Does humor belong in business?

Folks, business is serious business!

I’ve worked for too many companies who took themselves way too seriously.  And why not be serious – its important work bringing great products to consumers, right?

Wrong!  Given the growth of social media and its ability to put a human face on your companies business, its time to have some fun.  There are so many great options for you these days to inject a little humor into your business (caveat: be real and genuine) with Facebook, Youtube, blogs, etc.

I know I have spoken about them before, but one company I work with, The Fresh Diet is ALL about fun.  Their Facebook page is constantly holding contests, many of which are designed just to be engaging and fun.

Last week we upped the ante on their fun level and created a video spoof of the show Undercover Boss for our customers and fans.  It took us a half a day of shooting and another half a day to edit it (yes we used a professional video company).  The feedback from our customers and fans on Facebook has been great.  We even plan on doing other spoof videos in the future and turning this into a regular event.

So I wanted to share it with you here.  I hope it sparks something for you that you can use with your customers and fans.

On another note, I want to wish each and every one of you a happy and safe holiday!  Speak to you soon!

A 3,500% increase in fans/likes, engagement and sales on Facebook? (a case study)

When I first started marketing via social media, I didn’t understand Facebook. A blog was the central focus of my social media programs. I’d create a blog post and push it out via Facebook and other social media channels. And that worked well at driving traffic to my blog. As for engagement with my readers, I got some comments back, even some people interacting with each other on occasion, but nothing earth-shattering.

Over on Facebook, I had a whole bunch of content, but no interaction and not many fans. I’ve seen a ton of Facebook fan pages like that.

But about a year ago, I found the key that unlocked the Facebook engagement factor. At that time I took over the fan page of one of my clients, The Fresh Diet Opens in a new window(whom I wrote about  last week). When I began working on The Fresh Diet’s Facebook pageOpens in a new window, it had 96 fans. At first it was business at usual: Write a blog post and put it on Facebook; add The Fresh Diet’s Facebook link to emails; etc. The net result: In three months, The Fresh Diet had accumulated 300 fans.

Since January, The Fresh Diet has seen its Facebook fan base swell to over 3,500 fans. Here’s how we did it:

  1. We asked questions — sometimes controversial ones — that drew fans out.
  2. We held contests. At first these were held every few weeks, but now they’re going on almost all the time. And they’re simple: caption a picture, name a feature of The Fresh Diet’s business, etc.
  3. We also held more elaborate contests. Recently, The Fresh Diet held a video testimonial contest and was blown away by the results.
  4. I know you’ve heard this one many times by now, but The Fresh Diet spoke in a real voice. The voice of The Fresh Diet’s Facebook page is me — goofy, earnest, caring, sometimes a bit snarky and sarcastic, but always real. I call myself The Fresh Diet’s “fearless FB leader,” and they now call me by it, too.
  5. To tie items three and four together, The Fresh Diet’s fearless FB leader is known for “overgiving” contest prizes. Goofing around one day, when it was just too tough to choose between two contest winners, I named four winners. Pretty soon, I coined the phrase “overgiving”; The Fresh Diet’s Facebook fans now wait in anticipation to see how much free food I give out.
  6. Find and nurture your brand’s dominant influencers. Early on in my work with The Fresh Diet’s Facebook page, I noticed half a dozen people started to stand out. So I built a relationship with them, not as a strategy of course, but a real relationship. As brand ambassadors, these people have become the voice of The Fresh Diet’s Facebook page, too. And I find new ambassadors all the time!
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask people to do things. Promote your page, run a contest, take over for a bit. When you build real relationships with real people, not just “fans” or “likes,” they’ll walk through fire for you (because they know you’ll do the same for them).
  8. Go crazy. Last week, I asked an actress and singer to do a music video for us (we have lots of famous people on The Fresh Diet). She was totally honored and did a homemade video — even gave me a shout out in it. The Fresh Diet holds contests where people write songs about their favorite meals, or they have to rearrange the lyrics in a song or slogan to be about The Fresh Diet. Our fans love it.
  9. In my next column, I’ll continue to detail some of the ways you can build engagement and sales on Facebook.

7 ways to make the Inc. Magazine 500 Fastest Growing Companies list in a down economy like my client did

I’m not really big on self-promotion or self-congratulations — especially here in my column. However, I’m quite pleased to “admit” that one of the companies I work for has made Inc. magazine’s fastest growing companies in America listOpens in a new window.

So, what does it take to make the list? While it’s not Inc.’s criteria, I’ll tell you from my perspective what you and your company need to do to get there.

But before I do, let me tell you a bit about the company in question. The Fresh Diet Opens in a new windowwas founded in 2005 in classic entrepreneurial style — in the kitchen of CEO Zalmi Duchman with Executive Chef Yosef Schwartz . The company creates gourmet meals that are healthy, portion controlled and delicious (Chef Yos is a Cordon BleuOpens in a new window-trained chef). The meals are prepared fresh and hand-delivered to clients’ homes every day.

For this luxury (or is it?), customers dish out about $35 a day (most order a month’s worth of Fresh Diet meals at a time — about $1,100).

So, how can your company follow in The Fresh Diet’s footsteps and makeInc.’s 500 list? Here are seven ways how:

  • Identify products that create fanatics and advocates. It’s easy to go into the meal delivery business and not deliver food daily, or by hand, or buy top-quality meats and produce. But why do that? The Fresh Diet constantly strives to exceed its customers’ expectations.
  • Build a persona around your business and your people. It’s not enough to just be a business these days. With social media and peer recommendations fully in play, companies must put a face to the nameless, faceless corporate entity. Use social media as a way to connect with your customers. But don’t do it as a strategy. Connect in an honest and personal way, in a real voice. For a good example of how The Fresh Diet accomplishes this, check out its Facebook pageOpens in a new window.
  • Take risks, but calculated ones. Develop a mentality of testing — everything from marketing channels to individual campaigns. But also calculate the risks. Test small and do your math up front; big results can potentially be found in tests of all sizes. Even companies that are struggling should test. By making testing part of your culture, the rewards will outweigh the risks.
  • Empower your employees to think and act independently. The days of micromanaging employees are over. Empowered employees are more productive employees. Find great talent, then let them do their thing. OK, so sometimes they won’t do what you thought they should do, but that will be offset by things you never would have thought of.
  • Use all of your channels. I’ve seen too many companies get stuck these days by a specific kind of thinking: online retailers who only market online; direct marketers who fear advertising online; etc. Don’t fall into that trap. The Fresh Diet survives quite nicely in the online and traditional worlds, where it’s tested and rolled out many successful programs.
  • Understand that messaging needs time to develop. Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither should your messaging. Going back to developing a culture of testing, your marketing message falls into a category that should be constantly tested. And even if you hit it big and have “control” messaging that works, always strive to make it better.
  • Handle customer service issues promptly, and look to resolve each issue in the customer’s favor. Know that an upset customer is a brand ambassador waiting to happen once their issue is resolved (which says much for the lack of customer centricity with other brands).
  • 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!

    Why Direct Marketers Hate Beer Commercials and Branding

    I’m going to take some heat for this next statement: I’m not a big football fan. OK, I said it!

    I grew up playing and watching hockey, and never really “got” football.

    But usually I love the Super Bowl. Actually, I should say that I usually love the Super Bowl’s commercials. They’re usually clever, funny and make my annual trip to my friend’s Super Bowl party much better.

    But I’m not really sure what happened this year. Ninety percent of the commercials were just plain stupid, other than Brett Favre’s spot for Hyundai, Volkswagen’s punch buggy ad and the Letterman/Oprah/Leno commercial for CBS’ “Late Show.” And I loved the sheer perfection of Google’s spot. It told a story and made you feel it.

    Seeing Betty White and Abe Vigoda playing football was funny, but I have no idea the following morning what was being sold in the ad. All in all, this year’s trend seemed to be men in underwear and condescending beer spots.

    If You Build it (Brand it), Will They Come?

    I’ve also never been a big branding guy. I’ve always believed that branding is something you do while you’re stimulating orders and leads via direct marketing. To me, making someone laugh while watching a commercial doesn’t exactly cause new customer acquisition. You do that with great offers, calls to action, superior guarantees and, of course, products that measure up to and exceed expectations.

    Direct marketing is immediate, purposeful, in your face and compels you to take action. It’s not about creating a funny TV spot and the eventual purchase of a product based on message recall. Direct marketing is about measurability.

    And while I admit that general branding agencies are getting better at using direct marketing principles, it’s not enough. Just slapping a URL on a TV commercial doesn’t make it direct marketing.

    Take Names and Kick Butt … A Prescription for Commercial AdAgencies

    Here are four ways that I would’ve rewritten the scripts of all the commercials I saw (and a select few actually did this):

    1. Drive people online for more info (or to a Chevy Chase video to continue the brand interaction.  Remember time interacting with a brand means more brand loyalty).

    2. Get prospects to raise their hands and take action — i.e., identify themselves as wanting to continue interacting with your brand.

    3. Build a database of these prospects, and do something creative or make them an offer, etc.

    4. Start a contest to drive prospects to your Facebook page or your blog.

    In short, don’t just create ads for a later response (you hope) and/or message retention and brand recall. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come … or even remember. Create commercials that build brand engagement and stimulate action.

    Communication 2010: The “smartphone stoop”, multitasking and a cautionary note

    The other day it really kicked in for me at just how good I have gotten at multitasking.  I’m not sure how I feel about it though.

    I was sitting at my desk working, crunching some numbers in Excel.  At the same time, I was watching tweets pop up on TweetDeck (retweeting ones that I like, of course) and instant messaging a client on AIM, when the phone rang. So I take the phone call, start talking and a text message pops up on my phone. All the while I’m checking my emails.  Good thing Facebook wasn’t open, or I would probably be getting IM’s from there too.

    And my wife tells me I’m horrible at multitasking!

    Consider… These days I sit in meetings and never get to look someone in the eyes. Why? People are always looking down at their BlackBerrys and iPhones. Let’s call it “the smartphone stoop.”

    Consider… The other night my wife, 10-year-old son and I jump in bed to watch TV. Two minutes later, I look over and my wife’s on her BlackBerry, my son is on his DSi and I’m responding to an email on my iPhone. The picture of the modern family, I guess.

    I can’t believe how much has changed in the way we communicate. Ten years ago I didn’t carry a cell phone. Now, I have a whole office in my pocket!

    It’s bad enough that my office follows me into my car and bedroom, but it even follows me into the bathroom! (Sorry, let those calls and texts go to voice mail.)

    Sometimes I wish none of this technology ever existed. Our world moves too fast. Heck, I move too fast for the 49 year old dinosaur brain I came with.  I’m not one of these kids who never knew a world without a celly, (as they call them), or a computer (Hey I’m a Mac).  My brain has RAM that came from an IBM Selectric.

    Everything we do today on high (ludicrous) speed (and sometimes on autopilot) has an effect. Mistakes happen with all this multitasking.

    And sometimes those mistakes play themselves out with your employees, bosses, clients and customers. Other times mistakes — seemingly harmless at the time — wind up on the internet, being reviewed millions of times on social media sites.

    Sorry about the rant.  But the other realization I had is that business never actually ends.  Some of my clients who are younger than me, I’m pretty sure do not sleep.  I wind up working some nights until 1AM or better.  In fact I work longer hours now than I did when I was in my 20’s.

    Lack of sleep.  Is there an app for that?  OK rant over.  Back to business.

    Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog, direct marketing and social media agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at You can email him, follow him on Twitter at

    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

    The 9 Immutable Laws of Social Media Marketing

    “What can I expect from social media?”

    “What kind of return on investment will I get?”

    “I tried social media and got no customers!”

    These are the kinds of questions and responses I hear daily in my conversations with clients both present and potential about social media. Often I tell folks to set and manage expectations correctly and that social media marketing is not a play if you are looking for immediate gratification.  I also tell state that social media is one of the tools in your marketing kit and it should fit strategically into your overall marketing plan.

    From these conversations I’ve come up with a set of nine laws of social media to provide all marketers with proper expectations.

    1. Brand + time = revenue. The more time consumers spend with your brand and products, the more likely they are to buy. Engaging customers or prospects in social media channels increases brand/time.

    2Brand + channels = revenue. The more channels in which consumers interact with your brand, the more likely they’ll buy. Offering multiple engagement channels allows for consumer self-selection of preferred channels. Being in the right social media channels based on your market increases channel interaction.

    3Brand + time + channels = advocates. Consumers spending time in multiple channels breeds customers more likely to become brand advocates and influencers. This is the new multichannel marketing model for the 21st century. Social media creates brand advocates and turns peers into your best salespeople.

    4. Exponential search factor. Social media increases your search engine rankings and, when combined with your website, drives additional traffic via organic search.

    5. The newfangled customer service factor. Consumers choose their contact preferences. Brands that don’t have multiple channels for customer service risk losing customers. Consumers expect instant gratification, and social media delivers.

    6Behind-the-scenes factor. People don’t buy from brands; they buy from people. Social media puts a human face on the faceless corporate entity. Social media’s biggest opportunity is to allow people to connect with your employees as peers.

    7. Trust is the new black. If done correctly, the aforementioned laws allow consumers to build or rebuild trust. Social media harkens back to the days of the corner store where consumers and brands had a cordial relationship. Social media builds relationships over time.

    8. The reputation factor. Whether you like it or not, consumers are talking about your brand. Social media is the great neutralizer. It allows you to seek out negatives and turn them into positives via reputation management and communications.

    9. The time spent factor. Customers aren’t always ready to buy. Social media prepares customers with all of the above over time.

    Note from Jim.  This article was originally written for eMarketing and Commerce Magazine.  Click here for the original I wrote

    6 key takeaways for getting a handle on this new-fangled social media customer service

    A few weeks ago, I downloaded a Monopoly game from a company called GameHouse. My son was itching to play the computer version with us on our family night (mostly because I move too slow).

    Downloading was a success, but I had problems finding the activation code for the software, so I went in search of a company contact.

    I jumped on GameHouse’s website, and my first instinct was to look for a phone number to call its customer service department. If you read part 1 of my “You Lost Me There” series a few months back, you know that I’m an adamant believer in having your contact info prominently displayed on your website. Another one of my pet peeves is the ubiquitous page with the contact form. Or, more importantly, how long it takes to get a response from said form.

    To me it’s simple: Make it easy to speak with me or my business goes elsewhere. I couldn’t find a satisfactory way to contact GameHouse, and I grew frustrated. But there was a big (really big) “Follow us on Twitter” button, so I clicked it. I sent a tweet to GameHouse — and the rest of its followers — on how I was having problems and was aggravated that its website had no contact info. For good measure, I joined its Facebook fan page and sent the same message.

    It didn’t take GameHouse long to respond. Thanks to Kristy, who manages GameHouse’s Twitter presence, I had an easy way to establish communication with the company and resolve my issues. Turns out that I also ordered half a dozen copies of Monopoly as I tried to get the activation code. Kristy helped me get squared away with GameHouse’s billing department, too. It took about a week of back and forth to get all the additional orders credited to my account. Kristy had one of GameHouse’s customer service reps work closely with me throughout the process.

    Then — and this one blows me away — about a week later I got a package from GameHouse with a different version of Monopoly inside. Also inside was a handwritten card thanking me “for my patience” signed by Kristy with the note: “A little gift for all your troubles.” My son loves it, and everywhere I go (including a lecture I did last week) I tell of my exceptional customer service experience with GameHouse. With this in mind, I offer up some useful pointers.

    6 Customer Service Takeaways

    1. I sent my “You Lost Me There” article to Kristy, who said she’d pass it up the food chain. I hope GameHouse heeds my advice and makes it easier for customers to be served by adding a prominent phone number to its website. I’m not sure everybody will use Twitter like I did, however, meaning the potential for a negative customer service experience is present.
    2. I was also quite surprised by how seamless the customer service experience can be without “traditional” contact methods being in play. As a “stone age” customer, once I adapted I was happy again.
    3. Serve your customers in all channels. Social media is having a dramatic impact as a customer service tool; customers will self-select the channel of their choice.
    4. Exceptional customer service can (and should) be the rule in all channels — online and offline.
    5. If your customer service isn’t exceptional, expect to see negative reviews expressed publicly. Also expect to see bad customer service stories spread virally. Had I not been totally satisfied by the work of Kristy and her team, this column would have read very differently.
    6. Upset customers can easily be turned into advocates with proper service. Today’s angry customer is tomorrow’s best customer.

    New word of the year – “Unfriend”

    For those of you naysayers who believe that social media is a fad, a toy, or something that cannot drive business robustness, engagement and ROI, I have one word for you…


    As of yesterday unfriend is the word of the year for 2009.  What’s my take?  Social media is changing our lives, the way we communicate (social media took over the top spot from email communications by the way), and the way we shop (customers now find us via social channels).

    So what are your thoughts?  Discuss…