Author Archives: brian

So few marketing choices then, so many now

I was taking my dog for a walk the other day and came across a newspaper box stuffed with a relic from days gone by– a phone book!
phone directories
It’s worthy of note that the phone book is still being produced, and some businesses still advertise in it. The fact that this one particular phone book has sat outdoors for months, shows what most of us know: phone books are not valued or used anymore. It’s also interesting to note that the newspaper box is disused, as well.  Just like roller skates, rotary phones, and whitewall tires, some things are best left in the past!
Here’s where I put my (and my client’s) advertising dollars (in no particular order):

  1. Google Ads
  2. Facebook Ads
  3. Content marketing
  4. Podcast advertising
  5. Ad retargeting networks
  6. Direct mail
  7. Email marketing
  8. Vehicle signage
  9. Storefront signage
  10. Getting out in the community

You’ll notice what’s missing: traditional print advertising-magazines, newspapers-and broadcast advertising–radio and television. They can work for some businesses, but I seldom see awesome results from these mediums, just mediocre, at best.
I love all of these because I can directly connect my marketing efforts and money with results. The online ad networks allow a level of targeting and accountability that simply cannot be beaten by any medium.

Kona Impact LLC, 74-5599 Luhia Street, E-7, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 – 808-329-6077

Project Completed: Hand Painted Sign Repair

Hand-painted signs can be the most expensive signs to have made. Each color is a separate cost, and the time it takes to cut and prepare the surface can be substantial. You also need to plan for at least two coats of paint to survive in the harsh Kona sun, UV rays and wind.
One of our recent projects was a repair and re-painting of the On the Rocks sign. It reminded us of the challenges of using wood in Hawaii, as the original sign has suffered a lot of sun and termite damage–inevitable in Hawaii.
It took a lot of work, but the result was very satisfying.

old signOld Sign

new sign

Refurbished Sign

Veteran Parking at Lowe's – Mahalo!

I was picking up a few things at Lowe’s last night and noticed a few spaces dedicated to parking for veterans. I’m not a vet, but do feel great admiration and respect for those who have served our country. It’s nice to see Lowe’s provide some recognition of our vets. Well done!
veteran parking at lowe's

Project Completed: Kona Kones

Kona Kones is a real fruit ice cream business that just got started in West Hawaii. Kona Impact designed and installed the graphics on their custom trailer. We did not make their logo, which would have been proud to make–it’s a great logo–but we did help them focus on a logo that would go best on their new, shiny red, custom-made trailer.
The project was a lot of fun for us. Designing a trailer gave us a big palette to carefully consider what is essential, and what would be unnecessary fluff.
Where can you find Kona Kones and their delicious real fruit ice cream? They are currently at the farmers market near the Sheraton on Weds and Fridays. You can call them at 808-782-7889 to check for other locations.
kona kones
kona kones

Some of our Favorite Office Software Tools at Kona Impact

We spend a lot of time at our keyboards at Kona Impact. Most of the time is spend designing web and print graphics, designing website, doing online marketing and, of course, communicating with our customers.
Here are our favorite office software tools
Gmail – Several years ago, we decided to move all of our mail systems to Gmail. Instead of going through our server, all our email goes to and is stored, on Google’s Gmail platform. We’ve had no downtime, few deliverability issues and Gmail works great on all our devices. This has made our email systems more reliable and has reduced costs.
Google Docs – Another Google product we love. This online word processing program works flawlessly and allows us to share and edit documents from anywhere. Almost all of our word processing is done on Google Docs now.
Google Sheets – We do a lot of data analysis for our customers, and almost all of our data is initially imported into Google Sheets, an online spreadsheet. From these spreadsheets, we make lots of nifty charts, graphs, and analyses.
Timeleur – This is one of the ways we keep track of our billable time. It’s an eight-sided device that we flip to identify the task on which we are working. The device sends a Bluetooth signal to our computers and keeps track of how we spend our time. It’s a great tool for the time tracking that we need for client billing.
Dropbox – We’ve been using Dropbox for years. When we go out and take photos of a site or site, our phones automatically uploads the photos to our Dropbox account, which then syncs them to our office computers. Dropbox is also great for sharing large files with clients and for putting some files to work offsite.
Adobe Creative Cloud – This subscription-based suite of tools is used for hours a day by all of us. Our photo editing is done on Photoshop, our graphics and layouts usually happen in Illustrator and InDesign and we create and edit PDF files in Acrobat. Simply put, there are no other suites of tools that offer the integration of useful tools.

Beware of Cold Calls from Marketing Salespeople!

I had a lot of fun the other day when I received a cold call from a marketing company. They had no idea, I would guess, that online marketing is what I do, day in and day out, so there are few things I haven’t seen.
The first hint of a scam was the spoofed caller ID: “Mountain View, California,” the home of Google. The caller’s voice and the chattering of voices in the background, however, strongly indicated that it was from a call center in India.
The salesperson said I could be “number 1 on Google.” I asked, “do you work for Google?” No, he replied, but said, very quickly said that they are a “Google Partner”. Ok, so do you make me “number 1 on Google” through organic search–someone searching for a keyword on Google and my business coming out on top–or is this a paid ad–I have to pay for every click to my website? “Paid, sir, he said.”
So, I said, “you have no special proprietary way to get me to the top of Google results? You’re just buying ads for me?” “Yes, sir, he replied.” I feigned interest and asked how much it would cost. He said they have $1,000/month and up programs. He said he’d guarantee at least 100 “leads” to our website. Alright, $100 a lead? “Are “leads” the same as “click”? I asked. “Yes, sir.”
At this point, I had had enough fun and told him I wasn’t interested. (Actually, I wasn’t interested from the start.)
cold calls
Here’s are the problems with his pitch.

  1. “Number 1 on Google” through advertising is extremely easy to do. Just set up an ad, choose an obscure keyword, and set the account up correctly. It might cost $.50-$2.00 per click. “Number 1 on Google” through organic search is a gold mine if it is a high volume search term, but that’s not what he was offering.
  2. Clicks to a website are not very valuable. Many websites will have 1,000 clicks to 1 sale ratios, or worse. 100 “leads” might be one sale, so would you pay $1,000 for one sale? It makes no sense for nearly all businesses.
  3. Google doesn’t have a “back door” system where companies can get proprietary access to the search algorithm and manipulate results. Anyone claiming an association with Google, beyond being a certified Google Partner (training in setting up and running Google Ads) is lying. If you had a secret way to rank high on Google consistently, you’d have a multi-billion dollar idea and wouldn’t be calling me!

If your online marketing salesperson is talking about clicks, be very wary of this. Sure, clicks from Mainland home buyers interested in buying a home in Kona, Hawaii to a Kona real estate company’s website are valuable, very valuable. Clicks, however, are easily manipulated by computer bots or other means, so unless you’re certain of the quality, they are a very poor metric for marketing programs.
What you want in your online marketing are calls (if you’re a service business) or conversions/sales (if you’re an online retailer). Don’t fall for “building a brand”, “exposure” or “visibility” when all that really matters is new customers.
Unfortunately, many small business owners don’t have the knowledge or experience to identify a scam or a bad deal when it comes to online marketing. At Kona Impact, we recommend asking a lot of questions, never buying anything pitched solely on the phone and asking for a written contract or the deliverables. When you have the contract, read it carefully, and be sure to ask someone in the know if it’s a good deal.

Evolution or Revolution for your 2019 Marketing?

The end of the year is a time that many business owners reflect on the past year and look forward to the next. It’s a great time to seriously consider making changes. What should we do more of? What should we do less of? What opportunities are we missing?
There are two broad approaches to change in marketing: gradual change or radical change. This is what I call the “evolution or revolution” debate. The basic question is this: should we change by improving what we have, or do we need a complete replacement of our current efforts with something new?
The first step is to take an honest look at what you are doing.
At one extreme might be the business that has no online presence, is still advertising in phone directories or other unused print media, and has no regular outreach (email marketing) to clients. This is time to seriously considering a revolution. Get some help, and, more importantly, be willing to change.
At the other extreme might be the company that is doing well, and has a decent online presence, an infrequent newsletter or email campaigns and some planned marketing program. Should this business start over, and give up the proverbial “baby with the bathwater?” Most definitely not, as, with some modifications, these tools and efforts can become much more effective.
Radical change, completely re-doing a website, for example, can result in drastic negative consequences for the business. We’ve seen this many times when a company has gone from a professionally-designed and written website to a do-it-yourself website that may look good, but for numerous reasons, performs very poorly on the search engines.
Here is one example of a website–the green line–competing very well with another with a similar product line (the blue line)–and then doing a radical re-design/re-launch (around Sept 26). The online visibility plummeted to almost 0 (no visibility) and has only recovered to half the level it was previous–all during the critical holiday shopping season. This radical change resulted in a new website, which, by all measures, has performed worse than its old one. This radical probably cost the business several tens of thousands of dollars in sales.
radical change is not always good
It is, of course, hard to know if a radical change will bring about a new set of issues, which were not understood when the change began. Unfortunately, many business owners believe that change itself is good, and must be better than what exists currently. Many don’t envision replacing one set of problems, with a whole new set of problems. It happens, a lot!
At Kona Impact, we have spent over a decade helping companies in Hawaii plan and implement marketing programs. At times, we tell clients that we’d love to take their money, but are reasonably certain, that they won’t see improved business results if do. We’d rather sleep well at night, knowing that we helped a business make choices that will be best for their business, even if it means a lost project for us.
Our goal at Kona Impact has always been to give our customers the best information we have and help guide them to solutions that will be best for their business. At times, a revolution in order, but most of the time, it’s best to work with existing systems and improve them.

Five Reasons You Don’t Want to Have the Lowest Prices

We have seen this scenario many times: a person opens a new business and tries to become established by offering the lowest price in town for his product or service. Twenty-five dollar oil changes; graphic design work for $40/hour; painting/handyman service for $20/hour or some product selling for just above the cost to buy.
You can guess what happens: these businesses fail quickly, and seldom, if ever, continue to exist beyond a short period of time.
This pricing strategy–be the cheapest–is doomed to failure for many reasons. One is that people really don’t want “cheap”; they want quality at a reasonable price. Another is that the new business has a poor understanding of total costs, so they just don’t make any money and can’t survive.
Here are some reasons why you don’t want to have the lowest price (unless you’re Wal-Mart, and I’m assuming you’re not!)
You’ll be busy and broke
Would you rather work five hours for $60/hour or twenty for $15? Dumb question, I know. The problem with being inexpensive is that you’ll be what I call “busy and broke”; that is, doing a lot of work and making no money.
You can’t ensure or sustain quality
Imagine a person paid $400 to paint a room and one paid $150. Which do you think will tape the edges, use primer, apply two coats of paint and do a good job cleaning up after the job is done? At some point, the owner or workers who work for low wages, because the billing rate is too low, will have to cut corners to make some level of profit, even if it is a meager amount.
This is also true of products. I know the cheap tools at Wal-Mart are cheap for a reason; they are low quality, made-in-China tools. That’s the cost of the inexpensive tools; they won’t last long and are likely to be sub-optimal for anything but the most mundane tasks.
cost of low quality
You’ll be perceived as “cheap”
Few businesses want to be known as “cheap.” When I think of cheap I think of “dollar stores” and service providers who are inexperienced and using low prices to gain experience. Most people don’t want “cheap” products or services, though low prices are appealing for some, most don’t want short-lasting products or inexperienced service providers, as we all know the long-term costs of “cheap” can be very expensive.
You can’t raise prices in the future
I sometimes hear entrepreneurs say that they’ll raise prices once they get established. This is really hard to do, as the market has already decided you are a cheap, low-cost product or service. If you’re selling shave ice for $3 and not making any money, it’s hard to convince people that the same product is now worth $5.50. Likewise, if you charge $25 for your time and barely making ends meet, going to $50 for the same level of service is not going to be very palatable your customers.
Someone will become cheaper and you’ll have no advantages
Inexpensive is a fleeting competitive advantage. If the only thing you have going for your product or service is price, you’ll soon lose that advantage to someone who has the same business plan as you. There is no moat around a business that is only inexpensive, because if you can do it, anyone else can, too.
One of my business mentors is fond of saying that he wants, in fact, needs, his suppliers and employees to make a fair profit, for if they don’t, he’ll have no suppliers and employees in the future. It is, of course, always difficult to choose a higher priced service or product, but, in the end, we all know that low costs come with a price, which can often be higher in the long term.

Three Year-End Questions for Small Business Owners

At Kona Impact, we typically have two times of the year–December and June–when we reflect and look forward. We try to take a detailed look at what’s working, what isn’t, and where we want to be in the future. I like to say that everything is on the table for discussion at these times; every idea will be considered.

What’s working?

What products or services are making the most profit? Note: this is entirely different from the most income: it’s easy to sell a lot of low margin products and make very little money–what we call the “busy and broke” syndrome. Be honest and consider all the costs and revenue from products.
I always ask restaurants: what products make you the most money? What products are easy to make, bring high levels of satisfaction to your customers, and sell for a good profit? There are things on the menu that have high food costs, your cooks hate to make, your customers don’t find very satisfying and you can’t or won’t charge enough for them to make a reasonable profit. Get rid of these.
What products or services do you do better than anyone else in town? These are your competitive advantage (if you can market them). At Kona Impact we get asked weekly if we make t-shirts. The answer will always be “no” because I know of two screen printers in town that do excellent work at fair prices. I don’t want to (nor could I) compete with them.
I do, however, want to be the best at what we do for our core competencies: signage, marketing, graphic design, specialty printing and print design. If we can’t be the best, or number 2, I have to reconsider what we do.
What products or service are growing? Growth is key. About a year ago, we started offering 3-D signs, cut with our CNC routers. While it’s still a small part of our business, it is growing rapidly. We see the trajectory as equal to, if not more important, than current volume.

success concept
What isn’t working?

The answer to this is simple: what do we do that provides us with little or no profit? Are we doing things that take our time, but result in only labor and materials costs and little contribution to the bottom line?
Another aspect of this is to consider what products or services face have encountered risks or headwinds that will only persist? Are there technologies or changes in the market that will result in a slow withering of something we do?

Where do we want to be in the future?

I freely admit that of the five pillars we had for Kona Impact when we started 12 years ago, two were quickly abandoned. We did not know that the predicted market for those would be small and hard to gain entry. We planned for them, but, alas, we were wrong. Fortunately, we had the courage to admit this and move on. We replaced those two non-working pillars with three others, which have done quite well.
We look to the next few years of Kona Impact and see many wonderful opportunities for growth. This includes increasing our marketing consulting business, growing our custom CNC (3-D) signage offerings and developing some business-to-consumer products. We’ve always been business-to-business only, but now see how some opportunities directly marketing to consumers.
We also see productivity gains coming from some new machinery and procurement processes.
As the year comes to a close, we are very excited about what is to come for Kona Impact. Truth be told, 2018 was an excellent year for us on many fronts and a failure on a few. I would be disappointed if we didn’t have a few failures, as that would mean we didn’t try to innovate or grow. I’m looking forward to the new year that is full of opportunities, and, yes, a few failures along the way.

Three Biggest Signage Mistakes

Kona Impact has been making signs in Hawaii for years. We’ve done boats, outrigger canoes, windows, harbor signs, vans, cars, food trucks, real estate signs–you name it, we’ve done it.
And since we’ve made a sign or two, we learned a few things along the way.
Here are our three cardinal rules for making signage for Hawaii:
Thou Shall Not Use the Wrong Material
Wood is cheap and easy to get on the island. It’s also the worst sign material you can use. Between termites, warping in the sun and being susceptible to wood rot and water damage, wood makes for horrible signs in Hawaii. We replace many poorly made signs a year made by other sign companies who cut corners (or just don’t know better) and use wood.

termite infested signTermite infested Wood Sign in Hawaii

Our favorites? Exterior grade building material, glass, aluminum, and steel. All will outlast any graphics we put on them. The surfaces are smooth, non-porous and not susceptible to termite or other environmental damage.
Thou Shall Not Make a Small Sign
Yes, bigger is better! I always chuckle when I see a person’s business name, email, phone number, website and logo on a small 1’ x 1’ vehicle magnet. You might as well have nothing on your vehicle because with that much text on a 1’ x 1’ sign, you need to be within a few feet of the sign to read it.
We always tell customers that the more you put on a sign, the less any one element is visible. So, put less on your sign–it’s a sign, not a business card–and it will be more effective. If you really need to have a lot of information on your sign, make it bigger, as big as possible.
Thou Shall Not Make What is Simple Complex
Contrast is one of the key ideas for sign design. White background, black text is high contrast, as is a black background with white text. Aim for maximum contrast between your elements, and you’ll do ok. Try to put too much, whether it is non-contrasting colors with the background and text, or placing text over a complex background, and you’ll move toward a design that will make your sign illegible.
Likewise, stick to your essential message and don’t obfuscate your message. What is the one thing you want people to get from your sign? It’s usually the name of the business or the main product. Your secondary message is probably some services or a way to contact you. Consider keeping to only two, possible three messages. Anything more and you’re probably trying to do too much with a sign.
At Kona Impact, we love to sell signs–it’s how we keep our lights on–but we don’t like to sell the same sign twice, because the first one has failed. We love working with clients to design effective signs and get the messaging just right. After hundreds of signs, we’ve learned that cutting corners on the material, size or design is a waste of time and money.