marine Corps who would tremble before Amy when she delivers a “smack down” of some inefficient website. There is no middle ground with Amy and over the years, I’ve learned that audience members either love her or hate her. Moreover, I’ve learned that Amy’s advice and foresight into what drives consumers to respond is almost always right.

The second reason I asked Amy to join us is one of the same reasons I asked Kevin Hillstrom – she is independent. She has no “big data” agenda to push, or social media panaceas to sell you. She will tell you what is right and wrong with your website with no hidden agenda. She has told me that she is struggling with talking about the future (the one thing I asked her to do) because so many marketers are simply screwing up the present.


Finally, contrary to what one consultant asked me, I don’t think Amy is a psychopathic axe murderer. This consultant drew that conclusion on the basis of my prior remarks that Amy “will never stab you in the back, nor take a cheap shot – you will see her coming straight at you, as she plunges her attack on your web marketing directly into your belly.” On the contrary, Amy has been a windward anchor, and personal confidant for me over the past 23 years that I have known her.  She has called me up or sent me numerous stinging emails pointing out incredibly stupid mistakes I have made, or am about to make. More than once, she has saved my hide.  I have tolerated and always welcomed this from Amy because she is almost always right, and she never calls or emails without a solution to the problem she sees. That is what makes her my wartime consigliere. How could I not ask her to share her wisdom with you?

Amy referred to the combination of Africa, Hillstrom, and LaPierre as the unholy trinity. Well, we may be a motley trio, but we will give you an unbiased view of the future of catalog survival and ecommerce growth that you won’t get elsewhere.

Remember the facts – our all-day seminar on Who Is Looking out for your Interests? that Datamann is sponsoring for the Vermont / New Hampshire Marketing Group, is on Thursday February 19, 2015 at the Marriott Courtyard/ Grappone Conference Center in Concord, NH.  We have mailers coming from Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Dakota.

If you have not yet registered, click here for the seminar registration page on the VT/NH Marketing Group’s website. But you must register soon! (Concord is New Hampshire’s state capital, and is only 20 minutes north of the Manchester, NH airport, which is served by all major airlines). Hotel rooms are going quickly, so make your reservation today!

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


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Why Do Ecommerce People Always Say “Conversion” Instead of “Response”?

I consider myself extremely lucky to have gotten Larry Kavanagh to speak at Datamann’s seminar on Analytics for Marketers, which we are sponsoring for the VT/NH Marketing Group on Thursday February 20.

Larry is one of the nation’s leading experts in on-line marketing and ecommerce for mid-size companies. In his portion of the seminar, he’ll show you how improving your website’s conversion can be broken down into two distinct activities: cart adoption – adding an item to a cart; and cart completion – successfully checking out.

Larry does lots of testing for his clients, and lots of detailed analysis. He’s going to present the analytics behind some of that testing on shopping cart adoption, the online version of “square inch analysis”. He’s promised me that you’ll learn how to determine which products are worthy of more exposure on your site and which products are conversion death traps, and how to optimize all products to increase revenue and profits.

Moreover, he’s going to illustrate how to use metrics and analytics to uncover “holes” in your checkout process, as well as how to use A/B split tests to find the most effective “patches” for your “holes”, which can increase your company’s web sales by 3% to 10%.

Finally, I’m going to get him to answer my question on why ecommerce people always say “conversion” instead of “response”. What more could you want??

In case you have never heard Larry speak, be prepared for some awesome insight. From 1991 to 1999 Larry was the VP of Marketing and General Manager of Gardens Alive!, a large, multi-title catalog and ecommerce business. He founded D.M.insite in 2000, which at the time was one of the nation’s first ecommerce platforms for mid-market companies. D.M.insite made the INC 500 list in 2006. He merged D.M.insite with Moyo Group in 2011 to form Kalio. He left Kalio last year to start his own consulting practice, Kavanagh Commerce.

The Analytics for Marketers seminar, which Datamann is sponsoring for the VT/NH Marketing Group, is on Thursday February 20, 2014 from 9 AM to 4 PM at the Marriott Courtyard / Grappone Conference Center in Concord, NH.

To register for the seminar, contact the Vermont/ New Hampshire Marketing Group.   Registration costs for this all day event are as follows:

  • $90 for VT/NH MG members
  • $125 for non-members
  • $100 for NEMOA members
  • Registrations are accepted until February 18, 2014

The fastest and easiest way to register: Go to the VT/NH MG website at

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

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