A Viral Success Recipe: Unicorns, Ice Cream and Poop Jokes

What do you get when you mix an adorable unicorn, a saucy prince, poop jokes galore and YouTube? A viral marketing success story, that, while seeming unachievable, still provides important lessons for all marketers. And c’mon … don’t you want a good laugh before the stress of the holiday hits later this week?

By now, you’re probably familiar with the Squatty Potty, the personal elimination improvement device for bathrooms. You know, the stool for better stools (their words, not mine!), which had sales skyrocket following the decision to take a risk, go against suggestions from investors and work with the Harmon Brothers to make a video that went so viral it’s earned over 28.2 million views.

If you haven’t seen the video, which launched in October 2015, watch it above — that is, if you can handle bathroom humor mixed with ice cream innuendos and adorable unicorns.

But the more important video — in my opinion — is the one below, which I found this past weekend while cruising YouTube. It’s about the risk the founders took when teaming up with the Harmon Brothers to do the video. You see some of the founders honestly saying they didn’t get the concept and vision, and being doubtful, then later realizing there was something to using humor to educate an audience.

If you don’t have 4 minutes to watch (seriously though, make the time), here are some of the highlights:

• Despite being on Season 6 of Shark Tank, nothing up until the video — which went viral — had boosted sales the way the unicorn did.

• According to Co-founded Bill Edwards, the first month after the video launched, online sales of Squatty Potty increased 250 percent, clearly outperforming the product’s time on primetime TV.

• The screenshot below from the video shows sales in both the online and retail spaces before the video launched on YouTube and after. Just … wow.

Squatty Potty Sales via YouTube viral video• There was a huge spike in search traffic following the video, with Google searches for “Squatty Potty” up by 500 percent.

• Post-video, the folks behind Squatty Potty realized they were successfully reaching a younger audience, without affecting their pre-video audience.

• Possibly the most important words in the video are said by CEO Bobby Edwards:

“This video was converting. It was getting people to buy our product.”

The video closes with Co-founder Judy Edwards saying, “You’ll be seeing us more on YouTube … ”

And a year later … we have. Launched on Nov. 10, the folks behind (ha-ha) Squatty Potty are back, along with the smooth-talking prince and unicorn, but this time they’re promoting a different product.

The latest video, “Slay Your Poo-Stink with the Golden Fart of Mystic Unicorn” is well … more of the same, but maybe a little creepier in some instances. The actual product is an odor eliminating spray, much like the popular Poo-pourri (fun fact, the Harmon Brothers also worked on those viral videos).

The video has over a half million views so far, and I’m curious to see if it has a similar effect on sales the way the previous video did … but I’m not sure. While the actual Squatty Potty product has the corner on the market, Unicorn Gold is coming up against established Poo-pourri.

Squatty Potty prince in viral YouTube VideoBottom line: It can pay off to take risks, but only when you partner with the right people and then TRULY partner with them. The Edwards trio, while maybe not getting the ice cream-pooping unicorn at first (well, Bobby got it, but Bobby seems hip to this stuff), put their trust into the Harmon Brothers and didn’t micromanage the vision. And look where it got them: a YouTube viral success, a massive increase in sales and the distinct possibility that people will never look at unicorns and ice cream the same way ever again.

 

5 Tips for Successful o2o Channel Leaping

The most strategically planned offline direct marketing effort can be sabotaged by weak links in an online sales order processing system. Moving a prospect from any offline channel marketing to online ordering has its clear benefits, but can be tricky. Whether from direct mail, broadcast, or other print source, your offline to online (o2o) channel redirection must be carefully designed, tested, and refined to maximize the conversion process. So here are five recommendations to ensure a seamless o2o leap.

The most strategically planned offline direct marketing effort can be sabotaged by weak links in an online sales order processing system. Moving a prospect from any offline channel marketing to online ordering has its clear benefits, but can be tricky. Whether from direct mail, broadcast, or other print source, your offline to online (o2o) channel redirection must be carefully designed, tested, and refined to maximize the conversion process. So here are five recommendations to ensure a seamless o2o leap.

In a past era, we direct marketers pitched our offer to our lists. When the prospect decided to buy, they would use a reply envelope to mail or phone their response. While that still happens today, more and more direct marketers prefer to drive a prospect to the web.

There is often a disconnect between concept and execution of taking a prospect from offline to online. We’re so close to the process that we sometimes assume a seamless o2o flow, but while fumbling around a keyboard, the prospect’s attention can be diverted. The online order experience can be clunky or even confusing. Sometimes too much is asked on the online order screen, and information overload sets in. Or we assume the customer is tech-savvy when in fact, they’re not. Orders and carts are abandoned because the prospect gives up.

What to do to ensure a seamless o2o leap? Here are five recommendations:

  1. Clarity Rules: Create a detailed flow chart of every possible path a prospect could take before they press “buy” to see if there is any unanswered or confusing language or visuals. Ensure that there are no dead-ends, and allow them to back up. And, be sure the form they’re returning to is still populated with their original entries, rather than being shown an infuriating screen full of blank fields.
  2. Roadmap the Journey: Manage expectations for your prospect with an overview of the process, why it’ll be worth their time, and how easy and quick it will be, especially if placing an order has multiple options.
  3. Wireframe to Visualize: If you, the marketer, are having trouble visualizing how it all works, just imagine how confused your customer will be. Developing even a crude wireframe will help ensure you don’t overlook something, or that the process unfolds logically and obviously.
  4. Clear Copy: Write to the reading level of your audience, but remember that online channels tend to be one where people are more rushed and scanning. They don’t always read for detail. Make it clear and simple.
  5. Tell and Sell with Video: People may not read copy as closely online, but they are apt to invest time watching a video with tips on how to place their order. It can save the customer time, and help reduce abandoned carts.

The back-end programming of online order systems are usually someone else’s responsibility. But, if you’re the marketer or copywriter, you need to put serious thought and effort into the customer-facing side, so it’s clear, friendly, and quick. Your prospect forms a lasting impression of your entire organization when you have an o2o channel leap requirement. And, if it’s muddled or worse, you may never have another opportunity to make it positive.

5 Types of Google AdWords Conversion Tracking

When I first started using Google AdWords in 2006, conversion tracking was in its infancy. There was only one type of conversion pixel code and there was no option to customize anything. Oh boy, have the times changed

When I first started using Google AdWords in 2006, conversion tracking was in its infancy. There was only one type of conversion pixel code and there was no option to customize anything.

Oh boy, have the times changed. AdWords now gives advertisers five different conversion types, along with options to customize exactly how conversions are tracking in your account. For example, you can now track all conversions or you can track only unique conversions to exclude the instances when prospects complete multiple forms on your website.

In this article, I’m going to bring you up to speed on all five different conversion types:

  1. Webform Submissions
  2. Online Sales with Revenue
  3. Calls from Website
  4. Calls from Ads [Call Extensions]
  5. Offline Sales [Import]

1. Webform Submissions:
Again, this was the only option for me back in 2006. Webform submissions like quote requests, demo requests, or any other key action on your website should be tracked as a conversion in your AdWords campaign. This can be easily set up by adding the conversion code to the “thank you” page of all your webforms.

2. Online Sales with Revenue:
Eventually, Google introduced the ability to assign a value to your conversions, which revolutionized campaign management. If your business sells anything online, then you absolutely must set up revenue tracking for your shopping cart. Once set up, you’ll start to see revenue data in AdWords so you can calculate your profit per keyword, placement or ad.

3. Calls from Website:
Just last year website call tracking was launched so that advertisers can see how many phone calls are generated from the AdWords ads. This code is fairly technical so I recommend assigning this task to your webmaster to get set up. Once installed you’ll start to see conversions in your AdWords account any time a prospect calls after clicking on one of your ads.

4. Calls from Ads:
Most people do not call directly from the phone number listed in an ad, but some do. In AdWords you can track these calls by using a Call Extension, which is one of the many Ad Extensions available in AdWords. When you set up your Call Extension, make sure to click on the advanced options and check the box to track phone calls using a Google forwarding number.

5. Offline Sales [Import]:
Up to this point all the conversion tracking options sound great, but they don’t solve the major problem for non-eCommerce businesses, which is tracking sales generated off of the internet.Luckily Google recognized this problem and introduce the Offline Sales Import conversion option. This is the most technical of them all, but it’s well worth the effort to have your webmaster set this up. Here’s how it works:

  • Your webmaster will have to edit all the forms on your website to add a hidden field called “GCLID” (stands for “Google Click ID”)
  • Your webmaster will set the value of this hidden field using the URL parameter called “gclid”. For example, when someone clicks on one of your ads, Google automatically ads the “gclid” URL parameter, which looks like this 123ABC567DEF. This is the unique tracking code you’ll use to track sales back to your ads.
  • You’ll need to send the GCLID code to your sales team and/or your customer relationship management (CRM) tool like Salesforce.
  • On a monthly basis, you’ll need to find all the sales that have a corresponding GCLID code and import those codes, along with the sales revenue, into Google AdWords.
  • AdWords will automatically match the GCLID codes to the keywords, placements and ads that the customers originally clicked on before ultimately making a purchase off of the internet.

If that didn’t make sense, then just send your webmaster this page and he or she will be able to help. Trust me, it sounds more complicated than it is.

Go through the 5 conversion types again and make sure you have them all set up in your AdWord campaign. These are all critical to maximize the performance of your campaigns.

Want more free Google AdWords tips? Click here to get my Google AdWords checklist.

Boost Your Website Sales: 8 Simple E-commerce Tips That Really Work

OK, so you’ve won half the battle. You’re driving traffic to your site. Now what? How can you get your visitors to convert? This is a challenge that most every website that sells a product faces. The following are some tried and true tactics that, over the years, I’ve seen make a difference. Some may seem simplistic, but they DO most definitely impact your online conversion rate.

OK, so you’ve won half the battle. You’re driving traffic to your site. Now what? How can you get your visitors to convert?

This is a challenge that most every website that sells a product faces. The following are some tried and true tactics that, over the years, I’ve seen make a difference. Some may seem simplistic, but they DO most definitely impact your online conversion rate.

Here are a few things you could do to boost online sales and gain loyal customers. These can be applied and refined for most any business, industry or niche:

1. Make Sure Your SSL Seal And Other Consumer-Trust Logos Are Prominent. SSL or secure socket layer is a sign that the site is encrypted … that the information consumers enter, such as personal and credit card information, is protected. Most e-commerce sites must file for an SSL certificate from vendors such as VeriSign, GoDaddy, eTrust, TRUSTe and others. It’s a good practice to display the vendor’s logo on your order page, as well as make sure in the browser window the “https” or image of a lock is present. This is a clear and comforting sign to consumers that they can order online with confidence. Other logos that are in plain view and are anchors on each page of your website can also instill confidence with potential buyers. Some may require membership or purchase, when applicable, and may include Better Business Bureau (“BBB”), PayPal Verified, Authorize.net Verified Merchant and virus protection software (i.e. “McAfee Secure”). Also, if you accept credit cards and have a money back guarantee, there’s nothing more powerful than strong, eye-catching graphic image icons, such as “100% Money Back Guarantee” or “We Accept All Major Credit Cards” (than have images of Visa, Mastercard, Amex and Discover).

2. Encourage Online Sales vs. Other Response Mechanisms. Offer special “Internet Only Pricing” to customers. It could be a discount of 5 percent to 10 percent if they order online versus by phone, fax or mail. This reduces any potential overhead costs for staffing fees, such as telesales or order entry personnel. These Web-only specials can be highlighted on your homepage via a banner ad, as well as on your product pages near qualified items.

3. Offer Free Shipping. Many e-tailers already factor all or a portion of shipping into the retail price of an item as part of their COGS (cost of goods sold). If you are truly offering free shipping, already factored shipping into the product’s cost, or are simply having a limited time free shipping special—if you’re offering it, mention it—big and bold on your home page. Free shipping offers have a huge psychological affect on consumers when they’re comparing competitor’s products and websites. In addition to product quality and value, offering free shipping can make all the difference regarding the final purchase decision.

4. Use Buyer Feedback To Your Advantage. Have an area on your website or indicate next to select items “Customer Favorite” or “Hot Item.” Also, have some glowing customer testimonials or reviews next to the product itself for potential prospects to see. Sites like Amazon, Babies”R”Us and others are pros at this strategy as well as using ratings and ‘Likes’ to convey a product’s popularity. Consumers like to feel good about the item they are about to purchase. as well as see that it’s popular with the masses. Seeing a great testimonial and knowing that others purchased the product provides validation and a feeling of comfort to a consumer. In addition to helping the conversion rate, this tactic also helps reduce buyer’s remorse and product returns.

5. Advertise Products in Google Shopping (formerly Google Product Search, and before that, Froogle). http://www.google.com/shopping is a free product information platform from Google where you can post a single item or submit a data feed. Your products will appear in Google Product search and may also appear in Google.com search results, depending on keywords used. This is simple and easy way to increase your product’s visibility and market share.

6. Make Sure Your Product Pages are Optimized for Search Engines. Sounds obvious, but many folks overlook their catalog and product pages. After doing some keyword research on actual search behavior for your product, refine your meta description, meta keywords and title tag of your product pages. This will help consumers find your product in the organic listing of search engine results.

7. Have a Special Coupon Code “Call Out” On Your Home Page. This is a best practice with online fashion retailers who typically have a banner ad or interstitial ad on their homepage stating something like, “Summer Blow Out Sale, Use Coupon Code 1234.” But this concept can be applied to virtually any industry. This is another great way to offer a special discount for your online customers that makes them feel good about the purchase. You can also encourage viral activity by having “forward to friend” or “share” create viral marketing. Make sure to have some great intro copy mentioning how customers should “pass on the great savings to friends, family and colleagues.”

8. Consider Payment Plans. For higher-ticket items, consider setting up extended payment plans that allow customers to pay for an item over a few payments. HSN.com and QVC.com have mastered this. If an item is, let’s say, $200, you might want to offer a flex pay option of “6 easy payments of $33.33” that is conveniently auto-billed to their credit card. Just be diligent when calculating your payment prices, as well as creating your return/refund policy for these items. The general rule is that your actual production costs/hard costs should be covered in the first one to three payments.

It’s all about being strategically creative and taking the consumer’s point of view into account regarding e-comm strategies. Remember to keep testing methods that help improve sales and drive prospects to your storefront.

Make note of when you implement new tactics and then after a month of being live. Compare sales results year-over-year to see if your efforts had made an improvement. I’m confident that you will see a positive difference in your online conversion rates.

Holiday Paid Search Analytics Reveal Insights Into Today’s Cross-Channel Shopper

When analyzing early holiday paid search data, it’s readily apparent that shopping is truly a cross-channel endeavor. For instance, the majority of this year’s Black Friday shopping occurred in-store, but consumers used search engines in droves before setting foot in a store. Search helped shoppers map out their in-store Black Friday strategies, informing them exactly where and when they could find the best deals on the products they wanted.

When analyzing early holiday paid search data, it’s readily apparent that shopping is truly a cross-channel endeavor. For instance, the majority of this year’s Black Friday shopping occurred in-store, but consumers used search engines in droves before setting foot in a store. Search helped shoppers map out their in-store Black Friday strategies, informing them exactly where and when they could find the best deals on the products they wanted.

Search played a major role in driving in-store traffic this Black Friday. Performics tracked a huge spike in Google paid search clicks for its clients on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Paid search clicks increased 87 percent year-over-year on Thanksgiving and 65 percent year-over-year on Black Friday. Additionally, this year saw the most mobile paid search clicks and impressions ever seen on Black Friday — 400 percent more than 2010.

#INLINE-CHART#

For the second consecutive year, Black Friday clicks surpassed Cyber Monday clicks. The adjacent graph shows three primary spikes in 2010 and 2011 fourth quarter paid search clicks. Black Friday represents the biggest spike, with Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday (which were close to each other) following behind.

Cyber Monday has historically been the biggest online sales day of the year, not Black Friday. In terms of online sales, Black Friday historically ranks behind Cyber Monday, Green Monday (the second Monday in December) and Free Shipping Day. Black Friday drives the most clicks, but the fourth most online sales.

This indicates that consumers use search engines heavily on Black Friday to discover the best in-store deals. Post-recession shoppers are researching on their computers and mobile devices more than ever to find the right combination of quality and price. The rise of mobile, highlighted by the 400 percent year-over-year increase in Black Friday mobile clicks, is the biggest indicator of true cross-channel shopping.

Not only are on-the-go consumers searching for your store locations, but they’re also conducting competitive price searches and looking for product information on their phones/tablets while in your store. According to Performics’ 2011 Social Shopping Study, 62 percent of consumers perform competitive price searches on their mobile devices while in a retailer’s store and 41 percent look for product information.

To capitalize on this cross-channel shopping behavior during the holiday season and beyond, marketers should do the following:

  • integrate online and offline promotional planning;
  • create strong mobile websites;
  • use paid search extensions (e.g., addresses, phone numbers, click-to-call) to aid searchers looking for your store;
  • let searchers know that products are in stock in your stores;
  • ensure visibility in mobile search for keywords likely to be used by shoppers searching for your store while on the go or in-store; and
  • create comprehensive local paid and organic search campaigns.

Marketers should invest in analytics to understand exactly how search marketing affects offline sales. Uncovering insights through data will help you best allocate budgets and create marketing strategies to maximize cross-channel performance.

Attribution is the Word of the Day

I’ve just returned from a few days in sunny Florida, attending the Direct Marketing Association’s Retail Marking Confernce 2010, and the main takeaway I received from it was that multichannel retailers today are struggling with attribution.

I’ve just returned from a few days in sunny Florida, attending the Direct Marketing Association’s Retail Marking Conference 2010 (RMC), and the main takeaway I have from the event is that today’s multichannel retailers are struggling with attribution.

Attribution is determining which of your marketing vehicles is reponsible for generating consumers’ purchases. And it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. For example, a catalog and search can share credit for a sale.

While attribution in the retail world is often viewed strictly as a way to figure out which online marketing programs — e.g., search, affiliate or display, social media — are responsible for the most sales, it also refers to figuring out which sales channel (online or off) are bringing in the most dough.

It’s a tricky thing: Old-line catalogers at the event claimed catalogs drive more online sales than websites or search efforts. E-commerce guys, on the other hand, said websites are where sales occur, so attribution should be credited to them. Email marketers were in the mix, too. They believe email messages received by opt-in consumers are the main driver of in-store and online sales.

Attribution is even more important these days, as corner offices are closely watching marketing teams, who are operating with tighter budgets, to see if spending is being accurately assigned.

The issue of attribution was discussed in several sessions at the RMC. A preconference intensive session led by Al Bessin, a partner at multichannel direct marketing firm LENSER, for example, discussed how customer and transactional information from multiple sources, such as website reports, email service providers and order management systems, can help marketers figure out which channels are working to ensure they’re spending their marketing budgets in the best ways possible.

Attribution was also discussed by Chad White, research director at Smith-Harmon, a Responsys company, in his his closing keynote.

White correctly identified attribution as the missing link, citing an Epsilon study that found 33 percent of permission-based email recipients said they usually visit a brand’s website directly after receiving an email about that brand, instead of clicking on an email link. So, he said, “online conversions attributed to email may be undercounted by as much as 50 percent.”

White also discussed an attribution experiment performed by REI, the outdoor gear merchant. In an effort to test email attribution, REI withheld emails from a certain group of customers while continuing to send them to another, and began monitoring sales. When the test was completed, REI discovered it was overstating the impact of email on online sales since a good portion of customers still bought even without receiving an email.

However, White said, “after determining email’s impact on store sales, which email previously got no credit for, REI discovered that email contribution to total sales was actually twice the level of cookied sales.”

So what’s the answer? Which channel drives the most sales? It’s really hard to tell, and it’s not an exact science. Whether you’re at a large company that has the resources to institute an attribution modeling system or a smaller company that performs witholding tests, it’s still a crapshoot, in my opinion. How can you really know why a customer decides to buy something?

How do you handle attribution? I’d love to hear from you.

Good News: Online Sales Expected to Rise This Holiday Season

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

What’s more, U.S. online sales are expected to rise 8 percent this holiday season, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. Online retail sales in November and December are expected to reach $44.7 billion this year, up from $41.4 billion a year ago, according to the report, providing a bright spot to a retail industry that could still see total sales for the season fall.

So, how are online retailers planning to increase sales this year? Through social media and free shipping promotions, at least according to the results of Shop.org’s eHoliday study, conducted by BIGresearch.

Since many shoppers today use Facebook and Twitter regularly — and because these tools are more cost effective than traditional advertising — 47.1 percent of online retailers surveyed for the study are increasing their use of social media this holiday season.

More than half of the online retailer respondents have updated their Facebook pages (60.3 percent) and Twitter pages (58.7 percent) this year, while two-thirds (65.6 percent) have added or enhanced blogs and RSS feeds. 



As for the multitude of free shipping offers expected during this holiday season, 79.4 percent of those retailers surveyed said they will offer free shipping with conditions at some point during the holiday season. More than half (57.4 percent) also plan to offer free shipping without conditions. More than one-third (35.7 percent) said their budgets for free shipping are higher than last year, and nearly as many (30 percent) said free shipping offers will start earlier than a year ago.

Many online retailers have also revamped their websites this holiday season to make it easier for people to shop. Many, for example, have added or revamped their sites’ shopping carts (45.2 percent), search capabilities (44.3 percent), suggested items (42.9 percent), customer ratings and reviews (40.6 percent), and featured sale pages (37.1 percent), according to the study.

So, are you ramping up your use of social media or free shipping promotions this year? Doing anything else you’d like to tell us about? Leave a comment here.

Retailers Need to Step Up Online Shopping Experiences for Consumers

The impact of identity theft and a fear of online shopping caused retailers to miss out on $21 billion in online sales in 2008, according to a recently released study by Javelin Strategy & Research, which was co-sponsored by eBillme and First Data.

That’s a whole lot of lost revenue, which could’ve been avoided had retailers paid a little closer attention to online customer service. Check out these other figures:

The impact of identity theft and a fear of online shopping caused retailers to miss out on $21 billion in online sales in 2008, according to a recently released study by Javelin Strategy & Research, which was co-sponsored by eBillme and First Data.

That’s a whole lot of lost revenue, which could’ve been avoided had retailers paid a little closer attention to online customer service. Check out these other figures:

  • 12 percent of fraud victims no longer shop online;
  • 25 percent said the frequency of their online purchases has decreased; and
  • 19 percent said they now spend less money when shopping online.

What’s more, just 45 percent of consumers are satisfied with their online shopping experiences — especially when it comes to on-time arrivals and quality expectations.

Online customer service is tricky stuff, and there’s still plenty to learn and lots of room for improvement. Here are the study’s top five motivating factors that would convince consumers to shop more frequently:

  • assurance that information is being processed securely (83 percent);
  • offering zero liability against identity theft (81 percent);
  • stronger security at the store Web site (80 percent);
  • a guarantee that the purchase will match quality expectations (80 percent); and
  • a guarantee for the best price online (79 percent).

The survey also included the following findings:

  • Of consumers surveyed, 39 percent believed online stores would sell their information, and 50 percent believed they would receive junk mail and spam if they shop online. To address these concerns, retailers need to clearly communicate their data privacy policies.
  • 40 percent of online identity theft victims now only purchase from well-known sites such as Amazon.com. By highlighting security and customer service commitments, smaller retailers can counteract this trend.

So online retailers beware: Consumers are still very concerned about how they’re treated with regards to privacy and security. To keep customers happy — and coming back for more —make sure your practices are up-to-speed in this area.

DM Hiring Down

Just when you thought it was safe…

While the economy has been a thorn in everyone’s side over the past few weeks, we have heard some encouraging words about the online and digital marketing world. Online sales are up, we’ve heard, and digital marketing may increase in a recession. So all wasn’t so bad.

Just when you thought it was safe…

While the economy has been a thorn in everyone’s side over the past few weeks, we have heard some encouraging words about the online and digital marketing world. Online sales are up, we’ve heard, and digital marketing may increase in a recession. So all wasn’t so bad.

But in my inbox this morning, I was greeted with a real clunker: According to a press release from Berhart Associates Executive Search, continued layoffs and more hiring freezes appear to be on the horizon for direct marketers this spring.

According to the latest Bernhart Associates employment survey, 54 percent of the companies responding said they will be filling new positions during the current spring quarter, down from 58 percent last quarter. The percentage of companies that have imposed a hiring freeze jumped to 19 percent, compared with 13 percent last quarter and more than double the rate just six months ago. Planned layoffs remained unchanged at 12 percent.

A total of 129 companies responded to the random survey that waa e-mailed the week of April 1.

Jerry Bernhart, owner of the Owatonna, Minn.-based search firm that conducted the survey insists, however, that there is some good news in all of this.

“If you look at what’s going on now and compare it with what happened during the last downturn in 2001-2002, things are still holding up better on the jobs front,” said Bernhart, in the release. “All of our indicators were weaker back then. Direct marketers this time around are turning more to hiring freezes and doing what they can to avoid significant cutbacks in staff. They know that when things turn around, talent will be more difficult to come-by.”

Even in the current environment, said Bernhart, many companies are still having a
challenging time finding qualified candidates for certain positions. “Nearly
three-quarters of those responding said they are having some degree of difficulty filling
openings,” said Bernhart. “For the most part, these jobs are more specialized lower to mid-level positions, or they are in geographic locations where the available direct marketing labor pool is relatively small.”

When asked what positions will be in greatest demand during the coming three months,
Bernhart said sales dominated the list. “This is similar to what we saw during the last downturn. Many companies apparently believe that a good way to weather an economic downturn is to increase the effectiveness of their sales force, and that’s exactly what
many of them are doing.” Bernhart said analytics was a close second, followed by account managers.

So, I guess there is still some hope, I guess.