Win at Social: Wrap Yourself Around An Issue and become a Social Media Marketing Thought Leader


Wrap yourself around an issue and become a social media marketing guru.

You don’t have to be a great writer to get social media attention. Just “own” another issue and you can make some hay for yourself. Its simple to do:

Step 1: Find an issue or topic you believe in, or are well versed in, and have an opinion you would like to share about the topic.

Step 2: Seek out articles about that topic.  Find them on Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, etc.  Twitter is the perfect channel for this!

Step 3: Share the article, with your comments.  Simple right?

More: There are two ways to share on your topic, “for” or “against”.  Sometimes disagreeing with the article can get you even more notoriety.  I don’t shy away from being controversial.  For example, when the U.S. Post Office starts in with their annual postage rates increases, my rants railing against the stupidity of the USPS get lots of attention.  As a marketing consultant who goes against the grain and uses direct mail often for clients (Note: Direct mail is NOT dead!  Its still as viable as ever if practiced correctly), being known as champion of direct mail marketers against the post office, shows people a lot about how I could help them if hired for a direct mail campaign.

Give it a try and let me know how you did.  Post a comment below.

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The Direct Mail Myth Busting Continues.“preferential attitudes on trustworthiness of mail strengthened for consumer respondents in all age groups from 2008 to 2010”. Take that you naysayers!


My good friend and fellow direct marketer Evelyn Milardo posted this on Linkedin.  Some great and surprising stats about direct mail vs online here:

Young adults strongly prefer Offline to Online sources for marketing offers reveals Epsilon’s ICOM 2010 North American Research. Depending on the product category, the survey results Show 2-1 and 3-1 offline preference margin.

Six years after the launch of Facebook, North American consumers in the valued 18-34 year-old demographic prefer by a wide margin to learn about marketing offers via postal mail and newspapers rather than online sources such as social media platforms, according to national survey research from ICOM, a division of Epsilon Targeting.

Additionally, the ICOM research shows that preferential attitudes about the trustworthiness of mail strengthened for consumer respondents in all age groups from 2008 to 2010.The 2010 study of 2569 U.S. households and 2209 Canadian households focused on consumer preferences in regard to the ever-expanding array of communications channels for the delivery of marketing information, offers and promotions. Responses came from consumers ranging in age from 18 to 55 and above.

By the numbers, here are some of the key results from ICOM’s 2010 study of North American consumers’ marketing communication channel preferences –

For household and health products, the preference among 18-34 year-olds for receiving marketing information from offline sources led by mail and newspapers is 2 to 3 times greater than online sources such as social media. Examples of consumer preferences for offline versus online are:

Personal Care products – 62% offline, 22% online

Food products – 66% offline, 23% online

OTC medicines 53% offline, 22% online
Prescription medicines 45% offline, 22% online

Understandably,travel was the exception, where 18-34 year-olds preferred online to offline information by a 42% to 35% margin. However and this really BIG – Insurance and Financial Services followed the overall trend, with the 18-34 age group preferring offline sources 43% to 21% and 44% to 19%, respectively.

Stay tuned – more to come.

The Postal Rate Commission (PRC) Denies Exigent Postage Rate Increase … Big !@#$ Deal


Recently, The Postal Rate Commission denied the US Postal Service an exigent postage increase.

So, OK, now what?

So, Direct marketers aren’t getting slammed with another 5 percent-plus postage rate increase in January. Big whoop-de-doo. Postage is still the biggest expense in all my clients’ mail campaigns. And the cost of mailing vs. the risk of the unknown is still the biggest reason marketers shy away from the direct mail channel.

The second biggest reason? Well, everybody has heard the horror stories. All that money spent on killer creative, design, lists, printing, postage, and then the campaign bombs.  And then everybody talks about how the campaign bombed and direct mail sucks.

OK, so many of those direct mail campaign “bombs” forgot to follow the basic principles of the business — i.e., the 40/40/20 rule. They probably did the creative first and then figured out lists last like most companies I see do.

This kind of activity perpetuates the urban legend that direct mail doesn’t work. Well, except for a few companies. Those companies, you know, the junk mailers, the big companies with unlimited budgets who don’t care about results and just want to build their brand images… they are the ones who do well.

Now I won’t even get into the whole environmental argument of direct mail not being green. Believe what you want, but that’s a myth. The direct mail and paper industries are ultracautious to replenish the environment.

And let’s not forget about our internet marketing brethren, who have done such a wonderful job throwing direct mail under the bus, positioning it as passé or old school, while they prop themselves up as the future of direct marketing. I won’t even go there today.

Let’s face it, direct mail has a bad reputation. But that can change. Here’s how:

The smartest thing those wunderkinds at our beloved Postal Service can do is nurture the direct mail industry. Imagine what would happen if the USPS actually offered discounts for online marketers to give direct mail a chance? Now imagine the same thing happening with small and emerging businesses. How many companies would try direct mail if the risks were reduced? How many tests? How many rollouts?

And what about nurturing those retailers who still use direct mail as a major part of their marketing programs? Sure, the USPS has tested some “Summer SalesOpens in a new window,” which is a move in the right direction, but it’s time for the Postal Service to stop dipping a toe in the water and give volume mailers an opportunity to push their circulations up. Seasoned mailers know the results are there, they’ve just been beaten down by a constant barrage of postage increases.

More importantly, over time, how many direct mail pieces are needed in circulation to drive additional revenue for the post office? Some way the USPS is going to have to get itself out of the bureaucratic hole it’s dug for itself.

Hey, I’m not dreaming here. It’s a simple business model: high costs = less volume, lower costs = increased volume.

The USPS has traveled the higher-priced road before, and in the process did an amazing job of building up the internet and literally exploding the size of the online marketing community (to which it offers thanks, by the way).

Maybe now it’s time to think things through and encourage more mailers and subsequently more volume. And inevitably if they do it right, more (well, to be fair … SOME) profits.

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

From Politico and SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Rate hikes won’t help Postal Service!


if you are in the direct mail business, or you ship packages via the USPS (also known as The US Postal Service), read this article now from Senator Susan Collins and as published on Politico.  Click here for the story (and a definition of what Exigent Circumstances SHOULD mean to the band of thieves called Postal Rate Commission)

For a sarcastic look at what a field day our good friends at the US Postal Service are providing the internet marketing industry, click here

I find it totally inconceivable how stupid the USPS, The Postal Rate Commission and Postmaster General Potter are.  Every penny they increase postage for our direct mail campaigns means we have to get 2 cents more per piece mailed in order to be profitable.  That means profitable mailers (and lists) become marginal or worse.

Another article I wrote that addresses this issue is: How To Heal The USPS in 8 Easy Steps.

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).
  • Guest Post: Debunking the Myth of Trees vs. Direct Mail


    Editor’s Note: This week’s post comes from Evelyn Milardo , a direct marketing consultant, whom Jim has hand-picked to serve as a guest columnist in his place this week.

    OK, direct mail has an environmental impact. Almost everyone still receives and sends mail, creating a footprint for sure. But what’s myth and what’s reality?

    In 2007, there were 212 billion pieces of mail. Of those, households received 150.9 billion pieces — or about 71 percent. The balance of the mail was received by business, government and nonprofit entities. Households also sent 21.1 billion pieces of mail, with the balance of the mail sent by nonhouseholds. In 2008, the average U.S. household received less than three pieces of direct mail per day.

    According to the USPS Household Diary Study, 16 percent of households choose not to read their mail. The vast majority (81 percent) of households read or scan the direct mail they receive. Almost all mail eventually is discarded, thus it’s vital to have recycling options available at the community level.

    Direct mail is printed communication. Thanks to sustainable forestry practices throughout North America, the amount of forested lands has grown significantly in recent years, providing for a steady, responsible supply of the fiber used to make paper. Trees are harvested and replanted on a continuing basis, with most trees harvested for paper measuring about 8 inches in diameter — it’s more cost effective and productive to use larger trees for lumber or pole production.

    Today, we have more forests in the U.S. than we did 50 years ago, and about the same as we had 100 years ago. Old-growth forests aren’t harvested to make direct mail paper, and the marketplace is beginning to certify paper that originates from sustainably forested lands. Only 14 percent of the wood harvested throughout the world each year is used for paper production. Continue reading

    How These Call Center Training Techniques Can Increase Your Call-Center Conversions


    As direct marketers, we spend a great deal of time and money developing programs to make the phone ring. But it’s the call-center agents that truly make the cash register sing.

    Therefore, I spend a great deal of time training customer service reps (CSRs) to be powerful brand advocates with the ability to make a difference with all customers. Personally, I hate calling a company and hearing some disinterested rep deal with my order in a lackluster way. It tells me the company I’m dealing with doesn’t get that the people manning the phones are the voice of the company.

    A simple CSR training program can solve the lackluster attitude and increase conversion.

    CSR’s should be trained to think on their feet rather than interacting with customers and prospects by reading a script. Of course, good call-center software with a scripted environment can be beneficial, but even the best scripting can’t beat a well-trained CSR’s instincts. It’s important to hire reps that can work this way, and then mentor and monitor them on an ongoing basis. A word of caution: Analyze call times to ensure your reps aren’t burning up phone time with the personal touch.

    CSR training programs are quite simple. You don’t need elaborate monitoring equipment. Simply use a cassette recorder and some basic monitoring equipment you can buy at Radio Shack to record CSRs’ calls for a day, then listen to the tapes. Break the reps into teams of three or four and sit in a room together and listen to the day’s calls. Teach the reps to listen actively and objectively to the calls.

    Let them coach each other on the cues and buying signals that sometimes get missed in real time. If you spot a missed buying signal, stop the tape — I encourage all of the reps in the group to stop the tape if they hear something — and role-play how the rep could’ve made a difference in converting the call.

    Set up contests during the training process for the individual CSR and training team that generates the highest conversion rates. Drill the reps on making sure to be gentle and not pushy, as it’s human nature to get more aggressive to win a contest. Stress the quality of the relationship with the customer as well as the quantity of the order.

    Using this simple technique at one company I worked with, we increased conversion rates by as much as 20 percent. Also, by fostering an atmosphere of teamwork and healthy competition, we increased the enthusiasm and morale in its call center as well.

    Train CSRs to seek out opportunities to cross-sell effectively. Let your reps know which items complement each other, and coach them on the art of cross-selling. Truth is, sometimes all it takes is a suggestion, something like, “Do you know, Ms. Jones, that we have a beautiful top that complements the shorts you’re purchasing today?”

    What Multichannel, Direct and Ecommerce Marketers Can Learn From the Way Old-School Retailers Do Business


    This week I want to tell you a story, and pay tribute to a local businessperson who recently passed away.

    I don’t live in a particularly small town (about 200,000 residents), but for the last 16 years — since I moved to Florida — I’ve been a regular patron at Howards, a local gourmet market named after its founder.

    After a brief illness, Howard passed away on July 5. I found out the next day when I walked into the market and saw the looks on the employees’ faces. One look and I knew something was very wrong. In a short period of time, I saw quite a few people weeping — both employees and patrons.

    On the TV monitor over the register a tribute was playing to the owner in a loop. I offered my condolences to some of the long-time employees, paid and left. As I walked to my car, I started to tear up, too. Now I’m not a particularly weepy person, so I found it odd that I started to cry.

    But this man, and the business he’d built, had been a part of my daily life for a long time. The store would hold classic car shows, July 4th fireworks and more in its parking lot. When there was a hurricane, Howards stayed open to keep the community going.

    I can’t tell you how many parties, BBQs, dinners, etc. my wife and I have enjoyed courtesy of the foods Howards provided.

    And almost every day for 16 years, there was Howard by the front register talking to customers and building relationships with all who entered. He knew my family by name. Even gave my son, who was seven-years-old at the time, a job application to fill out (we had fun with that!)

    So Why Am I Telling You This?
    Think about your company: Do you know your customers by name, or are you just a nameless, faceless entity that people buy product from? How about your staff. Are they, especially your customer service reps (CSRs), connected to your customers? Via how many touchpoints?

    There’s a lot to be learned from your old-school retailer. I wonder on a daily basis how to translate that to my business and clients. From trial and error, I’ve learned and hopefully taught the companies I’ve worked for how to build relationships with their clients. It used to be that people only bought “stuff” from retailers. I tell companies, “People don’t buy from companies, they buy from people.”

    How Does That Translate in the E-Commerce Age?
    Simple! Make sure all of your customer touchpoints “keep it real.” Have your CSRs build relationships with your customers. Send them a surprise email special. Connect via your blog, Facebook page or Twitter account. (Still don’t have these up and running? What are you waiting for?) Push your employees to the forefront. Do stories, biographies and contests revolving around them. Learn to use your website and social media efforts to project a real and personal voice. Respond immediately to complaints, issues, etc.

    I could go on here, but you get the picture. Feel free to use the comments section below to tell us how you connect and engage with your customers. Go for it!

    And Howard … RIP! You’ll be missed!

    Your Call Center is Bleeding! – Connecting the Dots of Your Customer Touchpoints, Part 2


    In part one of this series on customer touchpoints, I defined touchpoints as all the points of contact between your company and its prospects and customers. In part two, I look at one of the two main touchpoints: your call center.

    Before I start any discussion on call center and web results, I always tell clients, “Look out — what you’re about to hear may bruise your egos.” I offer that same warning to you.

    Here goes …

    No matter what company I visit, I always come away with the same thing: They’re not as efficient at converting sales as they could be. I get that knowledge the old-fashioned way: I listen to calls in the call center, and I make a number of test calls externally. I also go to a client company’s website and order a product (or attempt to, in some cases).

    First Off, the Call Center
    There are just too many missed opportunities in the call centers I evaluate. Missed buying signals, missed cues, reps not listening effectively, etc. I also see environments that are too tightly controlled and scripted, and others that are totally unscripted.

    Of course when I tell clients this, often times I get a blank stare, like, “What do you mean my call center sucks? Do you know how much effort I put into technology, people and training there?”

    And sometimes, right there, the messenger gets shot! But in truth, this does happen, and if you’re willing to spend time listening, you’ll hear it too. We reconvene here in two weeks. When we do, I’ll offer some simple call-center training techniques I’ve used to increase sales conversion rates by as much as 20 percent.

    In the mean time, please listen to your calls, make test calls to your call center and soak in as much as you can. You may be in for an eye-opening experience. This is especially true if you’re in another department or are an executive in your company.

    After the call-center training in my next post, I’ll move into web orders and how you’re missing the boat there.

    Oh, and a last point: If you don’t have a call center, you ARE missing sales. We’ll discuss that next week, too.

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