Archive for August, 2011

Targeting the Right Nuts

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Is anything harder than feigning excitement at the horrible media recommendation from a friend or family member? “Bob, I have to tell you, I LOVED that documentary on the feeding habits of squirrels in the greater Nome, Alaska metro area. The director really captured the angst of those squirrels trying to select just the right winter nut to bury.”

The worst part isn’t really hurting their feelings though, is it? It’s the realization that they are going to continue to provide you with bad entertainment suggestions until your life ends, or you unfriend them on Facebook—whichever comes first. The point is the more you get to know about someone, the better you should be able to tailor your message to fit their needs. If Bob really knew me, he’d probably have suggested some new science-fiction movie with laser guns and sword-wielding cats. The same is true of marketing. So for purposes of getting to the point, why don’t we call Bob, LinkedIn and “The Squirrels of Greater Nome,” the email I received this morning.

After I woke up, I rolled out of bed like a freshly minted zombie, grabbed my coffee and checked email on my trusty Blackberry like I do every morning. There were a few things from Twitter, a personal email or two and another email from LinkedIn. The subject of the email from LinkedIn was “Joel, recommended internships for you.” Beyond the lack of appropriate capitalization in the subject, I was completely baffled as to why I received this email. I quickly realized my cobwebs were caused by my late night at school and I got the email because I have my current Master’s program listed on LinkedIn.

That makes sense, but then why am I compelled to blog about this? Well, I’ve provided enough personal and professional information to LinkedIn that I should never have received this needless email. This is particularly true given that the internship leads they sent me were so far outside my area of interests that even Zig Ziglar couldn’t sell me on them.

The quickest way they could have prevented emailing me was to include an age range select on the campaign file. I’m thirty-seven and highly unlikely to be interested in a low paying, or more likely, unpaid internship. Since I supplied LinkedIn my exact birth date, the least they could do is use it in conjunction with their marketing materials to me—also, why didn’t they send me a birthday card? Scratch that, too creepy. I also have a long work history posted on the site, another reason I should have been excluded.

Let’s take a look at some of these great internships in the email:

Long Term Intern-Marketing & Social Media Planner, Symantec, Istanbul – So LinkedIn marketing thinks I might be interested in moving to Istanbul (not Constantinople) for a part-time job?

Marketing Intern, L’Oréal – Russian Federation – No offense to L’Oréal, but until they have their own branded donuts like Glamour magazine, I’m not interested. Also, my Russian is just a tad rusty and by rusty I mean one semester at Kent State thirteen years ago.

Gucci Group Fall Internships – IT/MIS and Finance, Gucci – Greater New York City Area – Okay, so we are in the right country now, but my only experience in high fashion is looking at the same Coach purse with my wife in five different cities before she purchased it. I will give LinkedIn credit since it is actually an MIS position, matching my Master’s program.

Public Relations / Corporate Communications Intern, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia – Greater New York City Area – Jackpot! If anyone has watched me cook Hot Pockets in the microwave and garnish the plate artistically with Cheetos, you’d know I am ready to pack up and go work for Martha Stewart.

To be fair, LinkedIn has no real idea about my personal feelings on the fashion industry and they’d have nothing to suppress in relation to those internship suggestions. However, I have the feeling that someone in the marketing department said to the data keepers, “Send this email out to everyone with a graduation date in the future, they’re all going to love this feature!” Had they taken the time to be a tad more discerning, they might have tightened the target audience to people who are just about to complete an undergraduate degree or in a graduate program that started within a year or two of finishing undergrad.

Just because in-house email marketing is inexpensive doesn’t mean your should throw everything against the wall just to see what sticks. It’s important to properly target your audience and market to the right people, otherwise you risk your audience not just deleting an email as irrelevant, but opting out of your service, or blocking you as spam. Once a potential customer opts out or flags you as spam you lose the opportunity to email them again, so it makes sense to keep your messages relevant to your audience.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to ship a package of acorns to Nome, Alaska.

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The Great Minnesota Tweet Together

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

I’ve got my PTO request slip in my hand and I’m trembling with excitement as I look forward to the start of next week’s Minnesota State Fair. I grew up over two hours from the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, so my experience with fairs until I moved to the Twin Cities was relegated to some smaller fairs comprised of terrible cover bands, undercooked elephant ears and eight despondent goats going through the motions of being goat-like until they could head out to happy hour. Honestly, I’d like to think all my fair experiences before the Minnesota State Fair were kind of like training camp to prepare me for the awesomeness of hundreds of meat products on a stick, giant tractors taken straight from Gulliver’s Travels and real bands reuniting as they try to reclaim their moment in the sun from their one hit song back in 1976. It’s so close I can smell the excitement—or maybe someone just burned some food in the toaster oven in the office kitchen. I don’t know.

The Minnesota State Fair is known as “The Great Minnesota Get-Together” and according to my in-depth research on Wikipedia, it is the third largest state fair in the US. You’d think that an event that seems to set new daily attendance records every year AND has a 90 pound butter sculpture of the head of the newly selected “Princess Kay of the Milky Way” wouldn’t use social media to connect with the 1.7 million people that attended in 2010, but they do. After @MeetingBoy and my wife, @MinnStateFair was one of the first accounts I followed on Twitter. With over 250,000 likes on Facebook and almost another 10,000 on Twitter, the Fair is doing an excellent job of communicating with people attending, running contests, and most importantly, promoting the organizations and events at the Fair.

I’ll admit I don’t engage with the Fair on Facebook, but I do on Twitter. For anyone looking to leverage Twitter for business purposes, I highly recommend checking out their Twitter account. Not only do they push updates and information, but they actively engage people on the platform. Be it replies to people tweeting about the Fair, sharing links to fairground maps, answering random questions, or just making me hungry for new food offerings from vendors, the people behind the @MinnStateFair account do a fantastic job of building a community and engaging it with worthwhile content. While I am quite sure a significant amount of effort is happening in the background to manage the social media interaction for the fair, I think you’ll agree that it’s time well spent. I know it sure beats all the businesses that start a Twitter account, send out three links a day, and call it a social media marketing program.

There are a lot of “gurus” out there that will tell you how to do social media for businesses, organizations and non-profits. They’ll inundate you with an avalanche of advice and even more snake oil. But rarely will they give you a positive example of an organization that isn’t a multi-billion dollar conglomerate. More likely, they will enhance the negative related to a bad social media event and just say “good social media practice is not doing this.” In this instance, the Minnesota State Fair Twitter account is a great example of how to do social media right within a professional context and their page is worth a read, if not a follow.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have at least 30 jokes to write about the Fair for my personal Twitter account and at least 25 of those can’t be about the Miracle of Birth Center.

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Haven’t I Suffered Enough Already?

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Since moving to the Twin Cities five years ago, about 50% of the time when I meet someone and they learn I’m from Cleveland their first question to me is: “How about The Drive?  Or The Fumble? Or The Shot? Or Jose Mesa’s meltdown? Or how Chad Ogea’s name was practically engraved on the 1997 World Series MVP trophy before the Marlins snatched it from your hands?” And most recently, they ask about “The Decision.” Evidently, being a Cleveland sports fan means a lifetime of suffering with a capitalized article to punctuate the pain. And a lot of questions from people who think they are making polite conversation by tearing my soul out and showing it to me. Yet every year I come back for more. Every single painful year.

To enhance the pain, I run the Twin Cities Browns Backers club. That’s right, even in Minnesota there’s a collection (on average about thirty people) of lost souls that line up each week to see what new and original ways our beloved Browns can break our hearts. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I spent thirty of my thirty-seven (gulp!) years in Cleveland and miss it every day. This last weekend, my wife and I had a whirlwind tour of Cleveland. We flew in on Saturday for a wedding and then out after brunch with my parents on Sunday. However, we managed to sneak out of the wedding around eight to watch a pre-season Browns game on one TV with the Indians game on the TV right next to it. As any sports fan knows, it doesn’t ever get any better than that.

With the start of the pre-season, I’m also reminded that I need to start on my duties as president of the Twin Cities club. It isn’t much effort. I make sure the people who just moved to the Twin Cities know where we meet, reply to any inquiries from the Browns and answer any emails I get from club members. It doesn’t take a lot of my time, but it is important to get done timely – something I admittedly struggle with. Another thing I have to deal with is marketing emails, quite a few of them actually. You see, there are over 300 Browns Backer clubs with almost 91,000 members world-wide. Some of those clubs are within shouting distance of the stadium in Cleveland and others are as far-flung as Alaska, England, Germany, and even Afghanistan! Since the club presidents’ email addresses are posted on the Cleveland Browns website, I think you can see how easy it would be to pull those email addresses, and shoot out a note to all the club presidents asking them to forward their products along to their club members.

I’ve received offers for Cleveland Browns branded cow bells, pajamas, overalls, hardhats, dog biscuits, tents, cruises with players, and a myriad of other services, memorabilia and silly stuff that I don’t even care to recount. While the formatting is different, the message is always the same: “My NFL licensed Cleveland Browns pet diapers are the coolest thing since NFL licensed Cleveland Browns sliced bread and I’d love you to pass this thing along to your club members.” What most of the messages are not is CAN-SPAM compliant. And that’s a problem. If your email is reported to the FTC as violating the CAN-SPAM Act, an organization could be liable for fines of up to $16,000 per email. I honestly don’t think an organization selling portable plastic tailgating horseshoes can cover the exposure of one reported violation, let alone 300 of them—even if they are approved by the “American Tailgaiters Association.” (On a complete aside, why do we need an American Tailgaiters Association? Isn’t our Sunday fun structured enough?) It’s usually something basic that causes the violation. Things like not offering a link to opt-out or not having a physical address in the email. Both of which are essential to stay compliant.

All of the companies I get email offers from are small businesses. I don’t blame them for reaching out to me to peddle their wares even if my club is 700 miles away from Cleveland. However, they still need to follow the law and use appropriate marketing techniques. I don’t know if these small businesses even understand that they are required to be CAN-SPAM compliant in all their messaging. Even if you are sitting in a room, copying and pasting messages into one-on-one emails with personalized subject lines, you still need to follow the rules of the CAN-SPAM Act. We don’t have an existing business relationship and we aren’t friends, so if you want to market to me, you need to follow the law. It’s as simple as that. Businesses and Organizations of any size can learn more about the simple rules email marketing is required to follow at the FTC website.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to do a little internet shopping for an NFL licensed Cleveland Browns branded house where I can store all my NFL licensed Cleveland Browns knickknacks.

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Quiet Remorse Codes

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

As many of you who got my out-of-office already knew, I was off in New York City last week meeting the internet and being a fanny-pack wearing tourist. I ate pizza, saw an army of rats, managed not to get too lost on the subway and saw a ton of QR Codes. They were everywhere in their boxy three-eyed black and white glory. I saw them fifty feet high in Times Square, five centimeters high on price tags, and even saw a tattoo parlor that specialized in QR Codes and I got my Twitter link inked (okay not actually true). But the most pervasive place I saw QR Codes was at the “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.

After spending some time reflecting on some amazing paintings by Picasso, Dali and Matisse, then wondering about the artistic merits of “Completely Black Canvas #25” and “Oblong White Paint Splotch On The Floor,” we headed into the very overwhelming Design and Communication display. It was a cross between a traditional glass case collection and an 80’s arcade with beeps, boops and flashing lights around every corner and on every wall. While it was challenging to take it all in, the Museum had done something very interesting with the collection. With each piece’s description, there was a QR Code for further information and a hashtag to use for Twitter, and for one brief moment, I thought I was in geek nirvana.

That joyous feeling quickly faded as I whipped out my trusty Blackberry and hit up my QR Code app. Rather than seamlessly providing me with additional information, the code just failed to load. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if my phone is still loading that first QR Code link. While my Blackberry may be a touch underpowered for web browsing, it should still easily load a page dedicated to a QR Code. Sensing my disappointment, a friend offered me her iPhone. I quickly downloaded a reader and snapped the first code again. The page loaded, after a while, to the tiniest photos ever. Seeing as I had forgotten my monocle in my other pants, I could not really tell what was on my screen. Clearly the website had not been optimized for use with mobile devices, which is disappointing because nowhere in the collection was there a Baby Bjorn for desktop computers with an add-on power supply. It’s a real shame that all the time spent designing the QR Codes and making the additional website content was wasted because it wasn’t set up for use on a mobile device. I tried to load the QR Code for Bat Billboard, and, as you can see, on the desktop it’s a confusing design and would be virtually impossible to manage on a phone.

It’s ironic, and not in the Alanis Morissette sense, that an exhibit designed to illustrate the impact of design on how people interact with communication devices failed to take into account the communication device being used to talk about the exhibit. That’s a mouthful of a sentence but an important lesson. When designing QR Codes the links they lead to can’t be splashy and fancy-pants, instead they need to be simple and effective. I don’t want to wait ninety seconds or more for a forty-five second video to load. At that point, I’m gone and won’t be back. If you are using QR Codes remember the QR stands for Quick Response and not quiet remorse. Your customers, donors or other interested parties don’t expect them to be a hassle. They want information now and they want it to be pertinent.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go hunting for a tattoo removal specialist.

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