Personal Business – New Job for Greg!

Although I have been busy freelancing for the past few months, I have also been keeping my eyes open for a new marketing position.

Announcing . . . a contract-to-hire job! This was a job opportunity that literally came out of the blue, based on a referral to DirectFed Payment Solutions from a former Intuit coworker.  It is a fast-moving company that is seeking to grow rapidly and the CEO was anxious for me to come on board ASAP.  I’m starting out on a 90-day contractor basis and then determining whether it is a good fit for both them and me before hiring on full-time.  This type of arrangement is one that I had never heard of before this recession.  However, I believe it makes perfect sense for both the employed and the employer to have a trial period.

My head is somewhat spinning over this turn of events. I heard about it Monday, 3/8/10, interviewed Tuesday, traded emails with the CEO and recruiters Tuesday night, and then went back Wednesday for more interview, which became a working session with some of the key people in the company.

They are hiring me as marketing director/sales support director, with a bunch of duties, and some of my income would be commission based. The company is a payment processing company specializing in “Check 21” electronic checks, including a new “CheckAlt” service.  There’s a lot of work to be done, and I start on Monday!

What I like about the position is that it is a relatively new, entrepreneurial company with a lot of potential. The owners are almost literally billionaires, so it is well funded.  This will also be a great opportunity to put on my sales hat and develop my skills in that area – something I have felt was lacking in my career even though I have worked alongside of sales for so long.  It will be a challenge, but something that I can learn from while bringing to the table a lot of experience in the industry.

Wish me luck!

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What I Learned About Marketing While Sitting at a Slot Machine

Last week (February 15-17), my wife, Debbie, and I visited Las Vegas. We weren’t there to gamble or party (not really, anyway) but rather to source products for her eBay business at the OffPrice Show tradeshow. I’ll describe the show in “eBay Elations”, my eBay blog.

Deb and I had a great time, no doubt about it, but I couldn’t help noting some interesting marketing lessons from our friends in Nevada.

Las Vegas - Doing Research

Researching Marketing Techniques at the Venetian

One thing I noticed was the increasing prevalence of penny slot machines. If you haven’t been to Vegas lately, you should know that no one actually feeds copper coated coins into these machines. It’s all done with bills; payout (if your luck holds out ) is via “Cash Out” receipts.

That being said, it appeared to me that casino management had read the signs of their market – people who are increasingly on budgets – and scaled down the costs to participate in the fun. I figured that their strategy was that they would make up the difference in other ways – like when penny slot gamblers feel lucky and wander over to the craps table for a quick killing, er, gambling suicide.

Actually, as my later research turned out, penny slots are actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. People think they are going to spend a few bucks at the penny slots, but with all of the ways to bet on various lines (i.e., different ways to win on a each “pull” of the slot machine), they bet more than just a penny or two at a time. More like 50 or 300 each time. In other words, $.50 to $3.00 or more! Since they bet so many lines, they get “hits” more often, winning on one of the many lines they bet. It’s fun, but still a losing proposition!

So much for my theory on drawing customers on a budget. However, the pricing lesson is also worth noting: advertise low cost but make it tempting and easy to upgrade.

Chinese New Year Trumps Mardi Gras
It’s no secret to Las Vegas, nor the various Native American Casinos, that Asians love gambling. The attention paid to them is simply Marketing 101: When you want to increase your business, pursue the niche or market segment that pays off the most. In Vegas, it’s clear that is the Asian market. This year, Mardi Gras, February 16, coincided with Chinese New Year. Both are big holidays, but which got the most attention in Sin City?

Marketing lessons at casinos

Year of the Tiger Beats Mardi Gras

The Year of the Tiger was commemorated with a giant sculpture in the Venetian Lobby as you’ll see in my photo, not to mention special covers on chairs at the tables, posters in walkways, “Happy Year of the Tiger” bilboards, whole sections of tables devoted to Asian games, paper lanterns at every turn, and a corresponding number of Asian patrons trying their luck. Where did Mardi Gras appear in the scheme of things? Except at the Rio (Brazilian Carnival-themed casino), not many places! I wonder how things differed at casinos in the south?

City’s Branding Effort Reflects Great Marketing Strategy

Glendale, CA, feels it has lost its identity, and the city council wants to find it. I got a kick out of this story in the local paper, as I once lived in Glendale and liked the town a lot. I also like the approach the local government is using to start its journey to a marketable identity. As the “Glendale News-Press,” reported, they’re starting with a research effort to figure out the state of their current identity. That’s a great way to start any public relations or marketing program.

While I do not specialize in research, I have made it a passion in my career. Unfortunately, companies don’t always share that passion – either ignoring research they paid for, or not attempting it at all. Hiring the first research director at Electronic Clearing House, Inc., I was pleased that the company, which was growing rapidly and still operated like a start-up at that time, wanted to commit resources to understanding customers and the market better. The experience with research at ECHO points to some lessons that Glendale can learn from.

Know Your Objectives – Before asking a single question or planning the first task of your research, be clear on your objectives. Researchers tell repeated stories about firms that were fuzzy on their objectives, then obtained results that were unfocused and off the mark.
Seek Actionable Information – Be sure that your efforts will pay off with information you can react to with programs and tactics. Without this focus, you’ll stumble on interesting factoids and anecdotes, but nothing that informs future actions that can help your company.
Quality Check Your Research – If you employ surveys or interviews, be sure to have both the sequence of the questions, the questions themselves, and the multiple-choice answers (if applicable) tested by someone or a group of people who are not involved with your research to QC your effort. Everything from typos, to biased questions, to logical breaks need to be ferreted out before you begin the actual survey/interviews.
Follow Through – While companies often invest in research, they waste the money if they don’t intend to follow through and act on the intelligence.

Recently, to freshen my perspective on research I took a one-day course in “Qualitative Research” taught by Barbara Lewis (Criterion Consulting Group) at UCLA. I’m still going to defer to experts when it comes to the details of building a research program, but I am even more convinced that research is a vital first step to any strategic or marketing initiative.

And Now For Something Completely Different . . . Glendale!

I’m looking forward to the results Glendale will receive. The city is uniquely multicultural, primarily Middle Eastern (Armenian and Iranian) in culture, mixed liberally with various Asian nationalities (Korean, Fillipino, and Chinese), Hispanics, and, to a lesser degree, Anglos. It was developed heavily in the last 30 years, and in that time the results of change have led to a disjointed, inconsistent urban environment.

Knee Deep in Direct Mail? That’s a good thing.

My interest in direct mail has always been high, even in these days of email marketing. Frankly, mail intrigues me. I like stealthy envelopes that seem important and pique my curiosity. I fall for the ones with enticing snipes on the front. All of them. I open it . . . but realize not every one will do so.

Now, in consulting with clients in Southern California, I decided to take another look at my own biases and confront a contemporary answer to the following:

“Would I recommend direct mail to a client? Why not stick with email?”

The first place I chose to examine this question is in the macro view. Between the poor economy, decline in credit card and mortgage lending, green sensibilities and the rise of email, is direct mail declining as my gut tells me it is? eMarketer, a great source of research data, says it has been. Their data reflects through end of year 2008, but I’m sure we can extrapolate through 2009 when the poor economy by all rights would have squeezed mailers even further.

Still, there’s a lot of mail landing in the country’s mailboxes. Direct Magazine says:

U.S. households received 100 billion pieces of direct mail in 2008, according to the recent U.S. Postal Service Household Diary Study. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming percentage arrived in an envelope. While there may be less in your snail mailbox today than even a year ago, those envelopes must work harder to get noticed — and opened.

But think of this: less mail to sort through means less mail fatigue. Thus, better open rates. In direct mail, getting someone to open your envelope is more than half the battle. More “opens” will equate to more business.

One blogger who proposed this connection is Steve Dammon, CEO of Quantum Digital. He also noted the rise in email marketing projected by Forrester for the next five years. This, in my mind, will simply add to increased clutter in the email. Add it to such email “noise” as:

* LinkedIn notifications

* Notices that I have new friends on Facebook

* eBay “outbid” emails when the good deal on collectibles is getting away

* Mom asking me for my daughter’s latest address

* ALL THE OTHER opt-in information I get and can’t seem to turn off even though I have long since lost interest in the company

You get the idea.

I’m not saying email doesn’t have a place in the marketing mix. It’s a great way to continue engaging a customer or other stakeholder as well as expand relationships. Twitter, RSS feeds, Google Reader and other tools also work. All together, the marketer must ensure they work together in a coordinated scheme.

Woo hoo! Now, if I inadvertently say “direct mail” around a client who’s only into email, I can point to actual facts.

“Yes, Son, There is a Santa Claus in Social Media” – Marketing Advice to my Fitness-Trainer Nephew

Holiday dinners are a great time to talk. This past Christmas, I chatted with my nephew, Denver Whitley, a former U.S. Marine, Afghanistan veteran, and now an independent personal trainer in Reno, Nevada. (I wish I lived closer to Denver as I would like to have half his strength and fitness.) Like any professional, Denver is faced with the challenge of expanding his clientele. Word of mouth is working, but he would like to grow his business even faster.

At dinner, he asked me for some suggestions on marketing, and I gave him a quick demo of ways to market his biz on-line, using social media. Of course, with all the hubbub, I promised to send him a summary of my suggestions in writing in case he missed my sage comments in between eggnog and prime rib.

Below, is my start to that promised letter.

Hi Denver!

I just wanted to get back to you about the marketing tips I promised. It was fun discussing Twitter, Facebook and MySpace marketing!  Thanks for not telling your Aunt Debbie that I took seconds of the potato casserole.

In looking at your MySpace Page, I like that you have good exercise photos and useful info. You can set up the same on Facebook. However, instead of putting this on your personal FB page, set up a Fan Page for Engage Personal Training (or call it “Denver Whitley’s Fitness Training” whatever works for the long term). As I mentioned, the reason to focus more on Facebook than MySpace is the demographics of who uses each. Facebook is just more widely followed by people in their 30s-50s, who are your target customers.

To set up a fan page, you’ll have to log-out of Facebook, then, on the login page, note the small link at the bottom of the page that says “Create a Page for a celebrity, band or business.” After it’s started, invite all your friends to “fan” the page, and start mentioning it to your clients so they will sign up too.  Print out a screen print of the page and post it at the gym where you work.  Add a link at the bottom of your business card.

Using Twitter to Brand Your Skills
To get more followers, and more potential customers, broadcast your content to the world through Twitter.  In addition to the photos of exercises you have on MySpace, another type of content would be “fitness tips” in list form. This might sound time-consuming, but here are some ways to make it easier which I’ll list below. To start, write down the top 20 suggestions you make right off the top of your mind and post these on your MySpace blog and copy them to your Facebook fan page (in the “notes” section).  Then, post one of these tips on Twitter every few days and include a link to the notes page on your fan page.  (To show your local angle, add #Reno to all of your tweets.)*

Spend a minute each day thinking of one tip on fitness and tweet it. It might be a question you were asked by a client about how to lose weight, to fix an injury (like your Uncle Greg!), or build muscle. You might carry a notepad ion your clipboard you carry with you to jot these things down as they pop up. Or sit down and brainstorm a list of 50 with other fitness-minded buddies and write them all down.

Here are some thoughts I had just as an example of some blog posts that would give you lots of Tweets to broadcast:

– The 10 most common fitness problems faced by women, by men; by men over 50, by women over 50, etc. etc..  
– Ten common misperceptions people have about fitness.
– Tips for preparing for the marathon.
– Core training – It’s easier than you think.
– Functional training at home and at the gym
– Losing the gut – it’s more than doing crunches.  

Each problem and solution goes on a list that you create in Facebook and MySpace blogs. (Remember: blog titles that include a number are immediately engaging: “Top Ten Ways to Lose Weight for Men Over 50.”) (In addition, you can set up a free blog on WordPress or Google Blogs and copy and paste the same content between that, your MySpace and your Facebook page. These blogs can draw more followers, and can be searched and found on Google and other search engines.)

Go Hollywood, Man!
If you’ve taken any videos of exercises, demos, etc. that’s all good stuff to post on YouTube and then link from Facebook and your Twitter Tweets. People love seeing exactly how something is done. If you know someone who has video editing capabilities (even a simple program on a PC) create a version of the video that displays your URL to your Myspace and/or Facebook fan pages. Good advertising!

Feel free to call me any time you want to bounce some ideas off of me. As my nephew, and a really talented trainer, I feel a personal calling to help you succeed.

Best regards,

Greg Imlay

Dear Reader: Please weigh in!

Well, marketing pros, what have I left out? What could you offer that will help a Vet and a really nice guy?

* Remember: to use a short link – go to TinyURL.com, paste the full link into the form and then you can use the short URL in Twitter or your MySpace/Facebook status updates.

Marketing 2009 – Fun With Numbers

Wow, the year is almost over. You’ve already read or seen on TV dozens of retrospectives of 2009 and the decade we’re just concluding. Now it’s my turn to present some surprises in the world of marketing in the past year.

In “15 Things You Didn’t Know About Marketing,” from the AMA’s Marketing News (12/30/09), there were at least 10 things I didn’t know about marketing, and almost all of them reflect on recent trends in marketing. (Note: The article I’m referencing had not made it to the AMA website as of the time I write this. They seem to be a few weeks behind the print edition.)

First, the fact that didn’t surprise me: “attention-getting” internet ads can do more harm than good. As I wrote in an <earlier post, annoyance doesn’t work as a means of advertising. According to LinkedIn Research Network and Harris Poll, 80% of respondents find expanding ads that cover online content “very frustrating.” I am sympathetic to advertisers attempting to get your attention, but the aggressive techniques aren’t going to cut it.

Building the Case for Email?
Here’s a fun fact: E-mail marketing isn’t dead. According to Epsilon Data Management, open rates increased 18.2% in 2009’s second quarter, compared to the same period the year before. Who knew? Back in the halcyon years of email marketing, before spam and over-exposure killed the email goose’s Golden Eggs, email marketing actually brought results. I saw it happen, cuz I was there. Then, someone decided porn, meds and dating services should be poured into everyone’s email box in a steady stream, killing the medium. My theory is that open rates have increased because of anti-spam filters killing off a large portion of the spam (not all, unfortunately), so the email that does reach our inboxes is more likely to be noticed and opened if it is relevant.

Are marketers getting better at using email, too? I would say yes, and the surprising fact about email open rates confirms that.

Surprising Facts?

Some of the facts I found interesting but not as surprising are still worth mentioning.

With all of the focus on Twitter and social marketing, I believe most marketers like myself already understand that Twitter is not just for kids. In fact, only 16% of Twitter fans are under age 25 according to a Nielson NetRatings panel of 250,000 Internet users. Twitter isn’t text messaging. It’s a means of broadcasting to a wider audience – and it’s primarily a means of establishing yourself and your company as a brand. It’s a teaser ad, a service announcement, and a wide-casting communication tool.

Mobile telemarketing: wide open opportunity or a regulated network?

According to Jerry Cerasale, SVP for government affairs for the DMA, there’s a recurring urban myth that cell phones will soon be open game for telemarketers. Not true, according to Cerasale. Thank God. No sales calls while I’m at the New Years Eve party!

Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Let the Trade Show Season Begin!

I read today some commentary about The Retail Show, the annual January extravaganza hosted by the National Retail Federation. For Electronic Clearing House, a payment processor acquired by Intuit Inc. in 2008 (where I served as Marketing Director) NRF was an annual, agonizing decision: to show, or not to show. To go, or not to go.

Going, as in attending, was a less momentous decision. Showing, as in hosting a booth or a hospitality suite or some combination of the two, obviously carries with it more cost, more preparation, and more tradeoffs with other marketing initiatives.

Trade-offs and Trade-downs

I’d like to remind my fellow marketers about the challenges of making an impact at a show of the magnitude of the Retail Show. ECHO never slung money in giant quantities for marketing, so my role was making an impact with minimal budget. Whereas smaller shows were easier to leave with quality leads, larger shows always left us feeling overshadowed by the larger budgets of the behemoths dominating the 40′ x 40′ booth spaces in the show. Thus, we focused increasingly on trading down to regional show or shows with narrower industry focus.

Planning for the Regional Show

Although smaller shows represent less competition, the same basic rules apply, but on a smaller scale:

    Plan ahead and take advantage of the early bird discounts for booth space, advertising, logistical services, etc.
    Understand and take advantage of the marketing opportunities available through the show organizer. Be sure to make all the deadlines for providing a show profile in the show guide, association web site, etc.
    Often, sponsoring a break will give you a great opportunity to grab lots of attention – but this too needs to be decided early as good spots go fast. (By good, I mean anything that you feel is effective and meets your budget. By bad, I mean anything that’s left over – say, sponsoring the mens room towel rack.
    Public relations can be leveraged for the show – if you can plan your news for the time of the show. New products or product development often provide good news to report. But this takes planning and coordination with the product development team. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already done this, spend some time getting to know the media covering the show. You should be getting to know them anyway!

Measurement
To justify going to the show next year, nothing beats a good track record – one involving tracking of leads and the dollar value of closing them. In my experience, this task must be enforced from the top down. Persuading the sales team to track and report on their leads takes both the sales management and all the charm the marketing team can muster. No charm? Go to work in operations.