Cats, Cars, and Cuddles: How to Reduce Inventory and Raise Revenue

For this promotion, making a modest financial gift to the Humane Society while Uber delivers kitten’s right to my office seemed like a no-brainer.

When I first opened the email I thought it was a joke.

Uber Kitten Email

Nina, the local manager for Uber in my area, was letting me know that they were partnering with the Humane Society to deliver furry, lovable kittens for cuddle sessions … for a small $30 snuggle fee. Wow … Really? (I thought excitedly.)

The fact is, I love cats (don’t tell my dog)… but my husband is not a big cat fan — especially after our last 12-year-cat-from-hell stint with the Tasmanian devil that I took pity on and rescued from a shelter. That little bundle of evilness barely let me scratch its head before he raked his incredibly long and sharp claws across my hand and arm. But that’s a story for another day.

For this promotion, making a modest financial gift to the Humane Society while Uber delivers kittens right to my office seemed like a no-brainer.

It turns out that other cities across the US were doing the same thing — as well as in Canada and Australia. The Humane Society/ASPCA/Local Shelter, partnered with Uber drivers to try and help raise money and increase adoptions.

West Michigan reported that their shelter raised nearly $1,000 during their four-hour event — and 83 percent of their participating kittens were adopted. In fact the demand was so high they couldn’t even make it to all the businesses!

In 2013, the first year of this cross-promotion, three cities raised $15,000 and found homes for 100 percent of the traveling kitties. So that makes it a definite win-win.

Uber, who has had some challenges in Australia when they were accused of charging $100 for ride fares during a hostage crisis in Sydney, seems to have created some positive press for a change.

Personally, I love cross-promotions like this. The Humane Society wins (with both gift revenue and an increase in adoptions), businesses win (employees who aren’t allergic to cats get some much-needed kitty cuddle time), and Uber wins with increased awareness and a chance to generate some goodwill.

Now, if only I could sneak one of these sweet little kitties past my dog (and my husband), and they’d have a win-win-win-win-win!

Martyn Etherington Speaks: The Story of a B-to-B Digital Marketing Turnaround

I had the chance recently to catch up with Martyn Etherington, a marketing leader I’ve long admired. Martyn had just left his post at Mitel, where he was CMO and Chief of Staff. In a reflective mood, he was willing to field some questions about his successes there. You may remember Martyn from his instructive Diary of a CMO, published by Direct Marketing News in 2013.   Martyn’s answers reveal what’s working today in B2B digital marketing.

At Mitel, you more than doubled the size of the digital marketing team after arriving there in 2012. Where did you direct them to focus their efforts, and why?
Quite simply, it was customer driven. Customers have changed the way that they buy, and therefore we need to change the way we sell. I directed them to focus on three key areas:

  1. The Zero Moment of Truth, the concept pioneered by marketers at Google that focuses on the importance of visibility at the earliest research stage of the customer journey. Winning at ZMOT means knowing the key words and phrases that your customers use, instead of what we as vendors use to describe our products. This means outside-in thinking instead of inside out. A telling example was the success we claimed for maintaining key positions for the term “Premise Based PBX Systems,” when there were fewer than 30 searches a month on that phrase. “Business Phones,” on the other hand, was getting a million searches a month—and we were missing out. The solution was conducting Voice of Customer (VOC) research to develop a lexicon of key customer terms and phrases, to buy those key words, and also to pepper them in all the content we produced.
  2. Improving the customer experience, especially at the website. Mitel had made numerous acquisitions, which meant nearly 40 different web platforms. VOC research drove the new navigation, site structure, information architecture, search and content, down to product nomenclature. Putting the customer at the center of our business, we saw a tripling of our web traffic, a reduction in bounce rate and a higher conversion of visitors to leads.
  3. Becoming a more socially active business. In March 2014, we had probably 30 people in our company engaged in social media in one form or another. Around that time, I picked up a book called The Social Employee, by Cheryl and Mark Burgess. I read it in one weekend. It said that if we were to really transform a brand to be outside-in and put the customer at the center, we must have our employees understand that we are all brand stewards. So, after I read that book, I phoned Jill Rowley, and together we developed a series of social training sessions. Fast-forward, we went from the 30 users to close to 2,000 employees who are actively engaged in social media. We made it very easy for them. Whenever we put out an announcement, we sent out a whole series of canned tweets that our employees can cut and paste or edit. We’ve tried to take away the fear. Our social policy is simply: At all times use your best judgment. There are no other rules. We refined it a bit over time, and you can read the details in an article about our social transformation in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

What were the most productive digital initiatives?
I can point to all three main digital pillars as being productive. Identifying the key words and phrases our customers uses at the Zero Moment of Truth saw an initial 30% increase in our ranking and positioning on Google search. The complete redesign of our web site based on Voice of Customer tripled the number of visitors at launch in October 2014. Using social and hashtags for key events such as trade shows and the football World Cup 2014 improved our brand awareness.

What’s one of the more exciting developments in the world of B2B digital marketing that has captured your interest?
Without doubt, the science behind ZMOT and the recent emergence of a sub-section, which is Micro Moments of Truth. These are the new battleground for brands.

I know you are an avid consumer of business books and media. Anything from your reading list these days that you’d recommend?

  1. B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results, by yourself. [Thanks, Martyn!] Speaks to the underpinning of all good marketing, and a topic that is much hyped but rarely explained.
  2. Think Big, Act Bigger, by Jeffrey Hayzlett, who dares readers to own who they are as a leader or company, define where they want to go, and fearlessly do what it takes to get there—caring less about conventional wisdom, re-framing limitations, and steamrolling obstacles as they go.
  3. The Brand Flip: Why Customers Now Run Companies and How to Profit From It. Marty Neumeier shows you how to make the leap from a company-driven past to the consumer-driven future. You’ll learn how to flip your brand from offering products to offering meaning, a topic very dear to my heart.
  4. The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society. Charles Handy looks at current trends in capitalism and asks whether it is a sustainable system. He explores the dangers of a society built on credit. He challenges the myth that remorseless growth is essential. He even asks whether we should rethink our roles in life—as students, parents, workers and voters—and what the aims of an ideal society should be. Very thought provoking.

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

Who Should Run for President? Effective Marketers Who Get Results!

As a marketer, how do you know that your work has made a difference in the world? It’s not whether you made an audience laugh, cry or remember the words to your jingle. It’s not because your brand name can evoke a Pavlovian response to make a purchase. For me, the most impressive result is when a smart strategy and innovative creative solution have a major impact on solving a business problem. I’m proud to report that this year’s ECHO entries were no exception.

As a marketer, how do you know that your work has made a difference in the world? It’s not whether you made an audience laugh, cry or remember the words to your jingle. It’s not because your brand name can evoke a Pavlovian response to make a purchase. While these are certainly all impressive outcomes, for me the most impressive result is when a smart strategy and innovative creative solution have a major impact on solving a business problem. And I’m proud to report that this year’s ECHO entries were no exception.

The ECHO Awards, represented by a new and beautifully designed glistening crystal statue, were handed out at a gala celebration on Monday night, complete with live band and TV-personality/stand-up comedian. But the highlight of the evening were those entries that truly impacted change – whether by driving a politician to introduce groundbreaking legislation or by disrupting an entrenched competitor. From campaigns for a little known travel destination in India to a clever recruiting campaign that sought to identify future code breakers for The U.S. Navy, the 2015 ECHO Awards were a testament to the brilliance of marketers who have honed their craft.

Even though I was honored to be this years’ ECHO Judging Chair, I was too busy administratively during the judging process to spend any time actually reading or judging entries this year. But when the dust finally settled and I was able to review all the finalist entries and partake in the discussion around who should be the Diamond Winner, I was astounded at how many times I marveled “I wish I’d thought of that!”

The judges, recruited from across the globe, were a tough bunch. While they included agency strategists, art directors, copywriters, account planners, project managers and client-side marketing pros, not one was unimpressed with the breadth and depth of the campaigns they reviewed. I saw many partake in lively discussions around the merits of an entry – and wished I could be part of that debate process.

In the end, those that were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze statues on Monday night, should know that they are among an elite few. From nearly 1,000 entries, their work stood above the rest. Their work helped a client meet a financial goal… Or improved the lives of those less fortunate… Or helped drive revenue… Or helped drive sales. Most importantly, every campaign was thoughtful, innovative, and delivered on their promise to meet the stated measurable objectives. That’s no mean feat.

And that’s certainly more than I can say for most politicians.


Make Me an Offer — But Set My Expectations

What’s the ideal offer expiration date? Any good direct marketer knows that you have to test and learn what works for your brand, but in the early days of direct mail the rule of thumb was six to eight weeks (long enough for the recipient to receive the offer in the mail, write a check and mail it back).

What’s the ideal offer expiration date? Any good direct marketer knows that you have to test and learn what works for your brand, but in the early days of direct mail the rule of thumb was six to eight weeks (long enough for the recipient to receive the offer in the mail, write a check and mail it back).

But now that brands can communicate with customers instantly via email, text, Instagram and Facebook, offer windows can be shortened to a hours. And, when positioned appropriately, can drive a quick hit of revenue.

But here’s a case of what NOT to do …

On Friday, September 4, I received an email offer from Travelocity to click the link which would reveal how much I’d save (with the promise that it would range from 10 percent — 75 percent off on hotels). Given that I travel a lot, and I often book with Travelocity, it was an offer worth my click time. Plus, the button was kind of fun with a “Surprise Me” action message.

Naturally I was disappointed when I learned I had only earned 10 percent off and with another click had deleted the email message from my desktop and my memory bank.

But two days later, on Sunday, September 6 at 6:50 pm, I received another Travelocity email. This time the subject line was “Don’t Forget to Click. Reveal. Redeem.”

Given that it was a long weekend I didn’t check my emails until Monday, Sept 7 and, since I had completely forgotten about the earlier Travelocity email (since my inbox is filled with hundreds of email exchanges a day), I clicked the link in this email too. Only this time I got the message “Sorry! The Coupon is no longer valid” with a little clock icon reinforcing that time had run out.

My first reaction was that somebody at Travelocity had screwed up. Surely any email offer was going to last more than a day or two.

First, I found the original email offer in my deleted folder and it told me the offer expired on September 7. But instead of telling me I only had a few days or 72 hours, the email just gave me a calendar date — which, at the time, seemed like the distant future.

The September 6 email also noted that the offer expired on September 7 … but it should have said “24 hours” which would have given it the sense of urgency it deserved.

Instead, this Travelocity customer had a negative experience with the brand — and all over a potential 10 percent savings.

The point is, it’s critical that you think carefully about your offers, their activation windows and how you position it in your communication. Travelocity could have created a lot more interest and excitement if their original subject line had said “72 hour sale” in it … and their follow up email had “Final 24 hours of our sale.”

Motivating your target to act is one of the many challenges facing marketers today, so if you’re going to include an offer, make sure you give it the urgency it deserves.

Are CMOs Really in Charge? Should They Be?

If a CEO is responsible for overall company management and fiscal health, isn’t a CMO responsible for overall brand value and the health of their customer relationships? And if not the CMO, then who?

If a CEO is responsible for overall company management and fiscal health, isn’t a CMO responsible for overall brand value and the health of their customer relationships? And if not the CMO, then who?

Two recent blog posts hit this point home, and left me wondering if CMOs have the breadth and depth of experience, knowledge and expertise to accept responsibility for the total customer experience. Read on, and tell me what you think.

The first blog — on — was titled “Best Buy has spammed me more than all of Nigeria’s princes combined.” The post from author Jon Brodkin should not only make Best Buy cringe, but generate an immediate response from Best Buy’s CMO, Greg Revelle.

It seems that during Jon’s purchase at Best Buy he unwittingly opted-in to a Best Buy email barrage. Within days, his inbox was stuffed with one or two emails a day from the ubiquitous retail store with subject lines like “4-HOUR SALE: Starts now,” “You’d be crazy to pass on this,” “Amazing deals end soon,” and “Jon, save 15% on ink and toner.”

Of course Jon did what any of us would do — he wanted it to go away so he unsubscribed. But when the emails didn’t stop, he went further: He complained on Twitter. He complained directly to Best Buy (and was told the emails would stop). But they didn’t. So he reported Best Buy to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violation of the CAN-SPAM rules.

As a marketer, my first reaction is “Why isn’t someone managing the Best Buy CRM system to create a set of rules that will ensure any single customer will NEVER receive more than X emails from us in a given week or month?”

I can’t imagine a situation where anyone would agree to that many emails from a single brand — so for all the investment Best Buy has made in technology and automated CRM systems, they’re only as good as the humans controlling those technologies. And who controls those humans? In Best Buy’s case, it should be CMO Revelle. It should be his team that manages the CRM system. It should be his staff who sets up and manages email rules. And it should be his team who monitors customer satisfaction with email — looking at open rates, clickthrough rates, conversion rates and unsubscribe rates.

The other example was a LinkedIn post by one of my colleagues, Denise Williams. Titled “Can’t control it? Don’t promise it. [Branding 101].” In it, she complained about an unnamed telecom who offered a rebate on a phone upgrade via a direct mail offer, with the OE teaser “You’re more than our customer. You’re our top priority. Thank you for choosing [our company].”

She took them up on the offer, upgraded and received her gift card/rebate. But, like most of us, forgot she had it in her wallet. So a few months later, when she finally went to activate the card, it was too late — the card had expired.

As she notes, the card act governs how long rebate cards need to be active, and she understands that, but it’s how the organization handled her when she complained that’s the real issue.
After being transferred around and around the call center and asking customer service agents who the President of the company was (they were clueless!), she finally went online, researched the Executive Team and decided to reach out to the CMO by email. Her faith in her ability to have a peer-to-peer discussion about a system failure was encapsulated in this comment: “surely the CMO would understand something this important: that the flawed promotional offer with the expired rebate left me feeling less than a customer who is ‘Top Priority.'”

But the CMO failed her by merely forwarding her inquiry to the executive resolution team — a group from whom Denise had originally tried to contact, but from whom she was shielded. Of course they saw the error in their ways and quickly credited her account the amount of the gift card.

But shame on that CMO. This is customer relationship management 101. Get your telemarketing team up to speed on your brand values. Empower them to solve problems. Teach them how to listen to the customer and help them reach a satisfactory conclusion, because it shouldn’t be this hard to get one little expired gift card reactivated or give the customer a credit.

I’m sure many CMO’s reading this will tell me that they are NOT responsible for the email CRM system, or they’re NOT responsible for the customer service team. But as a C-suite executive responsible for creating positive brand impressions that will ultimately result in sales and happy customers, shouldn’t these customer contact divisions be part of their strategic management team?

Yes, that sounds like the CMO has taken on a much bigger job, but not one that should scare people like the Best Buy’s Greg Revelle. With a BA from Princeton and an MBA from Harvard, I’m sure he’s more than capable.

‘How’s It Goin’, Eh?’ And Other Salutation Dilemmas

After I opened three emails in a row that started with “Hey there,” I realized that my surprised reaction could be attributed to my Canadian/British upbringing. But still, in a B-to-B communication, is it appropriate to open the dialogue with “Hey there”?

While it’s proven that a personalized salutation (“Dear <<First Name>>”) out-performs the more generic (“Dear Friend”) in direct mail for charitable asks, and a 2013 Email Marketing Study from Experian claims that personalized emails deliver six-times higher transaction rates, then why is the trend changing?

Like most of you, I get hundreds of business emails in my inbox every single day. Some are well written, informative and chock full of interesting and useful information — others not so much. I admit that when the email from someone I am not familiar with starts with “Dear Carolyn,” I take an extra second to scan the content because I think I may know them … and this is a marketer’s dream.

But don’t just take my focus group of one as gospel. Marketing Experiments did a head-to-head test to determine if letter-style emails were still effective, and they were able to get a 181 percent lift in conversion when a more formal/traditional style of communication was used. Why?

As Flint M. points out:

  • An email message is not a monologue; it’s a dialogue. People buy from people.
  • If the marketer can learn to participate with the prospect’s conversation, they can guide it with messaging towards your desired conclusion (clicks/purchase).
  • Effective email messaging requires one key skill: Empathy (the ability to discern the nature or being of the customer).

The bottom line is that in order for B-to-B emails to be most effective, marketers must set aside their own self-interests to fundamentally understand the interests or “pain” of their target audience — and it does NOT start by addressing me as “Hey there.”

Secretly, I suspect that this new trend is coming from a few millennials tasked with email marketing for their companies and their lack of formality is because they themselves aren’t comfortable with the traditions of a more seasoned decision maker. Perhaps I’m wrong.

According to Mail Chimp, the June 2015 stats of email open and click thru rates continue to fall, and in some vertical industries they’ve fallen further than in others. If your company is falling behind the norm, I’d like to suggest taking a hard look at your email message starting with the salutation.

Don’t get me wrong. Simply slugging in “Dear <<First Name>>,” at the top of your existing email is not what I’m suggesting.

Instead, spend some time either educating yourself on best practices (just Google the terms and you’ll find hundreds of links to lots of great tips of what works and what doesn’t), or hire somebody who already knows this stuff by heart. Because if you do a good job of building a prospecting lead base or finding an appropriate cold prospecting list that can be segmented by vertical industry (a hands-down best practice!), and you match your email messaging/content to that segment with useful information that empathizes with your target and can solve one of their pain points, your open and click through rates should improve dramatically.

And leave the “Hey there” salutation for the uninformed.