Story As Sales Letter

Photo credit: Orin Zebest

A loud clang, a sickly-sounding whir and a faint waft of smoke.

That was what woke Jeannette Pearson from a sound sleep.

Snowflakes fluttered almost noiselessly outside. The intensely bright moon set the landscape aglow.

The whole scene should have been serene and peaceful but for that sickly whir and the musty, acrid, smoky smell. It gave her a dark chill that had nothing to do with the winter cold outside her cocoon of blankets.

Her heater had given up, possibly for good. Little Amy was probably already shivering in the next room.

It was 2am. What could she do?


For some reason, that phone number stuck out in Jeanette’s memory. Amy had seen it on a sign a few days earlier and asked why some phone numbers had letters.

Jeanette dialed and was relieved that someone answered….

The End of The Story

I have been playing around with the concept of creating an entire sales letter in the form of a dramatic story.

Using stories as part of the sales process is nothing new but what I have been experimenting with, as you can see above, is something slightly different.

As a pure story, it really isn’t bad. It wouldn’t win any prizes but it isn’t awful. As a sales letter, it really doesn’t seem to work at all.

Photo credit: mcfarlandmo, on Flickr

It’s possible that, with enough massaging, I could find a way to make it work. Maybe I just haven’t tried hard enough.

But the more time I put into it, the more I find myself writing a story versus selling a service. (This was not a piece for an actual client, but an intellectual exercise to keep my skills sharp.)

Instead I think it will be abandoned except as it appears in this article. It can serve as a reminder to me and others that storytelling has a rightful place in sales but it can never replace sales. Its purpose is just too different.


Adopt an Orphan App

Whether you already have a smartphone app for your business or not, you might consider “adopting” an existing app. LL Bean did this recently with the “Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder” app. This handy little app lists public parks and recreation areas within 100 miles of you (or any location you specify). It’s searchable and the list can be filtered.

But most relevant is that the app caters perfectly to the very same demographic as LL Bean’s customers. By adopting and co-sponsoring the app, both LL Bean and the app’s makers benefit. LL Bean benefits by being able to serve its customer’s interests better without incurring any cost for doing so. The makers of the ParkFinder app obviously benefit from exposure to LL Bean’s very large customer base.

So what existing apps can you partner with and just what might be involved in such a partnership? Let’s start with the easy part.

Forging A Partnership

The terms of the partnership you establish with the maker of an existing app will almost certainly be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Having said that, here are some things you might consider offering or asking for:

  1. Promote or distribute the app to your customer list
  2. Ask for sponsorship mention within the app, such as on a splash screen
  3. Paid advertising placement within the app (provides income to the developer and advertises your business to the app’s users)
  4. Highlighting or priority placement of your products or locations in lists returned by the app
  5. Provide content for lists and/or information used by the app
  6. Offer to host all or part of the app’s online content on your web server(s)

A partnership could involve some form of financial transaction but doesn’t need to so long as both parties receive value from the arrangement.

Finding An App To Partner With

It’s much more difficult to generalize about finding apps to partner with. This is where personalized assistance would be beneficial. (Please contact us if you would like to have a professional marketer handle this for your business.)

So let’s just examine some hypothetical ideas to get a sense of what’s possible and what angles to take.

  • If you’re a veterinarian
    • A pet medical records app
    • Listing of pet-friendly hotels
    • Holistic pet food recipes
  • For dentists
    • A game where players extract teeth from a crocodile
    • Dental care alarm clock with alarms for brushing, flossing and even checkups
  • Auto Mechanic
    • Troubleshooting and diagnostic tool
    • App to find the best gas prices
    • Auto accident reporting checklist
    • Flashlight app
  • Hotel or Bed & Breakfast Owner
    • Vacation planner
    • App that makes restaurant recommendations
    • Calendar app
    • Road trip app (i.e. to help you find the world’s largest can of spinach)
  • Skating rink or skate shop owner
    • Roller derby apps (used by officials to run a derby bout)
    • An app that shows skate-friendly paths (similar to jogging or biking paths)

The connection between your business and the function or focus of the app you adopt needn’t be direct. The ParkFinder app has nothing to do with LL Bean’s business of selling clothing. There should just be some logical correlation in order for the partnership to benefit both parties.

30+ Awesome Uses for QR Tags

Expanding on last week’s article, you can do a lot more with QR Tags than the typical bit of merely encoding a website URL. Let’s list some of the things that are technologically feasible. Along the way, I’ll also throw out a bunch of ideas for how small businesses can make good use of each feature.

  • Map coordinates
    • Do you have printed brochures and other “take-away” literature? Have a physical location like a store? Print one of these tags near your address. You won’t have to include a low-resolution map or lengthy directions to your location from every possible direction. Users who scan the tag will have it come up on a map right on their phone. From there, the phone’s built-in GPS system will guide them to you from wherever they are.
    • Even if your store’s location is familiar to shoppers, perhaps you are having a special sale or event at another location (such as a clearance sale from your warehouse). Or maybe your business is growing and you’re opening a new location. Use a Map Coordinates type QR Tag to direct shoppers.
    • Want to show where your materials or ingredients come from? A Map Coordinates QR Tag can pinpoint it for you!
  • Tweets and retweets for Twitter
    • The idea that you can write an article or blog post and put retweetable pull-quotes at the end isn’t new. I do it all the time on my website and I borrowed the idea after seeing others do the same thing. But what if your article will appear in print? Then you can’t really do it, right? Wrong! Sure, you can’t include hyperlinks but you can embed the retweet into a QR Tag. If readers can just scan the tag and not have to retype the tweet on their phone, it makes it much more likely that they’ll actually send the retweet.
  • Facebook profiles and Likes
    • It’s pretty common to see companies asking people “Like us on Facebook” in their ads. Why not go one step further and include a QR Tag that automates the process!
    • Have something cool on your corporate Facebook page? Something users won’t find on your website or anywhere else but Facebook? (You should.) Direct users to check it out by including a QR Tag that points users right to what you want them to see. They’ll appreciate not having to search for you or type in your profile manually.
  • LinkedIn profiles and status updates
    • Encourage people to connect with you on LinkedIn by making it super easy. Create a QR Tag that points to your LinkedIn profile. Let users know what to expect when they scan the tag (that they’ll be taken to your profile page) and ask them to send a connection request when they get there.
  • FourSquare check-in locations
    • Have a hip location that user’s like to tell their friends about? Make it a FourSquare location then post a QR Tag somewhere in your store. That makes it super easy for shoppers to check in and let others know they’ve been by to see you. (Ideally, it prompts those who see the check-in to come check you out themselves.)
    • Have multiple locations? Put a different check-in at each one!
  • Links to YouTube videos and iTunes songs
    • Do you have promotional videos, video testimonials, how-to videos and other kinds of videos showing your product or service in use? Do you have customer-submitted videos touting your business? If they’re not already, all of those should be up on YouTube. Then you can create QR Tags to point to some of them.
    • Specifically create a video showing how to assemble or install your product. Now your installation instructions can be a business card-sized sheet with a QR Tag pointing to that video online. It can even be a sticker attached to the product itself!
    • Do you have a book, song, course, app or other media that is available in the iTunes store? Create a QR Tag to point users right to it.
  • Simple text (almost anything you want, within the Tag’s capacity)
    • Have a highly customizable product? Let’s use a coffee shop as an example. A customer comes in and orders an African blend with a shot of orange syrup, soy milk and a dash of cloves. You create a Simple Text QR Tag on the spot describing the exact ingredients for that particular cup of coffee. Give it to the customer or attach it to the cup. If the customer wants to come back and order another just like it at a later time (or recommend it to a friend) all she has to do is scan the tag.
    • Create a contest or scavenger hunt which requires participants to assemble clues and solve some kind of mystery. Embed some or all of the clues in Simple Text QR Tags. Because they’re not online, participants will have to actually scan the tags. Scatter tags around your city, publish them in magazines or newspapers, even give some out with purchase of a product.
    • Encode a thank you note or discount code that customers see only after they’ve purchased one of your products. It can be printed right on the receipt, invoice or packing slip.
  • Phone number
    • Want to get customers to call you? Sure, you can print your number and ask users to dial it. Or you can use a Phone Number type QR Tag that will auto-dial it for them.
  • Skype connection information
    • Connect on Skype? This QR Tag is similar to the phone number type except that it connects a Skype call rather than dialing a regular phone call.
  • Text (SMS) message, including the number that the message should be sent to
    • Want confirmation that your product was delivered? Attach an SMS Message type QR Tag to the package and ask the courier or recipient to scan it upon receipt of the package. It will automatically send you a text message confirming delivery.
  • Email address
    • Easily share your email address by embedding it in a QR Tag. No more worries about misspellings or typos.
  • A complete email message, including both recipient address and subject line
    • Want to invite user feedback via email? Use this QR Tag to simplify the process. You can even pre-fill the first few lines of the email for your users.
  • vCard (virtual business card)
    • Show that your company is truly green by going paperless even with your business cards! Just carry one card that has a vCard type QR Tag on it. When you show it to a prospect or business partner and they scan the tag, it will add all your contact information to their phone’s address book.
    • When you go to a meeting, conference or expo print your own name tag that includes a vCard type QR Tag. Invite those you meet to scan the tag in order to add your contact information to their phone. They’ll remember you!
    • Print a vCard type QR Tag on the back of your regular business card. Recipients won’t have to scan or transcribe the information from your card, they can just scan the tag.
    • When you travel, create luggage tags with all your info. You could even put your complete travel itinerary.
  • Calendar entry
    • When you have a special event coming up and want people to mark their calendars, you can embed all the details in a Calendar Entry QR Tag. Scanning the tag will create a calendar entry with date, time, description, location, reminders… whatever details you specify.
  • WiFi login credentials
    • Have secure WiFi at your location that you selectively open up to certain visitors? Instead of openly sharing the login credentials, either verbally or in print, encode them in a QR Tag. When a user scans the tag, they’ll be connected automatically without actually seeing the credentials.
  • PayPal “Buy Now” link, including everything needed for a 1-click purchase
    • Let customers buy a product and pay for it with Paypal. While buttons and hyperlinks work great online, for a physical product try a QR Tag. Scanning it takes the customer to a Paypal form with all the fields already filled in for them.
    • Hold an auction or fundraiser with Paypal type QR Tags on the purchase sheet.
    • Turn your phone into a portable cash register by carrying around a pre-printed cheat sheet with QR Tags for all your most common items or prices. Scan the appropriate one and half your work is done for you.
    • Carry the portable cash register concept one step further by putting tags on all your pricing labels.
  • Website URL
    • Don’t just send users to your website, send them to a specific page on your site. Better yet, make it a non-indexed page that is hidden from search engines.
    • Have consumables that need to be replaced? Let’s say you sell and service copiers and printers. Attach QR Tags to every device. When a user scans the tag on their device, they are taken to a page on your website where they can easily order new toner, parts or schedule a service call for that exact model device. No wading through lots of menu options or trying to remember details about the printer that is down the hall, the tag contains all the data and feeds it right into your online ordering system.
    • Is your location inside a mall or in a large industrial park? Someplace complex to navigate but for which regular maps aren’t readily available? Have a map graphic created — it can even be interactive and zoomable if you get really fancy — then post it on a special page of your website. Similar to the Map Coordinates type QR Tag, direct scanners here to really find you once they get close.

There are many creative uses for QR Tags and new uses are being developed all the time. So don’t just send users to your website, wow them by putting the real power of QR Tags to use!

Click any of the icons below to retweet these passages from the above article.

Retweet this passage Print a QR Tag near your address on printed brochures and other “take-away” literature.

Retweet this passage Use GPS to guide customers to you from wherever they are.

Retweet this passage It’s common to see companies ask “Like us on Facebook”. Go a step further and automate the process!

Retweet this passage Make it super easy for FourSquare users to check in and let others know they’ve been by to see you.

Retweet this passage Your installation instructions can be a small sticker attached to the product itself!

Retweet this passage Want confirmation that your product was delivered? Try this!

Retweet this passage Show that your company is truly green by going paperless even with your business cards!

Retweet this passage When you travel, create QR luggage tags with all your info. Even your complete travel itinerary.

Retweet this passage Turn your phone into a portable cash register.

Retweet this passage Because QR Tag generators are free, you can try these ideas even for very inexpensive products.

QR Tags: Bar Codes All Grown Up

Photo Credit: Juhan Sonin

U.S. Postal Service Bar Codes

Even if they know nothing about how they are structured or how they work, everyone in America recognizes the delivery point bar codes (DPBC) that have appeared on every piece of mail delivered in the U.S. in at least the last 20 years.

Actually, the one in this image is over a year old. You can tell because all the bars are lined up along their bottom edge. Look at a new piece of mail and you’ll see that the bars now line up along a center line and can extend both above and below that center line.

DPBCs all encode exactly 12 characters and are all exactly the same length. Measure 100 pieces of mail and you’ll find little, if any, variation. That makes them 1-dimensional in the sense that only the vertical axis matters with regard to meaning.

The older code shown here only encoded numbers. The newer code has the flexibility to also encode letters and some special characters. That makes it more universal so that it can be used outside the U.S. (Most other countries use letters in their postal codes.)

Photo credit: Mohammad R. Riza

UPC Symbols

Another familiar type of bar code is the UPC code that appears on all sorts of packaged goods. Sometimes they can even be found on produce and bulk goods.

With UPC codes, it is the width of the bars as well as the width of the spaces between the bars that encodes the data. These are also 1-dimensional bar codes in the sense that their height doesn’t really matter.

UPC codes also encode about 12 characters.

Their size may vary but they are typically around 1″ square.

The Evolution of Bar Codes

There are actually many types of bar codes that follow a variety of different formats. Bar codes have enabled great strides in automation and standardization but they all suffer from one basic flaw: character length.

The two types of bar codes listed above can only contain around a dozen characters each. This is pretty typical of all 1-dimensional bar codes.

QR Tags

So what does all this have to do with QR Tags?

Simple. The QR Tag is just the next step in the evolution of bar codes. It is a 2-dimensional bar code.

A QR Tag can encode a variable number of characters ranging from a single character to somewhere around 4,000 characters. That’s enough to fit several full pages of text within a bar code only about 1″ square!

Of course, the more data that is encoded in a QR Tag, the denser it becomes. The denser the tag, the harder it is to scan. Still, the capability exists.

So what?

As a practical matter, why should you care? Well, QR Tags were invented in the early 1990s by heavy industry. For the first 15 years of so of their existence, few outside of the industries that used them had reason to care.

But something changed once smartphones began to proliferate. Someone realized that the digital camera built into smartphones could be used for more than just taking and saving pictures. It was the camera’s window into the world.

By combining the technology to take a digital photo with the Photoshop-like technology used to edit digital photos, experimenters began writing simple computer programs that could analyze the contents of a digital photo while it was still in memory. From there, it was a simple matter to make the program do things based on the results of that analysis.

So if you have one of these programs installed, you can point your cell phone’s camera at a QR Tag (or almost any other kind of bar code). When you press the button to take a picture, your camera will “scan” the bar code and then do something based on what is encoded there.

Just what is there?

Most QR Tags — perhaps 90% — simply encode a website URL. When you scan it, your phone will offer to open a web browser and go to that web page. However QR Tags can encode all sorts of other information. The one above is my business card. Scan it and your phone will add all my contact information to your address book.

Other things you can encode into a QR Tag include:

  • map coordinates
  • tweets and retweets for Twitter
  • Facebook profiles and Likes
  • LinkedIn profiles and status updates
  • FourSquare check-in locations
  • links to YouTube videos and iTunes songs
  • simple text (almost anything you want, within the Tag’s capacity)
  • phone number
  • Skype connection information
  • text (SMS) message, including the number that the message should be sent to
  • email address
  • a complete email message, including both recipient address and subject line
  • vCard (virtual business card)
  • calendar entry
  • WiFi login credentials
  • PayPal “Buy Now” link, including everything needed for a 1-click purchase

Even the seemingly simple web page URL can direct users to a page containing a video, audio file, sign-up form, download links or just about anything else that can appear on a web page.

No wonder they’ve become one of the new darlings of corporate advertisers and social media mavens everywhere.

5 Sweet Marketing Tricks my Dentist Uses

My dentist is terrific at marketing. And I’m not entirely sure that he even fully realizes it. He’s a very smart guy and his marketing efforts are far from accidental, I’m just not sure that he has enough basis for comparison to realize how much better he is than the average schmo who hasn’t studied marketing.

Here are five things my dentist does that make him a marketing machine:

1. Testimonials

In his waiting room — which, incidentally, looks more like the lobby of a nice hotel than a typical doctor’s waiting room — he has a small digital picture frame on one of the oak tables. The frame changes images every five seconds or so. Every single image on the frame is a photo of an actual patient paired with a pull-quote from a testimonial that patient has given. He has dozens of these testimonials. Both the quotes and the photos are all top-notch.

2. Upsell

His staff is absolutely genius at the art of upselling. Dr. Rosen himself tends to stay above such things and is just the good old friendly doctor. He never sells a thing. But don’t be fooled into thinking he isn’t the puppet master pulling the strings on all his staff. They never go for the hard-sell. It’s always a “recommendation”. If you don’t buy, they leave it alone but their pitch is good enough that most patients buy.

3. Email

He uses an autoresponder to keep in touch with patients. I always get a reminder about two weeks before an appointment and a second just a few days prior. I also get a follow-up the day after an appointment inviting me to review and give feedback on the services I received during my visit.

The emails are beautifully formatted and very inviting.

4. Text Messaging

Social media is great but it’s a means for communicating to anonymous masses of people. Dr. Rosen augments his social media presence with direct one-on-one text messages. These are also of the autoresponder variety and mostly appointment reminders, but they’re highly effective. After all, if appointments are canceled or forgotten, he doesn’t make money so these reminders reduce the number of missed or canceled appointments and thus maximize his income.

5. Free Gift

On their first visit to his office, every new patient is given a very nice electric toothbrush. I have seen these in stores selling for around $35. Why would Dr. Rosen give away $35 toothbrushes when every other dentist in the world gives out cheap $1 toothbrushes with their name and number embossed on the handle? It’s all about making a lasting first impression. His services are not inexpensive. I just had my teeth cleaned and the bill came to $220. How many times do you think a patient needs to come back before he makes a profit? That’s right. Just once. If he can make such an impression that all or most of his patients come back for just one more service, he’s made a profit. If a large percentage of those patients are like me and become regulars for a long period of time, he makes a huge profit. Dr. Rosen knows the lifetime value of a patient so he knows exactly what he can afford to spend to attract a new one.


Without great service, the best marketing in the world is just a revolving door. You might get customers in but they won’t stay and you’ll find yourself in a constant (and expensive) pursuit of new ones.

Dr. Rosen’s sweetest marketing trick of all is that he and his whole office provide excellent service. He has so many repeat customers that he doesn’t really have to go out and actively market for new ones.

Click any of the icons below to retweet these passages from the above article.

 5 Sweet Marketing Tricks my Dentist Uses

Retweet this passage My dentist is terrific at marketing.

Retweet this passage Here are five things my dentist does that make him a marketing machine.

Retweet this passage My dentist’s waiting room looks more like the lobby of a nice hotel than a typical doctor’s waiting room.

Retweet this passage He is the puppet master pulling the strings.

Retweet this passage Social media is great but it’s a means for communicating to anonymous masses of people.

Retweet this passage Augment your social media presence with this personalized service.

Retweet this passage Why would Dr. Rosen give away $35 toothbrushes when every other dentist gives out cheap $1 toothbrushes?

Retweet this passage It’s all about making a lasting first impression.

Retweet this passage How many times must a client return before you make a profit?

Retweet this passage If you know the lifetime value of a client, you know what you can afford to spend to attract a new one.

Retweet this passage Without great service, the best marketing in the world is just a revolving door.