Archive for the ‘Direct Marketing’ Category

Will You Be Fired For Commenting On This At Work?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

I’ve been an active member of various internet communities dating back to the fall of 2000. In full disclosure, when I had a lot more anonymity on the web, I posted a lot of things that might fall into a grey area in terms of appropriate communication for 2010 where social media has blurred the lines between private and work life. Fortunately, my internet handle back then was pretty general, and, given the volume of internet chatter, it would be exceedingly hard and time consuming to attribute that “bad” stuff to me. While my membership and participation in multiple social media sites has increased dramatically since 2008, my internet presence has been consolidated. With one quick search, you can find me at Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, this work blog, and hopefully in the near future, my personal blog with The Wife. It’s a far cry from posting on forums where the only thing to narrow me down was my self-listed location the “the best location in the nation.”

I know that part of the hiring process at Lorton Data involved a general search of my internet presence and what type of image my digital self portrays to the world. Today, beyond a few pictures of me at Halloween playing Rock Band with my hair dyed green, I can’t think of anything too questionable. Maybe there’s a political rant on Facebook, or a photo of me enjoying a tasty adult beverage in a legally approved setting. However, if Skynet is watching closely, I could be one ill-advised tweet away from employment oblivion (queue dramatic music). Each time I post to Twitter or Facebook I have to be aware that there could be business ramifications to what I have to say. While I highly doubt I’ll do anything to jeopardize my career, I need to be cognizant of my words before I click send.

Do a quick search on Google for the words ‘Facebook” and “Fired.” It’s okay, I’ll wait. You’ll see at least 16,000,000 hits. That’s a lot of words dedicated to the topic. You can read everything from posts about people being fired for using Facebook at work, to employers screening job applicants on social media sites, to advice on whether to add your boss as a friend. On a side note, I did friend my boss on Facebook and the only problem I have is the application keeps suggesting I reconnect with him. No offense Ray, but the 8-9 hours a day I spend with you is ample! Regardless, there’s a significant gap between the expectations of businesses and individuals when it comes to social media and how people interact outside of work.

I’ve dropped over 400 words without discussing anything really useful or new to the conversation, so it’s time to switch gears. We have three conflicting issues that need to be addressed as businesses and individuals adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the internet and social media applications.

1. Anonymity

We are no longer talking about issues of privacy in the new digital landscape. We gave that up when we agreed to the terms of Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. Maybe we didn’t with Google Buzz, but I’ve addressed that already. Instead, most people are looking for internet anonymity. We want to be able to communicate with our friends, family and a limited number co-workers without being noticed by the outside world. Based on the volume of ones and zeros dedicated to this topic, anonymity isn’t necessarily working out as we might have assumed.

2. Social Media Policies for Businesses and Organizations

Let’s not talk about usage at work, but rather what the business feels is appropriate for promoting their image. The rules don’t have to be Draconian, but if you want to give a pink slip to someone for inappropriate online behavior, don’t play “guess what’s behind my back.” It shouldn’t be a moving target. I understand it isn’t necessarily obvious what rules need to be in place, but build a framework. That way everyone is on the same page and there are no surprises when a policy is violated. If an organization doesn’t have a social media policy in place, they should be hands off on what people do on the web when they aren’t at work. That seems pretty reasonable to me.

3. Monitoring Employee Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and Blogs

Monitoring these social marketing tools that people use outside of work brings up a myriad of philosophical and ethical questions. While someone blowing off steam about work on Facebook might not be appropriate, does it really warrant a discussion or an immediate axing? The Philadelphia Eagles fired a stadium gate employee for using Facebook to complain about letting a player go to another team. Based the Eagles’ response, clearly this guy was an important media influencer. Maybe a short discussion would have been more appropriate? Of course it depends on the situation, but employers having carte blanche over an employee’s personal life really reeks of a Big Brother mentality.

Many organizations are making the rules up as they go along, and that is okay. A little ambiguity doesn’t hurt. Just make sure to have some type of policy in place and that it is clearly communicated to your teams. If you are an employee wondering about something you want to share on Facebook, Linked In or Twitter—think about whether the end result would likely be a call from your mother guilting you for your behavior. If it would, don’t do it. A little common sense by individuals, and appropriate organization guidelines can function cohesively to reduce problems while standards and norms develop in regard to social media in a corporate context.

I won’t let you friend me on Facebook if I don’t know you, but you can connect to me on Linked In. If you aren’t into the whole professional thing, follow me on Twitter @ FlyoverJoel where I assure you I won’t be talking about work.

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Take My Wife Money. Please!

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

It’s a simple premise. You are doing something good and I want to give you money or time to help your cause. Make it easy for me to do so. Since the Wife and I can’t afford to be professional philanthropists, we donate time or money when we can to help worthwhile causes. We’ve found several in the last year that we wanted to help, but our offers seemed to have fallen into the giant black hole of the internet.

I talk quite a bit about finding customers on this blog, but I haven’t spent much time discussing what to do when you find them. Getting the worm on the hook is actually the hard part. Don’t stare blankly at the fish when you get it out of the water.

At Christmas time every year, one of the Twin Cities emergency response groups takes underprivileged children to the local Target stores for some holiday shopping and cheer. The Wife and I believe this is a good cause for two reasons. First, it helps children that might not have a holiday to experience the joys of giving. Second, it gets those workers into the community and interacting with their constituents in a positive situation. Community interaction and good PR can’t hurt any group in their position.

Two years ago we donated directly to the fund, when we were at Target. It was easy to hand over some money and get our names added to their mailing list with the thought that we could annually contribute to these activities. Next holiday season no mailing came to us. There was no information on the web about it. We still wanted to help, so I did the next best thing. I sent an email to their general inquiry email address asking to be directed to an appropriate resource so I could find out more information. Since this address isn’t used to report fires or muggings, I assumed, incorrectly it turned out, that someone would take the time to help get me to where I need. I expected it might take a few days to get response, but I was sure we would get some type of reply – after all we were going to give them money. A year later I am still waiting to hear back.

Another example is a little more current. Recently, one of my favorite professors from my undergraduate institution passed away. The alumni office set up a memorial fund in his honor, and since I hadn’t really been able to donate to my college in the past, I figured this would be a good time to start. I sent a quick email on 2/11/2010 to alumni relations asking on how I could give to the memorial fund. Over two weeks later I am still waiting on a response. As most of us can agree, an Alumni office at every institution in the country is looking for more ways to increase donations, why won’t they tell me how they can take my money?

Take a quick mental inventory of your company. What procedures do you have in place to take care of general inquires? What importance do you place on your info@, sales@ or support@ email addresses? Or your feedback and contact forms? Do you get so few emails to those addresses that no one remembers to check them? Are you so focused on outbound marketing that you forget to collect the communications reaching out to you, seeking your services, your products?

When you institute an email policy for general mailboxes keep the following things in mind:
1. Are you forwarding those notes to a group of people, or are you relying on one individual to monitor those communications? If they take a vacation do they have a backup?
2. Do the individuals responding to those emails have a stake in the questions being asked? Are they willing to route communications to the appropriate resources?
3. Is the in-box so inundated with spam that legitimate requests are missed?

I could probably ask a hundred more questions, but I implore you to think about how your organization has implemented general inquiry email addresses. Taking the time to implement a smart system for inbound inquiries makes good business sense. A potential customer that declines to do business when you first reach out to them may nonetheless do business with you in the future. If you fail to respond to a potential customer, when they reach out to you – that customer is likely lost forever.

The point is simple. Any avenue of communication your potential customers or donors have to reach you is important. Let me give you my money. Seriously. All you have to do is hit reply.

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A Bark Worse Than the Bite?

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Or should I say the Buzz is worse than the Sting? Sorry for the bad pun. On the drive in this morning it was the snappiest lead-in I could conjure other than FizzyFuzzy Big & Buzzy. And I know the reference to a one-hit-wonder band from 1996 would probably be lost on nearly everyone.

If you’ve spent any time on the interwebs in the last week you have to be aware of the controversy surrounding Google Buzz and the serious complaints regarding the privacy violations of Gmail users. This includes a class action lawsuit filed on Wednesday. If you have been under a rock, or only get your news from the Lorton Data Blog (unlikely) here is a quick summary. Google released a product called Google Buzz to directly compete with social media products like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace (okay, there really isn’t a need to compete with MySpace). Since social media products only look snazzy when you have lots of interaction, Google automatically opted in every single Gmail account and made their contact lists public! That’s 31.2 million users. To put this in perspective, it’s as if Google released the names and contact information for every single person in Canada over the age of five and to whom they communicate. That’s family, friends, business associates, current and former significant others, association members, your kid’s hockey team, curling buddies, attorneys and everyone else you can think of. It’s an understatement to say that those are pretty serious privacy and security principles to overlook. Normally, I’d make a reference to SkyNet here, but The Consumerist beat me to the punch.

Here’s what I don’t get. At Lorton Data, I get worried if I go fifteen minutes without hearing the words: ‘security,’ ‘privacy,’ ‘coffee’ and ‘more.’ As an organization, we are trusted with private and confidential information all day long, and often late into the night. With our recently completed SAS 70 process, security and privacy discussions have become even more focused. If you have private information on a population the size of Canada, how do you overlook the basic idea that it would be nice to allow people to consent before their private communication lists are nakedly exposed to the rest of the country? If I get itchy running National Change of Address on a mailing list for the International Red Swingline Enthusiasts of Walla Walla, Washington, how come no one at Google thought this might be a bad idea?

With Facebook, I don’t always appreciate, but I do understand their attitude toward privacy. Notions of privacy have changed and what was once considered strictly private is now welcome in the public sphere. We’ve opted in to Facebook with the understanding that we can share information with others in our network, and with their ever-evolving privacy policy we’ll continue to share more than we may have anticipated originally. That’s an inherent risk we have to accept to play Bejeweled Blitz and look at photos of our friends’ new babies.

Google and Gmail are a different entity entirely. While Facebook tightropes the line between private and public spaces, we have an assumed anonymity and privacy with email. We expect our communication to go from the sender to the receiver without anyone else peeking in to that communication. We also expect that when we click send, no one else knows who we are writing to unless we choose to tell someone about it. That’s normally over a beer at the bar, not shared with enough people to replace nearly everyone up north. While I love my soccer, kickball and broomball teammates, the people the wife and I invited to our wedding, my Brown’s Backers Club, my city, state and county government contacts and the myriad of attorneys I know; you don’t need to know that I am emailing them. If you want to know who I am connected to, friend me on Facebook or on LinkedIn. At least then, I’ll know and understand the social contract we are entering.

I am happy to use Gmail for my email. Google is really good at that. But given what’s happened with their first foray into competitive social media, I’d say they aren’t very good at understanding that there are still expected limits on privacy and confidentiality in these digital times.

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On Demand Pineapple

Monday, January 18th, 2010

We’ve been throwing out lots of words around the office lately: Distributed Computing, Software as a Service (SaaS), Pineapple, Cloud Computing, On Demand. To many people, those are just words. They float around with little bits of meaning, but they are not really concrete ideas associated with a current technology environment. Most people want to turn on their computer, generate emails and spreadsheets, check Facebook and have everything work. We don’t really want to think about what’s behind the scenes. So when a company like mine releases an on demand direct mail solution called A-Qua Mailer, many people are just hearing words and not getting the point of how cool this A-Qua Mailer “thingy” really is.

Let’s try to demystify the concept of cloud computing. If I suggested that you close your eyes and imagine for a second, it probably won’t be good for productivity, so keep them open and pretend that you run a small business. We will call it I Need Pants, Inc. and you provide Pant Solutions to a myriad of verticals in the bodily attire market (wait a minute, I think I just delved too heavily into marketing speak). So you make pants and every time a customer orders pants you put them in a box, and send them off for delivery. It doesn’t matter if your customer is down the road or across the country. Maybe you have ten deliveries a day, maybe a hundred, but you have a fleet of drivers to deliver each package. That seems pretty silly, doesn’t it? A driver and a vehicle for each package? Do you have any idea how much it costs to park a car in downtown Minneapolis? In reality you’d call UPS and a dude in brown shorts and socks (even in winter, this is Minnesota) will come pick up all your packages, and your products will “automagically” arrive at your customer’s location. Pretty cool, right?

Scenario one is a simplistic explanation of what actually happens in a typical IT infrastructure. At the enterprise level, a different server controls each function of the business. Maybe one runs your CRM, another controls your invoicing system, a third ensures you have email, a fourth gives you access to the interwebs, and server five controls inventory, and so on and so forth. It’s like having a fleet of cars and a bunch of grizzled mechanics trying to keep them on the highway so you can deliver each box of pants separately. It’s not efficient and it’s not cheap. And if you’ve ever been in an overcrowded data center, you know it is hot enough to bake fresh cookies.

Internally we use a UPS driver to power our CRM. Actually, we use a pretty cool SaaS solution called SugarCRM. SugarCRM gives us all the flexibility of having an in-house CRM tool, without having to pay for all the equipment and maintenance needed to implement and run it ourselves. Our IT team is busy enough and this keeps them from getting too cranky. The best part for us, is that we actually only pay for what we use. We don’t have to pay for software to maintain, and we don’t pay a king’s ransom for an enterprise license. Instead, every time we add a sales rep we add an additional user (or seat) license to access the application. We don’t have those large infrastructure and deployment costs associated with housing the application in our datacenter. To use the metaphor, I want to pay to ship each box of pants, instead of paying for the potential need to ship pants. Having our CRM application in the cloud and hosted by the vendor and available on demand allows us to do just that.

To bring this to a desktop comparison, Gmail and other email applications are the perfect examples of services that replace desktop software much like Lorton Data’s A-Qua Mailer does for mailing applications. Outlook is a great email client for work, especially when you have someone else in charge of making it work for you. If you used it at home for personal email, it would be a pain to get it initially set up and then you’d only be able to check it on that machine. Unless you wanted to install Outlook on other computers, or constantly change settings when you are on a new PC, Outlook isn’t really convenient for personal e-mail. It is much easier to start up Firefox or Internet Explorer, head to the website of your email service and log in. No additional software required. No obnoxious updates that try to reboot your system when you are in the middle of something. All the maintenance is done for you by the service provider. Using a third-party provider like Gmail (or UPS in my earlier example) allows for both increased efficiency and ease of access.

Our A-Qua Mailer provides the same ease of use. As long as you have a formatted file and a web browser, you can get your mailing list processed for the deepest levels of USPS discounting available to you. Without having to buy software, or update it, or make sure you have the latest and greatest USPS requirements up to date on the system or pay for modules you don’t use because some day you might. Instead we take care of all that for you. All you do is pay for your processing. And that is pretty cool.

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There is a Direct Marketing hook to this piece…

Friday, November 20th, 2009

… I promise. Just hang with me.

No matter what deity you subscribe to, we can probably agree that I’ve been dealt a raw hand being born into the Cleveland sports family.  Since moving to the Twin Cities, the average Minnesotan loves to recite the litany of Cleveland sports tragedies with glee on their lips and a mischievous sparkle in their eyes – there is little empathy in sports.  Generally, this elicits an angry retort, although on a few occasions I wander away from the conversation like a sad dejected Charlie Brown.  The Indians, Cavs and Browns have all caused me heartache and pain in my thirty-five years.

The mind-numbing futility of the Browns offense this year has really sapped any enjoyment I get on Sunday.  As the president of the Twin Cities Browns Backers, I take my lifeless, dull eyes and crushed soul down to the local watering hole dutifully every week to spend three hours of ineffective therapy with other displaced Clevelanders. It’s become a chore to watch football.  This morning however, I awoke with a spring in my step and a small flash of light in my darkened heart. Today, I was reborn like a character from a television show that just won’t die.

So get to the point already!

Growing up in Cleveland also trains you to root for THE Ohio State University Buckeyes, and it is Michigan week.  As I write this post, it is 7:46 in the morning and Michigan still stinks.  But you already knew that!  In full disclosure, I went to a small Ohio College known for its football failures and I also attended UMaine.  Go Black Bear Hockey!  But my college football loyalties will always be attached to OSU.  I’ve often referred to them as the best professional football team in Ohio. I hold dear more jokes bashing Michigan than any other comedy.  I brought my Buckeye Gnome with me to work today.  On Saturday, if you cut me open, I’ll bleed scarlet.  Wait!  I don’t think that metaphor works very well.  I think you get the point.

True story. A few years back the wife was attending law school at Iowa and she scored tickets to the Buckeye game in Iowa City.  Our seats were in the end zone area and located in a section populated with crusty, old, weathered codgers. The type which comes to mind when you think retired farmer. I’ll wait while you create that image in your head because it adds to the flavor. One of those respected gentleman asked me through gritted teeth (gritted because of the piece of straw in his mouth – stay with the image people), “why do you guys want to fire John Cooper so bad?  He wins ten games every year.”

My response was surprisingly brief.  “Because he doesn’t beat Michigan.”

A quick Cleveland/UMaine tale of woe before I call it quits today – just to make my office mates happy.  The year I moved back to Cleveland, I might have been the only person in Northeast Ohio to care about the Frozen Four.  After, I was able to convince my regular Irish Pub in Cleveland Heights to show the game for me, I threw on my Black Bear hockey jersey, drew myself up to the bar alone, and grabbed a Guinness.  The bar was reasonably packed and my solitary screaming at the TV received snickers and laughter from the other patrons. With minutes left in the game, it looked like UMaine was going to bring home another title. I was elated. My bartender bought me a beer and I was all smiles. Who doesn’t like free beer?  In seconds that changed. The Minnesota Gophers scored with seconds left and an empty net to tie the game and scratched out an overtime victory. I was devastated. I realized after a few seconds that crickets were chirping in the bar and everyone was staring at me. I took a deep breath, looked around and with a smirk I said, “Its okay everyone, I’m from Cleveland. I am used to this.” My new friends laughed knowingly, but seconds later reflectively looked at their drinks like a sad adult Charlie Brown.

But like the t-shirt says, “Cleveland, You Gotta Be Tough.”

So here’s the Direct Marketing hook. I think this is a great example of how to use a blog to connect with your customers on a level deeper than just pushing product.  So if any of you folks live in the Twin Cities, and are long-suffering fans of the Cleveland Browns, you can meet us at Mackenzie’s in downtown Minneapolis. If you want to watch OSU beat up Michigan with fellow Buckeyes you can head to Majors Sports Cafe in Bloomington.

Have a great rivalry weekend no matter the team you root for, but if you hear Hang On Sloopy let out a little O-H-I-O for me.

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A Clean Database is a Happy Customer

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Regardless of how you are contacting your customers, you have to have a clean database!  Huzzah!  It feels good to get that off my chest.  Today, a lot of legacy systems (and their legacy data) are interconnected in a loosely fit collective of databases and the customer/donor /constituent/friend information is probably incomplete or out of date.  I want to share a story that illustrates the importance of updating your customer information.

My large car insurance company scared the absolute dickens out of me about a month ago.  You see I had a three month period, after the (now) wife got me to capitulate and move from the “Best Location in the Nation”* to the Twin Cities, where I didn’t have a real home.  My apartment lease was up, but it wasn’t time to flee the Cleve.  I crashed with some friends, and changed my billing address to my parent’s house before I forwarded it to Minnesota.  Since I pay my bills online, this seemed like the easiest solution while I was living a Boxcar Willie lifestyle.

How did they scare me?  I received a call from my dad, “your insurance company just sent you some mail to our house with a time sensitive stamp on the front, and we’ll send it out to you now.”  I handle everything on line, so I was a little concerned.  I have a squeaky clean driving record, until this post goes live and that is jinxed, so I wondered what in the world they wanted and why it didn’t come to my current address.

Two days later, I opened the letter.  “WHY DID YOU CANCEL YOUR POLICY, YOU ARE AN IGNORANT FOOL TO GO TO ANOTHER INSURANCE COMPANY!”  Okay, that’s probably not what was written, but it is what I read.  I thought, “Holy Crow! They canceled my policy, or I forgot to pay my bill, or someone used my personal information in an accident and I am being booted and may have to defend myself from a life in jail when the police catch me.”  I was just a hair frantic.  I ran to my computer, which was off because I just got home from work.  Fifteen minutes later, after every company who had a hand in making a component to my PC and some companies who even just thought about it, had announced they were in working order, I launched Firefox and logged into my account.  Everything was fine.  My policy had not been canceled.  Whew!

After my outrage had subsided, I thought about what just happened.  Clearly my insurance friends had a database of lapsed customers that did not properly communicate with their current policy holders list.  Apparently, my few months of getting mail at the parent’s house ended up getting me on the lapse list and nearly put me on another lapsed list again when I expired from the stress.  This company has my name, date of birth, vehicle registration number, knows if my eyes change color on a Thursday, my social security number, what pants I am wearing and a myriad of other personal information that would allow them to match my Cleveland residence with my Minnesota residence.  But they could not pull that off.  My guess is they have multiple databases but no way to tie the pertinent information together to really know and understand who their customers are.

It is rare that I am going to directly hustle our services on the Lorton Data Blog.  The Social [Media] contract tells us it isn’t really appropriate, but in this instance to disguise my pitch as a marketing help or discussion would feel a tad false.  So here it goes:

While, this was specifically a direct mail experience, the problem isn’t unique to direct mail.  If you want to contact your customers in any way, it is essential to have a clean list before you contact them.  Phone, email, address, really anything you want to use when you talk to them should be scrubbed.  Be prepared to know your customers.  They like that kind of thing.  This doesn’t just mean bouncing your file against the National Change of Address Database.  This means pulling the data from your CRM, and your invoicing tool, your leads spreadsheet that is still in Excel 95 and getting them matched, consolidated and processed for updated information.  I can absolutely help you with that.  In full disclosure, it won’t be me personally, but we have some people that are absolute experts at this stuff.  Email me and we’ll get you sorted out before you begin your campaign.  You can save money, increase revenue, or if you play your cards right, you’ll do both!

I’ve run a little long today, so in the near future I’ll talk about another campaign where marketing from a transaction database gave up the ghost and how the program failed to generate the level of revenue expected.

*Cleveland, Ohio!

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Let Me Tweet This PowerPoint To You On Facebook

Monday, November 9th, 2009

I’ve been advised not to tweet about Twitter.  I get annoyed at invites to join Facebook groups about Facebook.  I understand the retribution if you Fark your own link.  But PowerPoint presentations about PowerPoint?  Hilarious!  You might be asking yourself right now, what the heck does PowerPoint have to do with various social media outlets?  With the advent of useful tools like Webex and GotoMeeting, PowerPoint can have the same immediate effects of Social Media tools when used correctly.  A good PowerPoint presentation can enhance your marketing arguments and call your audience to action.  However, the only action most .PPT presentations call us to is the desire for a solid afternoon nap.

As a former public speaking instructor, and someone who has had the pleasure of sitting through hundreds of “white paper” style marketing PowerPoints from one of the world’s largest and most respected Information Technology companies, I have one simple request.  Stop hurting my brain with your presentations.  PowerPoint is really a magnification tool—it can make a good presentation better, or more often, make a bad presentation worse.

All is not lost, even if you slept through my Public Communication class when you were an undergrad.  Here are a few useful tips for making your PowerPoint better:

Have a thesis.

I know this sounds like a painful school exercise, but if you can’t boil the point of your presentation down to one sentence then you aren’t ready to create it.  You will be mired in a Florida swampland of ideas and concepts with no focus for you or your audience.  This sentence should be brief and to the point.

Prepare your speech before you open PowerPoint.

Open Word, or Excel if you are a geek like me, and create an outline before you even think about touching PowerPoint.  PowerPoint’s strong suit is not helping you organize a presentation.  It’s not designed to do that.  So don’t.  If I am in your audience, I might even give you a hug for doing it.

Think about your audience

Even with my shoes and socks off, I can’t count the number of PowerPoint presentations where the speaker grabbed 5-10 canned marketing slides, 10-15 technical slides, 5 more sales slides and then added a couple of IDC surveys to some slides.  This doesn’t make sense for anyone.  Think about the people you are presenting to and meet that audience’s expectation.  You’ll find you generate more meaning than if you create one presentation and try to fit that to the audience.

If it can stand on it’s own in an email, don’t present it.

“Oh, you missed the presentation?  I’ll just forward it to you and it will make sense.”  This is bad.  BAD!  If you don’t need to present and engage your audience aloud, you’ve marginalized your usefulness.  Mailing out a PowerPoint after the fact is fine, if it’s meant to remind audience members of what you had to say.

36-24-18

36 is the header.  24 is the sub header. 18 are the points.  Shrinking the font means there is too much on the slide.  Any smaller than 18 and your audience either won’t be able to read it on a projector screen, or worse, they are reading it on their computer and not listening to you.

If you think it is nifty, it probably isn’t.

Sound effects, animated gifs and the like might seem amusing at your desk, but in presentations they come off as silly or distracting.  If I want to hear applause at the end of your presentation, I’ll clap.  Animations or sound effects also need to be properly timed and if you are violating this tip it’s likely you aren’t practicing enough to have them work for you.

Have a real outline to your presentation.

Most presenters claim they won’t read their slides, and yet they all do.  It’s like that New Year’s resolution that is broken by January 3rd.  Reading the slides is boring.  Think about all the PowerPoints you’ve been through in your life. Now think of how many of them were dull because the presenter read, then examine how many times you’ve read a PPT to others.

Have an introduction and conclusion.

“My presentation is about” is not compelling.  Really it’s not.  Seriously.  I am not joking.  Find a way to relate to your audience and get them interested in what they have to say.  The wife once began a presentation with, “I tried to find something funny about this topic to start my presentation, but honestly there’s nothing funny about it at all.”  You know what?  Everyone laughed at her joke, the audience perked up and she relaxed.  All with a silly little joke.  It’s amazing how much a little effort to connect with the audience can go a long way to improving a presentation.  The conclusion gives a final chance to remind the audience of what they need to do, to really drive home your thesis (did you notice what I did just there?).

We are not going to have better PowerPoint presentations overnight.  However, a few simple things can go a long way to create better communication between you and your audience and improve your chances of getting your message across, and not just making them wish for cookies, milk and a blue mat on the floor.

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I recently broke up with Canada!

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

I recently broke up with Canada.  While breaking up with a country sounds awfully dramatic, this really is not.  My wife and many of her friends are from Canada and when the country showed up under “people you may know” on Facebook, I didn’t think twice about friending Canada.  I’ve had great experiences with all my Canadian friends and the multiple business trips and vacations up north have all been enjoyable.  I figured there would be no harm in showing my support for the Maple Leaf.  Instead, I was immediately inundated with posts, notes and articles about Canada.  With so many posts about Canada in my news feed, I found it challenging to keep up with my actual friends.  While some of the articles were interesting, the overexposure quickly moved Canada to my ignore list.

There is a fine line between presenting a lot of useful information and spam.  We tend to associate spam with the flood of requests in an inbox to help with international banking transactions or to purchase questionable medications online.  In reality, spam can be any type of bulk communication sent electronically.  I am sure the marketing folks managing the Canada Facebook page did not see their communication as spam, but I saw it that way when its’ posts took up a third of my news feed.

For a small business looking to increase sales or leads through Web 2.0 marketing, desensitizing your audience through too much information can really hinder your efforts.  Here are a few basic communication tips to help with your online campaign:

1. Aggregate your information – Small businesses should communicate daily or weekly to stay in the minds of their customers, but you should not inundate them with information.  If you have multiple newsworthy items in one day, consolidate them into a few emails, forum posts, or Facebook notes.

2. Relate to your audience – Simply posting a link to an article does not make it inherently interesting.  Make sure you explain why the article is useful for your audience and how it relates to your business.

3. Understand the medium – Twitter and Facebook are integrated and blog posts can be easily shared with multiple information aggregators.  That does not mean people use Twitter, Facebook and blogs for the same purpose.  While content can be shared, it is important to understand how your users interface with each application and be flexible in each marketing approach.

4. Read the feedback – Possibly the most useful function of Web 2.0 technologies is the ability to receive instant feedback.  This is incredibly helpful for any company to evaluate the effectiveness of a marketing campaign beyond sales numbers.  Instantaneous feedback allows you to change your business strategies on the fly and tailor your message to the people you most want to reach.

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Intelligent Mail Barcode Deadline Changes but…

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

The Postal Service has pushed back the deadline for mandatory use of the Intelligent Mail barcode from May 2009 to May 2011. Just because it isn’t mandatory for a while doesn’t mean you can’t start using it now, and take advantage of all the benefits available today. If you don’t currently use endorsements, ACS, or PLANET codes, and simply use the POSTNET barcode for postage discounts, then it’s a breeze to switch over to the Intelligent Mail barcode. Just get a Mailer ID and the rest is easy!

If you do use endorsements, ACS or PLANET codes wouldn’t it be nice to clean up your address block? Let the Intelligent Mail barcode do it all!  Why print a POSTNET barcode, a participant code, and a PLANET code when you only need to print the Intelligent Mail barcode?  You can get started today by learning more about IMB at http://ribbs.usps.gov/index.cfm?page=intellmaillatestnews.

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USPS promises no rate increases in 2010

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

On October 15, Postmaster General Jack Potter issued a letter reassuring postal customers there would be no price increases in 2010 for dominant mail products.  These include First-Class Mail, Standard Mail and periodicals. For the average individual, this might sound like a mundane announcement, but for direct marketers and mailers across the county this has positive implications for the upcoming calendar year.

First, it will be easier to plan marketing budgets.  Potter stated: “as we begin the fiscal year and as many of you, our business clients, are preparing your 2010 operating budgets, we want to end all speculation.  The Postal Service will not increase prices for market dominant products in calendar year 2010.”

Companies that participate in direct mail now have a static number to calculate their postage expenses for all marketing activities.  This will also allow them to allocate any funds set aside for postage rate increases to other marketing activities which can drive sales in 2010.

Next, at minimum it should sustain current mail volumes, if not increase them for 2010.  According to Potter, “While increasing prices might have generated revenue for the Postal Service in the short term, the long term effect could drive additional mail out of the system.”  By not increasing prices, Potter shows he understands the current economic climate could drive people away from direct marketing based on cost.  Holding steady allows companies to continue the same flow into the mailing system, or even increase their units.

Third, it is an important forward looking statement from the USPS.  Historically, the perception is that the Postal Services has been run like a government bureaucracy.  With the recent summer sale, and now locking in 2010 prices in time for direct marketers to plan a 2010 budget, Potter is acting like a corporate executive and aligning the attitude of the USPS more with the mindset of businesses that use its services.

Finally, it is a bold move to support the direct mail industry by the USPS.  By locking in rates during a time of deflation in an attempt to keep revenue steady while looking at other cost cutting moves, the postal service is positioning itself to help direct marketers stabilize their businesses.

In essence, these moves not only help the United States Postal Service, but the move to retain the current volume of mail and revenue should encourage companies to continue their direct marketing campaigns, and potentially increase direct mail activities.

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