Archive for the ‘Business Tips’ Category

It might be raining, but my teeth are sunny

Monday, July 16th, 2012

At some point during my glorious ten-day raincation in England, I received a voicemail on my cell phone from an Ohio dental company regarding open enrollment. After 15 minutes of dumb jokes to my wife about how ironic it was to get a call from a dental practice while I was in Britain, something struck me as odd. The call came from a North Carolina phone number, and it came to my cell phone that has a Cleveland area code. In other words, it violated the FTC’s Do Not Call policies because it clearly came from an autodialer hitting up all phone numbers by area code without any intelligence backing it. Naughty!

Now, next to clean teeth, nothing makes me smile more than when I don’t get unwanted solicitations on my cell phone. That said, the prospect of traveling over 700 miles for dental care is a little excessive, even for a sparkling smile. The call was annoying, but frankly I’m probably not going to report it to the FTC. What really stuck in my craw, or got my goat, or even shimmied my scarecrow, is that they assumed my interest in their offering was based solely on the area code of my phone and not my physical location—but more on that later.

Maybe I could head over to Cleveland to get my teeth cleaned before I hit up a Browns game. Then at least I could take advantage of the season ticket offer my wife got by phone a while back. She had purchased tickets to a Cleveland Browns game (I have the best wife ever) when we traveled home for Thanksgiving, which put us on the call list for season ticket campaigns even though we live in Minnesota. Now I love the Browns like Charlie Brown loves trying to kick a football, but I can’t afford to purchase season tickets and fly to every Browns game. I mean, I’m doing okay, but I’m no Mitt Romney. All of these instances exemplify the fact that these organizations failed to use geographic data from a prospect or customer’s address to refine their target audience.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, our historical assumptions about where someone may live are not necessarily still valid. I can call my parents on a phone with the same area code as theirs while no longer living close enough for surprise visits. I can also have four email addresses (or more depending on how many Facebook wants to give me without asking first) that are likely tied to my home address (or at least zip code) in some fashion – from buying things online to signing up for the Chicago Tribune so I can read Rex Huppke, America’s most beloved workplace columnist. With my cellphone, my physical address is even more intimately tied to my home address. The reality is that no matter where I am, if someone wants to market to me, there should be a home or business address associated with my account even if they aren’t going to send mail to me.

Reputable email marketing compilers, as well as telemarketing firms, typically have more than an email address or phone number when selling their services. It’s essential to include geography when determining who to call or email. We tend to think that because email is “cheap,” you can just send out a message to anyone and everyone and see what sticks. For some services that’s great, but if you want me to go see a Pixies concert in Toledo, you are wasting my time and your goodwill, and if you want me to see Nickelback anywhere, don’t hold your breath.

It’s important to think through a campaign and make sure you are reaching not only the right people, but the right people in the right location.  It isn’t hard to make that assumption and then you don’t end up trying to sell Chargers tickets to a Chiefs blogger who lives in Brooklyn.  I can’t think of any marketer that wants to see their multi-billion dollar organization making it into a blog because they failed to do the simple things during a marketing campaign.  Every marketing campaign needs to respect the importance of geographic data to be a success, or at least to ensure examples like this don’t end up being an educational tool for the rest of us.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take advantage of this great deal on a haircut and manicure in Peoria.

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This Blanket Has Klout

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

A little while ago Klout, an organization that scores individuals based on their perceived social media influence, changed their algorithm for measuring that influence. For two weeks or so after the change, the Social Media Gurus were abuzz blogging non-stop about how they were no longer going to spend any time talking or writing about Klout (and the irony of blogging about not blogging wasn’t lost on me). While there is a lot of excitement about using “Big Data” from social media to target potential customers, in reality, any tool that claims to measure social media influence is going to be fraught with problems and misconceptions about its value. There is an inherent struggle to interpret the massive amount of information being shared through mediums such as Twitter and Facebook, and contextualize the meaning of what is being said.

For example, Klout proposes that I am influential not only on topics such as humor and beer (no surprise there), but also tea, parties, and cats – which may actually categorize me as someone thirty years my junior, and a girl. While technology is helping us to slice and dice larger and larger volumes of data at an ever increasing rate, without the human impact of analysis, there will always be shortcomings to any system that purports to provide strong analysis of social media interactions. There should be excitement for marketers with services like Klout, but that energy needs to be tempered with an understanding that any information from “Big Data” is likely to be flawed because of the sheer volume of information processed and the inherent challenges of understanding it.

Klout’s premise is that social media has “democratized influence” and that applications like theirs can help you to isolate the appropriate influencers who can help drive a valuable return on marketing dollars. In other words, instead of wandering around in the dark sending messages to every potential customer, you can find key people on various social media platforms and let them do the heavy lifting for you.

Here’s one example of this mindset. I was recently offered a free fleece dog blanket from Subaru as a Perk from Klout. While I don’t own a dog, or a Subaru in which to comfortably place a dog on a fleece blanket, the intent was probably to get me talking about Subaru to the people I communicate with on social networks. So even though I didn’t get a blanket, here I am using this example, so I suppose it actually worked. Now can I retroactively have my blanket please? I know it isn’t a lucrative as the payout a vapid reality star gets to attend a party, but free stuff is free stuff.

So on one level, their marketing ploy worked even if I didn’t get a blanket. I had Subaru at the top of mind and told the story of how they wanted to give me a free doggie blanket to talk about them. Interestingly enough, there’s a lot of interaction on the Subaru twitter page and even a few conversations about the blanket. So for their organization, it makes sense to extend their marketing to reach out to influencers that aren’t engaged with their brand. However, for many businesses (especially smaller ones) this might not make sense. There’s significantly more value in reaching out to your own followers and creating positive shared experiences than in trying to reach out to people who aren’t already willing advocates of your brand. When planning a marketing campaign, it’s easy to get distracted by the new, bright and shiny toy and ignore what has already made your organization successful.

It's unbelievable that EMF still exists.

I speak from experience when I say I’ve reached out to companies on Twitter, said positive things and they haven’t felt the need to respond. While on the other hand, I had a one-hit wonder band comment to me humorously after I made a dumb joke about them (EMF for those of you old enough to remember them). So the question is: how many times can you ignore your “arbitrarily calculated” influential customers on a social media platform while spending money encouraging new influencers to promote your brand? I think the example from Subaru, being heavily invested in responding to their customers, seems to be the exception to the way many organizations treat Twitter and Facebook. Am I more likely to keep saying nice things about companies or organizations that make me feel good in return, or will I just give up? If you are serious about growing your business outside of traditional or historical marketing channels, you need to evaluate your customer acquisition strategies beyond the latest and greatest product a social media company is trying to sell you, and look at people who already appreciate your organization enough to want to engage you on one of the many social media platforms.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a Corgi and a Forrester so I’ll have a place to keep my new fleece blanket.

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Hairless QR Codes

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

The six of you that faithfully read this blog may remember that last summer I traveled to New York and was inundated with QR codes and felt the need to share my disappointing experience at the Museum of Modern Art. I’ve thought a lot about QR codes since then, but didn’t feel compelled to write about them (there’s enough hyperbole being typed about them already) until a coworker sent me an interesting article from Shelly Bernstein, the Chief of Technology at the Brooklyn Museum. QR in the New Year? is worth a read if only to get a thoughtful story beyond the statistics and rationale for using QR codes.

Her results, much like my experiences as an end user, were mixed. She explains, “So, I think what we end up with is simply a project that isn’t an overwhelming success or failure.” That’s a pretty blah result and hardly a motivation to keep plugging away with the effort involved to manage information for the mobile market. So if her results were mediocre with a concerted effort to make them useful to the museum consumer, why are they being slapped on everything from rental cars to bald spots? Okay maybe not bald spots yet, but if Google Earth is looking to advertise, I’ve got a large available space. Call me.

I can just see the meeting right now.

“Hey Bob, what do you know about QR codes?”

“Not much, but I hear the kids love them as much as they love the Twitter.”

“Well, we don’t have a budget for it, but let’s slap a bunch of them on our marketing materials and have ‘em link back to the main page of our website. It’ll be great!”

Six months later they don’t understand why people aren’t scanning them.

A new article from BizReport explains how people are interacting with QR codes and they found the following scan rates. “Newspapers and magazines are where most QR Codes are being found and scanned (35%) followed by on packages (18%) and on websites (13%). Surprisingly few were scanned from billboards (11%) or a piece of direct mail (11%).”

This makes sense to me, but the one I don’t get at all is the 13% that scanned on websites. If you are sitting at a desktop, laptop or using a tablet, why in the world would you whip out your mobile device to scan a QR code on a website to see a smaller version of where you already are? It would be like printing a tiny map on a highway sign. I don’t quite understand the logic there. When I was in New York City, I struggled getting a good angle to scan a billboard QR code, and if they were implemented on roads Burma Shave style, I’d be concerned about people accidently mowing down cows that have liberated themselves from an idyllic Midwestern pasture. According to Ad Age, some of the other interesting places QR codes have appeared are in the subway (with no cell reception) and on in-flight magazines where even Alec Baldwin isn’t allowed to have internet service to play Words with Friends. Finally, and possibly my favorite, MillerCoors teamed with some Seattle bars to allow patrons to scan a QR code and get a cab. While well meaning and a great experiment, the manual dexterity required to operate a smart phone was a little too much after a few frosty brews—which probably also explains why Apple keeps forgetting iPhone prototypes in bars.

The Ad Age piece continues to explain, “Experts cite three reasons that QR codes haven’t caught on. First, people are confused about how to scan them. Two, there’s little uniformity among the apps required to read them. Last, some who have tried the technology were dissuaded by codes that offer little useful information or simply redirect the user to the company’s website.”

I think the third part of this argument is the most compelling because people will eventually figure out the first one, and the second will shake out as the technology advances. If you want a QR code campaign to be successful it really needs to consider three factors. It needs to be optimized for mobile platforms. My Museum of Modern Art experience illustrates this. It was nice to have the QR codes, but I couldn’t get information to load on a Blackberry or iPhone because the landing page was too complex to be managed by most smartphones. QR codes should be used sparingly. Marketers should not just slap them on everything because that’s what the cool kids are doing. If all your advertising, products and collateral have a QR code that leads back to the main page of your website, not much is accomplished except annoying your potential customer. Which leads into my final point, QR codes need to have a purpose. Lead users to product reviews, or give us a coupon (but just one because how are we supposed to manage them all on a phone), or provide something of value. Make the pause required to pull out the phone, select the app, and wait for the camera to scan worth something. If the code provides value, people will keep using it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to wash this black Sharpie QR code off my bald spot.

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Let Me Google That Sweater For You

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

I’ll be upfront about two things in this blog post. One, I don’t know the first thing about search engine marketing. Two, I sadly do not have my own ugly Christmas sweater. But if you put a discussion of both of these things together in one blog, I’m probably going to read it. This morning it actually happened when I came across an article from Multichannel Merchant about paid search results and ugly sweaters.

A little background – the closest thing I have to a holiday sweater is a dark green wool one I bought back in 1998. I love this sweater. Despite the worn spots on the elbows and the random holes in it, I’ll probably wear it until my wife insists I burn it, or someone furtively sneaks into my closet and makes it “disappear” Godfather-style (think of waking up one morning with just a sleeve in the bed). Beyond that, my holiday-sweater experience is limited to what Hollywood believes flyover country people wear everyday in the winter, my mom’s appliqué holiday sweatshirts, and that freaky clown sweater Wil Wheaton was photographed wearing. An informal, yet scientific poll of the three people on Twitter who responded to my inquiry reports that 66% of people own ugly Christmas sweaters because they get invited to ugly sweater holiday parties. However, 33% of people do seem to enjoy the sweaters simply for their festive nature.

To get back to the point at hand, Google search activity for “Christmas Sweater” and “Ugly Christmas Sweater” has increased since 2008, which may be when American hipsters decided that you could wear festive sweaters ironically with skinny jeans. Because of that, different companies have come up with web advertising search strategies to take advantage of the annual spike in interest. In particular, the article discusses six companies using paid search to target those looking for such a sweater. Four of these companies then link to their Christmas sweaters. The other two don’t link to a googly-eyed Santa staring out into the holiday expanse; in fact they don’t even sell something in a wool or poly-cotton blend. The strategy of the latter companies not even selling Christmas sweaters is what interests me. For the person searching, it must be like going to the vending machine for a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and finding only off-brand bags of party mix. Or even worse, looking for a new and amazing brunch spot in the Twin Cities and getting ads for a gas station breakfast sandwich — a somewhat acceptable substitute, if you are willing to leave your pride at home. Is the short term benefit from purchasing unrelated search for non-existent products worth the long-term potential hit of turning off customers?

This leads me to the essential question the author, Tim Parry, asks: “Is this a good practice because it blocks retailers that sell Christmas sweaters from getting visibility, or is it a bad practice because the consumer clicks and doesn’t get a Christmas sweater?”
Most of my holiday shopping is done at the panicked last minute. I can just imagine my frustration if I were to use Google to search for that much needed holiday sweater shipped second-day air, but instead was led to one of these companies that had no holiday sweaters at all. I highly doubt that my heart would grow three sizes that day. Rather, I’d probably hurl a few choice words about these companies at my cat, who would just shrug and continue to groom herself. In other words, paying for ads with search terms not specifically related to what you are selling seems a bit disingenuous.
I don’t know that I’d call this paid search tactic deceptive, but it certainly isn’t the type of thing I’d want to experience as I make a mad dash from website to website trying to find the perfect mix of functional, festive, wooly and ugly. But if it actually works, I doubt you can blame companies for using the marketing tactic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a bright red tie that plays Jingle Bells.

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Count Von Count’s Guide To Marketing

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

In an undisclosed location, a wrinkly old tuxedo clad man in his underground bunker turns away from his technologically impossible command center and with a twinkle in his eye cackles to the heavens, “MORE MAIL! WE MUST SEND THEM MORE MAIL! BWAHAHAHAHA!”

That is probably the likely Hollywood perception most people have about how advertising mail gets to their door. The reality is much different. Most marketers aren’t interested in spending money to reach you if there isn’t any potential opportunity for you to buy. Even with a decline of twenty percent in mail volumes over the last five years, direct mail is still an effective method of reaching customers, and during the holiday season, most people do expect to see a spike in the amount of direct mail they receive.

However, sometimes there’s a real head scratcher of a campaign.

Since the first day of November, someone who hasn’t lived in our house for at least a decade, my wife, and I have all received the following mail from a single retail organization:

One Fall Sales Catalogue
Three $10 off In-Store Offers
Three Oversized Postcards
Two Black Friday Sneak Peek Offers

For those fans of Count Von Count it’s, “One! Two! Nine! Nine pieces of mail in fourteen days!” That’s a LOT of “pennies” if you get my meaning.

I suspect that the individual who doesn’t live with us (unless we have a secret room that I don’t know about which would be super cool!), is either a store card holder or former good customer based on the offers she has been receiving, while my wife and I are coming from a consumer list rental.

If you are curious as to why we’d be getting all these pieces, it’s probably not coming from an underground lair, but rather a company not thinking through the data aspects of their direct mail process. In other words, having good data is as important to the return on investment of a marketing campaign as a good offer and festive creative design.

One way to save money is to make sure you aren’t sending multiple copies of the same offer to one house through a process called duplicate elimination. When removing duplicates from a data file or set of files you really have three options. You can eliminate duplicates per person (first name, last name and address), by household, (last name and address) or simply by address. As you might guess, those different levels of matching will provide different results. In this instance, if our mysterious retail organization is even doing duplicate elimination between files, they are likely using per person or household matching. Since my wife and I have different last names and our secretive stranger has a different surname too, those two match levels would not identify us as duplicate records ensuring that we get each piece of mail multiple times.

Any organization doing direct mail needs to consider if they really want to send multiple mail pieces with the same offer to the same address. Sometimes I’m sure it makes sense, but in this instance it’s just annoying. It’s also expensive. Even at an average of fifty cents a piece for printing and postage, the retailer spent seven dollars to send us these nine pieces when they should have sent us only three. If they made the same mistake with only 20,000 households nationally, that’s $110,000 spent to inundate us with extra mail. That’s enough to make any bean counter looking at the bottom line cringe. An organization can spend all the time in the world creating the perfect offer but if they don’t do their due diligence managing their data, they are wasting money and decreasing their return on investment.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a couple of names at my address on some beer mailing lists.

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Someone Blogged about Direct Mail *Gasp*

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

“It just makes cents to save a few bucks.” A quick Google search tells me no one has said this before, but I find it hard to believe a pun this good has been passed up. Anyway, you don’t have to get an A in accounting to know that the two ways to increase your profit is either sell more, or spend less while generating the same revenue. It’s important to spend your sales and marketing money wisely to get the best return on your investment. Despite what you may have heard from social media or electronic marketers telling you that direct mail has little value, getting something in the mail is still a great way to reach prospects or introduce existing customers to new services. Or, if you are Delta Airlines and American Express, introduce current customers to services they already have.

Yes, I said that correctly.

It seems that about every six weeks, I get a really shiny fancy-pants offer in the mail co-signed by bigwig marketers from Delta and Amex about all the benefits of signing up for the Delta SkyMiles American Express card. It’s a great offer, provides plenty of features, and, as Rick Vaughn in Major League says, “it keeps us from getting shut out at our favorite hotels and restaurant-type places.” I’d be all for getting this card, except I already have one. It’s been nearly two years since the wife signed us up and we use the card religiously at all of those restaurant-type places.

But Joel, why don’t you just drop it in the recycling bin and be quiet about it? Because direct mail can be expensive and sending out pieces to people who already have your product doesn’t make good business sense.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that between design, printing, materials, labor, and postage that it costs about one dollar to mail each piece (maybe that’s a little high or low, but it makes the math easier). If they send out 250,000 pieces, and even if 5% are people who already have the card, they’re wasting $12,500 per mailing. If they mail eight times a year their marketing departments are spending $100,000 to reach customers that already have their product. Maybe the lifetime value of an American Express customer more than makes up for those marketing losses, but I’m guessing no company gets to that level of success by wasting $100,000 annually without trying to fix the problem.

Since my wife doesn’t get the same offers, my guess is that American Express and Delta match two files. One is the universe of people with SkyMiles numbers and the other is a file of SkyMiles numbers that are associated with an Amex card. Any records that don’t match and reach a credit score threshold get a mailer. However, this process fails to recognize joint-card accounts like my wife and I enjoy. Given the annual fee associated with this card, I’m assuming that many households similarly have joint cardholders. Given this fact, it would probably be much more effective for them to do their matching at the address level rather than at the name or SkyMiles level, which they are presently doing. Soliciting present joint-account holders is very unlikely to lead to new customers.

As with many examples, it’s easy to shrug off the “big company problem.” But if you are a small non-profit and have a correspondingly small marketing budget, you probably don’t want to waste a penny of your marketing dollars sending multiple mailers to one household. There are many ways to look at your customer list and determine the most effective way to reach the people you want, and it’s significantly cheaper to scrub your list for duplicates than it is to send them mail.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go call a guy about trademarking that “cents” intro.

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Ten Things I Think I Think I Think

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

I was perusing the social media thinkers on the wide-wide-world-of-web and learned that I’ve been blogging all wrong. My rambling stories that take at least eighteen hours to get to the point are not the way to engage readers (I know right!). I need to use little words, short sentences, small ideas, and lists. We must have lists! Lists are shareable. Long-winded stories are what you tell over a beer while everyone at the table furtively hides their stifled yawns. Let’s make everything easily consumable, requiring minimal thought and be so bland that it will be forgotten tomorrow when we read the next vanilla article on the same topic. I’m going to give this a try.

Here’s my list and it doesn’t have anything at all do to with my introduction.

1. While short daily blog posts are certainly one way to engage your audience, it isn’t the only way. Please stop telling us that it is. It’s clear that many people, regardless of the industry, feel the need to write something daily and their quality of work suffers significantly. I’d like to think I have a decent idea weekly, a good idea once a month and a great idea rarely—all those bad ideas I have each day, I don’t need to share.

2. Use the medium in question or don’t bother. If your organization’s Twitter strategy is only to send people to Facebook or your blog, then you are missing the point. Tailor your message to the tool you are using and stop asking us to go three different places to get some information.

3. Direct Mail is still a great way to reach your customers. However, if you’d like people to drop a couple of grand on some computer gear, you might want to make sure that letter arrives more than six hours before the deal expires. I’m guessing people like to think about these things before pulling the trigger. Direct Mail requires a lot more planning than simply emailing out today’s deals. Think through your offer before you slap on a stamp.

4. Three social media gurus walk into a bar. The bartender asks, “What’ll you have?” The three ignore him, just talk to each other for an hour, and call the night a successful engagement.

5. If you blog about the value of using Twitter and the only people who read it already use Twitter, did you really have a point? I understand pandering to your base audience, but if you want to be influential, you need to influence people beyond getting some folks to nod in agreement.

6. I still really like Google+. It’s so quiet and peaceful there because no one is using it.

7. I love Peter Shankman’s article I Will Never Hire a “Social Media Expert,” and Neither Should You. Any human being who includes this sentence, “BAD WRITING IS KILLING AMERICA,” is a hero in my book.

8. Hyperbole has become mundane. Bump the excitement down a notch and give us more analysis and less hype.

9. Social Media gives you the opportunity to develop your “Personal Brand.” However, this doesn’t mean you are required to link all of your accounts to work, although you certainly can. But remember it is called Social Media and not Work Media.

10. I really don’t believe your organization is out of business if you don’t email me EVERY SINGLE DAY (unless your company is named Borders). How about giving me (your customer) an option to get daily, weekly, monthly, or holiday-only emails? It’s not that I don’t want you to market to me; it’s that I don’t want you to market to me so much.

Whew! Apparently I can’t even write a short article using lists.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be busy thinking about how to turn this list up to eleven.

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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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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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