Data to Dollars
SB memory drives. The tiny, pinky-sized hunks of silicon, metal and plastic have become so powerful that they can store whole hard drives worth of information. It's a good thing too, because the amount of data people need saved has been growing right alongside the storage wonders. Music. Digital photos. Catalogs, technical manuals and PowerPoint presentations. All these are only going to become more common and more complex as time goes on. Accordingly, data storage is going to become even more in demand, as will ways to distribute said data.
Among other things, this means that the USB drive is destined to become a basic tool of the business world, joining other promotional greats like pens or drinkware. Sure, there might be a few more wrinkles in the marketing tactics for flash drives than the other two previously mentioned stalwarts, but once the wrinkles are smoothed out, you'll have a product in your roster that can be just as successful as its non-electronic brethren.
NOT JUST FOR THE GEEK SQUAD
The first hurdle to cross when learning how to sell USB drives is to get over the idea that they're fringe products valued only by tech-savvy companies and computer-reared youth. It's true that people more comfortable with technology may be more likely to buy, but not only is that distinction rapidly becoming meaningless as the country's overall computer literacy rises, it's also a limiting way to think of the product. Think of the drive as a more portable, imprinted version of tangible marketing copy, like catalogs or sales flyers, that can work for any company which has information they want to get out to customers.
"I really do feel that any customer or prospect could fit a USB drive into their marketing or brand awareness campaign," said Tony Anderson, owner of TNT Promotions Inc./Geiger, Orange County, Iowa. He said he typically sold more to markets with a technology edge, but was careful to corroborate that the products are undefined by markets, instead focusing on their ability to help spread information. "What I've found is it's almost a better fit for the markets that have never thought how they might even use a USB," said Anderson, who cited an example of a large church to which he sold USBs devices. He explained the church used the drives in its welcome center, loading things like service times, welcome videos, information for ministry groups and anything else a first-time visitor might need to know.
MAKING THE SALE
Not quite as commonplace as promotional products like T-shirts or pens, it may take a little convincing to get a client interested in USB items, especially if they're a less conventional market. "What I try to do is just start by asking lots of questions," said Anderson, who said he asks things like what kind of trade-show marketing they do or what information they want to communicate to end-users about their brand. He also stresses to clients that USBs should not be looked at as just another inexpensive promotional giveaway, but a unique item that is used long after the initial promotion.
Beyond the initial hook of the sale, however, there is another concern faced when selling USBs. Features that make them such flexible promotions like data loading, locking and custom-branded software browsers, not to mention things like chip strengths and failure rates, can create a lot of technical hassles for distributors and their clients. End-buyers will rightly have a lot of questions about your USBs drives, ranging from functional concerns to justifications of pricing, which are all issues that can sink a sale. These concerns may not be an issue if you're particularly knowledgeable about computers, but if you're not, there is another option for handling technical woes: Relying on your supplier for help.
"My advice would be, the people that are the most successful will use us as a resource," said Niko Pamboukas, director of sales for USB supplier iClick, Seattle. "Let us be your tech support," he said. "If there's any questions about it, those are things we'll help you with."
The suggestion makes great sense, considering that unless you're very knowledgeable about USB drive construction, your supplier is going to have more technical know-how than you. The help doesn't have to stop there, however, as Pamboukas pointed out several other ways suppliers can be of service, from providing market and device trends to helping with mock-ups and planning promotions.
The final issues that both Anderson and Pamboukas spoke at length about were pricing and product sources. Like other popular products, since becoming successful USBs have split into two main classifications: those that are low-cost commodity products, and those that use better parts and are more reliable, but cost more. What route you choose is up to you, but if you want to avoid price wars and use higher-end, less risky products, Anderson had some advice.
"Be knowledgeable about pricing objections," said Anderson. "I would recommend educating buyers beyond the basics, discussing things like failure rates, ROHS compliance and any warranties that are available," he said. "Those are three big things we try to touch on when we're quoting."
As for how to pick out a good drive, both Anderson and Pamboukas emphasized the importance of tier-one, name-brand memory from manufacturers like Samsung, Intel and Toshiba. "Because of the high-end chips that are used … you'll have well less than one percent in terms of failure rate," said Pamboukas. For assurance beyond that, look for suppliers like iClick who test all the products before shipping, swapping out the small percent that fail with working back stock. That way, you rely less on warranties to make sure your client gets only working products.