A Survival Guide for Tomorrow's Marketer

A Survival Guide for Tomorrow's Marketer

To say that the marketing industry is evolving is a given. Yet, not all marketers are keeping up with the times. According to the “State of Digital Marketing Survey Summary Report” by Ascend2 and its research partners, 40% of the 275 marketing professionals surveyed cite lack of internal skills or training as their most significant barrier to digital marketing success.

To help modern marketers better prepare for the future, Sanjay Dholakia, CMO of Marketo, broke down what tomorrow's marketers need during the day two keynote at the marketing automation provider's Marketing Nation Summit in Las Vegas. Here are the qualifications, skills, and behaviors he deems necessary.

Qualifications: “Tomorrow's marketer is not who you think he is.”

Having a marketing background is no longer a main criterion for CMOs.

“If you went and looked for a specific profile of a CMO, you might not hire me,” said Dholakia—who served as a consultant and CEO earlier in his career.

Instead of solely hiring marketers based on their resumes or college degrees, Dholakia  says companies need to take a broader approach and bring on people who possess core interests or skill sets, such as the ability to tell stories or an enthusiasm for serving the customer.

“Our world is exploding,” he said. “There aren't enough of us.”

Skills: “Tomorrow's marketer is a da Vinci.”

Like the great Leonardo himself, Dholakia says marketers need to be savants in both art and science.  And instead of specializing in a certain channel (e.g. director of social media or director of mobile), marketers need to operate horizontally. In other words, they need to meet the customer everywhere, he notes.

This horizontal focus requires marketers to take on a plethora of roles. For example, Dholakia says marketers need to be analysts, strategists, creatives, and agile multi-disciplinary athletes.

“Look for opportunities to practice [and] build these skills,” he advised.

Behaviors: “Tomorrow's marketer takes no shit.”

Dholakia knows that marketers often face resistance when proposing something new. However, he says it's up to tomorrow's marketers to fight the good fight and lead their corporations through persistence and determination—even if they don't get the credit or recognition they deserve. Because at the end of the day, it won't be prices or products that will give brands a competitive advantage—those can be dropped or replicated, Dholakia says. Instead,he claims it will be the engagement that they create around the customer that will lead them to victory. 

Marketers Have Little Faith in These 41 Million People

Marketers Have Little Faith in These 41 Million People

If their money's green.

That, in my long experience of covering business here in the United States of Capitalism, is the boiled-down, nitty-gritty, base reason anybody does business with anyone else. They're ex-cons. “Is their money green?” They hate kids and puppies. “Is their money green?” They adore Donald Trump. “Is their money green?”

That's why I was perplexed by comments made by Randall Rothenberg, president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, in his state of techno-advertising address in January. IAB's membership consists more than 600 of the biggest ad agencies, media, and tech companies serving clients as diverse as Coca-Cola, Colt Firearms, and Children's Aid International. None of these clients, I imagine, really care who's sending them the money, nor even if it's green, as long as it ends up on their balance sheets. If they get lots of it, they retain their digital marketers, and all's right with the world. But here was Rothenberg asking marketers to put money second and focus on doing good. He urged them to promote fairness and diversity as ends in themselves versus means to an end. “[Focusing solely on profit] is debilitating" he said, "and, ultimately, deadens the soul” (the possession of which would traditionally make one unfit for duty on Madison Avenue).

Rothenberg was lathered up about ad blockers and, especially, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who armed users of his browser with blockers. Plus, the IAB chief noted derisively, Eich dared to fund campaigns to ban gay marriage in California. This was where Randall lost me completely. Apparently, his appeal for diversity and inclusion meant excluding the people who deemed same-sex marriage counter to their religious beliefs. There happen to be some 41 million of them.

Chris Stone is a long-time market researcher who founded an online community called Faith Driven Consumer in 2013, inspired by the media venom that descended on Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he spoke out against gay marriage. As brand after brand condemned Robertson, Stone wondered how many consumers actually stood with Robertson and launched a nationwide survey that led him to hit upon that 41 million total.

“We asked people to rate from one to 10 the part faith played as a driver of where they work, what they buy, and what entertainment they watch,” Stone says. “The ones who rated the role of faith an eight, nine, or 10 we considered ‘faith-driven.' When you look at the overall Christian market, 25% are faith-driven and 75% are not. The latter group's actions are unpredictable, but faith is the main decider for the former group.”

Stone's experience in marketing led him to believe that most brands and agencies were blind to the existence of this fairly large segment, so he followed up with a survey that produced the Faith Equality Index, which rates companies on a 100-point scale on how they embrace people of faith. The index counts faith-friendly brands as ones meriting a score of 50 or above or that are in the top 10% of their industries. Even Randall Rothenberg might be astounded at how ignored this community is. Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby, outwardly Christian companies, both scored just above 60.

I sent Stone a copy of Rothenberg's remarks and asked him for his reaction. He was unfazed. He continually discovers sophisticated marketers who fail to appreciate that faith-driven consumers are “the most diverse and the most homogenous group at the same time.” One out of every six faith-driven consumers is African-American, one out of every seven is Hispanic.

“Let's pick a company,” Stone says. “AT&T has a perfect 100 rating with the LGBT community, and an almost perfect 95 with Hispanics. They're in the top 40 with African-Americans. They're the poster child for diversity and inclusion. But in our rating they earned a 17. Now, is that a mass conspiracy? Actually, what we've found is that they have been ignorant of the community.”

There are brands that work with Faith Driven Consumer, availing themselves of its extensive mail, email, and social media lists, though most of companies are already focused on the faith community. Sony's Affirm Films,which produces movies based on religious themes, recently worked with Stone's group to promote the movie War Room. Although there are small and large brands alike targeting faith-based consumers, the reality, Stone says, is that these consumers are probably the 41 million Americans most ignored by marketers.

“The market is immature. There are few companies, if any, working it really well,” Stone says. Even America's largest retailer has no expertise in this area, he says, though he wouldn't name it. But that's Walmart, and that's a company whose every store used to start the day with a staff meeting concluded with a prayer.

If there are any digital marketers out there looking for a wide-open segment to exploit, politically incorrect as they may be, here's one. Their money's green and, most likely, legally obtained. If you care. Which you probably don't.

5 Lessons Marketers Can Learn From Zoolander

5 Lessons Marketers Can Learn From Zoolander

Paramount Pictures' Zoolander 2 debuts February 12. And although modeling and marketing may seem like disparate industries, they have enough in common that marketers can take a few pointers from Ben Stiller's fictitious character, Derek Zoolander. So, in honor of the movie's release, here are five lessons marketers can learn from the original Zoolander movie.   

1. Understand that there's more to marketing than campaigns being really, really, really ridiculously good looking.

Marketing creative is important. But as Derek Zoolander knows, there's more to life than being “really, really, really ridiculously good looking.” Instead of fixating on a landing page's font size or stressing over the right image to include in an email blast, marketers should focus on the data and how they can use it to generate creative that resonates with the right audiences and addresses their needs. Marketers also need to use analytics to measure whether their picture-perfect efforts are paying off. After all, as data from creative services provider Visually shows, only 26% of marketers surveyed consider the work that they receive from their creative teams effective.

2. Know what buzzwords really mean—and which ones to eliminate.

From FOLO to visual search, there are countless marketing buzzwords. If marketers aren't careful, they can use these terms incorrectly, causing confusion and miscommunication among their colleagues and customers–much like Derek's eugoogalizer moment.


Marketers must clearly articulate their goals and strategies. Instead of inserting hip new lingo into their conversations, marketers should focus on establishing clear definitions across the organization, such as ensuring that marketing and sales have shared definitions of such terms as "qualified lead" and "conversion." Marketers also need to make sure they're articulating their messages and calls-to-action clearly to the consumer. They should omit any extra verbiage.

3. Stay informed on evolving technology.

Now, more than ever, marketers have to up their tech savvy. In fact, digital marketing and technology staffing solution provider Mondo expects 50% of marketing hires to have a technological background this year. Marketers shouldn't leave it up to IT to solve all of their marketing automation and software woes. Being knowledgeable about tech solutions can help marketers get their campaigns out the door faster and experiment more—plus, they can avoid coming off like Hansel. 

4. Don't always worry about what's “so hot right now.” 

Source: Tumblr via GIPHY

Just as how Derek felt threatened by Hansel being “so hot right now,” marketers can feel intimated by their competitors' success or new trends emerging in the marketplace. But not every competitor move needs to be topped and not every trend needs to be embraced. Marketers should stay true to their brand. Failing to do so can make a brand seem fake and cause confusion among its customers in terms of what the brand stands for. 

Having a clear understanding of their brand's mission statement, values, and goals is table stakes for marketers. And if they're ever wondering whether they should latch on to a fad, marketers should ask themselves if doing so would help progress them in one of these key areas.

5. Embrace innovation.

At the same time, marketers can't be afraid to innovate. Doing so allows marketers to set a new bar for the industry and draw attention from its audiences—similarly to how Derek was able to grab the attention of the fashion industry with his latest signature look, Magnum.

But innovation doesn't happen overnight. Experimentation and optimization are critical in marketing, and marketers must be willing to do both if they want to win customers and stay ahead of the competition. After all, it took Derek multiple interations—from Le Tigre to Blue Steel—before he could nail down the look.

Source: SheKnows.Com via GIPHY
Top photo source: Flickr

A Marketer's Look Behind the Privacy Shield

A Marketer's Look Behind the Privacy Shield

The United States and the European Union finally agreed on an update of its Safe Harbor accord on cross-Atlantic data transfer, but the new Privacy Shield policy has some molding and shaping to endure before it becomes reality. The deal still awaits initial evaluation from the Article 29 Working Party on a framework for data transfers. Also still needed is a mechanism for European citizens to bring complaints in the U.S. against American companies. In the meantime, here are three issues for marketers to consider.

Review your cloud providers.  Robert Cruz, senior director of information governance at Actiance, a data security company, points out that the rapid massing of cloud services includes providers unequipped to move large blocks of data by government decree. “It's going to require folks to think about the service providers they're doing business with,” Cruz says. “You're going to have to think about how can you move data out of that cloud service. Some cloud providers are not used to dealing with legal issues and some don't make it easy to get your data back.”  He recommends keeping an eye out for what happens in the Microsoft-Ireland case concerning a subpoena of data from Microsoft's Irish data warehouse. It appears headed for the Supreme Court and its resolution will have great bearing on the future limits of global data access.

Multinationals, take stock of internal data flow. George Corugedo, CTO of data analytics provider RedPoint Global, has a U.S. client doing business with a large European retailer that won't allow it access to any of its sales data on the European continent. “So, we have to have support staff located in the U.K. to get access to it,” Corugedo says. Depending on what precedents and processes emanate from Privacy Shield, large enterprises may suddenly find it more difficult and expensive to bring together data from its own operations in European countries to get a complete view. Privacy Shield may ease some of the complexity of cross-border data flow, Corugedo says, but it remains to be seen.

Keep an eye on what develops with surveillance law. As the Brussels-based director of European affairs for the Center for Democracy & Technology, Jens-Henrick Jeppesen has a front-row seat on European data regulation. He's hopeful that Privacy Shield could improve protections of EU citizens' data in the U.S. The wild card in how that turns out, he says, will be played not by businesses, but by government intelligence agencies.  “Absent reform of U.S. surveillance law,” he says, “it's highly unlikely that the Privacy Shield agreement will be deemed sufficient by the Court of Justice.” That would be the same European Court of Justice that nullified the Safe Harbor agreement last October. It promises to be a long process, as the U.S. must negotiate national security with each EU nation separately.

Expectations are that U.S. companies will not suddenly be inundated with complaints from European consumers.  While Privacy Shield provides for Europeans to report  privacy violations to the Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill last week said she expects the majority of them to file complaints with the Data Protection Authorities in their home countries.

Marketing and Sales Still Lack Alignment

Marketing and Sales Still Lack Alignment

The share economy is booming, collaborative technologies abound, and the lines between marketing and sales are blurring. But, despite all this, the conflict between marketing and sales teams continues to plague many companies.

What's the biggest contributor to the fractured state of this important relationship? The same as with any other relationship: lack of communication.  Nearly half of marketing and sales professionals cite communication as the greatest obstacle to true alignment, according to a new study from market intelligence provider InsideView.

Here, InsideView CMO Tracy Eiler discusses the continued struggle to better integrate marketing and sales organizations, and why marketers may need to be the ones to extend the olive branch.

It's referenced early in the study that the misalignment of marketing and sales is an even bigger issue now than in the past. Why do you think this isn't getting better?

It is an age-old problem, and it is getting worse, or more magnified. There's more attention being put on this issue for a number of reasons. Companies are looking for higher revenue performance from their sales and marketing teams, and they know that if they have their sales and marketing teams operating in a very efficient way, they'll make more money. They understand that misalignment is a differentiator, so they're [shining a] spotlight on it.

In addition to that, there's been such a rise in new technology, for marketers in particular. In theory, [marketers] think this technology will help us be more effective, but it also gets in the way of our ability to align with sales. Marketers measure different things and have different processes, but the access to tech doesn't give them a place to meet in the middle with sales. Technology allows marketers to hide behind the numbers and not do the harder part, which is talking to sales face to face.

These are some of the reasons why misalignment persists, but it's all opportunity based.

What is this opportunity?

We have so much focus on growth in our economy. Growing our businesses, obtaining higher revenue goals, having higher velocity in our ability to close business from the first touch to other prospects—all the way through to closing that first deal, and then the repeat business that follows. Those are all opportunities, and we know that the companies that have cracked that code of high velocity and growth really do well.

One of the things that's fueling that opportunity is subscription-revenue companies, like all of the cloud or SaaS businesses. When you have that subscription model for revenue, it has a lot of benefits, but a lot of challenges, as well. You have to keep those customers really happy, because when they churn, it' a leaky bucket in terms of revenue. Companies are paying a lot of attention to where net-new revenue is coming from, and tapping that customer base with renewal or subscriptions very strongly to make sure they don't have to worry about, say, 10% churn a year.

So, when sales and marketing are tightly aligned—and I would include customer success and service in the sales category—you're protecting that subscription revenue, and expanding the business of your existing customers, and you're growing that net-new customer base.

You mention that SaaS and subscription-based businesses are doing well with alignment. Are there any businesses that are particularly prone to struggling with sales and marketing alignment?

I think so, especially if it's an older business that's been around for 50 or 100 years. There are lots of businesses like that in the United States. We all know that it's harder to change when things are deeply established, especially when the people have been there for a long time, as well.

But, in the tech world people move around a lot, which is also a big challenge because you lose their knowledge. Companies that make a lot of acquisitions have another set of challenges. They can end up with several different CRM and marketing automation systems every time they make an acquisition.

Smaller companies with between five and 20 people have an opportunity to move much more quickly…. In general I see a lot of innovation happening in those types of companies.

Communication is featured prominently in the study. Do you have any insight into how marketing and sales professionals can break those walls down?

The phrase that I use is back to basics. Everyone is taught that communication makes the world go 'round. A practical example here is for marketers to go on sales calls. They might not have a real role there, but it's going to put the marketer in the shoes of sales and give them some empathy.

One of the things I've done is to reach out to sales to work with marketing on lead definitions, and scoring and routing rules. It's basic, but it's at the heart of delivering value to the sales organization, and often at the heart of marketing and sales conflict.

It shouldn't be a one-time thing, though. Marketers need to lead this charge. That may be controversial to say, but I believe marketers can't expect sales to want to equally work closely with us. More and more they want to. But, in my experience, I've had to go beat down the doors of the sales organization, and talk to them to build trust. Sales are the ones who are carrying the revenue numbers, and have that pressure and responsibility that marketing doesn't have. We have a lot of responsibility—don't get me wrong; but if you've ever been around salespeople at the end of the quarter, then you know how tense that can be. Their performance is measured by one thing, and one thing only, and they're going to lose their job if they aren't achieving their quotas. That pressure is what makes me feel like marketers have to be extra empathetic, and extend the olive branch.

Is Your Mobile Ad Engagement Driven by Fat-Thumb Syndrome?

Is Your Mobile Ad Engagement Driven by Fat-Thumb Syndrome?

As an editor, I'm extremely picky about my texting grammar. I will call out friends for using the wrong forms of “your” and “to,” and I'll send follow-up texts if I catch my own typos.

But there's one person whom I rarely correct: my mother. It's not that my mother is a grammar fanatic like I am; it's more that she's a victim of fat-thumb syndrome, and I've learned to expect and translate her little mistakes. Like how she meant to say “Some chips, no dip. Go to Pick ‘n Save or gas station” in the text below.

But my mom isn't the only victim of fat-thumb syndrome. A new study from location-based mobile and digital company Retale suggests that many consumers experience fat-thumb syndrome while scrolling through mobile banner ads. In fact, 60% of the 500 U.S. adults surveyed say their mobile ad clicks are usually accidental, primarily due to small screen size or finger slippage.

These mishaps tend to generate more negative feelings than positive ones. According to the study, 68% of respondents report feeling annoyed after accidentally clicking on a mobile banner ad, and 45% and 22% say they feel frustrated or angry, respectively; only 6% say they feel calm, and even fewer report feeling satisfied (5%) or excited (3%).

These finger follies can occur during a number of mobile activities. According to the study, 69% of respondents recall at least one time they clicked on a mobile banner ad while on an app or on a mobile website. Sixty-five of respondents say this happened while surfing the Web or reading the news; others say these interactions occurred while using social media (50%), playing games (47%), watching videos (45%), or listening to music (45%).

Regardless of whether a click is intentional, consumers don't seem to see the value in mobile banner ads in general. In fact, 66% of respondents deem banner ads “useless” or “not very successful.” For those who do click on ads intentionally, just 16% say it's because they like the promoted company, product, or service. What's more, only 13% say they purposely click because the ads are interesting. As for those who accidentally click, 64% say they're unlikely to review the company or service featured.

So, it looks like my mom shouldn't be the only one aware of fat-thumb syndrome—marketers should be aware of it, too.

Wearable Tech = Vital Data

Wearable Tech = Vital Data

I finally took the plunge this year. I bought a Fitbit. And not just any Fitbit—the Surge. From what I can tell it's the Cadillac of fitness-tracking wearables. I'm still learning how to use it, but this thing seemingly does everything. I track my steps, monitor my calorie intake, my sleep, heart rate, number of floors climbed; I can measure different types of exercise and even the effects on my body. And it's fun because it has a social element to it, so I'm finding coworkers who also use Fitbit; and we compare our health activity and stats to each other's, then sometimes get a friendly competition going.

For tech-savvy marketers, my new Surge could be a dream come true. This wearable reveals the times that I'm most active, my personal fitness goals, and other useful marketing data, like my location. These personal statistics and biometrics, potentially, can lead to the right individualized marketing campaigns, the perfectly crafted messages, and long-awaited sales.

Of course, we're still in the fledgling days of using data from wearables for direct marketing—although there was major buzz around fitness-tracking wearables at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, which sparked conversation and sessions centered on smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch and the new Android Wear, and how companies can use them to launch innovative marketing plans.

The advantage for marketers is that these wearables collect reams of data, and for those who are forward-thinking, this popular technology is beginning to shape the way marketers plan events, personalize campaigns, and predict consumers' needs and desires. For some companies, fitness-tracker watches are in the same category as beacon technology, smartphones, and virtual reality. They give marketing teams a chance to develop sensor-based marketing promotions that stimulate emotion and garner personal ties to a brand. Sensor-based marketing allows companies to provide services through wearables, such as payment options or push notifications.

Marketers are still figuring out ways to work with wearables—but for those who haven't yet, it's certainly worth the try in 2016. Some remain skeptical because it's a new frontier. There have been, however, some cases in which companies have successfully pulled insights or pinpointed a group of target consumers based, at least in part, on data from wearable tech. Even wearable clothing is undergoing major developments from brands such as Under Armour, Levi's, and Ralph Lauren. More success from leading companies will inspire others to apply these methods or adapt them to their own marketing efforts.

Leave a comment if you've seen or have been influenced by effective campaigns rooted in wearable tech or sensor-based data.

Ad Blockers and the End of the Interactive Age of Innocence

Ad Blockers and the End of the Interactive Age of Innocence

In his introductory address at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's annual leadership meeting in Palm Desert, CA, last week, IAB Executive Director Randall Rothenberg thanked the members present for compiling revenues of $50 billion, rallied them to produce the next $50 billion, then told them money wasn't everything.

He warned them about insincerity in their content: “Truth, beauty, fairness, justice, honesty, civic pride, neighborliness; they become means to an end, rather than ends in themselves. That is debilitating, and, ultimately, deadens the soul.”

Advertising and the soul as topics at the same conference? There's a unicorn for you. What's going on here? Oh, wait, it sounds like a values discussion. Next up: empowerment and diversity.

“One of the most transcendent values to which you can devote yourselves is diversity…When you get back to your office, look around you and pay attention, for these are your friends and colleagues who are under attack. Their skin is black, and brown, and ochre, as well as white…and they are under attack.”

What? Indeed, digital media has made the world a really small place. It's totally incumbent upon marketers to attempt to be universally inclusive in their efforts. So, who in the marketing community is attacking all these nice people?

Rothenberg revealed how IAB got exclusive to be inclusive, “disinviting” employees of a company called Adblock-Plus, an “unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes,” who wanted to throw a monkey wrench into the interactive advertiser's $50 billion machine. It was about money after all. It's like the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie uses his Lil' Orphan Annie decoder to decipher the message “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine” and crestfallenly remarks, “A crummy commercial?”

Rothenberg's moralistic, politically charged speech was all about ad blockers? Ah, how quickly the mighty fall in the Digital Age.

It surprised me, because I sat at a “town hall” at the IAB's ad ops summit in New York in November when a roomful of ad tech elites examined the ad-blocker with cool, realistic, business-like logic.

“Brands call for more and more scale and lower and lower prices. The upshot is the consumer is assaulted with voluminous, lookalike crap from every side, and they just can't process it,” one publisher said.

“We've become addicted to data on data and marketer on marketer and system on system to eke every penny out of every page. We're all guilty of this. It's all got to change,” said another.

I was in the magazine business when it was all print and paper. Then the Internet came around and upset the apple cart. We all were forced to accept new business models, new methods of content production and revenue generation, new (and longer) hours as we added second jobs as daily Web contributors. The people who formed the original IAB were the disruptors. Now the disruptors have been disrupted, and it's not fun.

So, truly, I appreciate Rothenberg's ire, but the thing is that the interactive world he and his membership created delivered the power into the hands of consumers. It's the consumers who want to obliterate pop-up videos and push messages. If they didn't, ad blockers wouldn't exist. IABers and their 50-bil are like the New York City cab drivers whose million-dollar medallions were devalued by half with the arrival of Uber. It sucks, but if you want to talk diversity, it's the multicultural, multi-ethnic minions who are making all this happen.

The old marketing saw about giving the people what they want is no longer nice advice, it's rule and law.

Marketers' Responsibility in Data Security and Protection

Marketers' Responsibility in Data Security and Protection

Today marks the 10th annual Data Privacy and Protection Day, an international initiative that aims to raise awareness in both the business and consumer worlds about data privacy.

In the past, data protection conversations tended to circulate most commonly regarding legal compliance. As the Digital Age matured, the topic gradually expanded into other areas of the business, including, or rather, especially, marketing.

Here, Christopher McClean, VP, research director at Forrester, expounds on such topics as the trajectory of businesses' concerns with privacy, what consumers expect of marketers who have access to their data, and how businesses can bolster their customers' confidence in their handling of personal data.

What's different in the data privacy space now in relation to the past?

For 10 years or so the people who did security for a living kept screaming, “How come nobody's paying attention to us!” Now, privacy is a big enough topic where CEOs, CFOs, boards of directors are asking a lot of questions. There's big regulation, and we've seen some big fines. This stuff is on customers' minds now. Anyone who has knowledge about privacy is kind of front and center, and under a lot of pressure.

Was there a particular large scale event in the past year that drove data privacy to the fore in the way the 2013 NSA leaks did?

Nothing new or unique, but the continued breaches—such as Target, Home Depot, and OPM—have brought the realization that these aren't massive accidents, but are a systemic move. People are going after data for financial purposes. People are trying to make money from selling credit card information. In the health sector, people are using healthcare information to make money. These are growing concerns.

What are the marketing ramifications of this?

For marketing people, there are so many good reasons to use customer data. Ideally, they're not using data maliciously, but are using it to improve their products and services, and advance customization—making targeted marketing more personalized. Those are all potentially valuable things. There is a creepiness factor, though. Marketers who overuse data, or use it in ways customers aren't expecting, make customers feel like they're being intruded upon.

You mentioned that a lot of executives are having conversations about privacy. What are they saying in relation to marketing?

I think they're asking a couple of questions. First and foremost, they're asking the security people how they can make sure they don't have a massive breach. How do they make sure the business doesn't show up on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, or The New York Times, or something. They're asking the legal people how they can make sure they aren't violating international or state laws around data protection.

For the marketing people, they're trying to ensure they have good customer insights capabilities. They want to be able to track customers, and offer them more personalized services. They want to expand the relationship and engagement with customers without crossing the border of being creepy in a way that might make a customer jump ship to the competition.

How do you think the Internet of Things, and all of the new data these devices can capture, will impact these discussions?

It's the same problem; it's just getting more potentially invasive. The sheer amount of the data that's being collected from Internet of Things technology has all of the good benefits associated with providing better service and capabilities. Some of these apps know where you live, what kind of food you like, how active you are. A lot of that information can be used for good purposes. A lot of the information that's collected through your phone, for example, could be very helpful from a health perspective. Some of the medical regulators are looking at that data and considering these devices as medical devices. So, there's a tremendous amount of value. But if it's used in the wrong way, or stolen, it could severely impact you as an individual. For marketers, it's one of those things where, with great power comes great responsibility. If the companies you're working with aren't paying attention and being responsible with your customers' data, there's a tremendous amount of risk.

How can marketers minimize that risk?

Get legal, marketing, and information security to talk. There are other organizations that need to be involved—customer service, for instance—but those three specifically all have a huge part to play in this discussion. The three of them need to sit down and think about what would feel creepy to them as consumers. They need to ask themselves if the data they're collecting violates any legal or regulatory requirements. Do they know enough about that data that they can enforce policy? Where does that data reside? Is it encrypted? What third parties are involved? Information security, legal, and marketing need to talk about these risks—and the prospect of customers walking away if they feel the business has overstepped. From this communication, marketers can update policies, and improve communication with customers.

Do you feel like this communication is happening enough today?

No, not nearly as much as it should. There are probably some companies that are paying attention to this, and are really trying to understand customer sentiment. But as far as those three groups working together, it's extremely rare.

Do you have any advice as to how companies can facilitate that communication? Otherwise, consumers are just going to continue to seek out tools like ad blockers.

That's a great point. If you aren't paying enough attention to this area, customers are going to find a way to not pay attention to you. They'll use ad blockers, or sever their connection with you entirely. You don't want to overstep these bounds. This is really on the shoulders of the marketers. Compliance and security is the job of legal and information teams. The marketer's job is on both sides of this equation. They get the benefits from more technology and better uses of data, but they're also the ones exposing the company to risks. Marketers have to make sure they're thinking about these risks, and balancing the risks with the benefits of getting all of this data.

The Mobile Matchup: Apps Versus Web

The Mobile Matchup: Apps Versus Web

Limited budgets are something most marketers have to deal with. So, it's vital that they dedicate their dollars to areas that drive results. One area many marketers are looking to invest in is mobile marketing. But mobile can be tricky, particularly when it comes to deciding whether to allocate funds to mobile apps or the mobile Web.

To get to the bottom of which one consumers prefer, mobile technology company Quixey hired PR agency SHIFT Communications to survey U.S. adults about their mobile interaction habits and engagement preferences. Based on the responses of 1,059 respondents, here are the pros for each of the two main mobile touchpoints.

Mobile apps: Features, functionality, and the user experience

Sometimes mobile apps provide content that consumers can't access via the mobile Web, notes Quixey's VP of Business Development Maxine Manafy. This can be a huge draw. About one third (34.4%) of respondents cite features and functionalities as the main reasons they prefer using mobile apps, and 28.4% say the user experience is their favorite part—with the latter figure rising to 69.5% among millennial respondents. 

“When you look at a mobile application versus mobile Web, you might actually see a much richer user experience,” Manafy says. “You might have deep functionality, [a] more sophisticated state, and end users actually like that and prefer it.”

Mobile Web: Central access and consistency

Still, only about 12% of respondents would download an app if they could access the same features and functionalities without having to do so. After all, drained device storage (26.1%) and slow and clunky performance (23.6%) are respondents' top qualms with apps.

Mobile Web provides a different experience. According to the study, not needing to alternate between multiple apps (10.6%), not needing to install anything new (23.3%), and having access to content all in one place (32.5%) are what make mobile Web so alluring. In fact, when looking at millennial respondents specifically, that last perk jumps to 74.8%.

“In today's mobile environment a lot of people prefer mobile Web because they know it, it's very familiar, and they think they have access to everything in one place,” Manafy says.

The winner

So, which mobile experience should marketers focus on? Manafy says both, arguing that mobile apps are going to be a more crucial touchpoint in the future.

“Most end users are used to mobile Web because their first active point is to browse around on the phone or the device,” she explains. “That's going to change. And because end users are downloading a large number of apps on their phones or on their tablets, they're using apps more directly. That said, I don't know that, as an end user, we've figured out where everything is yet. So, today, it's important to address both.”

Advice for the future

For marketers looking to prepare for this shift towards apps—should it occur—Manafy recommends diving deeper into what's important to the consumer, not just in terms of functionality, but also in terms of ad and content relevancy. This tidbit is especially potent given the current state of ad blockers.

According to Quixey's data, consumers say they use ad blockers because ads interrupt their experience (29.9%), they slow down their experience (14.8%), and they are irrelevant (10.1%). And even though there's a generational divide between those who use ad blockers and those who don't—83.8% of adults 18 to 34 use them; 83.1% of those 45 to 64 don't—Manafy says that relevancy is important at any age.

“What we did hear is [that] users don't mind ads when they're relevant,” she says. “So...what age you are [doesn't matter].”

To achieve relevancy, Manafy suggests conducting user-testing, working with ad blocker companies, and analyzing organizations that haven't been blocked. As Manafy points out, relevancy is always, well, relevant. “Relevance never changes,” she says. “If you can continue to improve that experience and make sure it's always relevant, that's probably not going to change much in the future.”

Exigency and the Political Lose-Lose Situation

Exigency and the Political Lose-Lose Situation

At the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the state of the Postal Service last Thursday, Chairman Ron Johnson put on his CPA's green eyeshade, said he needed tighter financials before discussion of a postal bill could be enjoined, turned the meeting over to Ranking Member Tom Carper, and left the room. Carper then used the next three hours to make a case for the immediate passage of postal reform, a crusade the former Vietnam fighter pilot and now senator from Delaware has valiantly soldiered for three years now.

Gavel in hand, the gentle-mannered Carper wove a clock-ticking sense of urgency around his new iPOST bill. He set the deadline for its passage as the first week of April, the week that the 4.3% emergency postal rate surcharge will have collected sufficient recession-related payback to the USPS and be removed. Carper and several of the witnesses at the hearing—among them Postmaster General Megan Brennan and National Association of Letter Carriers President Fred Rolando—think baking that 4.3% into the base rate is the only way to preserve mail-as-usual.

But the other major stakeholders outside of labor and management—the mailers themselves—don't want to be celebrating the passage of a bill on April Fools day. They want to be toasting the first postal rate reduction in recorded time. The chances that it will be they and not Tom Carper popping the cork off a bottle of Dom Perignon, they think, are quite good.

“Congress has not directly set rates since 1958. In its wisdom, Congress bowed out of rate-making because, one, it's a very technical exercise and, two, whatever they decide is going to disappoint somebody,” says Hamilton Davison, president and executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association.

Instead, Congress created the Postal Rate Commission, now known as the Postal Regulatory Commission. Its Acting Chairman Robert Taub—also on the witness stand last week—reminded those present that the body would be conducting an in-depth review of rates at the end of the year. Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin wanted to know more from Taub about how the concept of “balancing” is applied to rate-setting.

“That's the challenge,” Taub said. “We take the CPI system and look at it balancing nine objectives. Number five is to ensure adequate revenues for maintaining financial stability [of the Postal Service]. Number eight is to provide just and reasonable rates. Sometimes, these can be in conflict.”

They are right now, with postal rates being batted about the political arena. But should Carper's proposal to keep the exigent rate and not allow another rate increase until 2018 even be in this bill? Some mailers think the good Senator would sooner get his bill passed and seal his legacy as a postal reformer if he were to erase that clause.

“Everything in the bill needs congressional approval except the rate. There's a separate process for the rate, and that process is about to commence,” says Patrick Henderson, director of government affairs for Quad Graphics. “If the Postal Service wants to get Medicare, retirees' pensions, and alcoholic beverages done, Congress should do those things, and they can get them done now.”

Henderson's colleague Joe Schick, Quad's VP of postal affairs, punctuates the point. “The bottom line is, if you took the exigent clause out of the proposed legislation, it would be agreed on by all three parties.”

Not all mailers are against permanently installing the exigent rate. In the interests of installing predictable rates, the Greeting Card Association (GCA) released a document listing four principles all stakeholders could agree on—one of them being Carper's plan for exigency. Others signers of the document, in addition to the postal unions, include Capital One, Colony Brands, Harris Seeds, State Farm, and Valassis.

“When we participated in the debate over the imposition of the exigent surcharge, we predicted significant volume declines, which haven't happened,” says GCA's VP of Postal Affairs Rafe Morrissey. “We now have an issue of rate instability, and we have to find an approach suitable to all stakeholders. We think this offers decision-makers an approach to move forward with something that would really stabilize things.”

In Washington political reality, however, Carper's chances of getting iPOST passed by his April deadline are just slightly better than that of the Redskins winning the Super Bowl. The Governmental Affairs committee would have to mark up the bill and get it to the Senate floor for a vote in just two months. The House would have to do the same. And the fact of the matter is, members have little taste for postal legislation.

“It's complicated, stakeholders don't agree, and congressional offices hear so many different perspectives their heads spin,” Davison says. “Plus, no matter how they vote, they're going to pi-- off somebody. It's a political lose-lose.”

How Marketing Is Changing the Way I Use the Web

How Marketing Is Changing the Way I Use the Web

As far as customer insights and behavioral analytics go, the Internet has been an extraordinary boon to marketers. Nearly every action a user takes on the Web—even their inactions, as the case may be—leads to a potentially actionable impression, a piece of data that marketers can use to learn more about the person behind that abandoned cart or that click. The old adage decrees that knowledge is power; for marketers, knowledge of consumers' browsing behavior is often the key to converting shoppers into customers.

But there are inherent and emerging dangers in this increased access to technology. Marketers are inadvertently changing the way people behave on the Web. While I can't speak for everyone who uses the Web, I know I've adjusted the way I browse.

The Shift: Clicking through links

My Twitter trends, Facebook news feed, and YouTube suggestions are exactly relevant to my interests on those networks. This is a beautiful thing; a win for all parties in the digital marketing ecosystem. I know how powerful these data and analytics platforms are, and take full advantage of the capabilities they grant marketers by carefully discerning which links to click, or what to search. The problem for marketers trying to reach me is in what I'm choosing not to click.

Knowing what I know about retargeting and other data-based automation technologies, I've grown extremely cautious about clicking certain links around the Web. I often avoid clicking articles or watching videos with perfectly legitimate content—an interesting video featuring Wendy Williams discussing diversity in the Academy Award nominations, for example—simply because I don't want to be inundated with similar content. Why, after one click, would I be interested in Williams' entire YouTube catalog?

The Fix:

My generation has a colloquial term for the act of expressing restraint; of exuding calm and prioritizing focus to achieve the clarity and presence of mind required to make effective choices. We call it “chill.” In today's digital climate a single click can produce aggressive suggestions from YouTube. A solitary search for women's perfume can lead to days or weeks of related perfume banners on Facebook. This, my peers and I would argue, is an example of having “no chill”—excessive or overly eager practices that threaten to compromise the merit upon which those practices are built.

Marketers who use sophisticated algorithms and technology to enable the advanced segmentation and targeting required to reach their preferred customers with relevant messaging should do all they can to exercise a level of finesse and restraint—chill, as it were—to avoid frustrating their increasingly digital savvy customers.

Consumers are enjoying a period of unprecedented autonomy and empowerment in this digital age. Marketers have an equally unprecedented opportunity to meet consumers on their terms and deliver effective, relevant messaging to them. However, the cart must stay behind the horse here, lest marketers find that ad blockers are the least of their worries.

What Marketers Can Learn From Four Packers Players

What Marketers Can Learn From Four Packers Players

Not many people like Mondays. But as a Green Bay Packers fan, my football season Mondays are made significantly worse or better depending on how the team played over the weekend.

A lot of my coworkers know that I'm a cheesehead. So, whenever I walk into the office Monday morning during football season, I receive compliments or condolences depending on the Packers' performance. And even though we had Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my colleagues didn't miss a beat; they started Tuesday off by commiserating with me over the Packers' overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Although the season is over for green-and-gold fans, there's already a lot of talk about next season—specifically, which of the 18 free agents the Packers will sign.

Building a strong football team is comparable to creating an effective marketing mix. You want to have dependable players, but you also have to make room for fresh new talent. Looking at which players led victories and which one dropped the ball can help coaches and CMOs alike build their rosters.

To help marketers boost their bench strength in the year ahead, here are a few lessons they can learn from four Packers all-stars.

Aaron Rodgers, quarterback

There's no denying that Rodgers is one of the Packers' key players. Besides having a powerful arm that puts points on the board (did you see his two Hail Mary's this season?), he's extremely agile in the pocket and a strong leader.

Impactful power, agility, and leadership are all qualities that marketers should aim for in their marketing mix. After all, marketers need to prove that their efforts are driving results, and they have to be adaptable to ensure that their messages reach the right customer at the right time no matter where that customer is. And while some channels may play a more dominant role than others, it's important that all of their channels act as leaders in the customer journey, guiding customers on what action to take next.

Then again, Rodgers wasn't always the leader of the Pack. Number 12 spent a lot of time on the bench during Brett Favre's reign; yet, he put in the hard work and proved to be a wise investment down the line.

Marketers should think about their technology the same way. Instead of just purchasing the next new shiny object that can fulfill a short-term goal, marketers should buy technology that can be a long-term investment and continue to produce results down the road.

Jordy Nelson, wide receiver

The old saying is true: You don't know what you have until it's gone. Packers fans know wide receiver Nelson is an integral part of the team; but it didn't hit me how essential he is until he was out for the season with a torn ACL.  

Marketers are always going to face setbacks, whether they're unexpected budget cuts, fleeting team members, or breakdowns in technology. What's important is how they adapt. Preparing for unforeseen challenges should be part of every marketer's strategy. In other words, having a backup plan should be part of your game plan. Check in with your team regularly to see if there are any problems on the horizon. And if you have a new campaign or initiative coming up, outline everyone's role and responsibilities, including who is responsible for what if things go awry. The main thing to remember is don't rely too heavily on a single person or single piece of technology. Always have your James Jones in place.

Mason Crosby, kicker

Let's face it: The kicker generally isn't the most popular player on the football field. When fans envision athletes scoring points, their minds generally trail off to the quarterback or wide receiver (see above). However, Crosby, the kicker for the Packers, is the all-time leading scorer for the team, and, according to his stats on Packers.com, he had an 85.7% field goal success rate in 2015.

Put simply: Crosby is consistent, and he gets the job done. Marketers should leverage channels that do the same. Email and direct mail, for instance, may not be the flashiest channels, but they deliver ROI time and time again. It's not about investing in the most popular player; it's about investing in the one who drives the most wins.

Clay Matthews, linebacker

Matthews is a beast (and I mean that in the best possible way). Not only is he a dominant defenseman, but he's also proved that he can play multiple positions, as shown by his move from outside to inside linebacker. However, during the 2015 season-ending press conference, head coach Mike McCarthy said that he'd like to move Matthews back to outside linebacker.

Matthews' change in position embodies the importance of test and learn. Like the Packers, marketers need to be able to experiment with different scenarios, analyze their success, and adjust accordingly. It's also vital to remember that changing course does not indicate failure; it indicates an opportunity to optimize.

Along with exemplifying the importance of test and learn, Matthews proves the value in investing in players who can serve multiple purposes. For example, an email program can assist with customer acquisition and retention. Similarly, social can encourage engagement and awareness. Only when marketers play each channel to its fullest potential in all areas will it truly pulverize the competition like Matthews does. 

The Brian Solis Experience

The Brian Solis Experience

A beautiful, glossy, four-color coffee table book called X arrived for me in the mail. I thought it was meant for the senior editor of Maxim and got to me by mistake. But no, it was social media analyst Brian Solis's new book, subtitled “The experience when business meets design.” Solis's colorful format belies a grave undercurrent in his text that good customer experience ain't easy. I asked him why. Here are the highlights.

The very word “experience” seems to have taken on new and deeper meaning since the advent of the digital age. Define it for us.

This question posed one of the biggest challenges I had in writing the book. When I started asking people this question, the answers were all over the place. Agencies said brand architecture, marketing said brand promise, customer support and sales said the customer journey. What I realized was, it's all of those things. Experience is an emotional reaction to a moment. It's not any one thing. And it's how you measure what it is versus what you say it is. It's what people say when you leave the room.

Your book goes into “experience architecture.” What is that and what should consumer-facing enterprises do about it?

Brand, user, and customer—each of those things should work in harmony. If you were to merge and design experience that's articulated the same throughout the customer lifecycle, what would it feel like and sound like? And then, how do you rethink the journey to reinforce that? If you put all that together you have something just called X.

You dig deep into mapping the customer journey. It all seems so complex and daunting. Is it as hard as it looks?

You're talking about transforming the entire grounding for a business. It's daunting. You're competing for your future and for relevance so, yes, it's complex. Customer journey as it mainly exists today is already outdated. One way to start is to find your areas of weakness and prioritize fixing those. Say you're mobile experience is lacking. Ask yourself, what if had to create a mobile-only experience? What would that look like? Where could we design something new? What is the experience we want to have?

Time magazine recent cover story talks about how old guard Republican politicians were totally thrown off their game by Donald Trump because he tore up their rule book. Isn't that what's going on among old guard marketers?

That's a perfect analogy. Startups are able to gain so much traction because they're operating without a rule book, while their competitors are operating out of rule books that are 40 or 50 years old. What startups do well is to understand customer behavior and expectations and then let that rule their business models. I like to use the remote control as an analogy. Today we have these 80-inch HDV TVs and we still have the same old crappy remote control to work them.

You present a parable in the book about the iPad as the center of Apple's experience architecture. Is Apple really all that?

This was a chapter I was personally fretting over in so much as, oh boy, here's another author talking about Apple. So, I decided to choose one product and go on a customer journey with it and document my experience. How did it make me feel? I started to see that there was a story arc here, that someone, probably Steve Jobs, had communicated how the design of the product, the retail experience, the packaging, the website all work together. I found their message to have an aspirational component. What are you trying to do in life? You can be this and you can do that.

Can good customer experience transcend bad corporate behavior? The European Commission just announced an investigation into Apple's tax policies in Europe saying it paid about a 1.8% rate and that it owes $8 billion. Will this fall on the deaf ears of its fans?

I believe every company should do the right thing, but if a company is able to exploit loopholes it's going to do it. People may not side with the oil companies, but they are going to side with the company that gives you cool s--t.

What do customers think about experience? And should we care?

Everybody wants a better experience, but can't articulate what it is. But people say they're willing to pay 20% more for a product that performs well. They're actually starting to think less about products and more about the experience.

It's been a while since your last book. What took so long?

One thing I questioned myself on was that I was telling people that customers were changing, but I was telling them that in the context of a traditional book. I finished writing the book and said I'm part of the problem if I don't disrupt myself. So I studied UX and UI and attention spans and storyboarded and had to do a lot of uncomfortable things. It forced me to react to my own message and totally rewrite the book.

What 2016 Holds For Content Marketing

What 2016 Holds For Content Marketing

Content marketing was more of a nice-to-have than a marketing must-have for many years. But the explosion of digital marketing over the past decade has brought content marketing along for the ride. And the popularity of the latter continues to increase exponentially.

In an age characterized by unprecedented access to information, content marketing functions as an excellent tool through which marketers can expand their company's audience and fortify their brand, while also providing value to that audience. Chances are that this trend will deepen further in 2016, along with the improvements to the execution and value of content marketing.

Here, Michael Brenner, head of strategy at content marketing agency Newscred, explains what marketers can expect of content marketing in the New Year. Brenner, author of The Content Formula: How to Measure the ROI of Online Content Marketing, also discusses the growing distinction between advertising and content marketing, and how the latter could prove more useful to the average small or medium-size business.

What key difference do you see coming to content marketing in 2016 as compared to last year?

2015 was largely leading and quick-follower brands jumping into content marketing and figuring out how to get it done effectively. In 2016 we're starting to see a consensus around content marketing approaches. Companies, from the start-up phase all the way to the largest brands in the world, [are]…thinking of developing a digital property where they think and act like a publisher. Content marketing is at scale in 2016. We're at the point where we've got businesses looking at how to do it. The leaders are well into it, and [others] are gearing up.

What burgeoning trend in 2015 content marketing will carry over as a major aspect of the practice this year?

The enormous amount of demand for visual content has become so important for brands. Companies that are doing content marketing are realizing that they can't just hire some writers or interns to come up with some Buzzfeed-type headlines. They really need to have the ability and the skill sets to create a consistent amount of visual content in the form of short explainer interviews, infographics, longer-form videos, and even podcasts. We're moving beyond text, and really starting to tap into the fact that we are such visual creatures.

Can you speak about tone? What trends in terms of tone of content do you foresee in the coming months?

A lot more brands are going to start realizing the power of being human, and showing human emotion. If you watched the Super Bowl ads over the last couple of years, you've seen this shift in advertising. This is a bit easier [to execute] as a brand with a big advertising budget, but now we're seeing brands do this on their content marketing publishing platforms.

What's the relationship between advertising and content marketing?

Advertising is great for companies that can afford it. The challenge comes in measuring [its] performance. Some companies think they have some form of directional analytics that point to [lift]. Content marketing is infinitely more trackable and measurable. That's why you hear terms like growth hacker marketing, which is really a way of saying “always do the marketing that works.” So, if you're a small company without a big budget, the best way to reach an audience of folks who don't know who you are is to create content that they're already looking for, and to help them,  educate them, or entertain them in some way. Content marketing and digital advertising is much easier than doing things like logos on stadiums, or Super Bowl ads.

7 Secrets for High-Performing Content

7 Secrets for High-Performing Content

January is a good month to reflect. It's a time to think about what you did well the previous year and where you could improve the next

Keeping with this theme, I decided to see which of my articles performed the best last year and which ones were subpar. The list at the bottom of this article includes my top 10 articles of 2015. As I assembled the list, I started to notice reoccurring qualities that I believe drove reader engagement. So, here are my seven secrets for content marketing success.

1. Experiment with humor.

My editorial colleagues may have thought I was a little crazy when I wrote a blog post that linked marketing to cheese. However, the article ended up being one of the top articles of the month and one of my best-performing pieces for the entire year. I even had readers send me their own spin-offs. 

As exciting as data and analytics can be, sometimes marketing coverage can, admittedly, be a little dry (and, thus, not so shareable). While it's essential to write about the nuts and bolts of marketing, I also believe that getting creative and occasionally taking a lighthearted approach is critical to getting your content to stand out.

So the next time your team is writing an article about a stodgy topic, brainstorm ways you can approach it from a new angle. Just think: If you saw this article in your feed, would you click on it?

2. Don't be afraid to reveal something personal about yourself.

Whether it's my love for the Green Bay Packers or reality TV, I'm not afraid to give readers glimpses into my personal life. I believe that it helps define my writing voice and makes my posts more relatable. For instance, the article “The 3 Emails I Fell for This Fall” gives readers a peek into my personal inbox. Writing this piece, in my opinion, proved to our readers that I not only approach email marketing from a marketing or journalistic perspective but it's also something that I experience as a real consumer.

I also find that consistently sharing bits and pieces of my personal life provides context. I knew, for example, that by the time I published “6 Marketing Lessons from the Packers-Cowboys Game,” our readers wouldn't be turned off by my Packers bias because I had written about my affinity for the team and Wisconsin several times before.

Of course, you should always be cognizant of oversharing. I try to think about how revealing something personal could affect my personal and professional brands, as well as my relationships. To find a good balance, I remember that my boss and parents are reading these pieces, and if the content isn't something that I would be comfortable sharing with them, then it's probably not appropriate to share with our readers. Marketers should also follow this advice and consider how their content reflects their brand and impacts their relationships with their consumers and vendors.

3. Be relatable.

The best way to connect with someone is to find something that you have in common. When I wrote “6 Lessons Marketers Can Learn from Childhood Fables” and revealed my favorite children's books, I tried to develop a mutual sense of nostalgia with our readers. Tapping into these childhood memories clearly worked because the article was one of my top blog posts of the year.

When marketing to consumers, try to find common ground; however, this connection must be genuine. Consumers can spot a phony from a mile away, and appearing fake can hinder trust in the future.

4. Know what's going on in the world.

When I wrote “5 Marketing Lessons We Can All Learn From Pixar,” Inside Out had just debuted. I knew that people would be searching for it and that it would be trending on social and in the media. I wanted to insert our brand into these existing conversations in a natural way. So, I wrote a blog post about lessons marketers could learn from the famous movie studio. Using tools like Google Trends can help marketers find inspiration for relevant content topics.

Granted, marketers can't always anticipate what's going to be trending.  But it's important that they plan for content opportunities when they can. For example, I knew that 50 Shades of Grey was coming to theaters last Valentine's Day. So the week before the film's release, I emailed several marketers and asked them to identify areas of vagueness or confusion for my blog post “50 Shades of Grey Area in Marketing.”

The bottom line: Marketers need to address real-time events and create content on the fly; however, they also need to anticipate and plan for popular events.

5. Understand your audience's preferences.

Email is a favorite topic among Direct Marketing News readers and whenever we post an article about the channel it usually does well.  Knowing this, we try to produce email content frequently to encourage marketers to revisit our site. We also know that list articles perform well and are easily digestible. So, writing an article called the “4 Factors That Impact Your Open Rates” was a no-brainer.

When producing content, marketers need to understand the types of content their audiences prefer, the forms of content they enjoy (e.g. video versus analysis), and the channels through which they consume content.

6. Be informative.

One of the biggest lessons I took away from interviewing BuzzFeed's VP of Creative Services Melissa Rosenthal back in May 2014 is that great, shareable content offers readers some sort of “gift”, like humor or nostalgia. Educating consumers and offering them thought leadership provides tremendous value. That's why I try to stay on top of recent studies and cover them, as I did in the article “The Millennial-Baby Boomer Divide.”

Also, marketers shouldn't be afraid to take an authoritative stance on areas where they possess expertise, just as how Retention Science's Jerry Jao did in the article “How to Send the (Almost) Perfect Email.” If they're truly knowledgeable about a particular field, and can prove it, then sharing their insight with others can help them develop a devoted following.

7. Resurface evergreen content at opportune moments.

I originally wrote my Star Wars-themed article “5 Ways B2B Marketers Can Channel the B2C Force” in August for our September issue. But when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters in December, I knew that I could resurface the article and promote the piece by including trending Star Wars hashtags in my social posts.

Content rarely has a lengthy lifespan. So it's vital for marketers to look for opportunities (e.g. anniversaries, pop culture events) where they can bring old content to light. Doing so will help save them time and resources.

If Brevity is the Soul of Wit, Twitter You're a Soul-less Twit!

If Brevity is the Soul of Wit, Twitter You're a Soul-less Twit!

To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself.  –Mark Twain

Last week Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted a blog that appeared to bid adios to the 140-character tweet, thereby distancing me even further from the social media universe. Though I admit to occasionally checking in on the digital traffic accident that is Facebook, I have never felt compelled to take pictures of my oatmeal and Captain Crunch breakfast or the new yak wool slippers I purchased and share them with the world at large. Nor did it ever occur to me to boost my media credentials by posting videos of crimes in progress on the subway instead of helping out the poor person getting mugged. I know, I know, I'm sadly out of touch with the zeitgeist, but what do you want me to say?

Twitter is a different story. Twitter--to my dated, disconnected mind--offered the only socially redeeming value emanating from the social media universe. It forced people to become better writers. To get read and shared on the site, tweeters had to actually take some time to ponder vocabulary, meter, and syntax in the construction of their tweets. Twitter was social media's answer to haiku.

Alas, that golden age of social media literature is destined for banishment to some Silicon Valley bomb shelter as Twitter moves from haiku to 10,000-character novellas. But will luminous brevity shine again on the Web? Twitter's abandonment of the low character high ground has, according to anonymous sources, touched off a rush among developers to seize the terse-verse position. Some of the projects reportedly in development:

Tweezer: A personal care site where ladies (mostly) could quickly trade beauty secrets in a Tweeze. With nail salons on nearly every corner doing $8.5 billion in business, promoted Tweezes from this industry should move Tweezer ahead of Twitter in ad revenue in short order, according to analysts.

Litter: We hope this one makes it out of beta. This site is dedicated to trash-talking, otherwise known as talking s—t, the four-letter word that will be the “tweet” of this site. Sports stars and their angry, potty-mouthed fans are sure to migrate to Litter in droves when Twitter goes long-form.

Fritter: Derived from “to fritter away one's time,” this is the site for those social media junkies who remain attached to their devices and their social networks long after they've run out of meaningful or interesting things to share. Some classic “fritters” served up in only the first few days of testing: “I've got something in my eye,” “Bacon rocks,” “Yabba-dabba-doo!” and “d=qwe[9234qjnv l;keqw.”

Geezer: This hush-hush Facebook project was undertaken in an effort to lower the average age of users on its site by giving retirees another outlet for their unceasing grandchildren slideshows and close-ups of psoriasis outbreaks. To help keep Baby Boomers to the “Geeze” limit of 79 characters (for the current U.S. life expectancy), Facebook created an abbreviation for the three words that opened about a third of Geezes in early tests: DYR for “Do you remember?”

As one who fears change even more than having a stranger post a video of me snoring and drooling on the A train, I intend to uphold Twitter's sterling literary tradition and continue to keep within the 140-character parameter. Twitter Traditionalists, will you join me?



CES Forecasts an Internet of Things Boom in 2016

CES Forecasts an Internet of Things Boom in 2016

Use cases for the Internet of Things phenomenon have been slow to market in many areas. Since the advent of wearables, marketers have rallied behind the Internet of Things hype in anticipation of what this marriage between digital connectivity and physical hardware could bring to the world of commerce.

If the products presented so far at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas are any indication, 2016 could be the year that the Internet of Things solidifies from marketing dream to full on marketing channel.

According to Mashable's coverage from the show floor, evolution and inclusion seem to be key themes in this next phase of connected products. The existing players such as TK and TK are there. Smart watches are getting smarter, with more luxurious exteriors and the launch of an outdoor variant from Casio that targets enthusiasts of activities such as hiking and cycling. Cars, TVs, and washing machines are seeing iteration, as well. But it's the new products that really underscore the breadth of the Internet of Things movement. We're talking Bluetooth pregnancy tests, foldable TVs, fridge cams, fridge screens, projector-equipped mobile robots, and a device that scans food and relays its nutritional value. Oh, and smart everything: DSLR cameras, record players, Segways, shower heads, stoves, and a number of self-driving cars that stream media to passengers.

With all this innovation, the Internet of Things—this awkwardly named, sci-fi-esque tech trend—could be a serious piece in the marketing puzzle by this time next year.

Resources to Help You Achieve Your Marketing Resolutions

Resources to Help You Achieve Your Marketing Resolutions

A new year symbolizes a new beginning—the chance to start over. So, like many people, I often ring in the New Year by contemplating my resolutions. The goals I set for myself are often repeats from the previous year: go to the gym more often, be more financially responsible, have a better work-life balance. And it looks like I'm not alone. According to a GOBankingRates study covered by Inc, resolutions around health, finance, and spending time with loved ones are the most popular objectives for 2016.

As I began listing my own new year's resolutions, I started to think how many of my goals could align with marketers' objectives: having a healthier organization, establishing a better budget, and spending more time with others. So, here is a compilation of Direct Marketing News articles from 2015 that can help you meet your 2016 resolutions.


The Top 15 Postal Articles of 2015

The Top 15 Postal Articles of 2015

There are postal articles on dmnews.com that get thousands more reads than most other articles on the site. Why? The usual reason: money. 

Marketing-related email registers open rates of only 20% on the high end, according to DMA. But consumers open 80% to 90% of the mail that arrives at their doors, say Postal Service surveys. As a result, many companies still invest heavily in direct mail. In fact, businesses spent some $45 billion on direct mail campaigns this year, but only $2 billion on email campaigns. In verticals reliant on direct mail, steep rises in postal rates mean significantly higher marketing costs and potentially deep cuts in prospect mailings. So, employees in the C-suite on down to, well, the mailroom at insurance companies, financial services and healthcare firms, catalogers, and nonprofits closely follow postal rate news.

Nearly half of Direct Marketing News's Top 15 postal stories of 2015, therefore, have to do with rates. It's been two years since the Christmas Eve Mail Massacre, when the Postal Regulatory Commission slid the ultimate piece of coal into mailers' stockings in the form of a 4.3% exigent rate increase. Mailers had originally expected the surcharge to be lifted this past August, but an order from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals led the PRC to reassess the total that would be collected by the emergency rate. An extra $1.2 billion was tacked on to it, and exigency lives on until at least April 2016.

Stories about postal reform also proved popular, again due to the specter of higher rates. Sen. Tom Carper's new iPOST reform bill calls for baking the 4.3% surcharge into the base postal rate, though passage of any postal legislation (a political hot potato) appears unlikely in the upcoming election year.

Rate-mania even pushed an historical event from the Top 15: the appointment of the United States' first female Postmaster General, Megan Brennan. Sorry, Madam PMG.

Online Reviews Score High Marks From Women

Online Reviews Score High Marks From Women

As a bride-to-be, I feel like I have a never-ending to-do list. From choosing a venue to researching centerpieces, there are a number of major and minute tasks to address. Two months ago I decided to tackle the engagement photo shoot, so my fiancé and I would have some photos for our save-the-date notice.

But like most brides, I wanted everything to be perfect. So, instead of trying to choose a photographer at random, I turned to ratings and reviews.

I started my search by viewing an online directory of photographers provided by wedding authority The Knot. There, I could filter photographers by style, price, and service. Once I narrowed down my options, I was able to check out the reviews and star ratings the photographers had accumulated from former customers.

After I felt like I had found “the one,” I visited the photographer's professional website to view her portfolio. I then typed her name into Google to search for even more ratings and reviews. Hey, I had to be sure.

But choosing the photographer wasn't the only time I leveraged reviews while making arrangements for the photo shoot. I told a friend of mine that I was looking to get my hair and makeup done before the shoot, and she recommended using an app called GlamSquad—an on-demand in-home beauty service. She showed me some pictures of the looks GlamSquad had given her for a wedding a few weeks back. And while I trusted her recommendation, I wanted to be sure the app would work for me. So, what did I do? You guessed it: I turned to ratings and reviews and read accounts from other women who had used the app in the past.

By the time the engagement shoot came along, I felt informed and knew I had made the right decisions. And when my fiancé and I saw the pictures, we were happy with the results. I even recommended the photographer to a coworker for a family photo shoot, thus completing the review cycle. 

Now, some may think that I went overboard with the ratings and reviews. But it looks like I'm not alone in my feedback frenzy. According to the “2015 Influence Central E-commerce Research Study,” 92% of the 500 women surveyed say online reviews are very or extremely important and 85% say they seek reviews for specific products they want to buy always or most of the time. 

Here are some more key data points from the Influence Central study.

New products demand new research
The percentage of woman who...
  • 96%: Consider online reviews very or extremely influential when evaluating a new product from an unknown brand
  • 78%: Say online reviews are very or extremely influential when considering a new product from a known brand
  • 66%: Read reviews only for products they've never purchased before
  • 34%: Read reviews for products they've purchase before

Amazon remains king

  • 94%: Women who consider Amazon's reviews very or extremely important when making a purchase
  • 61%: Women who trust Amazon's reviews more than product reviews from a specific store site

Women who consider reviews from the following sites very or extremely credible:

  • 85%: Amazon
  • 78%: Target
  • 69%: Best Buy
  • 68%: Walmart
  • 62%: Trip Advisor
  • 60%: Kohl's
  • 57%: Toys R Us

Consumers trust online reviews more than personal recommendations, but can still spot a fake
The percentage of woman who...

  • 10%: Trust personal recommendations much more than online reviews
  • 87%: Believe that online reviews are genuine
  • 77%: Consider themselves very or extremely discerning when determining whether to trust an online review
  • 97%: Say they can tell if a reviewer is trustworthy always or most of the time
  • 89%: Say they can tell if a reviewer is biased always or most of the time

Reviews sway purchases
The percentage of woman who...

  • 84%: Purchase online after reading an online review
  • 56%: Say a negative review would prevent them from purchasing
  • 90%: Say multiple negative reviews would prevent them from purchasing
  • 95%: Agree that online reviews are more important than help from a salesperson
  • 80%: Would purchase a product without online reviews
  • 92%: Would go to another site to find online reviews if a product didn't have any

The Top 15 DMN Articles of 2015

The Top 15 DMN Articles of 2015

Here it is, the last week of 2015. It's been a good year for marketing, and a great year for marketing coverage. Readers flocked to Direct Marketing News this year for insight on customer experience and email marketing, breakdowns of buzzwords and trends to track throughout the year, and analyses of social media and its impact on marketing.

In case you missed any of this popular content, I've compiled a list of the top 15 most viewed articles on Direct Marketing News in 2015. Here's to another year of exciting and enlightening marketing industry coverage.

So Hard to Be Merry When You're Not Worth 49 Cents

So Hard to Be Merry When You're Not Worth 49 Cents


The world's top three PR agencies each earn in excess of $500 million in fees a year. The retainer that a decent-size client pays one of them would buy the annual services of about 17 of me. A report run by our sister publication PRWeek puts the average margin for a PR firm at about 14%. Another study reveals that the average shop billed $132,563 per employee and paid those employees $81,500 apiece. The point? There's some ready cash in the hack-and-flack business. Why can't they send me a Christmas card?

Full disclosure now: I do not tend to treat PR people gently, even the few that are mildly competent, and I don't blame them for not digging into their voluminous vaults of cash to buy a stamp in deference to the likes of me. But computer renderings of Frosty dancing in a digital blizzard are the depressing detritus of the holidays in our post-Jobsian world. Send me nothing instead—as was the case with Salesforce.com, though I wrote about the company something like 50 times this year, only occasionally disparagingly. Here are some unfortunates who did dispatch digital tidings, however.

FCB sent me a cause-related email that asked me to create a unique snowflake, because FCB is composed of a “passionate group of thinkers, creators, technologists, and storytellers devoted to creating buzzworthy ideas.” The more snowflakes created, the more FCB will donate to Water.org. I always wonder with pitches like this: Do companies do this to grab credit for being charitable, then write a check for $738 dollars to Water.org and tell them, “Sorry, not enough losers made snowflakes?”

Fit for Commerce fit nicely into the category of “Companies that give capitalism a bad name.” Not wanting to waste one dime of the king's ransom the company pay its PR firm, FitforCommerce used Christ's birthday as a stage from which to launch a customer acquisition program. Under a snowy graphic of Christmas presents was a questionnaire straight from the sales force's tool kit: Do your customers move seamlessly between carts when logged in? Can you show product shipping status? Do you have a conscience?

George Simpson Communications. George breaks one of the cardinal rules of show business: If you're going to be irreverent about a hallowed family institution, you'd better damn well be funny. George was not. His Christmas patio shot with his lovely family used a word balloon device perhaps amusing to friends, but not to the world at large. Daughter says brother “smells like beer” and wifey asks, “Where's my goddamed (sic) phone charger?” Did it never occur to George that taking the Lord's name in vain on the occasion of the savior's birthday might not showcase his PR talents at their optimum level?

CPXi deserves from props for pulling off a passable digital substitute for receiving a real Christmas card. The email image shows a beautiful blue card emerging from a deep red envelope. Click on it and you're moved to animation in which the card pops out and opens up to wish you holiday cheer and tells you that “on your behalf,” a donation has been made to the Pajama Program. It's a great charity that gives sleepwear and books to needy kids. But, agency folks, I'm going to say this once and don't make me repeat it because I take no joy in saying it: We lowly writers survive partially off what an old associate of mine used to call “glom.” Apart from few actual Christmas cards, I personally also received no tins of cookies, boxes of candy, or metal ashcans filled with three flavors of popcorn. We don't make the kind of cash agency folks do. These are an important supplement to our year-end diets.

Finally, to all of the aforementioned, have a Merry Christmas and show me some goodwill in having a little fun at your expense. PR's a tough enough game as it is without creeps like me piling on, I know. However, I will take this opportunity to extend special holiday felicitations to those that actually did send me cards: Judy Kalvin of Kalvin PR, Sandy Pell and Team Hootsuite, Achtung, and the folks at Exchange Lab.

How Snapfish Caused Me to Snap

How Snapfish Caused Me to Snap

The above photo is a picture of the holiday card my fiancé Jack and I ordered this year. And while it conveys joy, love, and holiday excitement, the process of ordering these cards turned me into a real Scrooge.

It all started about two weeks ago when Jack and I decided to order our annual Christmas cards from Snapfish. We had designed and purchased our cards through Snapfish last year and had received them within about a week. Plus, the online photo printing company was having a 50%-off sale, so ordering our cards through the company this year seemed like a no brainer. We placed our order in the evening of Sunday, December 6.

We read that it could take up to five business days for our order to be processed, so I expected to see a tracking number for our order by Friday, December 11. But as I continued to check our order status throughout the week, I didn't see an update. And when I saw that our order still hadn't shipped by Monday, December 14, I began to feel anxious, especially considering that shipping could take an additional five days or more.

So, Jack and I tried to do what any customer would do in a situation like this—we tried to contact customer service. The brand's customer service information wasn't apparent on the site, and when we tried to click on a question mark icon, suggesting an FAQ section, we saw the following:

But that's not all. If you type “Snapfish customer service” into Google, you'll see three different pages turn up—two of which are from different websites (Snapfish's old website and Snapfish's new website). Plus, the company doesn't have a customer service phone number—a fun fact Jack and I learned after scouring both websites. The only way to contact Snapfish's customer service department was by email or online chat.

Jack tried sending an email, but didn't receive an answer, and we both tried using the chat option a few times. Each time we used it, we saw something like this.

Still, we would wait in line. But after watching the queue dwindle down to zero, we would be kicked out of line and be told that there wasn't an agent available to talk to us.

It felt like we weren't getting any answers. Snapfish hadn't provided any updates regarding the status of our order. So, I decided to do what many ignored customers do: throw a social media hissy fit. However, it appears that some customers beat me to the punch. We saw this message on the company's Facebook page.

We started to read a few of the more than 900 comments listed below the message. Many of them expressed the same frustration and customer abandonment that we felt. 

We also revisited Snapfish's website where we saw a timetable listing when customers could expect to receive their cards, and which ones wouldn't receive their greetings in time for Christmas.

It was now December 15. And even with the expedited shipping that Snapfish promised, we weren't confident that we would receive our holiday cards in time—or at all. We considered ordering new cards from another company and returning our Snapfish cards once they arrived. However, we knew that getting in touch with the company was nearly impossible and the chances of us getting a refund highly unlikely.

Then, around midnight, a Christmas miracle happened: We received an email from Snapfish saying that our cards were ready to be shipped. I couldn't believe it. I immediately typed the tracking number into UPS's tracking system only to receive this message.

ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?! Jack spent the next day, December 16, calling UPS. He learned that our package was in Maryland, and that it would be in New York and on our doorstep the next day.

Lies. All of them. When our package wasn't delivered the next day on December 17, Jack called UPS again and learned that our address wasn't listed on our order package—only our ZIP Code was.

How that's even possible is beyond me. Whether this was Snapfish's or UPS's fault, it certainly didn't add to our customer experience.

Thankfully, Jack was able to locate our package at a local UPS facility, which he walked to (in the rain) and then proceeded to wait 45 minutes for our package.

So, how does this story end? Well, we did get our cards and sent them off to our friends and family—sorry, Mom and Dad for the delay. Oh, and Snapfish finally responded to Jack's email—after we received our cards. Note how the automated response said we would get a response in one business day, and we didn't receive a response for five days. The message didn't even answer his initial question regarding the status of our package. 

Now, I understand that some of these problems, like the 45-minute wait at the UPS facility, were not Snapfish's fault. I also get that every brand experiences its fair share of problems. And while I applaud Snapfish for trying to rectify the situation by providing expedited shipping, there are a number of steps it could have taken to prevent this catastrophe from getting out of hand in the first place. Here are five.

1Know your limits. No brand wants to turn down business. But if Snapfish had more orders than it could handle, then it should have stopped taking orders until it could fulfill its current shipments. Although this tactic may have caused Snapfish to lose money in the short term, it could have maintained some of its customer loyalty, which ultimately drives more revenue in the long run.   

2. Communicate with customers in a timely fashion. You know that expression “silence is golden”? Well, that's not the case when dealing with customer complaints. The most frustrating part of this whole experience was the lack of communication regarding our order. Indeed, the lack of email notifications and replies to customers' social comments made the company seem like it lacked empathy. If Snapfish had emailed me the moment it knew my order would be delayed, I would have felt informed and like the brand actually cared about me as a customer. Plus, it would have saved me the time and hassle of trying to repeatedly contact the company. 

Also, if a company promises to communicate with a customer by a certain time, like how Snapfish promised to respond to Jack's email inquiry in one business day, then it needs to follow through.

3. Make it easy for customers to find information. I know Snapfish tried to update its customers by posting on its Facebook page and updating its shipping timetable on its website; however, its marketers shouldn't expect disgruntled customers to find this content on their own. Again, an email directing customers to these channels would have been much more effective and would have helped customers get the answers that they were looking for sooner. Remember: Your customers are paying you for a service; why make them do all of the work?

4. Let customers communicate with you via the channels they choose. There are a number of channels through which customers can communicate with companies these days, and limiting their options to better suit the company's needs is poor taste. In my case, I'm an old-fashioned gal when it comes to customer service, and I prefer to speak to a person when I have a problem. When Snapfish failed to provide me with a customer service phone number—and instead forced me to use its digital channels that didn't even work—I became even more irate. 

5. Anticipate problems and try to troubleshoot them ahead of time. Being an online photo printing company, Snapfish should have realized that falling behind on orders was a plausible risk. As a result, the company should have had a strategy in place for how to prevent this crisis and react to it if it were to occur. Alex Stanton, CEO of Stanton Public Relations and Marketing, refers to this concept as having a “Backflash” strategy.

“Organizations and brands are sometimes slow to respond to attacks, problems, or advocacy groups where they end up front and center....Backflash is a strategy that people need to employ to either mobilize the constituency to affect change or sometimes maintain the status quo,” he says.

Stanton says that there are three key components of a Backflash strategy that companies need to consider to drive positive conversations about the brand after the crisis has occurred and restore customers' faith in the brand. 

  • A look back into what the brand has done in the past, including what's worked, what hasn't worked, and how the brand has responded
  • A response to the charge, problem, or advocacy campaign
  • Doing it all in a “flash”—a.k.a. super fast

He also advises brands to hire a designated employee to manage these affairs.

So while there's a good chance Jack and I won't order our cards from Snapfish next Christmas, perhaps the company can apply some of these best practices to have a jollier holiday in 2016.

How Social Media Evolved for Marketers in 2015

How Social Media Evolved for Marketers in 2015

As a function of the anatomy of modern commerce, social media continues to fortify its role as the connective tissue that binds brands and marketers together with consumers in the age of the ephemeral Internet.

More than ever before, marketers can understand who their customers are, and what they're interested in. Marketers can tailor their approaches to content marketing, email, digital advertising, and more based on the behavior of key audience segments on social networks.

Not surprisingly, few marketers contest the value of social. In fact, 65% of marketers rank social technology as their highest priority for spend, according to Gartner. But what we often miss in the conversation about social media marketing is its role in the creation and consumption of viral media, and what viral content says about the larger digital consumer base.

Look back throughout 2015 at viral media in comparison to other years. Memes dominated the viral Web in years past; memes about cats, dances, and e-card philosophies—memes that marketers generally struggled to co-opt into campaigns. These elements of the Web haven't gone anywhere, but in 2015 activism, entertainment, news, and politics dominated much of the social Web in terms of virality. Marketers found actionable elements in only some of these conversations, but many of the viral occurrences throughout the year contained hidden insight into the inner workings of digital commerce.

We learned that Net neutrality is a major concern for the denizens of the digital world. The launch event for the music streaming service TIDAL, along with Taylor Swift's public disagreement with Apple Music, showed that heavy handed influencer marketing can dilute the merits of the practice to the point of detriment. We also learned that one of the most esoteric elements of hip-hop music—the rap battle—could provide an opportunity for brands to create connections with untapped audiences. Through video game releases such as Fallout 4 and Metal Gear Solid V, and the colossal successes of Disney's Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, marketers know that “nerd” culture has officially completed its transition to the mainstream. Social media was the catalyst, the facilitator, and communication apparatus for all of these moments.

As a democratizing agent, social media puts customer directly in touch with the companies and causes they care about—or care to discuss. Consumers on social shared their candid opinions with Subway after its famed spokesman's outing as a pedophile, and repeatedly took politicians to task throughout the year's presidential debates.

Features such as buy buttons and deep audience tools will continue to proliferate as more customers get comfortable purchasing and sharing in social settings—plunging marketers deeper into social media marketing. However, marketers must take care to understand the nuances that shape and mold digital culture, from the minutia of social media etiquette to identifying trending content. Social media can prove risky for marketers, but its benefits far outweigh its implicit risks. Understanding what moves users on these networks goes a long way toward minimizing those risks, and most important, toward making connections with customers that would be impossible or improbable through any other means.

Marketing to Generation General

Marketing to Generation General

Too often researchers, historians, journalists, and, yes, marketers make broad generalizations about entire groups of people. Don't get me wrong; I get it. It's more about organization and spotting trends that appeal to large swaths of buyers, rather than some blatant attempt to overlook the small—potentially useful—nuances about a generation.

My generation—more than 85 million millennials in the U.S.—is frequently the target of this oversimplification of traits, likes, dislikes, and predictions. Millennials, by most estimates, range from ages 18 to 34 years old, which is ironically that old advertising sweet spot. And I confidently will say that a teenage millennial has little in common with a 34-year-old cohort.

So with this reality in mind, I thought I'd highlight some of the more insightful articles my team has written to help marketers craft resounding messages that truly reverberate across segments of the millennial generation. Each piece can help a marketing team identify the segment that's most meaningful for a particular company. And make sure to carry each of the lessons into 2016.

Alabama's About to Put Some Weight on Web Sellers' Shoulders

Alabama's About to Put Some Weight on Web Sellers' Shoulders

On CyberMonday presidential candidate Marco Rubio and three fellow Republican senators sent a letter to the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House to decry a “misguided and destructive Internet tax collection scheme,” adding that “only in Washington would such a proposal be labeled as the “Marketplace Fairness Act.”

Way down South in Alabama, neither the letter nor the message has reached Julie Magee, the state's Commissioner of Revenue. On January 1, 2016, an economic nexus tax regulation issued by Magee's department will take effect and challenge the 1992 Quill Corp v. North Dakota Supreme Court decision, which held that state sales tax could be collected only from businesses with a physical presence (nexus) inside the state. Magee envisions the court overturning Quill as a result, leading to the passage of MFA.

But things might be easier than Magee imagines. Just weeks before the new law is to take effect, no material challenge has been mounted by e-commerce or catalog companies. Should Alabama's levy go uncontested, it's a matter of time before other states jump on the bandwagon.

It's not for lack of trying. The True Simplification of Taxation (TruST) coalition—formed by catalog, direct marketing, and electronic retailing associations—has issued alerts to members of the groups inciting them to action. “If this rule is allowed to stand, other states will follow suit as well,” read one, the emphasis added by TruST. “In fact, Alabama may be deliberately trying to provoke a judicial challenge to the Quill constitutional standard.”

If so, the way thing stands now it will be the Joe Pesci's sketchy litigator from My Cousin Vinny who's likely to be defending remote sellers and their bottom lines before the highest court in the land. One founder of TruST, American Catalog Mailers Association President Hamilton Davison, is doing his darndest to rally support (read: dollars) to do a little better than Vinny. He figures the coalition needs about $400,000 and he's been on the phone conducting a one-man telethon.

“[The ACMA board] is not resourced to fight this because it's a state and not a federal issue. The same goes for some of the other associations,” Davison says. “We've got to have individual companies willing to step up, so right now we're dialing for dollars. We've gotten some good response, but we're not there yet.”

The ACMA, the DMA, and NetChoice have gallantly fought a David versus Goliath battle against the massed forces of the brick-and-mortar retail industry since the U.S. Senate passed an earlier version of the Marketplace Fairness Act in 2013. Should they stumble and fall over a hickory stick of a gauntlet thrown down by Alabama, state tax floodgates will open up from sea to shining sea and engulf thousands of catalogers and retailers that do business on the Web. Will they sit on their checkbooks and face spending mega-dollars on the construction of an ark when that deluge comes? Or will they get out their pens and launch a couple of battleships to Montgomery right now?

5 Unappetizing Marketing Combinations

5 Unappetizing Marketing Combinations

My fiancé and I love to cook, and every Sunday we scrutinize our collection of recipes to plan our meals for the week. While I tend to select recipes for more traditional dishes—e.g. spaghetti, beef stew—my fiancé likes to pick recipes for, shall we say, unique mashups—think lasagna soup and taco casserole.

I've tried to convey to him that some meals are better off standing alone. In my humble opinion, lasagna should be its own meal, as should a taco. However, almost every week he pitches me some new concoction.

Marketers can be guilty of unsavory fusions, too. Here are five combinations that will leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth.

1. Dirty data and personalization: Let's be clear: This combination simply doesn't work. Dirty data is enough to sour any marketing initiative, and trying to send targeted messages with inaccurate data can result in irrelevant information, customer frustration, and unsubscribes. So, make sure to follow data hygiene practices and ask consumers for their preferences to send the most pertinent communications possible.

2. Data-driven marketing and silos: Just as how a recipe calls for multiple ingredients, true data-driven marketing requires collaboration from multiple touchpoints, such as IT, customer service, sales, and finance. Failing to align can result in issues with the implementation and maintenance of marketing technology, as well as gaps in the customer experience (how many of us can recall repeating a bad experience over and over again because the information wasn't being transferred to the right departments?). Silos can also result in data getting lost. For example, if a customer calls customer service to complain about a poor in-store experience, wouldn't it be helpful for marketing to know about it so that it can send an apology email with an extra coupon inside? Likewise, it would be a shame if marketing were to send an email blast promoting a new product only to learn from inventory that it's out of stock. Plus, collaborating with other departments can help drive inspiration for future initiatives, such as content marketing.

3. Opt-outs and continued communications: Opt-outs are clear signs that customers don't want to hear from a brand anymore. Marketers should respect their wishes for three reasons: One, it's the right thing to do; two, failing to do so will only cause customer irritation; and three, removing these customers from their lists can produce several benefits, like increased engagement rates and more time and resources devoted to customers who actually want to interact with the brand.

Installing a preference center can help marketers determine whether customers want to opt out of all brand communications entirely, or if they'd rather receive content through specific channels, such as email versus SMS. Preference centers can also deter customers from opting out altogether. For instance, maybe a customer is annoyed by the number of emails he receives from a brand every week. If that brand has a preference center, then that customer can opt to receive fewer messages while still maintaining some level of contact with the brand.

4. Mobile devices and desktop-centric experiences: It's almost 2016, and there's no excuse for marketers to still send emails that only read well on desktops, especially when Movable Ink's Q3 2015 "US Consumer Device Preference Report" shows that nearly 67% of the 1.32 billion emails analyzed were opened on a mobile device. Likewise, marketers shouldn't be producing websites that appear scrunched on a mobile device. There are a number of tools marketers can leverage today to make their content suitable for any device. But expecting customers to open marketing communications when and where marketers wants them to will only land brands in hot water.      

5. Content marketing and over-promotional messages. Melissa Rosenthal, VP of creative services for BuzzFeed, once said that content should offer consumers some sort of "gift", whether it be education, entertainment, or thought leadership. When marketers solely use content to plug their messages, that value is lost, and, as a result, customers don't have a reason to share the content with their colleagues or peers.  

What Marketers Can Learn From Star Wars

What Marketers Can Learn From Star Wars

It's easy, almost instinctual, to dismiss highly impactful pop culture as just that, pop culture. Marketers, however, know better. Studios release hundreds of films each year, but very few ascend to the cultural height of Star Wars. Why is that? Or, better yet, what is it about Star Wars that makes it such a sticky staple in the American movie canon? It's an expansive question; one that  its fans will debate enthusiastically. What's not debatable is that Star Wars is packed with insights for many in the business world–especially for marketers looking to capture consumer Zeitgeist.

Here are three lessons marketers can learn from Star Wars.

Staying relevant

One of the greatest accomplishments of the Star Wars brand has been in its ability to remain relevant nearly 40 years after the release of the original film. Few brands stick around long enough to become household names the likes of Coke, Ford, or Hershey. Film success is at least as fleeting, and yet, Star Wars remains one of the most resonant cultural phenomena in history.

Marketers who are able to evolve while staying relevant to its core consumers have the best chance of not only longevity, but long-term loyalty.

Making more with less

The original Star Wars was produced with a tight budget relative to other Hollywood films at the time. However, Lucas stretched those scant zeros farther than most, and the payoff is evident. The nugget here, for marketers, is how Lucas took his thin budget as far as he did. Using a combination of props and practical effects, Lucas was able to not only complete his film, but also realize a tangible world on a scale that was atypical to moviegoers. Even the latest film, The Force Awakens, managed to galvanize legions of fans around the world on a relatively lean marketing budget.

Budget is among marketers' top constraints, especially in today's climate. Marketers who rethink budget allocation, embracing new ways to connect with and engage consumers, may find their dollars going further.

Making meme worthy content

Memes are a crucial component of modern Internet culture, and as some of the most viral content on the Web, remain considerably valuable to marketers. Beer brand Dos Equis, the ALS Association, and rapper Drake stand as a few of the most prominent examples of successful memeification. Star Wars is a titanic force of meme, even among such company.

Like few other movies, Star Wars sells fans on the authenticity of its world through captivating visuals, electric characters, and deeply compelling stories. The confluence of these factors makes for a world that fans easily envision themselves a part of; a world they want to bring friends and loved ones into, as well. This is largely done through user generated content and memes. Marketers can encourage consumers to create meme around their brands, perhaps even through association with pop culture icons such as Star Wars—and potentially drive engagement and loyalty within their own customer base.

Take Your (Marketing) Vitamins

Take Your (Marketing) Vitamins

Lately I've been watching what I eat. I've been under the weather, and I realize how important a balanced, healthy, nutritious diet is to getting better. So, obviously, proper eating has been top-of-mind for me lately. With a healthy diet comes a good combination of essential vitamins and minerals. When they act in concert, vitamins perform hundreds of roles in the body. The right mix of vitamins helps a body perform at its best.

Marketing campaigns and strategies also need the right mix of essentials to be the most effective. Below you'll find a simple list of what I feel are the marketing must-haves for 2016.

Vitamin A: automation
Marketing automation and advertising technology enable companies to do more with the data and resources they have. Automation is essential to the optimization of marketing strategy; email automation, automated social post, automated data entry, and the like allow marketers to focus on extracting the most from customer feedback, interactions, budgets, and even criticisms, challenges, or failures.

Ad technology and marketing technology have traditionally different focuses. In the past, ad technology has focused on audience monetization, display advertising, location-based targeting, mobile marketing, networks and exchanges, video and television, and, usually, third-party data.

Marketing technology, however, has had entirely different focuses: campaign management, contact optimization, customer data, email marketing, event triggers, lead management, and lifetime value.

The intersection of both can be found as strategists work to meet several of these goals.

Vitamin B: beacon technology
Increasingly, marketers are leveraging Bluetooth-powered beacons—devices that communicate with a shopper's smartphone in the hopes of improving the shopping experience and prompting an in-store purchase. Beacon technology can help to coax potential customers to shop in-store or can assist those who are already shopping in-store make more informed decisions.

In-store tablets are rising in popularity. The tablets are powered by the same technology used by ApplePay—near field communication or NFC, which is a method of wireless data transfer that detects and then enables technology in close proximity to communicate without the need for an Internet connection. So, as soon as customers step into the store, several things happen: First, the NFC in each tablet calls up product information as a shopper carries the device and hovers around an item. The system also predicts and then recommends other products customers might like. Brand marketers even can create wish lists or virtual shopping carts for shoppers.

In-store, tech-enabled, real-time marketing. No app downloads. No logins. No sign-ups. Beacon technology is proving to be a valuable way to initiate and then capitalize on shopper journeys.

Vitamin C: content
Content alone—even inspiring, problem-solving content—simply isn't enough. A strong content strategy is mandatory and isn't solely dependent on the amount of stories, posts, or emails. Cadence and value proposition for readers are important. Marketers need to set goals for that content and strategize accordingly. Acquisitions, audience growth, engagement, sales—all require different types of content to encourage specific behaviors. In 2016, examine your content strategy and retool if necessary. Even a small tweak in your content can prove to deliver great gains for the marketing and sales teams.

Vitamin D: data and analytics
Making the most out of data means pulling the right insights and then using that info to figure out what's working—and what's not. Michael Schultz, VP of marketing and business development for marketing platform ClearSlide, said this: “Knowing what is working makes all of the difference. Far too often marketers are in constant production mode. So rather than analyzing the data and seeing what sticks and why, you get anecdotal feedback about what's supposedly working. So being able to apply analytics—particularly predicative analytics—enables marketers to really zero in on what's really going to matter.” Marketers today have more visibility—i.e., more insight into the why behind the what—than they did about a decade ago. Use that information to make more informed decisions that have value to your audiences.

Vitamin E: email strategy
With a slew of technology, algorithms, and marketing automation tools, sometimes we forget the simple attributes that make an email message effective. And I feel there are five top qualities to create a successful, impactful email strategy: straightforward, relevant, strategic, succinct, and sharable. In a recent article, I spell out how these qualities are of the utmost importance; they're basic but imperative. Learn and master the building blocks of a strong email strategy, and then move beyond the basics with innovations and creativity.

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None

It's December 2016.

Members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, have spent the last 12 months trying either to get reelected or struggling to defeat the Trump-Fiorino ticket. (To no avail. Everybody's nightmare boss and his twin sister now recline in the ultimate thrones of power.) Outside of essential bills like the budget, no politically tricky legislation such as postal reform came up for a vote.That includes approving the five nominees to the postal board of governors who have been cooling their heels since well before Caitlyn Jenner became a household name. Now the term of James Hubert Bilbray, the sole surviving member of the Postal Service board, has come due. For the past year Bilbray has served as chairman of the board and the lone non-employee to serve on the Postal Service's Temporary Emergency Committee, which has been holding down the fort in the absence of a real quorum.

But today, just days away from 2017, the postal board is no more. Members Megan Brennan, the Postmaster General, and her deputy Ron Stroman maintain otherwise, but the board as it was envisioned in the Postal Accountability and Enhancment Act of 2006 (PAEA)—as an outside oversight committee—is kaput, and the question is: Will bulk mailers get another year without rate increases on Standard and First Class mails? The exigent surcharge was removed in April thanks to a lethargic Congress, and the Postal Service didn't bother to ask for its annual CPI increase because the Consumer Price Index didn't move up enough to make the effort worthwhile. If it's worth it to do so in 2017, will the Postal Service give it a go? They were pretty confident they could have done so in 2016 had they wanted to.

“We are confident in our ability to operate the Postal Service through the Temporary Emergency Committee,” said Postal spokesperson David Partenheimer when we asked him about it back in December 2015. “The authority of the Board of Governors that is necessary for continuity of operations was delegated to the TEC at a time when the Board of Governors still had a statutory quorum, and that delegation is still effective. The powers reserved to the Governors alone can be exercised by Governor Bilbray, including pricing decisions.”

Now, with Bilbray out of the picture, do postal leaders Brennan and Stroman count as an effective TEC? American Catalog Mailers Association president Hamilton Davison wonders that very same thing. “Can the PMG and DPMG simply run the institution alone? I don't believe they can; they are not governors,” he says.

United States Code Title 39, the regulatory law written to coincide with the PAEA, clearly states that the governors must touch any rate increase for competitive products: “The Governors, with the concurrence of a majority of all of the Governors then holding office, shall establish rates and classes for products in the competitive category of mail.” It further states that the board is responsible for rate changes in all classes affecting the nation as a whole to be published in the Federal Register 30 days before taking effect.

As to what comprises a quorum in the board of governors, 39 USC has this to say: “The Board shall act upon majority vote of those members who are present, and any 6 members present shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business by the Board.” The law allows the exception, however, that a majority vote of fewer than six is allowed in the appointment or removal of a PMG or Deputy PMG.

Which brings us back to Brennan and Stroman and the current situation, near the close of 2016. Can they themselves be the board? Call all the shots without outside counsel? If Congress continues to sit on its hands as regards the Postal Service, who's to say they couldn't?

“They've been operating without a board and so it appears a board is not absolutely necessary,” observes Gene Del Polito, president of the Association for Postal Commerce. “But it's up to Congress to make the call on this.”

A Marketer's Christmas Carol

A Marketer's Christmas Carol

The holiday season is the perfect time for gathering with those you love, singing carols, and binge watching. Whether you're a fan of It's a Wonderful Life or Elf, there's something comforting about watching (and in my case, quoting) these Christmas classics year after year. 

A Christmas Carol is a prerequisite in my family's movie lineup—although, I'm admittedly partial to the Muppets' adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel. And just as how Scrooge learns valuable lessons from the three spirits who visit him throughout the night, marketers can take away valuable insights by analyzing their past, present, and future.

So in celebration of the holiday season, here are three lessons marketers can learn from the channels of the past, present, and future.

Channel of marketing past: direct mail

There's a reason that direct mail has stood the test of time—it's because it works. According to MarketingCharts's breakdown of the “2015 DMA Response Rate Report,” direct mail generates a 3.7% response rate for house lists and a 1% rate for prospects lists—surpassing the house list figures for mobile (0.2%), paid search (0.1%), social media (0.1%), email (0.1%), and display (0.02%) combined. It can also embody many of direct marketing's best practices, like segmentation and personalization.

However, like Scrooge, direct mail has to change some of its old ways. And although evolving time-honored practices can cause some marketers to say “Bah Humbug,” it's important for organizations to link their direct mail practices to their digital strategies to create truly seamless experiences. Doing so will allow marketers to be more in-step with their customers throughout the buying journey and deliver more relevant content. 

Channel of marketing present: mobile

Being present means being aware of one's surroundings; mobile allows marketers to tailor their messaging to consumers' current state. For instance, marketers can adjust their mobile emails based on consumers' device, location, or even weather. Smartphones and tablets also enable consumers to engage with brands in real-time. 

However, the present is short-lived. And just as how the Ghost of Christmas Present vanishes when Scrooge's time with him is up, consumers will disappear if a brand's messaging is not relevant to their current states. It's also worth noting that even if consumers are in the same time and place, their needs and preferences may differ. Take Bob Cratchit and Scrooge, for instance: They both lived in London and worked at the same place; yet their needs, wants, and financial situations were total opposites. Therefore, it's important for marketers to pull in customer data from other touchpoints to deliver the most relevant messages, instead of relying on input from solely the here and now.

Channel of marketing future: social

Just like the future itself, the world of social media is somewhat unknown. Will another platform emerge? How do you really measure impressions and reach, and do these metrics matter? One thing is for sure: Marketers will have to find more ways to make social accountable and tie this channel back to ROI. If change doesn't occur, social's future, much like Scrooge's initial outlook, could be grim. But it looks like marketers are already getting into the attribution spirit. According to the aforementioned DMA study, social has an average ROI rate of 15 to 17%—matching direct mail's figures.

The Grammys Take Steps to Mend Strained Relations with Hip-Hop Fans

The Grammys Take Steps to Mend Strained Relations with Hip-Hop Fans

Historically, the Grammy Awards haven't been kind to hip-hop artists or their music. The rap portion of the awards isn't always televised, and the genre itself wasn't included in Grammy nomination categories until 1988. Snubs feature prominently in the history of the Grammys' and rap's relationship. This could change with the 2016 Grammy Awards, though.

The nominations, which were announced Monday, ignited the Web and generated polarizing reactions from around the country. Surprise nominations and snubs fueled much of the social Web's discourse on the awards. Much of this discussion centered on acclaimed hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar, a rapper who joined a long list of famously snubbed artists by the Grammy committee during the 2014 awards. This year, however, the Compton emcee dominates with 11 nominations, including the coveted Album of the Year and Song of the Year awards.

While the sheer quantity of nominations is certainly positive for Lamar, the fact that his music, and that of many other hip-hop artists, features so prominently in the Grammys' cross-genre categories seems to indicate a shift in the 57-year-old organization's marketing; a shift that many younger listeners feel has been long in coming.

Hip-hop music has been increasing in popularity for many years now. Rap albums shattered Spotify streaming records this year, and recently revealed Spotify streaming data suggests that rap ranks among the most popular music genres worldwide. Much of the viral material of 2015—the second Million Man March, Canadian artist Drake's feud with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, “Hotline Bling,” Straight Outta Compton and its associated meme, everything to do with Kanye West—formed and flowed from the hip-hop community.

Still, the Grammys remain one of the few areas of entertainment where a perception of anti-rap persists, however earned. Time will tell whether this level of inclusion will mend the strained relationship between hip-hop fans and the Grammys, though early reactions on social media don't seem promising. In any case, it's difficult to ignore or deplore the Grammys for attempting to close the rift between itself and the hordes of millennial music fans who have written the awards off.

Uncle Sam Needs You in the War on Terror

Uncle Sam Needs You in the War on Terror

Terror paranoia has reached fever pitch in the wake of the Paris bombings, and heads of state are calling on the same military leaders and immigration officials they have called on for decades to battle the threat. Might they be better served to enlist the aid of digital marketers?

In April Scott Atran, an anthropologist who teaches at Oxford, the University of Michigan, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, addressed the U.N. Security Council on the topic of youth recruitment by terrorist organizations. The themes he put forth are ones that, to my mind, should be more familiar to a social media team leader than to an Air Force Colonel. Here are some excerpts from Atran's presentation. You be the judge.

Recruits are new customers:

They knew nothing of the Quran or Hadith, or of the early caliphs Omar and Othman, but had learned of Islam from Al Qaeda and ISIS propaganda, teaching that Muslims like them were targeted for elimination unless they first eliminated the impure.

They can't be stopped at the border, because they are converted globally:

According to “The Management of Savagery”, the manifesto of the Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and now ISIS, a global media plan should compel youth to “fly to the regions which we manage.”

Last summer an ICM poll revealed that more than one in four French youth – of all creeds – between the ages of 18 and 24 have a favorable attitude towards ISIS; and in Barcelona just this month five of 11 captured ISIS sympathizers who planned to blow up parts of the city were recent atheist or Christian converts.

They are captured on websites and nurtured via social media:

The appeal of Al Qaeda or ISIS is not about jihadi websites, which are mostly blather and bombast, although they can be an initial attractor. It's about what comes after. There are nearly 50,000 Twitter hashtags supporting ISIS, with an average of some 1,000 followers each. They succeed by providing opportunities for personal engagement, where people have an audience with whom they can share and refine their grievances, hope, and desires.

Young targets are open to the message:

When I hear another tired appeal to “moderate Islam,” usually from much older folk, I ask: Are you kidding? Don't any of you have teenage children? When did “moderate” anything have wide appeal for youth yearning for adventure, glory, and significance?

Personalization is crucial:

In contrast, government digital “outreach” programs typically provide generic religious and ideological “counter-narratives,” seemingly deaf to the personal circumstances of their audiences. They cannot create the intimate social networks that dreamers need…. And any serious engagement must be attuned to individuals and their networks, not to mass marketing of repetitive messages. Young people empathize with each other; they generally don't lecture at one another.

Still, referrals from family and friends are the gold standard:

About three out of every four people who join Al Qaeda or ISIS do so through friends, most of the rest through family or fellow travelers in search of a meaningful path in life.

If Atran is correct, and jihadism is cultivated globally among key youth segments on the Internet and not locally among indigenous Muslim populations, perhaps some readers of this website might prove more valuable to Obama, Hollande, and Cameron in their war on terror than readers of Jane's Defence Weekly. Any volunteers?

And the Winner Is...

And the Winner Is...

Another year, another Thanksgiving weekend for the books. The sales may have settled and the purchases may have passed. But one question from the six-day spree still remains: Which day performed the best?

Well, it depends on what you look at.

If success is measured by the number of emails sent, then Cyber Monday is the clear victor for small business marketers. After analyzing its customers' email send volume, Constant Contact revealed that small businesses sent more than 1.4 billion emails over Thanksgiving weekend (Wednesday to Monday), and more than 375 million of them were sent on Cyber Monday. Wednesday was the next most popular send day, followed by Black Friday and Thanksgiving.

But when comparing the number of emails sent this Thanksgiving weekend to last year's total, Small Business Saturday experienced the most growth. 

 Day Number of Emails Sent in 2014 Number of Emails Sent in 2015 Percent Increase
Wednesday 316,451,083 323,011,584 2%
Thanksgiving 196,965,949
209,789,628 7%
Black Friday 256,652,991
Small Business Saturday 119,948,001
Sunday 113,155,976
115,436,034 2%
Cyber Monday 365,306,439 375,360,099 3%

"Small Business Saturday is all about engaging local customers, and small businesses know that one of the best ways to do that is through email," says Chris Litster, Constant Contact's SVP of sales and marketing. "With email, small businesses can target the right Small Business Saturday promotion to the right subscriber by segmenting their lists, and this year the results spoke for themselves: Spending on Small Business Saturday was up 14% in 2015."

Retail businesses sent the majority of emails blasted out on Small Business Saturday, accounting for 26.4% of the total send volume. Actually, retail businesses sent the most emails all weekend, beating out nonprofits, sports and recreational businesses, education and services companies, and entertainment businesses.

Industry  Wednesday Thanksgiving Black Friday Small Business Saturday Sunday Cyber Monday 
Retail 17.8% 25.5% 24.8% 26.4% 25.7%
Nonprofit 8.9% 7.5% 5.7% 6.4% 7% 9.3%
Sports/Rec 4% 4.4% 5.7% 5.7% 5.1% 5%
Education/Services 3.5% 2.5%  1.9% 2.3% 2.7% 4.1%
Entertainment 3.10% 2.5%  3.3% 3.3% 2.6% 3.1%

But if success is measured by open rate, then the winner varies depending on device. According to Constant Contact's data, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving generated the highest open rates via desktop: 36% of all emails opened on this day were opened via a computer. But when it came to open rates via mobile, Thanksgiving Day was the front-runner at 45.9%. The race changed again once tablets entered the game. According to the small business email marketing service provider, Sunday was the best day for tablet email opens with a 15.4% rate.

Opens Wednesday  Thanksgiving Black Friday Small Business Saturday Sunday Cyber Monday
Computer 36% 28.8% 30.5% 32.3% 31.7% 34.5%
Smartphone 41.3% 45.9% 45.2% 42% 40.2% 38.6%
Tablet 9.7% 12.8% 12.1% 13.4% 15.4%  13.8%

"It's always important to take into account where your subscribers are opening their emails when you send them, and make sure that your email always looks great on mobile devices," Litster says.

So, what is the best way to measure the success of last weekend's email marketing mayhem? Litster advises marketers to benchmark their open, click-through, and unsubscribe rates against campaigns from previous Thanksgiving weekends. He also suggests including campaign-specific coupon codes inside each holiday email, so that marketers can easily track which ones were redeemed. Although Constant Contact didn't include the rates for click-throughs, unsubscribes, or coupons redeemed in this study, there are still several lessons marketers can takeaway from the data it did feature.

"There are two primary takeaways from this year's Thanksgiving Weekend email volume data," Litster says. "Marketers are realizing that email is among the most effective channels for matching the right promotion with the right customer, and Small Business Saturday is gaining ground on big box retailer-focused Black Friday and Cyber Monday."

In 2015, Digital Went Mainstream

In 2015, Digital Went Mainstream

Here, on the cusp of 2016, it's hard to imagine digital marketing as a fringe or niche aspect of marketing. Such a time did exist, and with 2015 coming to a close we have fully and completely moved past that transient epoch.

“Digital marketing has moved into the mainstream, as 98 percent of marketers affirm that digital techniques are merging into the larger marketing operation,” Yvonne Genovese, group vice president of Gartner for Marketing Leaders, said in Gartner's CMO Spend Survey 2015-2016.

This normalization of digital marketing is an aspect of direct marketing that we've tracked heavily at Direct Marketing News, particularly through our compilation eBook series. Here, I've highlighted 10 quotes from five of this year's top DMN eBooks dealing with digital marketing. Find one that resonates? Click through for more insight on the topic.

“Social media isn't always, well, social. Marketers can get so wrapped up in likes and retweets that they lose sight of the fact that social is meant to establish meaningful connections through two-way conversations.” – Elyse Dupre. How to Win at Social Media Marketing.

“Four out of five marketers will increase their spends on digital this year and the preponderance of them (45%) will focus on social media marketing as their biggest area of opportunity.” – Direct Marketing Association's “2015 Statistical Fact Book.” Baking Digital Into the Mix.

“Content marketing provides a safe haven to build awareness when legal or commercial considerations put conventional advertising channels off limits.” – Jason Compton. Content Marketing By the Book.

“Predictive analytics isn't a new concept, but the exponential growth of technology has infused it with even more power. With the right data, marketers can gain an incredible edge. Even better, they can capitalize on predictive analytics to deliver truly customer-centric marketing. But first, marketers must confront predictive analytics' sobering realities.” – Perry Simpson. Data is the Backbone of Marketing.

“Though consumers have always been the central focus in successful marketing, the power technology has granted them has led to unprecedented autonomy.” – Perry Simpson Plug Into Marketing Technology.

“Airbnb. Kickstarter. Task Rabbit. Uber. All of these companies have been hailed for being innovative or disruptive. What do they know that you don't? Don Scheibenreif asked that question of attendees during his keynote at the Gartner Customer 360 Summit. His answer: They know that technology and customer experience are almost inseparable.” – Ginger Conlon. Baking Digital Into the Mix.

“Rather than continuing to operate siloed feedback loops, the time has come for marketers to embrace an omnichannel mind-set and apply insights from every interaction to the entire customer relationship.” – Jason Compton. Data is the Backbone of Marketing.

“More than twice as many consumers use social media as the primary channel for making comments (8%), questions (7%), and complaints (6%) over problem resolution (2%). Forty-seven percent of people plan to use social media next year the same or more than they currently do as a customer service channel.” – Natasha Smith.  .

“As much as marketers may want it all, there's only so much technology that any one company can buy—and, frankly, only so much that they really need. The result: Not surprisingly, different types of marketing technologies are growing at different rates, as well as being funded to varying degrees.” – Ginger Conlon. Plug Into Marketing Technology.

“Producing quality content is important, but it's only half of the battle. Distribution is also essential. ‘You really, as a marketer, can't get a return on investment with a content asset until it reaches its intended audience.'” – Chris Schraft, president of Time Inc. content solutions, the content marketing arm of the media company. Content Marketing By the Book.

3 Marketing Tactics to Use at Your Thanksgiving Table

3 Marketing Tactics to Use at Your Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to reconnect with loved ones over a savory meal, but it can also be a holiday filled with family drama, political controversies, and confrontational questions as the above Saturday Night Live skit portrays.

If piping in Adele's latest tunes won't keep impertinent dinner guests at bay, why not try applying one of your marketing best practices? Not only will it get you in the right mind-set for the weekend ahead, but it can also turn an awkward meal into an enjoyable gathering.

So, here are three marketing best practices you can use at your holiday table this Thanksgiving—trust me, your customers and dinner guests will thank you.

For the relative who asks too many questions about your personal life: Preference centers

Whether they're fishing for details about a new significant other or asking a couple about their plans to expand their family, there are always those relatives who ask those bit-too-personal questions. Instead of getting frustrated about their attempts to acquire your personal data, clearly state your preferences and let them know what you are and are not comfortable sharing. Maybe you're happy to talk about your raise at work; however, you're not quite ready to bring around your new beau. Or, perhaps their delivery is wrong. Maybe you'd rather not broadcast your recent medical scare to the entire family, but you'd be willing to talk to the inquirer one-on-one after dinner.

Whatever the case, make your preferences known. After all, it's not until preferences and boundaries are established that behaviors can change.

For the relative who you have nothing in common with: Personalization

Stuck sitting next to that relative with whom you have absolutely zero in common? You could sit through dinner listening to the clinking of silverware, or you could apply personalization. Ask your relative about their likes and behaviors, and really listen. Tailor your conversation based on their responses. Once the person sees that you're interested in his preferences, he may be more likely to engage. Just don't turn the conversation back to a humble bragging opportunity. There's nothing worse than a one-way conversation filled with self-promotion. 

For the relative who talks about politics or religion at the table: The unsubscribe

Few dinner conversations are as polarizing as ones regarding religion or politics. If you find voices rising and tempers flaring at your table, don't be afraid to unsubscribe from the conversation. Tell your rambunctious dinner guests that the topic is making you uncomfortable, and if they fail to listen to your request, feel free to disengage. They won't be adding any value to you by making you upset and you won't be adding any value to them by sitting there quietly. And as email marketing has shown, a valueless relationship isn't one worth engaging or investing in. Besides, it's more fun at the kids' table.

3 Abstract Aspects of Digital Culture

3 Abstract Aspects of Digital Culture

As digital culture continues to exert its dominance over business and commerce, millennials and other digital-oriented consumers will wield increasing influence over marketers' success. Plenty of businesses are actively executing on this reality, to the point that “millennial” has become one of the top buzzwords in business, especially in marketing.

Often, marketers speak about millennials and their value in absolute terms, with specific channels or tactics that marketers can use to better engage these elusive young consumers. This is nothing outside the realm of norm, as marketers need actionable insight at every possible turn. However, the abstract concepts of social media and digital etiquette are often lost in this line of business pragmatism.

Here, I've isolated three attributes of digital culture that brands can market against to drive relevance with digital audiences.


When it comes to the Web, memes are the ultimate tribute. They're a celebration of people, products, or corporations; fun that often comes at the expense of the meme's subject. Indeed, memes can often spawn from a place of negativity. No marketer wants their brand to be the butt of a viral Internet joke. However, marketers must understand the subtle differences between memeification and an untempered roast.

While many memes poke fun, they also function as a tangible representation of shared ideas and perceptions. Generally speaking, people don't meme people or products they don't care about or aren't invested in, except, perhaps to meme their apathetic stance on said people or products. Even in the latter case, marketers can derive insight into their customers, their opinions, and their interests by monitoring the memes they share. In the best case, marketers can take cues from a growing celebrity trend and intentionally provoke the Internet meme machine, ala Drake or Dos Equis.

Social consciousness

There was a time where brands, like journalists, were wholly prohibited from expressing bias on social issues. Brands especially ran the risk of alienating groups of customers at the opposite end of whatever polarizing stance they took on an issue. This has somewhat eroded in the digital age. Consumers find validation in the art and entertainment that enforces their world view. The same is true of brands.

Many brands in the food business, for example, market through an anti-GMO, anti-pesticide, cage-free lens; a lens through which many young consumers now view their food in a post Food Inc. world. LGBT Pride Day, and other LGBT events, represent a similar trend, with businesses across multiple industries augmenting branded content with rainbow colored creative in support of the gay community. Most recently, brands around the country changed logos and colors in a show of solidarity with the people of Paris in the wake of terror attacks. Marketers, however, must take care to avoid subversion when tapping into the vein of social conscious.

Candor and transparency

It takes a certain degree of vulnerability to thrive in today's digital culture. We see evidence of this each day through social media. For much of the history of modern business, brands have stood behind a curtain of sorts; operating as separate, non-human entities from the consumers they target. This is still the case, as it should be to a degree. But, part of what enables a brand to exhibit a social consciousness, or a personality in general, is in the brand's transparency and open communication.

The Truth About Holiday Marketing

The Truth About Holiday Marketing

The holiday season keeps creeping up earlier and earlier. And shoppers are learning to expect deals sooner and sooner. Here are 10 stats that'll help marketing teams prepare for those moments that matter—while they still matter to shoppers.

1) Analysts project 2015 holiday sales to rise 3.7%. Compare that to 4.1% in 2014, and 2.7% in 2013 and 2012. (National Retail Federation)

2) Despite the extra opening hours, online shopping, and extending special sales on Thanksgiving, 64% of shoppers plan to shop in-store on Black Friday. In fact, 18% of shoppers say they are more likely to shop on Black Friday than Thanksgiving Day. (Retale)

3) Eighty-two percent of millennials say word-of-mouth is a key influencer to their purchase decisions. (Synchrony Financial)

4) Sixty-two percent of surveyed Baby Boomers say online shopping sites are the number one purchase influencers, followed closely by advertising and advice from a sales person. (Synchrony Financial)

5) Of people who watched videos to help with holiday shopping, 80% watched product reviews and ratings.

6) Analysts say this holiday season email will remain the most effective marketing tool for retailers. (Forrester Research)

7) Seventy-five percent of millennials plan to shop on Black Friday compared to only 44% of other shoppers. (Retale)

8) Twenty-five percent of customers interact with at least three devices daily. (Blueconic)

9) Baby Boomers have the most disposable income and make up nearly 50% of retail sales; compare that to about 10% for millennials. (Synchrony Financial)

10) Fifty-three percent of those who shopped online used smartphones or tablets in 2014, up from 41% the previous year. (Ipsos MediaCT)

The 3 Emails I Fell for This Fall

The 3 Emails I Fell for This Fall

As the associate editor of Direct Marketing News, I tend to write a lot about email. I usually cover industry reports or interview experts on what they say comprises a perfect send, but I rarely take a consumer stance and share my own two cents about what I think drives opens and clicks (OK, there was that one time).

So, I decided to look at my own inbox for inspiration and share the three emails that caught my eye this fall and why.   

(Click on image to see full email)

Brand: easyJet

What I love about this email. Personalization

Personalization can be a tricky thing to master. Marketers have to walk that fine line between offering value and projecting a Big Brother vibe. This email from British airline easyJet succeeded in presenting me with one of the greatest values of all: a fond memory.

When I received this email from easyJet last week, I was immediately transported back to the trip to Europe that my fiancé and I took in February. I couldn't believe that it had been 261 days since we flew from Austria to Germany, and seeing that we traveled 511 kilometers was a fun nugget of information. Plus, the list of 20 favorite experiences across Europe at the bottom of the email led me to start daydreaming of potential honeymoon destinations.  

easyJet could have simply celebrated its 20th anniversary by focusing on the company's milestones; however, this type of messaging wouldn't have had the same sentimental appeal. By focusing on customers' experiences, rather than the brand's, marketers can form emotional connections with patrons that drive loyalty and purchase.

(Click on image to see full email)

Brand: Blue Apron

What I love about this email: Unattached customer value

Here's the thing about Blue Apron: I'm not a customer, and there's a good chance that I never will subscribe to the meal delivery service (I actually love planning out my meals and going to the grocery store. I know; I'm weird.). However, I do subscribe to the brand's email newsletter. Why? Because every week Blue Apron sends me the same recipes that it mails to its customers. If something catches my eye—like its shrimp and pineapple soft tacos—I can click on the recipe and access it for free—even though I'm not a paying customer. Plus, if I want a refresher on how to slice an avocado or prep my herbs, I can watch one of Blue Apron's video tutorials. And if I want to reference a recipe later on, I can find it on Blue Apron's website through search or by filtering the recipes by main ingredient, cuisine, or season.

Put simply: Blue Apron provides me with real value with no strings attached.

The brand's timely Thanksgiving email is no different. It provides subscribers with 10 different meals they can make for their family and friends this Turkey Day. And while I already have plans to stuff my face with my aunt's cheesy potatoes this Thanksgiving, I definitely intend to take a stab at those mac and cheese recipes this winter.

To be fair, my relationship with Blue Apron sounds a bit one-sided. And for the most part, it is. I definitely receive more from the brand than I give. However, what I don't offer in monetary value, I make up for in advocacy. My fiancé now consults Blue Apron's recipes too. So while conversion and sales are marketers' main objectives, offering subscribers unattached value can also produce delectable results when it comes to advocacy and engagement.

(Click on image to see full email)

Brand: ClassPass

What I love about its email: Easy engagement

Unlike Blue Apron, ClassPass is a brand that I patron. I subscribe to the emails sent by the fitness studio network to receive reminders for upcoming workout classes, new studio announcements, and content from its blog. But the email provided above is one message that truly caught my attention.

I love how the brand created a workout schedule and recommended different activities for each day of the week—such as boxing on Tuesday and tennis on Saturday. This tactic introduced me to studios and workout activities that I didn't even know ClassPass offered. Plus, I like how it paired each fitness activity with a fun recommendation relating to the time of day. For instance, the brand advised patrons to checkout a local stargazing telescope after their evening workouts and provided them with Sunday brunch spots to enjoy after their weekend classes. Finally, the inclusion of links to each fitness studio mentioned made it easy to schedule a workout.

We're all victims of routine, and sometimes it can be difficult for brands to get customers to venture outside of their comfort zones. With ClassPass, I generally stick to the same workout activities—dance and yoga. Instead of depending on me to search its website for new sources of fitness inspiration, ClassPass did the work for me and presented the options in a fun and creative way. The bottom line for marketers: Don't make your consumers search for your products and services, put them right in front of them.

Marketing's Toughest "Boss" Battles

Marketing's Toughest "Boss" Battles

The toughest challenge gamers face in video games is the boss fights. These climactic encounters are often designed to test players' knowledge of the game's systems and mechanics by having them face off against monstrous, unique foes. As tests, these battles can instruct, reward, or punish players; sometimes all at once. Successful marketers in the digital age may find this concept quite familiar, or at least they should.

While marketers put their experience and education to use every day, certain events—such as the crunch of budgeting season, reacting to the spontaneity of social media, Black Friday—can push marketers to their limits in much the same way that video games benchmark and test players through boss battles. Here, we explore five situations or circumstances in marketing that parallel the boss fight experience of games.


Boss sequences in video games often follow a formula—pre-rendered cinematic cut scene followed by the boss fight, followed by another cut scene. The marketing process is rarely this binary or predictable, especially not now. But, if there's one aspect of the job that marketers can consistently count on for challenge and tension, it's budgeting. In fact, marketers' ability to meet the challenges discussed in this list will frequently depend on the fluidity of their budget.

With the ever-increasing pace of technological iteration, planning a marketing budget for six months, or even a quarter, has become a regular and predictable source of marketing crucible.

Adopting a new tech solution

The toughest boss battles in gaming don't simply test players' skills with the game's systems, but often challenge players by removing functionality. Marketers face similar challenges when the business switches to a new technology solution.

Whether CRM, marketing automation, or even corporate email providers, transitioning to a new technology can tax employees and customers alike, regardless of how seamless the transition. The adjustment period following new tech adoption can be grueling, especially in older companies. However, like a boss fight, businesses can rarely avoid these growing pains, and when the payoff is a potentially streamlined area of operations, businesses can't really afford to either.

Tentpole events

The same hallmarks of traditional narrative arcs are present in many games, and often end up telegraphing a boss battle hours before the encounter. Players have plenty of time to grind out character levels to earn new weapons and skills, or practice mastering mechanics that the game introduced in the wake of the last boss fight. Even with all of this preparation, the boss can still prove immensely challenging. The marketing parallel here is yearly tentpole events.

Black Friday, the various holidays, the Super Bowl; marketers have incredible lead time over these events. Even still, these annual occurrences present some of the toughest challenges of the year for many businesses, despite years of experience.

Social Media

Social media is unpredictable and highly volatile by its very nature. Even with robust data sets and social media marketing strategies, no one can account for the wild swings in social trends, or the intensity of viral criticism on the channel. Like gamers adapting to random or unavoidable encounters with elite enemies in games, marketers must be prepared for virtually anything when they feature their brand prominently in social channels, which they absolutely should do. After all, just like in games, the challenges that demand the most with the least amount of preparation often prove the most rewarding once they are overcome.

Define Your Brand, or Else

Define Your Brand, or Else

Last Thursday, my coworker and I needed to catch a cab in New York.

The problem was that it's practically impossible to catch one of those iconic yellow cabs during the bustling evening in the heart of Times Square, which is exactly where we were trying to hail a cab. So I decided to pull out my iPhone and use my apps to catch a cab for both of us. The two apps that I have on my phone are Uber and Lyft.

While the two of us were putting in our information to take each of us home, we realized a few things. One: Neither one of us had a preference—or any loyalty—to either brand. Two: When the drivers from Uber and Lyft called my phone to update us on their statuses, neither identified themselves with the company that each works for. So I had to ask, “Is this Uber or Lyft?” And when each car pulled up to the curb in front of the venue where we were waiting, only one—Uber—had an identifier of the company on the vehicle.  So when the Lyft car pulled up first, I had to ask which company he worked for—again.

My point: I feel both companies need to do a better job in marketing the distinct differences in their services, missions, and customer benefits. And from this experience, I have a few suggestions on brand marketing.

1) Work to boost customer affinity and brand loyalty. Remember that everyone has many options at the tips of their fingers. Consumers today don't necessarily need to maintain loyalty to any brand when so many options are available. If they're the least bit dissatisfied with their customer or simply are looking to try something, they won't hesitate to turn to another brand. So building loyalty, advocacy, and affinity should be a high priority for every marketing team.

2) Define your brand. The Uber and Lyft drivers should answer the phone and identify themselves to customers with company names each time that they begin a conversation. Both Lyft and Uber have glow-in-the-dark symbols, which are supposed to be on display so that customers and even bystanders can easily recognize those brands. Part of defining a brand is to be consistent, which both of the cab services were missing.

3) Rev up your internal staff. One truth so often gets overlooked: Your employees make some of the best brand advocates. More times than I care to share, a Lyft driver tells me—while on my way to a destination—that he's also an Uber driver and vice versa. The employees, many times, don't feel a sense of loyalty to either company and as such don't advocate a particular brand to customers. Have a mission that your employees can believe in. Distinguish the company from all competitors. Those who work for you will be the best advocates, better than money ever could buy.

My Acceptance Speech

My Acceptance Speech

The Direct Marketing Club of New York hosted its annual Silver Apple Awards last night. The lifetime achievement award honors those who have contributed greatly to the direct marketing industry over the course of their careers. I was fortunate to be among this year's honorees.

I'm so ecstatic about receiving the award I want to share the moment with all of you. So, here, my acceptance speech:

Thank you so much to the DMCNY for this incredible honor. And thanks everyone for coming tonight to celebrate. Most of all, a special thanks to my mom for being my number one cheerleader, and to my amazing daughter, Claudia, and cousin Ginny, who continually inspire me by having the guts to forge their own path and accomplish whatever they set their mind to.

Of course, congratulations to my fellow honorees!

Claudia and I have a tradition when we eat ice cream at home: it's always topped with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and sprinkles. One day not that long ago Claudia asked me if I would make her a bowl of ice cream. I was in the middle of something but I said yes and made it anyway—in a rush. When I handed Claudia the ice cream, her enthusiastic thank-you and broad smile quickly dissolved into disappointment.

"What happened to the whipped cream and sprinkles?" she asked.

What happened was that I delivered a subpar customer experience because I ignored my top customer's known preferences and instead focused on what was best for me at the time.

It's exactly the same with marketing.

Companies that ignore what they know about their customers are bound to disappoint them. Instead, brands should develop what Don Peppers and Martha Rogers call learning relationships: building on and using the customer data they have and gather over time to deliver increasingly relevant customer experiences and interactions.

Remember, as Sam Walton said, "Customers can fire everyone from the CEO on down simply by spending their money somewhere else." [Full, original quote is here.]

I've obsessed over and evangelized customer-centric marketing for the past 30 years because, done well, everyone wins.

Direct marketing—data-driven, one-to-one, integrated, marketing—works. It worked for 100 years before Lester Wunderman took home the first Silver Apple, and with the all the amazing technology and reams of data available today will continue to work, better than ever before, for 100 years after Don and Martha come back for their Golden Apple.

The fact is… Customers want, and expect, their whipped cream and sprinkles--and direct marketing delivers it.

Marketeering Turns to Electioneering

Marketeering Turns to Electioneering

“If you air it, they will come,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter about Tuesday night's GOP presidential debate on Fox Business Network. The Donald and The Doctor's travelling circus has turned into a reality show rivaling The Apprentice. This week's 8.9 rating and the 9.5 rating for CNBC's previous airing of the conservative candidate conga line both topped the 8.3 earned by the Royals and Mets in Game 2 of the World Series. The 2016 election has become a major branding event and publicity machine. It's no wonder, then, that digital marketing companies have taken notice and, to paraphrase the great Jimmy Durante, everybody wants ta get inta dee act!

Last month we reported that Fluent, a lead optimization specialist, had established the digitally charged Political Pulse polling service, opened a Washington office, and hired veteran campaign operative Jeff Pavelycsyk to run it. Since then, press releases from digital agencies jumping on the political bandwagon have been filing into our inboxes, well, like GOP candidates onto a debate stage.

Two programmatic ad platforms threw their hats into the ring in just the past week. The CEO of one of them, Eric Bosco of ChoiceStream, said that traditional GRP-happy political campaigns had to go programmatic in 2016 due to the “importance of social media, the rise of mobile advertising, and the ability to target specific audiences.”

Xaxis unveiled Xaxis Politics with a candidate-like claim of being the first programmatic product to help candidates leverage offline data to inform digital campaigns. “Voter data is the lifeblood of political advertising, with a lengthy pedigree as the engine of successful direct voter marketing,” CEO Brian Gleason said in a press release. His reference to the timeworn electioneering channel of direct mail was well-placed, because mail is still playing a key role in Election 2016, both paper and digital. It was an old-school political direct mail impresario named Bruce Eberle who helped a National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee raise more than $12 million for the candidate before he ever announced for the presidency. And it was a New Age master of community organizing who showed political candidates the way around an inbox.

No matter what his legacy in foreign policy or healthcare ends up being, Barack Obama will go down in marketing history as the man who put the small "e" into electioneering, riding an ocean of emails into the Oval Office and building a segmented list that remains political gold to this day. The Obama organization began building its list in 2008, a campaign operative involved in the 2012 presidential election told us, and has kept on building and honing it to this day. The Obama campaign fairly steamrollered Romney in inboxes, and the bounty he reaped there paid off in customer segments, donations, and, most important, votes. In an email post-mortem of that election, eDataSource executive GB Heidarsson found that Barack sent 20 emails for every one sent by Mitt and that his list of individual supporters was 40 million to Romney's four million.

Email, veteran political marketers says, and not social media or display ads, will be what gets the president elected in 2016. If they're right, the rousing crew of Republican candidates knockin' 'em dead on prime time had better get their behavioral and contextual engines running. An analysis performed by eDataSource in September had Hillary Clinton displaying Obama-like form in inboxes, while the squad of GOP candidates were all tearing at bits and swatches of the same Republican National Committee list.

Most exposed in email marketing may well be the front-running Trump. He boasts about not asking for any money to run his campaign, but his self-funding could prove his undoing. Candidate emails sent at this early stage of the campaign are mostly about fundraising, to be sure. But that list of contributors shines brighter as election day draws nigh, because donors also tend to be voters.

Don't Say "I Do" to Brand Comparison

Don't Say "I Do" to Brand Comparison

This September I experienced one of the best nights of my life: My high school sweetheart proposed.

The outpour of love we received from our family and friends was overwhelming. We had so much fun calling our closest colleagues, enjoying celebratory dinner and drinks with friends, and receiving a plethora of cards full of well wishes.

But as we got deeper into the planning process, I started to lose my sense of elation. It was hard not to compare my ring to the other beautiful rocks (or in some cases boulders) popping up on friends' Facebook feeds. And the more I flipped through bridal magazines and pinned images on Pinterest, the more I started to doubt my own vision: Were these the right colors for the bridesmaids' dresses? Is six groomsmen too many?  Did I even wear the right dress the night of my proposal?

Basically, I became a victim of self comparison. And the more I compared my dream day to others, the more I refrained from making any decisions at all.

It wasn't until recently that I came across this quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” President Roosevelt's words truly resonated with me, and I realized that I was happier and more confident in my decision-making when I focused on what I truly wanted—instead of trying to constantly meet social media's standards.  

With so much competition in today's industry, it can be easy for marketers to feel the same pressure: What are their competitors doing? How can they top last year's campaign? What are people saying about them?

Granted, it's important for marketers to be aware of what consumers and competitors are doing in the marketplace; however, this shouldn't fully determine their brand vision and goals. So even though I'm still fighting this battle myself, I thought that I'd share six pieces of advice for fighting self comparison.

1. Stay focused on your own mission. After my fiancé and I got engaged, we each wrote down three words that we wanted our wedding to encapsulate. Keeping these adjectives in mind has helped us narrow down what we want—and don't want—from our venue and vendors.

Marketers can perform a similar exercise. Identify what the brand truly stands for and then identify if the team is delivering on those values. There are always going to be distractions, such as what other companies are doing. But straying away from brand values to simply follow the pack can make companies seem inauthentic and cause them to lose loyalty (remember the outcry sparked by New Coke?).

Clearly outlining company goals and values can help marketers determine whether they're actually delivering on their promises. If they are, they must be doing something right. 

2. Let competitors inspire your work; not define it. When I see a center piece or décor element that I like from another wedding, I try to home in on what I like about it. Is it the color? The texture? Then, I try to take that idea and personalize it to fit my overall vision—instead of just copy it.

Marketers should do the same. Did one of your competitors have the campaign of the century? Pick it apart and try to identify what made it so successful. Then, see how those successful tactics could apply to your brand—or if it even makes sense to apply them to your brand. But don't just dish out a secondhand version of your competitors' campaign. Consumers can detect a poser a mile away.

3. Be realistic. It's easy to gawk at the $15,000 wedding dresses on shows like Say Yes to the Dress. But truthfully, that's just not in my budget—and I have to be OK with that reality.  So instead of sulking about how I'll never have a dress dripping with Swarovski crystals or swan feathers, I look for attire that's within my price range.

Likewise, marketers have to accept that their dollars might not stretch as far as their competitors'. But marketing isn't a game of who spends more; it's a game of who spends smarter. In today's digital age, there's a number of ways marketers can drive brand awareness or conversion for relatively little to no money. It's just up to marketers to find those opportunities and execute on them fully.

4. Make people feel like their voices are being heard. When you start planning a wedding, everyone wants to give you their opinions. I've had people weigh in on what my hairstyle should be, why my dress shouldn't be strapless, and where I should buy my centerpieces. Sometimes, this input can be a bit overwhelming—and that's putting it kindly. However, I recognize that this day is a celebration for my friends and family, too. So, I try to make them feel like their voices are heard by inviting them to participate in certain activities—like venue shopping—and thanking them for their input (even if I don't use it). But at the end of the day, I know that I have to ultimately go with what my fiancé and I want. And if I feel like I'm struggling with making a decision, I consult the people who I know truly understand my vision.

Consumers love to provide feedback, too. But that doesn't mean that marketers should act on every suggestion or complaint made. Marketers do, however, have to make consumers feel like their opinions matter—such as by responding through social media or sending a thank you email after a consumer answers a survey. And marketers shouldn't write off their feedback right away. Many times consumers can offer key insights into how marketers can enhance the brand experience.

Professionals from other departments can also be tempted to offer marketing their opinions. The key to evaluating feedback—whether it comes from consumers or internal staff—is to assess whether it aligns with the brands' overall goals. Running these ideas past others who fully understand the company's objectives is a good idea too. Sometimes, this involves pitching ideas to professionals in other departments, such as IT or customer service. Getting a broader perspective can not only help marketers determine whether the feedback is a good idea, but also whether it's a feasible one.

5. Have a timeline that works for you. When my fiancé and I first got engaged, my mom encouraged us to start telling our friends and family the good news right away. However, I wanted time to soak in the moment. So, we waited an extra day to start calling people, and we didn't post anything on social media for a full week—a near lifetime in today's digital world.

Whether you're planning a wedding or a campaign, you have to create a timeline that works for you. I think Uwe Ellinghaus, CMO of Cadillac, phrased it best in his Industry Spotlight column about Cadillac's new marketing strategy: “We're running a marathon, not a sprint,” he wrote. “It's easy to get distracted by the day-to-day pressures in an industry that's still driven primarily by a monthly sales target. We need to constantly remind ourselves not to just do something because ‘that's how it was always done.'”

Don't worry about how quickly others are pushing out campaigns or introducing new products. Focus on the quality of your offerings and set deadlines that you know your teams can meet. 

6. Know what truly matters. At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter what color my tablecloths are or whether I went with salmon or fillet as the main entree. What matters is that I'm marrying my best friend. As long as I do that, then the wedding is a success.

Marketers should reevaluate their success metrics, too. It's easy to obsess over open rates and likes when marketers should really be focusing on whether they're driving conversion. As long as they're meeting their main benchmarks, they don't need to sweat the small stuff.

The Memeification of Political Marketing

The Memeification of Political Marketing

Internet culture has matured exponentially in the years since President Obama's 2008 election. Social media reigns, memes abound, data is life, and content is king. Understandably, marketers have taken notice of these shifts, and adjusted accordingly.

The marketers and campaign strategists behind the 2016 presidential candidates have shown nearly as much know-how in this new digital environment as the candidates themselves—which in some cases isn't much. Yet, the hallmarks of modern marketing are everywhere. But there's something noteworthy that stands apart from the digital savvy of Obama's 2008 campaign marketing: oddities that surround the forthcoming presidential election based on some candidates naïveté marketing to millennials: the memeification of political marketing.

I present as examples two of the most dominant political figures in social media as of this writing: Republican presidential candidates Ben Carson and Donald Trump. Both recently made grandiose attempts to appeal to younger audiences; Carson with a rap ad placement on Urban radio, and Trump with a parody of the insanely popular “Hotline Bling” music video—originally performed by pop rap sensation Drake—during a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live. Both cases embody some of the most obtuse marketing of the day; they seem to have successfully inflamed, though in some cases entertained, social media–savvy millennials—turning the candidates into memes in the process.

Storytelling on Social Media

Storytelling on Social Media

At the heart of social media is engagement. Few know this better than Don Steele, head of audience development at Tumblr—the micro-blogging site owned by Yahoo. For many B2B and B2C companies, Tumblr continues to be an effective tool in a greater social media strategy to share content and build engagement. DMN caught up with Steele at Engage 2015 in New York, an event that focuses on leading social strategies, innovation, and successes. Here's that one-on-one, which first published via DMN's Periscope.

Exactly how important is social media to a marketing strategy?
I think these days it's critical, and obviously that's why the [social media] industry is so big and so important. I think the relationship that people can have between brands and customers—customer service, the ability to sell people more, the ability to connect in a way that they've never had before—it's just critical. Understanding how valuable that is, and that social can enable that, is just a great marketing strategy.

How do companies pick the right social media platform for their audiences—whether Tumblr or another platform?
I think that all of the platforms have a role in terms of how you connect. But as we were talking about on the panel [at Engage 2015], it's a lot about being great on the platform that you're choosing to be present on. For Tumblr it's the demographics; it's the type of content that works really well; it's the type of brands that demonstrate success in using those platforms to be effective and successful. And so we think about Tumblr as a great platform where other brands like to participate, but the Tumblr brand does participate on other platforms to tell our story.

Should marketers use a social media platform to build an audience or maintain an audience?
Well, at Tumblr it's a way to extend the relationship with the audience because the content that works great on Tumblr and the brands that do well on Tumblr bring experiences to life through a social media platform.

Why might micro-blogging be a good place to spark conversations with current and potential customers?
Well, it's a great place to tell a story with pictures, with audio, with video, and all of those types of things that you can't use on other platforms. At Tumblr you can say so many things. Every brand has such a rich story.

What would you define as a good marketing strategy?
Good marketing strategies are ones with goals that you're trying to achieve and a specific plan on how to get to those goals. Take a look at how you're setting those goals and the tactics you're using to get there.

How might social media strategies differ for small- and medium-sized business versus a major brand?
I think that you have to think about the relationship that you're trying to have. If you're a small- or medium-sized business, you're probably going to have a more one-to-one communication with people. Their social media strategy is very different than one that is global in nature and has to tell a worldwide story.

Is there ever a time that social media should not be a part of a bigger marketing strategy?
Every social media strategy should have some social element to it. Because I think that the relationships consumers have and that the way that they want to participate in the world call for participation in social media from companies.

Describe social media of the future.
Well, as long as it maintains its magic and people realize that it's this great tool for self-expression then the more people will feel positive and connected with social media in the future.

Has Scalability Reached its Limits?

Has Scalability Reached its Limits?

The town hall on ad blocking at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Ad Operations Summit in New York this week began at the beginning: Is it even a problem? IAB chief Randall Rothenberg (below) asked all the publishers present in the crowd of about 300 people to raise their hands. He then asked those who had a conception of the extent of ad blocking on their sites to keep their hands raised. More than half remained aloft. When he asked who could point to a material change in their revenue because of it, about 10% of hands stayed up.

“The first step in approaching this is to determine how much of it is a public relations–induced problem and how much of it is real,” Rothenberg said.

You want real, Randall? You got it. People who at first seemed reticent to address an issue that threatened their very existence began to pour forth on existential issues of their own making.

“The IAB has been beating a drum for a long time on using creativity and design to serve the consumer, and everybody in the industry nods very vigorously and then goes back to doing exactly the same thing,” one publisher said. “Brands call for more and more scale and lower and lower prices. But they also ask for new, novel, never-been-done-before content. The upshot is the consumer is assaulted with voluminous, look-alike crap from every side, and they just can't process it.”

This town hall was sounding more like a 12-step support group. Was ad blocking the real problem? Or was ad blocking a mere side effect of a more serious ailment afflicting the internal operations of marketing and advertising?

“We've grown addicted like crack to the data we use to target these ads and reach these users,” another publisher said. “At the publisher level, we've become addicted to data on data and marketer on marketer and system on system to eke every penny out of every page. We're all guilty of this. It's all got to change.”

A Google representative posited that the ill-effects of ad blocking could act more like a virus. “If what you measure [on your own sites] seems to be pretty small, the problem is that, once a consumer takes that action the ad blocker is in effect on all sites,” he said. “So, if you place a pixel and it makes a unit open a little slower, that affects everyone in the room.”

One member of the crowd likened the rapid adoption of ad blockers to a consumer referendum. “It's like the world's largest petition,” he said. “It's not a technological solution we need, it's a trust solution.”

The group seemed to be coalescing around the idea that masses of teed-off consumers were not the desired effect of scalable marketing programs. Consumer experience might have to at last be given its due.

“Publishers, start thinking like your mom and your Aunt Tillie and go to your site and see what it feels like when you navigate it and you're not thinking about the dollars. If the ads turn that experience into a nightmare, change it,” admonished a stalwart voice in the crowd. “And tech vendors, you have to change from introducing solutions that just add to the norms. If we start to think in the realm of the overall ecosystem and not just our little piece, things will get a little better. The three words you want to avoid are, ‘But it works.' If ‘but' is before ‘it works,' then it doesn't work for the consumer.”

A Race to the Finish: 10 Last-Minute Holiday Marketing Tips

A Race to the Finish: 10 Last-Minute Holiday Marketing Tips


November is upon us, and marketers are counting down the days until Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other holiday madness ensues. With only three weeks until Thanksgiving, it may be too late to make any major strategy adjustments; however, there are certainly last-minute tactics marketers can implement to end up on their customers'—and CFO's—nice list this year.

Based on data from the e-tailing group and MarketLive's holiday survey of more than 1,000 consumers, here are 10 merry methods marketers can put into place before holiday shopping kicks into high gear.

1. Merchandise with the mobile shopper in mind.

Mobile's effect on the shopper's journey has snowballed this year. According to the study, 28% of consumers say the quality of a brand's mobile experience always causes them to consider purchasing from a particular retailer. In addition, 53% of respondents consider their visit to a retailer's mobile app or site somewhat or very influential in prompting them to purchase.

Ken Burke, founder and CEO of e-commerce platform provider MarketLive, says marketers need to focus on highlighting the mobile site features shoppers engage with the most—such as the search bar and store locator. He also urges marketers to make it easy for mobile consumers to purchase. Promoting gift cards on the mobile site, for instance, is an effective tactic because consumers can buy them quickly, he says. Finally, Burke reminds marketers to ensure that their site content and images can be easily viewed and downloaded on a mobile device.

“Everybody thinks [they] have to provide the exact same experience [as on a desktop] going forward,” he says, “but the mobile customer actually has different needs.”

2.  Provide enough content to help mobile consumers make decisions in-store.

Today's consumers rarely shop in-store without their mobile phone in tow. According to the study, 63% of consumers are likely or somewhat likely to use their smartphone in-store to access promotional codes for in-store redemption. Similarly, 54% are likely or somewhat likely to use their mobile device to check product ratings and reviews.

Marketers need to provide customers the same level of information on a mobile site that they would on a desktop site, Burke says. Doing so, he notes, keeps shoppers researching on a brand's site instead of on Amazon's. After all, 63% of respondents are likely or somewhat likely to use their smartphone in-store to visit the marketplace behemoth and compare prices.

3. Let there be Wi-Fi.

Retailers may be tempted to keep their Wi-Fi to themselves to prevent showrooming, Burke says. However, he claims that marketers shouldn't concern themselves with this issue. Instead, he urges them to offer guests Wi-Fi to provide faster, more self-sufficient shopping experiences and to encourage browsing on their websites.

“Frankly, all of our studies have showed that showrooming does happen, but it's really not a concern,” he says.

4. Make amends.

First impressions are always important. In fact, 64% of the study's respondents say their past experiences with retailers will always influence whether they'll make an online purchase from them this holiday season. But if your brand made a blunder last year, don't fret. Burke says marketers can still win back shoppers' trust.

One way he says marketers can do so is by identifying customers who had negative experiences with a brand and sending those shoppers personalized emails with special offers. “Messaging can go a long way,” Burke says, “but also giving them something goes an extremely long way, especially during [the] holiday for our price-sensitive shoppers.”

5. Hold off on heavy discounts

Every consumer loves a good sale. Actually, 79% of respondents say the right price this holiday season will always get them to purchase from particular online retailers. And 57% plan to check for sales or coupons weekly on their mobile devices prior to visiting a store.

However, Burke discourages marketers from offering heavy discounts too early. In fact, he says that marketers might not have to implement deep discounting at all this holiday season. Instead, he advises marketers to promote product availability, customer service, and convenience.

“These are the areas that are actually going to win this holiday season over things like ‘I have the cheapest price always,'” he says.

The study's data supports Burke's emphasis on convenience. Having products in stock and guaranteeing online delivery always results in an online purchase for 62% and 52% of respondents, respectively.




6. Start early.

With the holiday season upon us, there's not a moment to lose. Data from Google and Ipsos MediaCT shows that 61% of shoppers will start researching gifts before Thanksgiving weekend—a 17% increase compared to last year. Burke says marketers should already start pushing out their holiday gift guides.

“We're going to see a really good start,” he predicts.

7. Avoid over-emailing.

Email is consumers' channel of choice this season. According to MarketLive's data, email is the most preferred means for receiving promotions among respondents, beating out print, text, and social. In fact, 55% of respondents say they are highly likely to take advantage of retail emails revealing new products or personalized product recommendations.

Given this, it can be tempting for marketers to bombard consumers' inboxes every chance they get. But Burke advises them to refrain from doing so. Instead, he urges marketers to only send an email if they have something to say.

“Make sure that when the consumer opens the email that there's a benefit—there's something there,” he says. “It could be a discount; it could be content; it could be something that's meaningful and relevant to them.”

8. Segment your messages.

Segmentation and personalization play huge roles in terms of influencing consumers' purchasing decisions. MarketLive's data reveals that 55% of respondents say they are highly likely to take advantage of retailers' email recommendations this season, and 60% consider emails containing online or localized promotions somewhat or very influential in terms of prompting purchases.

Burke says marketers still have a chance to start segmenting their messaging this season. He advises them to start by creating personas based on customer data, even if these personas are only based on a few attributes. For instance, marketers can segment their customers by gender, he says, and tailor their email content accordingly. Men tend to focus more on convenience and be less price sensitive, he adds, while women often look for sources of inspiration.

“You want to make more money this holiday season? Segment. Personalize,” Burke says. “Your emails will be much more effective and they'll get read....They'll get read because you actually sent me something that I'm interested in as opposed to something that's silly, and random, and stupid.”

9. Don't overly rely on social.

Marketers will want to increase their number of tweets and posts this season to reflect the current surge in holiday activity, Burke says; however, he discourages marketers from investing too much time and resources into social media.

“Here's the deal: Social doesn't convert,” he argues; however, he does acknowledge that it can be influential. According to the study, 27% of consumers have made a purchase as a result of social media engagement.

Instead of using social as a sales opportunity, Burke says marketers should leverage the channel as a hub for inspiration and education, such as by posting gift guides, product recommendations, and sales announcements on their networks. After all, 56% of study participants consider looking for gift ideas on social sites like Pinterest very or somewhat important, and 54% say the same for product referrals from friends and family via their networks.

“It's not where I would initially put my time outside of the necessary things that you need to do to keep your customers updated through those channels,” he says.

10. Prepare for next year.

The best way to prepare for next year's holiday rush is to start prepping this holiday season. Burke advises marketers to set up an email or phone number capture program so they can start leveraging these data points this year and have them ready for next year. Brands can even provide incentives to store associate and consumers, he adds, to make the collection process a bit sweeter.

Is Your Customer Loyalty Level as Hot as Chipotle?

Is Your Customer Loyalty Level as Hot as Chipotle?

Like most Monday afternoons, I sat outside Fashion Institute of Technology enjoying my lunch: a burrito bowl from popular Mexican food chain Chipotle. A woman approached.

“Is that that Chipotle stuff?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I replied through a mouthful, readying myself to extoll my anti-hipster sensibilities.

“You know they've got E.Coli in their food now? There's an outbreak,” she whispered.

“Hopefully, not in that half I just ate,” I said, still chewing. A blend of disgust and embarrassment played across my good samaritan's face as she stalked off, muttering and looking over her shoulder.

By the time I got back to work, news of Chipotle's food poisoning woes had spread through the Web like a head cold in the office. Hypochondria (and ostensibly E. Coli) set in, and I almost regretted finishing the second half of that burrito bowl. Almost.

Almost? What kind of insane loyalty was this? The Chipotle kind, apparently.

Even amidst viral headlines about E.Coli cases linked to the Mexican chain throughout Washington and Oregon, neither myself, nor many of the Twitter users behind the collection of tweets above, seem especially perturbed by a possible outbreak, despite the apparent frequency of contamination in Chipotle foods as of late. As news of the scandal continued to propagate, Chipotle responded by preemptively closing some 40 stores across the Northwest.

It's a deft response to viral negative branding that trades revenue for saved face. The whole fiasco is a phenomenon marketers should analyze: maintaining, perhaps even driving, loyalty by quickly and decisively responding in a customer-centric fashion to a bad situation; in Chipotle's case, an outbreak of food poisoning.

We're the Jetsons, Not the Jedi

We're the Jetsons, Not the Jedi

Show me your average Silicon Valley millionaire tech geek and I'll show you a Star Wars fan. I was in college when the movie came out and I was expressly underwhelmed by it. “A western in space,” was my terse review when people asked me about it then. I was more hifalutin' in my sci-fi tastes, leaning toward Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and Dick and scoffing at the show-biz pretender Lucas. I worried about a future in the hands of people who thought Star Wars was art and video games were sport. 

Well, those people went on to populate the Valley with their peculiar genius and, in their own special way, conquer the world via algorithms transmitted to everyone's pocket. But the fact of the matter is that the high-tech life of the future they've created is decidedly more mundane than the one that plays out on the volcano planet of Mustafar. As for predicting the future, it appears that the job was best done by a less hallowed and more trivial piece of futuristic entertainment from my youth. The high-tech world is turning out more Jetsons than Jedi.

Much as we talk a good game at Comic Con, we prefer to use our technology to make our lives cushy like the Jetson family's, not arm ourselves with light sabers and starfighters like the Jedi. This mundane reality was brought home to me ever so clearly this week when it was revealed that Walmart was making a move to assemble its own drone force. When Jeff Bezos unveiled his Prime Air drone on 60 Minutes a few years ago, the revelation retained a mad scientist air about it. But Walmart? The mass retailer's involvement with the technology makes it immediately uncool. It conjures up the queasy feeling that you got in your gut back in the Seventies when your Aunt Sophie first showed up at a family party in a pair of bell bottoms.

Back to George and Jane and the kids. While, sociologically speaking, the Jetsons were firmly rooted in the Sixties, their stuff was a straight-on preview of the world today. Huge flat-screen 3-D TVs. Push-button meals (think Seamless). Push-button jobs. Two-way video communication, self-driving vehicles, robots to do the housework, video watches. Even Elroy presaged a 21st Century ruled by a precocious, young technocracy.

The big, bad Empire exists, to be sure. Technology at its highest levels is and will continue to be used to create more—and more destructive—weaponry. Albert Einstein, who wrote the fateful letter to Franklin Roosevelt alerting him to the possibility of building an atomic bomb in World War II, also once wrote, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”

Far be it from me to contradict Einstein, but one wonders if he underestimated the power that humanity's penchant for easy living holds over its more atavistic instincts for violence. If you look at the top 10 in The Wall Street Journal's “Billion-Dollar Startup Club,” you find a car service company, a virtual hotel chain, a smartphone maker, and two companies that offer people different ways of posting and sharing pictures online.

So, I say, let us continue on our course to become citizens of Orbit City, and not Tatooine. Let us aspire to sit on our sofas and master "Call of Duty" and not to build death stars. And if you have an undying urge to conquer the universe, summon up Amazon on your Apple Watch and have Jeff Bezos drone you over a copy of “Star Wars: The Digital Movie Collection.”

Is Your Brand Contagious?

Is Your Brand Contagious?

It's that time of year again. No, not Halloween. And no, not the final countdown until the holiday rush. It's the time when everyone in the office gets sick. I fell victim to the office plague last week, and I'm still sniffling and coughing my way through it.

But something else is going around—something that brand marketers may actually want to catch: a high ranking on the Contagious Index.

The Contagious Index is a proprietary social-media monitoring tool created by marketing and technology agency DigitasLBi and University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Professor Jonah Berger based on Berger's book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. The tool, powered by big data platform provider Shareablee, leverages public and content-level Facebook and Twitter data to form a “Contagious Score”—a metric that determines the level of peer-to-peer sharing a brand's social content experiences versus its competitors, according to the press release.

"Contagious content from brands taps into personal social actions of consumers," says Jill Sherman, SVP of social strategy for DigitasLBi. "The simple, but powerful, act of sharing is [a] key indicator of what's resonated with an individual in a meaningful way. Sharing is markedly different from other social media actions—such as commenting, liking, or subscribing—not just in the way [that] it impacts perceptions among personal networks, but in the way [that] it impacts algorithms. When viewed in aggregate, over time, we begin to understand which brands understand how to consistently tap into what makes content inherently contagious."

There are a number of factors that can impact "contagiousness," says Sherman, such as platform use and timing. Marketers can use the Contagious Index, she notes, to better understand how to produce and distribute engaging and shared content and identify "how to win in social consistently."

After analyzing the social content produced by brands across 10 different verticals from January to September, DigitasLBi and Berger revealed the most contagious brands on Facebook and Twitter, based on their Contagious Scores.

Most Contagious Brands on Facebook (Contagious Score out of 100)

Airline brand

Qatar Airways (95)

Arts/humanities brand

Humans of New York (100)

Auto Brand

BMW (98)

Electronics Brand

LG USA Mobile (91)

Food/Beverage Brand

Simply Orange Juice (99)

Gaming Brand

Fallout (96)

Health/Beauty Brand

Mary Kay (100)

Fashion Design Brand

Kardashian Kollection (93)

Sports Team Brand

Kansas City Chiefs (97)

Quick-Serve Restaurant Brand

Starbucks (98)

Most Contagious Brands on Twitter

Airline brand

Delta  (98)

Arts/humanities brand

The Metropolitan Museum of Art  (98)

Auto Brand

Jaguar (99)

Electronics Brand

Microsoft (93)

Food/Beverage Brand

Oreo (99)

Gaming Brand

Pokemon (99)

Health/Beauty Brand

Urban Decay (97)

Fashion Design Brand

Ralph Lauren (99)

Sports Team Brand

Detroit Tigers (99)

Quick-Serve Restaurant Brand

Taco Bell (97)

So, how can other brands become more contagious? According to Sherman, marketers need to have well-developed social and content strategies.

"Brands using their social channels primarily for customer service, broadcast messaging, etcetera, aren't tapping into the power of the platforms," she says. "Not having a thoughtfully planned social strategy and content strategy will inevitably lower your chances of success."

Marketers can also test out the tool and see how their brands rank among their competitors here.

The Two Faces of Trends-Based Marketing

The Two Faces of Trends-Based Marketing

Pop culture's influence on consumers make the “latest,” “hottest,” and “trendiest” especially attractive to many B2C marketers. Certain elements of the mainstream tend to resonate more potently with some consumers, so marketers aiming to reach those buyers often make it their business to tie their brand to these spontaneous bouts of virality—as they should. Done well, this type of guerrilla marketing can do wonders for a brand and its image in consumers' eyes. But, as effective as this tactic might be, marketers run the risk of doing too much; of coming off more corny than culturally savvy. Last week, consumer saw each end of this spectrum as marketers did their best to connect with all the buzz around Star Wars and Back to the Future.

Star Wars

In a year that's been punctuated by Disney's marketing of the franchise, Star Wars once again found itself as a focal point of digital discourse. During last week's “Monday Night Football” game, Disney dropped the first full trailer for December's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in addition to opening presale tickets to the movie itself. Tickets sold out around the country in minutes, breaking records in the process, and in the week since its release the trailer has generated nearly 50 million views on YouTube.

Note the general tone of these tweets. The sample size is small, sure, but the general tone of chatter on Twitter and other social networks about Star Wars' impending seventh cinematic chapter trend toward positive, if not outright feverish. Few tweets touch on the marketing practices of non-Disney businesses attaching themselves to the film.

Back to the Future

While Star Wars held the social Web's attention during the early half of last week, Back to the Future all but eclipsed Disney's franchise by the end of the week, at least in terms of virality. Everyone and everything from the White House to [insert your favorite] auto brand capitalized on the 1980s film's namesake holiday last Wednesday with a slew of hashtags and other themed promotions. Nike even teased its self-lacing shoe, modeled after the famous sneakers that Back to the Future's Michael J. Fox wore in the movie.

While the tone of conversation on social channels was certainly positive for the film, consumers seemed put off by the cross-marketing of other businesses not affiliated with Back to the Future, or the holiday.

Cross-marketing is an old trade, and will likely be a roll of the dice for many marketers. For their part, marketers should probably only attach to trends that reasonably align with their business, because if there's one thing social media has demonstrated, it is consumers' unpredictability when it comes to cultural passion points.

747 Million Good Reasons to Fix Your CX Now

747 Million Good Reasons to Fix Your CX Now

There was a time, it seems not long ago, that the only businesses that needed to worry about reviews were Hollywood production companies and restaurants. Now here we are in a world where too many bad reviews on Amazon can sink your listing even if you have the best price, and where many chief marketers and even some CEOs get rated on their brands' net promoter scores.

It's bad enough if you lose a bonus or some stock options because one-too-many needy customers complain, but how about that sucker punch to the gut getting followed up with an uppercut to the jaw in the fashion of a $747 million fine? That was the total amount of a penalty levied on Bank of America last year—$727 million in restitution to some 1.4 million customers plus a $20 million cash penalty to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Thousands of complaints to the agency uncovered the fact that enrollment materials and telemarketers for a credit insurance plan engaged in deceptive marketing practices. Complainants were told the first 30 days were free or that further steps needed to be taken to complete the enrollment, when in fact they were being enrolled and billed immediately.

The CFPB came into being four years ago to put some fiduciary bite behind bad reviews that has made financial industry marketers yelp, alright. In its relatively short run, the 2,000-person government agency that works in tandem with the FTC and FCC has also collected levies of $700 million from Citibank, $309 million from JPMorgan Chase, and $89 million from American Express. The size of those judgments, a new study finds, had a direct correlation to the number of complaints registered with the agency by unhappy customers. “What the CFPB is telling marketers is that if their first stop on the road to customer experience is deceptive advertising, then their cost to providing customer experience is going to be much higher,” says Alex Baydin.

Baydin is the CEO of PerformLine, provider of an SaaS platform for consumer finance marketers that automates compliance with truth in advertising laws. The CFPB's database is available to the public, so PerformLine data miners dug in to see if they could gain any intelligence on how the agency arrived at the sums of its penalties. All you have to do if you're a financial services marketer is keep the number 2,000 in mind. Stay below it, and you'll skate. Rise above it, and call your company's General Counsel.

PerformLine's study showed that just 6% of companies receiving 2,000 complaints or less at the PCB were hit with fines, the average judgment being $60 million. But 58% of those who were the subject of 2,000 to 10,000 gripes were levied with penalties averaging $134 million, and 60% of financial companies showered with more than 10,000 complaints got slammed with average fines of $758 million.

PerformLine's investigation also showed that the CFPB has become steadily more popular among consumers the longer it's been out there. A smattering of a few thousand complaints in its inaugural year of 2011 turned into over 100,000 in 2013 and 170,000 so far this year. “People are beginning to learn that the complaint box is out now, and it's hosted by the one organization that can actually do something about their complaints,” Baydin says. “So they can call the company to complain, or they can go to the CFPB.”

How long will it be before the overnight success of the CFPB is transferred into other verticals like automotive sales, or issue areas such as data privacy? The FTC and FCC both prefer to choose the violations they take on judiciously, concentrating on the big fish that they can hang up and display dockside as an example to the other big, bad fish. But there's something to be said for businesslike trawlers like the CFPB that can take to the ocean and fill the holds of the U.S. Treasury with fines weighing in at nine digits.

“They're fishing with a dragnet as well as with a fly rod,” says Baydin.

Marketers Must Seize "Magic Moments" This Holiday Season

Marketers Must Seize "Magic Moments" This Holiday Season

Most everyone has heard the sweet croonings of popular doo-wop group The Drifters. In fact their 1960s hit “This Magic Moment” could be marketers' theme song this holiday season. Data from Google and Ipsos MediaCT's "Consumer Holiday Intentions Study 2015" shows that 54% of consumers plan to shop with their smartphones during their spare time throughout the season, small junctures that marketers hope to turn into magic moments. Matt Lawson, director of performance ads marketing for Google, refers to these bits of time as "micro-moments."

"People are busy," Lawson says. "They're traveling; they're commuting; they're watching their kids' soccer games. They're also tethered to their mobile phones, and therefore, as they start to shop for the holidays, they do so whenever they have a free moment."

This optimal use of free time mirrors consumers' behavior during the last holiday shopping season. As Google Trends' data shows, searches for gifts were fairly consistent from October to December with fewer spikes on the historical key shopping days.

With more consumers shopping during these brief interims, marketers have even less time to grab shoppers' attention. In fact, consumers are spending 7% less time in each mobile session compared to last year, according to Google Analytics' year-over-year September data. In an effort to capture shoppers' attention, Lawson says that marketers should follow one simple guideline: Be present.

"We've seen engagement with shopping ads increase by three times when products show up in the top ads on mobile," he says. "Increasing budgets and bids to ensure that your top products are easily discoverable on mobile will reach consumers doing a quick search during their shopping micro-moments. And if those consumers have lost their way or abandoned their shopping cart, use remarketing lists in search ads to tailor your shopping bids and reconnect with them."

Capturing consumers' attention during these micro-moments can have big dividends, too. The data from Google Analytics also shows that the amount of online shopping done with smartphones has surged 64%, and the information revealed that 30% of online purchases occur on mobile phones. 

Of course, consumers aren't just using their smartphones at the point of purchase. On the contrary, they rely on their devices throughout the shopper journey. Take the research phase, for instance. According to Google's global search data from November 2014 to October 2015, mobile shopping-related searches have increased more than 120%—catching up to those on desktop. And according to Google and Ipsos MediaCT's data, 52% of consumers intend to use their smartphone before visiting a store this holiday season. 

Consumers are also using smartphones to break the chasm between the physical and online worlds. The aforementioned data set shows that 82% of mobile shoppers will review information on their phones while in-store. In addition, Google's year-over-year September data indicates that people are conducting 37% more mobile searches in department stores. 

"Recognize that just because people are shopping on their phone [that] doesn't mean [that] they will purchase there," Lawson says. "They may want to call in an order or walk into a store. Make sure that you have formats such as local inventory ads, click-to-call, and location extensions enabled and are able to measure all of the different ways that consumers convert."

So, when should marketers start engaging in these magic moments? According to Google, the correct answer is now. Sixty-one percent of shoppers will have begun researching holiday purchases before Thanksgiving weekend, according to Google and Ipsos MediaCT—that's a 17% increase compared to last year; still, most will wait until later in the season to purchase. 

"The time to start influencing these decisions is now," Lawson reiterates. "In order to do this, take a look at your historical data and try to understand how much and when conversion rates and sales rose last year for your brand. Then, build a budget and promotion plan to anticipate that shift."

Also, not surprisingly, Sundays seem to be the best day to reach mobile consumers. Based on its Q3 2015 data, Google found that mobile shopping searches are, on average, 18% higher on this day versus the rest of the week. 

Finally, Lawson recommends thinking about all platforms, including the Google-owned, video-sharing site YouTube. After all, more than one quarter (26%) of shoppers consider online videos their "go-to source" for gift ideas, according to Google and Ipsos MediaCT's data, and about one third (32%) say they intend to use online video more this year for holiday gifts.

Four Truths That Should Go Without Saying in Modern Marketing

Four Truths That Should Go Without Saying in Modern Marketing

The year 2015 has been one of change and revolution, both in- and outside marketing. As we approach the final stretch of this turbulent year, I thought it prudent to review some of the most prevalent talking points in marketing, and why they probably shouldn't be talking points in 2016. Not because these aspects of the industry are irrelevant. Quite the opposite, actually.

Marketers speaking in boardrooms and on conference panels around the world have waxed poetic about topics such as personalization and omnichannel marketing for years now, and this was necessary for a long time. But, just as life with a flip phone hasn't gotten any easier, neither have the lives of marketers who fail to meet customer expectations in any of these four areas.

Here, a short list of topics that should be firmly grounding into the overall marketing strategy for many businesses.

Customer centricity

Much of the contemporary marketing discourse centers on customer experience, and its newfound import on business success. Of course, this implies that marketing hasn't always been about the customer. True, product-oriented and mass marketing were viable, even standard approaches to marketing for many years. But customer centricity was a priority for some businesses, even during this period.

Now, with perpetual connectivity and the proliferation of social platforms, optimized customer experiences are the standard that virtually all businesses must strive for. In today's reviews-obsessed world, businesses that do not meet customer experience expectations risk experiencing the viral wrath of well-connected consumers.

Responsive content

A year ago 64% of American adults owned a smartphone, according to Pew Research—a figure that most certainly continues to grow. Marketers have been steadily shifting priorities toward mobile for years now, and one of the most appropriate ways to do that is through responsive content.

Whether email or mobile Web, the choice of whether marketers should apply responsive code to their designs isn't really a choice at all this close to 2016. With customers bouncing between devices at the frequency that they do—and with marketing dollars growing ever more precious—marketers cannot afford for their content to behave differently across devices.


It's been more than 20 years since CRM solutions began transforming the way businesses market to customers. With access to increasingly rich customer data, and the proliferation of so many solutions to help manage it all, there are few scenarios where batch-and-blast style marketing tactics remain viable.

A growing segment of consumers have come to expect at least some degree of personalization in communication from brands, especially if they've opted in to their favorite brand's marketing. With customer attention coming at an increasing premium, even rudimentary personalization will prove invaluable. Besides, personalization, and adept use of customer data in general are cornerstones of…

Omnichannel marketing

The omnichannel marketing ideal has never been more within reach than now, with customer data, CRM tools, and marketing technology options as bountiful as they are. For businesses that closely monitor customer journeys, and tailor the customer experience according to customers' context at every turn, ensuring that those journeys are integrated and customer communication is highly relevant should be as natural as a day of standard operation. 

10 Stats That Show Why User-Generated Content Works

10 Stats That Show Why User-Generated Content Works

Recently, I've been highlighting a slew of user-generated content campaigns from marquee brands.

One of the most notable is the new campaign for "The Peanuts Movie," which is slated for release November 6. Film studio 20th Century Fox Animation created a character-generator platform—which is even available through mobile—to jump-start excitement over the upcoming release of the new Peanuts movie. Users are creating fun Peanut versions of themselves, family, and co-workers—and then sharing them on social media.

Yet another great example is centered on Universal Studios biopic "Straight Outta Compton," which sparked a viral sensation with its Straight Outta Somewhere meme generator from Apple and Beats. Even storied brand Western Union got into the UGC game; its marketers launched WU Home Cooked, a fun microsite that captures the strong longing for home and the pleasant memories of native food. Fueled by hashtag #WUHomeCooked, the site features a social media collective of recipes and pictures of customers' favorite dishes from their native countries. And of course, there's the perennial “Share a Coke” campaign that's fueled by hashtag #ShareaCoke.

The list goes on.

The moral of the story is this: consumers make stellar marketers. Shoppers make a brand's content more personal and relevant. Here, 10 stats that might persuade you to consider infusing user-generated content into your own marketing strategies.

1. Fifty-nine percent of millennials say they use UGC to inform their purchase decisions about major electronics. That's followed by cars (54%), major appliances (53%), mobile phones (46%), hotels (45%), and travel plans (40%). (Crowdtap)

2. Eighty-six percent of businesses use content marketing; of those, 70% are creating more content than they did a year ago. (Content Marketing Institute)

3. Seventy percent of consumers place peer recommendations and reviews above professionally written content. (Reevo)

4. Web content increasingly is dominated by user-generated content as Pinterest pin creation is up 75%, Twitch video broadcasts are up 83%, Wattpad stories are up 140%, and Airbnb reviews are up 140% year-over-year. (Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers)

5. Sixty-five percent of social media users from ages 18 to 24 consider information that's shared on social networks when making a purchasing decision. (eMarketer)

6. Consumers who are between the ages of 25 and 54 are the biggest content drivers—contributing 70% of all UGC. (SparkReel)

7. Twenty-five percent of search results for the world's 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content. (Kissmetrics)

8. Eighty-four percent of millennials report that UGC on company websites has at least some influence on what they buy. (Bazaarvoice)

9. Eighty-six percent of millennials say that user-generated content is generally a good indicator of the quality of a brand or service. (Bazaarvoice)

10. Brand engagements rise by 28% when consumers are exposed to both professional content and user-generated product video. (comScore)

The Internet is a Harsh Mistress for Advertisers

The Internet is a Harsh Mistress for Advertisers

TANSTAAFL.com could be an alternative handle for Facebook or Google or any of the other free services the digital age provides to an addicted and adoring following. It stands for “There ain't no such thing as a free lunch,” an adage used as a book title by economist Milton Friedman and acronymed by sci-fi novelist Robert Heinlein in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. We who cover digital marketing hear from practitioners all the time about how the power has shifted from marketers to retailers to consumers, how smartphones have begotten a new race of smart shoppers who don't visit a store or press the buy button before embarking on an odyssey of product research, reviews, and price comparisons. But one wonders if a generation of geniuses with iOS and Android brains in their hip pockets ever think about who pays for all that free access.

The answer is advertisers. Google and Facebook both derive upwards of 90% of their revenues from advertising. Free apps, too, it should be obvious, subsist on ad dollars. Yet one of the most downloaded apps of late is the ad blocker. A recent report from PageFair and Adobe features a line graph that resembles a silhouette of the first stage of an ascent of Everest. It begins charting 21 million global users of ad blockers in 2010 and rises to 181 million blockers in 2015. In Q2 there were 45 million Americans blocking ads, 48% more than were doing so in Q2 2014.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau is so worked up over ad blockers—which PageFair estimates cancelled out $22 billion in ad revenues in the past year—that its anti-blocking document reads like dissident group's manifesto. It calls ad blocking “robbery, plain and simple; an extortionist scheme that exploits consumer disaffection and risks distorting the economics of democratic capitalism.”

The IAB pointed a trembling finger at “walled gardens” like Facebook's Custom Audiences or Google's YouTube, though it didn't call them out by name. “Claiming to represent the interests of consumers and cloaking themselves in the ill-defined mantle of 'better advertising,' several of the largest and most prominent distributors of ad-blocking software are shaking down publishers for payments to circumvent their barriers,” the IAB document reads, adding that “without advertising, digital content and services either will vanish, or the cost for their production and distribution will come directly from consumers' wallets.”

Just this week German publisher Axel Springer announced it would charge a monthly fee of $3.40 to visitors who enter its popular Bild news site with blockers engaged. “Whoever does not switch off the ad blocker or does not pay cannot see any content on Bild.de as of now,” declared a statement released by the publisher.

There is another alternative, one that rests on the shoulders of marketers: Make your ads rewarding experiences that content consumers won't want to wall off. “There is a burden on advertisers to a certain extent to be more interesting. The ad blocker phenomenon could lead to a new age of consumer engagement with better metrics that won't leave advertisers relying on viewability to measure mobile behavior,” says John Busby, SVP of consumer insights and marketing at Marchex, which analyzes inbound phone calls spurred by digital advertising. He envisions a merging of Web, mobile, in-store, and phone data providing a more holistic view of engagement.

Busby also poses the notion that ad blockers might force publishers to pick up their games. “The rise of programmatic buying sort of threatens large publishers. It basically says, ‘Hey, you can reach the same people in a lot of cheaper websites,” he posits. “They should be investing more in analytics, because what marketers are going to do is demand better accountability.”

As a journalist I, of course, think people should accept advertising or pay for good content, because bad content makes smart smartphoners dumb. It's not always free to read an unedited blog or some native advertising selling a product or a notion. There's a good chance you'll pay for those in time wasted and questionable information ingested. I hate the word content, too. It sounds too much like a commodity. Maybe something could be done about that by the likes of The New York Times and Forbes. There's content and there's journalism, or there's content and there's art. One is a free lunch, the other costs a little.

5 Lessons Comic Books Can Teach Marketers

5 Lessons Comic Books Can Teach Marketers

If you live in New York, you've probably noticed an influx of costumed pedestrians and straphangers since last Thursday. Blame the 2015 New York Comic Con, which wrapped up its four day occupancy at the Javits Center Sunday.

The sold-out event is always a spectacle, which reverberates outside the Javits Center walls, and these events are only getting bigger. In many ways, the growth of these events is but a function of the passionate comics community. Marketers can learn much from the practices employed by comic book publishers. Given the increasing size of comics' cultural and commercial footprint, now's a good time to mine this reinvigorated industry for its bountiful marketing insights.

Here are five marketing lessons or trends that lie hidden in the panels of comic books.

Print and digital can be friends

As digital rapidly rose to dominance in the media and creative industries, many professionals pitted the channel against print, and other physical mediums. This is a practice that has waned in the last few years, but some still view the relationship between digital and physical as an adversarial one. That's not the case in the comic book industry, at least not anymore.

The first issue of Marvel comics' latest event series “Secret War” sold more than 500,000 copies in May, with numerous other books hot on its tail, according to IGN.com. These figures represent only print sales from comic book distributor Diamond Comics and does not include numbers from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon-owned comics app Comixology. Increasingly, digital sales from apps such as Comixology seem to play a complementary role in comic book retail, according to Comichron.

This is a reality that marketers and other publishers can replicate with proper care and execution, but not without first acknowledging that…

Having a digital presence is not the same as providing a digital experience

There's a fine line between having a digital presence and providing a compelling digital experience. Marketers, indeed most media professionals, spent much of the Web 2.0 revolution laboring to ensure they had anything and everything available in a digital format. This mandate often manifested in PDF conversions of printed materials for email and the Web. Times have changed, and comic book publishers have been some of the leaders in executing on the concept of unique digital experiences.

Digital comics viewed in the Comixology app (or the various publisher variants) are not simple rehashes of print products—and much more than simple PDF conversions. These apps navigate viewers through the books in a panel-by-panel progression that animates as readers swipe through the panels. It is an addictive experience, one that is difficult to describe but is exemplary in its execution on the idea that digital should be its own valuable experience.

Not every business lends itself to a Comixology approach, but the core concept—that customers will gravitate to immersive, interactive digital content—is one that every business should strive to deliver.

Loyalty is paramount

Customers are drowning in choices. So brand loyalty is paramount, but it comes at a steep premium. Consumers demand more than ever before. However loyalty is imperative; customers function as scions of the brand and champions of its products or services. A loyal customer is worth more now than ever before.

Comics are among the more poignant examples of the power that's ensconced in a loyal base. These super fans are the passionate base that ushered in today's age of superhero cinema and TV, bringing comic books into the lexicon of pop culture alongside music and sports. And marketers should note that comic book fans bring that passion—and purchasing power—with them wherever they go. It's a passion that's given rise to two of the biggest annual conferences to descend on New York and San Diego.

Achieving these levels of hyper loyalty isn't easy for comic creators or marketers. Though loyalty may be the goal, the currency with which bid on customers' attention, the path to loyalty is paved not only in exemplary marketing, but in engaging characters and stories.

Develop stories people can invest in

Many of today's leading comic book heroes have stories dating as far back as the 1960s or 1970s. The fact that children and young adults today are still diving into stories that are 50 years old speaks volumes. Bottom line: People love stories, particularly stories they can invest in.

A growing number of marketers are well aware of this fact, as evidenced by the number of times speakers emphasize storytelling at industry conferences. It's certainly a point worth laboring.

People love Spider-Man not just for his web slinging and wall crawling, but for his witty banter and his tragic origins. Audiences see aspects of themselves in characters like Spider-Man, Batman, or Ms. Marvel.

As long as they tap into the emotions and the moments that permeate real people's lives, marketers do not need a totem or a mascot to create stories that resonate.

Find and tap into cultural overlap

Recently, Marvel comics began issuing variant covers for select issues in its newest books. These print-only collectable covers have proliferated through not just the world of comics, but in hip-hop culture and media that targets the African-American community. The covers recreate popular hip-hop album covers by replacing the original art with Marvel characters and scenery.

This is deft tactic capitalizes on the persistent affection rap artists such Ghostface Killah (who named his first album “Iron Man” and goes by the alias Tony Starks) have shown the comics brand over the years, and expounds on this cultural overlap by driving fans of both comics and hip-hop to purchase print versions of new comics.

From listening to customers to creating value in physical channels, marketers can glean much from Marvel's latest initiative.

The Old? The New? It's All Marketing to Me.

The Old? The New? It's All Marketing to Me.

I will admit that I bring a bias to some of my reporting about the wholesale change happening in the marketing world. It's because I've been reporting on it since the early '80s as a staffer on Sales & Marketing Management, a time when there was talk of an imminent “Information Age,” but no World Wide Web to host it. I remember when the Steves Jobs and Wozniak invented the PC market and then watched it get taken over at scale by IBM. Jobs won in the end, an Edison-in-a-turtleneck industrial icon, feted in the cinema and worshiped by the mobile minions. But, since becoming a reporter on marketing technology, I've noticed a distinct disregard on the part of new-generation marketers concerning traditional methods. They see direct mail as old school, tawdry; TV as wasteful. Yet TV viewing is at its highest level in years, according to eMarketer. Direct mail and phone calls beat digital methods into the dirt for effectiveness with response rates of about 4 and 9%, respectively. It's not that I don't think that social media, geo-location, and cloud-enabled, data-driven platforms are the equivalent of guided missiles in the marketer's arsenal. I do. And it's not just that I'm an old curmudgeon looking to school young whippersnappers (though that's part of it). It's that I feel an obligation to point out to a tech-obsessed culture that methods that weren't “started-up” in the past 10 years still drive most of the cattle on this ranch.

That's why I come away from this week's &THEN event, the Direct Marketing Association's digitally defibrillated trade show, so, well…heartened. At the very first session I attended, I fairly gasped when I heard no less a digital personage than Facebook's head of financial services measurement declare to an overflow crowd that direct mail was the primary channel for financial industry lead generators. “You use digital to make it an even more efficient channel,” said Yongyong Kennedy.

On the show floor, big printers were demonstrating just how digital they are. Don Terkel, Quad/Graphics' executive director of direct marketing operations, talked about a new system that combines customer data with traditional offset printing and inkjet printing to personalize mail pieces as easily as marketers personalize emails. Running at high speed off the same paper roll pre-printed with corporate branding, individual pieces are personalized by address with different offers and content. A piece for cable TV services Don showed us, for instance, contained different four-color show logos based on individual customers' viewing behaviors.

Walking the show was David Cooperstein, a former analyst in the CMO practice of Forrester, who turned out to be the very embodiment of digital-physical transformation. He's now a CMO himself of startup PebblePost, which claims to have invented what it calls programmatic direct mail. The company reacts to activity on retail clients' abandoned carts or email interactions and responds with postcard offers in people's mailboxes within three days. “If you think about innovation in direct mail, ZIP plus four was probably the last thing to compare with this,” Cooperstein said.

You have to extend some props to Direct Marketing Association President Tom Benton and Board Chairman Gunther Schumacher (president of Ogilvy One) for tearing down and rebuilding a nearly century-old show. “Gunther said, ‘Wipe the slate clean. We're going to start over,'” says Lindsay Hutter, DMA's SVP of communications. “Board member Joe Zawadzki of Mediamath told us that no one had ever mastered bringing together all the parts of the ecosystem. There's the old and the new, they've never come together until now.”

&THEN was created in the space of seven months, and Hutter admits there's a lot to still be done—and to be done better. She invites marketers to send all constructive criticism about the show her way. My take is that, sure there were some missteps at &THEN, but they were the first steps of a newborn, and bold ones at that.

8 Content Marketing Don'ts

8 Content Marketing Don'ts

With so many industry best practices, it can be easy for marketers to focus on what they do right; however, they don't always focus on what they do wrong.

To help shed some light on the latter, representatives from an agency, a brand, and hybrids of the two came together at the Direct Marketing Association's &THEN 2015 conference in Boston and discussed key content marketing dos and don'ts. Here are eight don'ts.

1. Don't save distribution until the end.

Producing quality content is important, but it's only half of the battle. Distribution is also essential. 

“You really, as a marketer, can't get a return on investment with a content asset until it reaches its intended audience,” said Chris Schraft, president of Time Inc. content solutions, the content marketing arm of the media company.

Indeed, Matthew Grant, director of content strategy for research firm Aberdeen Group, added that marketers need to establish their distribution strategy early on and figure out how they can tell their stories across different platforms and channels. He also encouraged marketers to use data to shape their strategy.

“Distribution can't be an afterthought,” he said. “It has to be built in at the very beginning.”

2. Don't treat all platforms the same. 

Part of having an effective distribution strategy is realizing that content's life expectancy differs depending on the channel. Twitter, for example, typically hosts in-the-moment content, said creative agency MRY CMO David Berkowitz, while Tumblr's content can live on for a long time and not spike until way after it's posted.

3. Don't focus solely on technology.

Technology can certainly help marketers produce and distribute content, but it's not an end-all solution. Andrew Bailey, manager of content strategy for FedEx, stressed the importance of having the right people and processes in place, as well. 

Bailey explained that FedEx has myriad marketing departments—from international marketing to domestic. “We also have a lot of siloed organizations,” Bailey said. As a result, the shipping company didn't have all of its channels documented or one place where employees could find the appropriate contact for each channel. 

So, after working with a consulting company, FedEx had its employees write down every channel and team contact on paper and define each of its strategies. Bailey said that this created a lot of aha moments for the company. For example, although FedEx's marketers could use a number of channels to deploy messages, the average marketer only leveraged two or three, he said.

The company also reorganized its internal structure. In the case of the go-to-market professionals, people who used to sit on different teams are now all under the same umbrella, Bailey explained. Plus, the company identified key areas of improvement. One was the lack of a defined go-to-market strategy, Bailey said, so FedEx spent time last year developing one.

4. Don't create content without an objective in mind.

Content can serve multiple purposes. It can provide education, offer humor, or make people think. Whatever its role, it's imperative that marketers identify why they're creating a piece of content and what the performance goals are.

“Get to the heart of it,” Berkowitz said. “What do you want this content to do for you?”

5. Don't underestimate the power of emotion. 

Marketers are storytellers, and the best stories are the ones about their customers.

For that reason, FedEx holds a Small Business Grant Contest to recognize its SMB customers. In 2015 FedEx awarded one of the grants to AnaOno Intimates—a lingerie company founded by a woman who designs bras for women affected by breast cancer. The founder shared her story of how she had battled breast cancer and struggled to find the right bra after her treatment and surgery. Now, she uses FedEx to ship her orders. This touching story lives on the brand's online Small Business Center.

“The most powerful person to give you feedback is the customer themselves,” Bailey reiterated.

6. Don't feed everyone the same content.

Not all customers have the same needs. So, why serve them the same content? Don't. Marketers need to tailor their content to appeal to customers at different stages in their lifecycle. FedEx, for example, has seven different customer segments, Bailey said. The company then creates content prescriptions based on where those segment members are in their journeys. So, if a small furniture retailer has been doing business with FedEx for 10 years, the owner might receive content about its freight services, Bailey explained.

7. Don't forget about the value exchange.

Today's consumers are flooded with content across multiple devices. Although they're willing to engage with brands, they demand a valuable experience, Time Inc.'s Schraft said, and they'll abandon an experience if they feel like they're not getting anything in return.

“You want to stack the deck in your favor,” he said.

8. Don't be exclusive. 

Content creation shouldn't be a marketing-only activity. From agencies to IT, many professionals can play a role in the process. Marketers need to include these people in the early planning stages and make sure that everyone has a universal definition of what content marketing means to the organization.

“It's everyone in your organization, from top to bottom,” Grant said. “Make sure they know what they're asking for when they say content marketing.”

Top Tweets from DMA's &Then15 Conference

Top Tweets from DMA's &Then15 Conference

Today is the last day of &Then, the recently rebranded annual conferences hosted by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

Throngs of marketers from around the world poured into Boston Sunday to celebrate another year of marketing excellence, but also to access the trove of advice and insight the annual gathering of esteemed professionals. Attendants have enjoyed keynotes from acclaimed individuals such as Toms' founder Blake Mycoskie, entrepreneur and entertainer John Legend, and Jon Iwata, SVP of marketing at IBM.

Twitter has been awash in #AndThen15 and #DMA15 hashtags since the event kicked off. Monday alone saw more than 340,000 impressions on #AndThen15, according to sample data from TweetReach. Below you'll find a snapshot of what attendees are saying about the event, as well as an assortment of insightful snippets from speakers.

Does Customer Experience Need a 911 Call?

Does Customer Experience Need a 911 Call?

Customer experience has a direct impact on loyalty. That impact isn't always positive. Too much email that's impersonal or irrelevant—that's a marketing-driven customer experience that could lead to churn. Spot-on targeting with contextually relevant messaging can surprise and delight customers and get them to stay longer, buy more, and advocate. 

It seems, however, that customers aren't particularly delighted with some brands right now. According to Forrester Research, customer experience (CX) scores for the majority of brands have barely held steady or have declined. The research firm's “2015 U.S. CX Index” study found that CX scores were virtually unchanged for 69% of the brands it tracks; only seven brands' scores improved.


Forrester “isn't ready to call 911 just yet,” but did sound a few warnings:

> Of the 18 industries that Forrester tracks, scores in 15 of them dipped since Forrester's round one study, its prior CX report. Three industries—banking, auto and home insurance, and hotels—held steady.

>  Only 15% of brands covered received “good” scores, a drop from 26%.

> “Excellent” scores remain scarce, with just 1% of brands receiving those high marks.

> Even brands that are typically well-known for feeling the customer love saw their CX scores drop. Among them: Amazon, Charles Schwab, Discover HSN, JetBlue, PNC Bank, and Zappos.

Despite customers' tough love, some brands bubbled to the surface as ones to watch. Perennial top-performer USAA retained its stellar position. JetBlue's precipitous drop (possibly due to its adoption of checked-bag fees, Forrester suggests) shed some positive light on Southwest and Virgin America. Three regional banks—Huntington National Bank, Regions Bank, and SunTrust Bank—saw their CX score rise to on par with leaders USAA and Ally Bank. Round-one high scorers Hallmark Cards, Lexus, and QVC proved that they have what it takes to retain customers' affection. And, ironically, Virgin Mobile US—with the top CX score in the wireless industry—far outperformed parent company Sprint. 

So, what does it take to keep today's demanding customers happy? Along with relevancy and a personal touch when it comes to marketing:

Think positive. On average, the 299 brands covered in this study delivered seven positive experiences for every negative one. Comparatively, top performers delivered 24 positive experiences for each negative one.

Get emotional. Consumers are more apt to recall negative experiences, according to Forrester. Making emotional connections helps to ensure more positive experiences. Forrester recommends empathy-building rituals such as USAA employees reading letters from deployed military personnel to get a more direct view into how much they worry about family back home.

Measure right. Not all CX scores are created equal. Forrester suggests that marketers track the variables that will enable them to determine the CX quality for high-value customers. Resist the temptation to make CX changes that address the wrong audience.

This post is part of the Customer Experience Professionals Association's Blog Carnival "Celebrating Customer Experience." It is part of a broader celebration of Customer Experience Day. Check out posts from other bloggers here. See more at: http://cxday.org 

Top Lessons From Advertising Week

Top Lessons From Advertising Week

(Mary Gail Pezzimenti: The Huffington Post, Vincent Geraghty: Leo Burnett, Rowley Samuel: Energy BBDO)

The lessons from Advertising Week are plenty, and after spending four days scuttling from session to session, I wanted to share what I found to be a few of the more worthy pieces of advice. Here are just some of the trends, insights, and even warnings from throughout the week that I culled from various seminars.

Feel free to continue the conversation in the comments area below, and share some of the lessons you learned with #AWXII on social media.

Fast, Good, or Cheap: Reality of Today's Content Creation

1. Serve up content, and then be in the conversations about it to be relevant.

2. Align content around your audience by polling for insights; analytics will reveal how to plan your content strategy. How important are insights and data to the creative process? Insights help brands figure out how to craft content plans in a way that's cost effective.

3. Content plans must be sustainable. 

4. A waterfall of content does not equal content strategy; marketers need a good plan to distribute content properly. 

5. Good insights lead to compelling content.

6. Third-party, or outsourcing for your content, is somewhat of an outdated concept; there's too much content production for outsourcing. Insourcing is the way to go. Hire teams of people to create your content.

7. Use influencers to pull audiences towards your brand.

8. Putting an approval process on a digital platform as if it were a broadcast property will cause inefficiencies in time production and management.

9. Marketers must have always-on content.

10. Companies will have an extremely negative impact on their brands if they ignore where people are going: mobile and social.

Social Disruption: Securing Your Voice in the Crowd

1. Forty percent of customers expect their financial institutions to be social.

2. Brands must unify their efforts to engage with customers as one brand voice and experience.

3. Drive awareness, drive intent, and then, ultimately drive action.

4. Each social media channel lives differently; each community has its own culture and language.

5. Social advocates are able to help build loyalty and cause positive disruption for a brand.

6. Without social tools, marketers are investing in a plethora of content but don't learn or pull insights from social data.

7. Engagement opportunities add up to great experiences; the more people interact with companies, the more their experiences are defined.

8. Mobile and social should be highly contextual, personal, and frictionless—without hurdles.

9. Have a unified brand position (i.e. how customers perceive and interact with the brand) across all platforms, e.g. TV, digital, apps, and social.

10. Put the human back into the marketing equation; the more marketers know about customers and their needs, the better they can relate.

11. Consumers, while important, aren't just online. They live and operate in an offline world, which is an extremely important world for marketers to remember.

12. Don't go into marketing with preconceived notions about strategy, consumers, data, likes or dislikes, etc.; remain open to possibilities.

Disrupting News for the Digital Generation

1. Social is great for building big audiences, but can be tough to monetize. It's a way to reach people in new creative ways at generate scale. Scale plus brand affinity is the secret sauce for success.

2. Social is a platform to extend the brand, establish new connections, and drive traffic. Brands should provide a beautiful, seamless customer experience via mobile.

3. Provide platforms where people can consume content via Web and social, and then tailor your content to users' tastes.

4. The consumer shift to mobile has forced marketing strategy to be focused on personal and intimate experiences; users can have moments of privacy, discovery, and learning all while on mobile.

5. Ideally, content goes beyond providing perfunctory information to fill customers' emotional needs. Stand out by adding value and have something to say that's worthwhile to your audience.

6. Start with mobile first as the premise of your marketing strategy; everything else will be easier to create and make relevant.

7. Your brand has a relationship with the consumer, and it's up to marketers—i.e. the brand—to provide a relevant experience.

Mailers: Forge a Presence in DC or Stop Your Griping

Mailers: Forge a Presence in DC or Stop Your Griping

A flash quiz for mailers: Are members of Congress more likely to get re-elected by supporting A) more jobs for middle class Americans or B) lower business costs for large corporations? All those who answered “B” need to sit in on your high school kid's Government Studies class. And if you happen to be a direct mailer or cataloger, you need to do some serious soul-searching.

I write a lot of stories about rising postal rates, and a lot of people who depend on the mail to conduct their businesses read them. They're interested in postal rates because their businesses are in danger of going away if those rates get too high. At the outset of 2007, the year the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) took effect, Standard Flats and Carrier Route volume was in excess of 23 billion pieces and some 16,000 catalog titles mailed in the United States. By 2013 flats volume had plummeted to about 3 billion pieces and about 6,000 of those catalogs ceased to exist. The scourge endured by the catalog industry led to the formation of the American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA).

“It all started in 2007 when we really didn't have a seat at the table and our mission is to change that,” says Brad Darooge, CEO of the catalog company Baudville and board chairman of the ACMA. “Our challenge is that—if and when new legislation moves forward—we want to make sure we are a party to those discussions.” (Listen to the full interview with Darooge in the podcast above.)

The big question for catalogers and direct mailers is how big a shindig they can put together. Their presence on the Hill as PAEA took shape was negligible, and while the catalogers have significantly upped their game under the guidance of coach Hamilton Davison (ACMA's exec director), they still have a recruiting problem.

There are three key stakeholders in postal operations: big mailers, postal worker unions, and the Postal Service itself. The four major postal unions have voluminous membership rolls and full-time staffs. They are all planted in D.C., know all the players on Capitol Hill, and can muster tens of thousands of workers to demonstrate on a day's notice. The Postal Service is a government institution with annual revenues of $67 billion. It fields an army of lawyers and has a chief lobbyist known as the Postmaster General, an office once held by Benjamin Franklin. The mailers have the Direct Marketing Association, The Association for Postal Commerce, and the ACMA, but they lag the other players in both gravitas and sheer numbers when it comes to playing legislative tag at the Rayburn Office Building. I recall hearing one cataloger new to the game talking about cooling his heels in the anteroom waiting to introduce himself to a member only to see him emerge laughing and back-slapping with a couple of postal union officials.

It's not that the game is rigged, it's just that it's skewed from the grasp of thousands of disparate mail houses, printers, catalogers, and marketers for whom mail is but one channel among many. Darooge, in his first year as board chairman, is quite aware that his people are never going to win in a numbers game. Still, he is determined to ratchet up those numbers. The ACMA has scheduled a D.C. fly-in for October 20 and 21 and is actively recruiting current members and potential new ones. It's a prime opportunity for mailers to personally ask their reps what they'd like to see included in the final version of Senator Tom Carper's iPOST Bill of 2015 rather than settle into an old DeLorean and go back to the future of 2007.

Darooge promises a well-planned and rewarding experience. “Participants will fly in, meet with our experts who'll give them talking points and refresh them on the issues, and then we're off to the Hill,” he says. “When we can have people coming in who are living in the backyard of that congressman, particularly when they employ people in their districts, we can have an effect.”

Capitol Hill denizens call it “The Ask.” If you call on your senator or representative, be prepared to have him or her ask you for something back home. But he or she will also be expecting to hear what you want. If you walk into their offices without an Ask, you'll confuse them. Ask and ye shall receive—maybe.

I'll sign off with advice from two noteworthy Americans, Dale Carnegie and Woody Allen. “First ask yourself,” Carnegie once wrote, “What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.” For now, though, just lean on Woody, who said: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

Six Lessons Marketers Can Learn From Big Bird

Six Lessons Marketers Can Learn From Big Bird

The first time I saw Caroll Spinney was when I was a baby. Like many children, my brother and I grew up watching Sesame Street and developed a fondness for Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch—the two characters for whom Spinney provides the voices and puppetry.

As time passed, I stopped tuning in to learn the letter of the day. But when I saw Spinney at a screening of the documentary I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story, I was reminded of my affinity for the characters. I guess you're never too old to love that eight-foot-tall yellow bird. Spinney is living proof of this. Although Spinney plays a six-year-old bird on TV, he's 81 years old and has been donning the bird suit for 46 years.

So when I saw that Spinney would be speaking at Advertising Week in New York, I knew that I had to attend his session. Spinney sat down with DigitasLBi's Chief Content Officer Scott Donaton and discussed the secrets of successful storytelling, as well as what it takes to create beloved characters today. Here are six tips I learned from the self-described “oldest child star.”

1. Be human. This tip might seem strange coming from a man who's spent most of his adult life dressing up like a giant yellow bird. However, Spinney said that Big Bird portrays a lot of different, relatable emotions.

“He gets to be almost more human than the humans on the show because he's able to express a lot of emotion,” he said.

For instance, in one episode Big Bird explores the topics of death and grieving after learning that Mr. Hooper—Sesame Street's local shop owner—passed away. He conveys the same confusion any child may feel when he learns that someone he loves isn't coming back and then expresses sorrow.

So what can marketers learn from Big Bird's sentimental side? Don't be afraid to express vulnerability in campaigns. Tapping into real emotions can be an effective way to educate an audience or prove that your brand empathizes with their pain points or needs.

2. Embrace humor. Not all of Big Bird's most memorable moments are sad ones. On the contrary, Spinney said humor plays a vital role in Sesame Street's success.

“They realized that it was important to be just as funny as it was educational,” he said. “It kept people hooked.”

Indeed, humor helps Sesame Street introduce children to sensitive topics, like bullying, and educate them on these subjects.

Marketers should follow Sesame Street's lead and be open to leveraging humor to educate, entertain, and engage consumers.

3. Know that inspiration comes from everywhere. Some of the best ideas come from life's simplest moments—like how Spinney found Oscar the Grouch's voice after a cab driver asked him “Where to, Mac?”

Take note of your everyday paint points, routines, and needs—your consumers will likely share them, too.

4. Be prepared to evolve. As a show that's been on for nearly half of a century, Sesame Street has seen a wave of social and political change. And according to Spinney, the cast has always adjusted its characters to reflect what's relevant at the time.

“By being an experiment in television, we can adjust ourselves to what it is now,” he said.

Consumers are also constantly evolving. Marketers need to adopt Sesame Street's test-and-learn approach and adjust their marketing to reflect consumers' most current state—whether that involves acknowledging a change in preferences or sending different targeted messages based on where consumers are in the purchase funnel.

5. Leverage consumers' attention wisely. Few brands can captivate an audience the way Sesame Street can. So when marketers do have consumers' attention, they need to make the most of that time. 

For instance, instead of filling a 20-second spot with a brand's name and slogan, Spinney said, marketers can use that time to tell a story.

“Quite a lot can be said in that period,” he said.

6. Understand that digital isn't always best. Sesame Street has evolved quite a bit since its 1969 debut. The brand now has apps, offers online videos, and Big Bird even tweets.

One of the most recent digital developments is Sesame Street's agreement to run new episodes on the cable network and streaming service HBO before airing them on PBS. Spinney acknowledged that this move will help the show increase its yearly new episode count.

But Sesame Street hasn't gone completely digital. In fact, Spinney said that he still moves Big Bird manually inside of the feathered suit. When asked why he hasn't tried maneuvering Big Bird digitally, Spinney said that manual puppetry allows the characters to react more instantaneously to other cast members and what's around them.

In today's world, marketers are constantly turning to digital to target customers and serve them in real time. However, as Spinney showed, sometimes going with the more traditional method is best. Therefore, marketers must make sure that they're not completely ignoring their non-digital channels, like in-store or the call centers. After all, nothing beats a good, old-fashioned customer experience or helpful person-to-person communication.

5 Truly Game-Changing Aspects of Modern Marketing

5 Truly Game-Changing Aspects of Modern Marketing

NASA scientists announced yesterday that liquid water likely exists, or existed, on Mars in what could prove to be a game-changing development in extraterrestrial exploration. It got me thinking about that phrase—game changing. It's a word that we liberally tag behind new trends and technologies, especially in marketing. But the art, science, and execution of marketing has changed so much from the romanticized days of marketing portrayed in “Mad Men” that the phrase isn't entirely lost on this space.

Though much has transpired to bring us to this point, I've listed five marketing practices or trends that have had obvious, persistent effects on how marketers approach their trade, and how consumers absorb marketing content.

Proliferation of augmented and virtual reality

Between the rapid pace of innovation in display technology, mobile hardware, and wearables lies the consumerization of augmented and virtual reality. This frontier technology was once confined to the imaginations of science fiction writers, before a brief and rudimentary stint in arcades around the country. Now, with the convergence of the innovation points I mentioned before, immersive virtual reality is fast becoming…a reality. >> 5 Growth Areas in Video That Marketers Should Watch

The evolution of word-of-mouth

Word-of-mouth is a powerful thing. To organically generate conversation about the brand—and especially recommendations of its products—has long been a coveted outcome for marketers. Unfortunately, the scale of this discourse was largely out of the marketer's control, or it was before social media came along.

Now, marketers can monitor, participate in, and (best of all) drive conversation about their business on social networks, with the added bonus of the possibility of the ever-elusive element virality. >> How to Spark (and Sustain) Brand Love and Passion

Marketing without marketing

The advent of social media saw the evolution of an age-old human practice (talking) in the form of word-of-mouth. However, as social media has grown more integral in our daily lives, so too has the phenomenon that is organic virality. Through viral content, marketers can enjoy free and widespread pseudo-promotion of their campaigns and products. The downside? A profound lack of real control over these brief spats of memedom. >> The Most Viral Moments of 2015 (So Far)

The power of user-generated content (UGC)

What better way to drive engagement than to bring consumers in on content creation? This is a question that undoubtedly made the rounds during many marketing meetings of yore, but it wasn't until the Internet democratized virtually everything that UGC really started to reverberate.

The video game industry is perhaps the most serial and effective practitioner in the enabling of UGC, but many brands have tapped this well of marketing gold as of late, including Coke and Peanuts. >> Consumers Make the Best Marketers

Inundation of customer data

Marketers' access to customer data has forever changed the art and science of marketing; more so than any item on this list. Never in the history of business have marketers had such insight into their customers' behaviors and preferences, their very identities.

With this data, marketers can now ensure their content is deeply personal and relevant, bringing marketing closer than ever to the one-to-one ideal. However, with this abundance of data comes greater responsibility and scrutiny for marketers in its ethical handling. >> How an Abundance of Data Is Changing Segmentation

Consumers Make the Best Marketers

Consumers Make the Best Marketers

ew things are more fun than creating something that can be shared with the world. It's one of the reasons that I love being a journalist; my words reverberate beyond the page and into people's lives. Audiences love sharing their ideas too—hence the never-ending popularity of social media—and smart marketers recognize that. Agile marketers take the creativity of consumers and weave it into the company narrative.

One of the most recent examples is the new campaign for "The Peanuts Movie", which is slated for release November 6. Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts comics strip featured good ol' Charlie Brown and that loveable beagle Snoopy­­—and now the franchise features fans of Charlie and the gang.  

Film studio 20th Century Fox Animation created a character-generator platform, which is even available through mobile, to jump-start excitement over the upcoming release of the new "Peanuts" movie. The idea is to get moviegoers excited with a quirky campaign that's rooted in user-generated content—much like Universal Studios biopic "Straight Outta Compton" reveled in a viral sensation with its Straight Outta Somewhere meme generator from Apple and Beats.

With the rising popularity of this latest UGC campaign, even I've been Peanutized:


Some other cute characters shared on Twitter:

Social media allows you to include the stories of your target audiences into your company stories. Better yet, UGC that's amplified by social allows the consumers' stories to take center stage and allows current and potential customers to get excited about your products and services—because those goods now are part of each person's personal tale. There's never been a better time to infuse user-generated content into your marketing strategies.

Pope Francis Has Arrived and Is Cleared for Marketing

Pope Francis Has Arrived and Is Cleared for Marketing

Pope Francis arrives in New York today, and Papal bobblehead dolls, dog costumes, pizzas, T-shirts, and life-sized standees are for sale all over town. His Holiness's celebration of the American economy is underway, and everyone's invited to the party. When the Catholic St. Jude Shop site markets an $89 Musical Pope Mobile and The Catholic Company sells a Pope Francis Bobblehead for $19.95, it's clear a dispensation's been granted on Papal profiteering. (Hey, this is the religion that invented Bingo.) E-commerce sites and third-party sellers on marketplaces are all over Francis, but we wonder if some other direct marketers are leaving collection plate money on the table. From our view, some missed opportunities:

The Pope in the Cloud: For $25 on the Shop PBS site you can own a Solar Pope (more closely resembling Georgie Jessel than Francis), who “Whenever a beam of light touches him [will] reassure you with a wave that everything is going to be okay.” Now, I'm assuming  Salesforce's Marc Benioff has been to the Sistine Chapel and has seen the pantheon of saints floating on clouds. Stevie Wonder presenting Benioff with a rendition of “Superstition” at Dreamforce last week was pretty cool. But could you imagine Pope Francis descending from the rafters on a cumulus chariot belting out “Ave Maria?” Even Benioff has only so much juice, I guess.

The Pope and Dope. OK, it may sound sacrilegious to link the Pontiff to the growing legal marijuana economy in the U.S., but let's be real, the bong has to be the second-biggest producer of religious experiences next to the cathedral. Amazon is selling a “The Pope Is Dope” T-shirt. Why couldn't pot pioneers in Colorado have taken this idea a step further? Colorado Marijuana Marketing owns a mailing list with tens of thousands of marijuana consumers. The company could have worked a licensing deal with former Plastic Ono Band guitarist David Peel to do a shirt carrying the title of his only hit record: “The Pope Smokes Dope.”

The Line to the Vatican. Is there a more intense omnichannel battle for customers being waged than that between wireless carriers? Did not marketers at these companies take note of the Pope's visit and ponder using divine intervention to snare a share point or two? And did not one telecom in particular notice the closeness of its name to that of the Pope's homeland? “Verizon at the Vatican” is a campaign that could have used pre-roll video tours of Vatican City, offered a donation to Catholic Charities with every phone number "conversion," and maybe even scored a deal with Francis himself to record a Papal greeting for the Verizon call center. You never know; sometimes prayers are answered.

Speaking of which, why did it not occur to data analytics providers the likes of Epsilon, Acxiom, SAS, Adobe, and Experian to try and sign Pope Francis to a tour sponsorship deal? Their similar core business propositions of unique customer data enabling relevant customer interactions seems new, but it is in fact an old, old idea in the Catholic Church. My devout Polish Catholic mom would nightly guide my prayers as a young child and once, when she told me I could ask God for something I really wanted, I was skeptical (a journalist from the get-go, I guess). “How can God answer everybody's prayers,” I asked. “Because God can do anything,” she replied. I remained skeptical about that my whole life—until Amazon came along and started consummating 30 million discreet transactions a day. Answering everybody's prayers—not a bad motto for data-driven marketers, is it?

Six Lessons Marketers Can Learn from Childhood Fables

Six Lessons Marketers Can Learn from Childhood Fables

Reading bedtime stories with my dad is one of my most treasured childhood memories. Every night, my brother and I would take turns picking out a beloved book and pile into his bed. My dad would then lie in between us so that we could both see the pages and act out the voices before sending us off to sleep.

These stories usually had a moral of some kind—such as the importance of sharing or trying your best. But if you read between the lines, they can also offer valuable lessons for marketers.

So, here are six of my favorite childhood stories accompanied by the lessons marketers can learn from them.

The Little Engine That Could

For those unfamiliar with this childhood classic, The Little Engine That Could is about a little blue train that agrees to pull a group of abandoned toys over a mountain so that they can be enjoyed by boys and girls in the next town—even though several bigger and stronger trains declined to help the toys before.

What marketers can learn: There are always going to be challenges in marketing, whether it's sorting through big data, taking on a difficult client, or getting a campaign out the door. The important thing to remember is that challenges are learning opportunities, and there are always going to be consequences, whether people choose to take them on or not (think of how disappointed the children would have been if the little blue engine had turned the toys down).

So the next time your organization has a mountain in front of it, evaluate how taking that challenge on will affect your customers, technology partners, and staff. Also, don't be afraid to tackle a predicament that others in the industry were too afraid to try to solve—those successes can be the most rewarding and offer the most valuable lessons. Remember, just think to yourself: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”

The Giving Tree

This Shel Silverstein story is about a boy's relationship with a tree. As a child, the boy would climb the tree's trunk, eat its apples, and swing from its branches, which made the tree happy. But as the boy grows older, he starts visiting the tree less, which makes it unhappy. And every time he does visit the tree, he takes more from it, such as its apples to sell for money, its branches to build a house, or its trunk to construct a boat. Finally, all that's left of the tree is its stump. When the boy revisits the stump as an old man, the tree offers itself again as a place for the boy to sit and rest.

What marketers can learn: Marketers can certainly learn from the tree's generosity. After all, sometimes it's important for marketers to offer customers value without expecting anything in return, such as a token of appreciation after an unpleasant customer experience. At the same time, the overall relationship between marketers and customers has to be mutually beneficial. Marketers should be able to offer customers value (e.g. products, services, content) in exchange for data, purchases, or advocacy. If the mutual exchange isn't there for either party, then it may be time to move on.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie follows a series of events that one boy experiences after he (you guessed it) gives a mouse a cookie. Every action produces a chain reaction. Consider the following text from the book:

"If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk. When you give him the milk, he'll probably ask you for a straw. When he's finished, he'll ask for a napkin. Then he'll want to look in a mirror to make sure he doesn't have a milk mustache.”

What marketers can learn: The boy doesn't know what the mouse will ask for next; in the same way marketers don't always know how a customer will move down the path to purchase. Sometimes a customer will take a more linear approach and other times he'll totally jet off course. The key is to know how to react—because each brand action will result in a different customer reaction. Therefore, it's important for marketers to map out all possibilities—as much as one can—and to provide opportunities for engagement at each touchpoint. Predictive analytics can also be a useful resource.

The Cat in the Hat

One of the most famous Dr. Seuss tales, The Cat in the Hat is about a cat who surprises two bored children on a rainy day and unveils a bunch of wacky games and a few crazy friends (a.k.a. Thing One and Thing Two). But what starts off as fun and games for the Cat quickly turns into trouble for the children as they watch their house become a mess. With their mother on the way home, the children throw the Cat out of the house and are left with a mess. Thankfully, the Cat returns with a cleaning machine to dispose of the mess before the mother returns.

What marketers can learn: Given today's crowded industry, it can be tempting for marketers to pull a bunch of crazy stunts to get customers' attention. But in those instances, marketers—much like the Cat—are thinking of their own wants and needs, as opposed to those of their customers. This can cause shoppers to turn brands away—similarly to how the children toss out the cat near the end of the story. That's why it's important for brands to keep  customers at the center of their marketing and to act on their pain points—just as how the cat cleans up the mess at the end.

In the words of the Cat in the Hat: “It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how.” 

Bread and Jam for Frances

It's hard not to love this little critter. Bread and Jam for Frances is a story about a badger named Frances who only likes bread and jam. She turns away her mother's soft-boiled eggs at breakfast, trades her chicken salad sandwich at lunch, and discards the veal cutlets her family eats for dinner. But after her family gives into her picky eating habits, Frances grows tired of bread and jam and learns that it's better to eat a variety of foods.

What marketers can learn: Frances's tale is a perfect lesson on customer preferences. For one, it reminds marketers that there can be different customer preferences within the same household. So while Frances's father enjoys the veal cutlets, Frances does not. It also exemplifies that preferences can change. So even though Frances is hung up on bread and jam one day, she could be into tomato soup the next.

It's crucial for marketers to stay on top of customers' evolving preferences and to adjust their marketing accordingly. Preference centers can help them achieve this.

Strega Nona

Strega Nona is a story about a “grandma witch” who warns her assistant Big Anthony not to touch her magic pasta pot. But Big Anthony doesn't listen and ends up cooking so much pasta in the magic pot that it nearly takes over the whole town.

What marketers can learn: Strega Nona emphasizes the importance of listening. If marketers fail to listen to what their customers say explicitly and implicitly then they—like Big Anthony—can end up in a lot of trouble. It's also important for marketers to practice their listening skills inside of their organizations. Make sure to pay attention to the CFO's reasoning as to why you can't obtain a bigger budget, or to the IT head's instructions on how to trouble shoot problems with your email campaigns. Listening to your coworkers the first time can break down siloes and avoid big (and usually unsavory) messes.

How Marketing is Growing From Cultural Catalyst to Cultural Participation

How Marketing is Growing From Cultural Catalyst to Cultural Participation

Tent-pole marketing is among the oldest of the modern-day marketing tactics; older even than the Emmy Awards itself, which ignited the Web Sunday night, and will likely continue to drive social discourse throughout the week. In pursuit of branding and relevancy, business attach themselves to events like the Emmys that stimulate conversation and dominate the news cycle. These events tend to drive discussion broadly across segment lines, so, of course, marketers want their brands close to the ruckus. The Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Academy Awards, and now the Emmys. Consumers, in large part, enjoy marketers' additions to these events. In many ways, marketing is a central element of the culture that these events drive.

Although Emmys-style tentpole marketing is an age-old marketing practice, it has morphed with the times.

At the convergence point between social media proliferation and the ascension of hip-hop culture lies an interesting marketing reality; one where brands work in concert with musicians to touch audiences and convert them to loyal consumers. Now, it seems, tentpole marketing also applies to ongoing cultural conversations. Take Sprite for instance.

Spite, an established arm of the seminal Coca Cola brand, has worked tirelessly as of late to associate itself with hip-hop icons such as Drake, Nas, Rakim, and Vince Staples. Doing so has brought the brand Red Bull levels of urban relevance. Brands such as Adidas, Hennessy, Marvel Comics, and Reebok have achieved similar cultural alignment through superstar rappers, and other prominent elements of hip-hop culture. Perhaps the most resonant and recent example of this marketing in concert with hip-hop culture came last month during the infamous Drake and Meek Mill battle.

What seemed another—if massive—moment of contention in the niche hip-hop market blew out into a social media frenzy, with brands proving themselves nearly as incendiary as the anonymous mob of hip-hop fans on these digital networks.

As hip-hop continues to dominate pop culture, brands' insertion into the social discourse will surely increase in frequency. This isn't a good or bad thing, it's business, obviously. But, it will be interesting to watch as marketing continues its evolution from cultural catalyst to participant.

Marketers Aim to Take a Bite Out of Apple Ad Blocking

Marketers Aim to Take a Bite Out of Apple Ad Blocking

In marketing, we're always talking about disruption. That's so often a good thing because the idea is that a campaign, idea, or trend is so revolutionary that it changes the game in a positive way for companies and their customers.

But last week, there was a major disruption that most brands are not so happy about.

I'm talking about last Wednesday's Apple launch of its new software update for the iPhone. With the release of iOS9, users can now surf the Web on their mobile devices without ads cluttering up their screens. That's because Apple's software now supports ad-blocking. And as of last Friday, three of Apple's top paid apps in the United States are ad blockers.


This latest development in mobile marketing reeks of trouble for publishers, ad-tech companies, and marketers who as of late have been relying on native-content strategies, not just pop-up and banner ads. The blockers also track scripts, cookies, images, and auto-play videos. Although the impact of the operating system's new update won't be felt so much on in-app ads, the knees of marketers and advertisers on Madison Avenue are knocking because their content will be affected on the Safari browser and the mobile Web.

Already, brand marketers who have built entire strategies around serving native mobile ads are crying foul, insisting the move threatens not only the lifeblood of their businesses—but also the economic foundation of the free Internet. Marketers are beginning to mull over what they can do to keep their messages at the fore of mobile users' minds.

Many users, however, seem to be in a state of euphoria with more control of their mobile Web-browsing experiences. I culled just a few of their responses from Twitter. And I have to say one thing after reading these: I don't think ad blocking is going anywhere soon.

It Had to Happen: The Video Sales Force

It Had to Happen: The Video Sales Force

I like talking to call center operators. It could be because I'm a divorced empty-nester and I'm just lonely. Truth is, I take inspiration from these under-appreciated human beings. You can scream at them about their company's crappy service and outrageous prices, call them names, and accuse them of insulting your intelligence. But no matter the extent of the bluster, they remain calm, contrite, and on message. (“Sir, I promise that I won't leave you until your problem is resolved.”) Their only annoying habit is incessantly asking if they've satisfied you. On second thought, the absence of such sentiment is probably the reason I'm divorced.

But we Baby Boomers are now outnumbered severely by Gen Xers and Millennials who grew up “tech” and are much more comfortable taking care of business by punching keys on devices instead of engaging with living organisms. If I'm right, and that's the future, Pitney Bowes' corporate digitization is heading in the right direction.

Senior executives of the company, which is in the middle of a five-year plan to sail beyond its offline identity as “the postage meter company,” were in New York this week for analyst meetings. I caught up with Greg Van den Heuvel, SVP of customer engagement solutions, at a cocktail reception and asked him how the transformation was going. “I've gotta tell you about our EngageOne Video program,” he said.

Video? Pitney Bowes? Van den Heuvel started telling me about personalized, interactive videos that could be emailed or accessed via QR codes that people were watching for up to 40 minutes. I wanted to ask Van den Heuvel how many bourbons he'd had, but I didn't.

EngageOne Video, which Pitney Bowes rolled out this week, has already been tested by insurance companies, industrial suppliers, and video game marketers. They employ “virtual presenters,” actors who address customers by name and invite them to use interactive features to, for instance, find out why their utility bills are so high or what their insurance policies will do for them if their garages burned down. It's automated call center stuff, but with more of the control in the hands of the customer, plus options to talk to live representatives.

“We have a customer, Security First Insurance, that got 50% opens on these videos in emails,” Van den Heuvel said. “You ever read your whole insurance policy? Nobody does. But people come on and input their individual concerns and three quarters of them watched for four minutes or more. The cool thing is that if people see they have holes in their policies, they can interact with the virtual presenter or go to the website or choose to talk with somebody about it.” It's video, he said, that works as a direct sales tool.

EngageOne staffers sit down with clients to identify their key selling messages and tips from their best salespeople to develop scripts and interactive responses. And the presenters address people by name. “We video the actor reading off names. They can do 3,000 in an hour,” Van den Heuvel said.

Me, I prefer hearing my name pronounced, even if poorly, by Sandy in Little Rock or Surendra in Bangalore, over the phone. (I always ask them where they are and “How's the weather out there?”) But I'm not the future. You can check out more about Pitney Bowes' new venture on this video. It's a bit long, but check out the “personalization section” and one of the case studies in “service tour.”

Pitney Bowes, mail facilitator and video producer. Who knew?

Lovesac Proves that Brand Awareness Requires a Bit of Heavy Lifting

Lovesac Proves that Brand Awareness Requires a Bit of Heavy Lifting

Let's face it: Moving is the worst. As someone who has moved 10 times in the past seven years, I would know. 

Most of my residence hopping took place in college. I left the Midwest and headed east to attend Boston University, where I switched dorms or moved off campus every year.

Just writing this blog post brings back a flood of distressing moving memories—like the time I dropped my television on my toe and had to finish packing with a bag of frozen peas wrapped around my foot. Good times. 

Thankfully, I was never alone in my moving-day misery. September 1 is the one day when more than half of the city's renters begin a new lease. Actually, The Boston Globe reports that 63% of rental property leases in Boston start on this day. What's more, the City of Boston revealed that there were 2,282 moving truck permits issued for August 28 to September 3 this year.

If there's one thing every good marketer knows how to do, it's turn a customer pain point into an opportunity for engagement and service. Furniture retailer Lovesac proved that it could do just that when it decided to get in on Boston's moving-day madness and drive brand awareness through its #MovingDayLove campaign.

Boxing up the old brand perception

Lovesac has come a long way since its freshman year.

In 1995 Shawn Nelson developed the Sac: a giant beanbag-like creation that's filled with foam instead of beanbag beads. After a few years of selling the Sac at local and college events, CEO and Founder Nelson opened his first store in 2001. Then in 2005 he debuted the Sac's sister product the Sactional—a configurable, expandable couch. Now there are about 60 retail locations across the country, as well as an e-commerce destination, all of which he grew through word of mouth.

However, the company has a brand perception problem. Although Nelson started the business selling Sacs to his college classmates, he doesn't consider Lovesac a college furniture company. In fact, he claims that most of the brand's products exceed a typical student's budget. For instance, the smallest Sac costs $560 and a 10-seat Sactional can cost upwards of $16,000. 

“Given our name and our history, Lovesac has always been perceived as this happy-go-lucky, almost college furniture company…. The truth is we've always been too expensive for most college kids,” he says.

Instead of luring college students, Lovesac primarily appeals to affluent, millennial families—“want-it-all parents,” as Nelson calls them. But the company needed a way to better attract this audience and convey the versatility of its products. 

To generate this brand awareness, Lovesac's team decided to tackle the one problem that many furniture owners face: moving the couch. 

According to a study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Lovesac, 40% of the more than 2,000 U.S. adults surveyed agree that the couch is the most stressful piece of furniture to move. In fact, 25% of respondents admit to abandoning their couches altogether.

So the brand launched the #MovingDayLove campaign and used social media to rescue Boston movers in need.

Reaching out to the community

The campaign was fairly straightforward: On September 1, Bostonians could share their moving day struggles on Instagram and Twitter by tagging @Lovesac and including the hashtag #MovingDayLove.

Lovesac worked with advertising agency Mullen to identify these posts in real-time and then message people privately to acquire their contact information and housing address. Once the brand obtained this information, Lovesac's team was able to meet up with the distressed movers and, through its partnership with moving company Gentle Giant, offer assistance, such as physical help, cold water, cleaning supplies, or a new Sactional.

“It comes back to our name,” Nelson says, “We can't wear the word ‘love' on our chest on a T-shirt and not give back to the world.”

Moving across channels

To promote the campaign, Lovesac ran Facebook and Twitter ads targeting non-homeowners in the Boston area in the weeks leading up to the initiative. The company also sent emails to its subscribers in the Boston area, and encouraged engagement through PR, radio, and social media. Plus, the brand hosted a blogger and influencer party in late August to spread word about its Sactionals.

As for maintaining buzz after the campaign, Lovesac worked with social media influencer agency Clever Girls to host a Twitter party on September 3 and generate conversation around Lovesac and moving. Participants had the opportunity to win Lovesac giftcards and couches. The brand also created a video summarizing the campaign (shown above), which it posted on its social media channels. 

“The campaign through and through was one where people really got a chance to experience the love, whether they were in the Boston area or just taking part on Twitter,” says Lovesac Marketing Specialist Mike Majlak. “We really loved how we were able to extend the story from a local activation to a national story through that process.”

Bringing home the results

The campaign may have moved a few couches, but was it enough to move the needle? At the time of this writing, the campaign video had received 75,507 views—with the majority of them coming from Facebook. Majlak also says that the brand has seen an uptick in traffic and sales for its Boston store locations.

It looks like this campaign was a great move for Lovesac's marketers and consumers, alike.

10 Ways to Prepare for the Adventure That Is Dreamforce

10 Ways to Prepare for the Adventure That Is Dreamforce

Salesforce's infamously extravagant annual conference Dreamforce kicks off today in San Francisco. The event will likely command much of the marketing world's attention for the next week, as Salesforce and its many partners make myriad announcements on the latest CRM and marketing-tech developments.

One topic that will no doubt permeate the conference and the industry's conscious in its wake is CRM, or more specifically, customer data, how marketers acquire and handle it, and how they use it to enhance customers' experiences.

In light of this, I've compiled a list of recent Direct Marketing News content that marketers can peruse to prepare for some of the topical elements of Dreamforce, as well keep pace with the cadence of CRM conversation that will surely succeed it.

Marketing to the New American Mainstream

Marketing to the New American Mainstream

It's interesting combing through the notes from readers that I get in my inbox as a journalist, especially with the topics that I cover. I get a lot of “You know what you should report?” and “That was great, but…” or “I couldn't have put it better myself.”

About a week and a half ago I got a particularly interesting note. It was from the president of a company that sold powerboats. When I opened the note, I thought that I'd get the usual critique, comment, or praise letter. But this one was different. It read:


I just saw your article on American Express and diversity marketing. I am on the board of [a boating association], and we are interested in learning more about the changing demographics in our country and the best way to market to the new consumers. I was wondering if you can [help] in this area?

So I gave him a call, and we chatted. And I asked him for more details. He candidly explained to me that the association was beginning to recognize that if their industry was to remain relevant—and grow—then they would have to do a couple of things. One: Acknowledge the changing landscape of American consumers—one that's the more racially diverse, female, and younger. Two: If companies in that industry wanted to grow their revenues, they would have to begin to market to communities that, traditionally, have been ignored.

I did some research, and about a week later I give him several reports on consumer spending and income—broken down by age, gender, racial groups, and sexual orientation. I want to stress that marketers should recognize today's shift in who might be an ideal or target consumer. Marketers need to cast a much wider and more diverse net for their products and services because if they don't, they stand to lose a lot of revenue, market share, and respect from potential or current customers.

It's important for marketers to understand this: One of the best ways to market to a particular group—whether minorities, females, young adults, or perhaps the LGBT community—is to hire people who are either in that group and have a true understanding of the subculture and its needs. Or hire people who have a desire to meet the needs of that community. That's what the reader who I mentioned earlier saw in my Amex article. Amex has an internal team of employees who are part of the LGBT community, so they brought their natural interests—and business needs—to Amex.

Here, I wanted to share a few facts about the demographics of the millions of women, young Americans, and minorities in the United States. Right now, some of you may be contemplating how to include diversity marketing in your plans for 2016, and hopefully beyond. Others may be trying to determine how to further your current efforts. Either way, I think you'll find these statistics sobering and possibly inspiring.

1. Wages are trending upward for women and downward for men in the U.S., although women still make only about 80 cents for every dollar that a white male earns. It's less for women of color, just 65 cents by many estimates for every dollar. (Pew Research Center)

2. Blacks and Hispanics spend more than whites with comparable incomes on so-called visible goods—clothes, cars, and jewelry. A lot more, in fact—up to an additional 30%. (Slate)

3. In 2011 the typical white household had a net worth of $91,405, compared with $6,446 for black households, $7,843 for Hispanic households, and $91,203 for Asian households. (Pew Research Center)

4. Young women today are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men. In 2012, among workers ages 25 to 34, women's hourly earnings were 93% those of men. By comparison, among all working men and women ages 16 and older, women's hourly wages were 84% of men. (Pew Research Center)

5. Fifty-one percent of surveyed marketers say that they have a multicultural marketing initiative in place. (CMO Council and Geoscape)

6. About 3.8% of adults in the United States—some nine million people—identify as a member of the LGBT community. (Williams Institute)

7. From 1968 (the year that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act) to 2014, the percentage of whites working in high-paying technical professions (engineering, science, software, and medical) doubled from 3.2 to 6.7%. For blacks, the rate quintupled, from one percent to 4.9%, improving the relative position of blacks to whites. (Brookings Institution)

8. Forty-three percent of Americans with more than $500,000 in assets are female. (She-conomy)

9. Women make 85% of brand purchases, yet just 3% of advertising creative directors are women. (She-conomy)

10. In 2012 73% of white households owned their own homes, compared with 44% of black households, 57% of Asian households, and 46% of Hispanic households. (United States Census Bureau)

Is Internet Privacy a Contradiction in Terms?

Is Internet Privacy a Contradiction in Terms?

I got a new cell phone this week. It's one of those big Samsungs that looks and feels like a NASA Mission Control device. I couldn't even figure out how to turn it on, let alone how to sync my Gmail accounts or add new phone numbers. But I needed to hit the ground running with my shiny, white onboard computing system on Tuesday, the first work day after Labor Day weekend, so I just started checking boxes and hitting “Agree” with no consideration of the consequences. Gotta feed the pig, ya know?

And so do all of the direct marketers who read this fine publication. It's no secret that the Internet was the best thing that ever happened to them, but it's the worst thing that ever befell one of the few rights ever to be agreed upon by every nation in the world: the secrecy of correspondence.

In an article in the British publication The Guardian a few weeks ago, Shawn Powers, an assistant professor of communications at Georgia State University, drew a stark portrait of the difference between mail and email. The former is a global institution founded on the sanctity of private correspondence, the latter can exist in its present state only within a secrecy vacuum.

“The modern Internet economy in many ways evolved out of a casual disregard for secrecy and privacy; it is dependent on gathering and analyzing individual user behavior and benefits a handful of western countries and companies,” wrote Powers. "Targeted advertising accounts for the vast majority of Internet revenue. It is a technique incompatible with the principle of secrecy of correspondence."

When it comes to the issue of privacy, then, a topic covered fairly regularly on this site, the Internet is in direct opposition to one of its chief rivals for direct marketing dollars: The U.S. Postal Service. Indeed, Powers points out, the U.S. postal system was founded in large part to prevent British overlords from casually riffling through people's letters to root out dissidents. This privacy protection was so valued by politicians and people alike that it worked its way into the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

But despite the hue and cry raised by privacy groups worldwide, Web users like me are so entranced by the pocket screens that give us our (monitored) email, free (platform-linked) videos, and (privately owned) apps that summon us cabs and pizzas, that we cavalierly click “OK” to three-page-long legal agreements. Hell, I don't care if you know who and where I am and what my credit card number is and what I eat and drink. How are you gonna get me my large pepperoni with artichoke hearts and Malted Milk Balls otherwise?

Powers provides an outline of how global postal privacy accords created the Universal Postal Union (UPU), hailed by Josef Zemp, the head of Swiss Rail and Post, as “the most powerful work for peace which history has ever seen.” As technology advanced, the tenets of the UPU influenced those of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which in 1932 added to its charter a provision to protect the confidentiality of messages across international borders.

“The UPU and ITU,” Powers wrote, “were so integral to international politics that adherence to their provisions were often among the first commitments made by newly established governments.”

So where, Powers asked, did the principle of secrecy of correspondence go as the Internet began to slowly but surely envelop the world? He points a finger, ironically, at the Queen of Private Email Servers, Hillary Clinton. Okay, she can't bear the full brunt of the blame. After all, she didn't invent the Internet. That was her husband's VP, Al Gore. But Powers points to a speech Clinton made as Secretary of State in 2010 on the “Internet-freedom paradigm” in which she described the Internet as a shared, public space. Powers contends this was a deliberate effort on Clinton's part to link the Internet to the Western legal doctrine that individual rights to privacy are curtailed in public spaces so that authorities can preserve the security of the space.

Which goes to show you two things. One, you can still keep correspondence private on the Internet if you're a high-ranking cabinet member who can afford to hire State Department employees to maintain private email servers and make those emails disappear at the appropriate time. And two, the guarantee of private correspondence is one thing the U.S. Mail will always have over the Web. Persons convicted of mail theft face up to five years in jail and fines of $250,000. And the Postal Service has a police force.

Patriots Fans Prove to Be the Real Loyalty MVPs

Patriots Fans Prove to Be the Real Loyalty MVPs

The National Football League's 2015 season kicks off this Thursday. And while many die-hards will be sporting their favorite jerseys this week, new data from Brand Keys suggests that some teams' fans are more loyal than others.

Indeed, Super Bowl XLIX wasn't the only victory the New England Patriots clenched this year. According to the research consultancy's 2015 Sports Fan Loyalty Index, a national survey of self-classified fans, the Massachusetts-based team have the highest fan loyalty ranking—for the second year in a row—proving that not even a scandalous season ending can deflate its fans' devotion.

The Green Bay Packers have the second-highest fan loyalty ranking (naturally), followed by the Seattle Seahawks, the Denver Broncos, and Indianapolis Colts. 

As for teams with the lowest loyalty rankings, the Oakland Raiders came in dead last with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins, and Cleveland Browns rounding out the bottom five. 

Top Five Teams   Bottom Five Teams
 1. New England Patriots  26. Cleveland Browns
 2. Green Bay Packers  27. Washington Redskins
 3. Seattle Seahawks  28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
 4. Denver Broncos  29. Jacksonville Jaguars
 5. Indianapolis Colts  30.Oakland Raiders

“Loyalty is a leading indicator of behavior and profitability and...a key statistic professional sports teams should track as it tells us what fans are going to do,” Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, said in a statement regarding the Index.

As far as what drives fan loyalty, winning isn't everything, said Passikoff, a Patriots fan. Every fan has a vision for his or her ideal team, he noted, and it's how teams live up to these expectations that shape fans' loyalty. “Everybody loves a winner,” he said, “but...there are other powerful and emotionally-based factors that have to be taken into account.”

Indeed, according to the study, history and tradition—such as being a part of fans' rituals and beliefs—account for 30% of fan loyalty and engagement; fan bonding (e.g., having players who are respected and admired) accounts for 29%. Other emotionally charged factors include pure entertainment (how well the team plays), which accounts for 21% of fan loyalty, and authenticity—how they mesh as a team—which accounts for 20%.

“All teams show up intending to win,” Passikoff said. “But...[to retain loyal fans] you have to know what the fans expect—beyond a winning season.”

As for what marketers from other industries can learn from these findings, Passikoff tells Direct Marketing News that by understanding customers' loyalty drivers, marketers can better determine how well they're meeting their fans' expectations and what areas need reinforcement. 

However, like Tom Brady, I'd like to appeal this ruling of which team has the most-loyal fans. As I have unbiasedly said, on several occasions, I believe that the Packers have the most loyal fans in the nation. I mean, how many fans would wear chunks of cheddar on their head in sub-zero temperatures? Plus, the team's fan bonding is exceptional. How many teams have quarterbacks that are Jeopardy champions—proving that they have beauty, brains, and brawn (not to mention an incredible sense of humor)?

I rest my case. 

Photo Source: Bernard Gagnon

How Marketers Can Score on National Video Game Day

How Marketers Can Score on National Video Game Day

Relevancy has become a key component of impactful marketing in today's cluttered digital environment, and one of the easiest ways for marketers to to resonate with consumer groups is through guerrilla marketing centered on quirky, unofficial holidays. One such holiday, National Video Games Day, will be celebrated this Saturday, and could be a great opportunity for marketers to gain resonance with the passionately engaged gaming community.

Here, we've collected five recent articles that offer insight into the rules of engagement with millennial gamers, as well as two tips to consider for crafting guerilla campaigns for the approaching holiday.

Subtlety is your friend

Gamers solve problems for fun, and after years of hunting and discovering hidden references in their games (known as easter eggs), marketers can count on gamers appreciating a more subtle hand in marketing execution.

Geico recently published an exemplary piece of branded content on Buzzfeed that—in addition to providing a fun, shareable experience—accented the brand's connection to the gaming community in the most nondescript way possible; through the post's URL. Amidst the collection of browser reference elements, the post's URL contains “up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-b-a,” a reference to the famous cheat code found in many of Japanese games publisher Konami's older games. Entering the code on the page actually alters the content itself.

This native ad campaign hits all the right buttons for gamers; doubly so for its goal, which was to promote a Geico sponsored gaming event, which brings us to our second tip...

E-Sports are a force to be reckoned with

The rising popularity of game streaming on sites, such as Twitch TV and YouTube, has shifted the competitive gaming community from fringe novelty to international spectacle in just a few years. Considering popular multiplayer battle arena game “League of Legends” recently held its North American Summer Finals at Madison Square Garden, it's safe to say marketers should pay attention to this fervent subsection of gamers when attempting to intersect with gaming culture.

Oh Say, Can You Produce?

Oh Say, Can You Produce?


When I read this morning that Branch founder Josh Miller had left Facebook—which acquired his company last year—to become the first director of product at the White House, I thought, “How perfect!” Miller, at 24, is the godfather of discreet chatter on social networks. Branch enabled Twitter users to form groups for private confabs. He was developing a similar clandestine chat service for Facebook until it dawned on him that his talent would best be put to use in government. And why not at the historical nexus of embarrassing political leaks, the White House?

“Director of product” has become a singularly digital industry title, and one that I could never quite wrap my head around. It's like when financial institutions started calling investment accounts and CDs “products,” whether they produced anything in the way of a return or not. In the digital sphere, product is even more intangible—an algorithm, some code, in the clouds. My parents belonged to the United Auto Workers union. When I hear product, I think Cadillac!

At the White House, according to a blog by Miller (at left), product sounds like websites, which, following the Healthcare.gov debacle could use a director over there on Pennsylvania Avenue. But Miller's goal, it appears, is to turn the federal government into a secure social network. “Imagine if talking to the government was as easy you talking to your friends on social networks?” Yes, Josh, I can imagine that, and it scares the bronzer off of me. I don't want to talk to the government and I don't want the government talking to me. When the government wants to talk to you, it's rarely a good thing. But Josh is young. He can learn.

So, I'm using this space on the occasion of Miller's first week on the job to ask him to use his powers of discreet discussion—be it with congressmen or citizens or foreign governments—to produce something of true value to Americans. I'm talking about a balanced budget. Our national debt totals $18 trillion. Time magazine recently ran down what that kind of cash could buy:

  • One year of healthcare for all Americans ($3.3 trillion)
  • A pay-down of all consumer debt, including mortgages ($3.07 trillion)
  • Every NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL team ($68 billion)
  • Four years of college tuition for every American under 75 (at an average of $60,088)
  • 2015's national defense budget ($631 billion)
  • Apple Computer ($742 billion)
  • A year of fast-food and casual dining meals for all ($1.2 trillion)

If Miller can bring his algorithmic might to getting that done, it could possibly produce a third term (by Congressional acclamation) for President Obama, with about $9 trillion left over for ice cream and Ferraris all around.

Of course, we all know that even a Silicon Valley dream team of  Zuckerberg, Ellison, Bezos, and Benioff couldn't bring the national debt to its knees. But if the executive branch is to have a director of product, shouldn't it aim a little higher than cool, discreet websites?  How about pumping out some more traditional hoped-for products of government; things like peace, prosperity, and freedom for all?

Nah, strike that. Paying down the $18 trillion would be easier.

The Ultimate Marketing Playlist

The Ultimate Marketing Playlist

We all have our pump-up jams. You know, the songs that get us motivated and moving. 

With all of the challenges marketers face on a daily basis, I decided to create my own playlist to keep them inspired and striving for more. Check out my marketing song choices below.

The customer acquisition song: One Way or Another – Blondie

The lyrics: “One way or another I'm gonna find ya. I'm gonna getcha, getcha, getcha, getcha. One way or another I'm gonna win ya. I'm gonna getcha, getcha, getcha, getcha.”

The message for marketers: Blondie's lyrics may seem a bit like a stalker at first, but marketers can actually take on this same obsessive mentality when it comes to acquiring new customers. In fact, many spend a significant portion of their time and resources attempting to win over fresh faces. However, it's important for marketers to focus on retaining existing customers who, in turn, can help them acquire new business through word of mouth and user-generated content.

The customer journey song: You Can't Hurry Love – The Supremes

The lyrics: “You can't hurry love. No, you just have to wait. She said, ‘Love don't come easy. It's a game of give-and-take.' You can't hurry love. No, you just have to wait. You gotta trust; give it time. No matter how long it takes.”

The message for marketers: All marketers want their customers to be loyal advocates. But as mama says, “You can't hurry love.” Like the song says, a relationship has to be a give-and-take—or in the case of marketers and customers, an exchange of value for data. And every customer sets the pace of his own journey; some customers will become loyal advocates quicker than others and some won't become devoted followers at all. However, you can't rush customer loyalty. As Diana Ross sings, “You gotta trust; give it time. No matter how long it takes.”

The unsubscribe song: Bye, Bye, Bye – NSYNC


The lyrics: “I loved you endlessly when you weren't there for me, so now it's time to leave and make it alone. I know that I can't take no more. It aint no lie. I want to see you out that door. Baby, bye, bye, bye.”

The message for marketers: If marketers fail to provide the value their customers crave, then their customers are going to opt out of their communications. Therefore, marketers need to provide unique engagement opportunities at each touch point yet still ensure that they're not bombarding their customers with messages. Otherwise, it will be “bye, bye, bye.”

The preference center song: Wannabe – Spice Girls

The lyrics: “Now don't go wastin' my precious time. Get your act together. We could be just fine. I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want. So tell me what you want, what you really, really want.”

The message for marketers: The best way for marketers to know what their customers want is to ask them. Preference centers are a great way to know what kind of messages customers want to receive, how often they want to receive them, and through which channels.

The win-back song: I Want You Back – The Jackson 5

The lyrics: “Oh, baby give me one more chance [to] show you that I love you. Won't you please let me back in your heart? Oh, darlin' I was blind to let you go (let you go, baby). But now since I see you in his arms, I want you back.”

The message for marketers: When it comes to choosing a brand to do business with, consumers have multiple options. And if marketers don't meet their growing expectations, consumers can easily choose another brand that will. If a brand does make a mistake, it's important for that brand to own up to it, apologize, and try to rectify the situation. To fix the problem, however, they must live up to their promises; failing to do so can result in a greater sense of distrust and lost customers forever.

The personalization song: Say My Name – Destiny's Child

The lyrics: “‘Cause I know how you usually do—when you're saying everything to me times two. Why can't you just tell the truth? If somebody's there, then tell me who. Say my name. Say my name.”

The message for marketers: Customers want personalized experiences, and they know when marketers are sending the same offer to someone else. So be upfront with your customers. Don't claim to offer personalized recommendations when you're presenting the same generic content to every customer.

The omnichannel song: Any Way You Want It – Journey

The lyrics: “Any way you want it, that's the way you need it. Any way you want it.”

The message for marketers: Customers are in full control of their shopper journeys.  So marketers need to be ready to engage wherever and whenever their customers wish.

The customer experience song: Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley

The lyrics: “Never gonna give you up. Never gonna let you down. Never gonna run around and desert you. Never gonna make you cry. Never gonna say goodbye. Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.”

The message for marketers: All marketers should follow Rick Astley's lead and sing these words to their customers. Marketers need to convey how much they value their customers' business, how they're in these relationships for the long haul, and how they're going to offer an honest, valuable experiences that will surpass anything their competitors can offer.

The motivation song: Eye of the Tiger – Survivor


The lyrics: “So many times it happens too fast. You trade your passion for glory. Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past. You must fight just to keep them alive. It's the eye of the tiger. It's the thrill of the fight. Rising up to the challenge of our rival. And the last known survivor, stalks his prey in the night, and he's watching us all with the eye of the tiger.”

The message for marketers: Keep on fighting the good fight.

How to Choose the Right Social Platform for Your Business

How to Choose the Right Social Platform for Your Business

I'm the first one to tell you about social media and how much of a great marketing tool it can be. Recently, I featured Purina ONE for using live-streaming app Periscope to boost engagement with the brand, even if followers weren't in the area. And I chatted with chic furniture brand Z Gallerie to highlight how marketers use Twitter to get people to request and then display the company's print catalogs on individuals' social media accounts. From Facebook to Twitter, or Snapchat, Tumblr, and Vine, there's a cornucopia of options that marketers can consider infusing into their strategies.

Choosing the right social platform for your businesses can do several things: First, it can increase reach, influence, and audience engagement—all of which help grow a business. The idea is that with more brand awareness and more brand advocacy, you'll be able to translate that into more sales. Large social followings can spark more downloads, more Website visits, and potentially more clicks on those Buy Now buttons.

I think that one of the biggest questions that most marketers have is how to determine which social media platform is right for their companies. So I wanted to provide a few guidelines:

Understand that you don't have to be on every emerging social media platform.
Even on a personal level, I've done this before—signed up for the new, swanky social media site and then realized that I either don't have time to keep it up, or I'm simply not interested. As a marketer you only have so much time and resources (e.g. money and human capital), so be judicious. Let the platform go through its growing pains before jumping into the deep end.

Know the makeup of each social media site you're considering using and match it with your needs.
Demographics, engagement, language, and user expectations change with each platform. Instagram is the only platform that's demographics skew toward blacks and Hispanics. Google Plus skews male, while Pinterest is overwhelming female. LinkedIn draws 38% of Internet users with an income of more than $75k. It's important to know and understand these characteristics of fans and followers of each platform so you can match your needs with the right audience. Marketing software Wishpond did a great job of breaking down the demographics and attributes of several social media sites. I'd start by reviewing this analysis to get a feel for which platforms might be right—or wrong—for you.

Just try.
The key to success—at least in my opinion—is courage. I define courage as being afraid and then doing it anyway (OK, I stole that from speaker Joyce Meyer. But it's as good of a definition as any). That courageous attitude is the one that marketers need to take on for the growth of their brands. You don't have to be a rock star on Periscope or Meerkat. It may take you a little while to figure out what your audience wants and what you're able to provide; it may take some time for people to discover your content on YouTube; but it's worth the try. Many brands have discovered that a platform's users are organic to your message and target audience. If your plan doesn't meet your expectations, you can always change it or just move forward without that platform. Nothing gained, nothing lost—except you'll have a little more experience under your belt.

CMOs Do IT Fast, CIOs Do IT Slow

CMOs Do IT Fast, CIOs Do IT Slow

It's the everyday, never-ending tussle of the digital marketing era. Why can't the CMO and CIO put aside their petty differences, tear down their silos, and lead their companies to digital supremacy? In fact, that might be the wrong way for senior managers to wrap their heads around the problem, argues an 18-year IBM veteran who has evangelized the company's middleware across the globe. CMOs and CIOs are different, he says, because they're supposed to be different. There are two different types of IT: fast, the province of marketers; and slow, the bailiwick of IT people. CIOs and CMOs need only to recognize it and shore up their skills at managing their stations in the fortress—marketers on the battlements, techs in the command center. The rest will come easy because each of their efforts should feed the success of the other.

“You have two worlds in tech today: fast and slow,” says Dario DeBarbieri, global director of IBM Middleware. A mutual acquaintance recommended that I speak with DeBarbieri because he, if anybody, would be the one able to explain to me the API economy. “One is the front end. That means your mobile apps, your tablets, your computers, everything you can see,” DeBarbieri held forth in his affable Argentinian accent. “That's what we call the fast-moving IT. You basically are at mercy of clients. Why? Because clients and end-users have the power they didn't have in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“Slow IT is the back end. It needs to maintain secure, accurate, constant communication throughout the ecosystems,” he continued, making the point that marketing still keeps its eyes on the four P's and IT still controls the mainframes. What's difficult for enterprises is synchronizing the disparate timing of the two operations.

Not only do marketers need to track the demands of  smartphone-spoiled customers and monitor their trash-talking on social media, but they also have to stay on top of emerging digital business models such as those of Uber and Airbnb. “You can imagine how car rental companies and hotels are taking a new look at their operations,” DeBarbieri says. “There are a lot of new businesses being created by this API economy that are turning old businesses on their heads.”

That message, says DeBarbieri (at left), formed the central theme of a presentation he gave to 50 CMOs just last week. “I told them it was vitally important to their futures that they develop an ability to identify which are the core business assets of their companies that could extend their business models if they exposed them through APIs. That is the role of the CMO today. The CMO should be in charge of the strategy surrounding fast IT, but he must work more closely than ever with the development team in slow IT. Together they can start pushing buttons and changing business models.”   

CMOs are also responsible for deciding what kind of API fits the purpose, which could be anything from brand recognition to revenue generation to customer satisfaction. DeBarbieri outlined the four basic API models with examples of each:

Developer pays. This is used by Amazon Web services, which charges fees for developers to launch APIs and for additional services.

Developer gets paid. Google Ad Sense, for instance, pays developers that run its ads on their apps.

Free. Facebook doesn't charge publishers that add APIs to the network because they end up driving new traffic and business to Facebook.

Indirect channel linkage. eBay lets developers link APIs in return for the opportunity to expand its ecosystem and its business.

But before API expansion can get to this stage at a company, fast IT jockeys must be tracking real-time events and slow IT operators must be identifying long-term trends and commercial corporate assets. If they're vigilant and they're working well together, the API economy can help them churn gold from, well…

“Elephant dung,” DeBarbieri says. “Every day the world creates 2.5 quintillion bits of data. I tell clients it's elephant dung. It's s—t. But if you sift through it and understand the API economy, you can find opportunities.”

What Are Your Customer #RelationshipGoals?

What Are Your Customer #RelationshipGoals?

Want to know what everyone is talking about? Just turn to Twitter. Yesterday, for instance, the hashtag #RelationshipGoalsIn3Words was trending.

Some people took a more sentimental approach to the conversation.

Others sent more humorous tweets.

Even some brands got in on the action.

In marketing, no relationship is more important than the one marketers have with their customers. So I asked four loyalty experts to sum up the ultimate relationship goals marketers should aim to have with their customers. Check out their #RelationshipGoalsIn3Words on the following pages.

Engagement. Loyalty. Mutual Satisfaction.

"Engagement is all! It informs a marketer how well a brand meets consumers' expectations and is what a marketer needs to do to successfully compete in the marketplace.

Loyalty because it is a leading indicator of profitability, and consumers are six times more likely to behave positively toward the brand.

Mutual satisfaction because the consumer is looking for primacy of product or service, and the marketer is looking to make money."

- Robert Passikoff, founder and president, Brand Keys Inc.

*Note: This first one is technically four words—but we'll let it slide.

Mutual Value Exchange.

"Loyalty programs are predicated on the idea of a mutual exchange of value. The value for the business is a better understanding of customers in order to improve their sales, margins, and operational efficiency. Customers agree to let companies track and analyze their purchasing data in exchange for additional recognition and rewards."

- Jeff Berry, research director, COLLOQUY

Simplicity. Listening. Aligned.

"[These words are] based on our many conversations with brands—the ones that have measurable deeper relationships [and] loyalty with their clients all have strong ability [or] propensity in those areas. Yet, they can be quite challenging as listening is [an] active and two-way value exchange, and simplicity is ever more challenging in the data-driven world we live in."

- Mark Johnson, CEO and CMO, Loyalty 360

Customer Experience Focus

"Companies and brands overly focus on price and product availability, but those are table stakes. The overall customer experience is the key, and customer service is the true differentiator. Investment in a quality customer experience can yield a long-term benefit of deep customer loyalty, which is a competitive advantage in a landscape where consumers would otherwise follow the lowest price. A March survey shows that approximately half of 2,500 U.S. consumers polled reported experiencing a problem on their last shopping trip. Of those customers, 81% decided not to contact the retailer about the issue. Among these silent shoppers, 32% said they were unlikely to recommend the retailer to friends and family, putting these shoppers at risk of decreasing their spend with the retailers. A dysfunctional customer experience can be detrimental to the customer relationship and risk significant retail losses."

- Dennis Armbruster, LoyaltyOne Consulting VP and managing partner

We'd love to know, what are your customer #RelationshipGoalsIn3Words? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us @dmnews or @DMNreporter.

5 Growth Areas in Video That Marketers Should Watch

5 Growth Areas in Video That Marketers Should Watch

With video set to play an increasingly important role in the marketing landscape, businesses need new ways to keep the channel engaging. Luckily for marketers, these are the times of intense video innovation.

Brands are taking huge strides in the areas of interactive video and virtual reality, and consumers are loving it. Marketers can get in on this action as well, but they may need to explore some of the recent developments in the channel before inspiration strikes. Here are five videos, or video practices, that are changing the ways consumers consume video content.

360 Cam

A relative newcomer in the interactive video space, 360-degree videos took the Web by storm soon after YouTube enabled 360-degree playback on Chrome browsers and its mobile app. The most mundane videos, such as subaquatic tours and browsing a store, become exciting feats of technological prowess. Imagine the experiences marketers can craft.

Oculus Rift

As the most apparent and visible disrupter in video technology, Oculus Rift was headline gold even before its $2 billion acquisition by Facebook. Originally touted as the gaming community's launch pad for virtual reality, interest in Oculus Rift has grown considerably in the last couple of years. With the potential to completely change the way consumers interact with digital content, marketers would do well to experiment as much as financially possible with this tech.

Google Cardboard

While Oculus Rift may be the biggest name in VR tech today, Google Cardboard is shaping up to be a viable, and accessible, competitor in the space. Whether the applications end up as rich as those ostensibly available on the Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard brings VR capabilities to virtually any smartphone user, with a near negligent cost. If Cardboard follows the trends of the tech titans' other offerings, marketers may be happy they got in early.

Interactive Video

Interactive video lies in the natural progression path to virtual reality, and is the video technology most primed for superlative marketing campaigns. With the right creative approach, and proper execution, marketers stand to make truly engaging visual content that can't help but go viral.

24 hours of Happy

Bob Dylan - Live a Rolling Stone. Interactive Video

Live Streaming

After a brief and bitter battle for market share with Meerkat, Twitter-owned live streaming app Periscope appears to have become the de facto name in mobile streaming. Brands have already began utilizing the tech, but live streaming still has room for growth. Marketers can be conduits of this growth, or trail behind it as more consumers take interest in streaming apps.

Celebrity, Candidate...What's the Diff?

Celebrity, Candidate...What's the Diff?

“Donald Trump is a celebrity, not a candidate,” trumpet critics of the leader—by 10 points and more—of every Republican presidential poll. And we respond, what's the difference? As we've propounded several times in this space, the lines between marketing campaigns and political campaigns have blurred. The five-story-high Smart Water billboard I pass on my bike to work every day features Jennifer Aniston, not Carly Fiorina. Likewise, every news site, newspaper, magazine, and cable news network showers attention on Trump, not Kasich. 

The model presidential candidate of our times is Ronald Reagan, governor of California and star of TV's Death Valley Days. Only Arnold owns that perfectly crafted presidential CV today. Too bad for him he was born in Austria and can't run.

CallFire, a voice and text platform used by political candidates, recently had Harris Interactive ask a nationally representative sample of potential voters to cast ballots in mock presidential elections pitting celebrities against politicians. The results? Let's just say Carly should talk to Jennifer about standing in for her at the next debate.

  • Clint Eastwood (72%) crushed Donald Trump (28%)
  • Ben Affleck (59%) cruised by Ted Cruz (41%)
  • George Clooney (57%) outshined Jeb Bush (43%)
  • Jimmy Fallon (55%) operated on Dr. Rand Paul (45%)

Surprisingly, Hillary Clinton (55%) bested Oprah Winfrey (45%), but Oprah's been off daily TV for some time now, while Hillary has been active on the campaign trail and afoot in the media, even if largely for Emailgate. Brand impressions, it has become clear, are now as important to presidential candidates as big appetites and full heads of hair.

“Hillary is a brand, Jeb is a brand. Hillary announcing her candidacy on social media was huge,” says CallFire CRO Barbara Palmer. “There's this instantaneous effect that's taken hold in political marketing now. People have immediate access to everything and candidates can be exposed to them constantly and in snippets. They used to have to show up in Iowa, show up in New Hampshire. Now they can phone and text it in.”

Most serious-minded folk I talk politics with are appalled that The Donald (maybe the best brand, with the exclusive cachet of the article) is controlling the consciousness of the electorate. I don't know why they don't understand it. Do they not go home and witness their educated, professional mates and kids watching “Desperate Housewives” or “Duck Dynasty?” Have they themselves never guiltily absorbed “The Apprentice?” The press is putty in Trump's hands. Plus, he's done his homework on issues troubling this generation's Silent Majority and he plays the themes like a Beethoven sonata.

Palmer thinks The Donald will inevitably be brought to heel by superior digital execution on the part of other candidates, however. One who has taken an early lead in sophisticated digital voter engagement, she says, is Bernie Sanders. He regularly packs halls with 10,000 to 20,000 people. He also beat his celebrity in the CallFire poll, Jerry Seinfeld, 54 to 45%.

“The political specialists on our staff did an evaluation of the digital marketing assets of all the candidates, and Bernie Sanders came out head and shoulders above the rest,” Palmer says. “His campaign makes use of several digital channels to send out his message and then uses text to get an immediate response. Most of the others are still at the stage of collecting people's names.”

One other former president who could challenge Reagan as the perfect candidate is John F. Kennedy, who though not an actor had a Hollywood connection through his father, his brother-in-law Peter Lawford, and his alleged mistress, Marilyn Monroe. That's why I'm waiting for Brett Stimely to throw his hat into the GOP presidential ring. Who's he? Actor Stimely has forged a small business playing JFK, displaying his full head of hair and put-on Boston accent in four films and TV shows over the past six years. I wonder how many Twitter followers he has.

User Content Reigns In "Straight Outta Compton" Campaign

User Content Reigns In "Straight Outta Compton" Campaign

Between rave reviews and a $56 million opening weekend, Straight Outta Compton, the Universal Pictures biopic chronicling the rise of West Coast rap outfit NWA, is nothing short of a hit—just as the group's debut of the same name was in 1988.

Like most major box office hits, exemplary marketing played a large role in Straight Outta Compton's success. TV spots, pre-roll video ads, tremendous word-of-mouth, as well as a big-ticket play on consumers' nostalgia; all of the usual suspects of great cinema marketing were present. But, the movie's marketers struck true gold by successfully harnessing influencer marketing, user generated content, and virality by way of Apple and Beats Music's Straight Outta Somewhere meme generator.

We're all straight outta somewhere. straightouttasomewhere.com #StraightOutta #StraightOuttaCompton

A photo posted by Straight Outta Compton (@outtacomptonmovie) on

Straight Outta Somewhere memes continue to proliferate the Web through traditional social channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and also peripheral digital communities such as discussion boards and music forums. Users not only represented their neighborhoods and hometowns through the memes, but also contorted the viral movement to poke fun at other pop culture components.

A Blast From the Past

A Blast From the Past

Everyone has favorites. In my neighborhood, I have a favorite little organic burger place named 25 Burgers; it serves up every type of burger or sandwich that you can think of. I have a few favorite clothing brands and designers: Vince Camuto, Tracy Reese, Kenneth Cole, and, of course, good ol' Macy's. I have a favorite musician (Drake), book (The Devil Wears Prada), and movie (Malcolm X).

I also have favorite stories that I've written for Direct Marketing News. Often I scour through these pieces to determine which conversations to continue, which performed the best, and which have the next big topics to feature. I thought for my blog today, I'd feature some of my favorite topics that I've written about in recent months. Some were popular—others less so. But all have great information, and are great for reviewing and sharing. Give them a read. Then leave a comment about what you'd like to see next—not just from me but from all of my colleagues from DMN. I can't wait to hear your thoughts.

I Was Paid to Write This Blog

I Was Paid to Write This Blog

Just like personal relationships with friends and lovers, one-to-one relationships with customers can be a messy business. Countless efficiencies can be gained from the ability to engage the right people with relevant messages via digital channels, but data-driven empowerment is a worldwide phenomenon, and it's a wild and woolly world.

Since the dawn of the Net Promoter Score, the marketer's golden mission has been to enlist legions of aficionados eager to recommend products and services to friends and family. That's not easy, so marketers use several methods to remunerate bloggers and active reviewers to say kind words about them and their products. Today, that's most likely to happen via social media, a rangy and unruly realm, to say the least. Recognizing that, the Federal Trade Commission recently updated its endorsement guidelines FAQ list to address some social media specific quandaries. All social media participants, not just marketers, should take note.

“The liability can be with both parties,” says Internet lawyer Karl Kronenberger of San Francisco-based Kronenberger Rosenfeld. “The FTC is going to focus its attention on large companies with funds, but people writing reviews need to pay attention, too.”

Here are some issues to ponder for regular folk paid to write reviews and for marketers awarding themselves five-star ratings on Yelp.

Awarding reviewers $1 coupons can be considered payola. The FTC guidelines say that actual endorsements from customers must be “truthful and not misleading.” Discernment between the two can come down to a matter of what's in the reviewer's heart. A $1 coupon may not seem much of an enticement to shill, but, the FTC says, “continually getting free stuff from an advertiser…could suggest you expect future benefits from positive reviews.”

One gift can mean a lifetime of disclosure. A company sends a free product to a blogger and asks him to write a favorable review about it. He discloses the gift in his first review. Does he have to mention the relationship every time he writes about the company, in perpetuity? Perhaps. “Each new endorsement made without a disclosure could be deceptive because readers might not see the original blog post where you said you got the product free,” the FTC says.

Fitting ‘sponsored post' into a tweet. Even a seemingly benign mention on Twitter could be considered deceptive and requires disclosure if the tweeter has a financial link to the company. The FTC helpfully points out that “paid ad” would deplete just seven of your 140 characters, and that “sponsored” or “promotion” each waste only nine. It even suggests a hashtag disclosure you can use to begin your kiss-up tweet: #ad.

If you work for the company you post about, say it. Several enterprise-level social media platforms have emerged in recent years that guide employees in creating favorable content about their companies and posting it on social media under their own names. That's fine, the FTC says, but each and every post must also disclose that an employee wrote it.

Just as in matters of privacy violation on the Web, the FTC is most likely going to pick on the biggest, most egregious violators to hang on a legal post as examples. Companies that set up vigorous compliance programs for disclosing paid endorsements will receive brownie points in court and likely side-step the purview of the FTC. “A good compliance program will go a long way toward insulating against a class action or a government lawsuit,” Kronenberger says. “That includes instituting explicit guidelines for ad agencies and media buying services. It's a fairly low-cost way to demonstrate that you're making an effort at complying.”

Kronenberger has some high-profile clients. He's currently defending one in a $200 million suit involving fake testimonials. So, we ask him: Wouldn't many large enterprises with established brands welcome endorsement standards that make it a clean game for all? There is a long pause on the other end of the phone line, then…

“Well, that would require a complicated answer,” Kronenberger says. “Unfortunately, marketing in a very noncompliant way can be highly lucrative.”

How to Not Suck at Marketing

How to Not Suck at Marketing


Think back to when you were kid—a time when the world was your oyster. Everything seemed possible (of course you could be an actress/animator/dolphin trainer when you grew up). You were fearless and full of energy.

Then, the inevitable happened—you became an adult. The world made you more cynical; monetary and parental responsibilities put a few gray hairs on your head; and you couldn't run or bend the way you used to.

Let's face it: Getting old sucks.

Maturing in the business sector isn't always favorable either. Startups seem to embody these enviable youthful traits. They're nimble; they're always on the cusp of what's cool; and they're not afraid to disrupt the space. Public-listed companies, however, seem to lose these budding characteristics as they age. As Joseph Jaffe points out, the pressures to produce short-term results and please investors can cause brands to lose the spark that made their company a winning organization in the first place.

“There's that wonderful saying ‘Let's see how big we can get before we suck,'” says the CEO and cofounder of Evol8tion—a company that connects brands to startups. “And as I often say, especially when I'm talking to small businesses from a B2B standpoint,...corporations were built to suck at the end of the day.”

The key to not sucking, Jaffe says, is finding a balance between being a risk taker and being risk adverse so that businesses can scale. So how can marketers strike this equilibrium? Here are Jaffe's three tips on how to suck less.

1. Invest in experimentation.

Many people are familiar with Google's 70/20/10 rule for innovation, and marketers can apply this framework to their budgets, as well.

Coca-Cola refers to this structure as “Now, New, Next.” And in a February 2013 blog post, Josh Leibowitz, then a partner at consultant firm McKinsey & Company, explained the budget breakdown as follows:

  • 70% of funds goes to “now” or established marketing activities
  • 20% goes to “new” or emerging trends
  • 10% goes to “next” or untested ideas

So the next time you're divvying up your dollars, remember to allocate a few to innovation and experimentation.

“Whether it's 30/60/10 or 70/20/10, it's really built on this idea that 10% of every single budget—or one out of every $10—should be spent or invested in rapid prototyping, experimentation, tests, pilots, or risk taking—but really on innovation, on things that have no precedent,” Jaffe says.

2. Remember, trying something new doesn't mean automatically discarding the old.

Even though testing new ideas is important, that doesn't mean that marketers should forgo all of their tried-and-true best practices. There are several best practices that are no longer relevant or effective, Jaffe says, and there are also new practices that are simply noise. To identify the best of the best, Jaffe recommends following this structure: Keep the best of the old; discard the worst of the old; embrace the best of the new; reject the worst of the new.

“It's not just binary of old and new—old is bad, new is good,” he says. “Heavens forbid. A lot of the old is bad, [but] a lot of the old is fantastic; and a lot of the new is quite frankly crap. It's very important to find that balance.”

3. Focus on retention and your “super consumers.”

The idea that 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customer base is a time-honored teaching. Yet, marketers still dedicate the majority of their dollars to acquisition. In fact, the “Marketing Budgets 2014” report by Econsultancy and Responsys shows that 34% of companies planned to increase their focus on acquisition last year, compared to 18% who intended to do the same for retention.

“There is no more important balance or equilibrium to find than the balance between acquisition and retention,” Jaffe says. “And if there is any optimization that has to take place that isn't taking place, in particular [with] B2B, it's to start to cross that chasm between how we neglect, under utilize, and under invest against not just our most important segment—which is our existing customer—but even the super consumer, which I would define as the tenured, promoter influencer.”

The “super consumers,” according to Jaffe, are customers who have been with a brand for the long haul, adore the brand, and have some sway when it comes to the brand's audience. Marketers should use these “super consumers” to build an “inside-out model,” Jaffe says—one that uses existing customers to gain new ones, such as through testimonials, content creation, and referrals.

Jaffe describes this idea of using existing customers to acquire new ones as "flipping the funnel" and calls this method the Marketing BowTie framework.

Why Fantastic Four Is a Cautionary Tale—for Marketers Especially

Why Fantastic Four Is a Cautionary Tale—for Marketers Especially

Marketers know better than anyone: If you do nothing else, at the very least listen to the people you are targeting. The customer is always right, as they say. Despite years worth of successful efforts to the contrary, 21st Century Fox seemed to forget this fundamental marketing truth this weekend, but it will likely remember in the coming weeks as it endures the wrath of comic book fans around the world over the quality of the studio's latest film, “Fantastic Four.”

Between comic book characters dominating cinema, TV, and video games, and the phenomenon that is Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), fans of this material—often categorized in the past as nerds—have grown into one of the most powerful consumer segments around. While it indeed comes with great responsibility, this power works in favor of the fans, and the fans didn't favor Fox's “Fantastic Four” reboot, which opened over the weekend to a paltry $26 million, and some of the harshest criticism of the year.

Now, flops happen, and in the grand scheme of Hollywood, filmmakers probably won't approach their craft differently in the aftermath of this single failure. However, marketers stand to learn much by analyzing the marketing missteps Fox took that led to its current predicament. Here are the three marketing failures that made “Fantastic Four” the cautionary tale that it's sure to become.

Not listening to customers

Despite months of negative feedback from fans on leaked details throughout the film's production, Fox ostensibly remained committed to its vision of the film, possibly in hopes of franchising the material in lieu of the MCU. The problem is that the vocal majority of fans haven't been clamoring for a Fox MCU; they've been asking for the opposite, actually. If customers seem to be in consensus around a particular issue, brands should listen to these vocal contingents of their audience.

Not unifying the team

Rumors abound about the relationship between Fox executives and “Fantastic Four” director Josh Trank. Trank was distant and destructive; Fox was manipulative and meddlesome. Regardless of the truth in such accusations, the fact that these reports are so prevalent speaks to some level of disharmony and unity behind the scenes. Of course, marketers know all about the dangers of disharmony through the unfortunate prevalence of silos. Cohesive, omnichannel experience struggles to manifest when the teams behind their creation struggle to communicate, or cannot do so productively.

Not polishing the finished product

Consumers are growing used to clean presentation and expertly designed experiences in a post-Apple, post-Steve Jobs world. Marketers must contend with this trend in all aspects of the creative process of campaign implementation. Is the experience optimized for mobile? Does the creative work across browsers? Does the ad slow down Websites? Combine this expectation for polish with moviegoers' expectations for high production values, and it's easy to understand why fans who paid for “Fantastic Four” are miffed by the film's lackluster CGI and negligent editing.

National Holidays Are a Gift to Marketers

National Holidays Are a Gift to Marketers

Everyone loves a national holiday. National holidays give people a common cause to rally around or an event to celebrate. They generally honor the accomplishments of our past or the good things that are in our lives right now. Nowadays, there seems to be a national holiday for everything. Some are better than others. In fact, today, August 10, is National Lazy Day and National S'mores Day (what a perfect excuse to take some time off, go camping, and eat unlimited chocolate). Smart marketers track these quirky national days and ride the wave of conversation and enthusiasm. Here's what the marketers at Fruit of the Loom did for for August 5, National Underwear Day.

My personal favorite is June 5, National Doughnut Day. Doughnut chains across the country gave away free doughnuts, and in many cases, people would buy coffee or more treats with their free pastries. It got the media talking and water cooler chatter buzzing (even I sent out an email to the entire editorial and sales departments at Direct Marketing News promoting the holiday).

Several doughnut companies and coffeehouse chains got in on the conversation on Twitter and used the holiday as a perfect way to connect with current and potential customers. Krispy Kreme won me over when they ran out of pastries in New York's Penn Station, which caused me to miss my train. The team sent me a voucher for a dozen free doughnuts.

Marketers at a local Krispy Kreme in San Francisco kept the momentum going by creating a follow-up national holiday—National Doughnut Day Part 2.

Here are some other fun holidays in August that marketers can use to draw attention to their brands:

August 12: National Vinyl Record Day

August 13: National Filet Mignon Day

August 15: National Relaxation Day and National Lemon Meringue Pie Day

August 16: National Roller Coaster Day and National Rum Day

August 17: National Thrift Shop Day and National I Love My Feet Day

August 18: National Mail Order Catalog Day and National Ice Cream Pie Day

August 26: National Dog Day and National Women's Equality Day

August 30: National Toasted Marshmallow Day

August 31: National Trail Mix Day

The Millennial-Baby Boomer Divide

The Millennial-Baby Boomer Divide

One of the risks of being friends with or related to journalists is that they often use those relationships as inspiration for stories. I'm definitely guilty of this. I've written about my family, friends, and significant other dozens of times on this site. And this week's blog post is no exception.

During a catch-up call with my dad last week, my father told me about a fantastic article he read in The Wall Street Journal. He said he could send it to me, and I willingly accepted his offer.

I checked my inbox regularly, but still didn't see his email address pop up. It wasn't until I checked my mailbox two days later that I found an envelope containing the following.

I couldn't resist sharing the clear symbol of a generational divide with my social network. So, like any good millennial would, I snapped a photo of the newspaper clipping with my iPhone and uploaded it with the hashtag #ClassicDadMove to Facebook, where it received numerous likes and an approving comment.

I decided to call my dad later that week while waiting in line at Chipotle to inform him that I had received the article. When I asked him why he didn't email me the story, my dad's answer was simple: “Because it was in the paper.” I told him that he could have just found it online and sent it, but he argued that The Wall Street Journal's gated content policy made it too difficult to do so (even though a quick Google search later granted me immediate access to the article).

As I weaved my way to the front of the Chipotle line, I asked my dad to hold on a second so that I could order my veggie burrito bowl. “Dad, have you ever eaten at Chipotle?” I asked while fishing for my wallet inside of the black hole that is my purse. He said he hadn't but informed me that the company's stock had done well this past year.

I could sense the generational differences piling on like the extra-cost guacamole.

Now, I'm not saying that my dad is totally out of the technology loop—he did head a major software company's legal team for years—nor am I generalizing that every Baby Boomer has the same level of digital savvy that's portrayed in this Amy Schumer clip:

What struck me, though, is how different our mind-sets are. The thought of sending my parents an article in the mail would have never crossed my mind; yet for my dad, it was the logical thing to do.

This split in thinking led me to wonder what other generational differences exist between the 18- to 34-year-old millennials and the 51- to 69-year-old Baby Boomers. So, I compiled a list of four key divergences marketers should consider when targeting each audience.

1. Millennials have higher expectations. Millennials have set the bar high for brands, more so than any other generation before. The following graph from marketing consultancy Brand Keys shows that millennials scored higher in overall customer expectations than both Baby Boomers and Gen X consumers.

Marketers should want to keep their millennial customers happy. Consider: The Boston Consulting Group estimates that U.S. millennials account for $1.3 trillion in annual spending, of which $430 billion is discretionary. To better serve these young shoppers, marketers must address their emotional needs, such as the desire for personalization and the feeling that their voice is being heard. After all, Brand Keys' research shows that 80% of millennials' brand decision-making comes from their emotional values, compared to the 20% that comes from their rational ones.

2. Millennials crave innovation. Millennials like to be the first in their circles to test drive a new product. In fact, data from research firm Lab42 shows that 45% of millennials buy first-generation products, compared to only 6% of Baby Boomers who like to do the same. So, make sure to reach out to this young audience the next time your brand launches a new product.

3. Millennials live in a digital world. According to “The Global Mobile Report” by comScore, millennials comprise 37% of the United States' total digital population, while Baby Boomers make up a quarter.

It's important for marketers to take consumers' preferences into consideration when communicating with them. If marketers know that millennials are digital natives, for instance, then they should reach out to them via digital channels, such as through email, online content, or social. At the same time, marketers must ensure that they're not alienating their Baby Boomer clientele and provide alternative engagement opportunities, like knowledgeable in-store employees. The best option? Consider implementing a preference center to take out the guesswork of how your customers want to engage.

4. Millennials embrace mobile. At 90%, millennials have the highest smartphone penetration rate in the U.S., according to the same comScore study. And at 57%, Baby Boomers have the lowest. In fact, 61% of the time that millennials spend consuming digital media is spent via smartphones, versus 31% via desktop. Contrastingly, Baby Boomers spend 51% of their digital media consumption time on desktop devices and only 30% of it on smartphones.But, Baby Boomers are more likely to consume digital content on their tablets than millennials. To put this into perspective, 18% of the time that Baby Boomers spend consuming digital media is spent on tablets, compared to only 8% for millennials.

So, it's vital that marketers make their emails, videos, and other forms of digital content suitable for any device. Also, marketers may want to rethink the content they send each target audience. Instead of sending Baby Boomers an email encouraging them to download an app, for instance, marketers might want to direct them to their brand's website. 

Ultimately, though, there's one thing both generations can agree on: It's all about meeting the customers' needs and preferences.

Marketers Are Communicators, So Act Like It

Marketers Are Communicators, So Act Like It

Recently, I had a chance to speak to a group of B2B journalists at an annual conference for the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) held in the Kimmel Center at New York University. I taught a workshop on how to add creative elements to B2B content.

Lots of great feedback:

This week I realized that many of the suggestions that I gave to a room full of journalists applied to marketers too—simply because we're all communicators who want to convey a message to an audience. The main theme of my presentation was to think of ourselves as artists. I encourage marketers to do the same.

Those in the marketing industry should be colorful in their campaigns with messages that appeal to the human senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. It's these companies—whether B2B or B2C— that excite people's imagination, pique their interests, and ultimately fulfill a need with your products and services.

A few things that marketers should do with their messaging:

Add the human element in all of your campaigns. The message isn't really as much about the product as it is about the people who you are trying to reach. Make your campaigns about them.

Excite people with your words. I find, many times, marketers—especially with B2B products and services—can get lost in jargon and the technical aspects of their offerings. Although the nuts-and-bolts of any product is important, make sure to use messaging that's exciting and appeals to the needs of consumers, rather than hypes only the bells and whistles of your products. It should be a more balanced message.

Talk about real life. Current events and personal narratives are an opportunity for brands to make real—and potentially profitable—connections with shoppers. Learning to connect with consumers through major events like, say, Election Day or major holidays establishs a personable, relevant bond; it enables marketers to create campaigns that convince consumers to buy products both over the short and long term.

Push your limits. One of the best ways to market a product is to be distinct and quirky. Without going completely off brand, it's the marketers who aren't afraid to create a strategy that's off the beaten path who get consumers talking and sales spiking (think GEICO's Hump Day ad or Snickers' perpetual You're Not You When You're Hungry campaign).

Is Amazon Really Bigger Than Walmart?

Is Amazon Really Bigger Than Walmart?

Back in the early 2000s I was the editor of Progressive Grocer magazine, which did a “Super 50” list of top supermarket chains by revenue. In the first few versions of the list, however, the true top dog was missing. Walmart had been building Supercenters and Neighborhood Market grocery stores at an aggressive pace, but it didn't report its transactional data to IRI. We finally worked with several data companies and did square footage analyses to come up with a number to attach to Walmart's grocery sales and confer top honors upon it. It was a relief to us on the editorial staff, because everyone knew Walmart ruled the roost. It appeared there was nothing Sam Walton's troops could not conquer. 

Then came digital. 

Last week news outlets rang out with the news that, following a great run on Wall Street, Amazon had attained a market capitalization of $250 billion, some $20 billion higher than Walmart's, making it the most highly valued retailer in the world. We in the business press love to play with numbers. And, if we play a little fast and loose with them, making, for instance, a pronouncement based on a market cap that could easily fall from the sky like a Prime Air drone, well, so be it. Another day, another headline.

Unfortunately, busy businesspeople who consume and repeat news with great rapidity off their Twitter feeds pick up a story like this and a game of business Telephone ensues. “Didja hear, Sally,” they'll say at some social media conference, “Amazon's bigger than Walmart.” Sally tells Harry, Harry tells Monique. Before you know it, a trick of numbers becomes settled fact.

When I think of who's bigger in business, I think of who makes the most money, so I called up the two retailers' most recent annual reports. Walmart's, for the year ended January 31, 2015, reported revenues of $486 billion. If you run that number up on the International Monetary Fund's GDP ranking of countries, it places Walmart ahead of Austria and just behind Norway at 28th. During the 2014 calendar year Amazon posted revenues of $89 billion. Those of you who may now be repeating that thing about Amazon being bigger will kindly notice that that's about $400 billion less than Walmart, an amount in and of itself equal to the GDP of the United Arab Emirates. Amazon would be the 64th largest country in the world, $10 billion behind Slovakia at 63rd.

Amazon, it should be noted, lost $241 million last year (as is its custom), while Walmart turned profits of about $17 billion. That kind of cash can fund new store expansion, create jobs, and help build the nation's economy, a sure sign of a healthy, growing business. But that's mere hogwash in a digital economy. A digital business is not so much about building a business at this early stage in the Internet's existence as it is about building a business plan. A founder of a successful digital business like Jeff Bezos, at this juncture in history, may spend his entire career measuring success using scalability and market cap as indicators, not bottom-line profits. Just last week Amazon competitor Jet.com appeared on the scene pledging to bleed out $300 million over the coming five years just to build market share.

One hundred years ago the progenitor of national chain retailing was opening its 1,600th store. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, a.k.a A&P, added groceries to its New York City tea and coffee shop concept and took it nearly nationwide. In the 1930s it had 16,000 stores, innovated a large-format concept, and was operating 4,000 of its new "supermarkets" by 1950. A few weeks ago the once invincible A&P filed for bankruptcy and announced plans to sell or close the 300 stores still under its aegis.

Nothing's forever, and chances are that one day Walmart could suffer a similar fate at the hands of an Amazon. Digital has come, and digital is a different way of doing business. 

7 Ways to Build Brand Value

7 Ways to Build Brand Value

Life at the top is often short-lived. The Hollywood “it” couple becomes yesterday's news; the golden athlete gets replaced by a younger, faster rookie; and the CMO burns out after two or three years. However, the companies featured in WPP's "BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2015” report know what it takes to reach—and stay at—the peak of performance in terms of translating customer appeal into corporate sales. In fact, 58 of the brands featured in the report, conducted by research agency Millward Brown, have remained on the list for the past 10 years.

To celebrate these brands' achievements and help other companies reach their full potential, the marketing services company hosted a Top 100 10th Anniversary Roundtable in New York. Global Head of BrandZ Doreen Wang kicked off the event with a keynote presentation, and then David Roth, CEO of WPP's retail practice The Store in EMEA and Asia, moderated a panel that consisted of agency and brand executives. Here's a list of the top seven lessons I learned from each session that can help brands grow their value.

Don't be afraid to be different.

So often in life, going against the grain has a negative connotation to it. Thoughts like “What if I fail?” or “That's not what our competition is doing” can deter marketers from venturing outside of their that's-what-we've-always-done comfort zone. 

But being different is vital for value growth, Wang argued, because it makes brands seem creative, in control, and trustworthy in the eyes of consumers.

“In the world of so much product sameness, being different makes the difference,” she said.

However, being different doesn't mean throwing a brand's entire strategy out of the window. On the contrary, Wang said that marketers need to think of ways they can diverge from the norm while staying true to the company's value proposition.

Have a strong brand proposition.

Every organization has a purpose—to make money. However, the brands that can clearly articulate their mission beyond the financial incentive, Wang said, are the ones that deliver a prime customer experience and stand out in the marketplace.

Ask the right questions.

Is your company's brand value growing? Whether a brand has been around for one year or 100 years, Wang recommended having marketers ask themselves the following questions:

  • How can we, as brand builders, make people's lives better?
  • Do our customers really believe that we care?
  • Do we build meaningful difference?

Help marketing empower the entire organization.

Technology has enabled employees to be more collaborative than ever.

“The world where somebody sets a direction and tells everybody what to do—that way is over,” said Marc de Swaan Arons, CMO of Millward Brown Vermeer.

If marketers can clearly define their brand purpose, he said, then they can help other divisions better understand how that purpose applies to their roles.

Remember, great people build great brands.

When most marketers think of brand advocates, they tend to think of fiercely loyal customers; however, Jim Stengel, president and CEO of the consultancy The Jim Stengel Company, said that marketers shouldn't count out their employees.

“Your employees are your greatest advocates,” he said.

Without question, hiring and maintaining the right talent is essential in marketing. For instance, Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer for Visa, said that he hires “human Swiss Army knives”—marketers who can do it all. And Linda Boff, executive director of global brand marketing for GE, likes to give her employees freedom to do what they're good at. She recounted a story of how one of her employees suggested that GE join Instagram about five years ago. Today the company has 189,000 followers and counting and uses the tool as a way to give people an up-close look at its Brilliant Machines.

Be nimble.

Big brands seem to have it made. Their budgets are generally bigger, and their heritage offers them a committed following. However, Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, warned large organizations not to get stuck in their old ways. He said that instead they should leverage the resources of a big brand while working with the heart, mind, and soul of an entrepreneurial company.

“With age comes Scoliosis—so I can attest,” he joked.

Make learning a KPI.

No marketer knows it all. That's why de Swaan Arons advised marketers to make learning a priority and a key benchmark. After all, he noted, those who learn faster than their competitors are the true winners.

An Historic Week for E-Commerce?

An Historic Week for E-Commerce?

This past week could end up as a footnote in e-commerce history. Last Wednesday Amazon had the temerity to inaugurate its own special shopping day, promising that it would rival Black Friday, and naming it after its $99-a-year Amazon Prime membership program. Prime Day got panned by the mainstream media, which seems to have abandoned bona fide business experts in favor of social media posts as the primary sources in their reporting. Social media is hardly the workhorse of commerce. The Direct Marketing Association's “Response Rate Report” notes that only 30% of marketers use social media in campaigns, compared to 50% for direct mail and 82% for email. But most news outlets focused on comments from peed-off shoppers who failed to get to their buy buttons in time to get in on Prime Day's Lightning Deals. Their verdict: Amazon laid an egg.

What Amazon more likely laid was a foundation for a bigger base of Prime Members and a claim to ownership of what could be the key summer sale day for years to come. Flat-footed competitors like Walmart and Sears double-promoted their planned summer sales to get noticed on Prime Day, but they lacked Amazon's aura of exclusivity. Americans want not just cheap merchandise, but bragging rights. They want to crow to the neighborhood that they scored the $159 widescreen HDTV on Black Friday, that they attended the Super Bowl, that they were present at the presidential inauguration. Exclusivity breeds attention and polishes brand value. So, when Walmart reacted to Prime Day by offering deals for 30 days and not making anybody join an exclusive program to get them, it missed the point. Thirty days is not a special event; 30 days is a month.

Channel Advisor, a provider of optimization software for third-party sellers on Amazon, reported that its clients transacted Prime Day business equal to 97% of Black Friday 2014. In a survey of members of the online shopping community SheSpeaks, two thirds said they made Amazon purchases on Prime Day versus only one fifth who said they bought from Walmart.com. On the social front, mentions of Walmart were flat on the big day, according to the Adobe Digital Index, but Amazon's were up 50%.

There are some wags in the e-commerce world who venture that Amazon's true impetus for Prime Day was to sign up as many subscribers as it could before Jet.com could launch this past Tuesday. Amazon, the all-powerful master of online retail and customer service, worried about a competitor? Sounds unlikely, yet Marc Lore and his brand new online marketplace could one day elicit concern from Jeff Bezos and company.

Bezos slashed diaper prices on Amazon.com to sweat Lore into selling him his successful Diapers.com site. Lore wasted little time putting the $600 million bounty to work on a return engagement with Bezos via Jet.com. He amassed a VC warchest in excess of $220 million to give him time to expand product selection and build a clientele that would allow him to wrest customers from Amazon. By looking for profits from membership fees only and not taking a cut of sales from third-party sellers (as does Amazon), Lore expects those sellers to provide him the lowest prices online.

Insiders think Lore's epic quest could prove successful. Third-party sellers are flocking to the Amazon alternative, says ChannelAdvisor CEO David Spitz, as are retail partners including Macy's, J.Crew, and Crate&Barrel. Feedvisor CMO Shmuli Goldberg, whose living it is to help sellers find the optimal price to charge on Amazon, says that about 14% of online shoppers care only about price. “That's enough for Jet to build a business on,” he notes.

In the digital marketing world, the prime change agents are innovation and disruption. The e-commerce world this week was rife with both. We'll watch to see if it was enough for history to have been made.

Showing Thanks Gives Brands a Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi

Showing Thanks Gives Brands a Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi

Two weeks ago my boyfriend and I went to a Bastille Day street festival in New York. I'm an absolute sucker for macarons (I can easily devour a whole sleeve in one sitting), so I wanted to find a box that we could take home and “share.”

As we shuffled our way down the crowded streets, we passed numerous macaron vendors. We would stop, inspect the pricing and flavors, and continue to peruse other options. At one point we stopped at a vendor that offered a whole rainbow of macarons. Red strawberry cookies; teal pistachio morsels—I could go on and on! I asked one of the sellers how many cookies I would receive in a standard box and for what cost. She politely answered my question and smiled. There was no denying that the vendor had offered the best deal of the day so far; however, we wanted to finish walking through the street fair and check out our other options. So, we left. 

Once we reached the end of the festival, we decided that the vendor with the colorful macarons really was the best choice; we went back to the stand and asked the same seller for a box.

Surprised, she responded, “Oh, you're back!” and then proceeded to tell us how much she appreciated our business and that the sale actually meant more to her knowing that we had returned after seeing other options.

Now, it's possible that the seller was just trying to secure our dollar. However, her enthusiasm really struck me. I mean, I can't remember the last time a brand thanked me for coming back to their website to complete a purchase. And would it really be that difficult to trigger a thank-you email with a token of appreciation after I clicked through a shopping cart abandonment email and converted?

The more I thought about this lack of gratitude, the more confused I became that brands weren't expressing it. After all, aren't they the ones trying to get me through the purchase funnel? Why should I be the one seeking a little appreciation? Wouldn't they want to thank me for interacting with them?

Clearly, some brands need to brush up on their manners. Some companies do have this whole thank-you thing down pat. Here are three Direct Marketing News articles that explain how brands can better show appreciation for their customers and what are the benefits of doing so.

Oh, and you're welcome. 

The Quirks of Successful Young Marketers

The Quirks of Successful Young Marketers

Every year for the past three years, Direct Marketing News has identified and highlighted top-performing marketers who demonstrate exemplary savvy and finesse in their craft, and whose work helped elevate their business. Each year, we select 40 such marketers and celebrate their accomplishments, on the condition that they've performed extraordinary marketing that furthers their brand, and that they're under the age of 40.

We've assembled another batch of 40 superlative marketers under 40 years of age, and as we prepare to celebrate this prestigious collective of marketing talent at this year's 40 Under 40 Awards Ceremony, I thought it prudent to look back at past 40 Under 40 coverage for a glimpse of what drives these special marketers.

Many—probably most—marketers rightly covet the stature and success of these individuals in their own business endeavors. Well, here are 10 articles that explore the men and women behind the 40 Under 40 plaques of yesteryear, and illustrate the goals, interests, and general mind-state of this caliber of young marketer.

It's Not Digital Marketing; It's Just Marketing

It's Not Digital Marketing; It's Just Marketing

I find it interesting how some marketers still make the distinction between digital and other types of marketing. Most all of marketing has several digital elements—even direct mail pieces are collated, designed, and distributed with an infusion of digital strategy and technology.

Recently, a reader of Direct Marketing News wrote an interesting comment in reaction to one of our articles, Direct Mail Has a Greater Effect on Purchase Than Digital Ads. The article featured results from a recent Temple University study that asserted direct mail tops digital media for engagement time, recall, and ultimate purchase. There are certainly some compelling statistics.

But the fervent reader, Michael Bann, responded with an interesting and noteworthy reaction. He wrote:

Personally, I would like less focus on raising any one channel's arm in victory. I'm sure digital channel advocates have conducted a study with conflicting results. The reality is that true success lies in the balance of effective cross-channel. Often those digital ads that might not be clicked on can have an impact on conversions. Marketing is not a zero sum game, and testing has already proven that.

Continue to run digital ads; continue to use direct mail; continue to test. (Edited for clarity)

I found the comment interesting because I realized that even we, the editors at DMN, often make that distinction and focus more on channels rather than strategy, trends, and the holistic picture. I believe there are marketers out there who are more focused on the consumer rather than whether one channel trumps the other.

So, this week I thought I'd highlight a few marketers who are creating campaigns that are rooted in an omnichannel approach—that are meeting customers wherever they are at any time—with videos, mobile, direct mail, email, etc. Share some of your favorite campaigns that embrace myriad strategies and channels.

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