When I lived in Champaign, Illinois, I met the least likely of startup founders – retired psychologist Dr. Bill Gingold.
Did I say ‘unlikely startup founder’? It may be more accurate to say his life story reads like an epic Hollywood film.
Bill immigrated to America in 1945 as a refugee. In America, he led a life that had him competing in the Olympics as a speed skater and earning more college degrees than I can count. He moved to Champaign-Urbana to work at the University of Illinois, eventually becoming Head of Family Medicine.
Bill’s no stranger to entrepreneurship, either. Along with his successful academic career, he has successfully owned and operated scores of businesses in dozens of industries.
Off the top of my head, businesses he’s been involved in include hearing aid batteries, an auto shop/towing service, and even hygiene products (for a stint). Oh, and then there’s the Continuing Education Institute of Illinois and Prime Life Times, a caregiver education company and niche media outlet, respectively.
I’m not even counting his extensive work as a private practitioner, where improving the cognitive well-being of his community has always been the focal theme of his psychological practice.
Nowadays you can find him hard at work building – get this – a brain game store called Dr. G’s BrainWorks. He calls it his capstone/gravestone project.
Ok, now that I got everybody feeling inadequate about their accomplishments and/or retirement plans…
He faced a fresh challenge starting Dr. G’s BrainWorks, an ironic puzzle if you will.
How do you promote a store in a brand new category to a regional consumer population? How do you reach mothers and young families specifically, his best consumer segment by far?
But more importantly, how do you do all that without spending a fortune on print and media ads? Starting a brain game store was an expensive affair. Between securing a location, ordering inventory, and hiring helpful employees, there wasn’t enough budget left over for Bill to offload the marketing work to an expensive media-buying campaign.
(Not many business plans ever have room for an expensive media-buying campaign, by the way.)
So the store opened, but customers didn’t walk in.
I was hired by Bill in 2013 to help create an internet marketing strategy that fits his business. Here, I’m going to detail some of the best insights from our work together.
Using modern marketing mediums and classic techniques, we amassed a steady online audience and the store is currently enjoying its fourth successful year of operation due in no small part to some creative online marketing.
Bring The Shop To Them
Lessons in Local eCommerce Web Design & Value
When I first started working with Dr. G’s, they had already begun plans for an eCommerce store and had even hired a developer to flesh out the basics with WooCommerce. It didn’t take long for them to realize, however, that it takes more than simply publishing (some of) your wares on the internet to attract the masses.
Now, part of the value Dr. G’s aimed to provide was a wide selection of brain games for every conceivable age, so no matter who you were, you could find something at Dr. G’s that would keep you cognitively stimulated (only a psychologist would think of this business, am I right?)
So, to reflect this, they needed to publish as many products as possible, which was difficult because, at the time, they had at least a thousand different games, puzzles, books, and science kits available. They also receive new products on a nearly weekly basis.
So they not only needed a method to catch up on their backlog, but they also needed a method to upload new products to the website as they received them.
The work of constantly updating and uploading seemed dauntingly annoying. So I streamlined a process to publish their new merchandise on a weekly basis with minimal effort.
The store now sports X items, and has over X items sold out and retired since the site began operation.
But what value does the online store bring, I imagine you just asked?
User Engagement: Talking With Customers 24/7
The eCommerce store itself didn’t generate any new sales from all over the country. It’s not like SimCity, where ‘If you build it, they will come.’ That’s what the marketing side of this profile will come in.
But what the online catalogue did do was something much, much better. Instead of using a website like a high-tech roadsign or brochure, it turned the website into a digital representation of the store itself.
Users are clocked in spending hours on the site clicking every which way as they see fit, unearthing a trove of actionable information about consumer shopping habits.
Also, these users were likely to come into the store – complete with pre-arranged shopping agenda (a retailer’s favorite customer.) Countless times has someone come into the store with a printed sheet of paper showing the product page of their desired Brain Game.
The real money came in seasonally. During the holidays, traffic to the site spikes to absurd levels, and user engagement goes through the roof.
Having the additional method of shopping on the internet helps people interact with your brand more, and the more they interact, the more they relate to it.
Cheap Branding With Social Ads
How Facebook Is Better & Cheaper Than TV Advertising
After getting the shop up and spreading the word to walk-in customers, the website started to get traffic. Naturally, people liked to check out the products online and come into the store to purchase them.
But if that’s all we did, we might as well just hand out paper-catalogues!
So the problem became How do we take advantage of this natural interest in our brand and products most effectively?
Long-story short: Readvertising.
Short-story long: online advertising tools have grown exponentially in effectiveness over the years. Facebook alone offers targeting with science-fiction level precision.
But the most effective audience is an audience that you know is engaged, wants to hear from you, and expects good things from your offers. This is where the re- in readvertising comes into play.
Using the list of website visitors and their email list (which we’ve been building the whole time), we were able to promote the Dr. G’s Facebook page, email list, and more to people who have already been ‘sold’ on the Dr. G’s experience, helping us grow the page for pennies per user.
New School PR — Niches On A Silver Platter
Getting Digital Ink From Local Blogs
An often overlooked opportunity for any small business are the blogs run by local people.
One blog in particular fit in perfectly with Dr. G’s BrainWorks, and not only helped us get the word out, but actually helped us establish authority.
This blog, Chambanamoms.com, was targeted to mothers in the Champaign-Urbana area, a strong market segment for Dr. G’s. They offer to local businesses, like many blogs do, guest posting, straight advertising, email sponsorship and more.
Get Those Guest Posts! The Value Of Links From Your Market
Links are one of the most powerful ranking factors for search engines, and a link on a website directly serving your market is digital gold.
Not only does the link actually do direct good for you business (many SEOs focus on much less useful links to game the Google algorithm), but the relevance to the geographic area and popularity of the blog actually helps boost your search engine rankings.
By buying a display ad advertising a guest post on the site (that’s two ads on one blog, the guest post and a display ad), we were able to build traffic to our guest post that would normally never see it. The traffic was noticed by Google and the Dr. G’s site now ranks for terms well outside the geographic constraints of their area.
For instance, if you’re looking up information on critical thinking and bias, Dr. G’s blog article shows up first. If you want to know how Chess trains your brain, Dr. G’s is what Google will bring you to.
All of this without any promotion or linking to the actual articles. Instead, by focusing on building the domain’s authority through link building via reputable sources, the site became a national platform for brain training information.