[Editor's note: The following Q&A with Amy Fiedler of Winky Boo is the final installment in our 3-part series on t-shirt marketing. Parts 1 and 2 featured Keith Blondin of VUDOG and Rick Waters of OMUNKY, respectively.]
This week has been very fulfilling for me. Three talented and respected members of the indie t-shirt community have been so generous in sharing their various ideas on marketing in a Q&A format. I have learned a lot from each of these artists — reading their emails as they came in was like Christmas morning X 3! Be sure to keep in touch with these peeps (Twitter: @WinkyBoo, @OMUNKY and @VUDOG – oh, and follow me while you’re at it @MutatedTees).
In our final series Q&A, Amy Fiedler of Winky Boo gives us her personal take on marketing her growing business. I’m not only a fan of WinkyBoo.com, I’m also a customer (and no, I don’t play one on TV). I’ve got my new Winky Boo board shorts already packed for spring break! I think it’s awesome how Amy pours her heart and soul into her brand and always look forward to reading her Twitter posts. They range from the hilarious to the sober – her work as a nanny could easily be a comedic reality show and, like Kelly from @Saucewear and @TeeGazette, I get a lot of my TMZ fix via @WinkyBoo. Minutes later, she might be tweeting about raising funds for a sick child. Through it all, though, you can tell that Amy is very serious and passionate about her business and has every intention of making it big.
Q&A with Amy Fiedler of Winky Boo
Q: How much time per week do you spend on marketing your business in all forms (social media, advertising, email marketing, trade shows, etc)? What percentage of your business operations are spent on marketing?
A: Well that’s a tough one because I feel personally with social media you need to constantly engage, and not just throw out shameless promotion. You need to actually talk to your customers, fans, etc. and let them get to know you. And you can’t get to know someone in just a few hours so I try to keep up with Twitter and Facebook daily, even if it’s just posting a photo. I’ve learned Twitter is a lot easier than Facebook, especially with interacting with people. I didn’t want to hop on the Twitter bandwagon when it started but I’m happy I did because I’ve met so many new customers & other business contacts through it. Facebook, well, I’m still trying to figure out. Not a lot of people check their Facebook daily and personally even if I like a page I don’t always comment or “like” everything that page posts. I’m going to stick with my marketing background on this and say it’s a numbers game. You look at Arkaik or Johnny Cupcakes and see when your number of fans rises the number of people interacting rises. Regardless of whether it’s correct thinking, I’m going to stick with it LOL. As far as other marketing/advertising, again it’s a daily beast to tackle – I’m always looking for new people to contact, new events to attend, new ways to promote, etc.
Q: Who is the typical Winky Boo customer?
A: Ha, that’s a loaded question. There were several blog posts written back when I launched about the meaning behind Winky Boo. Winky Boo has a very personal meaning to me being that it honors almost everything about my late grandfather. Therefore not only does it reflect him, but it reflects me, my personality and my life and most importantly what he taught me about life. Our customers vary in age from 10 years old all the way to their late 50s. I was able to reach such a broad market with the meaning of the brand itself and then capture my audience and consumers with our artwork & designs. Our customers are those that know what they want and go after it. They live life to its fullest potential. They don’t sweat the small things in life. Our designs are fun and playful and imaginative. We are able to attract the youth and attract those of an older generation that still embrace their youth! We have customers that you could categorize as “skaters”, “surfers” but we even get those that are more into fashion. We feel that you never really age or get old, your mind gets old, you start thinking old. My grandfather maybe appeared old, but he had a young heart and a young mind and for that he blessed me with a life philosophy that I will never forget and will honor him with a fitting testament to who he was and what he taught me to be with my brand, Winky Boo!
Q: The question I’m dying to ask is: How does Winky Boo reach prospects and acquire new customers? What is your preferred and most successful method?
A: You know, I really don’t know!! As I mentioned above, I try to let people know who I am. When I started I had a lot of people ask me why I tweet random things about what I’m doing or how I feel. You can’t acquire customers by just tweeting “We’re having a sale on all our t-shirts, go shop now!!” – see now that’s just obnoxious and bordering on spamming people. People want to know a human exists behind the brand, behind the clothes. If you take a look at successful brands in the indie clothing market you’ll see that you know the name behind the brand. So I guess the way I acquire new customers is because they end up liking the person behind Winky Boo, they get to know me and know what I do and how hard I work. They get to know my personality and my sense of humor. It’s kind of a chess game; you’re either going to win them over, or they’ll lose interest. I can’t make everyone like me, maybe some of my customers do just like the designs and not me, but my theory still stands that if I was a real rude b*t$# or I just spammed people all day, not one would shop and they’d dislike me and therefore not take a second look at my brand. I can say this wholeheartedly because there are brands out there that I liked their clothing a lot but once I saw what that brand was tweeting, maybe they cursed a lot or they were demeaning towards women; I was totally turned off by them and therefore had no interest in their brand anymore and stopped following them and to this day will not buy their clothes because I don’t like how they present themselves.
Q: How do you engage with your customers and keep them coming back for more?
A: Besides everything I mentioned above, I also try to respond to everyone who messages me, tweets me, emails me, etc. When I launched in 2010 and I would reach out to retail stores or ‘some’ blogs, maybe another brand owner – there were ones that didn’t even have the courtesy to respond. Not even a thank you for contacting us; nothing. I think that’s blatantly rude! I mean everyone starts somewhere and if you’re not going to help the small guy, that’s your karma, not mine. I’ve had brands, designers, customers reach out to me by email or on Twitter or Facebook asking for advice or suggestions and I always answer. And no, I don’t just answer because I don’t want bad karma, I answer because I started somewhere just like the next guy and I can’t believe these big brands just forget where they came from and don’t respond to emails at all because they think they’re just too good for it now. I also just produce and keep on producing. I learned you can’t stand on just a few designs for too long, you need to mix it up and bring something new. When you first start out you may not be capable of producing a new item once every few weeks. I sure wasn’t! It would be every few months where I would be able to bring something new into the mix, but even if you have designs in waiting, share them with your customers. They LOVE seeing what’s next, people LOVE having something to look forward to; I mean don’t you? When I was a kid if my parents said we were going to Disney World in 4 months, I’d be super excited and anxiously awaiting that 4 month mark. Share your plans, share what you’re going to do BUT make sure you eventually do it. Too many people share and brag and announce things and it never happens. You just got everyone excited and then disappointed them with a huge let down. Oh, now I’m not going to Disney, so why’d you tell me I was. Not cool!
Q: What channels of marketing do you employ? Which ones work best for you?
A: The internet is a magical place and you can reach millions upon millions of people with the touch of a button. People sometimes don’t take full advantage of what it has to offer. I like a little of old school and a little bit of new school. Word of mouth from happy customers is one of the best forms of marketing out there. I have tons of stories of someone hearing from a friend who knows someone who was at an event we were at and purchased one of our shirts and loved it and then suddenly you have several new customers from 1 person who bought 1 item. Crazy!! Social media as I think I’ve made it very clear above is very important. Starting a business page on FB and Twitter is great, but using it is key and using it daily is even better. People need to be reminded you exist and the only way to do that is stay alive on the social media sites. Twitter, Facebook, I still hold a business Myspace account and link it to Twitter that way it stays live all the time for those people who haven’t gotten over the Myspace phase yet lol; Pinterest is a new favorite of mine and then in this industry the blogs. What’s better than an online form of a newspaper that promotes your brand for FREE. The blogs do great things for the indie brands!!
Q: What is your favorite social media outlet for marketing and why?
A: I said this above, but my favorite is Twitter. I’m at the point with Facebookthat I’m still trying to figure out how to get more people to interact. Facebook is a tricky one because it’s all about timing too. I work two jobs, Winky Boo and then I am a nanny at night. Sure I can post from my phone at work but sometimes I’m just busy so I don’t so most of my posting is done during the AM hours or late late at night. Twitter is easier to converse and engage with perfect strangers and so much easier to do when at another job.
Q: In addition to your online presence, what percentage of your marketing time is spent on offline activities such as prospecting retail, trade/consumer shows, pounding the pavement, etc?
A: I personally do not have much time to market offline so I have an assistant who handles that. She is great at interacting with perfect strangers in stores or wherever she is and handing out business cards around town or even when she recently when on vacation was promoting Winky Boo while shopping. Too funny, but it’s good to have someone on your team that loves what you do and loves the brand enough to just share it’s story wherever they go. I do plenty of events and street fairs throughout the year as well. I do not do trade shows because quite honestly they are way too expensive for a small brand like myself and I feel they’ve become outdated in these days because I can go set up shop at a street fair and get the same amount of traffic as any trade show gets and you get retailers coming up to you as well. You never know where you’re going to meet someone and I tend to just do things my way and not follow the trend so you probably won’t see me at a trade show for a long while unless they want to make it more reasonable to set up a booth!!
Q: You’ve successfully placed your brand in retail locations. How did you go about it?
A: This was just a blessing; I cannot describe it any other way. From the time I launched I was contacting retailers and kept getting told I did not have what they were looking for or I didn’t have enough of a variety in stock. I went through bouts of contacting stores and then I’d stop for months and not contact any. There was really no secret to it though it was just the right time for Winky Boo I guess and I had a great store that liked what I had to offer. Like I said I don’t have the extra time to go door to door and show products, but I have a lot of people on my side wanting me to succeed that wear Winky Boo a lot to work or to school and spread the word.
Q: Have you experienced any breakthrough “AHA” moments where what previously was an unsolved marketing challenge became a solved problem? If so, can you tell us about it?
A: I think monthly maybe more I have “AHA” moments. I mean you’re always learning and growing. When I started I thought after having done a year of research for printers and web designers that I had made the best decisions with the places I chose. After getting to know some other brands and finding out who they use and looking into it I realized all that research I did was fine and good BUT it doesn’t compare to the knowledge someone who’s done it has to offer, AHA! Haha, You can Google until the cows come home but really after having spoken to some brands and switching printers and finding a great web designer through Twitter, I ended up saving a ton of money. Which then you think, great had I known this, months ago I wouldn’t have lost all that money on those other people, but it’s a learning and growing experience for everyone so in the end it’s pretty much worth it to make the mistakes.
Q: Is there any one marketing tactic, in particular, that you believe has been the most successful for you in acquiring customers? If so, what is it?
A: Just being myself and staying true to my values. I treat my customers or potential customers how I’d want to be treated if I were shopping or trying to communicate with a company. I stay true to my brand and I make sure in all things I do that that is priority. I made it clear when I launched what my brand is about and I think with all products I’ve produced from the start until now that I’ve stayed true to everything Winky Boo.
Q: Are there any marketing methods you’ve tried that you don’t feel are worth the time, i.e, low return on your investment?
A: I do not do a lot if any at all paid advertising. I don’t think it’s worth it at all when there are so many free opportunities out there to get the word out. I do not pay people to get my brand out there and I do not pay to put up ads or banners. I’ve tried it, yes, that is why I can say I will not do it again. Now there are banners of my brand up on some blogs but I won a contest to have those up for free LOL so once again the free advertising is priceless.
Q: Do you utilize “paid” advertising in addition to all the free channels available – ad banners, pay-per-click, etc? What is your general take on paid advertising?
A: I must be psychic because I did NOT look at this question when answering the one above. So I guess SEE ABOVE! Haha but in addition, I have done the FB ads a few different times and out of any that I’ve seen more success than the rest and I can tell you why too – because you can select your target market and target areas. You can pick all the way down to what age, what zip code and if they are single, married, divorced, etc. I’m not saying I do all of those options but you can if you need to and that is helpful. I have only done that while running a sale and it seems to work pretty well.
Q: Your website is really clean and fresh, do you design and maintain it yourself? Who hosts your site and what shopping cart do you use?
A: It is clean & fresh, isn’t it? LOL. I use Blue Host and the site is built with Word Press and payment goes through PayPal. I told my web designer what I basically wanted and she did a great job at building it. But this site up now was re-launched because my original website when I launched in 2010 was a completely different host and shopping cart service where AHA I switched because I learned about other options.
Q: How much attention do you pay to the interweb techie stuff like SEO, traffic volume and conversion rate?
A: I think in the coming months I’ll start paying more attention to SEO – I do pay attention to traffic volume and traffic sources but some of that stuff is greek to me.
Q: How long has it taken you to get to a point where you believe your brand has a solid identity and awareness?
A: I think I’m still getting there. I really don’t think I have a “solid” awareness yet. I mean I’m approaching 2 years in September and I’ve got my feet planted right now but I’m still not at the point I want to be at.
Q: What is unique about Winky Boo and your marketing strategy that works well for you and sets you apart favorably from other brands?
A: This combines a lot of what I’ve already mentioned but what sets Winky Boo apart is it IS a brand. I didn’t just Google a word and make a name, I named it after something personal to me, something meaningful that I could build from. I can take Winky Boo in any direction I please and that’s what I love about it. I’ve managed to build a brand that I don’t have to pretend represents me, it just does. The name itself sets us apart from a lot of other brands and for a while a lot of people were like that’s a stupid name, or “do you just sell to kids”. I’ve proven otherwise and think a lot of people can agree that Winky Boo just stands out because of what I’ve built it to be.
Q: If there was one piece of marketing advice you’d give to aspiring t-shirt merchants, what would it be?
A: Be yourself. Don’t be ashamed. If you want to start a t-shirt company, don’t think you need to compete with the rest of us. Design what YOU like and be true to who you are and what you like. I think you can tell apart the brands that aren’t going to last long, they are usually the brands copying from others, the brands trying to steal a design style or idea, the brands pretending to be something they’re not. A new brand pops up daily – not just t-shirt brands, clothing brands in general. People think it’s easy, I’ll be the bearer of bad news, IT’S NOT. It’s hard work, it takes up a lot of time and if you’re trying to build a brand it can’t just be a side project or a hobby. It has to be something that you are constantly working on and something you are prepared to do full-time if you are able to make it a success. I get tired of people saying it’s so easy to print a t-shirt. It’s much more than just printing a t-shirt and it’s a lot of work. I don’t sleep a lot, I work two jobs because eventually I want to do Winky Boo full-time. My free time is spent working on my brand, promoting it. I am one person behind this brand. Sure I have help with the small things, but the bulk of everything is just me and only me and when you are your own boss you need to know how to motivate yourself and prioritize. Going out on a Friday and Saturday isn’t important anymore when you’re trying to build a household name.