Blog : Direct Marketing

Bend the corners of your customers

Somewhere in my parents’ attic are boxes full of baseball cards. They sit there and they collect dust. Once upon a time, I put them behind hard plastic cases, shoved them in binders, and shielded them from sunlight, dust and fingerprints. In another box lie comic books, pressed against cardboard backings in carefully sealed plastic bags; some never even read. In my dark closet sit bottles of wine, that I look at and rotate, but never think of drinking.

These things all sit there because, by not interacting with them, I have been led to believe they will appreciate in value.

Your customers are not baseball cards

Somewhere in your organization are collections of your customers. They’re pressed into database tables like baseball cards. Like unread comic books, their stories remain untold. You don’t interact with them, because if you did; someone is afraid you might bend the corners or put a crease on the page.

By keeping them safe, perfect, untouched… you’ve been led to believe that they will remain valuable to you.

People don’t like being in collections

Give this a try. The next time you interact with a customer (or even a friend), ask them for their email address or phone number. Tell them “I’m going to add you to my marketing database, so I can extract value from this relationship when the time is right for me.”
That bristling sound you hear will be all of the proof that you need. People are not baseball cards. Confirmed.

Try bending the corners

Here’s an A/B test to run, and I hope someone gives it a shot.

Segment your database in half. Start a dialogue with half, via email, for example. Send them all a note asking what’s new in their jobs, what’s changed since you last saw each other, what challenges they’re facing these days. Ask them how you can help. Tell them you’re open to their suggestions as to how you can help them win.

Leave the other half to “collect value”, safely protected in their cozy database cells, and only bother them when you’re ready to cash them in.

Track the engagement of the two groups over time. Which group opens your emails? Which group engages with your offers? Which group buys more stuff? Recommends you to their friends? Who has the largest lifetime value?

As a customer, which group would you rather be in?

Photo Credit: Adam Glasgow

Broadcast media broke us

I’m not about to sit here and say that traditional media is dead. (It’s not.) I’m also not going to get into a discussion about the different ways that traditional broadcast media broken. (Though, It’s certainly due for reinvention)

What is more important than either of those discussions is understanding the way that traditional media broke us.

The break wasn’t violent, so we probably didn’t notice. It happened over time, and carried with it some wonderful side effects. Broadcast media allowed our messages to travel far and wide, with borrowed influence of respected publications.

We got starstruck. We got hooked. We forgot.

We are them

We became dependent on the ability of a few to tell our stories. We forgot that we could tell them ourselves. We forgot that every day people don’t read press releases, they read every day things. We forgot that we could speak directly to these every day people about those every day things. They link between us and them is not the press – the secret is that we are them, and our bonds are shared values and experiences.

We forgot that we’re the real experts. We forgot that we have the authentic perspectives and the true knowledge within our organizations. Journalists and reporters try to tell our stories from the outside looking in. If we all lived on Pandora, then we’re the ones wearing the big blue suits. Journalists are looking for stories, while we live them every day.

Don’t stop

Write your press releases, but then write more. Release your trailer, and then make the film. Tell the whole story. Often. And then tell another. Put them in high traffic spaces, let people share them.

People will come

Telling your own stories has a wonderfully addictive side effect of its own. People will come. People will talk about you, converse with you, and want to share your ideas with eachother.

Know what journalists are always drawn to, even more than a press release on a wire?
A crowd.

So go build one

Thoughts on packaging in a digital world

In my lifetime, I can think of several major paradigm shifts in the world of packaging. Once upon a time, everything came in a big box, wrapped in styrofoam or packing peanuts. Then there was a shift to minimal packaging; products were shrink-wrapped hard plastic that was seemingly impossible to open (so difficult that major league pitcher Adam Eaton was injured attempting to open a DVD with a knife).

Recently, there has been a shift towards including elegant packaging into the experience of owning a product. Perhaps best exemplified by Apple, the process of opening of products has become an elaborate ritual, establishing an instant bond between user and product that could never be achieved with packing peanuts or bubble wrap standing by.

What is your product? What is your packaging?

We are in the midst of a new change in the world of packaging; one that shifts the very definitions of the product/package relationship. Industries that have typically never considered themselves participants in the business of packaging and shipping products are now surrounded by opportunities to innovate in how their information is delivered.

Consider the podcast

The year was 2004, and I was going on vacation, far away from the comforts of home and the english language radio programming that had become a part of my day-to-day routine. Armed with an iPod and an iMac, I realized that I could record content from radio, rip it to mp3 and take it with me in a digital format. It was tedious work, akin to recording songs from FM radio to cassette tapes a decade earlier.

It totally worked… I had the content I wanted, an ocean away, at the tips of my fingers thanks to my iPod. But I was left with the feeling that there had to be a better way.

And there was. Mere months later, the concept of podcasting reached my radar. That arduous process of taking audio from analog to digital and shoehorning it into my mobile iPod lifestyle was replaced by a more elegant solution of iTunes and audio subscription.

If information is your product… how are you packaging it?

Cutting across all industries, information is a common denominator. We all distribute information, and many of us are relegated to old styles of packaging our information. We cram our information into standard shaped boxes, even if the dimensions aren’t right. Be it a brochure, a direct mail letter, or a corporate website, we plunk our information in boxes and protect the sharp corners using useless filler content; packing peanuts for a digital realm.

Creating an experience

How can you create an unboxing culture around your content? How can you involve the user in an immersive experience where the packaging isn’t merely something that gets in the way and thrown away? Can you re-think your strategy enough to make the wrapper and ribbon a part of the gift itself?

Gary Vaynerchuk re-created the packaging when he started filming and distributing Wine Library TV. The world was used to magazines and elitist culture surrounding a wine experience… Gary wrapped it up in personality and a spirit of inclusion.

SteveRunner re-created packaging of digital audio once again when he released his podcast as an iPhone application – The Virtual Running Partner, complete with exclusive weekly video content. He removed the requirement to tether to a computer or even understand what a podcast was, delivering the gift of convenience and a feeling of intimacy to runners around the world.

BT took an industry in a death spiral, and leap-frogged iTunes digital distribution by releasing the first single from his latest album as an iPhone application. Sonifi provided users with a virtual mixing board, complete with stems from 4 separate remixes, transforming the listener into an artist. In an industry where packaging had actually degraded with digital technology – the experience provided by CD artwork, liner notes and the storytelling of complete albums virtually unknown to a new generation of music fans – BT’s single allowed listeners to get their hands dirty and use his product in a way that had never been done before.

In 6 months, the stakes get higher

As more and more people become mobile, as handset specs rapidly approach their desktop and laptop counterparts, and bandwidth limitations become less of an excuse by the day, your consumers will begin to expect information to be packaged in novel ways that increase their experience with your brand. More hands-on mobile platforms (iPad et al), ebooks complete with multimedia, and the youtube generation intent on remixing culture will all combine to change the expectations of product experiences yet again.

What other innovations have you experienced in the packaging lately? How have brands used digital content to make things more useful, convenient and ultimately, more memorable?

Conversation means blue skies for vendors

Imagine for a moment that you’ve just sat down in a very nice restaurant. You look around, and they’ve got everything just right. You’ve heard about this place from friends – it is totally the place to be.

You ask the waiter for some suggestions. He suggests the lobster; fresh, tasty and only $300.

“I’m sorry, $300…. for lobster?” You manage to exclaim…

“Yes, our lobster is the best in the province. Each is caught by hand by our chef, who dives to the bottom of the ocean each morning. They are then prepared with the most delicious spices, grown in our own Tibetan monastery and served with a selection of organic, free-range seasonal vegetables. While you eat you will be serenaded by a choir of actual angels.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that you only have $100 in your pocket…

“Wow. Uh. That all sounds amazing but… well… do you have anything more affordable?”

“Here? Nah – we only do the high end stuff. We’d love for you to eat here, but I’ll tell you what… head down the street and hang a left. There’s this fantastic little hole-in-the-wall place. Great lobster, really fun atmosphere. Great folks run the place – say hi for me. If you want, I can call for you, to see if they’ve got tables available?”

Imagine what a wonderful world that would be.

Blue skies as far as the eye can see

Last week, a good friend of mine required some help getting set up with an email marketing service provider. For months, I have been dying to check out Blue Sky Factory. I’ve heard many good things about them as they sponsor Marketing Over Coffee, and are mentioned on Twitter frequently. Their CEO, Greg Cangialosi is mentioned so many times in Trust Agents that it’s worthy of a drinking game unto itself. But it wasn’t until this week, that I realized why.

Every relationship has a story.

Unfortunately, Blue Sky Factory is not the right fit for my friend… for now. Their base service plan is more expensive than he’s looking for; and justifiably so. It offers far more complexity than he needs and is built for a more established email marketing plan – offering fantastic testing and measurement features along with consulting services that warrant the bigger spend. Its a Ferrari; I was more interested in a Toyota.

Many salespeople would take this opportunity to push for an up-sell or force their product to be the right fit for every situation. Without the sale, for most companies and most customers, the story would end here.

Make yourself part of the story

It wasn’t until I turned to Twitter to get a recommendation for a different service provider, that Blue Sky Factory demonstrated why they are well prepared to own this game.

Blue Sky Factory - Great Email Service Provider

DJ Waldow, BSF’s Director of Community, volunteered to help me find a more suitable email provider. He understood that they didn’t offer the exact solution that I needed, and went out of his way to make sure that my experience with Blue Sky Factory was positive… even if it meant sending business elsewhere.

On DJ’s recommendation, my friend will be using Mailchimp, but Blue Sky Factory is now a part of the story.

An established expert

They didn’t need a catchy slogan, a magazine spread or a celebrity testimonial to imprint that into my memory. I’ve never seen an actual advertisement for them, and couldn’t draw their logo from memory. And yet I know that Blue Sky Factory’s brand represents expertise in the email marketing field and superb customer service.

Good business shouldn’t begin with the sale, shouldn’t end with the sale, and as demonstrated here, shouldn’t require a sale at all. Good business is about the conversation.

If your business wants to have a conversation about email marketing, DJ Waldow would be more than happy to help.

What others businesses have won you over by recommending the right solution, instead of their solution?