Project 17 A and B: Marketing operations: Closing report

We planned two marketing campaigns to increase sales of our top products. These campaigns were planned in detail on the principle of seven-touches: a person needs to hear about us, on average, seven times before they will act on our message. We wanted to drive customers to our outlets, in the hope they’d become return customers.

General report-back

This marketing campaign was thoroughly planned and executed, led by our marketing manager Louise. We were helped a lot by pro bono workshop with Zoom Advertising (see Marie’s post here about it). In addition to ongoing day-to-day support of outlets, it included:

We couldn’t have worked harder on it, and I’m extremely proud of what Marie and the team produced. So our poor results in terms of sales (see objectives below) were very disappointing.

Objectives achieved and not achieved

 

Original objectives Result
Increase sales of specific titles through targeted campaigns We did not increase sales of the products we promoted most.
Increase sales overall Transactions dropped, but profitability increased due to a more profitable product mix. So we made marginally more gross profit in the period during the marketing project. More details below.
Improve sales experience in outlets for Paperight customers While we are happy with improvement in some bright-spot outlets, at some copy shops that we targeted (such as Top Copy and Jetline Stellenbosch) the managers gate-kept fiercely and we could not make an impact.
Increase awareness of Paperight (availability/price/convenience) We certainly increased awareness of Paperight.

 

Measures of success

 

Have we increased sales of target products? Achieved at a very low rate. Sales have increased, but very modestly. We were targeting university prescribed books, and have made a few sales in single digits monthly. We have seen greater growth in sales of matric study guides, which we were not promoting as much. This shows that people are finding us for their needs, rather than us reaching them with our favourite offering. This has a lot to do with the fact that our catalogue is still very weak in university texts.
Have we improved the experience of purchasing Paperight titles in outlets? (Measured qualitatively from conversation with outlets and customer feedback where available.) Achieved with modest success. Where outlet managers have been very receptive to us, we have been able to work with them to improve service with fast support and promotional items. The shining example is Saggitarius Print Works in Paietermaritzburg, where owner Shahana Maharaj does a lot of promotional work at local schools. At several other key outlets that we wanted to help grow (such as Top Copy in Claremont and Jetline Stellenbosch), owners/managers have passively or actively blocked our attempts to help or train staff.
Do 1 in 3 students at UCT and Stellenbosch know about Paperight, when surveyed around the departments we’re focusing on (e.g. English/Arts)? We will run these surveys when the universities reopen in late July. We suspect that we did not reach this target.
We expect to see:

  • an increase in sales (in proportion to our existing revenue goals)
  • a growing return customer base (measured as repeats of end-user customer names as captured by outlets)
Not achieved, at least not in this timeframe. Comparing the previous six months with this project timeframe:

  • the number of sales transactions actually dropped from 525 to 222.
  • Sales quantity (number of copies) dropped slightly from 1656 to 1595.
  • Sales value in USD increased from $2156.45 to $2486.74.

So we sold fewer of more valuable products, a sales-mix issue.

Return customers: We have not been able to create return customers. Returners actually dropped slightly.

Mar–Aug 2013 = 24 return customers

Sep 2013–Feb 2014 = 19 return customers

Mar–Jun 2014 = 6 return customers.

We would like to see:

  • outlets in addition to our strategic partners in target areas (around UCT and Stellenbosch) taking part in marketing activities (e.g. distributing flyers, displaying posters, sharing on Facebook)
Other outlets did join in, but not in our focus geographical areas around UCT and Stellenbosch. For instance outlets at UJ,  Wits, Free State and NMMU requested #textbookrevolution marketing packs. This was very encouraging. It did not lead to many sales, though, since we have very few university textbooks, and the #textbookrevolution campaign was more about awareness than sales.
We would love to see:

  • our sales revenue exceed target
  • sales at outlets other than our strategic partners showing higher sales than strategic outlets (it would show that we aren’t needed and that outlets can get it done on their own!)
We did not meet our sales targets.

We did see sales growing at outlets we hadn’t selected. In fact, there is no meaningful difference between sales at our selected strategic outlets and at other outlets. This does suggest that our marketing has very little impact on buyer behaviour, and that the outlets’ marketing work (e.g. flyers at local schools, posters in store) is the most important factor by far.

 

Budget

Note: This project was divided into parts A and B for funding-pool reasons: part A was funded from my first fellowship year and part B from my second. Operationally, they are the same project.

Part A:

Original budget: R395683
Actual spend: R395683
Returned to pool: R0 (see notes in table)

Item Budget Actual Return to pool Comments
Contract extension: Nick Mulgrew 90000 72991.91 17008.09 Nick worked part-time for this period, so we saved.
Contract extension: Yazeed Peters 90000 120000 -30000 See note below on overspending during notice periods.
Contract extension: Oscar Masinyane 84000 107545.45 -23545.45 See note below on overspending during notice periods.
New sales manager position: probation contract 30000 25417.50 4582.5 We did not hire a new sales manager . We took on two interns Andi Donald and Shawn Swingler. We also used this money to pay Philippa and Marie on a freelance basis in May and June for #textbookrevolution textbook database research..
New sales manager position: salary increase 42000 42000 We did not hire a sales manager. We did interview several people but could not find a suitable person.
Monthly marketing expenses 30000 47358.86 -17358.86 Over Parts A and B were ultimately over budget by R3837.34. We underestimated how much marketing material we’d need for this project.
Marketing travel and sales expenses 29683 22369.28 7313.72 All local travel expenses
TOTAL R395683 395683 0 For Part A of the project budget, we have balanced overspending with underspending. Further costs move into Part B.

 

Part B:

Original budget: R191010
Actual spend: R116094.05
Returned to pool: R74915.95

 

Item Budget Actual Return to pool Comments
Contract extension: Marie-Louise Rouget 60000 80000 -20000 See note below on overspending during notice periods.
Monthly marketing expenses 30000 16478.48 13521.52 Over Parts A and B were ultimately over budget by R3837.34. We underestimated how much marketing material we’d need for this project.
Marketing travel and sales expenses 101010 19615.57 81394.43 International travel was less than expected (only London Book Fair).
TOTAL 191010 116094.05 74915.95

 

Contract extensions during notice periods

We overspent on salaries in this project by up to two months (case by case). Towards the end of the project period, I knew we’d be letting most of our team go, even though their contracts were in place for several months to come. Rather than creating a new, separate project to cover their notice periods, we used our underspending in other areas to offset the overspending here.

Outputs and deliverables

 

IP Author Owner
Marketing materials including catalogue, posters, flyers, coasters, social media conversations Various paperight team members Paperight
Video Shaun Swingler for Paperight Paperight
Website at http://textbookrevolution.co.za Arthur Attwell Paperight

 

Learnings

It’s impossible to know for sure what we could have done differently, and we realise that we had to try all this to find out that this kind of marketing doesn’t work for a startup still trying to get its product working on a local scale: a good copy shop with the right books with the right customers.

We suspect that we tried to run before we could walk, and that local, hand-held, in-person sales might have been more effective. However, had we done that instead, we would have felt that we were not aiming high enough and were missing opportunities.

Concretely, we learned a lot about creating and executing marketing plans. In short: there cannot be too much detail or forethought.

Exit/Sustainability/Viability

This project did not have the impact on our sales and sustainability that we hoped for. As a result, we let go most team members and are revisiting our core business model.

Conclusion

The outcomes of this project were disappointing, considering that we executed it pretty much exactly as we hoped we could. The silver linings are that we learned a lot about how to run a marketing campaign, and that for a startup like ours, a more humble, less sexy approach to telling people about your service may be more effective. We’ll try that in future.

Next steps

We’re revisiting our business model, focusing on photocopy licensing. Our marketing approach there will be very different: much more focused on local, in-person interactions with institutional partners.

 

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