Client Maturity

As an agency, or even a marketing department, you must work with clients of every possible ilk. Oh sure, your client might be your company’s CEO or it might be the marketing director of a third-party company, but when you provide marketing services, you’re nearly always reporting to someone else. So what happens when that client doesn’t have the maturity required to participate at a high level in discussions and project development?

As an agency, or even a marketing department, you must work with clients of every possible ilk. Oh sure, your client might be your company’s CEO or it might be the marketing director of a third-party company, but when you provide marketing services, you’re nearly always reporting to someone else. So what happens when that client doesn’t have the maturity required to participate at a high level in discussions and project development? This lack of maturity might result in an abandonment of the project before completion because it “seemed to take too long,” “needed too much development,” or “was broken.”

As campaign architects and builders, we find ourselves working with clients who need to learn a new vernacular in order to participate in meetings and decision-making with our teams. Simple explanations are one thing, but when we spend copious time in calls and meetings simply educating, it’s time to take a long, hard look at the fit of the client.

For the immature client, working to build campaigns will be a daunting task—made so by longer meetings and hours’ long descriptions of design and development processes as you attempt to keep them in the know and in the loop. If our client is lacking the required maturity to participate in a meaningful manner, the negative impact on the project may derail efforts to the point of paralysis or even abandonment.

In an effort to find the best customers for your company, consider developing a maturity-diagnosis document. In this document, ask questions to help you determine at what level your customer will be able to contribute to conversations and decision-making. You could ask questions such as:

  • Do you know the difference between drip and nurture campaigns?
  • Does your company have a revenue goal this year?
  • Are you on target to reach your goal?
  • How will this campaign contribute to the goal?
  • How big is your sales team?
  • How are they compensated?
  • At what level is your understanding of HTML and CSS?
  • Is your website responsive; do you know what that is?
  • Does your website offer e-commerce? If so, what platform?
  • Does your e-commerce system enable you to send auto-responders?
  • Do you know how to modify these auto-responders?
  • How dependent are you on your IT department or other departments?

As you can see, the questions you might ask should span myriad topics, but which to ask will be dependent upon your company and the types of services you provide to clients.

If you are a .NET website-development company, you may need to ask questions focused more on the maturity of knowledge of our client in the e-commerce space. If you provide simple blast emails, you may wish to focus on their understanding of various types of emails and SEO. In both cases, however, you are looking to minimize the overhead created by having to educate your client each step or phase of the project.

Not every prospect who dials your number or fills out a form is a customer with whom your company should engage. You are not in the business of education, you’re in the business of providing a service—and the more quickly, succinctly and efficiently you can provide that service, the more profitable you will be.

Vet your customers. They certainly vetted you.

Is It Time for a True Goodbye?

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

This morning we woke up to our first snow in the foothills of the Rockies. Even though it was only a light sprinkling—like powdered sugar on our lawn—it seemed entirely way too soon. We were not ready to say a goodbye to summer. We assumed we had a couple more weeks to enjoy patio dinners, the window boxes in full bloom and the hummingbirds on the feeders. We had to readjust.

Later in the day, I read this from Jeffrey McDaniel: “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” I appreciated this advance lesson about winter … it helped me set my favorite season aside and anticipate the cozy fires in the woodstove, cross-country skiing and holiday family gatherings.

Many of my clients are multichannel retailers who introduce hundreds of new products in a season. Very few of these new rollouts become brand rockstars (as I call their bestsellers); many more end up in the middle of the performance pack and the rest trickle towards the bottom. This is a repeat pattern. I believe there is as much value in the bottom learnings as there are in the top-of-chart learnings. The conversations about the bestsellers are just more fun.

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

But, here’s the thing: Unplanned lessons are the exact opposite of lesson plans … those neat and tidy curriculum plans teachers try to follow until the students show up and things go awry. We often learn more from things that don’t quite go the way we hoped than things that do. If we dare to review our actions.

In a BusinessWeek article entitled “Radio Flyer Learns from a Crash,” Thomas Schlegel, VP for product development at Radio Flyer shared his thoughts on a product launch that was halted. After months of development and lots of production time and dollars, Schlegel scrapped it. “It didn’t live up to Radio Flyer standard,” he said. According to the article, “his boss, Robert Pasin, CEO, told Schlegel failure was OK as long as the company learned from it. Pasin now holds a regular breakfast for new employees at which he impresses upon them the idea that failure is inevitable if you want to innovate and valuable if you can learn from it. And after every project ends—whether the project has been shipped or been killed—Radio Flyer is developing what Schlegel describes as an ‘autopsy without blame,’ in which everyone involved in the development of a product discusses four questions: What went well on the project? What didn’t go well on the project? What did we learn? And, what are we going to do next?”

Author James Joyce gives us a new perspective on unplanned lessons: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Bravo to Radio Flyer. They made discoveries and acted on their volitional errors!

So, I switched gears in my client meeting and described to these Type A risk-averse professionals how another client actually embraces failures—publicly and light-heartedly. This company even had more than 300,000 customers take a tour of its flops: Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard. It’s a real live collection of 31 ice cream mistakes and missteps over the years memorialized for all to see.

Ellen Kresky, Creative Director for Ben & Jerry’s shares this: “One of my favorite things about Ben & Jerry’s is that we’re not afraid to acknowledge our shortcomings or failures to consumers. Take our Flavor Graveyard for example. We use it on our website, and you can actually go visit real tombstones at our Waterbury tour. The Flavor Graveyard features limericks to eulogize our flavor bombs. We even sell Flavor Graveyard t shirts. A few years ago we had a contest to bring consumers’ favorite flavor back from the dead for a limited time in scoop shops. A lot of us were secretly hoping that a flavor with a low gross margin would win so that consumers would benefit in more ways than one. And our wish came true. For me, this is an example of contrarian brand management. Projects like this help continue to build consumer love and trust, and manage to do that in an un-contrived way that stays true to our roots.”

I know it used to be a common practice for many multichannelers to take the time to have strategic post-mortem conversations evaluating a season’s results by sales channels (retail, on-line and catalog) and by customer segments. Product visual boards would be created and the nuances of what worked and what didn’t would be discussed along with promotional strategies and competitive tactics and offerings. In today’s attention deficit business culture where every one is chasing the next new thing, I’m afraid these important cross-departmental meetings have morphed into line item reports read individually and acted upon in silos. The subtle underlying threads of what didn’t work do not get fully analyzed and the real failure of this short cut practice is that similar mistakes get made again (and possibly again).

I am a proponent of serious, slow talk (like the Slow Food, Slow Travel and Slow Christmas movements!) post mortems where true learning and insights can occur. I have both led and participated in these with my clients and they work and are worth it. Stop and think time. Concentrated focus on the previous season’s happenings both for your brand and your customers’ experience with your brand. Free flow of information. Open agenda. Robust conversations. Potential surprise endings.

So, have you dared to slow down and look back with your brand team? Why not take time to better understand and collaboratively converse about your brand faux paus openly and then, and only then, bid them a true goodbye!

Wasted Personalization

Chatting with a friend about this article, he suggested I write about the most memorable email I’ve received. And while that would be interesting, I know I find emails memorable for reasons you might not. I’m most enthralled by the development, design or concept, whereas you might be most taken by the message 

Chatting with a friend about this article, he suggested I write about the most memorable email I’ve received. And while that would be interesting, I know I find emails memorable for reasons you might not. I’m most enthralled by the development, design or concept, whereas you might be most taken by the message.

As my friend described the most memorable email he had received, I thought about why that same email would have been memorable to me. That led me down the path I started in my last article—applying direct-mail lessons to today’s email campaigns.

In 1995, I founded The World-Wide Power Company, the world’s first international distributor of all (graphics) extension-based technology. As the only distributor of all things plug-in, we had extensive records about who owned what, their core applications, versions, numbers of copies and so much more. Back then, this data lived in our invoicing system, which suited us perfectly as we had customized FileMaker Pro for inventory, invoicing, reporting, vendor tracking, managing the product matrix, and other day-to-day business activities. This meant our customer and purchase data were clicks away any time we built a direct-mail campaign.

Our most-successful campaigns were our weekly direct-mail postcards and letters, nicknamed PUN (product-upgrade notice) and CUN (competitive-upgrade notice). These events were mailed each week to everyone in our quarter-million name database who owned a product undergoing an upgrade during the week or for which a competitive product had been announced. The messaging on the cards went something like this (I’ve represented some of the messaging with the field names from our database, shown in all caps, to save space and to illustrate connections to fields):

CUSTOMER NUMBER: [001097]

[LESLIE STRONGMAN], [XYZ PRINTING]
OR THE CURRENT IS/IT DIRECTOR OR GRAPHICS MANAGER

[ 1/22/1997 216350 1 Imposer XTension]
[ 4/4/1997 221450 5 Imposer XTension]
[ 4/7/1997 221527 2 Imposer XTension/MarkIt Bundle]

Dear [Leslie],

On behalf of [XYZ Printing], you purchased [Imposer] from The World-Wide Power Company. Your purchase information, including invoice date, invoice number, and quantity, is listed above. According to our records, you currently own [8 copies] of QuarkXPress [4]. In order to upgrade your [QuarkXPress] to version [5] and maintain the ability to [SHORT DESCRIPTION], you must also upgrade your [XTENSIONS] purchases listed above.

[Imposer 2.0] has been upgraded to provide
[1-LINE BENEFIT] and to support [QuarkXPress 5].

[LIST BENEFITS]

[LIST FEATURES]

[Imposer Pro] retails for [$399]. For a limited time, upgrade each of your copies of [Imposer 1.X] or [2.X] to [Imposer Pro] for [$199].

Call ThePowerXChange to upgrade and take advantage of this special pricing before [31 March 2003]. Prices do not include taxes, where applicable, or shipping. Delivery options are as follows: [electronic delivery is free] or [CD-ROM sent via Airborne overnight for $12].

The response rates from these postcards averaged more than 50 percent, but our best result was more than 80 percent! This is a number to make any marketer salivate.

Having set the stage, the reason I bring this up is to discuss the opportunities lost by today’s marketer—even me, and I most certainly know better.

Today, personalization is demonstrated in our emails often by including the recipient’s first name in the greeting or subject line, but rarely, very rarely, do we see the level of personalization I’ve shown above—except perhaps in the case of our shopping cart abandonment messages … but that’s actually my point.

We know abandonment messages enjoy high open and click rates and yet we don’t apply the trigger of those messages to our everyday marketing messages. Why not? Difficult? Lack of technical know how? Lack of resources? All of the above? Probably.

Step back and ascertain a complete view of the data you have within your organization—and I’m not talking about big data here. Look to your accounting system and ferret out nuggets like those in my example. Look to your marketing database and find unusual bits to help you connect with the recipient. See if your badge scans can disclose something new, or if your sales team can add color.

What my friend told me about his most memorable email (from Hyatt) was the message thanked him for having stayed at a Hyatt property 75 times and provided the name and location of his first Hyatt stay. He enjoyed the trip down memory lane, and while he admits most of the information was wrong, he still felt a strong connection and fondness for Hyatt because they remembered him.

As with all things marketing, this could turn out poorly for the marketer if recipient’s recollections bring back unpleasant memories, but that’s simply a marketing risk we take every day.

The next time you send out a marketing message, consider if you’re wasting personalization on a simple greeting and see if it’s possible to take it to the next level by including something memorable, important, funny, or, well, personal, that can actually connect with your audience.

New Developments in B-to-B List Acquisition

To reach cold prospects among business audiences, sales and marketing teams often begin by developing a list of prospective targets. Marketers can find just about every target company, title and job function they need from traditional list suppliers. Plus, the Internet has made possible the introduction of some excellent new opportunities for identifying prospects at various stages of the buying cycle. Let’s look at what’s new in B-to-B lists these days

To reach cold prospects among business audiences, sales and marketing teams often begin by developing a list of prospective targets. Marketers can find just about every target company, title and job function they need from traditional list suppliers. Plus, the Internet has made possible the introduction of some excellent new opportunities for identifying prospects at various stages of the buying cycle. Let’s look at what’s new in B-to-B lists these days.

Traditionally, the first step in list development has been working with a list broker who has experience in your target audience category. There are more than 40,000 business lists available for rent in the U.S., plus numerous databases and online data enhancement services to choose from.

Business lists can be divided into four general types:

  1. Compiled files assembled from directories, the Internet or other public and private sources, by such suppliers as D&B, InfoGroup, Data.com, NetProspex and ZoomInfo. In recent years, many compilers have been making their data available for rent via an online interface, vastly enhancing the speed and flexibility of ordering.
  2. Response files created as a by-product of other businesses, like catalog/e-commerce sales, seminars, trade organization memberships, or magazine and newsletter subscriptions. Response files tend to be more current and accurate than compiled files.
  3. Cooperative databases from multiple list owners, offered in either open format, where you pay for what you use (examples being MeritDirect’s MeritBase, InfoGroup’s b2bdatawarehouse and Mardev DM2’s Decisionmaker database), or closed format, where only members who put customer names in can take prospect names out (examples include Epsilon Abacus Cooperative and the b2bBase, a joint venture of MeritDirect and Experian).
  4. Internal databases populated from billing systems, lead management systems, and website registration systems. Many companies today use their marketing automation or CRM systems as their marketing databases, and populate them from a variety of internal and external sources.

A New Direction in B-to-B Lists
The B-to-B list industry has changed considerably in the last decade, with the proliferation of social networks. But the big new development today is the trend away from static name/address lists, to dynamic sourcing of prospect names complete with valuable indicators of buying readiness culled from their actual behavior online. Companies such as InsideView and Leadspace are developing solutions in this area.

Leadspace, created by a team of former Israeli intelligence officers, is a leader in targeted, real-time prospecting data for business marketers. Their process begins with constructing an ideal buyer persona by analyzing the client’s best customers, which can be executed by uploading a few hundred records of name, company name and email address. Then, Leadspace scours the Internet, social networks and scores of contact databases for look-alikes and immediately delivers prospect names, fresh contact information and additional data about their professional activities.

How LevelEleven Took its Prospecting to the Next Level
LevelEleven provides a cloud-based platform where sales managers can create fresh and compelling sales contests within Salesforce.com. For example, the Detroit Pistons recently used LevelEleven to organize a sales contest for skyboxes at their arena, and drove sales of over half a million dollars. In other words, 50 percent of the skybox annual sales target was closed in a mere six weeks.

LevelEleven’s target prospect is a sales manager or sales operations manager in any company that uses Salesforce.com as its CRM system. Today, LevelEleven’s sales team gets leads from four sources:

  1. The Salesforce.com AppExchange, where other Salesforce users search for partners.
  2. Conferences and trade shows, like Dreamforce.
  3. Registrations from content downloads at the LevelEleven website.
  4. Rented lists of prospects.

LevelEleven has tried a variety of list sources over the years, with mixed results. In the first half of 2012, the prospecting sources produced zero in closed sales. In June 2012, they began experimenting with Leadspace. In the second half of 2012, a full 30 percent of LevelEleven closed deals came from this source.

According to Bob Marsh, CEO, the power of Leadspace for LevelEleven is its close targeting based on the LevelEleven customer profile. “Leadspace helps us infer pretty accurately whether a prospect is using the Salesforce platform,” he says. “And they deliver to us a short list of highly likely contacts in the account, like the Salesforce administrator or the sales operations manager. Everyone on our sales team has a Leadspace license, and it is performing for us.”

It’s a good thing that the B-to-B list business is continuing to evolve in new directions. What new developments are you seeing?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

New Developments in B-to-B Loyalty Marketing

Business marketers have much to gain from retention marketing. Business customers tend to be fewer and more valuable—meaning you can’t afford to lose even one. But how do you keep your customers active and buying from you, versus the competition?  How do you prevent defection? Let’s look at the traditional approaches to retention marketing in B-to-B, plus some new developments in loyalty marketing being adopted by B-to-B marketers today, including social media and gamification.

Business marketers have much to gain from retention marketing. Business customers tend to be fewer and more valuable—meaning you can’t afford to lose even one. But how do you keep your customers active and buying from you, versus the competition? How do you prevent defection? Let’s look at the traditional approaches to retention marketing in B-to-B, plus some new developments in loyalty marketing being adopted by B-to-B marketers today, including social media and gamification.

Traditional Approaches in B-to-B Retention Marketing
Given the importance of customer retention in B-to-B, business marketers have a long history of investing in loyalty drivers. The most basic approach has been—simply—superb account management.

In a well-run company, the sales team in charge of any given customer will do its best to understand what’s going on in the account; sell to them the way they want to buy; deliver on time; develop new products to serve their evolving needs; solve any customer service problems; cultivate deep relationships with the specifiers, influencers and decision-makers throughout the account; and generally provide the best possible products and service levels. It is this basic approach that has stood the test of time in account development.

But as buying has become more complex, businesses have developed additional strategies to deepen customer relationships and engender loyalty. For example:

  • Data-driven segmentation and differentiated treatment. Not all customers are created equal, so segmenting customers by value and treating them differently is a strategy that works well in business markets. Some companies will identify their top accounts—based on margin or on top-line revenue—and provide them with special perks, pricing and service levels, such as:
    • Corporate-wide purchasing agreements, where all buying across a far-flung enterprise can benefit from pre-negotiated contract pricing.
    • Dedicated sales teams, some of them even housed on site at the customer’s operation.
    • Dedicated customer service phone lines, where the service personnel can develop an ongoing personal relationship with individuals in the account.
    • Special status, like Gold Customer or Preferred Customer, programs that may include access to discounts, free shipping, invitations to events and other perquisites.
  • Incentive programs. Taking a page from the consumer world, some business marketers have found success with frequency marketing programs that reward customers for certain behaviors, such as repeat purchase. These programs are not universally applicable in business, but they have their place, particularly when the purchase cycle is short and purchase behavior can be tracked.
    Rewards programs are typically applied in businesses that mimic consumer purchasing behavior, like office supplies. Staples, for example, runs a thriving business rewards program targeted to its small-medium business customers. Financial services and telecom have also done well with frequency marketing programs in SMB, examples being American Express OPEN, the MasterCard Business Bonus program and Verizon’s BusinessLink.

New Developments in Loyalty for Business Markets
In the last few years, B-to-B loyalty marketing has benefited from the arrival of new tools that support the goal of deepening relationships with business buyers. Social media, for example, has created an easy, low-cost way for companies to build communities and foster engagement. Social media is being applied across the B-to-B marketing spectrum, from prospecting via viral pass-along, to enhancing customer relationships, to surfacing and solving customer service problems.

In the area of enhancing customer relationships and fostering loyalty, the power of social media is being felt throughout the B-to-B marketing world:

  • Companies build the ranks of their followers on Twitter and LinkedIn, their “likes” on Facebook, and their RSS subscribers to blogs and YouTube channels. These connections then become another set of media channels for staying in touch, introducing new products, sharing ideas and case studies, and otherwise building an ongoing relationship.
  • Within social media environments, companies establish communities of customers and prospects around certain subjects, like technologies, products, events and other shared interests. In these forums, chat groups, blogs and other formats, like-minded people share ideas, expand their knowledge and make valuable connections.

One of the most exciting new developments in B-to-B loyalty marketing is the new concept known as gamification. The idea here is to build on people’s natural enthusiasm for games involving prizes, competition and recognition, and turn that motivation into a loyalty driver. The goal of gamification is to add gaming elements to otherwise boring processes and tasks, converting them into something fun, competitive and addictively engaging.

Marketers who want to introduce game design and mechanics to their loyalty programs can now take advantage of several new software platforms, like Badgeville, CallidusCloud and Bunchball. These tools are taking loyalty programs to a new level of interactivity, real-time feedback and social interaction, with some promising early results.

If you’ve experimented with loyalty programs in B-to-B, please share your experiences.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Marketing: It’s the New IT

Spring is here and change is in the air for marketers in the way they consume technology. Big change. Not incremental or run-of-the-mill change. We’re talking a paradigm-busting tectonic shift that’s going to change the way that companies are structured. And when the dust settles, things will never be the same again, for Marketing or IT.

Spring is here and change is in the air for marketers in the way they consume technology. Big change. Not incremental or run-of-the-mill change. We’re talking a paradigm-busting tectonic shift that’s going to change the way that companies are structured. And when the dust settles, things will never be the same again, for Marketing or IT.

What do I mean? What I mean is we’re on the ground floor of a transformational process in which marketing replaces IT as the stewards of the Marketing Technology Infrastructure. At the end of this process, marketing will own and manage vast majority of IT’s responsibilities, as they relate to marketing functions. This is going to happen—sooner than you might think—as a result of several parallel trends that are already underfoot in the business world.

  • Emergence of robust and easy-to-use SaaS marketing technologies—the proliferation of tools like Constant Contact, Eloqua, SalesForce and Marketo give marketers access to incredibly powerful plug-and-play solutions that can be used with virtually no internal IT support. Because they’re delivered using the SaaS model, all updates and tech support are managed by the vendor. Talk about a marketer’s dream …
  • Development of secure and dependable cloud storage and computing infrastructure—as little as five years ago, companies could never have imagined moving their precious data outside the organization’s firewall. Oh, how times have changed! Numerous security breaches combined with improved cloud technology and falling prices for storage have turned the tables on this argument. Why go through the cost and hassle of maintaining your own databases if you don’t need to? For many companies, this is already a rhetorical question.
  • Standardization of Web-service-based API architecture—Now that API technology has grown up, so to speak, we have a universally agreed-upon language (XML) and set of standards (SOAP/REST) developers can use to tie disparate systems together. Building on point No. 1, APIs are a quick and effective way to pass information back and forth between various platforms. What’s more, a new generation of developers has grown up that’s fluent in this ecosystem, and companies are taking advantage by staffing up big time. Within the next couple years, you’ll never again hear, “We don’t have an API developer on staff.”
  • Validation of the “Platform” model for development—why build a platform when you can use someone else’s? What’s more, why try to build a better mousetrap yourself when you can leverage a network of thousands or tens of thousands of developers who are willing to give it stab? This is the power and promise of the platform model. Over the next few years, the marketing space will be increasingly dominated by large platforms who create ecosystems their clients can tap into for cutting-edge capabilities, and developers can leverage to line their pockets. By 2020, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re a developer, you’ll either be working at a platform, developing apps for one, or building tools and methodologies that pass information back and forth between them. So if you like to code, get with the platform program, and quick!

Because the relationship between IT and Marketing could be described as “frosty,” at best, I think it’s safe to say that, overall, this will be a welcome change for most CMOs. In my experience, marketing departments tend to feel that IT is understaffed, distracted and overall not a strong partner for the marketing team to rely on. If anything, the adversarial nature of this relationship will serve to accelerate the overall trend of many IT functions dissolving into marketing department’s purview.

But what’s most interesting about this process is that it will not be limited to the marketing department. Think about it. Other departments consume technology as well, right? That means it’s going to happen in parallel throughout the entire enterprise organization: Finance, Accounting, Purchasing, Procurement … They will all go through the same transformation, as software is procured from SaaS service providers, and data storage and database management is migrated to the cloud. We’re talking comprehensive and organization-wide transformation.

I’ve already seen the beginnings of this process within many of my client’s organizations. In a previous post, The Great Marketing Data Revolution, I touched upon the incredible transformation organizations are being forced to make as they deal with and try to make sense out of with the deluge of unstructured marketing data they are collecting every day, which is often referred to as “Big Data.”

For many companies, the ultimate Big Data strategy involves a Master Data Management (MDM) solution for collecting, aggregating, matching and storing this vast pool of information. While supported by IT, MDM initiatives tend to be marketing projects, as most of the data is collected and used by marketing. MDM/Big Data solutions tend to be cloud-based and take advantage some, if not all, of the four points I addressed above.

Now what’s going to happen to IT, you might ask? If you’re working in IT, don’t fret. Your department won’t disappear. But its role will undoubtedly change with the times. Instead of focusing on product development and infrastructure maintenance, IT will instead focus on identifying the right players to engage with, testing, auditing and supporting the process—not to mention providing API technologists to help tie systems together. And, possibly, developing specialized tools to help fill in gaps the marketplace has overlooked.

If you’re a developer, this means that you’re going to need to redefine your skills to align them to the needs of the marketplace. And the good news is you probably have a few years to get it sorted out. Still, things will undoubtedly change and—once the proverbial tipping point is reached—they’ll change awfully fast.

So I hope this all makes sense. I do have a feeling this may be a controversial topic for many readers—especially those in IT. If you have any questions, comments or feedback, please let me know in your comments.

A USPS Development that Is Truly Progressive: Carbon Calculations for Your Mail

While the nation’s postal-related headlines are dominated by USPS plans to optimize (consolidate) its mail processing network and to slash costs during the next three years as it fights for financial sustainability, a less known development is a new USPS service on behalf of postal customers that is truly insightful—and free of charge—and about to launch early next year, subject to some final testing.

While the nation’s postal-related headlines are dominated by USPS plans to optimize (consolidate) its mail processing network and to slash costs during the next three years as it fights for financial sustainability, a less known development is a new USPS service on behalf of postal customers that is truly insightful—and free of charge—and about to launch early next year, subject to some final testing.

Beginning 2012, mailers will be able to secure from the USPS a “carbon impact calculation” for their mail across various USPS products and classes, with the potential to purchase carbon offsets, too. Essentially, the calculation is the amount of carbon released in the atmosphere as a result of an organization’s mail being in the domain of the USPS delivery infrastructure. The program was piloted earlier this year with business customers enrolled with the Postal Service’s Electronic Verification System (eVS) for Domestic Competitive categories and is set to be extended to PostalOne! participants and all postal products shortly.

Why is this noteworthy?

Many of the world’s leading brands and global enterprises—among them U.S. companies and household names—participate in a global transparency effort called the Carbon Disclosure Project. Many more seek to establish their carbon footprint as they participate in global carbon-trading schemes, designed to lessen greenhouse gases thought to be associated with global warming.

While the United States has yet to adopt formal national goals for carbon reduction for its part in the global economy, many brands that are either (1) global players or (2) environmentally sensitive or (3) both are already doing so in their own operations. These enterprises are acknowledging that managing carbon is a business-smart way to reduce waste and pollution and to optimize efficiency, while no doubt burnishing their own brand credentials. Sustainability isn’t a feel-good pursuit, it’s about the bottom line and intelligent materials management.

[Note: California—the U.S.’s largest state economy—has adopted carbon reduction goals as a matter of policy and practice.]

The USPS needs to be lauded here. Already, the USPS has conducted a lifecycle inventory regarding the delivery of the nation’s mail, and has adopted aggressive waste reduction and recycling goals in its own operations—all in a bid to increase efficiency and revenue. It knows, more or less, the carbon footprint of each class of mail and is ready to share such information with its customers in a true “value-add” function that is specific to each customer’s own use of the mail. Carbon calculations can be retrieved by month, by quarter and by year, or on an ad hoc reporting basis as requested by a customer.

To take advantage of the carbon calculation offer, mailers might look for an official announcement from the USPS at some point early next year, once final testing is completed on eVS and PostalOne!

By knowing the carbon footprint of their mailings, brands and companies that participate in carbon markets can derive more accurate readings of the direct mail portion of their marketing and operations activity.

Maybe then they can start tackling an even harder subject for direct marketers—how to reduce the carbon impact of their data centers and digital marketing.

Helpful Links
USPS 2010 Sustainability Report (see page 37)

Environmental Leader: Most Climate-Responsible Companies Revealed for 2011

Huffington Post: California’s Drastic Carbon Reduction Goals are Achievable, Study Says

Direct Marketing Association: USPS Releases Report on Life Cycle Inventory of the Mail

USPS Sustainability Efforts

USPS Carbon Accounting Pilot

Carbon Disclosure Project