Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Blog Log

We are so absolutely lucky to live in an age where there is just so much interesting stuff out there. We can access incredible creativity and great info with just a few clicks.

That's why we thought that it was time to introduce a weekly feature where we'll be highlighting blog posts and other things that we find to be interesting. We hope you like what we like!

1. Ron Shevlin's: It doesn't take a genius to read this blog. We love Ron's humor! And, in this post, he introduces a pretty nifty site that reviews your website or blog and reports on what reading level it is. For what it's worth, Ron's is graded at high school level, and ours is graded at college level. Hmmmm, what does that say about us, I wonder?

2. Avinash Kaushik's Ten More Blogging Tips from a Novice Blogger. Well, Avinash, for all his modesty, is hardly a novice blogger. He has one of the most popular blogs out there; topic is web analytics. Avinash is passionate about blogging, seems really kind and a great person. Plus, his blogging tips are right on the money.

3. The Viral Garden's list of the top 25 marketing blogs. I know, we're giving you a link to more links! But, this is a blog resource that I check out all the time. It points me in the direction of other marketing blogs that I should be reviewing. It's also fun to see who's most popular (Seth Godin, always).

4. Drew's Marketing Minute discusses how so many marketers miss the boat completely when they focus on product features, INSTEAD of on how the product will benefit its customers.

5. Becky Carroll's Customers Rock! blog post that provides some handy, and ever-so-practical public speaking tips.

6. And, finally, we'd love to extend an invitation to all of you smart readers to join a facebook group we recently joined. Started by Robert Rosenthal of Mothers of Invention, and called "What I Saw At the Direct Marketing Revolution," this is an up-and-coming community of savvy direct marketers. Check us out and please join in the fun and learning.

We hope you enjoy this new Friday Feature of ours. Let us know how we can improve, and if we've missed any good posts, please comment and share!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Spotlight On: Acxiom

Welcome to the first monthly "Spotlight On" post! Each month, we will focus specifically on a company within the direct marketing industry that makes news headlines due to their excellent contributions to the DM industry. Additionally, we will seek out those companies who not only bring us great DM solutions, but also perform exceptionally in the customer service arena. We believe that this monthly post will bring a lot to our faithful readers -- and it makes us happy to recognize a company in our industry who we would consider as a good choice to bring to our clients.

Today, our spotlight is on Acxiom, who was recently lauded by Forrester Research as a "technology powerhouse." According to the press release, "Acxiom was among only 12 leading database marketing service companies selected by Forrester to participate in 'The Forrester Wave™: Database Marketing Service Providers, Q4 2007' evaluation."

So, what did Forrester look at when christening Acxiom with this high praise?
“The company remains a technology powerhouse with a heavy emphasis on proprietary data and deep industry expertise across a multitude of industries,” the Forrester Wave report noted. “Acxiom clients applaud its reactive, responsive and customer-focused service...” AHA! And those were exactly the two components that we were searching for!

As we all know, great solutions are abundant out there in the direct marketing marketplace. Whenever we think that a piece of data doesn't exist or a tool just simply hasn't yet been created, we are astonished to find that it is out there somewhere. You just have to be persistent in your research and chances are, it can either be created or it exists . . . if you look hard enough. We've found that the most difficult piece is, after finding what you are looking for, to be able to actually extract it from the company without leaving too much of your blood and soul behind. Wait . . . do I sound bitter?

The customer focus element is the piece that, nowadays, is seemingly impossible to achieve. Many companies have the technology but are so incredibly difficult to do business with that you almost wish you hadn't found the technology in the first place. According to their own clients, Acxiom has figured out how to integrate great technology solutions and maintain a solid -- and positive -- customer satisfaction perspective. This is why they made the short list on Forrester's Wave report.

Acxiom has also set itself apart from its competitors by its focus on the Small-to-Medium-sized Business market. The firm recently acquired MKTG Services, whose core competencies are in serving this market.
With this acquisition, they also picked up some other key areas of expertise such as marketing solutions for credit risk, bankruptcy identification, and turn-key marketing systems. All in all, this looks like an excellent acquisition by Acxiom. Also, we've worked with some of the staff from MKTG Services -- and they, too, have a solid focus on the customer.

Due to the way that they've managed and grown their business, Acxiom is reportedly the "largest marketing database provider in the industry" and "manages more than twice as many databases as its next largest competitor." In addition, I've recently spoken to a couple of their employees and they honestly enjoy working for the company. According to these folks, Acxiom's corporate culture is one that recognizes hard work, yet allows its employees to put their families first. And, for a large, continually growing company, this is yet another huge accomplishment. It isn't that easy to maintain a positive corporate culture -- while continuing to sustain growth -- in this extremely competitive economic time.

Kudos to Acxiom for getting it right -- bringing us great solutions, customer-focused employees and a corporate culture that makes the company a great place to work! We are quite happy that we are able to focus our first spotlight on them! And, we'd love to hear your comments of personal thoughts and experiences in working with Acxiom, good or bad.

If you have experienced an extraordinary company in your travels, please share it with us. We'll be happy to highlight their efforts in an upcoming "Spotlight On" post.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Green Direct Marketing

Two very different articles caught my eye this morning, both from DM News.

The first: Dreaming of a green christmas? which reports on a stunt by ForestEthics.

"While Ty Pennington, TV handyman extraordinaire and Sears’ spokeshunk, toyed with his toolbelt in Times Square last week during a Sears Wish Book catalog promotion, Santa and his reindeer tried to call a halt to the action in the name of the environment."

Apparently, this stunt was an "attempt to take Sears to task for what it cited as environmental cruelty (the Wish Book is some 200 pages long)." The article goes on to say although the stunt didn't really capture too much media attention, it "does speak to the concerns that catalog marketers are addressing in terms of the environmental impact of their bread and butter."

Are consumers sick and tired of all those catalogs? And, do they think about the environment when they open their full mail boxes this time of year? Have no fears--these questions will soon be answered.

"DMNews has partnered with Pitney Bowes on a consumer survey, Direct Mail and the Environment. The results, with accompanying editorial, will be in the December 17 issue." We'll definitely be reporting results here.

Now, on to Green Issue number 2. This time, it's about using environmental attitudes as part of segmentation. Although a tad creepy (that even our feelings about saving the environment might be known about us), it makes sense, right?

Direct Group looks to green data for new marketing service

Here's how it's done: "Market segmentation technology provider Earthsense measures consumer reaction to environmental issues. The Earthsense Eco-Insights Survey gathered responses from 30,000 adults across the US. Recently released results show respondents’ feelings on political candidates, green products, eco-friendly companies and other issues."

Direct Group
offers this segmentation system (along with other direct marketing services) to political marketers. Segments are applied to Voter Registration files to enable more precise targeting and messaging.

Pretty nifty, eh?

In any event, that's the news today on the environmental front!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Queens of the Direct Mail Soapbox!

Long Live Direct Mail! Say it loud -- say it proud! Really.

Guess what? Even though we have a plethora of direct marketing tools in our picnic basket -- and a lot of them are way cool, way sexy -- direct mail is still the most effective way to get your message out. Yep, there's been a new survey conducted about this very topic. A recent article in DM News by Dean Rieck states that:

A recent survey by International Communications Research concluded that people prefer receiving things by direct mail. Seventy-three percent of respondents said they prefer receiving new product announcements by mail, versus 18% for e-mail. And, a whopping 86% said they prefer direct mail for official correspondence, such as bills, bank statements and financial reports, compared to 10% for e-mail.

For those of us who have long lauded the benefits of highly-targeted, intelligent direct mail, this is music to our ears. Further, Rieck goes on to say that, "fewer people trash unsolicited direct mail when compared to e-mail, 31% to 53%." Now, we all love e-mail and it's very apparent that there are those who prefer to be communicated with via e-mail. However, this study simply points out that direct mail does still work -- and when you're trying to get a particular message out to a specific audience, you can do it quite effectively with direct mail.

If you're avid readers of this blog (and we hope you are!), you know that we're huge proponents of strategically utilizing all of the available direct marketing channels. And, by listening to your customer's preferences, you can make your campaigns very successful utilizing a multi-channel approach.

The point of this post is to remind you that as you plan your DM campaigns, don't rule out direct mail. When executed correctly, this channel is a great way to get your message across -- and an excellent way to ensure that it will not be ignored. You can use any format you like and many different methods of delivery.

Now, here's the next conundrum . . . how do you effectively utilize direct mail and be a "green" marketer at the same time? Because as more and more studies point out, both businesses and consumers are getting greener by the day. Something to think about as you go about your day!

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Case Study Monday: Data Assessment

It's official--we've decided to dedicate each Monday's post to a marketing case study. Last week we shared how RRW helped a leading telecommunications firm retain and up-sell profitable customers. This week we'll focus on our work with another communications giant and talk about how our analysis of their marketing data helped them optimize their data management strategies.

Situation Overview:
The database marketing team at AT&T/BellSouth wanted to maximize the value and utilization of their rich internal data stores. They had a general understanding that their customer data was valuable, and that they could potentially be buying unnecessary external data from a variety of similar data sources. They also knew that they needed to understand how the data was being used, what types of programs were being fed by the data, who were the power users of the data, and who was not using the data. They needed to understand current and future data needs and requirements.

Solution Overview
RRW Consulting recommended a thorough examination of the data assets and systems access. The consulting engagement included:
  • A series of user interviews where we gleaned valuable information as to specific programs that used the customer data, along with overall perceptions of the data.
  • These interviews not only uncovered what data was valuable for today's programs, but also revealed future directions, so that we could match our recommendations to meet both today's and tomorrow's needs.
  • Detailed written descriptions of the current systems environment that included ease of data access (list pulls, financial report generation, etc.).
  • A data content analysis to allow for a thorough understanding of the deliverability and data depth.
  • Interviews of all divisions that purchased external data looking for purchase redundancies.
  • The database team was armed with the details they needed to convince Leadership of the value of the data and the continued investment in data management systems and data.
  • Data recommendations allowed AT&T/BellSouth to focus their external data investment only on data that would support current and upcoming programs.
  • Use of the database and the data increased exponentially throughout the company.
  • External data costs were reduced by 10%
Overall, our work with AT&T/BellSouth allowed them to get a handle on how data was being used throughout this large organization. Further, we were able to match available external data to the current and future marketing programs, hence optimizing their significant investment in external data. For example, we found the best source of e-mail data for them. Plus, we identified the most accurate source of ethnic data and the best sources of hi-tech information (both areas that they were focusing on).

But, it's really not all about us! We look forward to featuring other interesting case studies--please share your success stories with us and we'll feature them in an upcoming Monday post. Simply e-mail the case study to: Should make for some interesting Monday reading, reading all of these excellent direct marketing success stories!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Direct Marketing: What Are We Thankful For?

Once again, the year has whizzed by . . . Mom was right (again) about time speeding up on you as you get older. So, here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving, and reflecting on what we have to be thankful for in the world of direct marketing. Come on -- I know that's what you're all reflecting on as you're making those pumpkin pies!

For starters, our industry continues to expand. Even with the stumbling economy of 2007, direct marketing spend has continued to grow robustly -- some report as much as 7%. That is great news for all of us! And, in reviewing our client's strategies, it's looking like 2008 will be even stronger than 2007.

Second, certain marketing channels are really experiencing great growth spurts. As we discussed in our post yesterday, it's readily apparent that online marketing is continuing to expand. In addition, those companies who utilize a multi-channel approach -- integrating their online marketing with direct mail, for example -- are profiting in a big way. Once again, it's all about customer preference, and if you have a sound multi-channel marketing strategy, you are reaching more of your customers in the way in which they desire to be communicated -- thus, increasing your response rates. It's as simple as that!

Third, some of the newer channels are beginning to flourish. For example, word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is experiencing strong growth. As reported by PQ Media, WOM marketing expenditures are expected to grow over 30% between now and 2011. From our perspective, this is increasingly due to the continued acceptance of and participation with social media sites. As we reported last week, social media is here to stay and, we believe, will become an important part of this projected growth, and therefore, a part of many direct marketing strategies.

So, as you're carving that turkey tomorrow, and getting ready to dig in to the mashed potatoes, be thankful that you're involved in an industry as exciting and profitable as ours. And, when you get the "junk mail-king" and "spam-queen" jokes from the relatives, just smile and keep on chewing. The joke is on them . . . and we'll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

'Tis the Season--for SHOPPING!

"The Internet’s role in the holiday shopping season continues to grow, promising to provide a ray of light in what could be an otherwise dim holiday shopping season."

"According to research being released today by, which is part of the NRF, and BIGresearch, the Internet will influence 30.2% of holiday sales this year, up from 28.9% last year."

This in from today's DM News. Hardly big news that more and more people are enjoying the comforts of shopping from home, or the office. Forget about parking the car in the mall, fighting the hordes to grab that perfect gift. It's so much easier to simply point and click, and, um, give up that credit card number.

What I found intriguing about this article was the fact that online merchandisers are learning a few things from their retail brethren. And, in some cases they're taking it a bit farther by using social media tactics to boost marketing effectiveness.
  • "72% of online retailers said they are planning a special promotion for Cyber Monday." Cyber Monday is the Monday after Thanksgiving--traditionally a huge day for online shopping, as people return to the offices with Christmas, and Christmas shopping on their minds. Cyber Monday is quickly becoming as important as Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, and the time in the fiscal year when most brick and mortar retailers finally turn a profit).
  • " is’s shopping Web site intended to help consumers find the best holiday deals." This site collects online deals and sales info and even distributes this info to interested consumers via RSS feed and e-mail. Talk about offering a great service to the interested shopper. And, a lovely use of interactive marketing.
In some cases, (gasp) online marketers are actually integrating their marketing with retail to really boost the effect on consumers.
  • "More retailers are viewing their online sales initiatives as part of an overall marketing strategy."
  • "According to a recent survey from BDO, chief marketing officers of leading US retailers said they are dedicating 14.8% of their total marketing budget to driving Internet sales during the holidays."
So, what, specifically, should we (as consumers) be looking for in the way of promotional activities? What deals will be out there?
  • According to, e-mail campaigns will be the most popular promotion on Cyber Monday, with 32% of retailers planning to use this strategy. E-mail is followed by specific deals, which 29.9% of retailers plan to offer, one-day sales, which 28.9% plan to offer and free shipping, which 24.7% plan to offer.
  • BDO’s research indicates that 61% of retailers will be providing reduced prices online during the holidays, 58% free shipping and 53% exclusive items. The average minimum purchase to qualify for free shipping was $43."
  • “More and more retailers are adopting ‘Midnight Madness’ one-day sale approaches” this year, according to Krugman (Scott Krugman is VP of public relations at the National Retail Federation). The expectation is that since sales weren’t that strong in September and October, there will be some pent-up consumer demand and retailers are hoping to capture this."
In just a few years, we've seen web sales grow and grow. And, the strategies behind interactive marketing have evolved, too. It's a fun time to be a direct marketer. And, I have to admit it, it's a fun time to be a consumer!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Retention Case Study

We've decided to start this week off by sharing a case study. We're pretty proud of this one--RRW helped a leading telecommunications client retain more customers and sell those customers more services.

Hopefully, this success story will spark some good direct marketing ideas for you. And, it might give you a feeling for what RRW is all about :)

Situation Overview

Our client, one of the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) was faced with the following two marketing challenges:

  1. They needed to increase cross-sell and up-sell revenues from their large customer portfolio. Their strategy was to develop a “best product path” approach. They knew that if they could predict what was the next logical (and the most profitable) product to offer to each customer, they could improve cross-sell and up-sell results. Just a small increase in performance meant millions of dollars to this communications giant.
  2. The Wireless division was faced with increased churn, especially among their most profitable customer segments. Competition was fierce as wireless carriers fought to grow their market share. They knew that they needed to improve retention efforts and – quickly – implement customer “save” programs.

Solution Review
RRW Consulting recommended a data-centric, analytical approach to help solve both of these challenges. The idea was to effectively mine existing customer data assets, and augment these efforts through the use of external demographic and behavioral data. Accurate and relevant data, combined with effective predictive modeling and customer profiling allowed the communications company to understand:

  • What were the common traits of existing customers, considered “gold” customers—those who had at least 3 products (i.e.: caller ID, call waiting and voice mail)?
  • What were the migration habits of customers who had become “gold”? How did they migrate from basic local service to become a gold customer? Which products did they buy first, second and third, or did they sign up for all services when they were acquired?

Answers to the above helped us to understand the product migration and allowed us to build the “best product path” approach.

Similarly for the Wireless Division, we examined attributes of profitable customers who had recently defected. We searched for reasons why an individual customer churned and developed a series of predictive models to predict who among active customers was likely to defect, and for what reason.

We then periodically scored the active customer portfolio with these churn models and fed the communications firm files of customers likely to defect. Using this data, the communications firm was able to devise and implement appropriate save strategies that allowed them to communicate with their customers with the right message and offer.

Following is a sampling of the data we analyzed to solve these challenges:

Data included: Products held, Price Plan, Payment behavior, Activation date, Calls to Customer Service and Handset type.

Data indluded: Individual-level data such as age and gender, Telecommunications-specific segmentation tools, Business vs. Personal use of service, Likely switching behavior and Neighborhood-level data (credit/census)

  • Retention of wireless customers was improved by 20%.
  • Cross-sell and up-sell efforts improved dramatically (actual $ results are confidential).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Adding Social Media to your Direct Marketing Strategy

We've provided a lot of food for thought this week on the use of social media as part of your direct marketing strategy. It's probably quite apparent that we really got a lot of value for the time and money spent at the BlogWorldExpo. If any of the information that we've presented thus far resonates with you, we highly recommend taking part in this conference next year. You get a huge bang for your buck -- that's for certain.

To summarize, here are our key takeaways for your consideration:
  • Creating a company blog allows you to demonstrate and discuss your core strengths to both your existing customers, as well as to potential prospects. And it allows them to effectively interact with you -- thus, allowing you to build stronger customer relationships.
  • You can effectively build your customer base through building a community online. At the same time, you are also building the reputation of your business through an effective and thought-provoking blog.
  • You can add to your profitability by effectively leveraging your blog and building your online community.
  • Utilizing social media to create open and honest dialog with your online community will help to create credibility for your company. It also can establish you as the company with the expertise that serves a particular industry best.
  • Social media is transparent -- so be aware of this. If your corporate culture isn't healthy, sooner or later this will come through loud and clear to your online community. On the other hand, if you have a healthy and positive corporate culture, this will also come through and will be of huge benefit. Through your online community, your customers will have a better chance of understanding what you are all about -- and this builds customer loyalty.
  • Finally, use controversy but never use it to evoke anger. Your posts live forever! Don't write anything that you think that -- when calmer minds prevail -- you'll wish you hadn't.
We hope you've enjoyed this social media interlude this week. And, we hope that it will cause you to consider how you can begin to build social media into your marketing strategy. Again, we feel strongly that by embracing this direct marketing channel today, you'll be setting yourself up for success in the future. We already wish we'd begun a few years ago . . . so, keep that in mind.

As you begin to consider this, please let us know how it's going. We'd love to hear your comments of how you are creating success through your online community. And, as always, if you don't agree -- and think that this may be a passing trend, let us hear about that, too. We'll update you from time to time on how our strategy is helping us to build our business, in the hopes that we may be able to spark a Big Idea for you and your business.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Building an Online Community

So, now that we've looked at some successful corporate blogs and some ideas around building profitability using your blog as the catalyst, let's focus on another great session that I attended at BlogWorldExpo: Building an Online Community. This session was led by the two extraordinary entrepreneurs and bloggers pictured here: Wendy Piersall of, and Dave Nalle of The Republic of Dave. This was yet another outstanding session. I've capsulized some of what I learned from these fine folks in this post.

As direct marketers, we understand the value of effectively targeting your customer base to build loyalty and long-term customers. In the world of Social Media, this happens through the connections that you make online with like-minded people. By building your online community through a company blog, you are encouraging -- if not downright enlisting -- your valuable customers to participate in conversations that you bring up about your company's core competencies. The best thing about this is that you have the ability to get open and honest feedback about your offerings from those who mean the most -- your customers and online community participants.

So, how do you go about building a successful online community? Some of the ideas here have already been presented in the BlogWorldExpo-specific posts this week . . . and once again, it all starts with good quality content that is both thought-provoking and relevant to the community. Here, again, controversial points-of-view will help to drive comments. And comments really drive traffic.

Let's start with a few words about comments . . . did you know that most blogs get an average of 3.2-3.3 comments per post? If you start to get some repeat commentators and they are adding good insight and provoking more comments, you should invite them to become blog contributors. This helps you to bring in a variety of differing opinions and adds a little thought-diversity to your posts. Plus, repeat commentators are oftentimes members of other online communities, and their posts may attract other communities to yours.

When managing comments, try to guide the discussion in a positive way. This way, eventually, the good comments will override the negative ones. Another sure-traffic driver is having a comment snippet side bar on your blog that features recent comments. Both presenters of this session, do an excellent job with this concept on their blogs. Not only do they both feature recent comments, Wendy also features "Top Commentators" on her blog. This rewards top commentators with a widget. Cool stuff!

Dave features a "welcome mat" on a sidebar for new visitors. So, when you visit Dave's blog, you can see a few people who have recently been there, and provides the new visitor with the opportunity to join his community (this really works because I did it!). The sidebar tells a little about the blog and gives contact info in case visitors have any questions. According to Dave, this can also help visitors feel comfortable, and encourages them to comment.

A final word on comments -- 15-20% of people generate all of the comments, so you really want to reward your top commentators, as both Dave and Wendy do on their blogs.

In terms of post content, while controversy does bring people into your community, you need to be careful not to put people off -- or just make a bunch of people angry. Mark Cuban put it best last week in his keynote when he said that your blog posts live forever -- even if you try to delete them. If you put something out there that you come to later regret, you can bet it'll rear it's ugly head at a most inappropriate time somewhere. That's just life.

A definite do is to use humor. Humor engages people and allows them to see part of your personality. This attracts people to your community.

As you are focusing on building your community, make sure that you provide relevant content in your blog-posts. Make sure that your content speaks to your community and that it demonstrates that what you are providing as content is for the benefit of your specific community. There's that value-add that all of us direct marketers are always striving for in our campaigns -- so that our piece or ad or whatever, truly speaks to the prospect or customer. It's the same with online communities. In order for them to take the time to participate in your community, participants need to feel that what you are doing is for them.

When you join with a group of like-bloggers (bloggers with the same or complimentary content), you'll not only build your community but you can all benefit from a larger combined community. If you decide to monetize your blog with well-placed ads (see yesterday's post on this subject), this provides another benefit -- increased profitability.

As a part of this, you can also become a sort of "blog critic." Here, you provide content that points your readers to the other blogs in your bloggers community. Thus, your community starts to spread the word for you. If all of the bloggers in your community do this, you can imagine all of the various mentions that you, your product/service and your blog will receive online. This tactic will boost your placement with the search engines, too -- Google is always on the lookout for how often you are mentioned. And, proper blog etiquette states that you should always throw a good mention out to a person who mentions you!

In tomorrow's post, look for a summation of my learnings from the BlogWorldExpo. I hope you are all enjoying learning from what I've learned. And don't forget, this is all about marketing -- social media is the future of where we are going as direct marketers. Those of us who are embracing this shift are going to be in good shape as we go from Web 2.0 to Web 10.0!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Blogging and Profit Potential -- Want to Start a Controversy?

At BlogWorldExpo, there was an entire track devoted to maximizing the profit potential of your blog. Each session was pretty dang interesting for the simple reason that, as bloggers, we tend to be purists. We want to be different than regular old public relations people. We want to be completely honest and open. For example, there were those who were solidly against ghost-blogging because it wasn't really truthful -- and blogging is all about truth, right?

Well, right, unless it's all about profit.

Throughout the conference, there were definitely two different schools of thought regarding creating profit through your blog. In a session that I attended called Good to Great: Blogging and Profit Potential, Jim Kukral gave us his ideas on this subject. Kukral is an award winning blogger and online marketing guru who specializes in helping businesses make money online. He is also really smart and quite creative when it comes to getting himself noticed. As a matter of fact, he got the attention of Mark Cuban with domain names such as As you can imagine . . . he got Cuban's attention. Plus, he got to introduce him at his keynote at BlogWorld!

Kukral's vision is that you can make money with your blog through the use of memorable images and the use of ads and video on your blog. These things, along with his "secret sauce" is a sure fire recipe for success. Consider his equation for creating profit through your blog:

A Highly-Targeted Niche + High Quality Content that Solves a Business Problem + Good Ad Placement = Profit.

Pretty interesting, huh? And, it makes perfect sense. Now, those purists out there could argue that you could build profitability with the first two components of the equation -- leaving out the ad piece -- in other words, make money from your field of expertise as opposed to advertising links. However, Kukral would counter (I believe) that if you have well placed, conservative ads, you can make money from the links, too, without "selling out." And, he cited several folks who have made a bunch of money using this tactic.

So, how do you do this? One key (along with the above equation), according to Kukral, is figuring out the problem that has to be solved. . . then using that as the title of your blog, your domain name, etc. He gave the example of as a blog that does this really well.

In addition, to further build credibility and traffic, another important tactic is to use videos -- this is the new frontier of blogging (we heard this several times throughout the Expo). The idea is to put those videos out on a site like YouTube or Google, then also blog about the subject matter. Kukral believes that you can easily double the number of pages and ads viewed (if you use ads) if you utilize this approach. Moreover, you can place your videos on YouTube for free and can easily put your videos together for little cost (using a simple digital camera -- "The Flip"). Kukral indicated that he's done this and gets about five calls per week for marketing consulting (his core business) using this approach.

Finally, Kukral advises that to get more comments, you need to be a little controversial on your blog content. Controversy gets you lots of interaction. In browsing Mark Cuban's blog, he definitely does this . . . and I know, Cuban is a celebrity, too. However, he does put up some controversial topics on his blog -- and he gets a ton of comments from both sides of the controversy. Interestingly, Cuban (in his keynote address) stated that he is a blog purist and doesn't like the idea of ads on his blog. So, there you go -- the two different schools of thought again.

Interesting food for thought for us bloggers. I'd love to hear comments from you all on your thoughts about creating profits from blogging. Let's start some controversy!

More From BlogWorld: Corporate Blogging

As promised, here is more from our learnings from the BlogWorldExpo. Again, we think that blogging and social media participation will become imperative to your successful direct marketing strategy.

One of the first sessions that I attended was on CEO and Corporate blogging. Needless to say, this was a very interesting session. Debbie Weil, author of The Corporate Blogging Book, did a great job of moderating the session. Corporate bloggers on the panel consisted of Jennifer Cisney from Kodak, Pete Johnson from HP, John Earnhardt from Cisco and Paula Berg and Brian Lusk (AKA BlogGirl and BlogBoy) from Southwest Airlines. So, all in all, a good cross-section of Corporate Bloggers.

Here are some of the key learnings from this session -- and we think, excellent ideas to consider when pondering whether or not to start a corporate blog.

  • Blogging is the beginning of a new revolution. Those corporations not jumping into it are not doing so because they are either fearful of losing control or of being criticized. Those who are should not be . . . the bottom line is that you set the rules for your blog and can control it. Think of it as your editorial channel and a great way to get the good word out about your company. In addition, you are providing an excellent opportunity for your customers/potential customers to not only get to know your company but to actively engage them to participate and interact with your company.
  • CEO Blogs rarely work -- except for Mark Cuban's (see yesterday's post). This is because many CEO's simply aren't the best writers and/or communicators. However, you can definitely highlight your CEO in your corporate blog by including his or her insights or interviews with them from time to time on your blog. Some even ghost-write for their CEO's -- and anyone at the conference can attest that this is, indeed, quite the controversial topic.
  • There are different ways to go about creating a corporate blog -- and all are equally effective. For example, HP has over 50 blogs. Anyone at HP who wants to do a blog within HP can. They are careful to keep it to a technical discussion of their products and keep customer service out of it (i.e., they refer customer service questions to the customer service department). Cisco also encourages employees to host a Cisco blog in order to participate in meaningful discussions with their audiences. And, here, the Cisco CEO does both participate and see the value of this -- he does one video blog per week. Kodak does it somewhat differently -- they have employees post poignant stories of how they've used Kodak products. You can imagine it -- how getting your photos out when your house burns down helps to ease the pain of loss, the pictures taken during the birth of your children, etc. Very cool blog. Southwest uses their blog to run ideas past their customers -- trust me, I'll be commenting on their latest numbering system. It turns out that I was a big fan of the cattle call.
  • Moderating your blog is a must to protect your brand. Most companies allow people to post pretty much anything -- but most moderate the comments to get rid of swear words or personal attacks. In addition, if your company issues a press release, it's a good idea to blog about it so that people have the opportunity to comment about it. Southwest did this for their new seating idea and immediately got 700 comments -- they got immediate and passionate feedback from those who vote with their dollars -- their customers. How valuable is that? Talk about direct marketing -- this is as direct as it gets!
  • In order to have an effective Corporate blog, you have to have an inside evangelist to take a leading role and convince the leadership that it's worth it. Most corporate bloggers contribute along with doing their real jobs. All panelists seemed passionate about their blogs and insisted that everyone involved really wanted to be involved. They also said that it's important to ensure that your blog is deliverable by email. Sometimes the RSS feeds are behind Corporate firewalls, so those who may wish to subscribe to them can't.
  • Your culture is important. If you are like Southwest whose culture allows the employees to take risks, your blog will probably be more successful than a company who is more risk averse. Also, blogging can make your company very transparent. So, if your corporate culture isn't all that great, a blog is probably going to expose that fact. It may be wiser not to blog if this is the case. : )
Overall, this session was just full of great stuff to ponder. I hope you've gleaned some good ideas from this post on launching your blog -- Corporate or otherwise. For more on this session, please see another great blog -- The Scratching Post. You'll love KT Cat -- I know we do!

Monday, November 12, 2007

News from BlogWorld Expo

We attended the BlogWorld Expo conference last week in Las Vegas. Surprisingly, this event made national news--who would have thought that a bunch of geeky bloggers together in one space could cause such a buzz!

Nancy and I attended this conference with two goals in mind:

1. How do we add blogging and other social media to our arsenal of direct marketing tools? What can we learn so that we can help your clients in this area?

2. Can we learn new strategies and pick up some good new ideas on ways to grow, as our blog matures?

Well, this conference accomplished the above, and more! Look for us to add video blogging and some other new things that may surprise you. And, we now have some concrete ideas on ways our corporate direct marketing clients can use new media. Exciting stuff!

I wanted to share, today, some tidbits from the opening and closing sessions.

Opening Session: Thursday morning, November 8, 2007
First of all, consider the setting--hundreds of bloggers, sitting in front of their laptops. Many had video cameras, recorders and regular cameras (to best record the event). Most were live blogging from the session--something I personally had never experienced. It was hard NOT to spy and check out what people around us were typing.

The format of the session was a Q&A, with questions directed at Matt Mullenweg, the founding developer of Wordpress. Here are some direct quotes from Matt:
  • "The future of software is open source."
  • "Selling software is dead."
  • His goal: "Create a tool so the world can publish, for free."
This session started off the conference on a highly positive note. This young guy, who's been hugely successful STILL believes in providing lots of value, for free. And, isn't that what this social media/new media is all about?

Now jump forward to Friday afternoon. We're basically brain-dead from a combination of days filled with good information (and lots of it), then nights filled with nice meals, good wine and a party or two. Still, the blogging enthusiasm is strong--our keynote is none other than Mark Cuban, billionaire entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks. And, more importantly (to this audience) a successful blogger and a true believer in the medium.

I was pleasantly surprised by Mark. He seems like a good guy. Kind of a control freak in that you can tell that he is hands-on in most of the things he does. I don't know how he has enough time in his day... He shared some fun anecdotes about his experience on Dancing with the Stars (including how he solicited fan votes by sending out Facebook messages to all 40,000 of his friends).

He also warned people that what we write in our blogs stays there--it's a historical record. So, be careful that what you write doesn't come back to bite you. He specifically shared how much he'd like to get back at Bill O'Reilly who continues to taunt him, but knows that if he does so in his blog, he'll regret it.

Overall, BlogWorld Expo was a success for us. We're already looking forward to next year!

Friday, November 9, 2007

OK, Last Time On Hard Rock

So, not to belabor the point . . . and maybe it's just all of the new ideas that I have from the Blogworld Expo . . . but yet another great customer service experience happened to us again on the last night here in Vegas. So, we went over to the Hard Rock Cafe, which is in front of the Hard Rock Hotel. We ran into another exemplary customer service kid named Emo-Shon. Turns out we both went to high school in San Bernardino. He's quite the nice young man and a darned good sales person.

So, that's it -- three strikes they win, and we got a free shot glass out of this encounter. After all these blogs, maybe we should have asked for a free room! Have good weekends all!


Customer Service Rocks

We are continuously reminded of the importance of excellent customer service. How, if you're treated right you may become a rabid fan and loyal customer. Something as small as one employee that goes the extra mile can turn me into a loyal customer for life.

Case in point, we're here in Las Vegas, attending the Blogworld Expo (where we're learning all kinds of great things--it's an awesome conference). Last night we went to the conference kick-off party and blog awards, hosted by Pajamas Media. It was a big event (don't even ask me about the many bloggers wearing their PJs and bunny slippers--surreal) held in The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel.

And, there was a young man there that exemplified excellent customer service. His name is Kurt and he was tending bar for the hundreds of bloggers. Not only was Kurt friendly and responsive to blogger drink requests, he remembered the drinks that each person ordered. So, you'd get about 4 feet away from the bar, and he'd smile at you and start pouring. This is Rock-Star-Bar-Tending at it's best. And, yes, we DO know there's more to life than a glass of wine, however, once again we were reminded of how focusing in on the customer can make for a stellar customer experience.

As we've discussed before, when you can effectively tie your sales and marketing efforts to consistently pleasing the customer, you have a formula for success. When companies get this right, they raise the bar and outperform their competitors.

Kudos to Kurt for being Bartender-of-the-Year in our books -- and for being a perfect example of how customer service can truly rock. And, please share YOUR examples of customer service excellence. We'd love to hear some positive (or negative) stories.

By the way, look forward to next week when we're going to recap our BlogWorld experience and share some great ideas.

Viva Las Vegas!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

What Makes YOU Unique?

It’s not easy differentiating yourself these days. Day after day, we see our client’s struggling to make their messages unique to their customers . . . trying to ensure that their message is heard in the sea of competitive messages out there.

So, when we come across a business that has truly found their niche, where they have differentiated themselves from the competition, we have to write about it. We’re talking about the Hard Rock Hotel.

We’re here in Las Vegas to attend the BlogWorld Expo, and were lucky (or smart) enough to book rooms at the Hard Rock. In a sea of thousands of look-alike hotel rooms, tons of casinos each with their unique theme and look, we believe that the Hard Rock has been able to really stamp their brand and differentiate themselves.

The ambiance hits you just as soon as you enter the building. Music blares (no stupid elevator music either—music you actually WANT to listen to. The requisite rock ‘n roll memorabilia surrounds you. But, wow—this is good stuff—like Elton’s sequined Dodger uniform and Carlos Santana’s full repertoire of guitars and leather jackets.

Now, think about this for a moment . . . this is VEGAS . . . the land of fantasy and sensory-rattling input – everywhere. So, differentiating yourself here is even more difficult than ever. Yet, Hard Rock has accomplished it. They have their own Vegas shows – real rock shows. They have excellent restaurants – Nobu Sushi is here. They have fun places to hang out, and of course, they have the requisite slot machines and black jack tables.

Here’s the difference: You know you’re in Vegas, yet you feel like you’re in the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. It’s cooler than Vegas. It’s got a good vibe – the slot machine noise is at a minimum, and the hoards of true gamblers don’t hang out here. Yet, you can gamble to your heart’s content if you want to. You can also take in a great rock show and shop for cool stuff. This is differentiation at its best.

So, why are we gushing about a hotel? I think it’s because we want to bring this same spirit to our own business and to our clients’ business. Seeing how this niche-ness can work makes us want to find that special thing that sets us/our clients apart from all others out there. It goes beyond positioning—to make your niche stand out, you have to bring REAL value. Then, of course, you have to make sure that your target market is aware of that value; that they find out about what makes YOU cool and different.

It’s not so easy to do. But, when it’s done right, pricing becomes a non-issue. Your competitors have a hard time, now, stealing your customers. It’s all good.

So, as you’re considering your business strategy for the next year, think about putting a little Rock-n-Roll into the agenda. Shake things up a bit. Make your true uniqueness stand out like it never has before. We can guarantee that your customers will appreciate your fresh approach – and will treat you like the Rock Star that you are!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Do-It-Yourself Database

Just the other night I dreamed that I purchased a book called "HTML for Dummies" (not sure that this title even exists) in the hopes that I could take over our company's website updating. Even in my dreams I'm sick of relying on someone else to make minor updates, add newsletters, whitepapers, etc. I want to do it myself.

Then, today, I read this recap of a speech given by Donald Feinberg, a Gartner analyst who spoke at the Teradata Partner conference. The article from "IT Business" states: "The relationship between IT and business is changing says a Gartner analyst, and IT must follow business' lead." It goes on to relate how business is no longer willing to accept whatever database their IT group provides to them.

The point of the speech was to encourage IT people and others responsible for database design to think about rebuilding database systems to accommodate changing business needs. "Speaking at Partners, the annual user conference of data warehousing vendor Teradata, Donald Feinberg said companies need to start paying closer attention to their data warehouses. Feinberg, a vice-president and distinguished analyst with the research firm, said if your data warehouse is more than 10 years old it's going to need to be replaced to empower today's workforce."

He went on to warn his audience of DBAs and IT folk that if they weren't proactive in meeting business needs, the business users will simply build tools themselves. With ever-increasing tools that the average business-person can easily use and understand, it's easier than ever to take control, as opposed to waiting on IT. "There was a time IT could give any old program to the business side and they'd have to use it, but not anymore. Noting Excel 2007 allows one million rows, he said people can get by without a database, and can even run SAS analytics against Excel spreadsheets."

And, with the fact that young adults entering the workforce are technology-proficient and used to figuring out how to make a computer do what they need it to do, this 'do-it-yourself', can-do attitude is a trend that will only continue to grow.

As a self-proclaimed control-freak, I'm all for this movement! I've worked on so many projects that were derailed simply because we had to rely on IT to pull data. When we finally did get the data, it was out-of-date or suspect. It would be nirvana to be able to grab control, and get easy access to customer data. Think of the quick and dirty analysis that could be performed. Ah, the customer insight that could be gained! And, all without any IT request or intervention. Wow!

Of course, this scenario may not be realistic for super large organizations that maintain highly sensitive data, and lots of it (like a large financial institution). But, I'm liking this trend. Anything that gets data closer to the business user is a good thing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More on Direct Marketing and the Issue of Trust

In a recent post, we spoke about the importance of creating trust through our direct marketing efforts. With trust, it is more than talking about it -- it's about proving it. As a matter of fact, esteemed consultant, speaker, writer and fellow blogger, Charles Green, has built his whole business on this very subject.

The following is an excerpt from Green's website, Trusted Advisor Associates:

Based on our experience with sales and advisory organizations, five statements seem true:

  1. The single greatest factor affecting sales and business success is the level of trust in the customer relationship.
  2. The level of trust between businesses and customers is very low these days.
  3. Business focuses too much on competition—and not enough on customers.
  4. Business has gotten very good at faking trust—which is cynical, and inevitably destroys trust.
  5. Genuine trust-based relationships are based on a desire to see the customer succeed—not on a desire to achieve sustainable competitive advantage.
We couldn't agree more! In our business, this is simply why we exist. If we we didn't understand these very important points, we wouldn't succeed. And, as Green points out above, the level of trust is very low today when it comes to business relationships. It's sad -- but true.

It does seem odd, though, that we actually have to talk about this. It would seem that you either are trustworthy or you are not. The reality is, I guess, that there are more business relationships that have failed due to the lack of trust out there than we would have guessed. And due to that, cynicism is at an all-time high. This makes it difficult for all of us to convince those who have been burned in the past that we should, indeed, be trusted.

What a conundrum! As you continue to plan your marketing strategy for the next year, this is an important concept to keep in mind. How trustworthy are you? How trust-creating are your direct marketing efforts? Does your product/service actually do what you say it will? Are you creating slogans that really are true?

It's funny. We learn the importance of being truthful from a very young age. And that concept only becomes more important as we become adults, and responsible for our words and actions.

For more on truth in all aspects of marketing and advertising, take a look at Green's recently posted November Carnival of Trust. It's a very well-written blog that looks at trust in even more detail. It'll get you thinking about what you do on a daily basis. And, hopefully, make you proud of how you do it -- I know that we were proud to be one of Green's Ten Selections!

Monday, November 5, 2007

What are you worth?

We recently posted on the hiring trends in the direct marketing industry (it remains fairly rosy), and we've commented on how certain marketing specialists (such as data analysts) will continue to be sought after and well-paid. But, it's always interesting to see what's going on, salary-wise, in the market.

From today's NY Times: Workers Say They're Underpaid -- But Are They Right?

"According to's 2006/2007 Employee Job Satisfaction and Retention Survey, 62 percent of employees plan on looking for a new job in the next three months. Dissatisfied employees have cited a variety of reasons for their desire to leave their company, including lack of opportunity for advancement, no recognition for achievements, insufficient benefits and even boredom.

Trumping all reasons for why employees want to leave their current job is that they think they are underpaid. Nearly 50 percent of employees cited inadequate compensation as the primary reason they want to walk out the door. To determine if the employee claims were valid,'s team of Certified Compensation Professionals (CCP�) conducted extensive analysis by comparing the job title, industry, geography and company size reported by each respondent to the database of human resource (HR) reported salary data.

The results indicated that only 22 percent of the survey respondents were actually underpaid, while 15 percent may actually be overpaid (paid well above their fair market value) and 33 percent were paid reasonably close to their fair market value."

The article discusses how companies are granting titles in lieu of higher salaries in an attempt to keep their employees happy. Unfortunately, the employee then expects to be paid for that title, even if their duties remain those of a less auspicious title.

The article provides a link to a "Salary Wizard" to help readers understand if they are, indeed, underpaid.

I believe that you need to always understand your market value. Just as it's important to price products and services correctly, isn't it even more important to understand the value that your specific skills and experience bring to an organization?

And, if you have a team of people working for you, it's pretty important to understand that 62% of them may be, even today, thinking of leaving you! Perhaps it's time to match responsibilities with titles and ensure that salaries are also in-line. This will help manage employee expectations and reward people with bigger titles (and higher pay) when they deserve the promotion.

Friday, November 2, 2007

More on CRM Success

This post could possibly be called a "no-brainer" post. By that, I mean that these CRM metrics seem so obvious to me that they should not even have to be articulated. However, we've all seen CRM systems fail, so perhaps it can't hurt to have another discussion on ways to make your CRM system a success. From yesterday's "DM News":

A CRM value system: Five metrics of success

The article fleshes out "five key values that define the critical path to success in any implementation." Here's a brief overview:
  1. Strategic alignment: "A company must implement a CRM solution that is strategic and aligned with its goals."
  2. User Involvement: "Solutions should be implemented so that they are accepted and embraced by all system users."
  3. Improved Process Effectiveness: "CRM must automate business processes and formalize best practices that will improve the overall effectiveness of the company’s sales, marketing and customer support efforts in a way that aligns with the business’ goals."
  4. Information Sharing: "Walls that exist between departments must be broken down. An effective flow of information between departments will improve relationships and a company’s ability to execute its strategies and achieve corporate goals."
  5. Visibility: "Finally, provide visibility into key performance metrics through reports and dashboards."
I do agree with the above five key elements of a successful CRM implementation. And, I believe that companies are now considering these types of things prior to investing in CRM technology. We've come a long way from just a few years ago when it was more normal for companies to spend lots of money to implement systems that were never used.

I continue to believe in the premise of using technology to help us understand and develop deeper customer relationships. And, I look forward to seeing more and more success stories.

TGIF! Have a great weekend.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Evolution of Marketing Automation Solutions

As a lifelong student of marketing, it is interesting to see the evolution of marketing over time. Whenever I pull out my old marketing textbooks, I don't see anything about the new direct marketing channels -- blogs, podcasts, mobile marketing, etc. And, it isn't just because I'm old and have been out of college for a while -- it's because nobody really understood in the mid-90s the full impact of what technology (the internet, telecommunications) would bring to business. Obviously, there were those who were more on target than others, but nobody expected this outcome -- i.e., that marketing needs to be consumer-driven. This will only increase as more consumers adopt the new marketing channels -- and they are doing it in increasing numbers every day.

What is interesting about all of this is that companies are now looking even more closely at direct marketing budgets. As reported by TMCnet in an article by Jon Miller of, "Traditional marketing expenses are loosely structured and hard to tie to revenue -- which is why many executives think of marketing as a cost center, not as an investment. And that makes marketing budgets hard to justify." This is why it is so important to be able to determine how effective your marketing campaigns are performing -- and to be able to report those results up to leadership.

This idea takes some serious consideration, particularly when it comes to marketing automation technology. Miller feels that this evolving marketing methodology will bring on a new and better stream of marketing automation products and services. And, he feels that the "old-school" marketing automation products struck out because they were too technical and direct marketers couldn't fully utilize them without depending upon their IT resources -- who probably didn't have the time or resources to translate them for marketing.

So, here's the conundrum: How do you make your company more consumer-focused by utilizing the new direct marketing channels out there that put your customers in the drivers seat -- and how can you accurately track the results of these campaigns without blowing your entire budget?

According to Miller, "The new [marketing automation solutions] contenders out there must learn from the mistakes of the past. To succeed they must provide a solution in a way that makes sense for the way marketers think and spend money. Fundamentally, this means marketing automation needs to be less like enterprise software and more like consumer software." What Miller is saying makes sense. Marketers need to be able to utilize marketing automation so that they can demonstrate to their leadership that they are positively impacting corporate profits. So, it's got to be easy to use, easy to build reports and dashboards, and it needs to take into consideration more streamlined marketing budgets.

Miller states it simply, "It means selling like a web company, providing support like a web company, and pricing like a web company. In other words, solutions for the marketing department must be easy (and free) to test drive and trial. They need to be easy to use. They need to be easy to buy from existing marketing budgets. And they need to work without any IT support."

Those in the business of providing these solutions definitely have their work cut out for them. It will be interesting to see these companies evolve to meet our ever-changing direct marketing needs!