Email Marketing Primed For Massive Disruption

I just had a great conversation with a friend that covered, among many things, email marketing and how broken it really is. Then I come home and open up my email, finding this.


Email marketing is so fundamentally broken that it defies the imagination. Single digit response rates are considered a great success and not pissing off your market is a good day. Companies in all market segments turn to email marketing knowing full well it is not an optimal solution, meanwhile email service providers and software companies actively develop solutions that defeat email marketing. Users have been conditioned to avoid “unsubscribe” links because they serve primarily to validate email addresses purchased from lists, while legitimate unsubscribe links often do not work or take up to 30 days to remove you from a list that took a nanosecond to add you to.

Obviously the biggest problem with email marketing is the lack of effective targeting technology. Current generation solutions use blunt force instruments for targeting and the result is that prospects are rarely matched with information and offers that appeal to them. This also explains why the takeup rate is so low.

There simply has to be a better way to do this, whether it be tapping into activity streams and feeds, affiliate arrangements, or location based services. Something… anything has to be better than what we have today.

Techrigy SM2 – Social Media Monitoring

Early last year Rochester, NY based Techrigy launched SM2. Dubbed a social media monitoring service, SM2 is representative of a growing class of services that are going beyond Google Alert type filters to a comprehensive monitoring solution that aggregates content from a virtually unlimited number of network sources.

As an aside, Google News Alerts has really gone to shit in recent months to the point that it can’t be relied on for serious monitoring requirements, there is simply too much noise in the alerts and no ability to fine tune outside of keyword selection. This is opening up a whole new category of services for startups and existing vendors to fill… which is not to suggest that Google News Alerts created the market but rather the visibility they provided is a boost for everyone else.

What is interesting about SM2 is the underlying social media warehouse, which currently houses 1.2 billion conversation records from multiple sources along with approximately 35 pieces of metadata attached to each conversation. The ability to aggregate conversation data and then extend it with proprietary metadata is what makes it valuable.

The fact that Techrigy is collecting data from multiple sources is not special, although this is not to suggest it is easy. APIs and RSS feeds are broadly available that enable applications to harvest user generated content from social networks off all kinds and whatever is left over can be scraped as a worst case method. Gnip is an example of a data service that is built around the premise of aggregating social network data and wholesaling it. Again I come back to the data extensions, like profile and sentiment analysis, being the key ingredient for turning data into information that can be acted on.

SM2 is not a database of information, it is a brand monitoring solution with a workflow driven user interface that takes a keyword filtering approach for identifying actionable content and then running through a workflow approach for prioritizing high yield tasks for attention. The number of reports and dashboards is a little overwhelming at first, but it’s laid out in a way that makes everything very navigable, which flattens out the learning curve. There are even a few nice extras, like the ability to monitor wikipedia pages, that makes SM2 nicely rounded out.

I’ve looked at a lot of analytics solutions over the years and the point about a workflow is really important because that is the component that takes information and turns it into action. People don’t need more information, they need targeted information that they can act on and measure the results.

There are many social media monitoring applications that have emerged in recent years, which is no surprise given the attention that brands are putting on social media channels. I’m starting to see some targeting of these services to specific segments of the market, and SM2 is no exception here being targeted to PR agencies versus Radian6, which is more aligned to the needs to an advertising agency.

SM2 is available on a month-to-month subscription basis (several plans are available) and from what I saw it appears that you can get up and running in a matter of hours.

An open question remains regarding overall performance and latency of data (how much time elapses from publishing to notification) but from what I saw it appears that SM2 is a good solution for PR agencies and in house groups that are monitoring a wide range of content sources and attempting to engage a subset of conversations.

Pepsi’s Partisan Marketing

When I saw this yesterday I was a little flabbergasted, it’s almost shameful that Pepsi would pander in this manner but it’s also really risky.

When you insert politics into business and take a side, you end up alienating half of your potential market. This is self-evident and Pepsi may have calculated that given the blue state reach of their business that this is a calculated risk but they would be wise to look at what happened to Oprah and her ratings over the last year.

The show has been drifting back to Earth, losing 7 percent of its audience nationwide this year alone. O Magazine saw a double-digit decline in circulation. Authors can no longer count on the “Oprah effect.” And her endorsement of Barack Obama may have turned off, literally, viewers who supported Hillary Clinton.

Given the fragile state of the economy I would speculate that Pepsi doesn’t need to be doing anything that really only has the potential to hurt them. As a shareholder I would prefer that they stick to making sugary drinks and salty snacks. Pepsi is a well run company, there is no need to stumble now with a speculate brand marketing initiative.

On a related note, I couldn’t help but notice that Pepsi is not taking a similarly progressive attitude toward the NY state tax on soda.

At any rate this is unlikely to affect my purchasing decisions one way or the other, I’m a Dr. Pepper drinker myself (Dublin Dr. Pepper, the Texas bottler that refused to convert to high fructose corn syrup).

Breppies and Word of Mouth Marketing

A few weeks ago I received an email from the founder of a company that makes little earbud covers, call Breppies. While it is not uncommon to get emails about products and companies, this one stood out for two reasons.

First and foremost, the email from Dean Romero was thoughtful and reflected that fact that the guy actually reads what I write. He laid out his dilemma for marketing his product, which is that not having a substantial advertising budget how does one get started with word of mouth marketing. It’s not just about the theory behind word of mouth marketing but rather the tactical 1-2-3 steps for getting the ball rolling.

This is a tough question to answer because like a lot of things in business the theory is relatively straightforward while the actual execution is frustratingly difficult. I mean if Gladwell’s Tipping Point were really that obvious then everyone would be doing it and doing it successfully but the fact remains that they are not.

The second reason his email stood out is that just that day I became really frustrated with my iphone earbuds. I’m not a bluetooth headset guy, I simply don’t like them and outside of my integrated bluetooth in the car I don’t use it. I do, however, like the plain ‘ol ipod headphones which aside from a nasty habit of tangling up work really well. One big problem, once the small rubber gasket around the perimeter of the earbud wears off they simply won’t stay in your ear and Apple wants $29 for a replacement set, which I think is robbery. My interest in Breppies was growing.

200901152234.jpg Dean sent me a couple of pairs and I gave one set to my wife and took the other for myself. In a sentence, these things work. A little challenging to get on but once they are installed your old headphones feel better than new.

These are a great product with a classic dilemma, how to build channel support and market awareness. I’m doing my part by writing an endorsement of this product, if you email me I’ll give you his email address to follow up with him directly. You can also click on this link to get a free product sample.

Chrysler Blog, Probably Not a Good Time for “Conversation”

Chrysler has a blog and on it they posted a digital copy of that stupid “thank you America” ad they spent $100k of your money running. The comments on the post speak convincingly about the depth of anger felt by the vast majority, probably 98%, of people on this subject as evidenced by what they are posting.

“Hey Crysler! You’re not welcome. You took my hard earned tax dollars without congressional approval. This is not the time for a “thank you.” This would be a good time for a refund…and an apology. “

“Bob Nardelli – thanking Americans for stealing their money is NOT something to boast about on your website.”

“Obviously nothing has changed. Chrysler is still making stupid decisions by wasting its stolen taxpayer money on useless ads.”

GM’s Fastlane blog has a similar statement about the bridge loans but the comments are markedly more measured. I think this reflects a couple of factors, the first being that Fastlane is much more respected in the automotive world as a blog about cars on GM’s site, whereas the Chrysler blog is simply a marketing exercise. The distinction is subtle because technically both are marketing tools but the Fastlane blog has substance that is conspicuously lacking in the Chrysler blog.

The second factor is likely the anger about the ad that Chrysler ran, which show further tone deafness about the displeasure that the American public feels about these bailouts. Chrysler also has two other problems, Cerberus and Bob Nardelli. The former being a private equity firm represents to many people a symbol for why our global economy is in the shitter to begin with, and the latter is a reviled man in many corners for his outrageous severance package at Home Depot and also because he’s not a “car guy” so he is viewed as an interloper.

Chrysler would do well to shut down the blog at this point. There is no way the comments will turn positive and because they can’t whitewash them away, the comments only serve to reinforce the negativity surrounding this company.

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The Delicate Nature of Trust and Brands

If you look at what is going on in our global financial markets and many large business sectors (airlines and auto manufacturers in particular) the disease they are suffering from is a lack of trust among consumers.

The financial markets have witnessed wholesale capitulation by retail investors who understand that the market is functioning not on the basis of fundamental business strength and weakness, but at the mercy of large fund traders who are capable of moving any large stock 10% up or down on any given day irrespective of what the circumstances surrounding that business are. The retail investor sees these bear raids and bull runs are for what they are, insider dominated trading.

Volatility increases as the number of participants in a market decreases. Retail investors are sitting this out and the SEC and Congress are not helping, on one side is the SEC which has done little to create level playing fields in markets and Congress has distorted the markets with trillions of dollars of your money being committed to companies and industries that should not be getting free money. Insiders have polluted and corrupted every one of the bills that deal with economic stabilization, the latest outrage being provisions inserted into the auto failout bill that would provide a pay raise to federal judges and a provision that would let transit agencies off the hook for illegal SILO tax shelter tansactions.

On the business side, industries like American auto manufactures and airlines have done everything within their reach to tarnish their brands over the last 20 years and irrespective of whatever financial propping up they receive from Congress, the fact remains that their biggest obstacle to success over the long run are not credit markets or labor costs, it’s a lack of trust among consumers.

American cars and trucks are without a doubt competitive on quality benchmarks, every customer satisfaction and quality survey reveals this fact. Having had a wide range of these vehicles myself, I have no complaints about GM and Ford quality, in fact the GMC Denali that we owned at one point did not have a single issue that required service, beyond regular maintenance, and it was one of the best equipped and most comfortable vehicles we have ever owned.

If you look at the model lineup GM and Ford in particular you will see a strong portfolio of high mileage vehicles. Chevrolet offers 88 models (yeah that’s somewhat of a problem in itself) with an average fuel economy across the entire portfolio of 23mpg, while Toyota’s 55 models comes in at 21mpg. GM’s efforts on Flex-fuel (E85) have led the industry, 6% of their volume is now Flex-fuel vehicles (hybrids are 2% of Toyota’s shipments). GM alone has invested $750 million in development of the Volt, advancing state of the art not only in powertrain technology but also in battery technology.

What are the two biggest complaints that critics throw up on GM and Ford? They make crappy cars and the have not invested in fuel efficient cars and low emissions technology.

Even if GM survives (Ford is not in as bad a crisis and Chrysler simply won’t survive) the bigger challenge they face is that consumers don’t value their brand anymore. The same applies to the big airlines, while Southwest and JetBlue were cultivating their respective brands, UAL and Delta were doing just the opposite. Running new advertising, remaking the corporate logo, and self-flagellation among executives won’t change any of this.

Congress is in no better condition either, the public not only gives this Congress historically low approval ratings, they also have little confidence that Congress will be a constructive player in our current economic downturn.

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Why Aren’t More Advertisers Using Widgets?

Let’s see… why aren’t advertisers using widgets more often? Hmmm, maybe because advertisers are still largely defined by a display ad mentality that hinges on their ability to get consumers to click on a banner in response to cute creative or simply tricking them.

Until they go digital. Branded widgets are the refrigerator magnets of the Brave New World. These compact, portable little software apps — from video players to countdown clocks to makeup simulators — are inexpensive to distribute, free to the user and (often enough) distinctly useful. At a minimum, they carry an ad message wherever they go.

[From Garfield: Why Aren’t More Advertisers Using Widgets? – Advertising Age – News]

Widgets do offer a substantial upping of the ante for advertisers but a few things are lacking. First and foremost, while widgets use script blocks to deliver the hosted widget, there are still far too many inconsistencies with the way that the 40+ destination sites handle widgets.

HTML widgets offer far simpler authoring and more reliable playback, but many social networks only want Flash widgets. Google, on the other hand, would prefer to have as little Flash as possible. Then there is the size issue and the fact that widgets that are not well behaved will cause a number of browser issues on page load.

The ability to track and report on widget traffic is quite erratic from one network to another and instrumentation of widgets can impose network and service overhead that causes problems all it’s own.

The biggest problem for advertisers is that while widgets are free for users, they aren’t free for advertisers and publishers who have to pay directly and indirectly to support them. With the vast majority of widget traffic going into social networks the CPM is atrocious and advertising networks want little to do with them because they don’t like, despite their assertions to the contrary, the long tail. Advertisers want to know where their ads, or in this case widgets, are residing because they believe, rightly I would offer, that their brand integrity demands it.

Despite all that, I love widgets and believe that they offer many compelling advantages over display ads, we just have to get beyond an advertising culture issue to hit mainstream with them. It’s kind of like behavioral and micro-targeting, every advertiser and advertising network says these are definitely the future, but very few actually ever explore using these techniques.

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Twollow: Automatically Follow People on Twitter Based on Keywords

Applying analytics to twitter remains a challenge. I had breakfast with a senior executive from a fortune 50 (actually, a Dow 30) company today and this topic came up. There are a lot of point solutions that help you discover interesting things about what is happening on twitter, but none of these tools provides you with capabilities to measure anything but raw data. The bane of analytics solutions is when they operate as reporting tools… telling you what something is instead of what it means. This will remain an emergent area for companies pushing tools like Twollow but they will have little penetration into the corporate executive suite because they fail to function in an integrated fashion or integrate with other dashboard measurement systems that are already in use.

Twollow is new simple tool that automatically follows people based on keywords or phrases that those people mention. Think of it like Google Alerts but for twitter. It’s an interesting idea but sometimes people will mention keywords or topics that aren’t really representative of their industry. For example you can be in the technology industry and then one day you casually mention “cookies” in one of your tweets. It also doesn’t look like the system keeps track of who the new followers are.

[From Twollow: Automatically Follow People on Twitter Based on Keywords]

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