Archive for the 'Business' Category

To Send or Not to Send? That Is the Question.

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Originally posted on The Official Email Marketing Blog on Dec. 17, 2010, at iContact.

If you’re a perfectionist when it comes to your emails, then sending out mistakes drives you nuts. But, as we all know, mistakes are part of life. They happen. So when they inevitably occur, what should you do? Here’s a quick checklist of things we consider when our clients experience “broken” emails.

  • Severity — How important was the mistake? If it’s not a big deal, then don’t do anything to correct it. People understand that mistakes happen. Raise your hand if you’ve never made one. Since both of your hands are still down, ask yourself “is it worth sending another message to correct the mistake?” Here’s a recent example where we recommended to not send a correction. A small retailer sent a message on a Friday morning for a sale that was the next day, Saturday. The message unfortunately gave the wrong date (December 5th, when it should have been the 4th). Since the message prominently featured “Saturday Only” about 4 times and mentioned the date just once in smaller print, we didn’t expect much confusion. No correction was sent. The sale went off without a hitch.
  • Customer confusion/inability to do something — If your email mistake prevents the recipient from doing something noteworthy, an apology message is totally appropriate. Let’s say a coupon code doesn’t work or your site is down, by all means, let your clients know you’re sorry. If you have caused inconvenience for your customers or provided them a bad experience, saying “Ooops, we goofed” and solving the problem will, more often than not, be welcome.
  • Brand — What kind of apology will work well with your brand? Depending on your business, you should tailor the message accordingly. Check out the correction message that one of our agency accounts, Red Crow Marketing, sent on behalf of their client, Candy House. This is a great message because it admits error but does it in a fun, light-hearted way that works perfectly with the brand. It gave subscribers the ability to like the Candy House on Facebook (also very well done, but that’s a social media post that needs to be written) and used the persuasive language, “You like this.” Indeed, I do. If you ever find yourself in Joplin, MO, be sure to try the Sea Salt Caramels (or you can buy them online).

  • Offer — In the unfortunate circumstance where you have to send a correction email, consider including an improved offer. For example, I recently received an email from SkyMall.com (I know you’ve perused their catalogs on a recent flight). They were running a 20% off promotion when their site went down. To make up for it, they extended the sale and increased the offer to 25% off. Even if the offer is small, think about the goodwill that can be generated by a solid, improved offer.

Sending an additional message to apologize for an issue or correcting a mistake can be very effective. Just be sure to consider the points above before you send so that you don’t needlessly fill up your customers’ inboxes. The last thing you want is to have good contacts unsubscribe because you’re sending too much.

Offline Email Address Collection

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Originally posted November 26, 2010, on The Official Email Marketing Blog at iContact.

Offline Email Sign Up Poster A group of Account Managers headed out to a local pizza joint for lunch recently.  Thursdays are their 2 “signature” slices and a drink special, so it’s a good deal we can’t pass up.  But, that’s not the point of this post.

The point is to highlight some great and not so great offline email address collection.  If your business is a retail establishment or a restaurant, take a look at the picture.  This was a 4-foot sign next to the door as you were headed out of the restaurant.  These folks are doing a great job advertising their email marketing.  What exactly works here?

  • V.I.P. Club – People love to feel important and we’ve found that exclusivity complements email marketing perfectly.  With some personalization, you can make folks feel like an email was sent only to them, and at the core, it actually is being sent just to them.
  • Value – Their entire message relays value and explains why you want to be on their list.  Whether it’s a free meal (more info below) or members only awards (more exclusivity), they make a compelling case that you really need to sign up.
  • Free Meal on Your Birthday – This is a great way to get someone (and their co-workers in the case of our little group) to come into your establishment.  The goal isn’t to give away the free meal but to build up the customer’s loyalty and have them spend more money at your restaurant.
  • Monthly Coupons – Who doesn’t love coupons?  Why pay full price when there’s a coupon available?  In these troubled economic times, digital coupon usage has soared.  Customers clearly use them.  Wouldn’t you prefer they spend their money with you instead of a competitor?
  • Expectation Setting – Not only do they have all of these great reasons to sign up, but they also set an expectation that they won’t send you too many e-mails.  You know they mean it because they used 4 exclamation points.  Joking aside, it’s a great way to tell your customers that you’re going to be responsible if you’re granted the permission and privilege to send to them.  Having that age restriction further demonstrates that responsibility.
  • Visibility – This was a huge sign right next to the door.  We just had a satisfying meal and we got hit with a huge visual.  You can’t miss it.  They positioned it perfectly.

So, all this is good stuff, but there’s one terrible failure and it negates everything I mentioned above.  Look closely at the table and you’ll see an empty box that had their sign-up forms right next to the empty cup that presumably holds pens.  Five of us that are in the email marketing business (and are on hundreds and hundreds of email lists) walked out without signing up because this place couldn’t keep their form and pens stocked.  It’s a shame because we all love their pizza, with the notable exception of our co-worker that got a plain turkey sub with lettuce.

Roll of the dice?

Monday, October 12th, 2009

The other day I wrote about Dell receiving an incentive package from NC and Winston-Salem.  It’s still being discussed in the local press as evidenced in this article from Local Tech Wire (emphasis mine).

“They could have succeeded. It’s a gamble,” said Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, the primary sponsor of the state incentives package targeting Dell that was approved hastily in a one-day legislative session in November 2004. “You take a chance, and you roll the dice.”

There are two issues I have with Sen. Hoyle’s approach here.  First, the money used to “roll the dice” isn’t his money.  Frankly, I’m not real happy with an elected state senator that deems it his place to “gamble” with hundreds of millions of dollars that aren’t his.  The people of NC could have used that money more wisely on their own than by giving it to a corporate welfare recipient.  If he wants to gamble, do it on his own dime.  Second, the government, in this case, endorsed a single company.  They essentially played favoritism by deeming Dell to be worthy of incentives aimed directly and specifically at Dell.  Why are they worthy but other companies are not? All companies, big or small, should have the same incentives to put up shop in NC.  That point is made lower down in the article.

I also love this statement (emphasis mine):

House Speaker Joe Hackney said he doesn’t regret the Dell deal, because it probably generated additional tax revenues from the jobs it created.

Isn’t that great?  It “probably” did what it was intended to do.  I “probably” won’t vote for Mr. Hackney at the next election.

The one good thing, which I haven’t been able to fully grasp yet, is how it appears Dell only used some $8.6 million of the almost $280 million in incentives available to it.  Perhaps in the long run, the finances of this deal will work out OK.  But, the principles remain the same.  The government shouldn’t “gamble” taxpayer money on corporate welfare.

WSJ.com Subscription Oddity

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Just got my annual subscription notice for the Wall St. Journal’s online edition. I’ve been a loyal subscriber for 12 years now and every October my credit card gets charged. Years ago I realized that if I got the paper edition, they would stack up and I’d probably never read them. For me, the online only option is the way to go.  I read it every day and love the email I get with all of the stories from that day’s paper.

This year’s subscription was $197, which is quite a hike from last year’s $119 (it’s a 65% increase). Rather surprised, I went to the “My Account” section of WSJ.com and looked at the billing options. There are two.

  • Annual subscription: $197
  • Monthly payments of $12.95 (annual cost of $155.40)

Fine. It’s a big hike in price and frankly, one that made me question whether or not to continue paying for it.  I like the WSJ and its coverage so I’ve decided to keep it but, of course, I’ve changed to the monthly option.

But what I don’t get at all is why in the world would they charge MORE for a one-time annual subscription than the monthly option?  Typically, a discount is provided when someone pays upfront for a whole year.  After all, the seller gets extra money upfront and reduced risk. With the monthly option, there’s more work involved (doing something 12 times versus once) and an overall higher risk level.  If that’s the case, why have the pricing disparity the way it is?  Shouldn’t the WSJ, the paper of record for business, understand this simple concept?

Even with the lower priced option, I’m still looking at an over 30% increase in price.  Frankly, I’m still questioning whether to continue subscribing, but now I’ll have a monthly reminder to consider pulling the plug.

Dude, you’re losing a Dell

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

A few years back North Carolina and Winston-Salem gave Dell some $280 million in incentives to build a plant in the Piedmont Triad.  Now, less than 5 years later, Dell’s closing that plant.  They’re probably going to have to give some of that money back to NC and W-S, but it won’t be all of it, it won’t be with interest and it won’t be profitable for NC and W-S, that’s for sure.

What it all boils down to is that I am not a fan of government incentive packages.  They don’t work.  Companies can be wooed with huge tax breaks and frankly, that’s nothing more than commercial welfare.  One of the biggest reason these incentives are given out is because neighboring states are doing it, too.  I have a much better idea:  create an overall tax structure that will encourage ALL types of businesses to the state.  Reduce corporate tax rates so that the total business climate in the state is friendly and inviting.  Companies will come on their own, no need for massive incentive packages.  All companies will benefit and the state won’t look foolish for making a major investment in a company that can just turn around later and leave.

Time for a TARP Exit?

Monday, October 5th, 2009

This will be the fourth time that I’ve written about this (12/3/08, 12/11/08 and 3/17/09) and I’m thrilled to see it on the pages of the Wall St. Journal.  Senator John Thune of SD, wrote (emphasis mine):

Our financial markets are no longer in free fall and the crisis has receded. Yet we now find ourselves in a troubling situation where the federal government is a major owner of more than 600 U.S. financial institutions and banks, as well as two auto makers, an international insurance conglomerate, and numerous other businesses…It is time to bring an end to the TARP emergency measures and come up with an exit strategy to get government out of the business of running businesses.”

Hear, hear.  The US Government has no authority to own parts of private businesses.  It did what it had to do (even if I was uncomfortable with it at the time) to keep the economic system afloat, but now that time has passed.  It’s time to divest.

Why Ford. Why Now. – Seriously???

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Watching the boob tube last night and saw an ad for Ford that had the tagline “Why Ford.  Why Now.”  Mike Rowe (who I’m a big fan of) stars in this commercial and follows up the tagline with “Why Not?”  Seriously?  Is this the best that Ford could do?  “Why not?”  The message I got was, “Hey, why not buy a Ford?  Why?  Why not?”  Oooh, now I’m convinced.  What does this say about their brand?  It’s not good.

My suggestion would have been to drop the “why’s” and just go with “Ford Now”.  Make the tagline a call to action, get people thinking about buying a Ford today.  They could have followed up “Ford Now” with benefit statements that bolster the brand.  Best fuel efficiency.  Low price.  0% APR.  Not enough?  How about the $4,500 tax break?  Buy American.  Ford Now.

I typically don’t criticize Detroit because I think they’ve got a bad reputation that precedes any actions they take, but this is a bad marketing idea.

360, er, 270 degree review

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Recently, I heard about a company that ran a 360 degree review.  If you don’t know what that is, here’s what the omniscient Wikipedia has to say:

In human resources or industrial/organizational psychology, 360-degree feedback, also known as “multi-rater feedback,” “multisource feedback,” or “multisource assessment,” is feedback that comes from all around an employee. “360” refers to the 360 degrees in a circle, with an individual figuratively in the center of the circle. Feedback is provided by subordinates, peers, and supervisors.

I’m all for feedback.  The only way to improve is to understand what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.  In my past leadership positions, I’ve continuously asked for feedback.  I conducted named and anonymous surveys.  I held meetings where I encouraged my employees to speak their minds (those that wouldn’t could use the anonymous surveys).  I implemented regular client surveys to assess my and others’ performances.  So, I like the idea of 360 degree feedback.

Back to that company I mentioned.  The person at the head of the company didn’t participate in the exercise.  She ran it, had others provide all types of feedback, but didn’t solicit any of her own.  She didn’t have subordinates review her.  I guess that’s her prerogative, especially if it’s her company, but if you’re the one calling it “360 degrees” and you are encouraging all of this feedback, you need to be wary of omitting yourself.  You look silly and your exclusion negatively impacts the “rank and file”.

First of all, it segregates you in a negative way.  It doesn’t make you look like a leader but instead sends the message that you don’t want or care about feedback from the “little people”.  Secondly, it robs you of a fantastic opportunity to hear what your employees think about you, your style, your decision making process, etc.  You can’t succeed without them, so it would behoove you to listen to them.  If you can improve based on their comments, why wouldn’t you?  Finally, I believe it creates resentment.  Your actions have said there are two sets of rules here, mine and yours.  Put yourself in your employees’ shoes.  Would you like it if everyone around you (e.g. your peers) critiqued your performance but your boss was untouchable.  That’s the kind of thing that will get discussed at the water cooler, at lunch, when you’re out of the office, etc. and it will cause dissension in the ranks.

In the end, if it’s your company, you get to do what you want.  But remember, your success depends on the loyalty and performance of your employees.  Do you want them resenting you at crunch time?

New favorite show: Pitchmen

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Thanks to the wonderful invention known as a DVR, I have a new favorite show:  Pitchmen.  For those of you who don’t know it, it’s about Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan, two guys that are in the direct response business.  Billy is the bearded loud guy that hawks everything from Oxiclean to insurance.  Anthony is a lesser known talent but also has a business creating ads for products.

The premise of the show is these two guys are looking for new products that they can pitch via direct response.  The products themselves are hit or miss, the banter between the two celebrities is sometimes annoying and the show is a little predictable.  So why is it my favorite?  Frankly, because these guys do marketing right.

They have a formula for what makes a good selling product.  It’s simple, easy to understand, has a low price point, offers good value, demonstrates well and has a “wow” factor.  Once they find a product that has these qualities, they pitch it via 2-minute or 30-minute infomercials.  All of the buzzwords and catch phrases get used:  “Now”, “But wait, there’s more…”, “Order now and…”  And before they dump a bunch of money into something, they test it.  They buy limited media runs in different markets using different approaches.  In the end, they end up with the right products getting proper investments.

Marketing is a trial and error game with science mixed in for good measure.  When I was responsible for product marketing back at NetIQ, I used a similar test, test, test approach to email marketing.  For example, for one email campaign I created three different messages and value propositions.  Buzzwords and calls to action were must copy.  Then I tested each message with a segment of my target market.  The best performing message was then rolled out to the rest of the list.  The end result was an improved response rate and higher sales.  Testing takes a little more work, but is compensated for with improved performance.

I’d be thrilled to spend some time with those guys just to watch them in action.

Exit Strategy, part 3

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Back on Dec. 3, 2008, I wrote about the importance of an exit strategy. Then again on Dec. 11th, I highlighted Christopher Cox’s comments. Now today, I see this news in the Washington Post (emphasis mine):

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the [AIG] bonus issue added to his belief that there will be almost no Republican support for any expansion of a bank-bailout program that passed Congress last fall with broad bipartisan support.

What is the government’s exit strategy from this sweeping involvement in private business?” he asked in a statement, adding that “taxpayers are not receiving an adequate accounting from either the Treasury or the management of the companies that received taxpayer funds. Unfortunately, we have not yet seen such a plan.”

The sooner the US government pulls out its investments in private companies, the better.