E-mail Marketing

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It was painful and haunting to go through old photos and find the World Trade Towers.

It was painful and haunting to go through old photos and find the World Trade Towers.

It’s been a very sad week in America. I don’t need an anniversary date on the calendar to remind me of one of the worst days in American history. There hasn’t been a day that’s passed since September 11, 2001 in which I haven’t thought and gotten angry about how our country and the world have been changed since our nation was attacked by radical Islamists and thousands of citizens died violent, horrible deaths. I did not lose any family members or friends that day, so I can only imagine the pain and emptiness that victims’ loved ones have had to endure this past decade.

It was with some trepidation that I waited to see how this eleventh anniversary would be marked, now that there was the distance of ten plus one years since that infamous attack on our shores. It didn’t take long to be disappointed in how 9/11 perceptions are changing. Good friend and client Wayne Hayward forwarded me two tone-deaf marketing e-mails he’d received, both of which purported to honor those affected by 9/11, but quickly followed those words with a commercial sales pitch. Ugh! What next? 9/11 mattress sales and car dealership discounts?

Later, in the day, we took out-of-town client Secure Wireless (in-town for the ASIS security show) to the Phillies-Marlins game. A few rows below our section was an energetic young lady in a string bikini  top and body paint with the message 9/11 and “Always Remember” on her back. Mostly, she was posing in hopes of appearing on the scoreboard cam. Given that she was probably 10 when the planes hit the twin towers, I don’t think she intended disrespect, but there was a profound disconnect between the event and her freestyle attempt at commemoration.

As for the ASIS show in Philadelphia,  aimed at corporate, academic, governmental, institutional security, I was amazed at some of the latest advances in everything from CCTV analytics to armored bulletproof vehicles, guard houses, and much more. And then came the news about the mob attacks at our embassies in Egypt and Libya and how the latter in Benghazi was a makeshift affair with contracted security and no Marines assigned. The world is still a dangerous place and the bad actors are always poking for signs of weakness.

This explosion of Islamic rage and anti-American hatred should be a wake-up call to those who look at 9/11 as some sort of historical event in the past. Who delude themselves that a continually expanding TSA will protect us from global conflicts such as a nuclear Iran.

The murders of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans at the Libyan embassy, and the anti-American hate mobs in a growing list of Muslim nations should be enough to remind Americans that we are still engaged in a War on Terror. We are being told that a pathetic, badly made YouTube video incited the carefully planned and coordinated attacks on our embassies. This common sense article hammers home the point that this is about Islamists trying to undermine our most basic freedom — freedom of speech.  The fact that Americans aren’t united about an act of war — the outrageous murders of Ambassador Stevens and his associates — represents a terrible way to mark the anniversary of 9/11. On some matters, we should NEVER be a nation divided. And yet, we are.

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The definition of advertising has gotten stretched in some weird digital ways lately and it is only getting worse.  When I received this e-blast yesterday from IBM company, Coremetrics, my head came very close to exploding in the style of David Cronenberg’s 1981 sci fi flick “Scanners.” There isn’t much that gets my attention in the way of templated assembly-lined e-mails, but this one broke through all the clutter. Unfortunately, it was not in a good way. This isn’t Big Blue’s finest hour.

Coremetrics confuses with this e-mail that has little to do with true advertising.

Coremetrics confuses with this e-mail that has little to do with true advertising.

The word, Advertising, drew me in strictly by way of association, because I am in the profession, and only because it was the largest font on the page. That’s not setting the bar very high. I skimmed the copy to see what Coremetrics was selling. The promise of a free white paper led me to the following instructive title: “Appropriate Attribution: Addressing the Dramatic Inaccuracies Associated with Last-Based Campaign Attribution in Digital Analysis.” Now, I admit I am not an online media metrics wonk, but I know a few and if they were ever confronted with this phraseology, their craniums would self-immolate, too.

Granted, complex tech topics depend on audience knowledge of industry trends, jargon, and conventional wisdom and methods. However, this is the very antithesis of what advertising and marketing stand for — copy and design working together to dramatically and effectively convey a single simple idea. Eventually, if anyone ever gets that far, there is a Voice of Reason web site that explains this e-mail campaign and the Coremetrics value proposition in great detail.

And that in a nutshell is my main gripe with online advertising — it may be measurable, it may be metrics-rich, it may be analyzable, but it is seldom anything I would describe as advertising.  Similarly, Google deserves special derision for naming its PPC program, Adwords. Random search words on a web page do not an ad make. They may fall under a marketing budget and they may generate a lot of revenue for Google, but they are not ads.

As the economy and business continue to flop around on the deck like a fish desperate for H2O, many companies (including some in the Fortune 500) seem to miss basic truths and common sense approaches. I recently saw the chief marketing officer of a large global chemical company proudly quoted about the transformation of his employer into a company now known for science instead of chemicals. The problem is that the products his company manufactures and sells are chemicals. The products that his customers buy are chemicals. He can market science all he wants, and thought leadership is important, but he ultimately risks confusing prospects.

As Coremetrics’ approach ably demonstrates, clarity is in short supply these days. I’ll take the measurability of a revelatory, idea-and-results-driven print or broadcast ad’s two-by-four upside the head Eureka moment over any click-through rate any day.

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The term event planner conjures up images of someone who micro-manages the flowers, cake, band, and myriad of other details for a wedding. Or the swat team that stages major corporate sales meetings and user group extravaganzas with elaborate video, music, pyrotechnics for senior execs who secretly long to be rockstars.
Lately, however, more and more of our clients have been discovering events of a less intimidating nature and scale as an under-appreciated marketing method. Some thoughtful planning and new tools provide ways to interact with existing customers and new prospects in settings that lead logically to sales.

Museums like The National Constitution Center are great places to hold corporate events.

Museums like The National Constitution Center are great places to hold corporate events.

When you have new facilities or processes to show off, it only makes sense to hold an open house and invite interested parties, including the press. But sometimes an outside location is part of the attraction. Earlier this year, systems integrator Time and Parking Controls held a knowledge seminar for area parking companies at the National Constitution Center, giving attenders advance access to the exhibits prior to lunch, an afternoon of guest speakers on PCI compliance, new high-tech parking technologies, and energy-saving opportunities. ROI isn’t always instant, but if the presentation content is worthwhile, the participants will remember and likely reward you for inviting them.
You don’t need to make your event a teachable moment either. Sometimes a fun evening out is a great customer appreciation method. Companies who can afford suites or luxury boxes at the stadiums understand this and budget for it. However, these opportunities are worthwhile whenever and wherever they occur. World Café Live is a terrific venue for corporate outings, built around live music (although they have other quiet space and catering for more traditional events). Next year, they’ll be opening a great second venue in Wilmington. The historic Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville does lots of film and entertainment events, but recently renovated a more intimate community room for smaller gatherings.

Eventbrite is a terrific web-based tool for e-marketing your event.

Eventbrite is a terrific web-based tool for e-marketing your event.

If you’re going to hold an event, you may as well avail yourself of new tools for making it a success. Later this month, one of our PR clients, the Quietmind Foundation, is hosting an international Alzheimer’s researcher and inventor for two days of presentations. We have them using EventBrite.com to handle promotion and RSVPs. Eventbrite gives you a web-based dashboard for easy e-mail invitations mailing and tracking with printable coded PDF tickets.

Webinars are a great way to reach audiences in real time, in multiple=

Finally, the next best thing to being there in person is the under-appreciated webinar, especially if your customer base is global and technical. Last month, we worked with a great team at Advanced Materials and Processes magazine to help materials testing systems maker Tinius Olsen present an overview of extensometry technologies and an introduction to its new multi-camera video-based system. By conference call, web linkage, and PowerPoint, Tinius Olsen was able to reach a well-targeted technical audience in multiple time zones for just an hour of everyone’s time.
The next time someone at your company asks how you’re going to improve sales, quote the great Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, who’d retort, “Hey, let’s put on a show!”

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The familiar AOL symbols when Aol was familiar

The familiar AOL symbols when Aol was familiar

I have to admit, I have had America Online frozen in time. The company that brought dial-up Internet and e-mail service to every household in the United States (even if you weren’t a customer, you received one of their membership kits on CD by mail) faded into obscurity thanks to broadband, Google, mobile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a long list of other digital brands and technologies. Everyone can make that instant “You’ve Got Mail” leap to the not-very-distant past, but fewer and fewer of us visit America Online in our daily on line routines. I still have a free Aol e-mail account, but haven’t opened my mailbox in over a year, because I am frightened of being greeted by a 60 GB wall of spam.

Aol's ubiquitous membership kit markeing campaign

Aol's ubiquitous membership kit markeing campaign

That’s why I was surprised to get a call from my son who has had a part-time college and summer job with an online video syndication platform start-up called 5min Media. “Dad, Aol just bought my employer for a reported 65 million dollars.” I was stunned. I didn’t know that Aol still had 65 million dollars. And what were they doing buying a small firm with a more cleverly targeted variant of YouTube?
Turns out Aol has been on a shopping spree. They also purchased video creator and distributor Studio Now in January and IT news blog TechCrunch and Thing Labs, creator of social network content sharing software Brizzly in recent days. In addition, AOL has been hiring writers to focus on increasing the amount of original content on its networks. This all followed a serious stock price plunge and the decision to reinvent itself. I am increasingly intrigued by this storyline and wish Aol well. Large corporations that survive do so by keeping up with and hopefully starting new trends. It’s been a long time since people associated IBM with international sales of business machines. Or GE with light bulbs.

Project Devil is Aol's ambitious new approach to improve web advertising.

Project Devil is Aol's ambitious new approach to improve web advertising.

With all that news as context, I was not at all surprised to see a four-color Aol spread in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal advertising a new direction for web advertising called Project Devil. Even better, it touched on a hot button of mine. The miserable advertising experience and canvas delivered by most web sites. Too many pages have been overseen by neither an art director nor a production manager. They look like they’ve been spewed out by a blender without a lid. Banner ads. text ads. Popups. Sponsor logos. Video clips. All splattered on the page, some blending with, and blurring the lines between, editorial and advertising content. Is it any wonder why no one gets excited about interactive ads, let alone interactive ad campaigns. Measurable, yes. Memorable, hardly.
Aol is attempting to pioneer a new direction with Project Devil. They have discovered the value of white space and a designer’s eye. They are presenting a new view that draws obvious lines between editorial and advertising And gives both room to breathe. So far, it is hard to tell how much of this is wishful thinking and how much is a deliverable universal format. Will this clean uncluttered approach be available only on the Aol network or will it be transferable to other sites and communities, too? The danger in this is that people will soon grow tired of a Project Devil web page, because it looks like every other Project Devil web page. At least for now, it’s a great new look and a bold new direction for Aol.

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College Marketing Materials: From Here To Infinity

College Marketing Materials: From Here To Infinity

We had a new business meeting this week with the marketing director of a local college. That meeting was about continuing ed, but it prompted me to visit a shopping bag I had kept in the corner of my office after my son headed to campus last fall. The bag was a collection point for all the undergraduate marketing materials he’d received over the course of junior through senior year of high school, from colleges large and small, near and far, looking to fill their freshman class. Hundreds of suitors, who all knew that only one would ultimately be chosen. The Miss America pageant and the nickel slots in Atlantic City offer better odds.
I took the occasion to review many of these postcards, direct mail letters, multi-panel mailers, view books, and other forms of solicitation. Most were also replicated in e-mail form and some with personal web pages (PURLs). It was an incredible example of target marketing run amuck. The deluge began some time after my son’s data was entered online for the taking of the SATs. Multiply him by the number of college-bound students in every high school across the country and you start to get a sense of the crazy business model of higher ed admissions. The goal is to fill as many seats as possible, with the best and brightest you can attract. You have them, hopefully, for three additional years. But every fall, it’s musical chairs all over again.
I was struck by how many images and messages blurred together from one institution to another. All were professionally crafted. Only a few stood out as remotely unique. Campuses and ivy covered buildings look like they were shot for National Geographic. Students are shown with blissful expressions of living in a better place (Brigadoon? Away from home?). Each is chosen by central casting to fill a diversity rainbow and for their Ralph Lauren model looks. Touch football games are big. So is the promise of study abroad programs. Slogans with the words future, career, imagine, and vision abound. There were quite a few mailings with “green” sustainability themes. Given the small forest shown here spread across our conference room table, I got a chuckle out of that conceit.
With so many choices, how do kids and families sort them all out? Everyone has their own criteria and methods. But once the short (hopefully, short) list is arrived at, the campus visits become all important and from each school’s perspective, a minefield. At one top name school, the campus tour guide was completely drowned out by the sounds of construction jackhammers a short distance away. At another, much time was spent (unsuccessfully) silencing the alarm on the front door of a student dorm we were touring. At yet another, prospective students were asked to share something about themselves with others in the room; the problem was that the room was an auditorium full of people, most of whom were pressed for time and were there specifically to learn about that college, not about other prospective freshmen.
The effectiveness of presentations is paramount when you get hundreds of guests into an auditorium. Many that we attended were rambling snooze-fests. Some were technology challenged. And a few were very, very compelling. A really well-done video can compensate for too many speeches from too many campus representatives. Even the Q and A should be carefully prepared for, not with pat answers but thoughtful ones that represent the consistent voice of the institution.
There aren’t any easy answers to college branding and marketing. The processes and messages in place at most schools are well thought out, but often derivative of competing institutions. Really hammering home what is unique about your campus and its offerings is critical. When you throw in the challenges of ever-rising tuition and room and board costs, an especially tight global economy, and competition from more and more online education options, something has to give (and I don’t mean the alumni).

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Preference Central

Preference Central has a great solution for targeted ad control.

I try to avoid webinars for online marketing products and services, because too many fall into the categories of broad pie-in-the-sky over-promising or arcane technical details that only Internet technologists or media strategists can get vaguely excited about. However, I made an exception this week with PreferenceCentral, and I’m glad I did.
I learned something encouraging — that someone is trying to get out in front of the consumer privacy or privacy controls debate and that someone is PreferenceCentral. What’s more, PreferenceCentral has developed a terrific solution for targeted ads, which balances the needs of consumers, advertisers, and ad creators, customizers, and deliverers (agencies, media companies, behavioral data folks, etc.). The solution also takes into account the input of interested parties at the Federal Trade Commission (the recipients of consumer complaints over privacy issues) and industry marketing associations whose members include CMOs at the big national brands. This is the way the marketplace is supposed to work, although it doesn’t as often as it should. The alternative is often government regulation that is full of intended (punitive) and unintended (a whole bunch of unexpected and unfortunate) consequences.

Privacy concerns are huge for consumers and brands.

Privacy concerns are huge for consumers and brands.

The back-story behind all this is the use of browser cookies to collect information on the kind of web sites each of us visits on a daily basis (our ongoing interests and our immediate needs, also known as our current and future purchases of products and services). That data is increasingly mined, collected, analyzed, refined, and used to send targeted ads of interest to each of us, especially when we are regularly visiting e-commerce sites (close to a purchase). The obvious privacy concerns of this are being voiced by many consumers, and within this larger group are the “I hate all advertising” elements that further muddy the waters. Most everyone recognizes the role that advertising places in commerce, but you can’t discount the ways that technology is changing and challenging all of us in how we create and deliver effective and respectful ad messaging.
The PreferenceCentral solution is to add an icon to every targeted ad that enables consumers to learn who is sending this ad specifically targeted to them, then providing the recipient with sensible controls to take action from there. Most consumers will recognize that the advertiser is a reputable business and will select preferences on the kinds of products they are interested in receiving targeted ads about. They can also select other ways to receive information (web site feeds, e-newsletters, direct mail, etc.). Control in the hands of consumers who up to this point haven’t felt like they had any. As for the people who don’t like the concept of targeted ads at all, they will be able to opt out completely from receiving future targeted ads from this company.

Ad Choice Icon opens Preference Central's preferences control.

Ad Choice Icon opens Preference Central's preferences control.

Of course, this only affects the targeted ads a company is using and not the general media ad choices in the marketplace. For instance, just because you opt out of targeted ads from Microsoft doesn’t mean you won’t see a Microsoft banner when reading the tech section of the Wall Street Journal. And even now, without PreferenceCentral’s solution, consumers already have the less sensitive control that they need to opt out (their own browser preferences and “empty cookies” command).
I encourage you to visit the PreferenceCentral web site to learn more about how their Solomon-like, technology-agnostic approach works for both consumers and brands. Currently, the alternative tool is the only one to be found in the government toolbox and that’s a hammer.

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Reed Elsevier is closing 23 B2B titles, including these well-known brands.

Reed Elsevier is closing 23 B2B titles, including these well-known brands.

Last week ended with some very sad B2B marketing industry news — Reed Elsevier is shuttering 23 of its trade publishing titles, some of them among the best-known brands in the business.
Here is a link to the story:

http://www.btobonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100416/MEDIABUSINESS/100419932/1078/newsletter011http://www.btobonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100416/MEDIABUSINESS/100419932/1078/newsletter011

Here is a list of the 23 publications closing down April 30:
1. Construction Equipment, 2. Graphic Arts Monthly, 3. Modern Materials Handling, 4. Plant Engineering, 5. Professional Builder, 6. Purchasing, 7. Restaurants & Institutions, 8. Tradeshow Week, 9. Building Design+Construction, 10. Chain Leader, 11. Construction Bulletin, 12. Consulting-Specifying Engineer, 13. Control Engineering, 14. Converting, 15. Foodservice Equipment & Supplies, 16. Graphic Arts Blue Book, 17. HOTELS, 18. Logistics Management, 19. Material Handling Product News, 20. Professional Remodeler, 21. Semiconductor International, 22. Spec Check, and 23. Supply Chain Management Review.

This news comes as a surprise because Reed had been able to sell some other significant titles in recent months, including Packaging Digest, Design News, Interior Design, and Publishers Weekly. The fact that the publisher has been shopping so many other books, and unsuccessfully at that, indicates the general overall unhealthy state of the media business. Rivals who might be tempted to blend these brands and circulation bases into their operations are probably cash-strapped themselves.
This is not another story about the continuing decline of print either. The vast majority of these titles were published in every form you can imagine — print, digital, online, and e-mail news versions. These were established publications that covered news horizontally across the industrial spectrum and vertically within many specific markets. A lot of seasoned editorial and advertising people are going to be added to the unemployment rolls. A lot of rich trade publishing history (Chilton, Cahners, Reed) in these many markets is going away.
Competing books may feel like winners for having lasted through a 15-round prizefight; however, they will only really get a boost if they pick up new advertisers or increased ad revenues. Many advertisers will continue another trend — becoming self publishers by expanding content on their own web sites, posting to blogs, publishing their own e-newsletters, and launching company pages on social media. If anyone claims to have all the marketing answers these days, they need to revisit this story and be a little humbled.

Important Update:

Here is a link to a great article (although not a great story) on the Reed closures:

http://www.foliomag.com/2010/did-reed-ever-really-plan-sell-titles-it-closed

Important Update #2:

Prior to the April 30 deadline, in two separate deals, 7 titles were sold by Reed.

Logistics Management, Material Handling Product News, Modern Materials Handling and Supply Chain Management Review were bought by Peerless Media, a unit of EH Publishing. Control Engineering, Consulting-Specifying Engineer and Plant Engineering were purchased by CFE Media, a company formed by former RBI publishers:

http://www.btobonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100430/MEDIABUSINESS/100439988/1078/newsletter011

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Email Marketing On The Radio

What is wearying about the current economic mess is how often a particular marketing means is oversold like an all-purpose tonic from the back of a medicine wagon. I picked up a bank’s business publication outside a supermarket branch and saw a whole article devoted to how to “Stretch Your Marketing Dollars with E-Mail Marketing.” My first reaction was shouldn’t a bank’s business publication be about banking? As a marketer, I don’t appreciate seeing banks offering advice, however well-intentioned, that gets into my arena.

Then, I read the opening to the bank’s e-mail marketing article:
“Whenever business slows, marketing budgets often are prime targets for owners and managers looking to slash spending. While it may be necessary to cut marketing costs during a downturn to protect your cash flow, it’s absolutely essential to find ways to continue to reach your customer base to market your business and generate revenue.”

How very inspirational. Especially at a time that banks are not doing enough lending to help small businesses during the downturn. Let’s remind companies that they might consider gutting their marketing budgets, so that all that is left are funds for e-mail marketing. Brilliant business strategy.

That is not to say that e-mail marketing isn’t useful, flexible, memorable (when properly executed), and highly measurable. However, it is just one tool in the marketing toolbox and an increasingly overused one. As a result, we are all dealing with newsletter fatigue, information overload, spam filtering challenges, and a much bigger problem — brand underexposure.

Too many single-minded, single-tool zealots are pushing their solo solution to the exclusion of other, perhaps more expensive but also more effective methods of creating awareness, buzz, and sales. I am really tired of hearing about the waste of traditional media, the death of print, the end of marketing as we know it.

I rest my case with Constant Contact, the best-known purveyor of e-mail marketing software. Why are they the best-known purveyor of e-mail marketing software? Because they market the hell out of themselves. Occasionally, I get a Constant Contact e-mailing encouraging me to sign up for their service. But I get the same from Lyris, Bronto, and a whole slew of others. The reason I know Constant Contact top of mind is because of their widely-run radio advertising campaign used to sell Constant Contact e-mail marketing as the most effective way to reach prospects and customers. Rich irony anyone?

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