Direct Mail: Create USPS Informed Delivery Ads

What is USPS Informed Delivery? It allows customers who sign up to receive emails with grey-scale images of the address side of letter-sized mail pieces that have processed through automated equipment. Why is this helpful for companies that send direct mail?

What is USPS Informed Delivery? It allows customers who sign up to receive emails with grey-scale images of the address side of letter-sized mail pieces that have processed through automated equipment. Why is this helpful for companies that send direct mail? You are now able to send the post office your artwork along with your mail.dat file to be included in the email that is sent to customers with a link to a web page of your choice for the campaign. Basically, customers get a digital preview of their mailbox. This means that prior to getting your mail piece, people can click on your link and start buying.

Here is an example:

How it works:

  • Your content is associated with an individual mail campaign. You can run multiple campaigns at one time for a single mailing. You may also run multiple mailings and campaigns simultaneously.
  • Each campaign is triggered by and mapped to a single Mailer ID that is used on the mail pieces. You may set a date range, as well.
  • Mailers can also use the Serial Number range within the Intelligent Mail® barcode to provide a greater level of personalization.
  • When a mail piece scan for an enrolled Informed Delivery user and the MID or Serial Number in the IMb is associated with an active mailer campaign, the customer will see your customized content that you provided to the USPS.

If you would like more detailed information you can check out the USPS guide at: https://www.usps.com/business/pdf/informed-delivery-interactive-campaign-guide.pdf

This is an easy way to add a channel to your direct mail. Since customers have signed up to get the emails you can easily provide color artwork they will want to click on. So what do you need to qualify to participate in this program?

  1. Mail pieces must be automation compatible
  2. Mail pieces must contain a valid IMb
  3. You or your mail service provider must be IMb certified

This is a free program, so why not try it out and see if your customers like it?

How to Participate:

The process is simple; you create and send the normal hardcopy mail, then provide USPS with your image content and web address. There are two ways you can run informed delivery campaigns:

  1. Ride-along Image and Target URL: This campaign includes the USPS gray scale scanned image of the letter-size mail piece and an image provided by the mailer. This image is placed below the gray-scale image in the email. The Ride-along Image is clickable and so is the “Learn More” link. These are both linked to the same URL.
  2. Representative Image, Ride-along Image, and Target URL: In addition to the required Ride-along Image and URL, this dual campaign includes an image that is provided in lieu of a flat-size image or in place of the gray-scale letter-size image. In this version, your images are static, they are not clickable. The images must be clearly branded and must be directly related to the hard copy mail piece. One more thing, images are optional for letter-size mailings; but required for a flat-size mailing.

Now you are ready for the required components to actually do your campaign:

  • Campaign Display Name
  • Campaign Title
  • Campaign Code
  • Campaign Start Date
  • Campaign End Date
  • MID on Piece
  • IMb Serial Number Range
  • Image and URL
  • Images must not exceed 200 kilobytes
  • Images must be in JPEG (.jpg) format
  • Images must meet minimum or maximum pixel height/width, which varies per image type
  • Images must be representative of the brand or mail owner and directly related to the mail pieces

Now you are ready to submit your campaign. There are two ways to submit an Informed Delivery campaign, via the Mailer Campaign Portal or PostalOne!. The Mailer Campaign Portal is currently in beta testing. With PostalOne! mailers enter campaigns. You may also edit campaigns here. Are you ready to get started?

Direct Mail Design: Color

Designing for direct mail can be broken up into three segments: layout, color/images and copy. Since these can all be real challenges, we will take on each section in depth in separate posts to give you a better understanding and some ideas, as well as tips to get you started on the path to a great direct mail piece. Now let’s look at Section 2: Color.

Designing for direct mail can be broken up into three segments: layout, color/images and copy. Since these can all be real challenges, we will take on each section in depth in separate posts to give you a better understanding and some ideas, as well as tips to get you started on the path to a great direct mail piece.

Section 2: Color
Color, imagery and texture can greatly enhance the mail piece experience. Sometimes picking colors and images can be a challenge as well. How do you know what colors to choose? How should you pick the right images?

Here are eight colors and some of the meanings behind them:

  1. Red: Commands attention, alerts us, creates sense of urgency, risk, danger and aggressiveness.
  2. Yellow: Sunshine hue, spiritual color, represents warning, happiness, warmth, bright shades can be irritable to the eye in large quantities, often used to highlight or draw attention.
  3. Green: Money, nature, environmental concerns, freedom, healing and tranquility, is calming, refreshing, easy on the eyes.
  4. Blue: Suggests fiscal responsibility, inspires confidence, darker shades are authoritative, dark and bright shades represent trust, security, dignity, paler shades imply freshness and cleanliness.
  5. Orange: Warmth, instills sense of fun and excitement, implies health, cheer, makes product seem more affordable.
  6. White: Associated with innocence, purity, peace and contentment, considered clean and sterile, cool and refreshing, can have a calming, stabilizing influence.
  7. Black: Ultimate power color, suggests strength, authority, boldness, seriousness, stability and elegance, distinguished and classic, too much can be ominous.
  8. Brown: Associated with nature and the earth, associated with warmth and coziness, suggests richness, politeness, helpfulness and effectiveness, solid, credible.

Now that you have a basic idea of what the colors can mean, sit down and decide which colors and combinations are going to add impact to your layout. We discussed the layout in section one, feel free to review that again by clicking here.

After picking your colors, you need to decide on your images. Carefully consider your message as you approach design. The images you choose should not conflict with your message or your brand. Make sure to show the images to people outside the organization to see if they make the same associations you do.

Here are five things to consider when selecting images:

  1. Do not use images of just the product. Include people and real settings for a more realistic and connected approach.
  2. Match the emotional tone of the design to the emotion conveyed in the image.
  3. Images should not conflict with your color scheme.
  4. Select images that convey your message so that you can use less text.
  5. Include your logo. You need to always reaffirm the brand by using the logo.

So by making color and image choices that complement each other you are on your way to a great mail piece. When conflicts arise between different elements in the design of direct mail it can be a confusing message for the recipient. This ultimately means you mail is going in the trash and you wasted your money. Clear and concise elements that work together to for your message are key to getting the increase in your ROI.

How an Already Damaged Reputation Got Worse and Worse

We’ve all witnessed how impaired corporate or brand image can undermine both consumer trust and financial performance. Recently, Target’s CEO was relieved of his duties because of the massive customer account security breach which occurred during his watch. The poster child of negative reputation, at least in the U.S., has been British Petroleum. BP’s then-president of U.S. operations was forced from office because of some ill-conceived and dismissive language, and BP’s corporate behavior since the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster has been of little help in image recovery.

We’ve all witnessed how impaired corporate or brand image can undermine both consumer trust and financial performance. Recently, Target’s CEO was relieved of his duties because of the massive customer account security breach which occurred during his watch. The poster child of negative reputation, at least in the U.S., has been British Petroleum. BP’s then-president of U.S. operations was forced from office because of some ill-conceived and dismissive language, and BP’s corporate behavior since the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster has been of little help in image recovery.

British Petroleum has recently “celebrated” four years of cleanup and payout in the Gulf by announcing the end of active cleanup of the 500 miles of coastline from Louisiana to Florida, the result of 87 consecutive days of oil pouring from the Deepwater Horizon rig of its Macondo Project. After dealing with issues over the health and economic impact by setting up a multibillion-dollar cleanup fund, conducting a massive image PR repair campaign, and paying huge federal fines, BP had originally agreed to keep its corporate cash register open for environmental and business claims as long as they were what the company termed as “legitimate.” Though this began as an eagerness to address and settle these damages as a way to manage its impaired reputation, it has now devolved into legal, and very public, name-calling between BP and claimants.

Not including Federal fines, BP’s payout to Gulf Region businesses and residents has thusfar totaled almost $10 billion. The sheer volume and financially cascading nature of these claims, it turns out, was way beyond BP’s reckoning; and the company began to openly challenge many of them as “nonexistent and artificially calculated” in court. In mid-2013, BP even took out full-page ads in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, claiming that attorneys were filing dubious and hyper-inflated claims on behalf of Gulf-area businesses. As stated by a BP spokesperson at the time, “The litigation is seeking to rectify the misinterpretations of the settlement that have led to inflated, exaggerated or wholly fictitious claims … will continue unabated.” Not exactly image-restoring language, and a direct slap at the federal judge who drafted the financial agreement.. By the Fall of 2013, BP’s attorneys were appealing one out of every five claims received.

BP was also receiving massive negative publicity due to both real and suspected improprieties among its legal staff involved in processing claims, with one lawyer fired for accepting fees from claimants and another lawyer resigning. The suspicions were so strong that the Freeh Group, a firm headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, was brought in (by a consortium of attorneys and BP) to investigate. Numerous “inappropriate” actions by the claims department were uncovered in the investigation; and one sidebar result was that, following the publication of its report, the Freeh Group took a more visible and active role in overseeing claims.

One result of this outside claims takeover has been more rigorous inspection of individual claims, even taking back payments (which Freeh’s team was empowered to do), if the original payment was deemed excessive or illegitimate. BP has been public about its support of the added scrutiny; while area attorneys and local government and other civic officials have noted how this has stifled claims filings.

Still, even as BP has pulled back in the Gulf, and gotten people to stop filing, it has left continued sore feelings by claimants, and those whose claims are either under investigation or still yet to be resolved. An example of this is a shrimper from Slidell. After extensive documentation consisting of multiple years of tax returns, financial statements and shrimping reports showing the vast sums the Louisiana shrimper had lost over several seasons, directly as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill, he was paid about 7 percent of what had been claimed. To keep his business going, he had to take out loans. He also refiled his claim, but BP delayed it by beginning yet another investigation into his filing papers. As he told the area press: “BP is giving me the runaround.” Is this really the way to reclaim trust and bring back its image?

The Demotion of the Open Rate

For years, marketers have been tracking open rates and using this stat for everything from choosing the best time to send to validating the deliverability of a particular email-automation vendor; and well, everything in between. With more and more email being opened on mobile devices, Gmail caching images, and fewer recipients choosing to download images (perhaps accounting for as much as 40 percent of your audience), the open rate simply isn’t what it used to be—not that it was ever all that accurate

For years, marketers have been tracking open rates and using this stat for everything from choosing the best time to send to validating the deliverability of a particular email-automation vendor; and well, everything in between. With more and more email being opened on mobile devices, Gmail caching images, and fewer recipients choosing to download images (perhaps accounting for as much as 40 percent of your audience), the open rate simply isn’t what it used to be—not that it was ever all that accurate.

Charting a high open rate does not necessarily equate to clicks or conversions, but this has always been true. You might have written the most fabulous or enticing subject line and enjoyed a very high open rate, only to have failed to deliver the message and lost in the long run.

The Mobile Effect
Mobile devices are lowering the dependability of the open rate for some analysis, too. Most people scan emails on their devices and save only those they wish to read or act upon later. Emails that don’t answer an immediate need, or that are not relevant, may be deleted prematurely and without much recipient consideration. Even with responsive designs, the recipient is less likely to take advantage of an offer on a smartphone than on a tablet or desktop device, it’s simply easier to engage on a bigger screen.

Open Rate Increases
Gmail’s new image caching system automatically downloads images, and, for those recipients using Gmail or Google Apps, this can further affect your open rate tracking—your open rate will likely increase. The first open will be tracked correctly by most ESPs, but subsequent (repeat) opens by the same recipient will likely decrease. Unique opens, like opens, will become more accurate.

As with Gmail and Google Apps, iPhone and iPad devices download images by default. If you’re tracking your stats year over year, this increase in open rates by Gmail and iOS users will affect your ability to accurately assess your campaigns.

You may find that your open rates increase, but click-through rates do not, resulting in lower click-to-open rates.

Best Time to Send
Some email automation systems, such as Variant4, are able to send messages at the same time as the last open from the recipient, and this can be useful, but determining the right time to send based upon open rates alone will be misleading for the reasons stated earlier. When possible, opt for the previous engagement time, since if the open occurred on a mobile device, the click or conversion may have taken place later from a desktop device and that actually represents the better time for future sends.

Ensuring your content is on the mark is more important than ever as this is the driving force behind clicks and conversions (and not opens). Getting your audience to engage will gain you future priority placement in the inbox rather than a continued relegation to the promotion tab of Gmail.

Still Some Value
As undependable as the open rate has become, it does still represent some value—especially for segmentation and A/B testing of subject lines, for instance. Show caution when basing your conclusions on open rate alone and take the necessary steps to validate your finding through other supporting metrics.

Design Wins
As more email providers download images by default, we as marketers make a major win in the design arena. No longer will we have to design text formats and forfeit brand recognition. Our emails will be displayed in the manner in which we had intended all along.

Surviving Email Errors: It’s About the Perception

Let me start this article with an admission: I hate typos. Further: I make typos. Yet, in this day of electronic, casual-communication devices used for texting and chatting, the boundary between business and personal communications has been blurred. As this casual style edges into our business correspondence, and marketing messaging, we run the risk of causing harm to both our and our brand’s image.

Let me start this article with an admission: I hate typos. Further: I make typos. Unfortunately, I also subscribe to the premise that to be considered a professional, you must sound like a professional. Yet, in this day of electronic, casual-communication devices used for texting and chatting, the boundary between business and personal communications has been blurred, and I believe we have become less sensitive to typographical errors and more receptive to text shorthand, even when the type of correspondence calls for something far more formal. As this casual style edges into our business correspondence, and marketing messaging, we run the risk of causing harm to both our and our brand’s image.

Despite my abhorrence for the misspelled word and my dependence upon editors to ensure I toe the line, my writing is seldom (perhaps never) perfect, and I suffer great angst on the occasions when I find a string of badly ordered letters hidden in plain sight within my writings.

Undaunted, my quest for the perfect content continues, and with good reason: The Web Credibility Project conducted by the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab found that typos are one of the top factors for which a website’s credibility is reduced. If this is true of websites, surely the same can be said about other content we marketers produce, including emails.

According to a University of Michigan and University of Maryland study on grammatical evaluation and social evaluation (opens as a pdf), in general, homophonous grammatical errors (e.g., your/you’re) affected judgment and readability more severely than typographical errors (e.g., teh) or hypercorrections (e.g., invited John and I), but all typos have shown to have a negative impact on how you and your organization is perceived, and how receptive your recipients will be to a message with a typographical error. Typos imply carelessness and irresponsibility, especially when you are creating content on behalf of your clients.

When You Err
Many marketers believe that when a typo makes it through, they should immediately issue a correction or apology, but this is not always the best response. You need to keep the gravity of the error in perspective and resist the urge to panic. Take an objective look at the error and evaluate how egregious the error. If the error is statistical data or other numbers, it’s likely more important to address it than if the error is a typographical error such as teh. Likewise, if the error occurs in your subject line, this alone can adversely affect your open rate, so sending out a second email with a new subject line may be appropriate. On the other hand, sending a second email might well be more than your recipients will tolerate, and the correction email could be marked as spam or elicit an unsubscribe simply because it came so closely on the heels of the first. A balance must be reached.

If you find that you’ve made a mistake in your email, take a deep breath and:

  1. Assess the damage. Evaluate the impact of the mistake. Ask yourself questions such as: How many emails were sent? How does the open and click-thru rate compare with other emails of the same type? Was the typo offensive? Will the typo cause a negative perception of our brand? Will the typo cause your customer harm or lead to misinformation? If the typo is a pricing error or incorrect date, it may have a far-reaching impact on your company, in which case a correction is mandatory.
  2. Choose an appropriate response. Once your assessment is complete, work with your colleagues and management to draft an appropriate response, one in step with the gravity of the error. If you do decide that sending a second email is called for, follow these tips:
    • Act quickly. In many cases, a speedy follow up will be seen before the original email.
    • Be upfront. Write a subject line and preheader text that gets directly to the point: You are making a correction.
    • Apologize, without excuses. Take ownership of the error, be frank, and say you’re sorry. Don’t belabor the point with excuses that may well come off insincere or seem as though you want to blame everyone but yourself. Use words such as “correction,” “oops,” or “we apologize,” so your recipients immediately know why they are receiving a second email so soon.
    • Improve the offer. If the typo is concerning an offer on which you cannot deliver, offer them something better.
    • Mind your brand. Be brand consistent, but self-deprecation or humor can be a good approach.
    • Reach out socially. Use your social networks to further acknowledge the error (especially effective with humor) and offer ways your constituents can reach you with questions or support needs.
    • Vet programmatic solutions. In some cases, and depending upon which email automation solution you use, hyperlink errors can be fixed programmatically. While you cannot change the text of the email once sent, be sure to speak with the support team to glean options for fixing the underlying link. If the typo is in the form of an incorrect image, you may well be able to swap the image so that any unopened emails will display the correct image. If the email has been opened but is later opened again, the new image should appear there as well. In this case, a correction will only need to be sent to those recipients who opened the email before you corrected the error.
  3. Monitor analytics. Once assessed and addressed, your email software should be able to provide you with ample analytics about how things went. Keep a close eye on the open, click-through, and unsubscribe rates—these are the best places to discern the level of damage done.

We all make mistakes in our content, but it’s important that we learn from them and learn to avoid them. Here is a collection of tips that may help you avoid the need for an apology altogether:

  • Write your email content in Word and use autocorrect, spell check and grammar check. It won’t be perfect, so don’t depend on it solely, but it can highlight possible areas that need a closer look.
  • Printed emails are usually easier to proofread and pass around for others to review.
  • Read the text aloud, preferably to an audience.
  • Have a child read the text aloud to you. Children are more likely to read exactly what they see since they are typically unfamiliar with the content.
  • Read the text backward, from end to beginning.
  • Send draft emails to a select group on whom you can rely to read the content carefully and thoroughly.
  • Reread and proofread each time you make changes. Many typos are injected after content has passed through proofreading and while you are making on-the-fly and last-minute changes. Resend your draft email to your test group after all last-minute changes have been completed.

It’s one thing to make the occasional error, but quite another to consistently send emails with errors. Each error will erode your customers’ confidence and thus, damage your reputation and this can be a lasting impression. When asked of their perception of companies who send emails with errors, people use words such as “careless,” “rushed,” “inattentive to detail,” “incompetent,” “uneducated,” and “stupid.”

Your email typos might find their way to the inbox of a charitable person who is willing to overlook your error, or to someone simply too busy to notice, but odds are a customer, colleague or [gasp] your boss will notice and will assume that you are careless or uncaring—neither of which is ideal for your continued employment.

If you are sending SMS messages or posting to your social media, you’ll find that these mediums offer a bit more forgiveness, and what might seem like an apology-worthy error in email is a simple snafu socially or in text messaging. Though the formats are forgiving, there is still a call for professionalism, so resist with all your might the urge to use text shorthand in any type of business message, regardless of the vehicle.

Your content sets the recipients’ expectation, establishes you as an authority, and validates your knowledge of the industry. Typos can change this perception in a heartbeat, especially when repeated. Take the time to ensure your content is error-free and you will continue to foster a positive relationship with your recipients—and look brilliant in the process.

As a matter of record, my worst typo was a caption for the photo of a three-star general’s wife, where I noted that she was a “lonely lady rather than the “lovely lady” the client described. What’s yours?

YouTube vs. Vimeo: Learn From Our Promotional Hiccup

No one likes a hiccup in their promotion—especially when you expected your message to spread virally on Facebook, but it wouldn’t as easily. More frustrating? It wasn’t a Facebook problem, but the inability to choose an acceptable thumbnail frame on YouTube that would satisfy Facebook’s advertising rules. The solution? Use Vimeo and YouTube and leverage the strength of both. It’s less than convenient, but using both services enabled us to use the best of both worlds

No one likes a hiccup in their promotion—especially when you expected your message to spread virally on Facebook, but it wouldn’t as easily. More frustrating? It wasn’t a Facebook problem, but the inability to choose an acceptable thumbnail frame on YouTube that would satisfy Facebook’s advertising rules. The solution? Use Vimeo and YouTube and leverage the strength of both. It’s less than convenient, but using both services enabled us to use the best of both worlds.

We’re in the midst of a short video test for a performing arts organization. We’ve started a contest using short video clips as a way to introduce new music to the fan base, build engagement and ultimately sell concert tickets to a series of performances in mid-April.

In today’s blog, we’ve described an issue that arose for our first video when we posted it on Facebook. It didn’t really hurt the campaign, but rather, reduced our viral reach. Fortunately, we had alternatives and we figured out how to fix the issue for our second video. This is learning that will be important to you if you plan to post videos on Facebook and use promoted posts and pay-per-click advertising to generate more traffic to the video.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)

We’ve used promoted posts in the past. Based on our use of Facebook promoted posts last Christmas, and the fact that Christmas show ticket sales were up 20 percent over a year earlier, we believe those promoted posts contributed to the sales increase. And we certainly know that using promoted posts grew our number of fans.

When we posted our first video in this series for the April Shows, we used the promoted post option as we’ve done before. But this time, a few hours later, we received an email notification from Facebook that the promoted post wasn’t approved.

We figured out the reason, and it was that our thumbnail video image had too much text on it to meet Facebook promoted post standards. With YouTube hosting the video, you have little flexibility over the thumbnail image you want. The ability to choose an image is important if you want to use paid promoted posts on Facebook. If you want to promote a post, Facebook requires 80 percent or more of the image to be a photograph or other graphic treatment, and only 20 percent text.

While Facebook still included the video on our page and it was visible and played for our fans, it meant our post would not be promoted to friends of fans.

Thankfully there is an alternative in Vimeo. Vimeo allows the user to choose the exact frame from the video you want to appear when the video isn’t playing. So for our second video, a frame was created where the text was less than 20 percent of the image.

Facebook approved the promoted post, which enabled us to also create a pay-per-click advertising program. In the meantime, the video was also posted on YouTube, which we use for the video on our landing page.

Learn more in today’s video about our experience. We also describe in more detail the pros and cons of YouTube vs. Vimeo.

In the meantime, please share your comments, suggestions and experiences. We’re all learning here together, and we hope you’re enjoying the ride.

6 Video Presentation Tips to Elevate Your Online Marketing

The video you create is but one component of your online direct marketing campaign. Yes, the video is what viewers are driven to—it’s the vehicle that delivers your story. However, without lists, email and landing page copywriting and design, blog comments and posts, social media entries, pay-per-click ads, YouTube advertising, etc., your video

Online Video Marketing Deep Dive co-author Perry Alexander takes over this week while Gary is away.

The video you create is but one component of your online direct marketing campaign. Yes, the video is what viewers are driven to—it’s the vehicle that delivers your story. However, without lists, email and landing page copywriting and design, blog comments and posts, social media entries, pay-per-click ads, YouTube advertising, etc., your video stands little chance to be viewed.

Think of the parallel: We know that without the intentional series of steps to get our direct mail package into readers’ hands, opened and scanned long enough for them to catch the lead, there’s slim chance it’ll make any impact.

Just as the direct mail letter headline and lead must drive the reader to stick with it, so must the first few seconds of your video. Your video must create and instantly set the visual and auditory tone that will draw the viewer through those precious first few seconds and into your story.

My co-author and business colleague, Gary Hennerberg, is the master copywriter of our team and, as he says, I “make stuff look good.” I make sure the story isn’t overshadowed by lousy presentation or distractions, which can repel, or at least divert the reader. Let’s go through some of the ways to make your video command attention—during the first few seconds and beyond.

  1. Bad audio will douse viewers’ interest long before bad video will. Don’t rely on your on-camera mike or, worse, your computer mike. You’ve heard these videos—they sound like they were recorded in a barrel or a cave. Viewer’s interpretation: Your presentation was slapped together, therefore your product or service is, too, so why should I bother listening?
    The Deep Dive:
    If your camera has a mike input, use a lav mike (Gary and I each use a $25 Audio-Technica). If there’s no external mike input on your camera, use a digital voice recorder to record quality sound, either through its built-in mikes or plug the lav mike into it (we both use the same $100 Sony recorder). Then, in editing, sync the audio from both the camera and voice recorder, then mute the camera audio. The mechanics of this are tricky at first, but once you’ve done it a couple of times it becomes routine and your sound is crisp and clear.
  2. Bad video won’t help matters. A webcam video looks like, well, you used a webcam—even an HD webcam. Not only is the image soft, but exposure is usually off, color isn’t great, and what about all that stuff in the background behind you? The message struggles to get out. Again, it screams that your story doesn’t deserve the viewer’s consideration. It’s just a throwaway webcam production about a throwaway idea. What does your viewer do? Click away to something else after just a few seconds.
    The Deep Dive:
    You wouldn’t dream of tossing a half-baked direct mail piece out into the market, expecting it to convince your audience of the value of whatever you’re offering them, would you? Anything that distracts from the message must be stripped away so only the message is noticed. Same with video. Get a $100 Flip or Sony camera and a tripod, or even the latest iPhone. Better: spend $400 for an HD video camera for long-form videos. If your shots are under 5-10 minutes each, use your DSLR. (We use a $100 flip-type camera on Gary’s videos.)
  3. On-camera jitters? Maybe the prospect of speaking into a camera lens is frightening, or at least off-putting. Really, though, after several miserable attempts, you will improve. Evenutally you get to where you imagine you’re just talking with another person in the room, and your fear melts away.
    The Deep Dive:
    Your job is to tell the story. How? Reveal your personality and mastery. Build trust. The call-to-action will produce nothing for you until after that’s all been established. Consider being in front of the camera just long enough to introduce your premise, then moving into slides, charts, photos, graphics or other images that tell your story. That way, you don’t have to memorize a long script. You can refer to notes as you narrate what’s on screen. On-camera script reading is usually deadly, anyway. If you’re on screen for a quick 20-30 seconds, know your stuff. Roll through several takes until you’ve looked that monster in the eye (lens), and said your piece naturally, completely, and with relaxed authority. Now you have their attention and trust!
  4. Stock photos, stock footage, stock music, stock sound effects? You’ve seen the websites with stiff and trite stock photos. Somebody, please explain what that might ever accomplish, because we’ve all seen that picture a thousand times. Filler doesn’t move the story along. But, relevant graphics that work can emphasize a point quickly and vividly. An occasional “foley” sound effect can emphasize a point, just don’t overuse transition swooshes, or they’ll become distracting gimmicks.
    The Deep Dive:
    Map out your storyline. What images will support or clarify what you’re saying? Use images that are specific to your product, service, technique, timeliness, etc. Short of that, invest time finding stock images, footage, music or sounds. It’s all online, and for not much money. YouTube and Vimeo even offer stock music beds you can use at no cost. But be careful in your choices. Be brutal in editing. Anything that distracts or detracts from your story and message, leading to your call-to-action, must be cut.
  5. Go short or go long? Conventional wisdom, born out by YouTube analytics, is that video viewer falloff is precipitous after the first 30 seconds or less. So, does that mean we must never consider creating a 3-minute or, horrors, a 15-minute video? Perhaps. Remember, everything must serve to support the story. Do that right, and they’ll stay with you.
    The Deep Dive:
    Conventional wisdom has always warned us not to use long-form copy in letters. However, seasoned, successful copywriters know that a well-told story will hold interest across 2, 4, even 16 pages. Same with video. Don’t rush to push features, advantages, benefits. Find the relevant hook, then reveal, build and educate about the issue. Lead them to want—then crave—the answer to the quandary or dilemma you’re setting up. Now, the sales copy tastes like good soup.
  6. Editing is half the storytelling. Putting up an unedited video is like mailing the first draft of your letter. It’s probably loose, meandering, dulling to the senses. Resist, revise and remove whatever doesn’t move your story along!
    The Deep Dive:
    Video editing brings clarity and precision to your story. The pace and direction are honed so the viewer is drawn in and held through the call-to-action. It’s an interwoven dance of timing, splicing, movement, color, design, sound, mood and the ruthless removal of what’s not contributing. But, you need two things: A) the knack to know when it’s right and when it’s not and, B) mastery of a video editing program, so you can accomplish your vision.

There’s so much more to cover, but perhaps you’re getting a sense of how online video marketing requires many skills and decisions so familiar to the direct mail pro. Different tools … different vehicles … similar foundational concepts. As always, we invite your comments, criticism or questions.

Drop me an email, and we’ll get you the list of resources, brand names, part numbers and such of what we’ve found works in our ever-evolving video marketing tool chest: perry@acm-initiatives.com

What Social Sites Should YOU Be Using?

Most people know about mega-popular social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, I get a lot of questions about other, underutilized sites that are on the tipping point of mass popularity—specifically, how these sites can be leveraged for marketing purposes.

Most people know about mega-popular social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, I get a lot of questions about other, underutilized sites that are on the tipping point of mass popularity—specifically, how these sites can be leveraged for marketing purposes.

But before I go into that, I’d like to clarify the differences between various “social”-type sites:

Social bookmarking, news and tagging are sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Delicious and Pinterest. These websites allow users to “bookmark” things they like—content, images, videos, websites—and allow others in the community to see what’s been bookmarked and “follow,” if they wish. This is the epitome of viral marketing and community interaction. When groups of people are like-minded, it’s fun and easy to share feedback of things of common interest. For business purposes, it’s also a strong way to bond with your audience through content, news and images that are synergistic and leverage those interests for increased website traffic and more.

Social networking sites are communities like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus. It’s a way for groups of people to meet and stay in touch with each other, for personal and professional purposes. People can friend, follow or fan someone based on affiliation or interest. Another new site is Quora.com, which is a social question and answer site. Users can view by category and post questions or answers on virtually any business-related topic.

Social media refers to sites like Youtube, Flicker or Tumblr, where groups of users share media content such as video, audio or pictures (photos). There’s also new sites like Spotify.com, which are social music sharing sites, where users can listen to mp3 files themselves, as well as with friends, via Facebook.

The following are some social sites that you may want to include in your online marketing mix as well as some other tactical tidbits:

  • Pinterest.com is a social community where users “pin” (think of a bulletin board) things that they like. Quite simply, it’s a virtual pin board. Users can re-pin (which promotes viral marketing) or follow someone with the same interest. Pinterest is a fun site because it focuses on the visual element. You can leverage your keyword-rich content when you add your descriptive text to your “pin.” In addition, Pinterest asks for your URL, which will be a back-link to that webpage. This will encourage search engine marketing, branding and webpage traffic. Pinterest uses graphics, images (pics) and video pictures. And that’s what will grab community members’ attention, along with well-written descriptive text.

Important Tip! For marketing purposes, you can use Pinterest to promote your business or websites related to your business, such as landing pages, squeeze pages, product pages and more. What’s important to know is that if your website, or the webpages you’re thinking of pinning are flash (dynamic) webpages, you will be unable to “pin” it, as there’s no static images on a flash page for Pinterest to “grab” for posting.

So if you’re thinking about using testing Pinterest in your social marketing plan, make sure to pick websites or modify your own webpages to be graphic-, image- or video-rich. Also, like any marketing tactics you’re testing, make sure it’s in sync with your overall marketing plan and target audience.

If you’re target audience is an older crowd, then this may not be the best website, or channel, to reach them.

  • Quora.com is a great online resource community of questions and answers. If you want to reinforce yourself as an expert, you can search questions related to your area of expertise and post responses that are useful, valuable and actionable. If you have a legitimate question about any topic, you can post by category and view replies from others who may be versed in that field. Quora is a great way to create visibility for yourself. As well, it allows you to upload relevant back-links which encourage website traffic and linkbuilding.

Important Tip! It’s important to keep a steady presence on Quora. Stick to your areas of expertise (categories and topics). Make sure you have a keyword rich descriptive bio about yourself and include back-links to relevant websites. As with most all search, social and content marketing strategies—relevance and usefulness is key. All of these things help with credibility and branding. In addition, Quora’s pages are indexed by search engines and do appear in organic search engine results pages (SERPs). That, in and of itself, can expand your reach and visibility, which can lead to increased website traffic, which can then be parlayed into leads or sales.

  • Digg.com.com is one of my favorite content bookmarking sites. You can upload content “snippets” or news nuggets. The site will also pull in any images and well as back-links appearing on the same page as your content. Content can be given a “category,” so that the right readers will find it. The more popular your content (number of “digs”), the more people in the community it gets exposed to. Viral marketing and traffic generation (to the source website in the “digg”) are typical outcomes from this website. Reddit.com is a similar site, which allows users to upload a content excerpts (article, video, picture) and link to the full version. This is a great site to increase your market visibility and extend reach. It’s also a powerful platform to drive website traffic.

Important Tip! Use content that is “UVA”—useful, valuable and actionable, something newsworthy and/or interesting to your target reader. It’s very important to have a strong, eye-catching or persuasive headline that people in the community will want to read. There’s so much background noise on Digg that you want your content/headline to jump out at the reader. Also, include a back-link in the body copy you are uploading. This will help with branding, link-building and traffic generation. With Reddit, your content excerpt space is limited, so make sure to pick content that will not only resonate with the target audience, but also screams out to the reader to “click here” to read more. Then link to your full article, which should be posted on an inside page of your website.

  • Google+. Google Plus is Google’s attempt at social networking. It’s not as popular … yet … as behemoth Facebook (900 million users as of April 2012), but it’s got “teeth,” at around 90 million users. And because it’s Google, there’s some great search-friendly benefits built right in. For example, it’s indexed by Google, so your messages can get found faster. This helps with search engine visibility and website traffic.

Important Tip! For business purposes, you can share relevant information and personalize your “social” circles; thereby, targeting your message better for each group. It’s easy to share and rank (a combination of Digg and Facebook) content such as posts and messages. And there’s also a variety of sharing options like content, video, photos (similar to Pinterest, Flickr and YouTube).

With social marketing, it’s a matter of matching the content type to the most synergistic platform and audience. Social marketing may not be for every business. But I believe it’s certainly worth a strategic test. Just remember an old copywriting rule of thumb, which is “know your audience.” If you know who your target reader (prospect) is, then you can craft enticing messages and pick social platforms where those prospects are likely to congregate.

Most any social marketing site can be leveraged for marketing and business purposes. But make sure to keep your messages fun, entertaining, engaging and interactive. Because, after all, that’s what the “social” in “social marketing” is all about.