Five New Year’s Resolutions

Here comes an explosion of resolutions! Ahhh!!! Oooh!!!

New Year’s Resolutions are a funny thing.  The general consensus is everyone makes them (if, by, everyone we mean “45% of Americans“) and no one keeps them (24% say they never succeed … which means … 76% are at least having some success, though, only 8% say they are fully successful in their resolutioning*).

*Resolutioning is not a word, but, really, it ought to be.

I’m reasonably confident you’ve heard the biggies lose weight/exercise, quit smoking, spend more time with family, learn something new* … y’know, the usual suspects.

*I don’t mean to brag, but, in 2014 I learned how to correctly roll a burrito.  My breakfast burritos are to die for and now they don’t spill all over the place.

Since this is business/marketing blog I thought it better, though, to talk about business/marketing resolutions.  It also seems to make sense to tell you my resolutions rather than be presumptuous about exactly what you should be resolutioning*.

*There it is again!  I like my new word.

Without further ado … my resolutions and some thoughts:

1) Get a New Year’s Resolution blog published in time for New Year’s Eve the first week of January. Most successful people are already their own worst critics.  Early in my professional life, I had a big (I mean B-I-G) screw-up and my boss, understandably, was not pleased; but, all things considered, he went pretty easy on me.  Why?  He told me there was nothing he could say to me that was worse than what he suspected I was already saying to myself.  Lesson learned: things are going to happen.  Delays will arise.  Don’t let perfect become the enemy of good enough!  Publishing this in February is a lost cause.  Publishing it for the first couple business days of the year?  It works.  Let your resolutions work for you.

2) Advertise more. You’ve heard the story about the shoemaker’s children going barefoot?  Yeah.  We fall victim to this syndrome from time-to-time.  We know direct marketing works.  We preach direct mail.  We have many, many clients who successfully use our data to conduct successful direct marketing campaigns … long-time, regular customers, even!  So, we’re going to advertise more this year.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in taking care of business we forget to take care of our (professional) selves*.

*Sometimes we forget to take care of our self-selves, too, but, that’s a topic for someone else’s blog post about personal New Year’s Resolutions.  Again, pretty sure you’ve seen a couple this week already.

3) Add one word to the English language. Check!  (Take a moment to appreciate the victories!  Will “resolutioning” be added to the Oxford English Dictionary this year?  Not likely, but, hey, I can’t do it all … just my part.)

4) Blog more. You may think I am typing this ironically.  No.  Really, I mean it.  Our marketing maven, Amy, insists blogging is part of the ingredients and incantation (“Eye of newt; toe of frog; new, fresh, relevant blog posts) that go into the witch’s brew of making our website show up well in searches.  I am a numbers guy.  I like baseball.  I like baseball statistics.  I am a direct marketer.  I like direct marketing statistics.  I like to measure … this many times on base divided by this many times at-bat … that’s on-base percentage and that starts to tell me something … not everything … but … something useful.  This many responses divided by that many mail-pieces sent … and that starts to tell me something useful, too.  I like that.  Blogging does help keep the website keep fresh.  That helps search.  How much?  Was it the updated datacards or was it the blog post?   I’m not exactly sure.  But, I am sure I like seeing our website generate new leads on a daily basis … so, a blogging I go!

5) Be open to new ideas. This is a subjective one.  I spent years being very resistant to email marketing … and I still believe direct mail is the most cost-effective form of new client acquisition.  But, like it or not, email marketing is happening.  Our clients want to do it.  I will still recommend mail as a first answer, but, of course, I will help the client follow their goals and programs.  I do not want to become the best buggy-whip manufacturer in town.  I want my clients to succeed (and, by extension, I want this company to succeed).  Time flies and the world changes.  Stick to your convictions.  Be open to new stuff.

There you go!  New Year … here we come!

Posted in direct mail, direct marketing, e-mail marketing, general, Sales Marketing 101 | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

When Your Great Idea Is Dead as a Doornail

Stave Five: Where Ebenezer learns to test before rolling out

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

I saw this cartoon last December on Facebook.  I am a big fan of A Christmas Carol (I read it almost every year) and I thought this cartoon was brilliant.  Brilliant, as in, one of the two or three wittiest things I saw last year.  Do I have an official list?  No, I do not.  Do I keep an informal mental list?  Um … maybe I shouldn’t admit to that.  But, as you may be gathering, I usually kinda do.  You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, I thought it was brilliant.

This being the early 21st century I did the next natural thing and I shared it on Facebook.  My friends will LOVE IT, I thought!  (It was, after all … brilliant!)

Later that day I was back goofing around on Facebook and … and … and … how could it be?  No one had “liked” it.  I mean, yeah, my mother liked it, but, sheesh … Ma likes just about everything I post.

You may recall last December was also the premiere of the long awaited, long anticipated, long feared-that-it-might-stink-as-badly-as-the-prequels new Star Wars movie.  I saw an amusing meme and I shared it.  It was not a brilliant meme.  It was marginally witty.  It made me smile … and that was good enough.  I shared it.  It was this:

See? It's cute, right? Brilliant? Nah ...

Because the readers of The Completely Interesting Direct Marketing Blog are also brilliant, you, dear reader, can see where this is going.  This one, along with the 15 bizmillion other Star Wars’ related anti-spoiler memes posted, received all kinds of hits.  My nerd-tastic friends loved it.  Meanwhile, back at my brilliant Ghost of Christmas Future Imperfect Conditional cartoon … crickets.  And Ma.

And this, my dear web-based friends, brings us to marketing.  Specifically, testing.  Please test.  Please, please, please test.  Please test even when you know you have a really good idea.  Please test even when you know your concept and creative is brilliant.  Please test even when you couldn’t imagine your offer being anything other than impossible to ignore.  Moreover, know your audience.  I thought I knew my audience.  The response was, if you’ll forgive me, as dead as a door-nail.  I was wrong.  (Well, I mean, they were wrong not to see the cartoon’s brilliance, but, all it cost me was about 30 seconds and not the thousands of dollars not knowing your audience can cost in a direct marketing campaign.)  You may have a great idea … but, it’s only great in direct marketing terms if your audience responds.

Posted in direct marketing, response rates, Sales Marketing 101, testing | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

My 50 Cents … your 50 Cents

Believe There is Good in the World.

Sometimes it really is that easy. Believe it. Be it.

Four years (or 7 blog posts*) ago we had a great idea … we were going to save the world 50 cents at a time.

*Somehow blogging once a week did not go exactly as planned.  I don’t know if I can promise you 52 new blog posts in 2016, but, we’ll do our collective best to make it more than zero times, because, I know you like to see them.  Right?  Right??!  (It’s okay to lie to me here and say, “Yes!”)

The thing was, when we started the 50 Cents at a Time Fund back in January 2012 … we didn’t have any idea of whether the effort would amount to much.  Would our clients go for it?  Would it just be another well-meaning-but-not-really-anything … thing.

Looking back on the original post I realized I didn’t explain the program exactly right.  Here’s what I said:

So starting today, each quote that we submit to our clients will include an optional charge of 50 cents per thousand to go to our 50 Cents at a Time Fund.  This is a totally optional donation – no one has to pay it.  But it will be there for every client to consider.

So, let’s say you place an order for 5,000 records.  If you chose to include the $.50/M charge, you’ll be billed an additional $2.50 that will go straight into the 50 Cents at a Time Fund.  If your order is for 100,000 records, your donation would be $50.  Easy, right?

And we will match every contribution.  So that $2.50 you donate is actually $5 with our matched donation.

I was thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to being accurate!

Let me clarify one point.  We contribute $.50 per thousand on every order.  Then, our clients have the option of matching our contribution.

It’s a small, but, I think, important distinction.  We’re not waiting for our clients to take part before we take part.  We’re doing it all the time and inviting our clients to come along with us.

Each month we select a highly-rated local, regional, national, or international charity or organization and donate 80% of that month’s 50 Cent Fund collections to their cause.  We hold back 20% for a “rainy day” fund which we can use for various emergencies.  Since 2012, with the help of many of our awesome clients, we have donated nearly $50,000!

So, as we roll towards the end of one year and the beginning of a new … we want to thank the generous support we’ve received from our clients.  All those pennies and dollars have added up to make a positive impact on those in need.

Again, if you’ve donated in past:  Thank you!

If you’ve been thinking about it … please consider tacking on that $.50/M charge to your orders in 2016.  I know the groups on the receiving end and those they serve appreciate it.

Posted in 50 Cents at a Time Fund, Fundraising, non-profit | Comments Off

Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is? (Or, How Bob Gibson’s Fastball Should Influence Your Email Marketing)

Bob Gibson understood his strengths and his weaknesses. He never let "the Book" get in the way of pitching to his strengths, just as you need to "pitch" to yours.


“What is the best time to send our email?” is a question we field on a fairly regular basis.  The question brings to mind a couple baseball anecdotes, because … well, because baseball is a metaphor for everything* in life.

*and really, if someone tries to tell you it’s not a metaphor for everything, they’re not trying hard enough!

I’ve been reading Reggie Jackson’s and Bob Gibson’s book Sixty Feet, Six Inches, which is a series of conversations between Gibson (arguably the most dominant World Series pitcher of the 1960s) and Reggie (Mr. October himself) about their approaches to pitching and hitting.  The reminiscences are fun, for sure, but they mostly are discussing their craft.

In one conversation, Gibson got to discussing “the book” or, the accepted strategies, about facing certain hitters.  He talked about the challenge of facing Carl Yastrzemski in the 1967 World Series – the first time he’d ever faced him.  “The book” on Yaz was you did not throw him high fastballs.  Yaz killed high fastballs.  Well, in Game 1 of the ’67 Series Gibson wanted to see if Yaz could handle his high fastball.  Yaz did nothing against Gibson that day.  He popped everything up – he hit the high fastball, but, he couldn’t catch up to Gibson’s high fastball to be able to do anything with it.  In Game 2 the next St. Louis pitcher, Dick Hughes, figured he, too, would attack Yaz with high fastballs.  Yaz hit two home runs in Game 2.  Dick Hughes’ high fastball was not Bob Gibson’s high fastball.

And this brings me to marketing. (Of course it does!  This is the Completely Interesting Direct Marketing Blog, after all!)  And it brings me, in particular, to email marketing.

So, I repeat … “when is the best time to send an email?”

Surely Mr. Google has the answer!  I checked.  A Google search for the best time to send an email generates 960,000,000 results!  That’s nine hundred sixty m-m-m-m-m-million results!  That’s … that’s … too many!  When there are 960,000,000 opinions (give or take), it’s safe to say nobody knows.  And, really, that’s my point.  There are a lot of guesses.  There are even a lot of educated guesses.  But too many of the guessers and educated guessers are attempting to put their educated guess – that might just work for their given application – out there as the gospel truth.  What occurred to me?  No one really knows what they’re talking about when it comes to email marketing.

See, stuck in the middle of those 960,000,000 results is the right answer … for someone.  And that same right answer for someone is going to be the absolute wrong answer for someone else, just as “high fastball” in October 1967 was the right answer for Bob Gibson against Yaz, and “high fastball” was a very wrong answer for Dick Hughes.

You have to test to find out what works for you.

In another conversation, Reggie talks about Bert Blyleven, another Hall-of-Fame pitcher, who Reggie always felt he could hit.  Even though Blyleven had a devastating curve ball, Reggie went to the plate knowing he could hit him.  Then, in the course of the discussion with Gibson, the more Jackson talked about Blyleven and the more he thought about the results he had against the pitcher (terrible) he came to realization his approach was wrong.  He realized that for this one pitcher he thought one thing (he could hit him), but, failed to look at the evidence to the contrary (he couldn’t).  He figured out Bert Blyleven owned him … thirty years too late!

Many marketers haven’t been able to separate email marketing for new customer acquisition from email marketing for client retention.  They’re two different beasts and should be treated differently.  The answer to the timing question might be different for each type – so you have to analyze the results for both separately and be willing to accept treating them differently.

And, please, please, please remember this: email marketing needs to adhere to fundamental, basic DM 101 rules.  Goodness knows we’ve talked about that before!  A couple years ago over at the Magill report Ken Magill shared 22 direct marketing fundamentals.  Sure, they’re mostly direct mail centric, but the same rules apply to email marketing.  Awesome Direct Marketers like you know this.

So, when you’re out there on The Google searching for the best send time (or anything else) and you wonder “Does anybody really know the best time?” tell yourself the following:

1) “NO!  NO, THEY DON’T!!!”  (I will be pleased!)
2) “I will test and figure it out for myself!!!”  (Mr. Gibson will be pleased!)
3) “Take measure of my results and be willing to discover they aren’t matching my preconceived notions!”  (Reggie will be pleased!)

Posted in direct marketing, e-mail marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

DM 101: Make the Message Matter

A bad attitude may work, sometimes, if you are a blues' master. Not so much of you are an advertiser.

I am almost certain we have all seen some variation of this commercial – you know the one – that funny one … you know … the one where that guy does something really funny and then the girl … oh! … then the girl says something even funnier!  It’s hilarious, right?  And then, about twenty seconds after the commercial ends you think to yourself … that was really funny, that commercial for … for … who was that for?

Television commercials ain’t cheap, my fellow Awesome Direct Marketers, and one has to wonder about the prudence of spending however much that much is in order to merely entertain the viewer.

It could be worse, of course.  A company could spend a lot of money creating a commercial that left a negative image of the product for the viewer.  Think about those commercials for that pizza delivery company where they talk about how bad everyone’s cheesey breadsticks are … including … their own!  Sure, they spend the last part of the commercial telling us how they have since improved their product.  But, what’s the takeaway?  “Try our new breadsticks – they’re not nearly as awful as they used to be!” Seriously?!!

But, give the pizza guys credit – they tear themselves down and then at least try to build themselves back up for the viewer.  At least they didn’t do this:

This album cover hurt sales of the album. In other news, smashing your left hand with a sledgehammer hurts your left hand. Badly.

This album has become something of a classic in the forty-four years since its release … but, I say something of a classic because … well … there might have been a good reason why Howlin’ Wolf didn’t like it.  Either way, though, Chess Records was in the business of selling records and this didn’t help.  According to Marshall Chess, “I used negativity in the title, and it was a big lesson: You can’t say on the cover that the artist didn’t like the album. It didn’t really sell that well. But it was just an attempt. They were just experiments.”

Fair enough.  He says “experiments” and we direct marketers would say “tests.”  But, please, Awesome Direct Marketers, let Marshall Chess take one for the team and accept that telling people your product stinks is not a sound strategy.

The only message that matters is your product, your company, your service … and how it will benefit the person viewing your ad.  It’s that simple.  Customers don’t care if you (or your agency) are witty.  They don’t care if you feel guilty because your product used to be crappy.  All they want to know is that your product (service, whatever …) is going to make their life easier, greater, sexier … something!  That’s the message.  It matters!

Posted in direct mail, direct marketing, general | 1 Comment

50 Cents at a Time and the Science Teacher’s Son

We have been thrilled and touched by the generosity of our clients.  At the beginning of the year we made a promise to help save the world (or, at the least, save some little parts of our world) 50 Cents at a Time.

So far this year we have supported a local homeless shelter, a foundation supporting research to find a cure for childhood cancer and a foundation supporting research to find a cure for diabetes.

When we first wrote about this back in January we started with three organizations and decided we’d add more as the year progressed.  Things at the office got very busy (which is a great thing), and all of a sudden, the first quarter ended and and we still needed to add a few more worthy organizations for the second quarter.

Right now I’d only like to talk about one:  The Melissa Jenkins Memorial Trust.

There’s no easy way around this one.  Melissa Jenkins, a local high school science teacher, was murdered early last week and she leaves behind a two year old son.

Community members have set up a trust fund for Melissa’s son, Ty, and we’ll be donating our April “50 Cents at a Time” to this Trust.  You can donate directly through the link above and, of course, you can add $.50/M to any list order you place this month.

It may seem like a little thing, but, as with any effort like this, every little bit helps.

Posted in 50 Cents at a Time Fund, Fundraising | Comments Off

Honesty … such a simple, and occassionally lonely, word

At the risk of going all Billy Joel on you ...

I came across a couple items a few days apart and, on the surface, they aren’t really related at all … one was talking about a wireless carrier putting limits on its subscribers’ unlimited usage plans and another one was about how employers and leaders can find out if employees and management share the same goals and vision.

I found the interview with Steve Stoute very interesting – all these buzzwords that one hears tossed around, like “vision” and “goals” and “communication” and such are just empty words unless the character of the individuals behind those words can give those words real meaning, real flesh and blood results, both in the business culture and at the bottom line.  He says, among other things:

Doing what you say is a core value. You can’t have people inside a company who are saying things but have no intention of doing what they say. They might have good intentions when it leaves their mouth, but that’s exactly where it ends. You have to find those people immediately, because those people hurt a growing organization.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us who have been around the business world for more than, oh, say, 38 days, have come to recognize there’s power in the words people use – both words of employee and employer, management and staff … those employers/managers whose actions match their words are more likely to have employees who buy into the vision and employees / staff whose actions match their words typically find their prospects grow along with the mutual trust that gets created when the members of a group are honest with each other.

One other point he made – his final point in the interview – is the very foundation of everything else he discussed (the goals, the vision, the whatever) and it came to this:

I’m looking to hire people who are honest with themselves. If you’re honest with yourself, we could work together. We can adjust on the go, we can call an audible at the line of scrimmage, because you’re honest with yourself. But if you’re not honest with yourself, you’re always trying to not let me find out something, or you’re trying to not let yourself find out something. You don’t want to find out from somebody else something about yourself that you don’t already know. I think that’s a very important attribute of successful people — they are honest with themselves.

I mean … this seems so basic.  Those who are honest with themselves succeed … and those who aren’t … don’t.*

*It reminds me of that line from Talking Heads’ song Life During Wartime - “I’ve changed my hairstyle sooooooo many times now … I don’t know what I look like.”  I’ve often thought folks who are not honest with themselves are more than a bit like that – after a while the lies make them unrecognizable to even themselves.

This brings me to the story about the mobile wireless carrier who put limits on its’ unlimited data plan.  Now, technically, this company is not limiting certain high volume users, just “throttling back” their speeds, which effectively limits their phones to calls and text messages.  Or, as one user observed:

The company made no promises that “unlimited” data would always be coupled with high speeds, he notes. “They just guaranteed the highway. They didn’t guarantee the speed limit.”

Fair enough.  We live in a post “it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is” society, so, I guess, in a way, many customers have become immune to such double-thought and spin.  Or, to put it another way, most consumers expect that some companies are looking to stick it to them*.

*Now is probably a good time to mention that I am not one of this wireless company’s customers, so, this is not an “angry customer rant.”

However, when it comes to the idea of honesty, while this carrier may be well within their technical rights to treat their customers in this manner (and, one would not be too far off to think this treatment is part of a strategy to move customers away from the unlimited use plans), I have to question the cost of moving away from the spirit of their plan.  Again, while this may technically be above board, it feels dishonest.  (I have yet to see a commercial where the handsome actor or the pretty actress declares “Use our unlimited data plan, but, if you use too much we will cripple your phone for the rest of the billing cycle!” [Smiles.]  At least that would be honest.)

All of this got me to wondering – I bet there are leaders and upper-level management at this company who ask their employees and middle management to buy into their goals and values.  They probably ask their employees to communicate.  They likely talk about vision.  Yet, as Steve Stoute observed, doing what you say is a core value.

Deception makes for a poor core value.  It likely inhibits long-term health.  Honesty is simple.  It is also the easiest thing to remember and requires no spin.

What do you consider your company’s core value?

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Seneca, Lombardi, and Luck!

Vince Lombardi: Ancient Roman philosopher?

Although this post will touch briefly on the topic of football we are not discussing any sort of mock football drafts – in other words, we are not talking about Andrew Luck, the Stanford quarterback likely to be the number one pick in this year’s NFL draft.  However!  We will be talking about some other smart guys – some of whom could even have gone to a place like Stanford had they not, y’know, been born like almost two thousand years before Stanford opened its doors.

See, it occurred to me that in your travels across the web today you probably hadn’t had run across any wisdom passed down from a Roman philosopher.  Well, you are in … luck … because that’s what we’re talking about today.

And, not just any Roman philosopher, either!  We’re talking about … yes … Vince Lombardi!

Okay, not really.  We’re talking about Seneca, who lived some 1900 years before the great Packer coach, and he knew nothing of the Power Sweep.  He did, however, have a thought on the subject of luck.

Seneca supposedly said, “Luck is where the crossroads of opportunity and preparation meet.” (And, to be fair, Lombardi did say this, too … and I’m guessing most of the guys who played for him had never heard of Seneca, so it was just as well that Lombardi updated the quote for his players, though, I’m certain he led if off with “Men!” so it probably went more like this, “Men!  Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity!”)

We talked at length a couple weeks ago on about the need to give yourself time when preparing email projects.  However, preparation is more than time.  In keeping with the football analogy in honor of this weekend’s upcoming Super Bowl, think about the amount of time the average football player spends watching film, looking for the opponent’s habits and tendencies.  Think about the amount of time the players spend practicing each play and running through numerous game scenarios.  Much of their practice is repetition – repeating the same actions over-and-over until those actions become second nature.  During the game the players don’t think about their plays and responsibilities – they react.  It’s all preparation.

In Mark Bowden’s instant classic The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL, the author shared a great story of a young Raymond Berry, the Colts’ star receiver in 1958, working from sheets of notebook paper and running pass routes on a deserted football field.  He ran those routes over and over until his routes were perfect.  The author went on to describe how Berry and Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, while both were still back-ups early in their careers with the Colts, would practice together … constantly … until Unitas could throw the ball not to Berry, but to the spot where he knew Berry would be.  Later in the book, during a key moment in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, Berry makes a sensational catch that amazed those who saw it.  But, it didn’t amaze Unitas or Berry – they expected it.  Lucky?  No.  They’d practiced it until it was second nature.

By the way, at the time, that type of personal preparation on the part of NFL players was fairly revolutionary.  Today it is the standard.

Think about your daily routines.  How much preparation are you doing?  Yes, I know, we are all working hard taking care of our day-to-day priorities.  But, what about the proverbial film study and practice?

Are you studying?  Study can take many forms, of course.  From a marketing and direct marketing standpoint you can take classes – both online and at local colleges.  You can read the trades to see what other in your industry are doing.  You can attend seminars.  You can read relevant and interesting blogs (ahem).

Are you learning?  When was the last time you learned a new program or application?  A lot of us use Excel, which, much like the human brain, it seems most people only use about 10% of it – have you done anything to be able to leverage the power that program has to offer?

Are you listening?  Yeah – it sounds simple and easy, but, are you really actively listening and open to new ideas?  I know that all the awesome readers of this blog are brilliant (after all, you’re here) but, do you allow others to impart their wisdom to you?  It’s one thing to hear … it’s another to listen … and learn.

Are you repeating the same successful actions until they become second nature?  Repetition is important and repetition of the details – the little things that most people won’t see or register in the moment – are often the most important part of any task.  Do you stop what you are doing and smile when you answer the phone?  Do you spell/grammar check your documents?  Do you re-read for content and clarity?  Do you make eye contact when you speak to clients?

There’s your luck.

Seneca knew it.  Lombardi knew it.  Maybe you already knew it.  Now go get prepared and find your opportunity!

Speaking of all that – what do you do to study, learn, or be prepared?

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6 Things You Better Be Doing With Your Email Campaigns!

I’ve had a couple of experiences with some clients recently that clearly illustrated that a lot of marketers are still guessing (or worse, ignoring basic Marketing 101) when it comes to email marketing.  Rather than sit and stew about it, I’m going to share their mistakes with you, Gentle Reader, in the hopes that you will learn how to plan your next email marketing campaign effectively.

But first, I would like to remind all you awesome marketers about the late 1990s.  Remember them?  We were still trying to figure out if we needed to include that http:// thing-y when we typed in a web address.   Seinfeld was the hippest, funniest show about nothing.  Y2K made many feel slightly uneasy.  We were asked to consider what the definition of “is” was.  Every man, woman, and child in the country had received a diskette in the mail from AOL.  People knew who the Lemonheads were.  And … my favorite … the internet created a new “” economy.

The new economy was going to be different!  The new economy was going to take the Dow Jones and the NASDAQ to heights unimagined just a decade before – after all, the NASDAQ seemed like it was doubling every two months.  The new economy was awesome.  Yup.  Sure was.

Oh, sure, a couple people muttered stuff about “irrational exuberance” but, when everyone is having fun most people don’t like listening to the party poopers – especially when the guy at the next desk is telling you about how his retirement mutual fund increased 28% last quarter … again!

It was awesome … until the old economy tapped the new economy on the shoulder and reminded us all that the old rules never really go away.  The economy very quickly turned into the dot.bomb economy – any of us older than, say, 35 or so, will recall the sight of our mutual fund portfolios shrinking by a third.

The point here is the so-called old rules are the rules for a reason.

Okay, enough reminiscing – back to email marketing:

My client wanted to do a substantial, targeted email campaign.  They decided to do three rounds of emails:

Round One: Test 10 different subject lines to a couple thousand records per unique subject line.

Round Two: Test 3 different creatives to 25,000 records each, using the winning subject line from Round One.

Round Three: Do a full blast to hundreds of thousands of emails using the winning creative and the winning subject line.

On the surface this sounds like a reasonably good plan.  And, really, it is the beginnings of a good plan.  However, the client, in my humblest of opinions, made a handful of significant blunders:

  • They wanted to send Round Three on Saturday.  Okay.  This is not a bad thing, in theory.  The offer was not an impulse-y kind of thing – it was very much a family decision and the client figured the weekend was a good time for couples/partners to consider the offer and then act.  So far, so good.  However – what days did they insist we do the first two rounds?  The Tuesday and Thursday before the desired Saturday blast date.  Why didn’t they test the best day of the week to send?
  • They insisted on 24 hour rush reporting on the results.  Bad idea.  Email campaigns require at least 48 hours to get factual reports.  First, many providers resend to soft-bounces after 24 hours.  Second, in the cases of larger deployments, the blast may not even be completed within 24 hours.  (You can’t just bombard various email providers – that is a sure way to get your important promotional message blocked – nobody wants that!)  We shared our concern, but accommodated the request.
  • Round Three was deployed the first weekend of December and it was not holiday related.  Look, timing is everything.  People’s inboxes were already chock full of Black-Friday-Cyber-Monday-Super-Duper-One-Day-Discount-Holiday offers.  This one was not a December kind of promotion and likely didn’t create the same sense of urgency.
  • Their offer didn’t create a sense of urgency!  The creative didn’t give the recipient any driving need to click for more information.
  • You might have caught the words “insist” and “rush” mentioned a few times above.  This client did not plan on enough time to correctly test their offers.  If they wanted to do the final, official blast on Saturday then a test should have been sent on Saturday!  They messed with their control and were left wondering why their results didn’t mirror the Tuesday or Thursday results.  Maybe they should have done the balance on the following Tuesday, the day with the best results.  Either way, they didn’t give themselves the time to find out which was going to be more effective.
  • The offer was not time-sensitive.  They had no reason to send the promotion in this short timeframe except for a sense of “we have to spend this money this year so hurry up and get it done before 2012.”  Folks, that is a terrible reason to rush through a job and ignore basic Marketing 101 principles.

This client obviously wasn’t paying as close attention as I was in the 1990s.  If they had, perhaps they would have recalled the message from the Lemmonheads song, It’s About Time: you have to give yourself time.  In this case, give yourself time to:

  1. Test every aspect.  (Day of the week, time of day, subject line, creative, etc.)
  2. Accurately measure your results.  (Have been sent before requesting a report?)
  3. Be aware of the timing of your promotion.  (Any holidays or big events that your email is competing with for attention?)
  4. Create an offer with a sense of urgency.  (What is going to drive someone to click right now while they’re looking at your email?)
  5. Did I already mention “test every aspect”?  (Seriously.  Every.  Aspect.)
  6. Use the time you have wisely.  (If you find yourself rushing, ask why.  Is it necessary?)

Marketers must remember that email marketing is not some kind of magical marketing channel.  It is simply another marketing channel.  The channel may still be relatively new, but the rules marketers need to follow are not.

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How We’re Going to Save the World 50 Cents at a Time

Homeless Family

The need is overwhelming.

I think of myself as a charitable guy.  I volunteer regularly to raise money for a local organization.  I donate money when I hear there’s a need.

But this holiday season I heard more than my usual share of gut-wrenching stories of serious want and need.  I also witnessed generous projects and activities by friends, co-workers, clients, and local organizations.

The stories of families in need got under my skin.  It got me thinking.

I want to do more. I want to do more through my company by raising awareness and offering an opportunity for others to donate easily.

So starting today, each quote that we submit to our clients will include an optional charge of 50 cents per thousand to go to our 50 Cents at a Time Fund.  This is a totally optional donation – no one has to pay it.  But it will be there for every client to consider.

So, let’s say you place an order for 5,000 records.  If you chose to include the $.50/M charge, you’ll be billed an additional $2.50 that will go straight into the 50 Cents at a Time Fund.  If your order is for 100,000 records, your donation would be $50.  Easy,right?

And we will match every contribution.  So that $2.50 you donate is actually $5 with our matched donation.

Sure, that sounds like chump change to you and I who are sitting comfortably in our office.  But let me assure you that any amount is vital and greatly appreciated by too large of a percentage of our population.

And, really, it’s the cumulative effort that will make the greatest impact.  So the more people who decide, “Sure, what the heck” and add 50 cents per thousand to their order, the bigger the overall impact to the recipient.

So where is the 50 Cents at a Time Fund money going exactly?  Glad you asked.  We’ve put some real thought into selecting a different charity for each month.  There are some national causes that we believe strongly in, and there are several local organizations that we personally know are in desperate need of any financial aid.  The first three are:

January: Tyler Blain House. In honor of Poverty in America Awareness Month, we chose this homeless shelter just 25 minutes away from our office.  They offer an emergency shelter for up to 8 people, guiding them to gaining independence.  The funds we raise will go toward helping them keep the house heated, buy medicine, and get basic supplies like food, shampoo, diapers, and more.

February: Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Started by a 4 year old girl who was bravely battling a childhood cancer and wanted to help other kids who were fighting this disease too, this foundation is committed to finding a cure for childhood cancers.  The money raised goes toward cancer research as well as helping families with travel expenses for treatments.

March: Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation.  About 25 million Americans are living with diabetes.  This foundation was created to find the cure and to care for people who are suffering from life-threatening complications from the disease.  They fund researchers whose work has already provided substantial insight into the causes and provide services to people who are living with diabetes.

Stay tuned during the year – I will post updates of how much has been raised, and who we’ve selected to receive the money raised the following months.

Now if case you’re like me, you want to be sure that the money is going directly to the people who need it most – not right into the pocket of some CEO.  Rest assured that we’ve used Charity Navigator to research each of the national charities to make sure our money will be spent exactly how you expect it to be.

Please think about it. Please consider it.  Fifty cents a thousand isn’t going to break either one of us, but the cumulative effort will help a lot of people.

Okay, so we can’t save the entire world with this, but that’s not realistic, anyway.  We can save some little parts of our world and that has to count for something.

Photo credit: helixcat

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