Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cafepress and Shopbot Beta

I'm a long-time Cafepress store owner and that seems to have gotten me an invite to play with a private beta marketing application called "Shopbot."

Now, I'm still poking things and pressing buttons, but it seems to work pretty well. It certainly shows off these products well.

And I welcome it with open arms. You see, I just plain suck at marketing. And I doubt that I'm alone in this. To the extent that Cafepress, Zazzle and other such enterprises survive at all, they survive due to professional marketing affiliates. Us creative types tend to be more interested in making the new thing than selling the old thing.

Anyway, this has led me to think aloud. You see, my father was a salesman and I grew up knowing what was involved in sales, in marketing, in social networking, in the whole process of "getting to yes," and at the same time, knowing that I sucked. Badly. It fascinates me, but in the same way that spiders and and plummeting do. I want to avoid accidental encounters very, very badly.

I also learned that sales and marketing are every bit as much a creative talent as is what I do when I sit down to write or make art, and I come to regret the snottiness and high episcopal disdain I've felt for the nuts and bolts of marketing.

There's hardly an aspect of marketing that I don't do every day, and do well enough or even better than most - until it comes to closing the deal. That's where technique and skill end and raw native capacity begins; you either can, or you can't.

I can't. So when it comes to that, I much prefer automated solutions, ways of allowing other people to market my stuff, or simply decide to buy it on it's own merits.

The one positive thing in this whole matter that I learned from my father was that, for a salesman, the best of all possible worlds was a product that was good enough and cheap enough that all the salesman had to do was haul it out of the sample case and slap down an order form.

That's a tall order in itself, but I do try. And I really very much rely upon tools like this to give me some of the advantages that used to be reserved to very well-heeled professional marketing intermediaries.

This tool is similar in that way to several others - for instance, this Zazzle scroller. The zazzle tool, though, has a feature that doesn't seem to exist with this (although I could well be wrong about that, or it could as yet be un-implemented.) The zazzle tool allows me to display my own designs, or to display particular products and keywords; so I chould choose to scroll all "Chrismas Mugs" or "Mother's Day Cards."

But the only intertivity they leave to the consumer - the person who has to "come to yes" in the equasion - is whether to buy any particular product or not. And as such, this is simply a smarter and more elegant way of better targeting a market niche.

This is the internet and we are speaking of custom items. I want a feature I see in none of these examples; I want a way for my customer to ask, in an automatic way, "can I have that in purple" or "could you put my kid's name on this" in a way that automates the calculations and generates an individual quotation. One of the reasons why I prefer Zazzle to Cafepress in many ways is that Zazzle does that for me - it's a means by which people may build upon my work in an automated way.

And I'd like to see Cafepress take that up in it's own way. For instance, I'd like to be able to release some or all of the designs I've uploaded over the years to Cafepress "into the wild," for people to use, or even resell. For a modest fee, of course.

Anyway, that's my thinking at the moment. Time to put this out there and see what it does. :)

Christmas Trees and the Fudge of the Gods

We aren't planning on having a tree this year. Why? Well, it's just that it's a damn tough act to follow.

Speaking of tough acts - as you can see, our next-door neighbors have a candy shop. It's not just any candy shop; it's an old fashioned penny-candy shop. Not that you can get anything for a penny these days; even wholesale. But you can find all the old-fashioned things, like Horehound Drops and Sen-Sen.

That alone would be unremarkable; what is remarkable, indecent, sinful and decadent is their home-made fudge. They treated us to a slab of it, maraschino cherry flavored. (They have twenty-odd others.)

Now, you know how it is with fudge. Every one's recipe is different, everyone swears theirs is best and the only proper thing to do is to nod, smile and hide the remains.

Their fudge would be an exception to that rule. Think of a Sees or Lindor truffle. Now think of just the good part, incarnated as a slab the size of your hand. Literally too much for one person to eat at once. So good you will absolutely hate not being able to. Utter, freaking tastegasms!

While Reno, Nevada doesn't make you think automatically of high standards, or excellence in anything - it sets a damn high bar for food in general and desserts in particular. It is, after all, the mecca for white, middle-class, heterosexual sin. :) Eating is the major recreational activity in Reno; my wife and I are still shedding pounds. Ah, the Black Bear Diner, the Peppermill Buffet, the steaks at the Gold Dust West... And the signature desserts of each!

This fudge is sinful enough to provoke exorcisms. This fudge would be right at home in The Peppermill or The Sienna. I'm certain there's not a pastry chef working in Reno that would not bleed for this recipe. Making fudge is easy. But fudge is rather like Go - an hour to learn, a lifetime to perfect.

No, damn it, they don't have a website. I'm pestering them. Meanwhile, I'll take serious inquiries to them. As I said, they are right next door and it's the slow season here in Greenwood. So if you happen to be putting together gift baskets and are lacking that distinctive, memorable item - email me quick.

If you are in Canada, there's still time for sure.

No Holiday Whining!

The loud detonation of Christmas Crackers has become a North American tradition. Sneak this design onto a nondenominational holiday tree near you.


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