Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Marketing Maneuvers to Make Your Business Soar In 2009

This post is an abbreviated version of a newsletter I recently sent to my clients. Whether or not you agree with everything I've written, I hope you can at least find one takeaway.

As we come to the end of another year, it's time to not only look back over the progress we've made in our businesses/job/life/health but also to look ahead, set new goals and refine our strategies for 2009. I'm going to share with you some ideas that can hopefully help you get to where you want to go a bit faster.

Mobile usage is continuing to grow and along with it mobile surfing. What does this mean for your business? That depends on who your audience is. But the adoption rate is accelerating at a rapid pace within North America across all age groups and income levels. Mobile considerations:

  • Do you have an alternate version of your website(s) for mobile devices? If not, how does your existing site look? How much scrolling do people need to do?

  • How do your emails look when viewed on a mobile device? If you are using HTML, consider dropping multi-column tables.

  • Do you have videos on your website? Are you relying on videos to perform the entire selling job?

  • How is your marketing/sales/ordering process being impacted?

Personal commentary: I recently got an iPod Touch and am having a blast with it. I was surprised to see that almost every sales site I've seen with only video could not run the video on the iPod Touch.

The Internet is Increasingly About Communication. Web 2.0 has given the individual a voice and with it power. Sure there is a lot of noise, but if you use social marketing in constructive ways that allow you/your business/your organization to engage in communication with your prospective/past/existing customers, you will stand out. It takes very little extra time/effort to do things right on this front. The same thing is true for literally every kind of online marketing you can do.

  • Assuming you have some form of a social marketing strategy to begin with, take some time to really assess what you are doing. Are you using it in a way that is in line with the image you want to project? What are your competitors doing that seems like it would feel right from a consumer's standpoint? What are they doing wrong?

  • If you send out emails to your customer/subscriber list, what are you really sending out? Are they simply marketing/sales pitches for your own products/services or for others? Or are you actually providing your recipients something of value at least some of the time? Many people say that email marketing is losing it's effectiveness. I suspect that most people that say this are doing 2 things wrong: 1. They are focusing on selling rather than marketing and 2. They see the recipients of their emails as subscribers and not readers.

  • What return email address are you using on your mass mailings? There's been a growing movement towards "do not reply" addresses. Many people/companies say they can't handle the responses. At minimum use an autoresponder. The best case is to have someone actually deal with incoming emails and route them accordingly.

Many Tactics That Worked Well in 2008 Will Not in 2009. This past year, we've seen a lot of new marketing methods pop up that worked very well. But new methods can get stale rather quickly and you'll need to carefully consider what is most appropriate for your business model in 2009. Here are just a couple of example:

  • Exit discounts became common place and worked but they are losing their effectiveness. I've had several clients that did conversion comparison with and without them in the past 2 months. Although order rate went up slightly with an exit discount, the overall profit actually went down. If you are backending a continuity program or something else, then getting more paid customers in the door may be worth the loss of upfront profit. I suspect part of the reason it seems to be resulting in diminishing profits is that more Internet buyers are used to seeing them so they'll test a site by leaving before they actually order. (None of the clients that did this comparison were in Internet Marketing .)

  • Lengthy videos doing 100% of the selling will lose their effectiveness. Don't get me wrong - videos do have their place in the marketing & sales process and can truly boost conversion rates. But the novelty of long videos is starting to wear off for a lot of people. In one day last week, I received 22 different emails from marketers whose lists I subscribe to that simply pointed to a video sales page. If the average video was even 20 minutes long that would represent my full working day. What does the profile of your ideal prospect who will actually have the money to buy your product/service look like? Is it someone that has hours a day to watch videos?

Obviously I haven't covered everything here. I tried to focus on smaller things that I believe can have the most significant impact on ROI and shortest deployment time.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Use Paypal? Something You May Not Be Aware Of

I am continuously surprised by the number of people that don't see to know about a Paypal feature - Mass Pay. If you are already familiar with it, you can skip this post, but for the sake of those of you who may not be, I thought I'd share it.

Mass pay is a way to send payments to an individual or a group of individuals at one time. The funds must be available in your account in order for you to send money. The sender pays the fees which are capped at $1 in USD or $1.25 in CAD. There are no fees for the recipient.

Sending mass pay is pretty easy. For US sending accounts, you click the Mass Pay link at the bottom of each screen once you are logged into your account. You'll need to prepare a text, tab delimited file that contains the recipient's email address, the currency and the amount to be paid. Other field options are available. You then upload the file to Paypal.

For Canadian sending accounts, it is pretty much the same procedure except to get to the Mass Pay screen, you'll need to go to the merchant area.

As with normal payments, the recipient gets a notice that they have received funds.

I use Mass Pay for the majority of the payments I send via Paypal. It gives negotiating room when making purchases, paying contractors, etc since the recipient doesn't need to pay any fees. I also ask buyers/clients in many cases to send payment via Mass Pay when appropriate.

From what I understand, the risks are much lower with Mass Pay than with accepting other kinds of payment via Paypal. Unlike with cc funded payments, buyers cannot go back to their cc company where Paypal will typically reverse the charges immediately without even waiting for a response from the seller.

Hope this has saved someone reading this some money!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Surprising test results of email marketing campaign

I don't have a lot of time to get into details on this but I thought it was worth sharing. I've now been working in the email marketing space for over a decade. I continue to be surprised by new test variables that prove to have interesting results. Interesting in that it can be well worth the bit of time involved to test.

In the past month, I've worked with 2 clients who were doing limited launches. Both for products outside of the Internet Marketing circles and in niche areas. Both followed a string of successive emails building up to launch day. Both had a limited number of products available for sale. Price points were almost the same. No affiliates/jv partners used. These were launches done to in-house lists.

Client A followed the normal strategy to almost a T in that everyone received the same emails. At launch - 3 hours, 1/3 of the 28,000 list received one of the following emails:

A. <> opening in 3 hours
B. <> opening at 1 pm
C. <> opening at 1 pm Pacific

A minor difference to most people, but the results and how this translated to sales was significant. Who received which of these 3 emails was entirely randomized. The content of the emails as well as the email that went out at actual launch was exactly the same for everyone. The shocker here is that not only did version C recipients open more than A+B recipients combined, but over 75% of the orders in the first 30 minutes came from version C recipients. In the end, version C recipients ordered only slightly more units than versions A or B. However it did take almost 6 hours to sell out entirely.

Lessons learned: Specificity on the timing side is important if you are shooting for a fast sell-out. If you are promoting as a JV partner or as an affiliate, it could help you to get a bit more sales in.

Client B's launch was the following week and I asked if we could take this testing idea one step further. His database actually contained state/zip/country for more than half of subscribers. For the rest, IP addresses were saved. We broke his database down into 11 segments based on time zone and 1 for ones we were unable to determine. Starting the day before launch, we started to customize emails based on these segments. There was one email sent out the day before launch, one email sent out -3 hours, one email sent at launch and then a final one sent at sold out. Here's where things get really interesting: for all 11 time based segments, between 60 and 75% of orders came in during the first 30 minutes. If we consider the 12th group as a control group - something to compare results against - the overall conversion rate was about the same (it took 4 hours to sell out) however only 18% ordered in the first 30 minutes.

Lesson learned: specificity is even more important than I would have thought. Making it a no-brainer for people to know the time they need to be ready to order can help boost immediate sales.

A few caveats:
  1. Because the numbers worked out this way in these tests does not mean that they would necessarily work the same way for you. This is why testing is important. (If you do run a test of this kind and would like to share your own results, I'd love to hear about it.)
  2. For time-based launches, it's really important to use a vendor that can actually get your emails out on time. I'm continually baffled by the number of big time Internet Marketers who use third rate mailing systems where their emails go out HOURS after a launch has actually sold out and/or many of their emails end up filtered in spam folder because they are using the same content as other marketers. Reliable email marketing service. (Yes, it's my company.)
  3. What about if you don't have data to do geo targetting? If you are using double opt-in, you likely have the IP information associated with a sign-up stored "somewhere". Although that is a laborious process to match back, you can go to Rentacoder or Odesk and get the work done for about $1-2 per 500 addresses.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

WII Fit Challenge

A week ago, I got a WII in anticipation of the WII Fit. Fortunately without preordering from anywhere, I was able to get a WII Fit at my local Walmart. It was one of 2 they had left by around 8:30 am.

I want to tell you why I was so excited about it and why I'm posting about it here.

I work from home. I have a fully equipped home gym. Tons of exercise videos. Basically I could be in amazing shape just with what I have right here.

For more of my life than not, I've been on some kind of regular fitness program. The problem for me is that the majority of my day is pretty sedentary. Working out 30-60 minutes a day while sitting on my butt the rest of the day is not an answer. I find myself having too hard a recovery time. I find when I have to do things like travel, go to conferences, or just normal higher activity days, I'm not able to keep up as well as I'd like to. Giving up having a cleaning woman and doing more household chores hasn't helped. (It certainly hasn't helped my house since I have zero motivation when it comes to cleaning!)

I have a theory. No scientific foundation behind this. Just based on what I am seeing in my own life.

For the past couple of decades, fitness experts have all pretty much agreed that to optimize your metabolism you should be eating 5-6 meals a day and not going longer than 2-3 hours without eating. The idea behind this is that one of the best calorie burners is our metabolism. By continually stoking it, we keep the metabolism going. Of course, what you eat is important in the equation as well. In spite of the scientific evidence backing this, many nutritionists, doctors etc still say that you should eat 3 squares a day with 1 or 2 snacks. I know from personal experience that moving to 6 meals a day made me realize that the idea that we simply need a calorie deficit in order to lose weight is entirely wrong. I lost around 70 lbs in 8 months by following a few simple guidelines:
  • Have 5-6 meals per day with the first meal being within 90 minutes of waking up;
  • Each meal should be between 100 and 400 calories;
  • Alternate how much I eat from one day to the next;
  • Have one day every week or two where I go over the max calorie count for at least 2 or 3 meals;
  • Drink lots of water;
  • If I want something, have it - but either in moderation or save it for one of my higher calorie days;
  • And try to limit the amount of processed food - especially starchy ones.

I've never had any difficulty with losing weight but keeping it off is proving to be another story. Even if I stayed with the above, eventually my body starts to adjust and the weight gradually creeps up.

I think that a missing part of the equation for me - and many others - is that our lives in general are way too sedentary. Scientific research has shown that we get a boost of calorie burning from physical activity during the hours after. Doesn't it make sense given what we know about the way our metabolisms function with frequent mini-meals that we could see the same boost in our metabolisms from having frequent mini-exercise sessions?

Having longer treadmill/other cardio and weight sessions is not the answer. Been there, done that. It just makes me resent exercise. Adding on extra sessions is not the answer. It's hard enough to find the time to exercise in the first place, nevermind doubling up sessions. Besides, I've already gone through the experience a few years back of setting an aggressive exercise goal (training for a marathon) and dealt with the ramifications of it - blowing a knee out from overtraining.

So this is why I was excited about the WII Fit. I don't expect it to REPLACE a regular exercise program, but to provide me with an easy way to fit in 5-10 minute exercise sessions every 2 hours or so during my work day. Most of us know that some kind of break during our workday is good. It helps keep us our mental motors running smoothly to get a change of pace. I enjoy games so for me, having game/exercise breaks sounds perfect.

I'm hoping that an added benefit will be a bit of reduction in my stress level too. I know that exercise in general helps settle me down and clears my mind. Hopefully during these mini breaks, it will help me deal with daily stresses a little better.

On my first day (Wednesday), I did only 15 minutes on it. I also spent about the same amount of time on Wii Sports on boxing/tennis and baseball. I find that my upper body strength has been declining as I've been getting older and those 3 sports focused on upper body in ways that my normal exercise routine doesn't. Today (Thursday), I did 21 minutes on WII Fit and another 20 minutes on Wii Sports. A little more than I intended to, but I was having fun. :)

My objective is to try and spend somewhere between 30-45 minutes 5-6 days a week between Wii Fit and Wii Sports.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I recently decided to investigate different project management/collaboration tools. The last time I did this was a couple of years ago and I was surprised how many different ones are available. After spending countless hours researching which would be the best one for what I needed, I ended up settling on CentralDesktop. Here's why:

  • Having read the company's blog and forum, I know the people behind the company are passionate in what they do. That is a huge plus. Having read what I did I know that this is about more than just money but creating a really great product.
  • CD differentiates between internal and external users. This is a plus because for many upcoming projects, we'll be bringing people in on a short-term basis and giving limited access to only a specific project they are involved with is crucial. Plus, internal staff can access more (read: confidential info pertaining to a project) than what external service providers can.
  • There is version tracking for documents and you can do rollbacks. Although it's not something I am in need of at this minute, it is a feature that will be important as our team is developed.
  • Their storage capacity and upgrading it is billed on a reasonable basis. I was amazed how many service providers in this area are charging huge fees for storage.
  • You can have private or public workspaces.

CentralDesktop uses slightly different terminology than other services. For example, you set up workspaces rather than projects. Workspaces can include a variety of things such as blogs, discussion areas, documents, wikis and of course project tracking.

They allow for a 30 day free trial of a personal workspace - allowing up to 2 users and 2 workspaces. Their normal billing structure is very reasonable for what is included and the number of users. For example, we opted to start with their Company Plan 3 which costs $99 per month. It allows 25 internal users, 250 external users, 25 workspaces and 5 GB of storage space. Since they allow you to archive/delete old workspaces, this should carry us for quite a while. The average competitive service I looked at charged around $40/month per user - whether internal or external and had half the storage space. This seemed like a steal comparatively speaking.

On the offside, there is very little documentation right now. There is one long video and several short-ones that deal with specific tasks, but I noticed that several items have been changed since the videos were made. From reading the forum it seems that providing better documentation is something they are working on.

The lack of documentation hasn't been a huge problem for 3 reasons: The system is pretty easy to use. Their email support has been very fast. There is also an active and well-supported forum. Most of the questions I had I found the answers to by looking through the forum. It still would be nice if one of their higher level staff could actually sit down for a half a day and make some additional videos on applications of the different features. I'm sure this would increase their client retention rate because I know that most people wouldn't have a clue about what some of the features can be used for.

If/when I have some time I'll share some comments in the future on other tools I looked at.