Never Forget… and do the DAMN RIGHT THING!

So week one of the new NFL season is in the books and what have we learned?  Well, the lockout hasn’t seemed to diminish offensive production that many had predicted (Brady threw for 517 yards and 4 TDs… I guess those of you who I suggested to draft him #1 in your fantasy leagues can now elicit a cohesive… ‘you told me so!’).  Tony Romo is still a choke artist, the NFC East (which is all anyone should care about) is going to be a battle between our beloved Iggles and – gasp – the Redskins????  And, perhaps most importantly, the NFL remains the best run marketing organization – on the planet!

Why you ask?  Well it’s not due to promoting ‘team’ over the individual (how’s the latter working for you, NBA???  Wait, that’s right, you aren’t going to matter for quite a long time…), nor having a game that translates perfectly for TV (sorry NHL, love you, but I’m in the minority), nor the brute force collisions that make us cringe but force us back time and time again (NOT going to rip MLB – Phillies btw just suffered their 50th loss… most teams hit 50 losses around June 15th!).  No, they are so successful because they DO THE RIGHT THING WHEN IT MATTERS MOST!

For any who missed the opening kick-off festivities from last weekend’s action, each stadium paid tribute to the 9-11 heroes and victims by unfurling gigantic American flags accompanied by moments of silence and stirring renditions of our national anthem.  The flags were supported not by the players (though they joined in later) but by the families who lost so much on that fateful day 10 years ago and the first responder heroes who risk their lives everyday to keep us from harm’s way.  This was all extremely appropriate, heartfelt, and honorable… but pales by comparison to what followed later that evening.

Major League Baseball had their chance to also set aside 1 day (out of 162 regular season games + playoffs + world series) to allow for a tribute by its players to honor both the 9-11 heroes and their loved ones whose scars are re-opened with every new terror attack/alert/warning – any place on the globe. The NY Mets – who I routinely lambaste when given the chance – desired to wear hats in their nationally televised game bearing the logos of the NYPD and FDNY, to honor the fallen who so bravely entered the World Trade Center infernos as well as those who continue to do so today.  MLB’s answer: “Get ready for hefty fines“.

The NFL is often dubbed the ‘No Fun League‘ as they routinely slap players with uniform violations for mis-matched socks and the like; have legislated (some) show-boating out of the game; issue unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for excessive celebrations and for taking off helmets in a ‘look at me’ show of exuberance; for preventing players from Tweeting too close to kick-off (forget about during the games!); etc., etc., etc.  But you know what they DIDN’T do during the games on 9/11????  That’s right… they DIDN’T fine the players for paying tribute via their uniforms to the heroes and victims of 9/11. Meanwhile, the erstwhile commissioner of MLB baseball, Bud Selig, threatened heavy fines to the Mets if they went with the NYPD/FDNY hats over special hats that MLB had prepared for all of the teams to wear… which was a nice gesture for sure, but also one with a profit motive attached as replicas of said hats are now offered for sale… a portion of which is going to 9/11 charities, but a lot of which is profit for MLB.

It’s no surprise that the NFL has taken over as ‘Americas Game’:  From ignoring the health needs of ex-players, to being late to the game in seriously studying/treating the impact of concussions, to a protracted work stoppage this past off-season that could have eroded fan loyalty, to continual scandals of rising stars dating back to their college careers, to vastly overpaid divas acting as, well, divas, the ‘teflon’ league steams along unscathed.  Why? Because they keep the customer #1.  That’s it.  Well, they also have great product but so do most of their competitors.  They routinely keep fans top of mind throughout the gameday experience at the stadium or on the couch… and a little thing known as fantasy football that allows all of us to become coaches and general managers.  Why do I mention fantasy football?  Because the league wisely hasn’t banned its own players from actually playing along with all of us… how’s that for marketing?

Bottom line is that if you want your customers coming back for more, do right by them all the time.  This demands adjusting rigid decisions in the face changing environments. The fact that Major League Baseball prevented one of its two teams most geographically impacted by the 9-11 tragedy from honoring the fallen and those close to them in a manner best determined by the team is simply further tragedy.  But also serves as a lesson that there are better business considerations beyond boardroom decisions; most importantly, doing the damn right thing even if it flies in the face of short-term profits!

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Much Clutch?

I have a love/hate relationship with Ryan Howard.  (I’ll go easy on the links today… on Amtrak and don’t have the greatest internet connection… God I love the quiet car!).  Allow me to make an omission:  I’m not a numbers guy – scored much better on the verbal than the math back when the SAT was a real test (#makekidsfeelgoodlikenotkeepingscoreinlittleleague)!  And due to aforementioned internet connection issues, I can’t research and cite with certainly that the numbers I’m about to mention are 100% accurate; but I can say that they’re close.  I am, and have always been, what you would call a ‘feel player’.  Numbers are annoying to me… especially the one tied to my alimony.  So you stat geeks out there feel free to rip away, but my mea-culpa has already been issued!

One of my regular readers is most certainly about to fall off his chair when he reads this.  In an effort to ‘protect the innocent’, his name rhymes with Rat Mappe and he’s a diehard Mets fan (btw, can we agree the Mets have the DUMBEST mascot in all of sports?  I mean they’re in the advertising capital of the world, and all they come up with is Mr. Met????  Horrific.).  In this joyless season for such masochists, this is sure to put a smile on my friend’s face:   I’m waiting for Ryan Howard’s next clutch home-run as it seems to occur roughly once every Wilson Valdez bobblehead night (which is to say not very often).  I know, he’s an RBI machine and has turned into a serviceable defensive first baseman, but my God, how may whiffs in clutch moments do we have to endure???  Listen, I love me some Phillies, especially the core of Rollins, Utley, Hamels, Victorino and Howard… all of whom grew up together (I begrudgingly throw Hamels into this mix and I’m adopting Victorino even though he didn’t come up through the Phillie’s farm system – I believe it was the Dodgers – he’s pretty much been here all along for this glorious ride).

I believe the Big Dawg (or is it ‘Lafayette’ from True Blood?) has 31 home runs.  For those of you dying for a distraction at work, get on MLB.com and tell me how close I am to the following statistics:

  • Less than 10 have come when the Phillies were either 1 run up, tied, or 1 run down
  • 15-20 have come when the Phillies have more than a 4 run lead

I just can’t get strike 3 from last year’s NLCS out of my head when the Bearded Wonder (how’s that ‘repeat’ coming along from your MLB network commercial, chief?) struck out our boy looking to advance to the World Series.  It’s why we Philly fans have such a love for Chooch Ruiz – that guy is the epitome of clutch!  So I love Howard for his stats… and the RBI’s are timely… but I need my big bopper hitting bombs when they matter, not when I’ve already switched over to the Real Housewives!  (Did I just say that?!).

While we’re on the topic of misunderstood statistics, can we put to rest the ‘high cost’ of direct mail and replacing with email?  Keep in mind that I’m a fan of both; providing services for each helps pay my mortgage… but this logic makes me want to tear out my eyeballs.  For the non-direct marketers out there, I’m going to make this very simple:  Judging what you pay to execute a campaign is like t*ts on a bull – useless!  You must consider the cost of a given action that you want your audience to take… or even more simply, the cost to have your message consumed (read, heard, eaten, whatever!).

The overall cost to deploy an email campaign… using a GOOD response list (and not some compiled garbage) is, let’s say $100 per 1,000 emails delivered, or about $ .10 per email (there are some soft costs that we’ll ignore such as the cost to develop the HTML creative, but we’ll assume that’s being performed by salaried individuals who would be paid regardless if they performed this work or not).  Direct mail is, on the surface, WAY more expensive.. .for our purposes, we’ll use $ .85 per piece which includes printing the mail piece, postage, and the list rental cost being similar to email.  But I’m telling you these numbers tell us squatola regarding the true cost!  Who cares how much it costs to send out a campaign… I want to know what it costs to get somebody to actually read what we’re sending.  If you’re not concerned about that, call me, you’ll become my favorite client!

So if we look at the cost per read, we have to look at some historical statistics of who looks at each marketing message.  In my career of providing prospect email lists to marketers,  I would say that a 15% open rate is a pretty fair 10 year average across thousands of campaigns.  In other words, for every 100,000 emails sent, 15,000 will be read… or $ .67 per read email.  Pretty cheap!

Looking at direct postal mail in the same light, studies show that 85% of advertising postal mail is actually read.  So to reach that same quantity of 15,000 readers, we only need to send 17,650 mailers.  Assuming a cost of roughly $ .85 per piece, the cost of $15,000 to reach 15,000 ‘readers’ of our message is north of the $ .67 achieved by email, but there’s one other missing link… how are we defining a ‘read’?

When you account for the fact that “opens” for email (which we’re assuming is a ‘read’ email) are registered when images are served from where they are hosted, and considering that a huge percentage of email recipients utilize the ‘preview pane’, it stands to reason that we’re counting a decent number of ‘opens’ being ‘read’ that are simply showing up in the preview pane and actually deleted without being read!  I don’t have a way to quantify this absolutely but I think a reasonable assumption would say that when it all comes out of the the wash, the cost to actually get your email read is pretty comparable to that of a postal direct mail campaign.

So email is a lot of things… it’s super timely (we can deploy much quicker than we can direct mail), it ties seamlessly into other online branding (easily made to look/feel like landing pages, websites, etc) and errors can be quickly fixed (ever catch a typo after printing 10,000 postcards?).  But what it’s NOT is demonstratively less expensive than direct postal mail.

Sort of like saying that Chooch is demonstratively less clutch that Ryan Howard… not the case mi amigos!

Curb your Jets!

I like Larry David… a lot!  You may even say that LD has stolen a lot his material from my life… or my father’s!  Who, btw, bears a striking resemblance to Larry and definitely finds himself in equally precarious predicaments.  The difference being that my old man may be sweetest man on the planet and would just as soon diffuse bombastic situations as Mr. David seems to thrive upon.  For the 3 of you who have never seen ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm‘, our lovable protagonist  just can’t help himself to thrust his personal commentary – much of which we all share but hold internally – into others’ lives.  This of course produces a cornucopia of voyeuristic pleasure…

Alas, so as not to come off as shill for ‘Curb’ (a label only accurate for my Philly sports fandom – typing quickly now while the Phils give a little taste of what’s to come to the Braves who I have a sneaky suspicion we’ll see in the playoffs before moving on to those moron-led Red Sox in the World Series), I want to relay a true Larry David moment I encountered grocery shopping for my Labor Day festivities:  What started as an innocent jaunt to the local Harris Teeter to grab some vino, cheese and crackers (sprinkled with the 5-10 impulse purchases that plague my family budget every visit) turned into a “where are the cameras” sort of moment for yours truly.  So I’m carrying a basket with a small number of items – 10-15 at most – when I approach the checkout lanes.  Now you would think this was the day before a 3ft. snowfall was to fall on the greater Wash DC area – the checkout lanes were off the charts!  So I mosey over to the express lane (see #5 here for a sneak preview of what’s to come) that was sparse – 2 people in front of me – an elicited a sigh of relief.

<Column intermission (thanks for the idea, Coach Slouch):  I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but why do grocery stores but the SLOWEST checkout associate (don’t you dare say ‘cashier’) in the express lane???  I know, I know, conventional wisdom says that there’s less for them to check out, but d*mn, if i weren’t in a hurry, I would stand behind the 23 people one lane over!  Come on people – can you think about your constituents for a change???  It’s like our fearless President O-Hope&Change… thinking that turning the screws on business owners is going to make them say, “you’re right Barr-wrong, now that you’re taking more of the money that I’m generating, from my ideas, risks, personnel decisions, etc., I think I’ll take the less money that you allow me to keep to hire more people…  what was I thinking???” >

15 minutes later, after my <insert ethnic slur here> checkout associate has finally processed the 8 items before me, finally, my turn… I’m this much closer to starting my Labor Day weekend – YES!  So I gander behind me to see how many suckers are in for the wait from h*ll that I endured and don’t you know, my lane is about 10 people deep now… suckers!  Just then my overly (not) friendly checkout illegal uttered something unintelligible and pointed to an obscure sign … which I would say was about a font size of ‘2’ under the “EXPRESS CHECKOUT” which was about a font size of 200!  It read ‘8 Item Limit’.  Time for quick thinking – I had 4 bottles of wine, 3 different cheeses, 2 sleeves of crackers, 1 bag of chips and some ‘healthy’ nonsense that my wife made me grab so we would feel better about ourselves.  Don’t do that math; it’s more than 8 items.  I was screwed.  Time to think quick… got it!  All like items count as ONE ITEM!  I’m now down to about 7 items – YES!  But the crowd was growing restless…

I started hearing catcalls from the schleps behind me in line.  “What do you think you’re doing?”  “You have more than 8 items, put something back or get out of our lane!”  Cue the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” theme song… it’s on like Donkey Kong!  I conjure my inner Larry David, and in my best Jewish accent offer up the following gem:  “If you people had a clue,  you’d realize that like items count as ONE item… it’s in the Express Lane handbook!”.  Then something amazing happened… as I girded for a battle, they all laughed!  Having exhausted my full arsenal with one bellowing statement, I learned a valuable lesson – channeling your inner Larry David to solve a conflict is more likely to result in a laugh than an intellectual victory… so use only when the strategy calls for it!

The marketing lesson here boys and girls is that banking on things to occur just as they did in other settings is foolish.  Business – and more specifically, marketing – though often copied, never fully replicates successful execution.  The true winners are those who dare to be bold.  Those who copy or follow are relegated to smaller market share and lower earnings.  True, boldness can lead to monumental losses (such as utilizing data that you have been warned NOT to use over and over and over again), but taking calculated risks at incremental levels is the path to success.

Case in point, for marketers that utilize email for customer acquisition, the rule of thumb since the medium took shape in the mid/late 90’s was to avoid Mondays and Fridays like the plague.  And this rule was rooted in good logic; most people are getting back to work on Mondays, setting up their week, scheduling tasks to complete, etc.; marketing messages would be largely ignored.  Similar concept for Fridays; people are winding down their weeks and are racing to finish deadlines, etc.  and are largely ignoring promotional email.  And forget about weekends, right?  Who’s tied to their email over the weekend???

Now I don’t want to claim any sort of otherworldly prescience or clairvoyance, but I began speaking to my email marketing clients several years ago, imploring them to shift deployments to Mondays/Fridays (Fridays at a minimum) and consider testing the weekend.  The reason… rooted in logic from traditional direct mail, the damn inbox is too full the other days!  That’s it – rocket science, right?  Almost as genius as arguing that 4 bottles of wine only counts as one in the express checkout lane…  Think about it, don’t you think your message has a better chance of being read/considered if not mingled with the hundreds of thousands of promo email sent at the same time as yours???  Don’t think long, the answer is ‘yes’.  And don’t you also think that people who are miserable with their jobs (beyond me, that would be mostly everybody) would rather look at anything than the drivel they’re working on? (another ‘YES”).  Especially on a Friday afternoon where people would love to look busy… or a Monday morning where anything disguised as work would be a welcome ‘easing into’ the work week?  Well we finally have some empirical fact to support these suggestions.  It does work.  And not only deploying on these days but also the wee hours in the morning so that when peeps report to work, or have their morning coffee, they are a tremendously captive audience… so hit them when they’re reading, not when they’re racing to a meeting or finishing a spreadsheet that was dumped on them 15 minutes earlier for said meeting, etc.  A little common sense will go a long way.

Sort of like arguing that a sharp Vermont Cheddar and Swiss Gruyère really count as 1 item in the express checkout lane.

What you say?

Well it happened again… the sun rose in the east, the stock market continues to fall, my tax bill is sure to be going up, and the Phightin’ Phils refuse to lose 2 in a row!  I promise not to turn this into a Phillies blog, but it was a challenging weekend dropping 2 of 3 to the Nats.  But like I previously wrote, I hope all of you placed a friendly wager (of, I don’t know, maybe your MORTGAGE!) on them winning each game after each of the 2 losses.  I am not using creative license here:  After losing Friday to the Nats, they win Saturday… and after losing Sunday to the Nats, they beat the Mets last night… for a combined score of 15-0!  That’s not a football score my friends (two TD’s + one 2-pt conversion… I think). 

Pet peeve time.  If you read my previous posts, you’ll know my disdain for sports broadcasters and most politicians.  The need to be heard is at an all time high.  With only a cursory view of sports this weekend, the following continue to haunt me:

  • FP Santangelo, Nats ‘Broadcaster’ (as loosely defined as possible).  Granted, Friday night’s Phils/Nats game was marred by a 2 hour rain delay so perhaps the ‘master of the obvious’ was feeling a bit punchy.  Top of the 3rd, two outs, runner on 2nd. Wilson Valdez smokes a single and 3rd base coach Juan Samuel windmills Ibanez to score from 2nd but is gunned down at home.  Pretty clean play … except that our boy FP indicated that Ivan DeJesus waved Raul around –  IVAN DEJESUS?????  Granted, he was Samuel’s partner for many years at shortstop while Juan was a stalwart 2nd baseman for the Phils, but being jarred awake at 11PM with the notion that he’s now a coach was first annoying and then mildlly comical.  Chalk it up to another broadcaster trying to outsmart the masses (or the lingering impact of HGH use).
  • Dateline, Friday Aug. 19  2011, Miami – Carolina Panthers at Miami Dolphins:  I know… ‘who in their right mind is watching this slop’?  Chalk it up to 1) Cam Newton intrigue and 2) an otherworldly desire to be in Miami on a Friday night.  Crack announcing crew addition Bob Griese, pontificating on a great play by Panther LB Dan Connor (that of a tackle after a 3 yard gain, about as mundane of a play you would see at the Pop Warner level):  “What a great play by Panther’s LB Dan Connor.  A former Miami Hurricane standout…”  Nice try Bob, Dan went to Penn State.  Thinking that he took one too many Csonka raps on the head after the NFL’s most recent undefeated team took their first lost preserving the “72 Dolphins as the NFL’s only undefeated.

I realize that these are nit-picky but when I invest my valuable time in your broadcast, it better be relevant and correct.  Cue the marketing lesson here…

While it’s true that many marketers have been fishing for the next best thing in order to either keep their product relevant or, if a seller of marketing services, to remain viable in these uncertain economic times, best to adhere to the old axiom that it’s “better to keep your mouth closed and assumed a fool than open it and remove all doubt”.  As a direct marketing agency, we not only develop home-grown direct marketing solutions for our clients but we also broker products/services that are already on the market that make sense for our clients.  Accordingly, we entertain a lot of vendors who claim to have invented a ‘better mousetrap’ when in effect, they are merely recycling yet someone elses services which it turn – you got it – continues to raise the price to the end user.  Perhaps the most nauseating part of this process is sitting through calls/meetings where you just know that the presenter is clueless – like our boys FP and Bob above – and the ole’ clichés start entering the room:  “We’re talking value-ad, win-win, outside-the-box thinking, at a holistic level that drives ROI”. Then comes the mixed metaphors, botched clichés that occur after minute 10 of said presentation.  And I sh*t you not, this one is real:  “Let’s not mince hairs here…”

OK people, keep your discourse to what you truly know.  For a while, I crept into other areas of marketing that moved away from the measureability of direct without even thinking ‘wait, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about’.  And it can happen without notice as we’re tasked as marketers to find viable solutions for our clients.  But what I learned is you have to remain grounded to certain principles:  If you are a direct marketer, you need to keep your toolbox packed with measurable, trackable tools and not become a brand marketer overnight.  If you are a branding agency, and a client asks you to perform a prospect email campaign, there’s nothing wrong with stating that you have a tremendous direct partner that you would like to bring into the conversation.

After all, there’s nothing worse than finishing a meeting, asking for questions… and getting only, ‘what you say’?

Jersday…

I don’t know how to feel about last night.  Best summarized as Low – High – Low – High – Neutral – Low – Great.  Allow me to explain: 

  • Stay at the office a little late – home at 7:30. <LOW>
  • Excited as the wonderful Washington Post shows the Phillies/Diamondbacks as being on the MLB Network! <HIGH>
  • Pissed when I throw on the TV to see the G-damn Giants/Braves game pre-empted my beloved Phightins’!  That cross-dresser Lincecum screws me again!!!!! <LOW>
  • Figured there’s NO CHANCE the Eagles/Steelers game would be on here in the land of cluelessness when it comes to fiscal policy (hello double-dip recession – love the ‘hope and change’ Barack – keep it up!).  On a whim, I hit the DirecTV guide button… what’s scheduled to be on Fox at 8:00???  Birds/Steelers – officially psyched at this point! <HIGH>
  • Temper my enthusiasm by thinking that I just got d*ck teased in the same manner by the Phillies/Diamondbacks listing… could I possibly fall for it twice in the same night???? <Neutral>
  • The Eagles game is on- YES!  They proceed to get taken to the woodshed after I talk a ton of sh*t on Twitter – NO! <REALLY LOW!>
  • I eat dinner with my gorgeous wife – thinking this would lift my spirits (it did!)… but lo and behold, did I posssibly forget it’s JERSDAY????  Hello ‘Jersey Shore Does Italy’!  I don my inner Pauli D, grab a shot of Sambuca and settle into my fave couch/position (see yesterday’s blog) for an hour of complete brain cell destruction! <GREAT>

I bet you’re wondering how I tie this to marketing… me too… I hope I figure it out by the time I get to the next paragraph.  Wait, got it!

So The Situation thinks he has a 3some in the works with a set of twins when next thing you know, his housemate Deena steps in and starts making out with one of them!  Poor Situation, right?  That”s what I’m thinking.  Well let me tell you… expecting something and getting something completely different (he’s now fighting with Snooki vs. ‘smushing’ with two blonde twins)  is where we’ll draw the parallel, il mio amico!

Expecting a certain list for a mail/email acquisition campaign and deploying to something completely different is an unfortunate bi-product of the direct marketing industry.  Fortunately, I can count on one hand the number of instances this occured in my 10+ years in the business covering thousands of campaigns.  But to say that there aren’t bad eggs in the basket would be a wild mis-statement.  I have been through some horrific experiences of major brands in search of very niche data to which to send offers.  I won’t name names, but there are vultures out there waiting to feed.  For starters, PLEASE adhere to the following red flags… and if you have questions, you need to comment here… I’ll call you… and we’ll go directly to Dr. Drew because you’re clearly addicted to sniffing glue:

  1. IF you are looking for niche data (e.g. a list of left handed Somali pirates who graduated from MIT) and the number of reputable list sources you’ve utilized over the years has like 5 records, but one list you never heard of has 500,000… probably a good idea to punt and live to fight another day.
  2. IF you have a client who even after warning them of ‘what’s available’ includes a few sources with which you have little/no history (in the spirit of due diligence) … and they still desire to utilize this ‘magical list’… and you remind them that you have limited experience with this source and recommend a VERY small test, if any at all… (next bullet as I’m exceeding the purpose of bullets…)
  3. and IF they still demand with wanting to use such list… even after your protestations…
  4. Recommend they order it from your worst enemy!!!!!!  Or if you are the client, sign a note to yourself saying ‘Self, I do not blame my data broker!’ (signed in blood).

See, the thing is that we all want the ‘big deal’ everytime the phone rings.  And the reality is that I probably have had as many of these types of deals, executed without incident, as I have had problems with what should have been great orders.  Net result = push.  That’s right.  If you factor my company’s and my personal income relative to the stress, time, and money spent on martinis to get beyond the problems, I might even say that I”ve lost money on such opportunities. 

Now for you marketers, listen to your damn brokers!  And if your broker isn’t strong enough to tell you ‘no, I won’t allow you to rent that list’, call me.  I’ve done it.  After suffering one of these experiences with a client who still wanted to rent a list of ‘one legged wide receivers who play for the Patriots’ from that same list source, I said ‘NO” (like the Situation should have said to those slores).  I gave the client my biggest competitor’s name/number and told her to order the list through him.  Guess what, she ordered the list… and she’s still my client today.

Thank goodness for Jersday!

Wait for it…

So all is right in the world again.  The Phightins’ demolished the Diamondbacks in game 2 of their 3 game tilt 9-2 behind a strong effort by my #2 man Cliff Lee.  For all of you wagering types out there, not saying there’s any such thing as a ‘sure-thing’, but take a look at what the Phillies do to teams after losing either game 1 or 2 of a series… go look, I’ll wait…  OK, long enough (I’m very impatient):  The Phillies have lost back-to-back games just once since June 5, and when they don’t lose back to back, they beat the other team by like an average of 100 runs!  So I realize that Vegas is likely on to this trend and whatever odds you get are horrific, but seems like an ez way to pocket a few bucks to me.

So after enjoying that beat-down, it was time for some brainless TV… cue up the replay of this week’s ‘True Blood’ episode.  For the both of you that have never seen this show, it’s basically ‘Vampires as excuse’for people getting naked’.  Honestly, there are SO many story lines in play that I  have the ability to follow just one; and then enjoy the Vampires fighting Witches fighting Werewolves fighting Fairies fighting ‘Shapeshifters‘ (whatever the hell that is!) all in an effort to lose clothing!  I figured I was about the same as most in my understanding of just what was going down until my wife blurts out “you know that old woman eating with the real estate guy is really Sam’s brother who took on her form because he needs money and is trying to sell her house without her knowing, right?”  Now I wish I could say I fell off my chair but since I was laying down in perhaps the most comfortable position possible, that wouldn’t be entirely accurate.  So now the shapeshifters can look like other humans and not just animals?  I guess I missed that when I was viewing the naked Vampire laying with the naked Fairie and hoping that the Shapeshifter who is now an old woman wasn’t going to get naked!  I am truly in middle school when it comes to understanding True Blood while my wife is a Nobel Laureate

And this got me to thinking about emerging direct marketing resources for traditional mailers who are still trying to break through the clutter.  We all know that online advertising has taken a huge chunk from traditional direct mail budgets… and with good reason as campaigns can now be optimized mid-stream, assets are getting less expensive by the day, the costs of direct mail are sometimes prohibitive to fully test and glean learnings to be applied to future campaigns, etc.  Most dip their toe into email first, only to learn that conversions are horrific.  Those with more than an 8th grade education are smart enough to lower expectations given the reduction in cost to deploy such campaigns.  Our experience shows that most prospect emails can expect to be ‘read’ (really ‘opened’, but there’s a lot more to that metric that we can discuss) by roughly 15%-25% of the addresses to which the email is deployed.  And from there, perhaps anywhere from .5%-3% of the people reading will click into a link.  After that, it’s your baby… better have a compelling product and an EZ conversion process because there’s a lot of noise online taking your prospect away from what you want them to see!  <Shameful plug for direct mail here:  Nearly 85% of the recipients open the snail mail they receive, and generally give the piece a good 1-2 minutes of undivided consideration!>

To review, we have the following:

  • Traditional marketers, trying email as their foray into ‘digital’
  • Cost is largely a driver of this decision, but so is their need to have an ‘online presence’
  • Front end results look pretty darn good… comparable ‘response rates’ to direct mail of .5%-3%
  • Horrible conversions

So what went wrong?  Expectations.

For starters, most marketers make the mistake of simply turning their offline program, online.  BIG MISTAKE (like Charlie keeping Halladay in to pitch the 9th inning yesterday, but I digress), totally different audiences with totally different mindsets.  When we engage online, we’re looking at quick hitting creative that requires a very easy action – like signing up for more information, entering an email address to download a whitepaper, provide an email/zip code to see deals from the ‘Toyota dealer near you’, etc.  Expecting a prospect to provide anything further is foolish.  I once had a client who demanded that any interested prospect provide complete postal info, including phone number, a wealth of demographics and even requested a credit card – this being the very first time touching these people!  All that was missing was the requirement of given prospect’s first born to be sacrificed at Mount Moriah.

 So I have learned to be very consultative in the creative arena before we agree to deploy email.  But I suggest an even easier first step into this market:  Sponsoring e-newsletters.  We’re talking creative as simple as a banner ad on an email that goes out to a very engaged readership, that may also include an ‘advertorial’ in the middle of the content.  Why this you ask?  See below:

  • eNewsletter readers are engaged in the content for which they signed up… not your (perceived) spam
  • Most eNewsletters are offered by very reputable personalities/organizations – by linking your ad to that content, advertisers receive a tacit endorsment by the person/company the readership already trusts.
  • No deliveraiblity issues.  Depending on the contsruct of your HTML email, it may very well be gobbled up by the spam filters, never to be seen again!
  • Costs are a fraction of stand-alone email… granted, you typically are held to higher minimums, but I can share with you eNewsletter properties that will produce as good a click-through rate as standalone email… and that’s what matters most!

I have gone this route several times with very good results as it basically forces you to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).  Use hard-hitting creative, drive to a navigation-friendly landing page with a simple response mechanism, and start adding prospectst to your CRM engine.  And that my friends is a winning formula for acquisition direct marketing.

And those of you who made it all the way to the bottom, I told you to ‘Wait for it’!!!!  Now sign up for my blog so I can start spamming you… KIDDING!!!!!!!!

Sometimes you’re the bug…

Yesterday was not a good day.  Well, it started out pretty smoothly… got confirmations on a some new orders, had a few sales calls lined up and my Phillies were scheduled to be on the MLB network so I had a perfect night lined up.  Then, IT happened:  I lost a client.  And not just any client, but rather one that we had been servicing with direct mail database development for a period of 5+ years.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the direct mail world, this amounts to a very heavy workload – with good revenue – where you are forced to forge a healthy relationship with the  client.  Things were humming along, performance of their mailings were very good (even in the throes of the recession) and with performance dipping a bit, we had a plan in place where we were trying new ideas to reverse the recent trend.  Heck, I even received unsolicited emails stating how happy the client has been with performance, the responsiveness of my staff, yada, yada, yada.

Then all hell broke loose:  They decided they needed to enlist an ad agency with whom I don’t have a relationship… giving them carte blanche to choose their own data provider.  And like that – poof! – we’re out.  Not even an opportunity to meet with the agency to cite our great work, our committment to the client, understanding of their market, 5 years of mail history in the database from which to cull valuable intel… nothing.  The quintessential ousting “without the common courtesy of a reach-around“. 

So I moped home for my favorite comfort food in these times – plate of rigatoni with meat sauce (thanks KC!) – and a bottle of red (sans glass – think Johnny Drama when he lost that part to Bob Saget).  I settled into my favorite nighttime activity – watching my Phightin’ Phils open up another can of whup-ass on some sorry foe.  And how could they not… with our ace Roy Halladay on the bump, this was as much of a sure thing as there is in life.  Except, there are no sure things in life.  While piling up a 14 strikeout gem, the Diamondbacks got to my boy Roy in the top of the ninth and gutted out a 3-2 victory while we left the tying run stranded on 2nd. 

Then it hit me:  Roy is 15-5 and arguably the best pitcher in baseball (apologies to Justin Verlander and the Cy Young year he’s having!).  If powers outside his control can cause him to lose a game (aka Charlie Manual not bringing in Bastardo to face a lefty who actually HITS Halladay), then I certainly can lose an account to no fault of my own!  Instead of kicking the water cooler, punching a wall, and losing his cool, Sir Roy simply gleaned into the Diamondback’s dugout while walking to his as if to remember the feeling of letting this one slip while in his mind saying “never f’ing again… looking forward to mowing you down in the playoffs”.  And that my friends is my mindset today; I’ve dusted myself off and am taking this valuable lesson to my other clients and the 10 prospects that I’m personally calling today to use the valuable insight I’ve culled over the past 5 years of engagement with this client and am going to turn it into 5 new clients.  So in a sense I’m grateful as I glean into the agency’s dugout and say “never f’ing again… looking forward to seeing you in the playoffs.”

For one day I was the bug… I’ve been the windshield quite often over the last 10 years.  And I’m OK with that record, just like Roy.