So we’ve been talking a bit on our blog about getting people on your newsletter, getting them to shop on your site after finding you on social media, etc. It’s all about your call to action. Danielle of the The Merriweather Council joined us in our creative business owners’ Facebook group to answer questions about to talk about adding value rather than offering discounts. We talk about why discounts aren’t always the best option for opt-ins, what can be used as a value add instead, and why what you offer matters to your future relationship with your customers.
- What the heck is an opt-in?
- Why people start with discounts
- Timing your opt-in offer
- Nurturing customers who will pay full price
- Why big businesses can get away with discounting and you can’t
- Making your customers feel like VIPs
- Limiting availability of offers
- The right reasons to do a sale
- Thinking of more creative opt-ins
Arianne: Hi everybody. We are here this morning with Danielle of the Merriweather Council, who has lots of great info on helping you with your Etsy shop and getting a handcrafted business up and running and playing with the big boys. And I’m going to let her introduce herself a bit and explain a bit more what Merriweather Council does, and then today we are going to be talking about your opt-in offers and why maybe making it a discount or percentage off is not your very best option. So Danielle, tell us a little bit about yourself, and we can get rolling.
Danielle: Well, thank you for having me, first of all. I’m so excited to be here. I’m Danielle from the Merriweather Council. I am the Chief Bossypants/Head Honcho over there. At the Merriweather Council, I have a product-based business and a service-based business that run side by side. So I’ve been a maker in business for the past eight years, and I also am a supporter of makers in business through my blog and podcasts, and I work to achieve my ideal world vision, which is that arts and craftsmen and artisans are not a novelty, but just part of everyday life for us, and the more people that I can empower to share their work and sell their work with confidence, the closer I get to my ideal world vision. So I’m so excited to be able to help people move past some of the hurdles that I experienced in my business, and just share best practices and training to get more people to do what they love and modicize their crafty tendencies.
Arianne: I love that. Small business world domination. Let’s do it. I am totally with you. We are going to take questions during the live video, and if you’re watching this later, it’s always fine to leave a comment or question, and we will go ahead and follow up whenever we can. So let’s talk about opt-ins. First of all, what the heck is an opt-in?
Danielle: An opt-in, I feel like product sellers get confused with words like “opt-ins” and “content” because they feel very like for bloggers or service providers. But content is really just anything you’re publishing, and opt-ins are basically incentives to get people to do something. To join your group, to subscribe to your list, or whatever. You’re going to give them … You want to give them something that makes it so they want to do it. They’re just like, “Oh, I can’t miss it. I’ve gotta join, opt-in, whatever,” and a lot of times we see this in the service space world with bloggers and infopreneurs that have free worksheets or free eBooks or something, and then product sellers are like, “I get it, but what am I going to offer?” And the first natural thing to think of offering to get people to take that action that you want them to is, “Oh, I’ll give them a discount on my product.”
Arianne: Right. Seems simple enough.
Danielle: It’s a very natural thought process, and like I get it. But if we really unpack it, it maybe doesn’t make as much sense as we want it to.
Arianne: Yeah. So, my pet peeve lately is when we’re setting up the site for a client and we ask them what they want the newsletter opt-in to say, and they’re like, “I don’t know, sign up for news and discounts?” And I’m just like, “Oh, no no no no.” At least do something more specific, and hopefully do something more interesting. So I’d love to hear some ideas from you. Well, before we think about ideas of how to do it right, let’s talk about the dangers of doing it wrong. I’d love to hear more about that.
Danielle: Sure. So of course, everything, all advice, should be taken with a grain of salt, obviously, and filtered through the lens of your own business. So this isn’t like a blanket statement, this is just things to think about, things to be aware of before you make a decision. From my perspective, a small business offering a discount opt-in is usually more detrimental than it is worthwhile. What happens is, someone’s on your site, and you’ve probably done a decent amount of work to get them there, because that’s the thing that people always want to know, is how do I drive traffic to my site. So you’re out there hustling to get people to your site, and then bam, as soon as they get there a lot of times the timing is off, too. As soon as they get there, they’re faced with the option to discount your product.
Danielle: Immediately. Before they’ve even seen it, usually, or before they’ve even explored it. They maybe saw it from Instagram, just like a still shot or whatever. They haven’t read the description, they haven’t seen all of your hard work that you put into your site, probably. So right off the bat, they’re faced with the option to discount your product. So to me, that doesn’t make a lot of sense at all, because you’ve done all this hard work to get people there and to put your product together and to create a product that makes sense and is marketable and profitable, and now you’ve gone ahead and discounted it. Whereas, the people who’ve made it to your site are like the most likely to purchase something. If they’ve come from somewhere else, they’re like already on the right track to purchasing, and you’ve put this hurdle in front of them for you. I mean, for them it’s like, “Okay, great.” But for you, it’s like all that hard work you did to convert a customer has just been like reduced.
Danielle: So yeah, it bothers me when I see that, because like I said, a lot of times people, the timing, especially, is off because it’s immediate. The pop-up comes up immediately or is across the top of the site. It’s like one of the first things you see because people sometimes even prioritize those opt-ins over sales. But for me, I think we should let the people who have arrived as the result of our hard work explore our items and make decisions about whether they want to buy them at full price before we go ahead and start offering all these discounts up front. It just doesn’t make sense, if we think about it that way. You know, we’re all out there hustling really hard to get people to our site and to make sales, and then we go ahead and reduce our own value right off the bat. For anybody. For anybody who lands on the site.
Arianne: Let’s talk about timing a little bit, because I think people got so used to just being slapped in the face with a pop-up whenever they hit an ecommerce site now that it’s like you’re almost ready with that fly swatter the second you go to a new site. Sometimes you don’t even read what the opt-in is. I’d love to hear more about what you think about when people should ask people to opt-in.
Danielle: I think that it’s usually best to have some sort of stagnant opt-in, you know, join our newsletter or like, get updates or whatever. Something that’s always there, but maybe not the first thing that you see. Let people sort of naturally come about it in a place where they’ve already seen a decent selection of things or they know they want to subscribe and know more rather than it’s the first thing they see, and it’s like, they don’t even have any context for what this might even be.
Arianne: I know, it’s like I don’t know if I want a discount yet. I’m not even sure where I am.
Danielle: I don’t even know what you would be sending me information about right now, you know? So if there could be like across the footer or even in the header, just something really general or that offers some other type of value rather than the discount. But for me, even there’s a lot of … on Etsy, you can do this. I’m sure there are apps that you could do this with Shopify or WooCommerce, where after someone places an order, they get an automatic coupon to apply to their next order.
Arianne: Oh yeah?
Danielle: Which also doesn’t usually make a lot of sense, because the person hasn’t even received their first item yet.
Arianne: They don’t know if they’re happy.
Danielle: Exactly. It’s almost like, “Oh, I could have had this for a discount to begin with, almost.” You know, it’s like I just paid full price, and now I could have had it for a discount, and also, the person who paid full price is like the ideal person, but we just deteriorated our relationship with that person who paid full price by offering them a discount. Why would we not want that person to come back and pay full price again, or at least follow along with us and wait for any promos we might do throughout the year, to be an engaged member of the community and to be following. You know, there’s a difference between someone who’s consistently following along with you, who purchases, who follows along and engages throughout the year, and someone who purchases and then grabs their discount.
Arianne: Yeah. And you know that person is like they understand your value and they’re willing to pay for it.
Arianne: Why go ahead and ruin that?
Danielle: We want to nurture those full-price payers, not deteriorate our relationship with them.
Arianne: Let’s talk a bit about the kind of people that you start to see on your mailing list if you do offer discounts.
Danielle: I’ve never offered an opt-in discount, so I can’t say for absolute sure, but I’ve been the person who opts in for the discount, and then usually from bigger chain stores like Express or Gap or whatever, you know? And then I just wait for the discounts to come, because I know they’re coming. So some of these businesses have established themselves in like sort of this cycle of every Tuesday and Thursday, we’re sending you a coupon for something. Whatever it is that you want to buy, just wait a couple days and it’ll be on sale. So as a consumer, I’ve definitely been the person who’s like, I’ve opted in for the discount, now I’ve established that I don’t have to pay full price here, so I won’t. I will wait until the next discount for the next thing I want to buy.
Danielle: There’s really, in some ways, you could argue that it’s fine to have people who will consistently buy at a discount, but how many of us small scale businesses are creating that many new products that people can come back to buy over and over at a discount to make it worth our while? You know what I mean?
Arianne: Right. It’s hard for a small business to be a discount business.
Danielle: Exactly. And some businesses certainly do operate on volume to begin with, like people who sell soap or cards, that is a volume-based business, but how much does a person really need that often? And you know, you really want to weigh the factors of your own business. Which is kind of why I said in the beginning you definitely want to filter all of this through the lens of your own business, but it’s really something to think about. Can you consistently be putting out fresh things over and over that people have a reason to buy? Especially if you’re going to be doing discounting. To me, it’s more valuable to run a few sales to your followers, to your list, to the people who are engaged with you throughout the year than to just put out these blanket coupons to everybody who comes through the door.
Arianne: Right. And Erin says, “That’s interesting. I think big brands have conditioned small businesses into this mode of thinking,” and that reminds me of a conversation I had with, I believe Nicole from Dear Handmade Life, and I talked about this. When you see big retailers doing discounts and sales and that kind of stuff, they’re not just doing it willy-nilly. They’re doing it because they have stock to get rid of, or like a particular reason that it makes financial sense for them to discount something. They’re not just doing it because it’s Wednesday or because it’s Sunday or anything like that. They have a real reason to do it, and usually it’s stuff that they were thinking was going to be hard to sell anyway.
Danielle: Exactly. They have the infrastructure to support running these sales consistently. Like, I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty positive that all these bigger businesses have teams of people who are operating research and development and customers and all this stuff, and they know what they’re doing because they have this infrastructure to support all of that that goes into the thought process. But most of us, it’s just us and maybe one other person. So we’re just kind of looking for clues from around our environment, and obviously as small businesses, we want to look at big businesses for clues about what to do, but also about what not to do or sort of how we can switch things to work for us better in our small business capacity. But these big businesses like Target and Amazon, they have infrastructure that supports their pricing. It’s like part of the thing, it’s just part of what they’re doing. And for most of us, that’s not what we have.
Arianne: Yeah. And I like to think of this from a branding standpoint, as well, because if the main thing you’re competing on is price, that is just a race to the bottom and it’s going to get frustrating really quickly. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find something about your business that is more valuable than things are cheap. Things are cheap isn’t the thing you want people to know about you. Let’s kind of shift around and talk about the right way to start doing an opt-in, or how you could think of something more creative, better for your business, better for your relationship with your customer. What do you see out there that is a good solution?
Danielle: I’ve definitely seen some examples of people being able to offer an increase in value rather than a discount. Nobody feels that things are overpriced to begin with, unless the whole experience feels like it was out of whack. You know, like if I’m paying full price for something, but every step of the way it was easy and enjoyable, that’s great. I feel almost like I got a bargain in some ways, if the experience was really great, and the price was reasonable. Right?
Danielle: But for people to incentivize opt-ins, I think first, just having your product and your storefront and your brand really cohesive and on point and easy to navigate, people will naturally go ahead and be like, “I’m into what I’m seeing here. Let me go ahead and ask for more of it.” If you can offer extra of what you’re already doing, or let’s stay in touch. For some people, that’s enough. Because we’re so inundated with information streaming through every outlet, sometimes it’s nice to be like, “Oh, I’m selecting this one entity that I want direct, they come to me. I don’t have to go to them.”
Danielle: For some people, that is enough of an incentive.
Arianne: And I prefer that you spend your time and effort making your business seem worth it than spending time and effort just crumbling down what you’ve been building.
Danielle: Yeah. Convincing you to buy something because it’s finally on sale, you know, whatever. And then I’ve seen people, like you know Abby Glassenberg. Her newsletter is basically like news. It’s like an old-timey newsletter in the sense that it’s basically an aggregation of what’s going on in the industry related to the people that are subscribed to her list, things that people would be interested in knowing about. So it’s almost like Abby did the work for me. I get to have my news aggregate come to my inbox, and then of course she works her own products in there, her own podcast, blog, whatever. So it’s almost like there’s definitely ways to provide value without discounting.
I’ve also seen people do VIP groups or VIP newsletters so you get access to something first, you get password protected content, or things like that. Depending on your business, obviously. Some people do have like an educational tie-in, so they do workshops or patterns or things like that, and that’s usually an easier convert, like an easier way to sort of see the connection.
Arianne: Yeah. We have clients that will let you see the new collection before other people get to. Or you get to shop some limited edition something, something like that.
Danielle: You can offer different colors or a special stone or whatever related to your business. Or if you have … I know one of my students, she does collections, and she releases them like you said, first to the list, and sometimes there’s none left by the time they get to the public.
Danielle: So that’s incentive, too. It’s like I want to have first dibs at something.
Arianne: That fear of missing out.
Danielle: Yeah. There’s lots of ways to generate FOMO, and increase the value of staying in touch, but it really, I think starts with putting something out that entices people to begin with.
Danielle: If people are enticed enough to come to your site, then on your site you can just entice them even more to want more.
Arianne: Right. And we’ve seen people have good success with things like offering free shipping or like a free gift that comes along. So you’re adding something or you’re discounting something that’s not your product. You’re making shipping free. That’s not a shocking thing to do, and it doesn’t devalue your product, but it does get people excited, especially if there’s a limited time that you’re offering free shipping or the free gift or extra add-on product, or whatever it is you decide to do.
Danielle: Yeah. I think that’s a huge part of it is limiting the availability of whatever. Either it’s time-wise or quantity-wise, because free shipping is a really good incentive. But if you’re always offering free shipping on everything, that sort of takes that incentive off the table for holidays or whatever. You know, usually people will do free shipping at like Christmastime or whatever. So you want to consider that, too. If you’re constantly offering one thing, that really makes it harder to offer something in the future limited-time.
Arianne: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, it might be good as you’re deciding how you’re going to structure your pricing and your shipping and all that, you might want to think, “Am I tying my hands for my future offers, or is this something that is a good idea to do year round?” And it’ll be different for different businesses. Like, a lot of people will have a free shipping threshold. Like it’ll be free over $50.00 so then you can offer free for any type of order. You can offer that to your mailing list.
Danielle: Right. No minimum purchase, yeah.
Arianne: Right. So what kinds of sales and promotions and things do you see on social media or Instagram that you think maybe are not such a good idea, and then maybe we could come up with some that look like a good thing to do. I guess I’m thinking, how do you get people, aside from when people are on your site and you know they’re interested, what kind of offers do you want to give people who don’t really know who you are yet and maybe just happen to cross you on social media? How do you get people interested?
Danielle: I think that I’ve definitely seen really creative promotions that people run. Just like “Oh, this week I’m doing a special” or whatever, and I don’t usually have a problem with occasional sales. I think the bigger issue for handmade people is that they’re underpricing to begin with, their pricing needs work, but if you want to run just like a temporary or traditional, we’re having a sale this week, I think the important thing for the seller is obviously to make it enticing to the person, but to make it mutually beneficial.
So, if I’m going to run a sale, it’s because I want to make a certain amount of money fast or I want to get rid of something fast or get something, just move on from it, or use up supply on something. And that’s beneficial to me, even if I’m not making as much money. Obviously you’re not because it’s on sale, but you’re freeing up brand space or physical space, and that has value to me, right? So I think it just has to be mutually beneficial for the seller and the buyer when there is a sale. Even if the sale is really big and it feels like, “What am I doing, here?” But it’s going to give you freedom or money or time or space back, then that has value to you. But in terms of getting people interested, I’ve definitely seen some creative things.
One thing that people I’ve seen do a few times is like scavenger hunts, where you have to go looking. I feel like that kind of takes too long … Like, to send somebody, I know most of the people in this community use Instagram pretty heavily, and to send someone off Instagram, usually from their phone on a scavenger hunt is like it’s too cumbersome. You really want to think about how people are accessing, where you’re posting it, and the process that people go through to access that. Is it mobile? Is it desktop? What are the inconsistencies of those things or the conundrums of those things, because that really changes how people are … people get fatigued after like four clicks, you know?
Danielle: So you really want to make it easy for people to take advantage of what you’re offering.
Arianne: I think if it was hard, you’re only going to get your super-fans to do it, anyway, and if you’re trying to attract a new audience, you don’t really want to make that hard.
Danielle: Right. You want to make it as easy as possible. Even on … I mean, maybe you know actually, because you know more about Shopify than I do, but Shopify doesn’t ask you for that coupon code until the very end of the process. Like, if you’re paying with PayPal, you’ve already put in your stuff and it shows you a different total and it throws people off. So I’ve stopped offering coupons and just reduced the price upfront to whatever it is, because people got so confused by like it’s not taking my coupon.
Arianne: I think that’s just a PayPal process. I think if you offer direct credit card payments, the coupon is a little more approachable.
Danielle: I think so, too. You really want to think through the customer process, too, because again, four clicks and people are like, “I’m over it.” Especially on a phone or they just want to get back to their Instagram scrolling or whatever. So I think making it as easy as possible for them to take advantage of what you are offering is probably the number one thing to make sure. Unless it’s like a real big, big incentive.
Arianne: Yeah. I like the idea of … It seems to me like if your first thing you want to do is discounting, that’s just sort of a desperate move there. I would rather than discount, I would rather just take some time to get creative and think of ways to just drive more traffic to your site, make your site more appealing, make sure you’re showing your product off with beautiful photography. You don’t want to talk your customers into buying from you, right?
Arianne: You want them to be so excited they’re just like, “I have to add this to my cart. I have to buy this right now.” So discounting doesn’t really go along the path there unless, like you said, it’s mutually beneficial.
Danielle: Yeah. You always want to make it like, “Okay yes, I’m offering a discount, but I’m getting something out of it. But also, it’s not forever and ever.” It’s not like a never-ending discount can apply to anything. But on your terms, this is what we’re doing this week. Take advantage of it if you want. If not, that’s fine, but these are my terms for this.
Arianne: Yeah. Do you have any thoughts on a more creative newsletter opt-in for a product-based business like for example, if you sell jewelry having some guide to gemstones or something like that. Do you find that if you give information to customers, is that something they want, or would you really prefer to just have them in the shopping mindset, not the learning mindset?
Danielle: Well, I think that some products definitely could benefit from educating people up front more about them, and that could potentially influence sales. So like, if you have a product that maybe could benefit from some kind of durability video or show people how strong it is or how it works if people aren’t sure what to do with it, anything like that. But sometimes those things are best like on the site to begin with.
Danielle: There’s nothing saying you can’t repeat yourself, you know. Sometimes people need that, where they’re not going to see it on your site for whatever reason, so it’s nice to put it in an email. But I think, depending on the product and the audience, there’s definitely ways to create little opt-in freebies that wouldn’t be a huge hassle. I like to think of things that are complimentary to the product. So, if you offer I don’t know, let’s say like little kid toys, maybe you can offer some kind of like complimentary item that goes with that that you can print and use with the toy, or it’s like a little play set. Something complimentary to the product is usually good. Or something that, like you said, educates them about the product before they buy it so that they’re more likely to buy it. Anything like that, and it really depends on the product. But I think that there’s a lot of pressure on product sellers to create these opt-ins, but maybe they don’t even really necessarily need them.
Danielle: It’s just about making everything so interesting to begin with that people just want more of it. But it could be a video behind the scenes, like more about the product or the business. I think it depends on who you are and what you’re selling, but there’s definitely other ways to do this than just offering discounts.
Arianne: Right. Ten things you didn’t know about embroidery. Sign up now.
Danielle: Yeah, it really depends who’s reading it and what kind of people do you want to nurture. Not necessarily who do you want to reach more of, but who do you want from the people you reached, who do you want to nurture from that group of people?
Arianne: Yeah. So I think we’ve got some people wondering, if I can’t say “discounts” on my opt-in, how in the world am I going to convince people to enter their email address and click submit? Right?
Arianne: We like to think of a more specific offer. So, what do you think, what have you seen that you really feel like, “Oh yeah. I definitely have to enter my email address here.” What do you think works really well for a smaller product-based business?
Danielle: Well, I’ve seen a ton of product-based businesses, obviously more so maybe than the average person because I work with them. And I think for me, it’s really like I’m interested in the person and what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, or I just want to know more about maybe even the materials they’re using. Why are they using these materials instead of those materials, or how did they get into this in the first place? Or this is a really interesting product, how could it apply to my life? Like, I want to buy this, but I don’t really know what I’d use it for.
Arianne: Yeah, so you might want to sign up for behind the scenes sneak peaks, or in the studio information, or maybe even upcoming events or shows?
Danielle: Yeah, events for sure, or if the person has that sort of educational spin or aspect of their business, sometimes that’s encouraging to me. Even though I work mostly with finished product sellers, I do have several supply sellers who I work with, and they are pretty good with that educational spin or like, “Here’s this project you could use this item for.” Or sew-alongs. Anything like that is really fun and engaging. I think you want to think about yourself as a consumer, too. It’s really easy to forget that we are consumers and we are engagers in the world. Like what do we like? What do we react to? And you don’t have to get married to this thing. You can change it. It’s not one and done.
But I think really, some people it is enough to offer them that direct access. Like, I will come to you. You don’t have to wait for Instagram to show my post to you. I’m going to come to you on this day at this time, and you’re not going to miss a thing. I’m going to always keep you in the loop, like that promise of exclusivity I think is a really good one. Especially right now, because there’s so much content floating around and coming at us all the time. I mean yes, even in your inbox, but I think people are more selective about what they allow in their inbox as to what they allow in their feed.
Arianne: Right. Which is why we don’t just want to give them a lame dud of a call to action. We want to give them a reason to commit to letting us into their inbox.
Danielle: Right. And it’s also more like quality versus quantity, too. You can have 8,000 people on your list, but if only they’re ever going to do anything when you give them 50% off, what good is that?
Arianne: Right. You’d rather have a smaller list.
Danielle: You’d rather have them on the list and then eventually give them a discount, rather than they’re just on this list waiting for a discount. But you know, it does depend who you are and what you’re selling.
Arianne: Yeah. Erica says she often opts in because she can’t buy right at the moment, but she doesn’t want to forget about the brand. So that’s a good thing to keep in mind.
Danielle: Exactly. Yeah, that whole like I’m going to come to you.
Arianne: I like that. We’ve got a couple articles on the Aeolidia blog that give ideas for your newsletter pop-uping, call to action stuff, and I’m sure you have something you could share, too, Danielle. So we’ll post some links after to just kind of follow up with more info. And then, Danielle, where can people find you?
Danielle: I do have a couple of podcast episodes on this topic, so I’ll link those for people.
Danielle: But people can follow up with me at merriweathercouncil.com. And my group, as well, CLHL.club. Those are like my two main places right now.
Danielle: But I’ll come back and link those episodes that are related to this topic.
Arianne: Wonderful, and I’m going to throw some links in, too, and we would love to continue answering your questions on this topic in the group, so thanks for being here today, everybody, and thank you so much, Danielle. That was very helpful.
Danielle: Thank you.
Arianne: Nice to see everyone. Bye.