Finding the right audience is the first step to a successful advertising campaign. Placing a billboard for a luxury sedan in a rundown, low-income neighborhood won't gain as many new sales as one placed in an upscale district where residents are more likely to be able to afford a $50,000 car. Similarly, an advertisement for mechanic's tools is likely to bring more return on investment in a race car magazine than in a woman's periodical.
So, where should merchants spend their advertising dollars to reach more consumers? Why, through the merchant's existing customers - a built-in audience that can spread word of the businesses products and services to friends, family and associates.
Word-of-mouth advertising is often said to be the best advertising of all. And it costs merchants nothing. In hard times, small business owners tend to cut back on advertising. However, a targeted advertising campaign can increase revenue and more than pay for itself. LIFT Network founder and President Dyson Barnett believes capitalizing on initial word-of-mouth advertising is "far, far less expensive" than anything else merchants can do with their advertising budgets.
Barnett knows how a retailer thinks, because he is one himself. He worked in retail doing build-outs and store development, audit management and loss prevention.
He established a company that sold POS solutions and, through his relationship with software vendors, crossed over to the payments industry. But he is still a retailer, and his extended family owns nearly 40 retail locations, including restaurants, delis and coffee shops.
Barnett created the LIFT Network system to benefit retailers, ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs). But most ISOs and MLSs do nothing to help retailers increase sales, even though it would ultimately boost their own revenue streams, Barnett said.
So LIFT Network offers ISOs a comprehensive, targeted and multifaceted advertising solution. The package includes cards that incorporate gift, prepaid, loyalty and rewards, and marketing via e-mail, Internet, targeted mail and text messaging. The package also includes customer relationship management.
According to Barnett, the LIFT Network system touches merchants' customers five times or more per month, whether merchants own one or hundreds of locations, and helps them increase sales.
All of LIFT Network's tools are delivered on hardware integrated with proprietary software, which Barnett said makes switching to another processor a less attractive option for merchants.
ISOs and MLSs must compete against other salespeople calling on the same merchants. Piquing a prospect's attention with LIFT Network's value-adds can help ISOs differentiate themselves.
Mike Henderson is a LIFT Network believer. He runs an ISO with up to 20 sales people and said his office leads with the LIFT Network program. Its merchant services are "just one of those things that's just added into the package and we're good to go," he said.
Henderson said offering LIFT Network requires a mental shift from the standard savings-based-on-rate pitch. He elaborated, noting that a merchant "doesn't wake up in the morning going, 'Gee, how much can I save today?' It's, 'How much can I make today?' When I got that into my own head and focused on that, it was just like night and day from what I was doing."
Barnett noted that the question for merchants is not so much how to compete as whether they actually are competing. "All they know is they're shelling out cash," he said. "I call it the pay and pray: pay for the advertising and pray that it's going to work. Do it again. Do it again. Do it again."
He estimated that small business owners invest $500 to $900 per month for advertising that may not hit the target audience. But Barnett does not find that surprising because he believes most merchants aren't marketers; they're just following somebody else's lead, good or bad. In contrast, LIFT Network's system touches the merchant's customers often, incentivizes them to come back and invites them to recommend the merchant to others, Barnett added.
Incubated in the 8-year-old gift card company International Card Establishments Inc., LIFT Network has a foundation in the gift and loyalty space.
It tested the attributes of the e-mail, mobile messaging and Internet services to "great success," Barnett said. Now the company seeks more relationships with ISOs and MLSs.
With so many new tools, services and software added in LIFT Network's first year of operation (along with a new brand and a new look), a certain amount of push-back and problems could be expected. Barnett said none of the issues were evident beforehand, but the transition was relatively seamless and the company's customers rolled with the changes.
According to Barnett, creating a wholly integrated solution for merchants was the best decision the company made because merchants aren't comfortable with change. "When you're using our system, you can tie a card to an e-mail, to a text message, to a mobile ad, to mobile coupon, and back to the marketing all at one time," he said. "That's the power of the LIFT Network itself; all driven by a card or a cardless transaction."
The basic LIFT Network package includes:
Recommendations go a long way in today's consumer world. Fewer people reach for the phone book when they look for a place to eat or shop.
Not only do people search online for phone numbers of favorite restaurants, they also look online for restaurants they haven't tried yet.
With LIFT Network's Shop & Dine Rewards network, consumers can search for eateries and retailers, read customer reviews, add reviews and rate establishments, obtain promotions and coupons, and access Google Maps - all on one site, found at www.shopanddinerewards.com.
A comScore Inc. study conducted in October 2007 by The Kelsey Group analyzed the impact of online reviews on how consumers choose restaurants and hotels, as well as travel, legal, medical, automotive and home services. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed indicated they turned to online reviews before making an offline purchase.
Nearly all (97 percent) of the participants also indicated that when they made purchases based on online reviews, they found them to be accurate. And they were willing to pay more for a product or service that garnered a positive review.
Barnett said LIFT Network plans to upgrade ShopandDineRewards.com in the coming year. The company is in talks with major industry players to help expand the review feature. LIFT Network also plans to add affiliate reviews.
LIFT Network is building partnerships within the payments, advertising and related industries to realize its goal of reaching 500,000 merchants. Barnett said the company's main goal, however, is to "define ourselves as the best resource a small, independent business can really use." While LIFT Network works with larger companies, its primary focus is small businesses.
Roughly 250 ISOs or MLSs currently sell the LIFT Network system. LIFT Network provides a training suite called Lift University for its sales agents. The training comprises marketing tools, information on marketing businesses and sales tips.
"They've got everything you could want there as far as support," Henderson said. He cited one-on-one coaching for sales reps and one-on-one business coaches for merchants as winning features of the LIFT Network support.
"As far as supporting your merchant, we say it this way, 'If you're great at it, by all means, help them; if you're not great at it, we'll do it,'" Barnett said. But payment processing issues are referred to the appropriate ISO or MLS. "You process their payments; we'll build their business," he said.
North American Bancard is another LIFT Network customer. Martin Wood, National Executive Recruiter for NAB, said, "We're growing each and every day with the agents that are signing up with LIFT Network, and it's just an exciting company to work with. And my agents value that as a part of their total solution for the future. I believe it's a company that's going to be a second to none out there in the marketing tool kit arena."
Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.
Phone: 866-701-7106, option 6
555 Airport Way, Suite A
Camarillo, CA 93010
Web site: www.liftmysales.com