FAIL: As an online marketer I applaud the US Postal Service for it’s Exigent Rate Case. Read my letter to them


Dear Mr. Postmaster General and the honorable members of the Postal Regulatory Commission,

As an online marketer, I want to thank you. I cannot wait until you raise postage rates come January. Now some people may not agree with me, but I applaud your efforts to consistently raise postage rates.

As I was starting my business a few years ago, you announced an incredible postal rate increase — if I remember correctly, around 20 percent — that really helped my business take off. So many direct marketers, who could no longer afford to profitably mail catalogs and other direct mail, came calling. As a result, my business flourished (as did many of my comrades in the online space).

Now I hear you’re on the verge of passing something called an “exigent” rate increase, pushing postal costs up another 5 percent.

Very cool, thanks!

I also love how you got around the specific language that was designed to keep you from arbitrarily raising rates. :-)

Right now I bet many direct marketers are pretty angry with you. They’re probably feverishly calculating their profit-and-loss statements to determine how many previously profitable mailing lists aren’t going to be profitable anymore. How fortunate for me. I wonder how many new customers I can pick up come the first quarter?

And one other thing I want to mention as long as you’re reading this: You know those summer postal “sales” you’ve had the last two years? Yeah, those ones where the criteria for qualification to receive the discount are ridiculously hard for mailers to meet? Well, I really appreciate your help in disillusioning the direct marketing community. Remember, the more jaded and disillusioned it becomes, the better for my business.

That’s it for now. I hope this letter finds you all well. Keep up the good work — my business needs it!

Sincerely,
Steven M. Search

EDITORS NOTE: Some people, mostly internet marketers, are commenting on linkedin that they applaud this article – like it’s real!!!  Folks, this post is meant as pure acidic sarcasm and irony.  Its intent is to skewer the USPS, The Postmaster General and The Postal Rate Commission for their stupidity in biting the hand that feeds them, and single-handedly destroying their future earnings potential as they drive marketers out of a highly targetable and profitable channel.  I find it both humorous and horrifying that people would take this post literally.

Jim

Guest Post – 7 Secrets to Scoring High on Data Card Quality


Note from Jim. Chris DeMartine from NextMark sent me this article for review.  I liked it and decided to publish it for you.  NextMark is the premier resource for the list industry with info on over 60,000 lists.  It’s the go to site for list brokers, managers and data providers.  All direct marketers should be in-the-know about the list industry and it’s guiding principles.  The article below is an excellent primer on list scoring.

If you are interested in direct mail or telemarketing lists, my sister company, Axxes Data can put together a list recommendation for you.  Let me know.

Jim

Good mailing list purchase decisions depend on a good data card database, and NextMark ensures the quality of its data card database through the Data Card Quality Report and other monitoring tools. While it is important not to confuse data card quality with list quality, counts are changing all the time and a neglected data card could be a warning sign of a neglected list. This blog entry is primarily for list managers who are looking for insights on how to keep their data cards up-to-date most efficiently using NextMark’s data card publishing tool.

How are data cards scored?

The scoring process is reviewed on a quarterly basis, and subsequently refined to address list specific criteria.  Individual data card scores are calculated using a weighted average of thirteen attributes, with an emphasis on last update (the date when the card was last updated and/or confirmed by the list manager). The basic principle is to create a quality data card from the start, and to manage the update process efficiently. List managers may also contact NextMark to learn how these updates may be processed automatically on their own web site, and integrated on a search engine optimized (SEO) platform to be indexed by Google and the other search engines.

Seven secrets to scoring high on data card quality:

#1 Review your data card quality report: select either ‘Data Card Quality Spreadsheet’ or ‘Data Card Quality Print View’ from the ‘CHOOSE A REPORT’ menu on the Lists – Management tab. You must be signed in to NextMark under your list management organization to run this report.

#2 Use the ‘next update date’ field: by populating this field you get the benefit of receiving an e-mail reminder (to update the data card) seven days prior to the date you enter. The next update date must be greater than or equal to the current date in order to receive full credit for last update. If you decide that you do not want to update this field, then be sure to leave it blank and manage your edits based on the update frequency.

#3 Check the update frequency: it is important for list brokers to know how often the names on a mailing list are updated. If the next update date is not populated, then the data card quality score will be based on the update frequency and the last date and time when the data card was updated by the list manager. For example, a data card representing a list that updates monthly should be confirmed every 30 days. However, if the update frequency is semi-annually, then you would only need to update the data card twice per year. Of course, this assumes that there have been no pricing or other changes to the file during the update cycle.

#4 Populate all scored fields for postal list types: make sure that every one of the fields representing the thirteen attributes are populated with valid information. There are a few exceptions to this, for example: if a list is available for email addresses only, then you would not be required to select outputs; or if a list is available on exchange only, then you would not be required to enter a base rate.

#5 Audit your list type selections: the scoring process for an insert program is slightly different than it is for a postal mailing list. The same holds true for other types such as blow-in or statement stuffer programs. It is important to make these selections carefully to make sure that your data cards are scored by the most appropriate criteria.

#6 Create a high quality list description:   although there is a minimum character length required for a high quality list description, the scoring process also considers your creative efforts as part of the grade. The html is also credited in a manner similar to the text length of your data card description. Therefore, you are able to focus your efforts on the quality of a list description and not solely its length. You may also create and edit custom tables in the description area to provide counts and/or other information about the list. These tables are also considered as part of the overall data card description score. It is also important to remember to populate the short description field, as you be unable to achieve a perfect grade without that.

#7 Select three relevant categories: you’ll need to select at least three categories on the data card that would be relevant to the broker or mailer who is renting the list. Excessive categorization is discouraged because it not only dilutes the uniqueness of a list, but also makes it difficult to determine the target audience for the list. However, you are not required to limit the number of categories, especially in cases where a list or database is enhanced with additional data for targeting specific demographics or psychographics.

Chris DeMartine is the Director of Business Development for NextMark.  He can be reached at (603) 643 – 1307 x. 114, or cdemartine@nextmark.com

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


Linkedin members can join by clicking here: http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/2080726/.

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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Direct Marketing Association & Jim Gilbert: The Second Half… Meet or beat your 2009 estimates & look like a superstar!


Jim Gilbert and the FDMA are please to announce another great learning opportunity for you on June 18th.

The Second Half: Meet or beat your 2009 estimates and look like a superstar!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

While it feels like 2009 has only started, we’re actually halfway through the year. At this point the FDMA asks you:

• Are you on track to meet or beat your forecasts? 
• What can you do to drive in more sales? 
• What programs both online and offline can you test, and test quickly to increase sales? 
• Are you drowning in a sea of online numbers and are not sure which are the most meaningful to track?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, this is the one FDMA session you do not want to miss. We have two great presentations lined up for you.

Register now at www.fdma.org

PRESENTATION 1 – Leave NO Stone unturned – 50 tips, tricks and ideas you can take to the bank. (12:30 – 1:30pm)

Presented by Jim Gilbert, Author, Direct Marketing Professor and Consultant.

In this presentation, Jim Gilbert will leverage his 20+ years experience in teaching direct marketing companies how to increase sales – by providing you with marketing program ideas that are simple and quick to execute.

Jim’s presentation will address consumer and B2B, online and offline, lead gen and direct sales strategies and tactics – in short – marketing programs you may have missed. He will engage you in “operation turned stone”, an opening for you to look for breakthrough opportunities in your company to “find” missing revenue. 

You are guaranteed to takeaway between 5 and 10 action items to beat your forecasts with.

PRESENTATION 2 – Interactive Metrics – What You Really Need to Know (1:30 – 2:15pm)

Presented by Maria Harrison President/Owner of iClarity.

In this informative presentation, Maria Harrison will take you through the good, the bad and the ugly of interactive metrics. Interactive marketing is a double-edged sword when it comes to metrics. 

Just because everything can be counted, doesn’t mean it’s important in making business decisions that will help you have a positive impact on your interactive marketing initiatives. 

Ms. Harrison will show you how simplistic interactive metrics can really be, how to set benchmarks, and develop meaningful executive dashboards that will help you make the right decisions to improve your interactive marketing efforts. She will define some basic interactive metric terms and teach you how to immediately apply those metrics to your business. 

11:30 a.m. – 12:00 pm Registration Check-in and Networking
12:00 pm – 12:30 pm Annoucements, Lunch, Netowrkign at Table
12:30 pm Presentation by Jim Gilbert
1:30 pm Presentation by Maria Harrison
2:15 pm Program ends.

Register early to avoid additional $10 walk-up fee. Register now at www.fdma.org

Interested in attending our Board meeting at 10:00am and learning more about getting further involved with the FDMA, please let us know at 786-357-3275.

WHEN
Thursday, June 18, 2009 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM

WHERE
Westin Hotel Fort Lauderdale
400 Corporate Drive
(I-95 and Cypress Creek exit)
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334

FDMA Catalog Marketing Summit From The Basics to Beyond Thurs 4/16


FDMA Catalog Marketing Summit From The Basics to Beyond!

Host: Florida Direct Marketing Association

Date: Thursday, April 16, 2009
Time: 11:30am – 2:30pm
Location: Westin, Fort Lauderdale
Street: 400 Corporate Drive (I-95 and Cypress Creek Road
City/Town: Fort Lauderdale, FL
Phone: 786-357-3275
Email: info@fdma.org

REGISTER: http://guest.cvent.com/EVENTS/Info/Invitation.aspx?e=c746e12a-6705-48c5-85ff-943edd040881

Description: Catalog Marketing: From the Basics and Beyond.

What does it take to manage a multi-channel catalog and thrive in this economy? Come join us on April 16 as our frank 5 person panel of experts teaches you from the inside out. Each expert has been hand chosen due to their expertise in specific area’s of catalog management. After each panelist makes their presentation, you will be able to get hands on and ask questions. Topics include: 

• Knowing your customers! – Metrics, business intelligence, LTV, and repeat behavior.
• Printing – Optimizing size, page configuration, postal discounts, co-mailing.
• Creative- designing catalogs to sell. A case study in redesign.
• Operations – Insource, outsource, case studies call call center and fulfillment.
• Lists – a broker’s inside info that will help you challenge and get more from your broker.

Speakers, 

Fatemeh Khatibloo, VP of Strategic Services Binger Catalog Marketing, Inc.
Kathy Duggan-Josephs, VP, Multichannel Marketing, RMI Direct 
Tim Holody, COO, Seta Corporation (Palm Beach Jewelry Catalog) 
Scott M. Kaczmarek, Sales Manager, Quad/Graphics, Inc.
Fred Neil, President, Spectrum Management Associates, Inc.

Moderator: Jim Gilbert, President, Gilbert Direct Marketing, Inc.

11:30 a.m. – 12:00 pm Registration Check-in and Networking
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm Program and Lunch
1:30 pm – 2:15 pm Expanded Bonus Speaker Tracks

Register early to avoid additional $10 walk-up fee. 

Interested in attending our Board meeting at 10:00am and learning more about getting further involved with the FDMA, please let us know at 786-357-3275.

WHEN
Thursday, April 16, 2009 11:30 AM – 2:15 PM

WHERE
Westin Hotel Fort Lauderdale
400 Corporate Drive
(I-95 and Cypress Creek exit)
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334

REGISTER: http://guest.cvent.com/EVENTS/Info/Invitation.aspx?e=c746e12a-6705-48c5-85ff-943edd040881

Three Ways to Cut Customer Acquisition Costs


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

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

* Belcaro Shop at Home (www.shopathome.com)

* Catalogs.com (www.catalogs.com)

* Greyhouse publishing (www.greyhouse.com/marketing.htm)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about the dangers of Do Not Mail legislation


For those naysayers who say direct mail should be legislated out of existence, read the FACTS here.  (here is a hint, it’s about jobs, and revenue to the economy!)

http://www.mailmovesamerica.org/index.php

Read the Do Not Mail bill from the Florida Senate: http://www.flsenate.gov/data/session/2009/House/bills/billtext/pdf/h078100.pdf

From Senator Aronberg: http://www.flsenate.gov/data/session/2009/Senate/bills/billtext/pdf/s1324.pdf

Evidently my rant about the USPS and their 5 day work week hit a nerve.


I got lots of feedback to my column on the USPS and its brainstorm about going to a five-day workweek.  (see all comments and original article here)

And most of them were pro-mailer, agreeing that the USPS needs to wake up.  

However, I did get a few responses from environmentalists offering up some vicious attacks on our industry. I took the most readable — including this great illustration of how uninformed the masses are when it comes to our industry — and posted my response to it on my blog. For your review, I’m posting the comment and my response here.

Comment from Mel:

“I agree that the USPS needs to revamp the way it does things, but if it can reduce our costs by going down to 5 days a week, then I am fine with that.

“As for direct marketers, sorry but that is fine by me if they are put out of business. Maybe they could learn to earn an honest living instead of annoying me and all of the others that can’t stand them.

“Oh wait, there is a law against them! And talking about going GREEN … if direct marketing were abolished, how many trees would we save? How much would our carbon footprint be reduced? Looks like a win-win to me.”

My Response
“Thank you Mel for your comment. I’m not sure what law you are talking about. Maybe you’re referring to CAN-SPAM (that’s for e-mail) or the Do Not Call law, which applies to telemarketing. To my knowledge, there’s no law against direct mail. In fact, and maybe to your amazement, less direct mail, or a USPS five-day work week, would not reduce any costs as you state. Costs would actually go up, not down.

“Direct mail powers the U.S. Postal Service. Without it, the next time you mail a letter, utility payment or Xmas present to your nephew Billy, you would need to take out a small loan.

“OK, I exaggerate to illustrate my point, but the truth is many direct marketers look to deliver offers that are relevant to the people receiving them.

“If you want to learn more about the actual impact direct mail has on our economy and our society, I suggest you take two minutes and read the Facts About Direct Mail section on the Direct Marketing Association’s Catalog Preference Web site. You may be very shocked to learn how wrong you are!

“The honest truth is, we DON’T want to mail you anything if you are not going to buy from us. It wastes our money, our time, and it just makes you mad enough to write comments like this.

“You should also know that many direct mail companies are more green than you think. They use recycled paper when they can and soy-based inks. They buy their paper from paper mills with a commitment to forestry re-plantation.

“More and more, mailers and catalog companies are doing what they can to go green. But is this enough? In a word, NO! We’re getting there though.

“Here are some suggestions for you:

1. Recycle any direct mail you’re not interested in.

2. Contact catalog companies who send you their catalogs and ask to be removed from their future mailings.

3. DON’T buy anything from a catalog, otherwise (and here is the relevancy issue) you will be tagged as a “mail order buyer” and will receive other catalogs of products which have an affinity to your last mail order purchase. In fact, don’t buy anything mail order, or respond online to any offer!

4. Opt out of receiving business mail using Catalog Choice: http://www.catalogchoice.org/.

5. Use the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service to manage or stop direct mail offers:http://www.dmachoice.org/.

“We’re happy not to mail offers to you if you don’t want them (it saves us a bunch of money). Just let us know as described above, and we won’t send you any more mail.

“Oh, and one more thing, and I apologize in advance if this sounds a bit snarky: The less postal mail out there, the more e-mails and spam you’ll get clogging your inbox, and some more telemarketing calls as well.

“Hope this helps,
Jim.”

How To Create Catalog Split Test Scenarios That Matter (part 2)


This week in the final installment of this two-part series on the value of creating mail tests that produce measurable, and telling, results for your catalog, I provide takeaway lessons from last week’s example of how one catalog company tested the profitability of using an upgraded paper stock in its catalog. I’ll also list some tips to help ensure your company is conducting productive mail tests. 

The Moral of the Story
Even scientific tests often succumb to the subjective. Once all of your scientific testing is done, the art of interpreting the data takes over. Returning to last week’s example, as a direct marketer I never would’ve rolled out the higher-grade paper without additional testing. I would’ve wanted to confirm my results by running the same test over again. Even if the test were a runaway success, I would’ve proceeded cautiously. 

In the catalog/multichannel industry, there are infinite varieties of tests that can be configured, measured and, ultimately, interpreted. 

So how do you become successful and improve your company via testing? I believe the following seven principles, that if adhered to, will allow you to hedge your bets.

1. Always test against something. Your current catalog, e-mail, Web site, merchandise, among other things, can be used as your control. 

2. Always create a testing hypothesis. Use this example: If we do X, we expect Y to occur. 

3. Always set up logical tests based on scientific principles.

4. Test only one variable at a time. If you test more than one, you’ll never know which variable made the difference. See below for a list of variables you can test.

5. Always do your math up front. Calculate all expenses in advance of the test and set up a pro forma profit and loss and break-even analysis. 

6. Always do the math on the back end. Before the creative side of testing begins, have the math in front of you. Many times the numbers will drive decisions. 

7. Always test until you’re satisfied. Don’t roll out any changes to your catalog unless you’re certain of the outcome through testing, retesting and further testing. 

Variables You Can Test Today (a checklist to get you started)

List Variables:

* Recency — the most recent names from a new list; if your list is “working”; older segments of the list; average order sizes.

* New lists in your product category.

Creative and Printing Variables:

* Paper, trim size, pages, formats, photography, copy, ink-jet messages, cover versions, dot whacks, inserts.

Offer Variables:

* Gift with purchase, dollar or percentage off, free shipping.

Merchandising Variables:

* New or different products; repositioning older or non best-sellers via creative execution.

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