Social firms work hard to be 'likeable'

By Jo Francis, Friday 27 September 2013

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Networking websites offer a low-cost way to improve sales performance and raise your profile.

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AURA PRINT

Vital statistics

Location Huddersfield

Inspection host James Croisdale, marketing design and pre-press specialist

Size Nine staff, turnover circa £600,000

Established By director Liam Smith in 2007

Products A wide range of print products including leaflets, letterheads, compliment slips, brochures, folders and kiss-cut stickers. Also PVC, vinyl, mesh and bioflex banners, and canvas prints

Clients Provides printing services to consumer and business clients, as well as a trade print service

Kit Two Roland wide-format printers and Konica Minolta sheetfed digital equipment, including a new Konica Minolta c8000 press

Premises Moved to new premises 18 months ago

Inspection focus

  • How Aura Print has kept growing throughout the recession, through consistently marketing its business using relatively low-cost methods


The challenge

 

Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of competition for printers that produce leaflets, flyers, banners or indeed letterheads.

Yet such work is bread-and-butter to Huddersfield-based Aura Print. Operating as it does in a hugely-competitive market, the firm wanted to find ways of differentiating its print and design service. By doing so it would fulfil its ambitions to keep on growing the business through the recent downturn.

Aura Print’s client base is split three ways across direct-to-consumer customers; business clients, who vary in size from local SMEs to larger, national organisations; and the firm also offers a trade printing service.

The company has turned to technology to help it punch above its weight and keep sales flowing.

James Croisdale, marketing,  design and pre-press specialist at the business, says the company adopted  a multi-pronged approach to achieving its goal.

This has involved investing in expanding its in-house production capabilities and focusing its operations around an e-commerce website. And it has selectively engaged with some of the web’s major communities to encourage customers to try its services and then keep on coming back.

The method

Like many enterprises that secure a lot of business via the ‘passing trade’ of the internet, Aura Print has invested in search engine optimisation (SEO) to attain a higher ranking on Google, and has also used Google Adwords.

However, as Croisdale admits, SEO can be "a bit of a black art" and those rankings can be a moveable feast. "There are lots of ways to do it, but nobody really knows what Google is doing. They can change their algorithms overnight."

As a result, Aura Print has spread its activities in order not to be over-reliant on Google.

The company set up a Facebook page in February 2010, and this has become more and more important to the business. It now focuses much of its promotional activity around this platform.

Aura chose Facebook as the best route after what might be described as a head-to-head-to-head test of social media platforms.

"We spent a solid month doing LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook," explains Croisdale. "At the end of the month we analysed the results and LinkedIn and Twitter didn’t really perform for us."

Understandably, the tight-knit team didn’t want to waste time and effort spreading itself too thinly across too many channels.

"We haven’t got time to do everything, so we focused on Facebook because it was the best medium for us, and we’re all familiar with it."

The next task was to increase the number of ‘likes’ on Aura’s Facebook page, beyond its existing client base, to gain critical mass and hopefully a new pool of potential customers.

Credit goes to "the boss’s wife", at this point, because it was she who had the bright idea to seed a promotional competition via the extremely popular Money Saving Expert site.

This involved a simple offer: people who visited the Aura Print Facebook page and opted to ‘like’ it, were entered into a draw to win an Apple iPad.

This worked well for the business, although Croisdale jokes that it was something of a wrench sending the iPad out to the winner: "None of us had one at the time and we were all looking enviously at the box!"

It has also tried similar promotions involving canvas prints as the prize.

Today, Aura Print has more than 3,100 likes on its Facebook page, and it works hard to keep this community engaged.

"We offer a 5% discount to people who like our Facebook page, and then we have special offer codes if you visit the page."

The company is able to vary the use of these codes to help smooth the peaks and troughs of a typical production week.

"From Monday through to Wednesday we’re usually busy. So, to even things out we can use time-specific promotions, for example we might have a promo code that runs from Wednesday evening through to close of play on Friday," explains Croisdale.

The Facebook page is maintained by the Aura Print team, who keep up the ongoing interaction by posting images of the latest jobs they’ve been working on, or fun and quirky links, to keep the information fresh.

"We keep it light and try not to irritate people with constant promos or messages. We keep that in mind."

Croisdale says the company isn’t interested in just acquiring a huge number of additional likes to bump up its profile, either. "We don’t want to buy a load of likes just for the sake of vanity. We want genuine likes  from people who are really interested in us."

The other thing he, well, "likes" about Facebook is the fact that there is no incremental cost in using it. Although Aura Print is willing to invest in Facebook’s paid-for services when it suits.

"We’ve tried using Facebook’s ‘promoted post’ option for some specific promotions and it has worked well and been cost-effective."

The firm also sells some of its products via another online giant – eBay. "We keep it simple, and focus on banners and leaflets there for the most part," says Croisdale.

Around 20% of the firm’s work comes in this way, and Aura Print has top seller status on the site. But Croisdale is acutely aware that this is not without potential perils.

"Once you’ve got up to a certain level on eBay and have top seller status, you can become worried about losing it. It only takes someone to place an order for something like a banner, and then change their mind about it when it’s too late and it’s already been printed. You can end up dancing around trying to avoid bad feedback over things that aren’t your fault," he warns.

A further marketing push has come via an email marketing campaign using a bought-in list, specifically targeted at increasing Aura Print’s trade customers. The firm has documented the process on its own blog at www.auraprint.co.uk. While it has gained new clients as a result, Croisdale realises very well that expectations need to be managed due to this medium’s typically low response rate: "It’s such a tiny percentage response, you can feel like it’s not working."

A fundamental part of Aura Print’s growth has been its custom-built website that allows orders gained via eBay, Facebook or a straightforward internet search to be processed as efficiently as possible. The firm advanced from a shop window website to a full-blown e-commerce version around five years ago.

"Our entire operation is based around the back-end of the website," Croisdale explains. "The information flows through into our management system and it’s all designed for the minimum of intervention – nobody has scraps of paper all over their desk anymore!

"It has a queue system that logs all the steps and sends out emails or texts to customers to keep them informed about their job’s progress."

Its in-house design service has also been a big selling point for the company, and with some products it offers this as a free service – not least because it can save time in the long run if Aura is dealing with a client who doesn’t have print know-how.

The result

Aura Print has grown by approximately 25% a year for the past three years, which is, as Croisdale rightly points out "no mean feat".

From its start up with just a couple of staff, the firm now employs nine. It took on three new employees last summer after the growth in sales fuelled a move to new 200m2 premises and a revamp of its digital printing facilities – it has added a Konica Minolta Bizhub Press c8000e, which Croisdale says is "fantastic, we’re really pleased with it".

The new facility is in a more prominent location, which has also helped to raise the company’s profile in the local area.

Ultimately, the fruits of the company’s ongoing marketing activities are evident when it comes to Aura Print’s bottom line.

There is something of a stereotype attached to people who come from Yorkshire, specifically their reputation for being, shall we say, ‘careful’ with money. So it is appropriate that Croisdale concludes with some wise words on this very topic. "Every little order that trickles in adds up to a lot over the course of a year. Pennies make pounds."


DO IT YOURSELF

Aura Print doesn’t have a huge  team, or a dedicated marketing department, proving that neither is necessary as long as team members can agree on a strategy and on who does what.

First, consider the sort of customer you wish to target. If they’re the sort of people who are typically on Facebook in large numbers, great. If it’s more likely they would spend time on another forum, such as Pinterest or LinkedIn, then target your efforts accordingly.

Aura Print tested the waters on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn before deciding to focus its activities on Facebook. Although it still has a presence on the other two sites.

Think about the sort of promotions you can offer. It was clever of Aura to use giveaways to build up the number of ‘likes’ on Facebook, and to get these promotions mentioned on the Money Saving Expert site, which has a huge amount of traffic.

Using offer codes that are for specific products and time-limited, in order to drive the right type of work to its factory at the right time of the week is also a clever way to make promotions work on multiple levels – bringing in new business and at the same time making the best use of the available production facilities.

Think about targeted offers, rather than a scattergun approach.

Potential pitfalls

If you’re going to have a giveaway competition, make sure you comply with any necessary legalities. And if, for example, you choose to use Facebook Pages there are terms and conditions associated with how a firm can use its Page, including how it runs any promotions or contests. Details can be found at https://www.facebook.com/page_guidelines.php

Beware of creating an offer that’s too good to be true and that could result in an influx of inappropriate or, worse, unprofitable work – remember Hoover’s free flights fiasco?

It’s stating the obvious but if you’re going to give out multiple offer codes, you need an ordering system that can handle them.

Top tips for success

  • Create a programme of promo activities and offers that will chime with likely seasonal or event-based opportunities, tuned to appeal to your target market.
  • Make sure your promotional activities fit in with your firm’s own work patterns.
  • Use examples of current work as a way of generating additional, similar orders. "Here’s a great banner we’ve produced for XYZ Hairdressing"
  • Unless you’re very sure that this is what they want, avoid spamming your customer community with too many offers, or inane posts. Try to find a balance where you entertain and inspire them.

Croisdale’s top tip

"We keep it light and try not to irritate people with constant promos or messages. We keep that in mind."


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