Numbers Don’t Lie: Gen X, Can You Handle the Truth?

If you’re a Gex Xer, chances are since you’ve been in the workforce, for better or for worse you’ve lived in the shadow of the Baby Boomers. They’re the ones who have hired you, fired you … and most certainly always held the best jobs. The more I think about the marketing world, the more I realize that there’s an important undercurrent here, one that will have a tremendous impact on Gen X, and quite possibly Gen Y, as well.

If you’re Gen X, that means you were born in the ’70s, grew up in the ’80s and came of age in the ’90s, or something like that. You grew up listening to music like Van Halen, Run DMC, The Smiths and Nirvana. You went to school, and probably began working sometime during the second Clinton Administration, beginning to pay off your student loans. It was an exciting time to enter the labor force, just as the digital revolution was beginning to take hold.

Like many others in my generation, I entered the labor force in the mid-’90s. My first job was with a marketing firm. I was hired by a Baby Boomer, a nice woman named Stephanie about 20 years my senior. Marketing at the time was still pretty old school, but it was there where I was given my first work PC, set up with my first email address, and taught to surf this new thing called the World Wide Web using what was then the state-of-the-art browser called Netscape.

If you’re a Gex Xer, chances are since you’ve been in the workforce, for better or for worse you’ve lived in the shadow of the Baby Boomers. They’re the ones who have hired you, fired you … and most certainly always held the best jobs. The more I think about the marketing world, the more I realize that there’s an important undercurrent here, one that will have a tremendous impact on Gen X, and quite possibly Gen Y, as well.

You see, last time I talked about a transition that’s taking place in the marketing world, as an older generation of brand stewards gives way to a new generation of digital marketers. I explained this trend was set to accelerate in coming years due to the rapidly changing nature of marketing itself, which is becoming more data driven, technology focused and operational in nature. In case you missed it, you can read about this topic in “3 Ways Rank-and-File Marketers Matter to the C-Suite in a Brave New Marketing World.”

In the marketing world (not in tech, but most definitely in the rest of corporate America), most high-level roles are still staffed by Boomers. What I find very interesting is that for the most part, the vast majority of Baby Boomers (with some notable exceptions, of course) are not especially digital people. Many have learned to live and work in the digital world and quite well, but when I see my dad fumble around on his feature phone I most definitely can see a huge gap.

So the transition I mentioned above will essentially be a passing of the baton, as the Boomers recede from the picture and are replaced by the next generation of marketers. Now here’s where it gets really interesting. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a Baby Boomer is someone who was born between 1946 and 1964. Ranging in age from 48 to 66, Baby Boomers aren’t getting any younger. Generation X spans the years 1965 to 1983, more or less, while Gen Y is from 1985 to 2003. Now let’s take a look at the size of these three generations:

  • Baby Boomers: 79 million
  • Gen X: 41 million
  • Gen Y: 85 million

What this means is that in the marketing world if you’re a Gen Xer, your time to lead is coming. If you look at the numbers above, you can see there will there be a huge leadership void that will need to be filled as the Boomers retire during the next few years … as a small generation replaces a huge one. The economic crisis during the past for years may have postponed their retirement. But any way you slice it, the Baby Boomers will soon begin retiring more or less en masse during the next few years. When they go, they will leave huge leadership vacuum behind.

But that’s not all. In today’s marketing world, playing a leadership role will require both digital and managerial experience. This means that if you’re a Gen Xer with digital marketing and managerial experience, you’re literally going to be worth your weight in gold in coming years as the generational transition accelerates.

Don’t believe me? Just wait and see. And if you’re not ready to rise to the occasion, guess what? There are 85 million hungry and talented digital natives in Gen Y itching to move up ahead and take your place. If anything, they are the most digital generation yet. At this point, they’re still young and have yet to acquire the years of on-the-job experience it takes to succeed in a high-level marketing job. But give them some time and that will certainly change.

So, Gen X, are you up for the job? To quote Jack Nicholson is the classic 1992 movie A Few Good Men, “Can you handle the truth?” If not, Gen Y will be there waiting in the wings, happy to swoop in and take your place.

Any questions or feedback, as usual I’d love to hear it.

—Rio

Challenge Emails: ‘Go Away. We Don’t Want You.’

“Stay in touch?” That was the headline on an email I got today from the folks at Pitney Bowes. What was notable, however, was the first line of copy: “We notice it’s been a while since you opened an email from us …” I honestly can’t decide if this is a strategic insight gone awry, or a little creepy.

“Stay in touch?” That was the headline on a challenge email I got today from the folks at Pitney Bowes. What was notable, however, was the first line of copy: “We notice it’s been a while since you opened an email from us …” I honestly can’t decide if this is a strategic insight gone awry, or a little creepy.

Email open rates are a misunderstood analytics tool; take a minute and follow my logic:

  • According to Campaign Monitor, the most popular email client is Outlook. And, according to MarketingSherpa, over 50 percent of consumers use a preview feature to view emails.
  • Nearly 40 percent of email clients block images by default.
  • Conclusion: If you read your email via preview pane (or not), and don’t download the images, your “open” is not being recorded as an “open” and in this instances, that seems to make Momma a very bad girl.

Bottom line is this: Pitney Bowes really doesn’t know whether I am reading their emails or not. They’ve assumed I am NOT since I am not downloading the images contained in their emails. And, it seems, they believe I am not reading their “valuable information about supplies, offers, discounts, new products and thought leadership pieces.”

If I wasn’t opening/reading them before, they’ve certainly given me a good reason to unsubscribe now. Like many companies, Pitney Bowes needs to stop thinking their marketing messages need to be about THEM, and start thinking about what might be deemed interesting (and therefore valuable) to ME.

Funnily enough, the last email I got from Pitney Bowes two weeks earlier, was another little smack across the hand for my apparent bad behavior. The subject line “Don’t miss out” didn’t compel me to even open that email, but the message was even worse! They noted that it had been a while since they had heard from me—Really? It’s not like we were corresponding or anything—and they wanted to know if I was still interested in getting emails from them. I had to confirm my interest by July 15 in order to “continue receiving the latest from PB.”

Needless to say I didn’t open nor respond; but that didn’t stop them from sending this weeks’ email to me.

In a world where businesses spend an inordinate amount of time (and money!) trying to collect email addresses for ongoing engagement with their customers, PB seems to want to sever the ties with me. And all because I’m (apparently) not opening their email messages.

I think the good folks in PB marketing need this little wake up call: While I appreciate that you think I’m not reading your emails and therefore may no longer be interested in your products/services/thought leadership pieces, you might want to wait for me to unsubscribe. Or better yet, try sending me emails with content that is actually of value to me and my organization. Oh, and here’s a hint: Don’t make that content about YOUR products/services.

USPS Talks Sustainability and Its Performance Returns for 2011

The United States Postal Service (USPS) recently released its fourth annual report on sustainability practices and performance. The document serves as a blueprint for any company or brand in the marketing field on how to report progress and hurdles toward improved triple-bottom line performance (financial, social and environmental, being the three bottom lines), and to illustrate the business case for doing so.

Our mantra is ‘leaner, greener, smarter, faster.’ To achieve these goals, we’re adjusting the size of our workforce and delivery network, eliminating waste, reducing energy consumption and encouraging our employees and customers to conserve. When the Postal Service is more efficient, everyone benefits.
—USPS Postmaster General & CEO Pat Donahoe, USPS 2011 Sustainability Report

The United States Postal Service (USPS) recently released its fourth annual report on sustainability practices and performance. The document serves as a blueprint for any company or brand in the marketing field on how to report progress and hurdles toward improved triple-bottom line performance (financial, social and environmental, being the three bottom lines), and to illustrate the business case for doing so.

Transparency is the hallmark of sustainability reporting, just as it is for financial-only reporting. According to the report’s summary, the USPS adhered to version 3.0 of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)—”the most widely respected international reporting standard for public sustainability performance disclosure”—for the report’s structure and detail.

For marketers, the report highlights some valuable information and insights on USPS operations, and what opportunities and challenges lay ahead for direct mail. Consider these findings, quoted in first person from the report:

  • RECYCLING—Our recycling efforts had a banner year with $24 million in revenue. We recycled more than 215,000 tons of material in 2011. By using our distribution network in new ways, improving contract services and working with recycling vendors to maximize revenue through economies of scale, we are starting to see results. Strong recyclable commodity pricing during 2011 played a part in our record revenue earnings, but the real story is a long-term strategy of continuous improvement. Also, by using our existing transportation network, we avoid fees from recycling vendors who would make costly stops at each local office. In FY 2011, more than 12,000 facilities participated in the backhaul recycling program, recycling more than 215,000 tons of mixed paper, cardboard, plastic and scrap metal—and earning $24.4 million in recycling revenue. We also encourage customers to recycle by asking them to discard unwanted mail in Post Office lobby recycling bins, instead of our trash cans. Our “Read, Respond and Recycle” mail lobby campaign was launched in 2009. More than 10,000 locations now offer customers lobby mail recycling. This effort continues to reduce waste being sent to landfills.
  • FACILITY ENERGY USE—Our progress toward reducing facility energy use 30 percent by 2015 continues to exceed our annual targets despite a slight increase in facility energy use this year. Since 2003, the Postal Service has reduced total facility energy use by more than 25 percent, nearly the amount of energy used by 90,000 average U.S. households in a year. USPS also reduced energy intensity, which is energy use per square foot of building space, by 22.4 percent in the same time period.
  • CARBON ACCOUNTING SUPPORT FOR MAILERS—We have been preparing a greenhouse gas emission inventory every year since 2007, and we now offer USPS BlueEarth, our new carbon accounting service so our business customers can determine their own carbon footprint for the mailing and shipping services the Postal Service provides. Postal Service business customers are increasingly requesting information about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with USPS services. The calculator [introduced earlier in 2012] uses proprietary USPS methodology to calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and takes into consideration the type of shipping or mailing product, size and weight, how it’s processed and transported and the distance the package or envelope travels. Energy awareness creates a culture of conservation at USPS.
  • RECOGNITION AMONG GOVERNMENT AGENCIES FOR GHG REDUCTIONS—We were awarded Gold status by The Climate Registry for leadership in reducing GHG emissions by more than 5 percent. Our overall target is to reduce GHG emissions 20 percent by FY 2020 using FY 2008 as a baseline. The Postal Service is among the first of the Registry’s more than 400 members and the first government agency to achieve the recognition. To report our GHG emissions, we are compliant with established protocols set forth by The Climate Registry, the International Post Corporation and under Federal Executive Order 13514 (of President Barack Obama, 2009).
  • LEADERSHIP TRAINING AT USPS INCLUDES SUSTAINABILITY’S BUSINESS CASE—The Postal Service’s leadership programs are designed to develop high-performing leaders to meet the changing needs of USPS into the future. They include a demanding curriculum offered over a six-month period, with classroom instruction and mentoring by existing and future executives on key topics in business finance, project management, leadership principles and presentation skills. The programs culminate with a business case presentation. The 2011 classes were challenged with creating a “sustainability business growth model” to improve USPS waste reduction and recycling and to develop strategies to engage employees in Green Team initiatives. The participants used their new understanding of sustainability to present a business case of their findings before an executive review panel chaired by Chief Sustainability Officer Tom Day.

Additionally the report documents transportation energy costs, as well as water use and conservation (arguably the next focused area for sustainability reporting after greenhouse gases).

Another element to postal sustainability, from a product development perspective, is the USPS’s focus on mail-back programs, working with product manufacturers and others on the creation and execution of services to return used goods (computers, printer cartridges, batteries, etc.) so they can be safely dissembled, disposed or recycled: “Postage‑paid mail envelopes are available in 1,600 Post Office lobbies. These envelopes can be used to ship small used electronics, such as cell phones, ink jet cartridges and digital cameras, to a centralized recycling center, where they’re broken down into usable parts. During 2011, customers recycled 185,000 items—about 22,000 pounds of material. Since the program began in 2008, more than a million electronic devices and printer cartridges have been kept out of landfills.”

There are skeptics—and some responders to this blog—who maintain that the Postal Service can’t afford to be chasing “go green” efforts when its financial life is on the line. Respectfully, I counter that it can’t afford not to! I commend USPS labor and management in their understanding—and leadership—in recognizing waste as a cost, and efficiency as a gain. Every postal customer should thank USPS and its green teams for this continued effort toward sustainability, in all its forms.

Here is the link to the full report: http://about.usps.com/what-we-are-doing/green/report/2011/welcome.htm

Five Ways to “Get Real” With B-to-B Social Media

Today, 89 percent of B-to-B marketers in the U.S. are using social media, says a study conducted by iTracks and the Business Marketing Association (BMA). In fact, B-to-B use of social media may have even eclipsed that of consumer marketers, according to another report from White Horse Productions. But the B-to-B marketers I talk to still sound confused. “What should I be doing,” they ask. “What’s really worth my time?”

Today, 89 percent of B-to-B marketers in the U.S. are using social media, says a study conducted by iTracks and the Business Marketing Association (BMA). In fact, B-to-B use of social media may have even eclipsed that of consumer marketers, according to another report from White Horse Productions. But the B-to-B marketers I talk to still sound confused. “What should I be doing,” they ask. “What’s really worth my time?”

What you want to do is get out of the hype, get real, and get results. Here’s a simple plan of attack.

First, get busy on LinkedIn. This is the no-brainer of B-to-B social media marketing. You, your company, and all your employees need to take maximum advantage of the exposure. Your LinkedIn to-do list looks like this:

  • Fill out your profile 100 percent. LinkedIn will prompt you on how to make sure every element is captured. Encourage your employees to set up their profiles, including their skills lists. Prospective customers will check out you and your staff as part of their due diligence before doing business with you—so be prepared.
  • Set up a company page, with your logo image, plus a crisp, benefit-laden company description. Invite links from your customers, suppliers and friends. Along with a Google search, this is how you will be found in the marketplace.
  • Join groups, or set up fresh groups, in your field of expertise.
  • Post regular status updates in the micro-blog area LinkedIn provides.

Then, examine your marketing objectives. Each social medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. What you want to do is get the most bang, by applying them to their best use.

Here’s a typical array of business marketing objectives a company may be pursuing. Let’s look at how social media can be applied to support what you’re trying to do.

Understand your market opportunity. In other words, market research. What customers and prospect are talking about on social media gives companies valuable insight into customer needs, issues and trends. You can set up a listening post using tools like Radian6, or simply set up an RSS feed from sources like blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Focus, Quora, YouTube and Wikipedia, so you can keep current with what’s being said in your field.

Stand out in the crowd. Social media can help you differentiate your company from your competition. If you want to be seen as a thought leader in your industry, or a trusted advisor to businesses trying to solve problems, then it’s all about content. You’ll be publishing white papers, research reports and case studies, and tweeting about them. Or publish an informative blog and promote it via Twitter and LinkedIn micro posts.

Blogging can be a powerful way to establish thought leadership, but it does represent a risk. Only start a blog if you have valuable content to present, and if you can commit to keeping it up. Editorially, the tone should be informative, not sales-y. If you don’t have good writers in house, there are plenty of freelancers available to help. Another tip: If you hesitate to take on a blog on your own, you might provide guest posts to influential blogs managed by someone else. (As you see, this is the route I took for myself—it’s great!)

Find new customers. There’s a lot of hue and cry out there about whether social media can help you find prospective customers. Of course it can. The trick in B-to-B is to turn your social media messaging into a lead generator, with the addition of three essential elements:

  • A compelling offer, such as an intriguing research report or white paper.
  • A clear call to action, like “Download now.”
  • A dedicated landing page that captures the respondent’s contact information.

We can debate the merits of gating your content for lead generation, versus making it available to all, for thought leadership. A worthy discussion. But if your objective is to launch a business relationship with a prospective buyer, than the lead generation route is the way to go. So add an offer and call to action to your blog posts and tweets.

Expand current customer value. Social media can serve as another useful “touch” in your ongoing effort to penetrate accounts and deepen your relationship with current customers. Encourage customers to follow you on Twitter, subscribe to your blog, or connect with you on LinkedIn. A smart salesperson will link to every possible contact at a current account, and post company and product news in the LinkedIn microblog a couple times a week.

Now, what about Facebook? With 845 million users worldwide, it can’t be ignored. Ask yourself whether your customers are there, and whether they want to interact with you there. According to Globalspec, 66 percent of industrial workers have Facebook accounts, but 67 percent of them say they cannot access Facebook from their office computers. Given its vast reach, at the very least set up a company page on Facebook—for employee recruitment, if nothing else.

And don’t forget YouTube, the world’s second largest search engine. Set up a channel to give exposure to your product demos, training videos and corporate videos.

So, with that, you have a reasonable attack plan for cutting through the hype and putting social media to work for you in a manageable way. Now, what have I forgotten? Do you have any good social media applications you can share with the rest of us business marketers?

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