5 Tips for Using LinkedIn as a Business Tool

In addition to being an exceptional tool for personal business networking, LinkedIn is also a great place to market your business. Here are five tips to help your business network grow through LinkedIn: 

1. Use the Q&A function. The Q&A function of LinkedIn is a powerful revenue-generating tool. Try using the advanced answers search to find questions specific to your company’s expertise. Don’t pitch your company’s products or services here, just give the best — or most altruistic — answer you can. The Q&A is definitely a give-to-get medium: Give freely and you’ll get back in spades. 

2. Become an expert. When a question is asked on LinkedIn, it remains open for answers for seven days. After the question closes, the asker can rate the best answer to that question. The best answerers for a given question are awarded expert status on LinkedIn. From that point on, whenever an expert answers a question, that expert gets an expert badge. People’s expert status follows them around wherever they go on the site. Since you’re representing your company, this creates expertise for it as well. 

3. Join groups. You can join as many as 50 LinkedIn groups. When you join, introduce yourself and your services. Much like Q&A, this is a give-to-get medium. 

4. Start a group. Starting a group is super easy — just a couple of clicks and you’re done. Start a group around your company’s core competencies. For example, if you’re a printer, set up a group for people to ask questions about printing. If you’re a search engine marketing company, set up a SEM for beginners group. 

5. Promote your blog. Many of you already have corporate blogs and have produced whitepapers and corporate presentations. Promote your blog in the news section of the groups you belong to. Promote whitepapers and presentations in the groups as well via the discussion function. This adds value and enhances your image. 

People always tell me they see me all over LinkedIn. I try to gain as much notoriety as possible within the LinkedIn Q&A and group functions. As a consultant, this has brought me new customers. It takes some attention and time, but when done right, it can be a wonderful source of leads and business

Evidently my rant about the USPS and their 5 day work week hit a nerve.

I got lots of feedback to my column on the USPS and its brainstorm about going to a five-day workweek.  (see all comments and original article here)

And most of them were pro-mailer, agreeing that the USPS needs to wake up.  

However, I did get a few responses from environmentalists offering up some vicious attacks on our industry. I took the most readable — including this great illustration of how uninformed the masses are when it comes to our industry — and posted my response to it on my blog. For your review, I’m posting the comment and my response here.

Comment from Mel:

“I agree that the USPS needs to revamp the way it does things, but if it can reduce our costs by going down to 5 days a week, then I am fine with that.

“As for direct marketers, sorry but that is fine by me if they are put out of business. Maybe they could learn to earn an honest living instead of annoying me and all of the others that can’t stand them.

“Oh wait, there is a law against them! And talking about going GREEN … if direct marketing were abolished, how many trees would we save? How much would our carbon footprint be reduced? Looks like a win-win to me.”

My Response
“Thank you Mel for your comment. I’m not sure what law you are talking about. Maybe you’re referring to CAN-SPAM (that’s for e-mail) or the Do Not Call law, which applies to telemarketing. To my knowledge, there’s no law against direct mail. In fact, and maybe to your amazement, less direct mail, or a USPS five-day work week, would not reduce any costs as you state. Costs would actually go up, not down.

“Direct mail powers the U.S. Postal Service. Without it, the next time you mail a letter, utility payment or Xmas present to your nephew Billy, you would need to take out a small loan.

“OK, I exaggerate to illustrate my point, but the truth is many direct marketers look to deliver offers that are relevant to the people receiving them.

“If you want to learn more about the actual impact direct mail has on our economy and our society, I suggest you take two minutes and read the Facts About Direct Mail section on the Direct Marketing Association’s Catalog Preference Web site. You may be very shocked to learn how wrong you are!

“The honest truth is, we DON’T want to mail you anything if you are not going to buy from us. It wastes our money, our time, and it just makes you mad enough to write comments like this.

“You should also know that many direct mail companies are more green than you think. They use recycled paper when they can and soy-based inks. They buy their paper from paper mills with a commitment to forestry re-plantation.

“More and more, mailers and catalog companies are doing what they can to go green. But is this enough? In a word, NO! We’re getting there though.

“Here are some suggestions for you:

1. Recycle any direct mail you’re not interested in.

2. Contact catalog companies who send you their catalogs and ask to be removed from their future mailings.

3. DON’T buy anything from a catalog, otherwise (and here is the relevancy issue) you will be tagged as a “mail order buyer” and will receive other catalogs of products which have an affinity to your last mail order purchase. In fact, don’t buy anything mail order, or respond online to any offer!

4. Opt out of receiving business mail using Catalog Choice: http://www.catalogchoice.org/.

5. Use the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service to manage or stop direct mail offers:http://www.dmachoice.org/.

“We’re happy not to mail offers to you if you don’t want them (it saves us a bunch of money). Just let us know as described above, and we won’t send you any more mail.

“Oh, and one more thing, and I apologize in advance if this sounds a bit snarky: The less postal mail out there, the more e-mails and spam you’ll get clogging your inbox, and some more telemarketing calls as well.

“Hope this helps,

Consultant, Prosultant or Insultant? Part 1

Now more than ever, fear is driving the business process. To break it down, business owners/C-levels/boards of directors, terrified of the current economy, are making decisions based on fear.  

To make matters worse, their employees, both scared of losing their jobs and of looking bad in their superiors’ eyes, are implementing these fear-based decisions.

The truth is, what I just described is pretty much business as usual!

Even before the economy started to tank, most of the people I’d talk with on a daily basis already were floating through their business tasks with elevated levels of terror. Mix in the current economy and the fear rate goes up exponentially.  

Bad decisions executed by terrified employees. Sounds like a disaster in the making, which many could argue is exactly how we wound up in the situation we’re in: watching our economy unravel while our politicians fiddle away (that’s a conversation for another day).

At the risk of sounding self-serving, the need for a good consultant, an objective third party, is needed now more than ever.  

OK, let me say something here that many of you already know. In my four-plus years of writing for Catalog Success, in print and on the Web, as well as eMarketing & Commerce Magazine, not once have I ever written an article even slightly or indirectly pitching my services (or consulting services in general).

That doesn’t mean I’m going to start now. Rather, I’d like to remind you of the benefits of working with one. And mind you, I’m not pitching you for my services. I’m dedicating this week’s column to reminding you of the merits of working with a good consultant in these tough times. That could be any other good consultant, not just me.

That said, here are eight things a consultant can do for you right now with a set of fresh eyes to balance out the fear-based decision making:

  1. Review all of your numbers, from response data to budgets to lifetime value analysis and more.
  2. Review all of your vendor pricing in search of efficiencies.
  3. Look for opportunities in your circulation plan, targeting dead weight.
  4. Review your merchandising plans and prepare square-inch analysis, among other tactics.
  5. Seek out other marketing opportunities you may not be taking advantage of (e.g., social media/Web 2.0, community, on-site reviews).
  6. Find advertising media you’re not using and recommend structure testing, such as package inserts, print ads, supermarket take-ones, billing statements and so forth.
  7. Provide ongoing support to keep you focused and on track.
  8. Review your creative efforts and make recommendations for improvement.

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor
The IT director of a former client used to tell me there’s no such thing as a consultant and all of us are actually insultants. Next week, in part two of this series, I’ll discuss some insider tips on the three types of consultants and how to choose the best for your organization.

Software as a Service as the Next Wave of Marketing Automation

Note from Jim.  This came to me from a person I am linked to on Linkedin.  Thought it was a good primer on marketing automation so here it is…

Software as a Service as the Next Wave of Marketing Automation

How many of you are looking to decrease your costs while extending your current capabilities around marketing?  I’m hoping that you all said yes at this point.  One way to do this is to consider a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS or On Demand) Marketing Automation Suite.

Here’s the thing, On Demand is a software delivery model that has been around for quite a while. Companies like RightNow Technologies and Salesforce.com have changed the face of Customer Service or Salesforce Automation respectively. They’ve done it via a new model.  Now, it is marketing’s turn. Many of us use this model for Email or Web Analytics today and do not think twice about it. We outsource those pieces of our infrastructure because there are aspects of that effort that are very difficult to manage. For Email, the key is scalability and deliverability. An Email Service Provider can more easily deploy the resources to manage high volume emails and deliverability issues with ISP’s because they are doing so for a number of clients. Everyone shares the expense burden for the systems and resources, thus it is less expensive for everyone.

These applications are easy to deploy, less expensive and less time consuming than managing it yourself. Plus, you only pay for what you use, so there is a direct correlation between cost and revenue that these systems generate.  So, if it works for email marketing, web analytics and web offer management, could it also work for database marketing?  After all, a marketing database is a far more complex animal. It requires the ability to bring together multiple sources of data, merge and match that information to ensure that you get a full view of the customer, then deploy a myriad of reporting, analytics and campaign management tools over the top.  It also requires that your data makes sense for your business and not crammed into a database structure that is static and non-customizable.

The answer to that question is yes, it certainly is possible. In fact, it is already done.  There are several companies who have put together a true On Demand (which doesn’t just mean that it is hosted) delivery model for marketing automation suites. These are highly evolved marketing systems that can consolidate data from multiple sources and provide you insight into your customers that you struggle to get today.

So, what does this give you over your current environment today? I speak to a great many marketers who have this problem. That is, they have customer data spread throughout the organization and they are paying for multiple systems to manage that data and execute their marketing campaigns. They likely have customers in their fulfillment system, an email marketing system, a web analytics system, product information in yet another system, and a few reporting applications to tie it all together or they use a lot of excel to build out reports. Not only is this time consuming, it is expensive because you have license agreements for each one of those systems and you are paying large sums of money to support each one.

Imagine, if you will, that you could eliminate those systems. What would you be able to do if you were to drop the cost of your marketing environment by 40% or more? How much better would you be able to target your customers and create consistent coordinated multi-channel messaging if you were executing all of your marketing from one system? What would it mean to your company if you could measure the impact of multiple marketing events on the customers and prospects? This is what an On Demand Marketing Automation suite can give you.  Software as a Service as a delivery model for your marketing software is here today.  Elana Anderson (formerly an industry analyst for Forrester, now Vice President of Product Marketing for Unica) agrees, on her blog she wrote, “Over the next five years the lion’s share of marketing technology innovation will be in software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.” If you are looking for ways to reduce your marketing expenditures without cutting headcount or the volume of your marketing, I encourage you to look into a SaaS Marketing Automation vendor to help you in 2009.

 Jeff Hassemer is a fifteen year database marketing veteran and vice president, product management of Entiera™, premier provider of the industry’s first On Demand Marketing Automation Suite, offering comprehensive capabilities for today’s multi-channel marketer.  www.entiera.com


How To Create Catalog Split Test Scenarios That Matter (part 2)

This week in the final installment of this two-part series on the value of creating mail tests that produce measurable, and telling, results for your catalog, I provide takeaway lessons from last week’s example of how one catalog company tested the profitability of using an upgraded paper stock in its catalog. I’ll also list some tips to help ensure your company is conducting productive mail tests. 

The Moral of the Story
Even scientific tests often succumb to the subjective. Once all of your scientific testing is done, the art of interpreting the data takes over. Returning to last week’s example, as a direct marketer I never would’ve rolled out the higher-grade paper without additional testing. I would’ve wanted to confirm my results by running the same test over again. Even if the test were a runaway success, I would’ve proceeded cautiously. 

In the catalog/multichannel industry, there are infinite varieties of tests that can be configured, measured and, ultimately, interpreted. 

So how do you become successful and improve your company via testing? I believe the following seven principles, that if adhered to, will allow you to hedge your bets.

1. Always test against something. Your current catalog, e-mail, Web site, merchandise, among other things, can be used as your control. 

2. Always create a testing hypothesis. Use this example: If we do X, we expect Y to occur. 

3. Always set up logical tests based on scientific principles.

4. Test only one variable at a time. If you test more than one, you’ll never know which variable made the difference. See below for a list of variables you can test.

5. Always do your math up front. Calculate all expenses in advance of the test and set up a pro forma profit and loss and break-even analysis. 

6. Always do the math on the back end. Before the creative side of testing begins, have the math in front of you. Many times the numbers will drive decisions. 

7. Always test until you’re satisfied. Don’t roll out any changes to your catalog unless you’re certain of the outcome through testing, retesting and further testing. 

Variables You Can Test Today (a checklist to get you started)

List Variables:

* Recency — the most recent names from a new list; if your list is “working”; older segments of the list; average order sizes.

* New lists in your product category.

Creative and Printing Variables:

* Paper, trim size, pages, formats, photography, copy, ink-jet messages, cover versions, dot whacks, inserts.

Offer Variables:

* Gift with purchase, dollar or percentage off, free shipping.

Merchandising Variables:

* New or different products; repositioning older or non best-sellers via creative execution.

How to create catalog split test scenarios that matter

In part one of a two-part series on the value of creating mail tests that produce measurable, and telling, results for your catalog, this week I tell the story of one cataloger and how its testing proved to have inexact results.

Catalogers these days are racking their brains thinking about ways to decrease costs. Many have turned to changing their books. But as I illustrate below, making universal changes to your catalog can have mixed results. Some of the earliest direct marketers called their work “scientific advertising.”

Catalogers separate themselves from brand marketers by measuring their results and learning from their successes and failures. That’s why catalogers must consistently stay true to the principles of scientific advertising and test everything. I know you’re desperate to reduce costs. But I implore you to test before making any universal changes to your book. To illustrate my point, let me share with you a story — more like a cautionary tale — of a company that shunned the notion of a test before rolling out a major change to its catalog’s paper.

The Backstory

A client of mine decided that upgrading the paper it used in its catalog would result in increased sales — just a gut instinct. I warned them about testing first, as well as running some profit and loss scenarios, to determine how the additional costs would affect their catalog’s break-even point.

They scoffed at the notion of running a pro forma break-even analysis to determine how much revenue they needed to offset the additional paper and postal costs. In fact, it took the convincing of their paper merchant, printer and service bureau reps, along with myself, to convince them to set up a test before changing their paper weight. We set up a straightforward scientific A/B split test. We took half their customers and prospects and sent them a catalog printed on their regular paper. The other half were sent the book with the upgraded, more costly paper.

To keep the test scientific, the service bureau chose every other name from each list segment. In scientific terms, the A portion of names represented the “control” group and were mailed the “before” catalog; the “test” B group was mailed the catalog with the upgraded paper stock. The goal was for the test group to outperform the control group.

The Outcome

When we analyzed the results of the test, the client and I came to two different conclusions. They concluded the test was a success. After all, there was a marginal increase in response rates driving in a few new customers in some, but not all, of the list segments.

On the other hand, I saw something entirely different.

Yes, results were up slightly in some prospecting segments, but response rates were down in the housefile, especially single buyers segments. This meant it was converting fewer new customers (who were just trying the products) to multibuyers — a key metric and clear indicator of future success.

Just as important, the incremental cost of the higher grade of paper was not covered by the slight bump in sales. Prospects were costing more to acquire, and the mailer was losing slightly more money up front — money that would have to be made up in future mailings and orders. Customers were accounting for less profit on a per-order basis.

So who was right?

The client at that point was willing to lose a bit more up front to increase sales and put out a sharper-looking product. Eventually, the increased costs would catch up with it, however. The business suffered and the paper grade had to be scaled back.

Next week in the final part of this two-part series on the value of creating mail tests that produce measurable, and telling, results for your catalog, I continue my story from this week by providing some key pointers you can take away from this example, as well as listing some tips to help your company run successful and subjective tests.

The most basic direct and catalog marketing fundamentals (to learn and re-learn)

I recently had a conversation with another catalog consultant about a client proposal we’re jointly working on. The conversation worked its way to a discussion on the basic fundamentals of direct marketing. In essence, what’s the most basic fundamental of direct marketing that we need to present and our clients need to follow?

It came down to this: the 40/40/20 rule.

This rule states that in order to be successful in direct marketing, you must do the following:

  1. Concentrate 40 percent of your efforts on lists. That means list analysis and planning, selection, RFM, and, most importantly for catalogers, circulation.
  2. Concentrate an additional 40 percent on your offer. For catalogers, that means merchandising. That requires expert attention to detail, including but not limited to product selection, pricing, presentation and analysis. By analysis, I’m referring to square-inch analysis, the most powerful tool you can use to manage your catalog merchandising — aka “squinch.” Understanding the wants and needs of your customers is part of this function, as are the offers you make to them to stimulate response.
  3. Tie it all together by spending 20 percent of your efforts on creative execution. Literally, creative execution is only one thing: the bringing together of your list and offer/merchandising efforts in such a way that it speaks “buy now” to your customers.

As a consultant, I almost always see this in reverse.

If I had to quantify what I see in clients as they apply the above core competencies, it would be these three:

  1. 50 percent merchandising, with less emphasis on analysis and more on product development and presentation;
  2. 30 percent on creative. The creative (i.e., the catalog) is the brand’s calling card;
  3. and 20 percent on lists.

In the catalog business, lists and all that circ stuff are just as important (some would even say more) than offer and creative.

It’s easy to see how that could happen. Most catalogers are merchants first. They had a product idea and brought that to market. How they bring it to market is all about building brand image. It’s as simple as that.

I usually get called in when there are some business issues that need addressing. Often I’m told that there’s a problem with their catalogs. To this I say, “The catalog (or direct mail piece) isn’t the problem; you’re trying to solve a marketing problem (translation: circ and merchandising analysis) with a creative (design, look, feel, brand) solution.

At that point, I review the client’s version of the 40/40/20 rule and then the “textbook” version. There’s plenty of evidence for the proper application of the rule in the direct marketing textbooks. Absent this principle, I’ve seen some horribly ugly catalogs that are cash cows, while beautiful catalogs sink like stones.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at jimdirect@aol.com. You can also follow Jim on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gilbertdirect. Read Jim’s personal blog at https://gilbertdirectmarketing.wordpress.com/.

Superior Product, Exceptional Customer Service: The keys to the success of Cloud 9 Adventures and Jam Cruise

In today’s social media age, it’s not enough to just build a brand and assume it’ll flourish. More than ever, companies need customers to be emotionally cemented to their brands via superior products and exceptional customer service. 

For the past three years, I’ve been a customer of Cloud 9 Adventures, a company that exemplifies the spirit of customer centricity. Specifically, I’m a frequent passenger aboard  Jam Cruise

Imagine Mardi Gras on an ultra-luxurious Italian cruise liner, with live music from more than 20 jazz, funk, rock and jam bands playing nearly 24 hours a day. Mix in theme nights with costumes, karaoke contests where all-star musicians back up the contestants, excursions like all-terrain vehicle rides through the jungles of Belize, and workshops that go “behind the music,” and you get the idea. 

Now imagine that the customers, many of whom are repeat cruisers who call themselves “repeat offenders,” for the most part drive the experience. 

After each cruise, a large survey goes out to the passengers. This year’s contained 58 questions and arrived in my e-mail inbox one week after the cruise. Despite its length, the response rate is regularly 30 percent, according to Annabel Lukins Stelling, the marketing director for Jam Cruise. More importantly, customers answer each question with great detail because they know their answers are going to make the next cruise even better. 

Additionally, the company’s staff maintains a strong presence on Jam Cruise’s message boards, Facebook and MySpace pages. The message boards have a very strong community feel and remain highly active throughout the year. By continually monitoring these social sites and communicating back when appropriate, much is learned about jam cruisers and what they like and dislike. 

Which is why Jam Cruise, six years later, always sells out. In fact, many people prebook a year in advance and love to spread the word to bring new people on the ship. 

But, like any other business, Jam Cruise isn’t perfect. This year, a major computer snafu caused the passenger embarkation process to go awry. Some people waited in excess of six hours to get on the ship. 

Almost within minutes of the ship’s arrival back at port, the message boards lit up like a Christmas tree with complaints. 

One of the risks of social media is the impact negative comments could have on business. As more people seek out peer reviews via social media, Internet chatter can make or break a business. 

To its credit, the Jam Cruise staff posted a number of explanations and apologies for the embarkation problems, along with assurances that the problem was found, addressed and won’t happen again. Those apologies and assertions made a difference, and the message boards settled down. 

The Jam Cruise staff plans to send a second survey and additional communications in the near future to allay peoples’ fears about future issues, according to Lukins Stelling. 

The moral of the story: Social media can be an enormous benefit to a company — or a major detractor. Listening to your customers is crucial and can provide many rewards, as well as help with customer service and product-related issues. 

Jim Gilbert is president and CEO of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a Boca Raton, Fla.-based catalog and direct marketing agency. Reach Jim at jimdirect@aol.com.

And To Think, You Rely on THEM to Deliver Your Mail?

It’s no secret by now that Postmaster General John Potter told Congress that in order for the USPS to survive, it needs to switch to a five-day-a-week delivery schedule.  

Does anyone else think this is a disaster waiting to happen? And does anyone out there actually believe that five days will be enough for this bloated bureaucracy to survive? What’s next, mail one day a week? Mail on alternate Tuesdays? Leap year mail, anyone?

C’mon USPS, what kind of joke are you perpetuating on our industry? We’ve already had to endure ridiculous rate increases way too often.  

I wonder if it even gets the fact that it’s helped fuel the growth of the Internet, search, e-mail, etc., as it’s forced catalogers to use other channels to compensate for their higher mail costs per acquisition? Or how many of you have been forced to cut vital circulation? Every penny more in postage you have to pay affects your break-even point by roughly 2 cents. 

Profitable lists become marginal; marginal lists become, well, y’know. What other industry’s costs go up 20 percent-plus at a time? How many billions of dollars of revenue did that drive out of the channel?

Does the USPS realize it’s driven direct marketers out of business?  

Did it ever do any math on how many pure-play e-marketers stayed pure-play because of its idiocy? How many billions of dollars never even entered the mail channel because of that?

And then there are the people — many of them pure-play Internet marketers — who think the mail channel itself is dead. I’ve been doing some market research lately and you’d be surprised with some of my findings. (If you have a LinkedIn account, click here and here for answers to my research questions.)

It seems that back in the day, pure-play brand marketers used to look down on catalogers as direct mail people, their redheaded stepchild (apologies to any redheaded stepchildren out there). Now in a stunning turnaround of events, pure-play Internet marketers see us in the same manner, like we’re dinosaurs andtheir redheaded stepchildren.

All of this doesn’t bode well for the future of our industry. And don’t even get me started on the subject of “do-not-mail” legislation.  

Well, that’s enough rant for one day. I have to send a letter to a friend and just bought a stamp for $5.50 (laugh now, but soon you’ll be paying that to send out your utility payment).

Frankly, I don’t have the answer to this problem. Maybe some of you out there do. Post your comments below, and let’s get a discussion going on this.