Why Not Sell Physical Stuff With Digital Media?

We know that online marketing works when selling digital products.

When’s the last time you thought about selling physical products online?

Of course, the business of physical widgets is booming, even though Internet types tend to shy away from it. Online marketing doesn’t necessarily mean an exclusively online business.

Ben Settle jumped on the line with me this week to talk about his old school physical information product business.

Give it a listen to find how he gets it done, and how he gets his stuff into the hands of buyers

In this episode, Ben Settle and I discuss:

  • Why physical information products work in the digital age
  • How to market and sell physical products online
  • The 3 myths of selling physical products online
  • The easy way to get information products printed and mailed
  • Why you should consider adding physical products to your lineup

Hit the flash player below to listen now:


[episode_ad] [episode_transcript]

Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.


Robert: You are listening to Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio. I am Robert Bruce and today we’re going old school with our pal Ben Settle from bensettle.com. Ben how are you doing today man?

Ben: I am doing great and as usual, I appreciate you having me on.

Robert: Now before I grill you on this old school physical products business model that you’ve got going that’s powered by online marketing, by the way, I want to ask you a favor if you will. Could you please jump on your browser and head over to Copyblogger.com real quick.

Ben: Okay.

Robert: Tell me when you are there. I should have some music playing in the background.

Ben: I am there.

Robert: Okay, so now scroll down to about the middle of that page, until you hit the headline “grab our free 20-part internet marking course” and I just want to let people know briefly that this radio show is brought to you by the Internet Marketing for Smart People course. If you are looking at it on your browsers right now, that’s where you are you. What is this? In a nutshell, it’s 20 highly readable and useful emails covering everything from content marketing to email marketing, the basics of good copywriting to social media strategy, and much, much more.

It’s a systematic overview of the very best of Copyblogger.com and it’s dripped out to you about once a week, right to your inbox. So if you want to learn how to use the online marketing strategies and tactics that actually work, that Copyblogger has spent over six years using to build this multi-million dollar business, get on the bus with over 63,000 other folks. Just drop your email address into that little box there and click the red button and we’ll take care of the rest.

Why sell physical products in a digital age?

All right Ben, I asked you on the show today to talk about how you sell physical products online, because we know that online marketing can be much more than just digital products. This is one of those models that a lot of folks online either ignore or they just never think about doing.

We think it won’t work, we think it’s to difficult, or we think people today just won’t want a physical information product when they can easily download a PDF or an eBook, so I want to take a few minutes and ask you what you are doing and how you do it. Let me start by asking you generally, why sell physical products in this digital age?

Ben: Before I answer that, there are actually a lot of reasons for this, but I do want to say real quickly, that I am not an absolutist on this, I don’t think it’s never a good idea to sell digital, and we can talk about this later if you want. I sell digital products in other business formats, but physical products are something that people should at least consider if you are selling something somewhat high quality, high ticket, and something that you just want to have this air of quality about and there are some other reasons too.

To me, it’s something that people should at least consider in the business-to-business arena and one obvious reason for me to do it, and not everyone is going to get excited about this reason, but I find that doing this works for everything. It’s kind of like the old Earl Nightingale quote “just look around at what everyone else is doing and then do the opposite and you’ll succeed.” Everybody is digital right? By being the physical product person, you are going to stick out right off the bat in ways that other people aren’t.

It’s kind of like Christmas, when people get something in the mail; it’s a completely different experience then if they just download air. In fact, I am going to take this to a level that I don’t think most people realize, I didn’t even realize it until somewhat recently. When you get an email, and this is one reason people are so addicted to the internet, I think, is that you get this little drip of dopamine or something from your brain, it’s like a feel good chemical. So when you get that tweet or that email or that instant message, it’s kind of like a little jolt of excitement.

When it’s direct mail, physical, something that you get in your mailbox or delivered to your door step by the UPS guy, that effect is amplified I don’t know how many times, I don’t know if it’s 100 times or ten times, but it’s a lot. You are having a huge impact on that person, you are making the buying experience so much more interesting and so different, and it’s like an event. It’s not just “oh I am going to download some air right now and I’m going to see this eBook” it’s a completely different experience.

The example that I like to use and this is when this really dawned on me. A few years ago, a man named Gary Bencivenga who is considered the world’s top copywriter, I don’t know too many people who would argue with that, greatest living copywriter today. He put out a seminar where he revealed all of his tricks and all of his methodologies. He charged $5,000 for that seminar and now he is charging $5,000 for the DVD’s to that seminar.

Well a few years ago back in 2008, I bought that, and it’s high price tag thing, and I mean you would not have the same effect downloading that and paying $5,000. You’d almost feel kind of gypped. But it wasn’t just that, it was the whole experience. You are waiting for this really valuable thing to come and when it shows up, you place so much more value on it, you are far more likely to use it and consume it. You are far more likely to probably go through it and it’s not like something that just sits on your hard drive with a 1,000 other files that will probably get lost somewhere along the way. It’s like a big deal.

Now there are a lot more reasons than that, but those are some big ones. I think just the impact alone, where it’s like Christmas, it’s like receiving something really cool in the mail, and it just sets you apart from everybody else.

How Ben Settle incorporates physical products into his business

Robert: Thanks for making clear, we’re not making an argument that people should sell physical products alone, far from it. This is just an eye-opener for some folks who may not have constrained it at all or have some objections that I think Ben is going to address very specifically later on in the show to considering doing it. Thanks for clearing that up.

Before we get into how you are selling your stuff online, let’s just do a quick rundown of what you are actually selling so that folks can get an idea of what we are talking about here. All of us have seen kind of the rise of Etsy, that’s a great example recently for arts and crafts people being able to physically sell their arts and their crafts on the Esty website or through the Esty website, but you are still in, and talking about, the information business, right?

Ben: Yes. On my main site, my bensettle.com site, all I sell are physical products. Now I used to have a much bigger product line up then I do now, and I changed it for several reasons that are somewhat irrelevant to this conversation but my main product is a physical newsletter, that’s a very expensive newsletter, it’s almost a $100 a month. It’s physical, I mean I don’t have any online component to it, there is nothing to log in to, there are no passwords or anything like that. You just get this physical newsletter every month and I can tell you, if I were going to deliver that thing digitally, it would not have as nearly the impact that it does physically. It would probably not get read as readily, it would be easier to just put aside.

It’s a high-ticket thing and this is the thing, like I said, I don’t think physical products are always the best way to go. I am a partner in another business, a weight-loss business where all we sell is digital eBooks, low priced, inexpensive eBook, which is fine for what we’re doing. We don’t need physical products; everything is inexpensive and no big deal. Some people like to sell things on Kindle, so that’s obviously digital and there is a lot of wisdom to that actually for front-end products.

I think that when people are selling business-to-business especially or if you are a specialist in something and you really want to have that impact, I just think you should at least consider physical products and this is why I sell my newsletter that way. I have a copywriting product that’s a physical book with a CD; actually, it’s two books and a CD. Again, if I delivered that digitally, I don’t think it would have the impact, I don’t think that people would get as much value out of it. I don’t think they would place as much value on it.

Believe me, I am not the only one who is discovering this, I have friends who have been watching what I have been doing and they are starting to experiment with this and they are kind of catching on to this and seeing the same thing. People are sticking around longer if it’s continuity. We can talk about this later about this myth that physical get more refunds, I have not found that to be the case. Personally, I don’t offer refunds on things, but for people who do I think that they would find that they would get fewer refunds and that’s something to think about too.

The old-school secret to selling products online

Robert: Yes and we’re going to talk also very specifically about how you get this stuff done, getting your products produced and shipped. Before we go there, what is your basic marketing setup? This is going to be 101 for folks, you can look at CopyBlogger.com, dig into the archives there, go through our Internet Marketing for Smart People course to get the bigger overview of how we do things with online marketing.

What is your basic marketing setup: email, you do content marketing, and you do direct response through both of those mediums. How do you get these physical products, how do you raise awareness for your physical products online?

Ben: Well, this might disappoint people looking for the ninja tricks and all that, I am the first to admit that there is nothing complicated.

Robert: We are definitely talking general here.

Ben: Well good. My whole model is very 1990’s. It’s very retro, its like an oldies radio station compared to what most people are doing today. It’s really just opt-in sales letter, email follow up, sending them emails everyday. That’s my whole funnel, my whole front-end funnel; backend stuff is a little bit different.

For my newsletter, I have other products that I sell to newsletter subscribers and I use the physical newsletter to deliver my sales pitches for that. I use email for that. Now that’s not the only way to do it but my point is that it’s very simple. I am not the only one doing this, a few years ago I wrote the bullets for a Ken McCarthy System Seminars, his 2008 seminar. He had recorded and he hired me to write the bullet points for the sales letter, so I had to go through the course which is really cool and all the system seminar lectures and all that.

I remember that they did a beginners class, “here’s how to get started” and it was really great. It was Ken McCarthy and this guy, Lloyd Irving, I think his name is, who does like ten million dollars in the martial arts niche, and they are like “you know we really don’t do a whole lot of all this web 2.0 stuff.” I mean they do it, they still use all that stuff but at the end of the day it is opt-in, sales letter and follow-up. That’s it. Email and follow-up, that’s all I do and it’s been working out pretty good.

The 3 myths of selling physical products online

Robert: We’ve got to get you going with Premise for creating some of those landing pages that you are creating all over the place. I see them everywhere and they are fantastic but I think Premise would definitely help you out. Let’s get into a great post you wrote a while ago about the myths that people believe about selling physical products online. What are some of these myths?

Ben: There are a lot myths actually; I remember that post and the three that I talked about were that there was this myth that it’s a big hassle mailing and printing stuff. Another one was delayed gratification, people want things right away, and then other people thought you’d get more refunds with physical products and I’ll walk us through all three of these and why they are myths. At least I have not found these to be the case at all.

First is the hassle of mailing and printing thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t physically lick a stamp or anything. It’s all done by my print by fulfillment house. I don’t even think about it in fact I don’t have any tech support issues, I don’t get any emails from people saying “Oh I couldn’t download this PDF” which happens a lot, especially people using Chrome and that sort of thing, I noticed they have problems. I don’t get any of that, I don’t even think about it.

It’s actually for me, less hassle than digital. I don’t have to think about it.

It’s all done via auto-notification through my shopping cart where you can put another email address in there for order notification, that gets sent to the people who do my mailing and printing and there is a lady there by the name of Michele who’s like superwoman. She’s just awesome; she’s on everything like white on rice, no matter what comes up. So if there is a problem I simply email her and she just takes care of it.

By the way, I want to plug this place because I think they do such a great job, I don’t get any kickback, I don’t get any affiliates stuff for recommending them I just know that they will take care of you. It’s SelbyMarketing.com and just ask for Rich Selby and he’ll take care of you. So I don’t even think about it. It is completely hands-off. The only difference is that if there is a pain in the butt it’s that you have to have inventory printed up so you have to pay for that up front, but if you are making sales, it pays for itself anyways.

Again, this is why I don’t really recommend it for cheap, inexpensive front-end necessary, physical products, but if you are selling something that’s quality, something that’s kind of specialty information, I really think that you should consider it.

The other myth was the delayed gratification thing. People want everything now. There is some truth to that, I am not arguing with that. There are some people who want everything now, they want it fast, they want it free, and they want it yesterday. But I have found those to be like the biggest pain-in-ass customers that I have ever dealt with. If I am losing sales because of that, good, I am finding and this may not be the case for everybody, this is just what I experience, and the experience of some other people that I know of.

People who buy physical products are just a higher quality customer. I am not saying that digital customers aren’t high quality, I am just saying that as far as overall, and I am generalizing here. The customer base that you will get selling physical products, these are people who are more thinkers, they don’t need as much hand holding, they are excited to get the product that … they are sitting there waiting in eager anticipation for the mailman to show up and they are ready to rip into that product and use it.

What is the point of being in business if people don’t actually use your product? I don’t want people just downloading things and never using it. So I think that it’s kind of a myth, this whole delayed gratification that people have to have everything right away. There are times though when that is good and I am generalizing here, I am not saying never to do digital, I am just saying in cases like mine, I far more prefer the physical side of things.

Finally, this idea that you will get more refunds, I don’t know who started this thing. I don’t know who is spreading this around but if you think about it, they have a point when they say well people will download your digital product and then it’ll sit on their hard drive and they’ll forget about it until after the guarantee period. It’s almost like they are trying to get away with something. I just don’t look at business that way. I want them to use the product, and consume it.

One of your guys at Copyblogger, one of your writers that I see, Sean D’Souza I know he would agree with me on this at least, that you want people to consume your product. He teaches this and it’s just awesome information. You don’t want people letting it sit on your hard drive and never using it and oh, I got away with that one, they waited too long to ask for a guarantee. I just don’t see it that way.

Let’s take it beyond that, what’s easier to refund, a digital product, or a physical one? A physical one you gotta go pack it up, run it down to the post office, pay for the postage, it’s just a pain. Most people don’t even like going there to send their own stuff for other things much less a refund. I am not saying that there aren’t people out there who don’t make entire businesses out of refunding products, they do.

The biggest hurdle to selling physical products online

Robert: Okay, you are making a great case, in my opinion, for people to look into this and add physical products to their product list and what they are selling online. My final question for you is how do you get this done? How do you get your products printed, distributed, and mailed? What are some of the hurdles to selling physical products on line?

Ben: The biggest hurdle and really, the only hurdle that I can think of is finding a good printer. This can be a problem. I went through three; the third was the charm, luckily. The first one that I went through was back in early 2009 and it was a company that all the gurus out there were recommending, “now you gotta go with these people, they’ll take care of you.” So I went along with the game and I regretted it because they didn’t even print the products on site, they outsourced it to a local company. That’s not that big of a deal but it just opens up a door to more problems, the more people that are involved.

I would have orders that would just not get shipped and the customer service person would be like “Oh I am sorry about that.” Well sorry kind of doesn’t cut it when someone just spent $130 on my product, it’s a month later, and they are emailing me asking where it is. I think that is unacceptable. It happens once in a while, that’s okay, and that’s going to happen. It hasn’t happened with my current printer in two years, but it could happen.

It was happening way too often; so I went to a friend I had out there in the internet marketing world and I asked “who do you guys use?” because he was the CFO of a really, really big info publishing company. He told me who they were using, which happened to be the same company who did the printing that was outsourced from the original company that I was using. I talked to that guy, he was a great salesman, and he sold me on why they were the best and I should go with them. They were even worse!

They would get my shopping cart notifications and then they would email me back saying, “You know for some reason our email reader can’t read these notifications.” These are plain text emails, I don’t know. That was a whole other thing and I would ask them to please send me the tracking numbers and sometimes they would remember to and sometimes they wouldn’t.

Finally I went to Selby, who I should have gone to in the first place and I remember it like is was yesterday, it was late 2009 and I am like “look man I just want a printer where I don’t have to think about this stuff. Can you print things up, can you mail it out? Can you just send me or the customer preferably both a tracking number?” And I remember him saying “Ben you are not challenging me here!” Finally, the most basic thing … and they will do a lot more than that but it was refreshing and I have not had a problem with them ever.

The easy way to get information products printed and mailed

Robert: Let’s take a look at your email player’s monthly newsletter. Tell me how you get that done.

Ben: Okay well this is pretty simple. When somebody buys, they get into a recurring order, it’s in the shopping cart, and it’s all automatic. You set up a recurring ordering product and every month you can go on and download all the people who are on that recurring order list into an excel sheet. I just send that list along with the PDF to the printer. Actually, I send the PDF a month in advance, I have my newsletters usually written a couple months in advance, I don’t like being under the gun too much.

Robert: And it helps because it is evergreen content right? This is not new/used, time-based stuff.

Ben: And if it is, I’ll add it in at the last minute or something but 90% of these things are written in advance. I’ll send it in a month early, in fact just yesterday I sent in the PDF for the March newsletter because I want them to send me a proof of it first. They send me a proof, I’ll get that next week, and I can make sure that it looks okay and that’s it.

On the first of March, I’ll send that list in and I’ll say please send the “email players newsletter” to this list and they just do it. You can make special requests, you can say: well I want foreign orders, non US orders, I want those to have tracking numbers, which by the way, here is a big tip, if you are in the United States, and it doesn’t matter what printer you are using, and you are sending physical products overseas, it’s very important to have tracking numbers because the United States Postal Service has dropped the ball way too many times for my taste.

It used to be that I would get three or four people a month that say “the newsletter never showed up, or this product never showed up.” But when I have tracking attached to it, it shows up all of a sudden. That’s kind of a side tip. But that’s pretty much all there is to it. It’s all done via the shopping cart, notifies them of new sales. When somebody subscribes to my newsletter they get a book, that’s the premium I give away is a free book, so that is automatically printed and sent to them, I don’t even think about it and then they just kind of bill me for that every week or so, I’ll get a bill from the printer.

If you are doing inexpensive products with razor thin margins, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend physical products, unless you have your numbers really figured out but if you are selling something high ticket, it’s more than worth it. I’ve been saying that it’s good to do physical, in my opinion, if you sell specialty high ticket type products, but I am going to show you the other side of the thing, I am not saying it’s impossible to sell high ticket things digitally either.

There is a marketer named Jim Straw and he’s been in business forever. He owned banks and export companies and those kinds of things when most of us weren’t even born and now he focuses online and he sells, I don’t think it’s more than 150 page eBook that’s like $1,000. There is no refund guarantee on it or anything. So I am not saying it’s impossible. I would love to have a business like that where I can sell a few thousand-dollar eBooks every month and not have to think about anything. He is kind of the exception to the rule, I don’t know anyone else doing that, but it is possible.

Robert: Alright Ben, where can people find more of you? Do you have a home phone number that everybody can call or I hear you take calls up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning?

Ben: Well the best number to call would be my URL which isBenSettle.com and when people go there, if you opt-in, I’ll send you free issues of my newsletter via PDF, not physical, but PDF, and there are a lot tips in there that people have used to just make money with whether you buy anything or not.

Robert: Well thanks for listening everybody. I hope this show got you thinking about the possibilities that selling physical products online might hold for you. If you like what we’re doing here, the best way to say thank you is to head over to iTunes and give us a rating and a comment, Mr. Settle, thank you for coming by and reminding us about the “physical” world.

Ben: Absolutely. I hope more people at least think about and experiment with it.


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About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.