Shocking to see my name in print… why?

I spent the first part of my career in the newspaper and magazine publishing industry.  But now I hardly ever pick up a print publication.

I do receive the print edition of The South Florida Business Journal, and time allowing I will thumb through the pages.

This week I opened up the SFBJ and was shocked to see my smiling face in print.

Its not that I didn’t know the the event I was doing for the Journal wasn’t going to be advertised.  Its just that these days I am so digitally oriented I actually forgot print was even an option for advertising an event…. especially a digital event about social media marketing.

It gave me pause.  Something to think about at the very least and will provide my thoughts here in another column.

That said, I will be presenting for SFBJ for the first time at their “Social Media Crash Course” along with fellow presenters D. B. Weinke and Alex de Carvalho.  I have heard Alex and D.B. speak multiple times (I had them as speakers for the FDMA), so this will be a very powerful event as the Crash name implies.  See you there (March 10th in Fort Lauderdale.  Click here for more info.

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Are you automating your emails with trigger and drip campaigns? (an overview and 3 good tips)

Lately I’ve been working with clients on automating their marketing tasks, specifically their emails. The more I work in this channel, the more I realize how wide-open a frontier — with a huge upside — it is for cross-channel merchants.

Most medium- to high-end email service providers (ESPs) offer some sort of automated functionality. This gives marketers the opportunity to create “set-it-and-forget-it type” campaigns.

When you acquire a new prospect, for example, you can create a triggered drip campaign. A drip campaign involves a series of emails that are sent to prospects at pre-specified intervals, say once a week over a four-week period.  Each email is designed to either highlight a key company benefit (part of the unique selling proposition), or have a series of progressively stronger offers.

Most ESPs have application programming interfaces available to their clients. By having your IT folks set this up, your ESP can automatically communicate with your database. In simple terms, once a prospect becomes a customer, no more drip emails are sent to them as they move to a different bucket (customer) in your email database. And once prospects become customers, they’re promoted into a different automated email series.

You can set up campaigns for all of your customer statuses — prospects, single, multibuyers, past customers, gift purchasers, cancels and so on. The sky is the limit based on your creativity.

Furthermore, some ESPs have pretty good list management tools available for automated and/or one-off campaigns. For example, a client of mine chose Bronto’s solution, which allows it to store 100 different customer attributes. It can then create campaigns based on whatever criteria meets its needs from Bronto’s list selection module. Want to send an email to someone whose birthday is coming up? It’s simple: Whatever data you collect from customers and prospects can all be sliced and diced within a good ESP’s system.

Try the following three ideas for triggered email campaigns:

  • customer satisfaction surveys X number of days after a purchase;
  • tell-a-friend offers when customers becomes multibuyers; and
  • customer reactivation emails. Instead of doing a query each time you want to send a reactivation message from your internal database and uploading a new list, just create it for X number of days/months/years and the message automatically goes out.

Of course, no new form of direct marketing should be done without testing. Test offers, creative and especially the timing of your messaging.

You’ve worked hard, now let email marketing automation help you drive revenue! Are you automating your marketing efforts? Tell us how it’s working by posting a comment below.

Learn how to give to get, or… Don’t be stingy, give up the product!

Social media has indelibly changed the way we market and brand our companies forever. To compete in the social “mediasphere” (and in general), companies must give to get (G2G). My definition of G2G is as follows:

“The ability to provide consumers real value, rich information and even parts of a company’s ‘secret sauce’ in exchange for their patronage.”

Perhaps the biggest G2G opportunity your company has is its product. Recently I’ve seen a few really smart companies using their product as a powerful consumer engagement tool. My experience has been that clients who have adopted G2G are having unprecedented success, even in this shaky economy.

Consider trying the following to see if G2G could work for your business:

  1. Run pop-up specials on your social media channels. Request comments in exchange for the opportunity to win product. For example, try this on Twitter: “The first three people to answer X question successfully will win a free widget.”
  2. Ask your customers for videos, pictures and stories documenting their experiences using your products. In return, provide them with free product. A great example comes from Chipotle restaurants. It has a campaign (click here to see) encouraging customers to send in fun pictures of themselves with its product visible for an opportunity to win “free stuff.”

Don’t be stingy here. The more products you give away, the more you draw customers and prospects to your brand.

These are but two examples. The sky is the limit as to what kind of creativity you can come up with. Consider the benefits:

  • Your contests, pictures, videos, etc. go viral and extend your brand’s marketing reach.
  • You create goodwill for your brand. Remember, social media is the great equalizer. In a world constantly inundated with negative messages, people love to tell — and hear — a good story. Giveaways make for good stories.
  • Nothing engages consumers like a giveaway. And engaged consumers are known by another name — repeat buyers.

Here’s my own G2G promo: The first three people who email me at will win a free half-hour consultation on social media and how to implement G2G in their companies.

Ready, set, go! Good luck!

My prescription to heal the US Postal Service in 8 easy steps. (all direct marketers get behind this)

Looks like the USPS is back in the news again- it seems the five day work week issue has reared its ugly head.

The post office is claiming that declining revenue from reduced mail volume is the culprit.

Well Duh!

The USPS bit the hand that fed them way too many times with it’s rate increases.  They drive mailers out of the market, and they drove other mailers to look at alternative methods of customer acquisition and retention too.  Loosely translated, they helped many marketers shift their dollars to the internet to the point where I would hope that the folks from Google sent them a thank you letter.

I’m going to keep it short this week.  If John Potter and the post office want to get out of this mess, they need to take s few steps.  Now I’m not naive enough to assume that my prescriptions to heal the USPS are alone a cure, but hey, it’s a start

So here in simple form even a gov’t run bureaucracy can understand are some tips for the post office to help increase revenue.

  1. Do everything in your power to seek out customers they lost and woo them back.
  2. By wooing them back I mean, come up with ways for these lost customers to lower their postal costs to the point where they can mail profitably again.
  3. I love the concept of mail sales and discounts. Keep that stuff up.
  4. Don’t make the rules so hard and the criteria to get sale prices so restrictive that the average mailer doesn’t get to take advantage.
  5. Create promotions for smaller companies.  There are two kinds, companies who stopped mailing when prices went up, and companies who don’t mail because they get sticker shock looking at postage and printing costs.
  6. Get some postal ambassadors out to all of the local and regional direct marketing groups and clubs, plus internet/social media clubs and promote the heck out of small business discounts, first time mailer discounts, etc.
  7. Have those same representatives of the USPS start teaching more companies how to do direct mail buy the book.  I know they do some of this now, but it’s not nearly enough.  Teach stuff like analysis – the 40/40/20 principle and how to do mail right.
  8. Getting new mailers to test mail and smaller mailers back in the game will eventually create larger mailers!

Bottom line… USPS your image is damaged, and you need to rehab it.  Create products we can grow with using direct mail, promote the heck out of them on a national and grass roots level, and you will eventually get volume and revenue back.

Note from Jim.  Make a difference too.  Contact John Potter, the Postmaster General here and make your voice heard:

The Honorable John E. Potter Postmaster General

U.S. Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW

Washington, DC 20260-0010


6 Marketing and Management Tips to learn from TV’s Undercover Boss

I had a boss in the early stages of my career, one of the last great bosses I’ve ever had, who was a huge fan of Tom Peters and his “excellence” training.

Tom Peters’ notion of “management by wandering around” (MBWA) is one of the concepts that really hit home and became a career-defining principle for me.

MBWA is defined by as “Unstructured approach to hands-on, direct participation by the managers in the work-related affairs of their subordinates, in contrast to rigid and distant management. In MBWA practice, managers spend a significant amount of their time making informal visits to work area and listening to the employees. The purpose of this exercise is to collect qualitative information, listen to suggestions and complaints, and keep a finger on the pulse of the organization.”

Recently, a version of MBWA has shown up on network TV in the form of CBS’ show “Undercover Boss.”

If you’re not watching, you should be! While it’s not a perfect show by any means — it’s sappy, formulaic, sometimes manipulative, and as reality TV goes, a lot of it feels staged — it does convey the right message.

Each week a different CEO goes undercover in his or her own company, taking entry-level positions. These CEOs learn about their companies, processes and employees (lots of sappiness here) as individuals, in an attempt to better manage their businesses. The bosses in the first four weeks of the show have been from Waste Management, Hooters, 7-Eleven and White Castle.

Somehow — and I find this to be highly disingenuous — all these CEOs managed to have game-changing “aha” moments. The game changers usually centered around actually learning who their normally nameless/faceless employees were on a human level: their medical problems; their multitasking in order to keep roofs over their heads; their stupidity (especially the Hooters manager and his humiliation of his female workers). Somehow these bosses were reminded that they were in business to employ people, and that people matter. Reality show emotional manipulation at its finest. Oh the humanity!

And two of the CEOs managed to cry on camera. Frankly, I just don’t get it.

How could these CEOs be so completely out of touch with their line employees? And how can these bosses, all family men, as seen in the show’s opening sequences stating the exact same thing, word for word, “that their families are their rocks,” seemingly with hearts of gold, not have a clue?

But that’s not why I’m writing about the show. Here’s why: While I highly doubt it’ll happen, every CEO and C-level executive in America should watch “Undercover Boss.” But since they won’t, here are six takeaways for any businessperson from CEO on down:

1. If you listen and get past the syrup, there are deep messages in the show about the disconnect between corporate and line workers. But that’s just a metaphor; the disconnect is from all workers and customers alike. While sanitized for the typical reality show audience, for the savvy boss, the message is there for the taking.

2. Direct marketers should run, not walk to their nearest call centers. Listen to your customer service reps. Listen to your customers and prospects. I guarantee it’ll be an eye-opening experience for you.

3. Send emails to past customers, asking why they’ve left you. This will give you firsthand knowledge of why your customer churn is so high. And along the way, you may find some customers you can reactivate as well.

4. Do the same with present customers. Ask them what you can do better; watch what happens.

5. Ask your employees to write a one-page essay on what your company’s doing right and wrong. Have them anonymously put their essays into a “suggestion” box (remember them?).

6. Don’t assume that since you’re the boss, you actually know what’s going on in your company. Chances are you know the least. Remember the maxim: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely!” What do I mean? Your employees fear you — much like in the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

So check out “Undercover Boss” on CBS. Then go on a walkabout in your own company. Post a comment below or email me your experiences at I’ll post them (anonymously) in a follow-up to this article.

U.S. Post Office plans another Summer direct mail sale: details…

This is from the Direct Marketing Association website.

At MTAC yesterday, Tom Foti, USPS Marketing Manager described the 2010 Summer Sale. The sale will cover a 5-month period with the sale period starting July 1 thru Sept 30. June and October will be control months. A 30 percent rebate on incremental volume will be offered above a baseline. The sale is for Standard Mail letters and flats only. The customer’s baseline will equal Same Period Last Year (SPLY) numbers plus 5 percent. A downward adjustment will occur if June and October volume is below baseline. To be eligible, a customer has mailed over 360K Standard Mail pieces from July 1 thru Sept 30 2009. According to Foti, there are approximately 3,525 customers eligible or 67 percent of Standard Mail volume. Mail Service Providers are not eligible to participate.

USPS Timeline:

File notice with PRC (late Feb)

Invitation to participate mailed (early Mar)

Customers register online and certify agreement with threshold volume on-line for program participation (Mar-May)

PRC decision (mid-April)

Sale period (July through Sept)

Rebates to customer accts (Dec 2010- Jan 2011)

An Important Announcement to ALL Environmentalists & Direct Mail Haters (no political correctness here)…

“No trees were killed in the sending of this email. However, a whole bunch of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.”

The above is the email signature of a friend of mine. While meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it actually makes a strong, yet entirely off base point: Electronic mail is somehow less harmful to the environment than paper-based mail.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the sending of email does kill trees (I’ll discuss this more below).

Whenever I write about direct mail here, the environmentalists come out to visit. Well, visit may not be the right word; maybe I should say they come out to hate. They must be trolling the internet looking for anything positive about direct mail to take a shot at, like drive-by haters.

So I’m going to set the record straight. And you environmentalists take note, please.

Here’s my question: Which is worse for the environment, direct mail or email? I think email, and here’s why.

  1. Every email sent generates power consumption. Think of all the routers, servers, internet service providers and PCs involved. Consider all of the big-box companies that sell and service PCs. Maybe someone out there has done the math, but I’m sure there’s a hard cost in terms of power consumption per email.
  2. Same goes for time trolling the internet looking for direct mail folks to hate on. If a computer’s on, it’s using energy.
  3. Now here’s the tricky part: Where does the energy that email and computers use come from? It’s not very clean at all, is it? Our electricity is still very much powered the dirty old way, thus the energy consumed by email and the internet isn’t very clean — something environmentalist, direct mail haters don’t really talk about; truly their dirty little secret.
  4. Most people recycle their direct mail, catalogs and newspapers because it’s the right thing to do.
  5. The paper industry — the backbone of the direct mail business — is heavily involved in reforestation (i.e., the planting of new trees to replace ones used for paper). In fact, and I hope some paper merchants will respond to this, reforestation efforts are usually at a ratio of two to one or greater.

Just to let you know, I recycle, and I believe in a future with clean energy, not because it it politically correct, or supports a particular political agenda, but because it just makes sense to do. But to say that direct mail is destroying the planet? That’s a weak and opportunistic argument. Direct mail is still one of the most powerful tools in a marketer’s tool bag if done according to principles.

Got comments? Post them below.

The ‘Death’ of Direct Mail and Catalogs

I’m not a big fan of naysayers. Your typical naysayer has a particular agenda that drives the “nay” that they’re “saying.” For instance, pure-play internet marketers do a great job of casting a shadow of impending doom on the direct mail industry.

Why? Simple: They don’t benefit from the competition!

In recent years, direct mail has been positioned as old-school, obsolete, “doesn’t work” and just plain bad. When asked, direct and non direct mailers will tell you direct mail is dead. but, It’s when non mailers get into the act that I get really worried because they are buying into the philosophy sight unseen.

I get it. Direct mailers already have a reputation as junk mailers. So while catalogers haven’t been hit as hard by the junk mail tag, in large part due to their value to shoppers as name brands, the mailing industry as a whole is threatened.

Can’t we all just get along?

Maybe not!

Every time I turn around, there’s a new name and/or affront to direct mail. First it was called push marketing. (We were being too pushy!) Then it was outbound marketing. (“They” coined the phrase “inbound marketing.”) The term I hear all the time these days that makes my blood boil is “intrusion” marketing.

Who creates these monikers?  Answer: marketers!

And while referring to direct marketers as intrusion marketers, they’ve named themselves “attraction” marketers. Let’s attract; let’s start a conversation; let’s communicate. Oh please!

Setting the record straight…

So I’d like to take this opportunity to clear things up for those who put forth the garbage that direct mail intrudes and/or is dead. Consider the following:

1. Direct mail isn’t going to die anytime soon. Direct marketers will evolve, survive and thrive. By taking advantage of personalization, variable data printing, PURLS,  and the multitude of tools online, direct mail will continue to find new ways to drive leads, sales, and increase their response rates.

2. Your goal is to be relevant. Direct marketers don’t want to mail to people who don’t want to receive their offers. And those consumers who don’t want to receive catalogs/direct mail can turn to suppression services such as Catalog Choice and the Direct Marketing Association’s mail preference service. All mailers should run those suppression files against their prospect lists, not their housefiles.

3. So-called “intrusion” marketers set the rules for direct marketing and internet marketing. We’ve created a medium that’s all about measurement and metrics. Direct marketers are responsible for the tools that differentiate themselves from those dot-bomb sock puppet marketers, so why are they dissing you?

4. You’d think there’s room for all types of media in today’s marketing mix. Direct marketers don’t bad-mouth pull marketing. They embrace it, use it, measure it — and if it works, roll out with it. They’re driven purely by return on investment. If it works, they love it.

5. Direct marketers have taken big hits on paper and postage rates, the economy, even anthrax in the last decade, but they continue to soldier on. The truth is, they still get response and ROI. If not, they’d stop mailing. Consumers still buy via the mail, and will continue to do so.

The bottom line: Don’t buy into the self-fulfilling prophesy that direct mail is a dead medium. It ain’t! My clients are seeing good to excellent results in the mail. Just follow the principles of direct marketing and you’ll succeed.

A farewell to 2009, long live 2009!

Dear friends and readers,

I wanted to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a happy and healthy holiday season, and a great new year.

Personally, I’m glad that 2009 is coming to a rapid close. As the saying goes, “May you live in interesting times.” This year was certainly interesting. In fact, I can’t recall being bored for one minute in 2009. Instead, I was challenged to do my best for my company and clients. While I don’t like to admit this publicly, I actually enjoyed this last year.  And sure it was hard work, but it was totally fulfilling.  My blog took off (much to my amazement), I got to do some great lectures for the Florida DMA (became a board member there too), started two linkedin groups that took off, and in general made money for my clients in a “hard” year.

While I stayed glued to CNBC and the markets, I stayed positive in the first half of the year.  I think the economy may be coming back, but in truth it’s just a guess (I’m no expert) and wouldn’t be surprised if there was a major correction in early 2010.

But I digress.  I feel lucky.  I feel thankful.  And I wish the same for you!  May 2010 be your greatest year ever!

Us marketers will be presented with many challenges as they enter 2010, but many opportunities as well. I look forward to reporting and providing my opinions on opportunities for you as direct marketers to take to the bank in 2010.