Lorton Data's Blog

All Things Trivial Are Not What They Seem

January 27th, 2010 by Joel Ingersoll

5:45 AM 1/27/2010

The Wife says, “Are you awake?”
My reply was a relatively unintelligible, “mmmhrmph.”
“Ed Begley Jr.,” she forces out with a tired sigh.
I reply with a surprised, “Oh!”
The Wife then says, “zzzzzzz.”
And I offer back, “zzzzzz.”

For most people this conversation wouldn’t occur, or would be so out of context that one would assume it’s a bizarre dream that shouldn’t be discussed with the world. But for us, it is Trivia Week and something as simple as “who the heck was the guy from that commercial Monday night?” takes on significant meaning. This Friday, The Wife and I will pack our bags and head down to sunny Kaukauna, WI (it would be warmer if that was an HI) for Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest, where we, along with hundreds of other fools, will attempt to correctly answer a question every three minutes for fifty straight hours. If I’ve learned anything from the Googlefest that is Trivia, no matter how you attempt to present your information on the Wide Wide World of Web, people aren’t going to find you if you haven’t made an effort to be found. In other words, it isn’t just a matter of differentiating your web presence from your competition: you need to make yourself available to be found.

My trivia team is ready to go. We have enough technology to make Skynet jealous. Our team includes lawyers, professors, and technical folks that have spent years working with or for Apple, Microsoft and IBM. Our 40 person team comes from all over the country and all over the globe. We could actually make a pretty cool deck of cards from all the different driver’s licenses! We eat better than at Thanksgiving or Christmas. We have a bank of phones that would make a call center jealous. We will be blogging and tweeting throughout. And we will win. Again. Our team captain John Brogan described us as the New York Yankees of trivia. While I bristled at that description, he’s right. We are going for 10 straight years of winning the off-campus division.

I was roped into this study in sleep deprivation four years ago by The Wife. My addition to the team has been described (to stick with the baseball metaphor) like picking up a veteran left-handed bat for the pennant run – the type of player described as a “professional hitter.” Sure my knees are shot and I can’t run anymore, but I keep focused and provide some important hits in the clutch. For example, in the final stages of the contest two years ago, I managed to find Jim Morrison’s passport number.

What I’ve learned over the last four years is that one can’t possibly anticipate all the different methods people will use to try and find something on the internet. I am not a Search Engine Optimization expert, nor will I pretend to be. But when you put an American, a Brit, a Canadian and a Texan next to each other and have them search for the same information—they are all going to go about it in a different way. Any business needs to keep this in mind when developing a web presence. It isn’t just about throwing up some XHTML, pretty pictures and a description of what you do. You need to think about how you reach your customers and how they can find you. While it might seem to be a lot easier than hoping someone’s fingers walk to you in the Yellow Pages, it is actually a lot more challenging. It’s not just about differentiating yourself; it’s about developing a strategy to help people find you. I’ve thought for several years now that Google, Yahoo or Bing could learn a lot about their search engines by analyzing the search data from the Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

If you are curious, or just a masochist, you can follow all fifty hours of the Great Midwest Trivia Contest and listen online at WLFM Radio. Just make sure to root for the Bank of Kaukauna as we go for ten titles in a row!

On Demand Pineapple

January 18th, 2010 by Joel Ingersoll

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.

Merry Snowpocolypse

December 23rd, 2009 by Joel Ingersoll

As we look forward to a potential snowpocolypse or snowmageddon here in the Twin Cities, or what I like to call as a Clevelander “rush hour flurries,” the wife and I have split last-minute holiday duties. I’ll be going from store to store completing our final gift purchases while she’ll be stocking up on food and, more importantly, beer, in case we are snowed in over the holiday weekend. We will be snuggled up playing Rock Band, enjoying the snow and not sliding down the highway in our Jeep. While we will be comfortably enjoying the weather, one man in a red suit will be out in the storm heading from rooftop to chimney to make sure all those well behaved children have a wonderful December 25th. The wife assures me that any stop at our house will not be on my behalf.

How are we to know where Santa is on his annual journey? I need to know when to put down the beer and fake plastic guitar and go to bed. The solution is NORAD. They have been helping to track old Saint Nick since 1955 and all because of an error in an advertisement. The short story is Sears published an advertisement with a promise to let kids speak to Santa by calling a specific number, but the published phone number was actually a secured military line. Oops! Rather than dash the dreams of the kids that were calling, the airmen pretended they were Santa and gave the callers info on Santa’s progress from the North Pole. The story is especially sweet because we normally only hear about incorrectly published phone numbers when they’d get someone put on the naughty list and not when it develops into something nice. I encourage everyone to read the article from CNET on how this volunteer program has blossomed into this large undertaking. It just helps to prove you never know what great things can come from seemingly small mistakes.

Lorton Data will be closed December 24 and 25 and January 1.

Happy Holidays!

Data Story Time

December 10th, 2009 by Joel Ingersoll

Every Wednesday night for the last fourteen weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting through the academic equivalent of a giant bowl of beets. Before going after a Master’s degree in MIS, I needed to take a prerequisite course in financial accounting. The class has been fantastic for fleshing out my deep transactional understating of business. Financial accounting brings to mind old-time images of guys with adding machines and visors; the reality is this course should have been called “Storytelling from an Economic Perspective.” That’s all numbers really do, provide information to help tell a story. I think we get too caught up in presenting the numbers and forget to talk about what the numbers really mean.

While I am not going to present myself as a business intelligence expert, I did spend two years doing sales operations data analysis and translating between the sales organization, finance and IT departments to get projects completed reasonably on time. This means taking data that has no context and making it actionable. It means geeking out by using the same application I use to make grocery lists. It means being mocked by my family and friends. It means Excel.

I’d like to offer some key points about data analysis and presentation from my experiences that might be useful. As always, your mileage may vary.

1. Numbers tell a story, they aren’t the story.
Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight is a fantastic illustration on how to tell a story from the numbers. Nate is a stat-head, but he’s able to translate that information into a story or argument which makes sense for anyone, regardless of their background. The primary purpose of generating data in a number format is to help provide evidence for an opinion. Think back to the last time you had a writing or speech assignment in school and they talked about supporting evidence. Keep that in mind any time you are presenting information that involves numbers.

2. GED – Good Enough Data
This is a concept people have a difficult time getting their arms around, but I found it has been very important for getting things done.  Your information doesn’t have to be 100% accurate all the time.  For example, if you are trying to illustrate to a team of sales reps that gross margin is low and they need to be negotiating better, you don’t have to pull every transaction for the last six years and spend hours slicing and dicing it.  Get close to the pin to illustrate your point.  You aren’t preparing a report for the SEC, so don’t spend more time creating a report than time your audience spends using it.  It doesn’t make sense.

3. Customize for your audience
Seriously, one spreadsheet does not fit all. The chart you make for sales should be different than the one for operations or finance. It’s just like public speaking; extract the data that illustrates your point and makes sense for your audience. Kick out the extraneous stuff that you’ll want to explain, but won’t make sense for your crowd. It is just boring and will confuse your point.

4. Make the information actionable
Summary information should also contain (on another tab) the line item detail that proves your point. Do this not so you can win an argument, even though that is fun, but so that after the presentation people can take your data and do something with it. I know that sounds like crazy talk, but the point of this stuff is to reach a goal. Most meetings aren’t FYI–although one might argue that a lot of them feel that way—they are to get a team together to go somewhere. Make it easy for them.

5. Bite sized chunks
If your data fields stretch out to column AA, it might be just a hair too much. If it stretches to column AZ – delete it. Immediately. It isn’t useful to me, you, or anyone who looks at it. Information overload makes it really easy to be dismissed. If it’s dismissed due to complexity, you’ve killed the whole actionable idea. If it takes hours to figure out what you’ve done, then you are wasting people’s time.

6. Data expires quickly
Any data extract is a point in time. This is especially important to remember for transactional or customer information. Tell your audience what that point in time is and try to keep it reasonably close to the point of presentation. If it takes weeks to massage and tweak your data, it’s probably going to be too old to still be reasonably actionable.

There is a Direct Marketing hook to this piece…

November 20th, 2009 by Joel Ingersoll

… 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.

A Clean Database is a Happy Customer

November 16th, 2009 by Joel Ingersoll

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!

Patriotism is alive and well where I stand this Veterans Day.

November 11th, 2009 by Ray Davey

I just returned to my desk from the cafeteria in our office building where more than 100 people from multiple companies spent 45 minutes in recognition of this Veterans Day. We gathered to pledge allegiance to our flag, sing our national anthem, spend time in silence for those who have fallen in service to our country, recognize the veterans in the room and those actively serving today, hear from a Major assigned to The 34th Red Bull Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard (http://www.theredbulls.org/), and close the ceremony singing God Bless America.

The event was sponsored by Country Financial, the owner and major tenant of our office building. This is a practice they’ve had for years, but new to me since we just relocated our offices here. I haven’t experienced or felt that concentration of intentional patriotism for far too long. It feels good. Hats off to Country Financial, and to all who have served, or are currently serving, in our military forces.

Let Me Tweet This PowerPoint To You On Facebook

November 9th, 2009 by Joel Ingersoll

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.

I recently broke up with Canada!

November 2nd, 2009 by Joel Ingersoll

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.

Intelligent Mail Barcode Deadline Changes but…

October 29th, 2009 by Pam Corbeille-Lepel

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.