New Year’s Recap: 19 Direct Marketing, Call-Center and Social Media Tips of 2009, Part 1

After a careful review of all my columns this year, I’ve come up with a list of 19 top tips for you. Implement these strategies into your planning to help prepare your business for a prosperous 2010. Happy new year!

(Part 1 contains tips one through seven, dealing with hot-button topics such as social media, lead generation and Twitter. Then check back next week for tips eight through 19, focusing on direct mail marketing and analysis, call centers, and e-commerce websites.)

Social Media
1. With social media strongly in play — whether you like it or not — marketers don’t get to choose what’s said about their brands. Control of your brand image has been passed, torch-style, from the marketing department to your customers.

2. Are you afraid of negative publicity? If so, why? Don’t you want to find out what your customers are talking about? Or what you can do to fix or improve your company? If you bury your head in the sand, the ruthless truth is your customers will bury you. Like the proverbial Chinese alphabet character for “danger” having the same meaning as “opportunity,” now is your chance to become truly customer-centric — to finally understand by listening to the internet chatter about your company.

3. I understand times are tough right now for many, but merchants need to start operating on the following premise: If you listen, they will come. Your customers are the ones who should drive your business. Social media means you have to work harder at serving your customers, but the rewards are greater customer loyalty and lifetime value.

Using Twitter
4. Tweet news and information about your company and products. New products, company news, press releases, corporate milestones, testimonials and “meet-the-employee” articles are great examples of things to tweet. Anything you think will get people both familiar and, more importantly, emotionally involved with your brand is worth your while.

5. Ask questions. Twitter, like any social network, is all about conversation. Have someone who can spend time working with your followers to answer their questions. Engage your followers to provide information about how to make your company even better. If harnessed correctly, Twitter can be an exceptional customer service tool as well.

Lead Generation
6. offers in-depth descriptions of the catalogs it promotes, along with links to the catalogers’ websites, allowing for further research on a particular product, price, etc. This helps you gauge whether a catalog’s list may be a good fit for your business. Getting your catalog listed on this site will help you add new customers within your allowable cost per acquisition.

7. Catalog requests — say it loud; say it proud. Believe it or not, people still love to shop via catalog. Some people, myself included, still prefer the tactile feel of leafing through a catalog. And here’s a bonus for you: Multichannel buyers spend more money per channel.

The more channels consumers spend time in, the more engaged they are from an emotional perspective in your products and business. This yields buyers who in most cases will spend more per order and over their lifetimes. That said, why is your catalog request link not more prominently displayed? Make it big, and make it stand out so it’s easy to find

Bernhart Survey Reveals New Data On Direct Marketing Unemployment

Note from Jim. Here is a grim look at the realities of employment in the direct marketing industry – From a survey done by Bernhart Associates.  In a nutshell, what this survey doesn’t state is simple…. If you are employed in this economy, do everything you can to stay employed.  Work harder, longer, smarter, get “win’s” on the board and in general make your self indispensable!

Furthermore, do everything you can to build your network of contacts in case you should find yourself unemployed.  Remember, building your personal rolodex is just as important as being exceptional at your job!

Bernhart Survey Reveals New Data On Direct Marketing Unemployment

If you’re a recently unemployed direct marketer, you’ll be interested in a new study that shows for the first time how long other jobless DM’ers have been looking for work and how direct marketing compares with the latest national figures on unemployment.

The innovative survey was conducted by Jerry Bernhart of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, a leading direct marketing executive recruiter who also issues widely followed quarterly employment updates.

“We wanted to get a sense for how long unemployed direct marketers have been looking for a job, and we also wanted to break that down by levels of compensation to determine how various salary levels compare,” said Bernhart. “Finally, we wanted to compare unemployment duration in direct marketing with the overall U.S. economy.” Continue reading

Social Media and the United Breaks Guitars Video – A Cautionary Tale for ALL marketers

With more than 5.3 million people having already watched it, Dave Carroll’s  “United Breaks Guitars” video has become an internet social media phenomenon.  I first saw the video posted on Facebook by a friend.

For the last year I’ve been saying — screaming actually — that companies better have their acts together, otherwise they’re sitting ducks in this new age of customer centricity. If your customer service, products and brand image aren’t all buttoned up, you risk getting skewered on the internet, i.e., the people’s media.

The video I’m referring to is really amazing to see. Here’s the story behind it: United Airline’s baggage handlers break a passenger’s guitar, and the next thing you know 5.3 million people hear about it in a catchy, four-minute ditty on YouTube. Viralocity at its finest (and scariest).

The song has gone so mainstream that you can now buy it on iTunes. For just 99 cents, you too can help spread negative publicity about an airline. I hate to admit it, but I actually feel sorry for United. Well, to a point anyway.

As a marketer and consultant, I’ve seen every variation of apathetic customer service and crappy products sold by spin and hype alone. As a 30-year student of marketing and advertising — and, of course, firsthand experience — I’ve witnessed brands whose positionings were so far divergent from their actual customer experiences that you have to wonder what the C-level execs were thinking when they were sold hook, line and sinker on some overzealous, over-researched agencies’ campaigns. I can just hear it now: “Well, our market research says that if you … ”

But none of that scares me more than the internet and social media, and their power to kill your brand dead with a song, tweet, Facebook status update, blog post, thumbs down, etc.

You should be terrified, too. If you’re reading this column, let it be a call to action for you. Let my words galvanize you into looking into how your customers and prospects experience  — I’ll say it again — your customer service, products and brand image. I know I sound preachy, but how would you like a song written and gone viral about your company?

I strongly urge you to get together with your key staff members to pick apart every one of your company’s touchpoints to ensure every contact in every touchpoint is handled in a pristine manner.

To close out my sermon for the week, I want to leave you with a personal recollection from my early days in direct marketing. In the ’80s I was selling direct marketing media, and to hone my craft I read a book called “How to Sell Anything to Anybody,” written by a car salesman named Joe Girard. Girard had this rule, the rule of 250, which basically stated that any person you come into contact with knew and could influence 250 other people — positively or negatively. That one rule both terrified and inspired me. Here it is expressed mathematically: 1:250.

Thanks to social media, Joe’s rule has expanded just a little, I’d say. Take the United Airlines case, for instance, and do the math. It’s 1:5,322,806.

Oh, and by the way, check out the sequel to “United Breaks Guitars” here. It takes square aim at United’s policies and people who refused to pay for the guitar to be fixed. It’s already climbing the charts.

10 Ways to Reduce Direct Marketing Costs, Save Your Company and Look Like a Superstar!

While our economy is showing some signs of life, still most people I know are freaked out, totally stressed; and terrified of losing their jobs, homes and more.

It has been tough out there for direct and multichannel marketers.

But all isn’t bad. I swear!

There’s an amazing opportunity in all of this chaos to streamline your business, strip away the dead wood in your budgets and be a rock star in your company.

Here are 10 steps to help you get started:

1. It’s time to renegotiate everything. Start with your key area’s of business — printing, mailing, lists, creative, prepress (oops, I meant premedia).

2. Do a print review. Have your printer bid against other printers. I did this for a turnaround I worked on and was able to reduce printing costs by 20 percent. (Seems my predecessor was asleep at the wheel.)

3. Tweak your catalog’s trim size or basis weight. You may find some cost savings there.

4. Co-mail! This can reduce your postage costs.

5. Take advantage of destination-entry discounts. (Ask your printer about what this and co-mailing entail, and what you can save. Or e-mail me and I’ll explain.)

6. List brokers are offering discounts and test pricing for mail files. Ask and you shall receive.

7. Look for more list exchanges. These can be had for run charges, a fraction of the rental fee.

8. Use the co-op databases, such as I-Behavior, Abacus and NextAction. They’ll model your customers and rent you prospect names for less than list rentals.

9. Do your matchbacks. Make sure you’re analyzing your mailings the best and most accurate way possible.

10. Run NCOALink, merge/purge and other list hygiene products before each mailing. I had a client who had the same name on his database six times. Waste of money! You only need one instance of a name to mail it. Find yourself a great service bureau to steer you to savings.

In two weeks I’ll give you 10 more ways to save money and reach superstar status. In the meantime, if you need any clarifications on these or any other ways to save money, let me know and I’ll work your answer into my next column.

Hang in there!

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

Don’t listen to us – A primer for direct marketers on how TESTIMONIALS can be YOUR sales force

There’s an old adage that says, “The more you tell, the more you sell.” Let’s put a 21st century twist on this. Providing your prospects and customers with solid testimonials from present customers can be a powerful selling force for your business.

Get Psychological
From a psychological perspective, consumers much prefer to hear what their peers are saying. As we get deeper into the age of social media, peer recommendations are becoming the norm as part of a prospect’s evaluation process. No longer are you able to push out messages and have customers buy on impulse. Today’s consumers are extremely sophisticated. They seek out information from many sources beyond a company’s marketing materials before buying decisions are made.

Therefore, companies who provide their customer stories up front are giving themselves an edge over the competition.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to get testimonials from your customers. Here are four tips to help you get started with the process:

  1. In most cases, all you have to do is ask. Have your customer service reps ask everybody they’re on the phone with when they hear a good story. (Believe me, they hear all sorts of stories. The question is: Do they filter up to you?) Have your reps say something like, “Wow, what a great story! Would it be OK to share that with our other customers?” Simple, right?
  2. Scan your database and pick customers from your top RFM cell. Give them a call, send them a letter (of course thanking them for their patronage) and see what happens.
  3. It’s a little trickier to get video and pictures from your customers. But it may be worth adding some sort of incentive for video or pictures. A contest is always a good draw.
  4. Engage your customers on social media sites. Monitor what people are saying about you on your sites. Contact the ones who say great things. Of course, the ones who say not-so-nice things are customer service OPPORTUNITIES waiting to happen when you resolve their issues.

Where to Feature Your Testimonials?

  • On your blog, front and center.
  • Your homepage and all throughout your website.
  • In your emails and email newsletters.
  • How about in your fulfillment packages? People perceive the package they receive from you as a happy thing — a gift even. Psychologically, the payment is forgotten in most cases, leaving just the Christmas morning joy of opening the package. Stick a piece of collateral in there with some testimonials, and it reinforces the sale even further.
  • On your social media sites. Tweet them out. Post them to Facebook. Better yet, ask and your customers will post to Facebook themselves. Many times you’ll receive kudos on Facebook and Twitter you never expected.
  • And of course, in your catalogs.

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

Grand opening of new Linkedin Group – Direct Marketing Questions & Answers

Linkedin members can join by clicking here:

This is the place to get all of your direct marketing questions answered.

And if you are a direct marketing expert, this is the place to help gain notoriety by helping direct marketers succeed.

Check it out and join!  And Happy July 4th weekend from Jim.

Update 7/7/09, since Friday including the holiday weekend, we have gotten 123 members, both experts and in various stages of their careers.

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 or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at You can also follow Jim on Twitter at Read Jim’s personal blog at