Etsy Tinkers With Shopper’s Search Feature

Etsy Wall

It really doesn’t matter whether you sell on eBay, Amazon, or Etsy, one of the first things you often discover as a seller is that change is constant and never-ending. This go around, it’s Etsy that is playing with its algorithms, or more specifically their search feature.

According to the Etsy Announcement Board, the change comes as a way to help shoppers find what they are looking for. To do this, Etsy states that they have been running tests to tailor the search results to individual buyers based on their history on Etsy. Basically, this means that when a buyer performs a search to look for an item, Etsy will attempt to match their search to items that they feel will have the most interest to the buyer.

Unfortunately, it will be hard for sellers to gauge how this is affecting them, since some buyers are being included in the testing process while others are not. In a nutshell, the buyers who are part of this testing, will be shown items based on identifying signals that are made from their previous searches.

If this all sounds similar to what you’ve heard before, it may be because this is basically the same type of algorithm or very similar to the one that Amazon uses for its buyers. What it means for sellers is that your listing placement in search may go up or down, depending on what Etsy thinks the buyer is going to be most likely to purchase. In other words, what appears for one buyer in a search will be different from what another buyer sees in their search, all based on what they have searched for in the past.

While some sellers like this idea since it is similar to the “Amazon way,” others have expressed some concerns. For one thing, it makes it harder to know what keywords you should use since there is no way of knowing what keywords you need to come out on top in a search.

From the buyers side, it can be an issue too. Problem being – just how often do you buy the exact same thing that you purchased before? From what Etsy is saying, if they know you have been searching for red widgets in past searches, they are going to steer you toward more things that are similar to red widgets, even if you, as a buyer, have moved on to wanting something else like a blue or purple widget.

How this will affect Etsy sellers and buyers remains to be seen, but for now all we can really do is see how the new search algorithm plays out. Are you concerned about the new search features? Leave a comment below. You can learn more about the changes here.

Selling 101: What you should know about BOLOs

Police Car Lights

If you’re a member of any Facebook groups or egroups for online selling, then you no doubt have seen the acronym BOLO being thrown about here and there. If you watch a lot of cop shows on television, you probably know that this means “Be On the Look Out” (for) and on a show like Law and Order SVU or Rookie Blues, it means the police are hunting a suspect or someone that’s wanted for something.

 
In the world of online selling, a BOLO sort of has the same meaning, but instead of a person, it means to keep an eye out for an item that a seller can generally pick up for a low amount and flip for a higher profit margin. You may wonder why a seller would want to share a BOLO (and whether you should share is a topic for another post), but normally it’s shared because the seller has found the item and is no longer able to locate anymore of them in their own area, so now they want to share their find with others in their.

In most cases, a BOLO is hard to find so what should you do if you run across one? Well, your first thought is probably to buy as many of them as you can, but before you do there are some things you should do.

Find out if the item is really worth buying and reselling? Just as one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, you may find that the BOLO does not meet your selling requirements. Perhaps it doesn’t have a sales rank that is high enough for you on Amazon, or you discover there are already a bazillion of them for sale on eBay – all at incredibly low prices. Do some research before you by and check to make sure that the return on your money is worth the purchase.

Get it. List it and send it in! If the BOLO was made public, then there are a lot of people hunting for the same thing. Strike while the iron is still hot and list it as soon as you get home or send it on in to Amazon FBA. This will keep you ahead of the other competition and can help get your item sold quickly before others start to appear.

Visit every store in your area. Don’t give up if you don’t find the item in the first store you visit. If the BOLO was seen in a CVS or WalGreens, visit every CVS or WalGreens in your area. This was how a seller scored big back when holiday Pringles were the big BOLO item. She didn’t find any at the first two stores she visited, but the third store was the charm and she was able to get each flavor that Pringles was offering. Since the chips were so hard to find, she was able to make a lot out of them and sell them for more than what many people were getting just trying to sell the single cans.

Are you a BOLO hunter? Leave a comment below.

Trademark Infringement and “Private Labeling” Online By Cliff Ennico

Ciff Ennico HeadshotTwo e-mails I received this week deal with a recent phenomenon in e-commerce – the so-called “private labeling” of merchandise on Amazon, eBay and other online venues.

Here’s how it works:  a seller buys merchandise in bulk from a manufacturer (usually in China or elsewhere in Asia).  The merchandise is not trademarked or branded in any way.  The seller then places its own trademark or brand on the merchandise and sells it online.  Sometimes the seller makes changes to the merchandise, but most often it merely puts it in its own packaging.

“Private labeling” is nothing new.  Go to your neighborhood CVS or Walgreens pharmacy and head for the mouthwash aisle.  You will see Listerine® and other popular brands, and right next to them will be CVS’ or Walgreens’ own brand, for a lot less money.  Guess what?  The “generic” brand is exactly the same as Listerine®, although it bears the “private label” of CVS or Walgreen.

“Private labeling” with the manufacturer’s consent is okay, but it seems some sellers on eBay and Amazon are taking matters way out of hand.  If merchandise is trademarked or branded by the manufacturer or somebody else, you cannot “private label” it unless you get their written permission.  Slapping your name on somebody else’s stuff without their permission is trademark infringement, and it’s illegal.

The first e-mail I received from an overseas manufacturer complaining that a number of Amazon sellers were selling his merchandise in the United States without permission.  The manufacturer had not registered its trademark in this country, and was concerned that one of the resellers might do so, thereby denying his company the right to use its own marks.  The manufacturer was also concerned that its consumer warranties do not extend to sales outside of its home country, and that U.S. customers might be misled into thinking they have the same protections as authorized buyers.

First of all, this manufacturer needs to find out how the U.S. seller is getting hold of his (presumably genuine) merchandise.  I’m assuming the seller is engaging in “retail arbitrage” – buying the merchandise in bulk overseas, shipping it here, and then selling it at a higher price – as many eBay and Amazon sellers do.

As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the “first sale” doctrine in trademark law says you can do anything you like with merchandise once you buy and pay for it.  If the overseas purchases were legal, the reseller (I’m sad to say) has every right to sell the merchandise in the U.S.  What this manufacturer needs to do is hire a U.S. trademark lawyer and register its trademarks here as quickly as possible to protect its brand image.  Then, contact the sellers, explain that you will not extend your warranties and other customer benefits to their U.S. customers, and require them to disclose that fact in their online listings.

If, on the other hand, the seller is counterfeiting the overseas manufacturer’s merchandise (making it here or in China and then slapping their own name on it), that’s a whole different story.  My first call here would be to the nearest Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office.

The second e-mail deals with almost exactly the opposite situation.  The manufacturer in this case has learned that sellers on Amazon are selling their own, or somebody else’s merchandise, under the manufacturer’s trademark without permission.  The merchandise is not counterfeit, but resembles merchandise offered by the manufacturer.

Using someone else’s trademark on your own or a third party’s merchandise is trademark infringement, pure and simple.  If the merchandise is of a type not offered by the manufacturer (for example, using a software company’s trademark on cheap toilet paper), it is “trademark dilution”, also illegal.  This manufacturer needs to hire a lawyer and send some nasty “cease and desist letters” to these people.

Both of these manufacturers should contact eBay and Amazon and notify them of the trademark infringement happening on their sites, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to take action.  These platforms are notoriously reluctant to get involved in disputes between sellers, and the federal courts have consistently said they are not accountable for what sellers do on their sites as long as they don’t actively promote such activities.

Sadly, there is no legal recourse for manufacturers whose products are being improperly “private labeled” but to hire attorneys and spend tons of money trying to get justice.

Taking generic, unbranded merchandise and putting your own trademark or brand on it is perfectly legal as long as the manufacturer permits it.  If you are not certain about that, you should contact the manufacturer and get their written permission to “private label” their merchandise.

If the merchandise is sold under a registered trademark (look for the “R in a circle” symbol next to the product name, or look it up on www.uspto.gov), you DO NOT have permission to “private label” that merchandise under your own name, or use that trademark to sell somebody else’s merchandise.  Doing so is illegal.  End of story, world without end, amen. Cliff Ennico (cennico@legalcareer.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’.  This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.  To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.  COPYRIGHT 2016 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE,

Winter Weather Could Cause Shipping Delays

Snowstorm on the East Coast. Maryland.

If you’re on the East Coast, then no doubt that over the last few days you’ve probably been keeping a wary eye on the weather forecast. According to a variety of news sources, the winter storm known as Jonas is expected to be a bad with various reports (depending on what news source you like to listen to) indicating that the storm may drop anywhere from 12 to 20 inches of snow in the Northeast with lesser quantities of snow and/or ice in the Southeast.

Unfortunately, along with snow and ice comes shipping delays and if you’re an eBay seller in the affected storm area, now is the time to start thinking about a contingency plan for your shipping schedule. While the storm is expected to hit over what for the most part is considered the weekend (currently Friday afternoon), keep in mind that even if the storm clears out by Monday it may still impact how long your package is going to take to ship even when the new workweek rolls around.

So…what to do?

First, if you’re in the storm area go ahead and change your shipping and handling days to at least two to four (or more) days out (depending on where you are located and what the forecast is predicting). This gives buyers a heads-up that you won’t be getting the packages out right away and if they need something immediately, it’s best they look elsewhere.

Second, notify all of the buyers you are currently dealing with that there may potentially be a delay in shipping. Most buyers are okay with delays as long as they know what to expect, but it’s always good practice to offer to cancel the transaction if they don’t want to wait.
Third, some sellers like to post a “banner” or announcement in big bold red letters at the top of their listing page. This gives buyers another opportunity to know that there is an expected delay with your shipping and lets them know what is going on.

Meanwhile,  it’ always best to keep up with the changing weather online at websites such as weather.com and you can also see how it is affecting the carriers you may use, such as USPS, UPS and FedEx by checking for information on their individual websites.

Are you in the area affected by the storm? What strategy do you have in place for shipping delays? Leave a comment below.

Amazon Continues Move Forward with Prime Air Service

drone

Although it remains uncertain when Amazon’s drones will actually take to the sky to begin delivering packages, it hasn’t stopped the online marketplace from moving forward with their plans to use them. According to Yahoo Tech’s David Pogue, while Amazon still has to wait for regulations to become established for commercial drone use, the company is making decisions in the meantime about how their fleet of drones will operate.

 
During an interview with Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy, Pogue was told what buyers can expect from the program once it goes live and the drones are in the air.

 
First, apparently Amazon’s drones will only be equipped to carry packages that weigh up to five pounds. Since their marketplace sells thousands of items, they are in the process of narrowing down what types of packages the drones would carry. The range for the drones to fly would also have to be over 10 miles and Amazon plans to deliver the packages right to a buyer’s doorstep, regardless of whether or not they are at home. This may bring up the question of theft of the packages, but Misener states that it really is no different than if a package is delivered to a buyer’s door by a UPS delivery truck.

 
Second, while the program initially will seem all shiny and new with (no doubt) plenty of attention, Misener feels that once the novelty wears off, delivery drones will seem just as common as delivery trucks going down the street. The company is currently looking at ways to have drones deliver packages everywhere from farmhouses to apartments in the city.

 

Although the logistics of some of the deliveries still needs to be worked out. Misener is confident the company will have everything in place by the time the drones are placed into operation. He also dismisses some concerns that people may attempt to shoot down the drones to get to the items they are carrying. He states that he doesn’t feel that the drones are in any more danger of being shot down than a truck is in danger of being shot at on the street.

 

Are you excited about Amazon’s Prime Air Service becoming a reality? Leave a comment below.

Your New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 [Part 2 of 2] By Cliff Ennico

Ciff Ennico HeadshotHere are some more New Year’s Resolutions for business owners.

Find Three New Sources of Saleable Product.  If your business is selling stuff online, one of your biggest challenges is finding high quality stuff to sell at a profit.  If you’re not currently taking consignments, you’re out of your mind.  Take out an ad in your local newspaper saying “I Take Consignments!” with a toll-free telephone number.  Trust me, you will get calls.  Let the local senior citizen community know you are available to help them clean out their houses and apartments when they move into an assisted living facility.  Finally, make 2016 the year you cut out the middlepeople in your life — go to www.worldwidebrands.com and www.globalsources.com and find out where you can buy the stuff you’re currently selling directly from the manufacturers in Asia and “drop shippers” in the United States.

Get Your Taxes Right.  If you have been selling things on eBay or Amazon and haven’t been paying taxes, now is the time to get into compliance with the tax laws.  The IRS and state tax authorities are losing patience with people who don’t know they are in business when they’re selling online, and it’s only a matter of time before you will be required to pay income and sales taxes in every state where your business has a legal “nexus”.  Get a copy of my book “The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book,” and read it cover to cover – it’s the best twenty bucks you will ever spend.

Renew Your Web Address.  If your business is dependent on the Internet, make sure you check your domain name registrar at least once each year to make sure your Web address hasn’t expired.  They do send you renewal notices, but often these get picked up as “spam” by your antispam software, so you never see them, your Web address expires and gets grabbed by someone else.  Pick a date that’s easy to remember – like your birthday – and renew each of your important Web addresses on that day.

Update Your Software Twice a Year.  Just about every software program gets updated at least once or twice a year, but not every software developer sends you an e-mail announcing the latest updates.  Make it a point to visit the Website “home page” of each software company whose products you license, and look for a button that says “check for updates” or something like that.  It just may save your computer.

You should also consider investing in software that will:

  • automatically update the “drivers” for your computer peripherals (such as driversupport.com);
  • open any type of file someone sends you (such as “Ultra File Opener” from compuclever.com); and
  • back up your entire computer’s contents to a location in the “cloud” (such as www.ibackup.com).

Sheath Your SmartPhone.  Make 2016 the year you stop being a “SmartPhone slave”.  Make some rules about when you will use your SmartPhone or “phablet”, and when you won’t.  Stick to them.  Rule # 1:  do not use any mobile device while driving a motor vehicle.  Period.

Get Control of Your Bookkeeping.  If your bookkeeping system consists of a shoebox, you have absolutely no idea what’s going on in your business.  Sign up for your local community college’s evening class on QuickBooks Pro® and learn to do it the right way.

If you use “live” bookkeepers, meet with them at least 3 or 4 times every year, review your chart of accounts and other operating statements with them, and get their opinions on things you are doing right and things you need to improve.  Because they look at your business from “5,000 feet up”, they may see risks, problems and threats that you can’t.

Start Escrowing for Estimated Taxes.  If you pay estimated taxes to the federal and state governments four times a year, and find yourself occasionally without enough cash on hand to make the tax payments, you need to start “escrowing” for these taxes.  Take your gross sales each month, withdraw 40% of that amount from your business checking account, and deposit it in an interest-bearing savings account.  Do this every month, and learn to operate your business on the remaining 60% of revenue.  This way you will be sure to have enough cash on hand to make your tax payments when they come due.

And a final resolution:

Get Involved in the Political Process.  The Presidential election is getting all the media attention, but a new Congress is also going to be elected in November.  Will they care about the needs of small business?  To make sure they ido, make your voice heard – contact your elected representatives periodically (to find them, go to http://hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/5950/getLocal.jsp and type in your ZipCode).  Offer to serve as an informal (and unpaid) advisor on proposed legislation affecting small business.  Or – if they aren’t responsive — maybe consider running for local office yourself next year.  If Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump can do it . . .

Cliff Ennico (cennico@legalcareer.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’.  This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.  To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.  COPYRIGHT 2015 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

Why Are My Listings Not Selling?

Listed
You took your pictures, created your listings and to you – everything is looking good. There’s just one small problem, no one is buying anything and your store looks like a ghost town. What’s going on?

In most cases, it’s one of three things:

  • There isn’t a demand for your items
  • Your prices are too high
  • There’s a problem with your listings

 

While there’s not too much you can do if demand is the problem, you can always lower the price if it’s too high. If there is a problem with your listings, however, you may not even know it. Here’s some things to look for that are sometimes common problems.

Widgets are slowing your listings down
Widgets and add-ons can really enhance an eBay listing. Unfortunately, they usually take a long time to load. If the person is using a mobile device to view a listing, a widget at the top of the listing can make them pass your listing right on by. If you do use widgets, use them sparingly and place them at the bottom. That way, your potential buyers can view the top of your listing and if they like what they see, they will scroll on down and can see the widget at the end. Remember, your job is to sell your items – not entertain buyers with widgets!

Your headline isn’t engaging or it’s confusing
Once upon a time, eBay encouraged sellers to use every space that was available when creating a headline. Unfortunately, this led to some sellers using odd abbreviations or adding in keywords, such as “LOOK!” that had nothing to do with the item itself. As mentioned above, many sellers look at listings on their mobile devices, so you not only want to put only the most vital information, you also want to make it interesting and unique so that it will stand out.

Headline and listing descriptions don’t match
Selling on eBay and Amazon has taught many sellers the importance of keywords. The problem is, some sellers put certain words in the headline and then use different words in their item description. As an example, calling the item silicone in the headline but polymer in the description. Obviously, some will know that this is basically the exact same thing, but to a buyer it might confuse them and could lead them to believe that you don’t know what type of material your item is actually made out of. Use the same keywords for both headlines and the description. If a better description is needed, you can always work the other needed keywords in.

Do you have any listings tips that have helped your items sell better? Leave a comment below.

When Do You Sign Up For Income and Sales Taxes? By Cliff Ennico

cliff ennico“I started an online retail business earlier this year, and have generated so much income already that I know I’m going to get a Form 1099 from PayPal this year.

When do I need to sign my business up for federal and state taxes?  I know I have to do this eventually but would prefer to hold off forming a limited liability company (LLC) until after January 1.  What is the proper order in which this should be done?

Also, I’m planning to do this business with my spouse.  Do I have to sign up as a partnership and file Form 1065 with the IRS each year?”

When you start a business and don’t form an LLC, corporation or other legal entity, you are what is called a “sole proprietorship”.  The good news is that you started your business this year rather than last year, so you are (so far) not delinquent with any tax filings.  You have time to set up your business the right way.

There are two types of taxes an online retailer has to keep track of:  income taxes and sales taxes.  You pay income taxes to the IRS and to your state tax authority (if your state has an income tax – some don’t).  You pay sales taxes to your state tax authority only – as of now there is no federal sales tax.

Let’s take income taxes first.  Even if you make only One Dollar of profit with your online selling activities, you are required to report your income from those activities to the IRS and pay income tax on that income at your individual tax rate.  Most people do this by filing Schedule C as part of their individual federal income tax return (Form 1040), but you are not required to do that.  You can choose instead to treat your online selling as a “hobby” and report your income as “hobby income” on line 21 of your Form 1040.

I strongly prefer that my online selling clients use Schedule C to report their income.  That way, you can take all kinds of business related deductions to reduce your taxable income.  If you have a day job and you incur a loss from your online selling, the loss can be used to offset income from your day job.  Those are wonderful tax benefits you don’t get when you report your income form online selling as “hobby income”.

Your first Schedule C is due with your Form 1040 next April 15, and you can extend the filing date by up to six months.  If you owe the IRS money, however, you have the pay the amount due by April 15 even if you request the six-month extension.

If you have more than $1,000 in tax liability for the current year (and it sounds as if you might – PayPal sends you Form 1099 only if you grossed more than $20,000 from more than 200 transactions), you are supposed to estimate and pay your federal and state income taxes in four (4) installments on April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15.  Since I am writing this column in November, you should make at least a partial payment of this year’s on January 15 to avoid interest, penalties and other charges you might incur if you wait until April 15 to pay the whole amount.

Because the sole owners of the business are you and your spouse, you probably will not need to file Form 1065 (the partnership information return) this year.  If you plan to add new owners or investors down the road, however, you will need to start filing Form 1065 once they are on board, and it will be easier for you to do that if you start filing now.

Also consider whether or not your spouse should be a partner in your business – if he or she is not rolling up their sleeves and slogging through the trenches with you every day, there is no tax or other advantage to making him or her your business partner.  You might actually be better off as the sole business owner, as that way (1) you can transfer assets into your spouse’s name to protect them from lawsuits and (2) you may – depending on your state law – come out ahead if you and your spouse get divorced.  Give that some thought.

Now for sales taxes.  You should have registered with your state tax authority to pay sales tax when you started this business, and you should definitely do so now.  Keep in mind that you pay sales tax only on “in-state sales” (sales to people who live in the same state you do).  Total your in-state sales to date and, if the amount of tax is relatively small (it probably will be), pay it as a lump sum when your next sales tax return is due, most likely at the end of the current calendar quarter.

Cliff Ennico (cennico@legalcareer.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’.  This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.  To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.  COPYRIGHT 2015 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

Common Security Flaw Puts EBay Member’s Accounts at Risk

Keyboard b&w

It’s really not that unusual to hear about the vulnerability of a website these days. In fact, it often just seems to be the cost of doing business online. What people do want to know, however, is how quickly a company reacts to a security threat and how quickly they get it taken care of. Unfortunately, in the case of eBay’s most recent security vulnerability, it appears that the online marketplace didn’t actually act on the information about the breach until the media got in behind it and started to report on it.

This time around, the security flaw which would allow hackers to create fake login pages, was first noticed by an independent security researcher who discovered the critical bug in the early part of December and informed eBay about it on December 11.

Although eBay supposedly asked for more information about the breach, the researcher, who goes by the name MLT, states that after the initial email asking for more information about their discovery, the company stopped communicating with the researcher and didn’t attempt to patch the security breach until they were actually asked about it by reporters last week.

The bug which is known as XSS, is a common one that allows hackers to insert malicious code into a website. In the case of eBay’s XSS bug, hackers could use it to create pages that looked like a member’s real login page, but once the member put in their name and password, hackers could then take over their account.

Since XSS reportedly is a rather simple flaw to fix, some members have been left wondering why it took the online marketplace so long to create a patch. Ryan Moore, a spokesperson for eBay told reporters that the delay was due to a miscommunication caused by MLT, who he said, used a second email address to communicate with them thereby causing a bit of a lapse in response time. Moore states that the bug has since been fixed and that eBay continues to be vigilant in providing a website that is safe for its members.

Has your eBay account or another account ever been hacked? Leave a comment below.

What Really Motivates Your Customers and Clients? By Cliff Ennico

cliff ennicoSince the beginning of time, business owners have wrestled with the question “why are my customers buying?”

A lot of behavioral research and tons of your hard-earned tax dollars have been spent trying to figure this out, and the overwhelming consensus among business scholars is that there are two reasons, and only two, why anyone buys anything:

Needs and wants.

But I respectfully disagree.  About a year ago I posted a video on YouTube called “How to Sell (Just About) Anything to (Just About) Anybody” (to see the video, go to www.youtube.com and search for “how to sell”).  In that video, which has had almost 78,000 views in the last year, I make the argument that what really motivates buyers are their “passions” (what turns them on and gets them excited) and “fears” (what worries them and keeps them awake at nights).

The vast majority of viewers think I’m on to something there.  But quite a few readers don’t.  Here is a typical response from a recent viewer:

“Fears are understandable for sure but I can see passions as just a subset of ‘wants’.  To me people buy when they have a discrepancy between what they perceive as ideal and what they currently have.  A BMW is a passion but more people buy Chevy’s or Toyotas than BMW’s or Porsches by a long shot. A Toyota is not a passion but a practical method of getting around relatively cheaply.

What about food at the supermarket? Potatoes and lettuce are not a passion but more a wanted thing. What about gas for the car? Oil is the biggest business around. What about computers? Not a passion for a lot of people but they buy them to do certain wanted things for business or home. Cleaning supplies for the home? Furniture? Same thing. People also buy things to improve their circumstances rather than passion. Can you clarify these areas?”

At a basic, existential level, people do “need” things.  If you don’t eat, sooner or later you starve.  If you can’t get to and from your place of employment, sooner or later you will lose your job.

But when you buy food, you don’t buy it in the abstract.  You buy something very, very specific to satisfy your hunger.  And whether you buy organic Brussels sprouts or a Big Mac hamburger with bacon and melted cheese has everything to do with your passions and fears.  If you buy the Brussels sprouts, you are nervous about your health (or perhaps passionate about losing those extra 20 pounds before bikini season).  If you buy the Big Mac, you are passionate about meat and savory flavors.

The same with cars:  you can get to work each day driving a beat-up 20 year old Toyota (as I do) or a shiny red Maserati.   Both will get you there, but the one you pick has everything to do with your fears and/or passions.  If you drive a Maserati, you want everyone to be jealous and envious of you (at least people with Y chromosomes).  If you drive a 20 year old car of any make and model, you are either concerned about saving money for other things that are more important to you than your car (fear) or you are passionate about reliability, dependability and relatively low maintenance costs (20 year old Toyotas are truly amazing cars – if properly maintained they will rust away to nothing before they wear out).

Most products and services can be sold using either “fear” or “passion”.  A bottle of perfume or cologne can be sold to people who want to appear more attractive sexually, or they can be sold to people who don’t want to smell badly.  Viagra® products can be sold to people who want to enhance their sexual performance, and to people who are afraid they won’t be able to perform at all if the opportunity arises.

Marketing professionals have a very large word for this – “segmentation” – but what it really boils down to is looking at a certain demographic of people and determining whether a “fear sell” or a “passion sell” will be more effective with that demographic.  Look closely at any ad on television, online, in a newspaper or magazine, and ask yourself two questions:

  • what type of people is this ad targeting?
  • is it using a “fear sell” or a “passion sell”?

You will almost always be able to do it, and when you can’t, the ad probably isn’t very effective because it’s “message” isn’t clear enough.

As a lawyer, I can tell you that people do not call their lawyers when they are having a nice day – it’s all about fear.  Or perhaps, if someone feels they have been wronged, the desire for revenge (“I want to sue the b—-“), can be driven entirely by passion.

If you have trouble thinking of passions, think about the Seven Deadly Sins:  pride, lust, greed, envy, anger, sloth (laziness) and gluttony (eating and drinking too much).  We all have them to one degree or another, and entire industries have been built on each one.  Which one are you trying to satisfy in your business?

Cliff Ennico (cennico@legalcareer.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’.  This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.  To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.  COPYRIGHT 2015 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.