Help stop the internet sales tax…

Important information to act on now.  (thanks to our friends at ACMA for allowing us to share this)

Urgent Industry Alert:
CEOs, Presidents: Last Call To Make A Difference;
Contact Your Senators Monday

Dear Catalog Industry Executive:Whether you wrote last week or didn’t get a chance to yet, the Senate is scheduled to take action today. The Marketplace Fairness Act will definitely cost you money and could potentially ruin your catalog business. The industry needs all C-level executives to call to Senate offices right away. Let’s light up the lines. It will influence the result, especially if they know you – but call either way. This is our last chance to make a difference. Do not delay. For starters, please check out this editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, as it can greatly help our cause and yours when you make your calls.Click on each title below for all the important tools you’ll need:

Click here to review the details ACMA distributed in our alert from Friday
Last and not least, we are working round-the-clock coordinating industry efforts, so we need to hear from you too. Please use the following address to let us know which actions you take:

Hamilton Davison
President & Executive Director
American Catalog Mailers Association

BREAKING (GOOD) NEWS: postal-regulatory-commission-denies-exigent-rate-increases

The Postal Regulatory Commission Denied the Postal increase.  Read about it here

We at Gilbert Direct Marketing, applaud the PRC for denying the exigent postal rate case.  As I have said before every penny direct marketers have to spend on direct mail, with it’s biggest expense already postage, we have to add 2 cents of revenue to cover the increased costs.

Despite its negative image lately, mostly fostered by environmentalists and internet marketers, direct mail remains a highly targetable and enormously profitable marketing channel.  Presently I have clients who are seeing ROI in the range of 6 to 1.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Empty-Wallet Wednesday: A Tale of Two Shoppers

(update: even 5 year olds are getting into the act.  Friday I was at Best Buy and overheard the following, “But Daddy, it’s Black Friday… Pleeeeeeeease get it for me before the price goes up!”)

Friends and readers: I hope you all had a happy and safe Thanksgiving. I also hope you had a great Black Friday and a killer Cyber Monday despite our current economic circumstances.

I seem to remember not too long ago when Black Friday was just a retail industry term for the one day of the year that could change a company’s P&L from red to black. Somehow the term has crept into our national lexicon and collective psyche. As I went through my e-mails on Thanksgiving morning, I had at couple of dozen sale-oriented e-mails pitching Black Friday sales. Some referenced Black Friday right in the subject line, just so I would know that somethingmore than special would be offered that day. I even got a Black Friday offer from a car dealership.

It certainly seems to me that the media turned this day into the biggest shopping event of the year — just like Presidents Day, Valentine’s Day and other major shopping days. Thanks to the Internet, we also have its sister event, Cyber Monday. Now we have even more competition, as shopping events become clashes worthy of sibling rivalry (or an opportunity for marketing channels to be in sync).

I chose to write this on Friday morning, Nov. 28, after Thanksgiving dinner, feeling mostly recovered from the sleep-inducing agent in my turkey. Others in my family were getting ready to shop, too. My wife was going to hit the mall extra early to beat the traffic, hopefully the crowds too, while scoring the best gifts at a discount. She’ll likely turn Black Friday into an all-day marathon, going in to many stores and spending as much time as possible perusing each rack, end cap and item until she has fully scratched the internal itch that will not let her miss one perfect fit for someone on her shopping list.

As for me, if I never set foot in a mall or retail store again, I’ll be happy. And even when I do go retail, I go with a goal in mind — find it, buy it and get out before some overzealous clerk sprays me with cologne!

Instead, I’ll spend time in the other marketing channels. I’ll shop catalog and Internet, and if I have questions, I’ll pick up a phone and call a toll-free number to clarify. The only exception I may make is for an item-return. To return an item, I may actually drop it off at a retail store, rather than send it back via the mail. I find this easier somehow.

And NO, this isn’t a sexist thing — as in man vs. woman. It’s purely about preference. Some people desire the tactile experience of seeing, feeling and touching. Some don’t. In my younger days, I actually enjoyed the mall shopping experience, but now I don’t. Simple as that.

Points to consider

So why am I telling you this? There’s a moral to my story and it’s quite simple. Know your customers and their shopping patterns. Satisfy their needs in any channel they choose. Also know that shopping preferences change over time. Today’s retail customer may be tomorrow’s Internet shopper and vice versa.

Speak to you next week.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at , or you can e-mail him at

How to Easily and Cost Effectively Add Video to Your Marketing Arsenal

Note from Jim: I originally was going to have this be the last installment of the “you lost me there” series, but I seem to have gotten sidetracked.  At any rate, video is in my opinion the next big opportunity in social and direct marketing if harnessed correctly.

How to Easily and Cost Effectively Add Video to Your Marketing Arsenal

I recently conducted a testimonial contest for a client. I asked for all types of submissions, from written to video. Of course I was hoping for video, and boy was I rewarded. The contest winner’s video was slick, well-written, modestly well-acted and, with some tweaking and a call to action, could’ve actually been put on TV. All this came from a customer who was in love with my client’s services, had a video camera and some editing software (like Apple’s iMovie, which comes standard with all Macs), and a couple of cue cards.

Just by putting the video up on YouTube, the company’s blog, Facebook and tweeting it on twitter, it’s gotten almost 300 views. This client isn’t a large company, so while 300 views doesn’t seem like a lot, it still counts. Lots of clients and prospects have commented on the video, too.

This week, the contest-winning video is going to be promoted in the company’s email newsletter. Doing so should increase exposure and net the company some new clients.

So while this may not be a mainstream example of viral video going to millions of people like the “United Breaks Guitars” video, which had 5.5 million viewers, it is a great example of the creative use of video as part of a company’s marketing strategy.

What Can Video Do for You?
Video is a perfect social media marketing channel for engagement. Here are some tips on WHAT to shoot:

  1. Beyond holding contests for testimonials, directly contact your best customers and ask them for video testimonials. If some of your best customers are located near your offices, then by all means go to the places of their choice and shoot some video testimonials.
  2. I love the notion of behind-the-scenes content. Before social media, a prospect’s or customer’s interaction and experience with a given company were either on its website, though its call center or in a retail store. But for the most part, corporations remained pretty much anonymous. Social media presents an enormous opportunity to humanize companies and allow customers “behind the veil” to see their personalities and corporate cultures. Shooting behind-the-scenes videos helps build companies’ personalities. One multichannel retailer I know of posts videos of its photo shoots on YouTube and Facebook. It gets tons of feedback on Facebook about this. Other behind-the-scenes action works well, too, from interviews with staff to candid videos of people doing their jobs. Even seeing staff cutting up and mugging for the camera can add value if done right.
  3. Does your product/service lend itself to demonstration? If so, video it and put in on your website. If you have a product that needs to be set up, heck, video is better than an instruction manual, right? What a great customer service opportunity using video.

I’ll continue my examination of how video can be successfully added to your marketing mix next week with part 2 of this multipart series. In particular, I’ll offer some more ideas for ways that video can be used at your company.

Request: If you’re an expert at video search optimization, contact me at I have some questions that I’d like to include in part 2 of this series.

We’re on a mission to create the best direct marketing education forum on Linkedin

3 weeks, 540 members strong. Join us: We have members from all area’s of direct marketing ready to share their expertise with you.  We also have international members.

Want to know more about search, blogs, direct mail, telemarketing, lists, social media, and all direct marketing disciplines, then join us.

If you are an expert in direct marketing, please join us too.  And our members are using this group as a great networking tool!

Thanks, we look forward to seeing you there.

Jim Gilbert

You lost me there (part one, website issues that lose you business)

Last week, I gave a presentation to the Florida Direct Marketing Association titled “50 direct marketing tips, tricks and tactics to make you a superstar.” I’m going to share those tips with you over the course of the next few weeks.

Part of that presentation dealt with improving Web marketing. Right up front, I’m asking you to contribute to this article by posting your comments below. If I miss something, please add it, OK, lets make this a collaborative effort.

As a side note, I’ve spent a lot of time lately looking at multichannel and other marketers’ Web sites, and have seen tremendous opportunities for companies to capture not just orders, but prospects as well.

Many e-commerce Web sites are good at taking orders, but not so good at capturing prospects.

Thus the goal of this series, which I’m calling “You Lost Me There,” is to help you get more of the people who visit your Web site to raise their hands and request to continue the dialogue with you. You want these people in your database, as they’ve expressed some level of interest in your products.

That said, here are three tips to optimize online sales:

  1. Why is your phone number not prominently displayed on your homepage and ALL pages of your site? Make it big. Make it stand out. And put it on pages in multiple places! Your prospects and customers don’t want to have to WORK to find you.
  2. If you say you don’t want the phone number to be easy to find because you don’t have the phone staff to handle the calls, think again. Even pure-play Internet companies need to coddle their prospects and customers in this day and age; otherwise they’ll shop elsewhere. Contract with a call center, even if it’s just to take messages and pass them on. There are call centers that even allow you to pay as you go by buying blocks of time. Essentially, adding a call center doesn’t have to be as costly as you think.
  3. For crying out loud, respond to customer e-mails. Same customer service issue, different methodology. If you want to drive people to interact with you via e-mail, make your e-mail contact info stand out. And respond in a reasonable amount of time. In the second week of my direct marketing class at Miami International University, I have my students conduct an experiment: Send an e-mail to a company and see how long it takes for it to respond. Guess what — fully one quarter of the e-mails don’t get responded to. Here’s a rule of thumb for you: Return every e-mail in less than four hours. Not only the same day — four hours.

Every call and e-mail is an opportunity. Start a dialogue, and get customers ordering.

Bottom line: Consumers don’t have the time to spend on your site figuring out how to contact you with their simple questions. They don’t want to search your FAQs or dig around for contact info. They want answers immediately; otherwise, they don’t care how good your products are, because they won’t order. Don’t lose business over this.

Check back next week for part two of this series, when I’ll give you some more tips on how to increase ROI with your Web site. In the meantime, post your comments below.

Evolution, Revolution: Attention All Marketers – Change Is Gonna Come (and ROI Will Follow)

Note from Jim: Originally written for All About ROI, the newly branded and revamped Catalog Success Magazine.

As we near the end of the first decade of the new century (time flies right?), the direct marketing business is caught in a war that’s being played out on many fronts.

Let me put this in perspective for you: If you study history, you’ll see that at the turn of every new century comes great change. However, great change is often preceded by great turmoil. Whether it was the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century or the buildup to World War I and the Great Depression in the early 20th century, change, as they say, is gonna come.

The goal of my newly branded column — in this newly branded publication — is to help you drive as much high-quality return on investment (ROI) as possible. I’ll examine ways to do this in the ROI channels and mantra (retail/catalog, online integration) from our magazine’s tagline. I’ll also talk change on a continual basis so you can adapt and thrive.

The point is, we face several threats, many of which are actually opportunities in disguise. And the opportunities are considerable:

Social Media: You must adopt social media as a tool for engaging your customers and prospects alike, both from a marketing and customer service perspective. New customers are just, if not more, as likely to seek out information from peer groups as they are from product research. This column will discuss strategies for blogging, message boards, video, Web site product reviews, Twitter, Facebook, and more going forward.

Direct Mail (part 1) — Push Me, Pull You: The chatter I hear every day is that direct mail is dead. Mostly, this is perpetuated by pure-play Internet folks who believe marketing is all about “pull” rather than “push.” I recall in the not too distant past when direct marketers were looked upon by brand marketers as the redheaded stepchildren of the marketing community. Of course, the Internet leveled this playing field, and now all marketers need to be direct marketers to survive. Curiously, the next generation of marketers — weaned on the Internet — see us much the same way.

Funny how things turn. For without the principles of direct marketing, these same Internet marketers would’ve gone the way of the dinosaurs (oops, I meant sock puppets). For a direct marketer to drive consistent ROI, all marketing channels must work together. I’m a big fan of “why can’t we all just get along,” and will go to considerable lengths in this column to create synergy in all channels and with all people.

Direct Mail (part 2) — Let’s Get Personal: Also part of the chatter I hear is that the death of direct mail has to do with the process itself. Technology exists today to use personalization to increase engagement and, in turn, response rates and ROI. But is it being used? Sadly, many companies aren’t adopting technology. I’ll delve further into personalization, segmentation, PURLS (personalized URLs) and landing pages in this column.

Direct Mail (part 3) — Revenge of the Tree Huggers: More and more the direct mail industry is being attacked by environmentalists who believe direct mail destroys trees and the planet. Activists are trying to get “do-not-mail” bills passed on a daily basis. Most of these people have no clue about the actual impact of direct mail on the environment (or lack thereof as the case may be) and are just jumping on the bandwagon because it seems like the right thing to do (or they hate junk mail). Our goal as direct marketers, both offline and online, is to mail to relevant customers and prospects. I’ll address how to mail smarter in this column, and you can bet that I’ll loudly voice my opinion against anyone who says the wrong thing about our industry.

And Then There’s the Economy: People are sitting on the sidelines and not buying. Spending habits, especially around credit purchases, are changing rapidly. I’ll discuss how this affects your business and how to market smarter in troubled economic times. Here’s a hint: People are still buying! Find them, and coddle them. Hint No. 2: Many companies have made fortunes in bad times. You can, too!

And Lastly, Mobile: Are you prepared for the next channel to open and open big? Over the next few years, mobile will need to be harnessed if you plan on surviving.

Why Catalogs Fail

Note from Jim: This is the second and final in a series of articles from fellow consultant Bob Klapprodt. I’ll be back with another column next week.

Why do catalogs fail? The answer is deceptively simple, while the remedy is not. 

Most catalogs fail because they walk away from the basics; they ignore the elementary economic analyses necessary to properly measure and control the business.

The Other Guy’s Model
In the vast majority of American businesses, fixed costs are high and variable costs are low. For example, in the retail arena, companies can increase sales simply by staying open longer. The variable cost may be merely the salary of a clerk for an extra hour. 

By monitoring the top line, you can fairly accurately estimate the impact on the bottom line. To increase profitability, all you need is enough incremental margin to cover low incremental costs.

Our Model
For catalogs, just the opposite is true: Fixed costs are low and variable costs are high. In the most traditional cases, the way to incremental sales is through mailing more catalogs. Mailing includes increased printing and postage costs, the two highest budget lines of a catalog operation. 

I normally provide my clients a model P&L that shows fixed costs should run around 7 percent of net sales, while mailing costs should be in the 30 percent range. Very few consumer catalogs can fit into this idealized model.

The result is that many catalogs lose sight of this and end up overmailing. Incremental margin is far outstripped by incremental costs — and this can happen in a hurry. The bottom line goes from black to red, and the catalog is in trouble. 

The beauty of direct marketing is that when a catalog is growing, you can monitor the pieces of your growth and add circulation to list segments that are performing above average. Your P&L is in the black, and life is good.

Why, then, is it so difficult to cut circ when times are bad? Why is it so difficult to monitor the impact of incremental costs that are necessary to gain incremental sales? The answer is, It’s not if you stick to the basic economic fundamentals. Go find the marketing analyst sitting in the far corner of your office; he/she has the answer. If you don’t have one of these analysts, you’re probably already in trouble and don’t know it … yet.

When times are bad, the normal response is to cut overhead. This is exactly the wrong response. Constantly monitor results at the micro level, understand when incremental costs exceed incremental margin, then react by re-evaluating your circ. Cut it when you have to. Leave your overhead alone unless you’re going out of business.

It’s All in the Analysis
The first thing I do when taking on a new client is I go back through two to three years of history and look for instances when incremental costs are too high to support the incremental margin. I’m constantly amazed by the number of times this happens. This is a very sensitive analysis; it doesn’t take much to turn the numbers red.

If you understand response curves and know how to accurately forecast your results, you don’t have to wait for a mailing response to be complete before you undertake this analysis. I’m a spreadsheet geek, so I build this measurement into all my analyses and can tell early on when things are headed south — and by how much.

How to Measure, What to Measure
If you’re a catalog owner, do the analysis. Do it every week. Constantly measure your incremental sales, and compare them to your incremental costs. And don’t forget the cost of taking and shipping an order; this can make a big difference in the results. Your bottom line will thank you.

Three Ways to Cut Customer Acquisition Costs

A few weeks ago, I discussed some powerful resources for finding obscure mailing lists that may not be on the traditional list rental market. This week, let’s take these resources a step further. 

With response rates down and expenses up, now is a great time for you to look at alternative ways to acquire customers and even lower your customer acquisition costs. Again, the resources are:

* Belcaro Shop at Home (

* (

* Greyhouse publishing (

One other method I didn’t mention last week is through magazines that target your particular niche. You’d be surprised at how many other companies there are out there with products that have an affinity to yours and that would be open to a marketing partnership.

Here are some examples of the types of programs you can set up with other catalogers:

1. List exchanges. The most obvious way is to exchange housefile names (both offline and online). This will eliminate most of the cost of renting those names. To keep things running smoothly, once you work out your arrangement with the other list owner, you can have your list broker work this like a regular list order. Your broker will charge you a nominal fee for this, called an exchange rate.

2. Package inserts. Trading off space in outbound package inserts can be an excellent source of both leads and orders. Just like paid-package insert programs, set up tracking codes and test creative and offers. For offers, try testing a catalog request vs. a direct sale of a hybrid of each. As for finding companies to trade with, use the above-mentioned sources. Or, your list broker can help you make contact with the list owners of some of the lists you rent (ones that don’t already have a package insert program running).

3. Endorsed deals. Endorsements allow you to provide your customers with items that are complimentary to your products, thus creating goodwill. Endorsement programs can be as simple as sending out an e-mail or postcard to your customers with a recommendation, or as complex as elaborate syndication programs with revenue sharing. How you structure your deal is dependent on what you and the other marketing team can dream up.

Some other ideas include a store within a store, trading pages within your respective catalogs, or selling other marketers’ products on your Web site and vice versa. The sky’s the limit here. Other Considerations Do your due diligence on the company you’re considering partnering with. Carefully review its Web site, product offerings, customer service, etc. Make sure your potential partner company’s quality is of the same level as yours.

Also, structure these types of partnerships as any other test. Use the smallest possible circulation/sample to test the waters before rolling out.

I had a client once who thought he had a slam-dunk co-marketing program. The other company offered his company a free test of 50,000 names. After much back and forth, I convinced his company to mail only 5,000 names. Good thing. The test bombed! And by mailing one-tenth as many names in the test, his company lost far less than it could have. Two words: Be careful!

Update: the FL “do not mail” House vote scheduled for Tuesday is NOT happening

The Do Not Call bill in front of the FL House is off the schedule for now.  Thanks.  Please keep the pressure up on FL lawmakers.

Meanwhile, one of the non-government groups that offers opt out for direct mail,, has this information on their website.  I hope this clears up any misconceptions about the direct mail business you may have. (for Florida specific info click here for a fact sheet)


  • Do Not Mail proposals would cost American jobs.  More than 3.5 million Americans have jobs that are directly or indirectly supported by advertising mail.  Banning advertising mail would be a bad idea in good economic times, but it is a terrible idea during the economic crises currently facing the United States.
  • Do Not Mail proposals would damage the economy further.  In 2008, advertising mail contributed more than $702 billion in increased sales to the economy. 
  • Do Not Mail proposals would hurt small businesses.  More than 300,000 American small businesses rely on advertising mail to reach potential customers.  For small mom and pop shops, florists, mechanics, landscapers and corner coffee shops, advertising mail is often the only affordable and effective means of advertising available.
  • Do Not Mail proposals would hurt your postal service.  According to U.S. Postal Service estimates, a federal Do Not Mail statute could cost the postal service between $4 billion and $10 billion annually.  To make up for that lost revenue, the Postal Service would need to dramatically raise postal rates, cut jobs or cut back on services.
  • • Do Not Mail proposals would not save trees.  Nearly all paper used for advertising mail is generated from sustainably managed forests where trees are planted, harvested and re-planted solely for the use of paper and wood products.  Thanks to these forestry practices, there are more forests in the United States today than there were 50 years ago.

  • Do Not Mail proposals are unnecessary.  There are plenty of free options already available to Americans wishing to reduce their advertising mail. 
    • Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service (MPS) at
    • To reduce credit and insurance offers, visit or call 1-888-5OPT-OUT (888-567-8688)
    • Contact companies directly and ask to be taken off their mailing list.