Tag Archives: digital media

Case Study: American Science & Surplus

Identifying Opportunities: American Science & Surplus

Robin Heintz

Examining the online marketing presence of American Science & Surplus (sciplus.com); and looking for strengths and weaknesses in their approach.

The company’s product mix is unique and ever changing. According to their site:

“American Science & Surplus continues to offer a unique mix of industrial, military and educational items, with an emphasis on science and education. We supply a wide range of unusual and hard to find items (some say bizarre stuff) to the hobbiest, tinkerer, artist, experimenter, home educator, do-it-yourselfer, and bargain hunter.”

American Science & Surplus shares a brief company history on their “About Us” page. ( http://www.sciplus.com/AboutUs ) I’ll summarize:

The company remains at its core a family business model. Founded in 1937, the company ownership has turned over only a few times. These turnovers occurred due to inheritance, the death of a partner, the retirement of owners, or a straight sale. The company was held by two generations of the same family from 1937-1988. After the 1988 death of the family son, his partner bought out the company. By that time, they were already selling through a print catalog and through two retail stores.

In 1991, a third retail outlet store was opened. (There were now two in the Chicago area and one in Milwaukee.) These stores are in addition to a print catalog. The company launched their first web site in 1995, revamped it in 1999, and began taking online orders.

Ownership changed again in 2000, and in 2012 the current owner – a former employee and the purchasing manager – took the reins.

Online Presence:

Deals are posted on retailmenot.com, but they are all of the “Take 65% off clearance – no coupon code necessary” variety – in other words, they do not offer additional discounts through retailmenot that are above and beyond their standard pricing and discounting model.

Googling AS&S brings up many reviews and recommendations for visiting their brick and mortar stores in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas. Apparently, they are quite popular as shopping and vacation destination for geeks and toy lovers of all stripes.

Looking over their website, I find icons for Facebook and Twitter, but I don’t see any other media outlets. I do follow the company on both of these forums, and they do maintain a presence on both sites: posting less than once daily on Facebook and two to three posts a day on Twitter.

On Facebook AS&S has 7,722 page “Likes”, which is a respectable number, especially considering the frequency and content of their newsfeed. Posts by AS&S occur almost every other day, with 41 posts in total in the 90 day period from 9/1/14 through 11/30/14.

In my opinion, a daily post (or even two) would be more effective. Also, if you look at the content posted, you will find many posts are simply a photo (or drawing) of a product, a page from a retro 1986-1987 catalog, or a staff snapshot. One of the most popular posts in the time period I studied was a costume contest that pitted associates of their three stores against one another. I think it is likely that the many posts and shares this generated were the result of employee, rather than consumer, interest. In general, their content is very “push” oriented and does not create an interactive online presence. (See attached chart.)

Twitter followers of AS&S number 1,384 – considerably fewer than their Facebook fans. However, the social media focus seems to be on Twitter: Sept posts – 37, Oct posts – 49, Nov posts – 39; making a total of 125 Twitter posts in the same three month time period as the 41 posts to Facebook.

Rationale for the Twitter bias likely falls to a combination of things. With a consumer base that is tech-savvy, an assumption could be made that Twitter is a much more mobile and “hip” media. Also, posting to Twitter for the Social Media Manager would be easy, with an interface that is very mobile-friendly. However, I feel that they are short-changing a large cache of followers on Facebook to report to a following on Twitter that is only 18% as large. I would strongly suggest devoting some thought to the possibility of a contest or game with the goal of converting some of the Facebook followers into Twitter followers. I would also encourage consumer interaction with more open-ended questions, mystery product postings, and a drive to have users share their AS&S creations.

Youtube results show about 153 results under American Science &Surplus, and there are 35 that appear when searching sciplus.com. The top-of-page results are store commercials, with product and consumer videos following. They do not appear to have their own channel. Given the explosion of “Makerspaces” and the availability of DIY-focused video tutorial sites, it seems that AS&S is missing the opportunity to educate as they push product. The quality of their commercials is pretty kitschy, but not over-the-top enough to create a viral video sensation.

It is one thing to push product, but when you are pushing product that needs explanation, you will sell more units to an educated audience. Many of the videos found online, including 29 DIY videos at Instructables.com, are consumer-created. The consumer is showing the company what they want… but will the company listen?

The company needs to create links to Instructables, the creation of an online forum or Makerspace discussion board, YouTube product demos, etc. These interactive channels will build awareness and sell product without the need to push sales.

The followers of AS&S tend to be techies (and teachers) and I think that they would respond well to online marketing appeals and gamification. The kitsch-factor needs to be amped up as well, and sharing updates and news items that are pertinent to their consumer base (such as NASA mission updates and Comicon news) would also be recommended.

If AS&S does not look to the example set by other major players in marketing to the tech crowd (such as ThinkGeek), they are going to see losses in the catalog/online order arena. Community-building is the takeaway here. While their brick and mortar stores may be well supported, they are not exploiting interactive social media opportunities to their advantage.

 

AS&S Facebook Activity 9/1/2014 – 11/30/2014
Date Description Likes Comments Shares
9/1/14 Product Video 5 0 0
9/2/14 Staff Photos 34 2 0
9/4/14 Product Video 12 0 0
9/17/14 Product Listing 32 10 0
9/23/14 Product Listing 18 1 0
9/25/14 Halloween Items 21 2 0
10/2/14 Customer Video 7 2 2
10/3/14 Product Listing 46 4 3
10/5/14 1986 Catalog 14 1 0
10/6/14 Staff Costumes 29 98 32
10/8/14 Join Email 14 2 0
10/9/14 Product Listing 9 0 1
10/9/14 Costume Contest 8 0 0
10/10/14 Shared Takei Joke 13 0 0
10/16/14 Product Video 69 6 16
10/18/14 1986 Catalog 13 0 0
10/20/14 Joke 46 5 11
10/25/14 1986 Catalog 9 0 0
10/28/14 Product Listing 10 2 0
10/29/14 Product Video 66 5 16
10/31/14 Halloween Photo 64 3 1
11/2/14 Product Video 16 0 0
11/3/14 Product Video 12 1 0
11/4/14 Election Day Discount 0 0 0
11/6/14 Product Photo 21 6 0
11/8/14 1987 Catalog 19 0 0
11/9/14 Product Photo 23 1 3
11/10/14 Product Video 58 8 14
11/11/14 Product Photo 26 2 1
11/15/14 1987 Catalog 13 0 0
11/18/14 Product Video 30 2 1
11/20/14 Product Photo 32 5 2
11/21/14 In-Store Sale 13 0 1
11/22/14 Join Mail List 16 3 0
11/23/14 1987 Catalog 10 1 0
11/25/14 Product Photo 21 7 1
11/26/14 Product Photo 10 0 0
11/27/14 Happy Thanksgiving 18 2 0
11/28/14 Thanksgiving Photo 58 0 0
11/29/14 Free Shipping 193 7 23
11/30/14 1987 Catalog 20 2 2

The most viral of viral videos

It was a fun and clever idea that did a lot of good: The Ice Bucket Challenge. Of course, it was played out long before the succession of bad videos ended, but that’s what happens with something truly viral, right?

According to Rick Smith’s article on Forbes.com (Sept. 2014) –

Well, it looks like it is finally calming down. Patios are being cleaned off. Ice buckets are being put away.  But only after the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge generated more than $100 million in donations in a single month, a staggering amount considering the organization took in only $2.5 million for all of 2013.  How in the world did this happen?

If you get the chance, you should really read the article – Rick talks about the idea of this challenge building on the crowd-funding of the early 1980’s, with people like Bob Geldorf making the “Do They Know It’s Christmas” songs and concerts.

The main three components of successfully tapping into a viral media program, according to the article, are making it: Big, Simple, and Selfless. These three qualities make people feel a part of things, that the action is achievable, and that they are expressing empathy by doing a good deed.

Check it out for yourself here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ricksmith/2014/09/01/the-science-behind-the-success-of-the-ice-bucket-challenge/

And if you are a glutton for punishment, you can see my first-ever Vimeo video – of my husband Paul taking the Ice Bucket Challenge this summer. You can hear me egging him on from behind the camera, warm and dry. (My momma didn’t raise a fool!)

She did however raise a woman that doesn’t know how to post the video title properly, but hey… at least it posted!

Case Study Update: About American Science & Surplus

header6

As most of you know, I’m taking a Digital Marketing for Social Media class this semester. One of our big projects is identifying the online marketing presence of a company; and then looking for holes in their approach. I chose American Science & Surplus for this project.

The company’s product mix is unique and ever-changing. According to their site:

“American Science & Surplus continues to offer a unique mix of industrial, military and educational items, with an emphasis on science and education. We supply a wide range of unusual and hard to find items (some say bizarre stuff) to the hobbiest, tinkerer, artist, experimenter, home educator, do-it-yourselfer, and bargain hunter.”

American Science & Surplus shares a brief company history on their “About Us” page. ( http://www.sciplus.com/AboutUs )

In case you don’t feel like skimming through it, I’ll summarize:

The company remains at its core a family business model. Founded in 1937, the company ownership has turned over only a few times. These turnovers occurred due to inheritance, the death of a partner, the retirement of owners, or a straight sale. The company was held by two generations of the same family from 1937-1988. After the 1988 death of the family son, his partner bought out the company. By that time, they were already selling through a print catalog and through two retail stores.

In 1991, a third retail outlet store was opened. (There were now two in the Chicago area and one in Milwaukee.) These stores are in addition to a print catalog. The company launched their first web site in 1995, revamped it in 1999, and began taking online orders.

Ownership changed again in 2000, and in 2012 the current owner – a former employee and the purchasing manager – took the reins.

————

Looking over their website, I find icons for Facebook and Twitter, but I don’t see any other media outlets. I do follow the company on both of these forums, and they post with some regularity: about once daily on Facebook and two to three posts a day on Twitter. I’d love to see them with links to Instructables, in an online forum or Makerspace, YouTube product demos, etc.

In my opinion, their followers should tend to be techies and I think that they would respond well to online marketing appeals and gamification. More investigation to follow!

Yay – my first Issuu post is online

piqua_gallery-1

Today, I posted the first Piqua Library gallery booklet to the ISSUU site. The handy thing about ISSUU is that the link can be shared on our library’s website, in our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and in other places like this glorious Marketing 231S blog. ISSUU also has a smartphone app, so you can theoretically browse through the descriptions in the magazine while you are walking through the exhibit space.

The site converts a standard PDF file into the flippable magazine-style design automatically. In fact, I was able to upload the same PDF that I supplied to the printer for the hard copies. The print copies ordered are being distributed to area art teachers, along with an info. packet about our hours and scheduling tours. Hopefully, this will drive some field trip groups to the library.

An inexpensive black and white version of the booklet is also being printed and staple-stitched in-house. This will be available to patrons to borrow when they are walking the gallery space, in case they are smart phone challenged like me.

We rotate the exhibits every few months, so this will be updated occasionally. Next time, I will work a bit harder on the photography, establishing a space for more of an oversized stat camera setup. Plus, we should have a new digital camera after the first of the year. Our Director wrote all of the copy… so don’t judge him too harshly, but I’d like to wrestle some of the text out of his hands if I can.

I hope you aren’t all bored to death by this… I know it is only class-adjacent and not really a part of our coursework, but it has been a fun project. Check it out:

Robin

Tired? Next time, read the directions…

raccoon

I was just looking over my course syllabus for my Marketing class. It seems that I watched 8 Hootsuite tutorial videos when I was only assigned two. No wonder my brain was melting! It all started sounding like a low droning in my ears: stream – blah, blah, blah; tab – blah, blah, blah; keywords – blah, blah, blah.

I’m thinking that it might be wise to divide my tabs/streams into: Robin, Library Teens, and Library (all). That’s the way I generally read through and post to my feeds. I do have an oddball Tumblr feed that is sort of a hybrid of Robin and Library – I use it to post my library window display ideas, but in my own name. I attempted to load the Tumblr app to my feeds, but it wasn’t cooperating. Tomorrow is another day!

The takeaway seems to be that Hootsuite is a program that:
1. Allows you to watch all of your social media on one feed that can be sorted by company or topic.
2. Lets you search posts for customer feedback and buzz, ensuring a two-way communication channel.
3. Provides analytical data that can be used to maximize your message impact and justify your marketing needs.
4. Distills marketing media into something that feels accessible and manageable; as if you could actually wrap your head around it to form a solid strategy.

It does however beg the question – is this something my library will actually use? We’re a small rural library, with only 29 employees. There are only two of us making social media posts. If Tess doesn’t put a post up, then I do. The tools that connect staff and create post approval groups and teams are probably not going to do much for us. I do like the idea of analytics that can show a higher overall reach in social media beyond the basic Facebook insights. Especially as we head into a levy, it would be great to be able to print real, GROWING, outreach statistics for our board.

I’m not yet convinced that I want to spend any of our limited funds on a Hootsuite Pro membership, but we will see. There are several weeks of class left to sway my opinion.

In the meantime, I’ve got Google “How Search Works” to review.  http://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/  (Yes, I double-checked!) I’ll read through this and its associated links before bed tonight.

Read more about Hootsuite’s offerings at http://www.hootsuite.com

Here we go…

blue hair

Blogging. What a concept. Creating a blog is something that has been niggling at me for a few years, but who has time for that?

Working in a small rural library, I wear a lot of hats. I’m the head of Programming. I run all of the Teen programs and I’m involved in all Staff events. I design signs, create television scripts, build front window and holiday displays, post to social media feeds, write press releases, host events, design brochures, and manage the voice of our levy campaign… Whew – just listing it makes me tired!

Oh, and did I mention that I am part time? Yep. All the Marketing you want in 30 hours a week or less.

You know that feeling you get when you’ve been slogging along at work, day after day for a few years? Your mind gets a bit numb. Instead of tapping into your creative brain, you just try to tackle one calendar event after another to make it through the week. That’s where I’ve been recently. A bit brain-numb and lacking in inspiration.

Our local community college announced a new class this term: Digital Marketing 231S. The overview sounded like information I could use: digital media, search engine optimization, gauging the reach and success of your messages, etc.

One of the requirements of the class is the creation of a blog. So here we are dear reader… let’s see how my brain-awakening pans out. Keep your fingers crossed that inspiration strikes before the levy campaign kicks off!