Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Email Marketing Tips Everyone Can use

One of my favorite movies is the 1985 film Fletch, starring Chevy Chase as wise-cracking investigative newspaper reporter Irwin M. Fletcher. Though it's 33 years old, there's one line that resonates with me to this day in my daily work. As Fletch's investigation into "drugs at the beach" widens, his harried editor Frank implores him to stop chasing conspiracy theories and finish the story by saying, "Give me something I can print!"

As I work as both an editor and a writer, "Give me something I can print!" has morphed into my catchall phrase for "Give me something I can use!" However, as I'm also a consumer of a lot of content, specifically email marketing content, I've also grown to ask the same of my emails. In other words, if I'm going to opt-in for someone's emails, I want what they send me to be worth my time. And if you're using email to market your business ask yourself, are you giving your customers something they can use?

The impetus for this rant began awhile back when I received an email, ostensibly from the owner of the company, with the subject line "I'm sorry, forgive me?" Curious, and thinking a mistake might have been made in a previous email, I opened it and was greeted with perhaps the worst line of email copy I've ever seen:

So, overlook the fact that this was essentially an email bait-and-switch and the incomparably bad copy ("Now buy these products" has all the creativity and subtlety of a cinder block) and focus instead on what this email is; a really bad marketing ploy with a cheap subject and even worse content. Granted, there were a couple products discounted lower in the email (you know, information one might be interested in) but the cheap subject line hook and even worse copy made me ignore that and go straight to the "Unsubscribe" button.

Well, actually, being a glutton for punishment (and always on the lookout for examples of what not to do in marketing) I haven't unsubscribed yet because, just like a crash happening in slow motion, I can't help but keep watching. And when I did, I got more emails with even worse subject lines and equally bad content. A sampling:

So what's the lesson in all this? If you're marketing your business through email, give the recipients something they can use. Even though most people have more than one email address these days, consumers are still very cautious about who and what they allow in those email boxes and the last thing any marketer wants is to have a prospect opt-out or consign their emails to the spam folder.

Quick, what's the goal of your email marketing? If you said boost sales, you're only one-third right. Your email marketing should also build trust, build relationships and build sales. Frankly put, sending out only sales and promotional email messages and cheap, "made-you-look!" subject lines won't do that. 

So, how can you do all three? Simple; rotate your marketing approaches. Create compelling articles you can compile into an email newsletter. Educate your prospects on new trends or products in your field. Include testimonials from, or profiles of, satisfied customers talking about how they use your goods or services. Create content and send out links to blogs, webinars, and/or podcasts. You can certainly throw in a subtle sales message along the way but, since most prospects won't be ready to buy the second they open your sales email, the key is to use your other content to be the trusted, top-of-mind source when they are ready to purchase. That's what it's called a "drip campaign."

Now that you've got your content in order, focus on your subject lines to help your emails get opened. If you're sending out an newsletter, point out the highlights (i.e. March News; How Technology Is Changing Widget Performance) and do the same with blog or podcast links. If you do send out a sales email, highlight the products (i.e. New 2017 Widgets Now In Stock) or show the savings (i.e. Save Up To $100 On The Newest Widget Technology).

Finally, don't be afraid to experiment and keep track of what works and what doesn't with your email marketing. It might be a mix of testimonials and soft-sells or maybe your links to blogs or articles generate more web traffic and that's what increases your sales. Or maybe you split test, running one sequence to one audience segment and a sequence with a different approach to another. While every business is different, make sure you run through at least one or two email sequences to provide a good data set you can use to adjust your strategy. (btw Once you find a successful formula, try to improve on any follow-up campaigns so that they're even better than the original. Avoid just rehashing what worked the first time, like say the Fletch sequel, Fletch Lives.)

If someone opts-in to your email marketing, the last thing you want is for those emails to drive them to opt-out. Instead, make sure your emails not only stress the value of your goods or services, but also offer some level of value to your customer by providing compelling content they can use. In other words, give your customers something they can use and, when they're ready to buy, odds are, they'll put what you're selling to use!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The 2018 Super Bowl Advertising Awards For The Non-Poetic

Welcome to the 2018 Super Bowl Ad Awards For The Non-Poetic! Super Bowl LII is done, the Eagles are Super Bowl champions, the City of Brotherly Love is alive with, umm, celebration, and it's time to reveal our judging panel's (me and Office Dog) favorites from this year's crop of Super Bowl ads.

Note that, while everyone has their opinions of the best and worst, funniest and failures, award winners and money wasters, noteworthy and not worthy, our honors may stray wildly from the standard Super Bowl advertising accolades. Our goal is to recognize the Super Bowl ads that stuck, the ads that sucked, and the ads resonated with the person who watched the game first, the commercials second, and had a beer or two while actually enjoying the entire show (from the viewpoint of an advertising guy who worked Super Bowl promotions in bars for 15 years). So, without further non-poetry…

The A For Execution But... Award
The NFL spots featuring Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. were pretty dull and forgettable, until we finally got the spot where the New York Giants quarterback and receiver reenacted the Time of My Life scene from the movie Dirty Dancing as part of their touchdown celebration. That spot was pretty entertaining and the two players nailed the re-creation of the scene. However, coming on the heels of a season marked by dull games, concussions and serious injuries, a confusing rule book, inconsistent discipline, and lower TV ratings, and ad celebrating touchdown celebrations did little to help the image of the NFL. While it may have helped people forget all the league's bad press over the last several years for a minute, it was ultimately a big ball of silly that will be quickly forgotten the next time the NFL fumbles on a disciplinary ruling, rule interpretation, or player health issue.

Honorable Mention
Budweiser spent $5 million to remind America that, not only do they make a dying brand of beer, but they also have a heart and use their canning lines to can water, which is delivered to disaster zones. Now, make all the "Budweiser is pretty much water anyway" jokes you want, but the bigger laugh comes from Budweiser spending who-knows-how-much to produce this nice ad that ultimately plays up their skill at putting water in cans.

The Office Dog Honors Award
This award honors the best use of animals (preferably monkeys) in Super Bowl ads. However, monkeys seem to be passé in Super Bowl advertising these days and, apparently, so are dogs or animals in general. In fact, thanks to ads for, and tie-ins with, the new Jurassic World movie, it appeared dinosaurs were the new monkeys. So, of all the dinosaur ads, Office Dog and I liked the  Jeep ad featuring Jeff Goldblum the best. The spot had just enough of the trademark Jeff Goldblum weirdness that we all haven't gotten sick of yet, while also showing (and this is crazy) actual features of the Jeep Wrangler (you know, things that might actually help sell a Jeep Wrangler).

The WTF Award
Dodge Ram Trucks gave us what they hoped would be an epic spot, featuring Vikings driving around in a Dodge Ram truck, hauling their Viking ship with a Dodge Ram truck and sailing their Dodge Ram truck across a stormy sea, all to the accompaniment of Queen's We Will Rock You. The spot ends as the two Vikings in the cab turn the truck away from the big city after looking at their Sirius XM satellite radio and seeing the words "Tonight's Matchup." Of course, the super at the end of the spot directed you to go online to "Watch The Full Story" which absolutely no one in America has done. I've watched the spot four times and I still don't know what they were going for other than a lame tie-in to "EPIC ADVENTURES." I think they were trying to be funny and show Minnesota Vikings fans going to the big game, but you had to look too long and too hard to find that, which made this spot empty, not edgy. Throw in another Ram trucks spot that used a voiceover of a Martin Luther King sermon and I'm simply not sure what the hell Ram Trucks was actually going for here.

The Best Olympics Ad that Wasn't An Olympics Ad
Early in the game, Toyota rolled its "Good Odds" ad, which celebrated the achievements of ParaOlympic skier Lauren Woolstencroft. Following Woolstencroft from being born with no feet to ParaOlympic gold medal winner, all while showing the decreasing odds of someone winning a Paralympic gold medal as the ad reached its climax, this spot was comparable to the NBC Winter Olympic ad featuring skier Mikaela Schiffrin that had run only minutes before. Throw in an overwrought tagline (Start Your Impossible) and a Toyota logo, this ad pulled on the viewer's heart strings. But, it did absolutely nothing to sell Toyotas.

Best Schizophrenic Super Bowl Advertiser Award
On top of their weirdly incomprehensible epic Vikings spot, Dodge Ram Trucks tried to tie together freedom, serving your fellow man and big pickups to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. Granted, use of MLK's sermon was licensed by his family, but pairing the epic vikings spot with a trying-too-hard-to-make-people-stop-and-think spot like this one was a waste of a lot of money on two spots that had absolutely nothing to do with each other and ultimately didn't even hammer home the same tagline. Given their performance the last few years, I think the creative process for Chrysler Dodge goes something like, 'We've got two great, but distinctly different, creative concepts! Let's do them both for the Super Bowl and split test later!" And that's not the best way to sell product.

The Please, For The Love Of God, Go Away Award
Doritos and Mountain Dew have been trying to create buzzy, edgy Super Bowls ads for years and this year was no exception. Starting with an ad featuring actor Peter Dinklage lip-synching Busta Rhymes to sell us on the fiery flavor of Doritos Blaze chips, and followed by Morgan Freeman doing the same thing to Missy Elliott to sell cold Mountain Dew (#fireandice get it?), these spots were more pointless pap from these brands that won't help sell soda or snack chips. While not as egregiously bad as PuppyBabyMonkey, it's time for both of these brands to find a new approach.

Best Pointless Use Of A Pointless Celebrity Award
For my money, there's no better way to discourage consumption of your candy than bringing in Danny DeVito (he was so good in, ummm, Twins. Yea, that's it) as the human face of that candy. But that's exactly what M&M's did! Throw in Danny DeVito/human M&M asking people on the street, "Do you want to eat me?" (everyone said no) and this spot did nothing to create demand for M&M's. I'm also guessing all of America cheered when human M&M Danny DeVito was predictably run over by a bus in that wacky-for-the-sake-of-being-wacky conclusion to the spot.

Honorable Mention
Avocados From Mexico also deserves some mention here for not only pointlessly throwing Chris Elliott (cue the millennial irony) in their ad, but for also rolling out the wacky mass scream concept that was done to death in Super Bowl advertising at least 20 years ago.

The Water Cooler Winner
There was no debate on this one and it was pretty obvious in the middle of the third quarter who our Water Cooler Award Winner would be. Amid a sea of mediocrity, most of whom were trying just too hard, Tide's ads (starring David Harbour from Stranger Things) are what everyone is going to be talking about around the office water cooler on Monday. By going meta and spoofing just about every popular genre of Super Bowl ad and brand category ever, while not overdoing it, Tide made some of the wittiest Super Bowl ads we've seen in quite awhile. Plus, as the Tide ads ran early, the spots had you watching just about every other ad afterwards in hopes that it too might turn out to be a Tide ad. And they did it with :60s, :30s, :15s and even segment sponsor mentions. Nicely done!

So, there ya' go...my take on the Super Bowl ads for 2018. Some good, some bad, some creative, some cliché. Feel free to leave your thoughts, picks, pans, favorites and failures in the comments. And, until then, when does the 2018 football season start?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

What The Post (And Ben Bradlee) Can Teach You About Content Marketing

For a guy who passed away in 2014, former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee is suddenly very popular again. He's currently being portrayed by Tom Hanks in a new historical drama called The Postand he was also featured in an HBO documentary, titled The Newspaperman: The Life And Times of Ben Bradlee. While The Post chronicles the newspaper's battle with the government over the so-called Pentagon Papers, for me, The Newspaperman provided a broader picture of who Ben Bradlee was.

Featuring Bradlee's own narration - taken from the audiobook of his autobiography - and accompanied by home movies, The Newspaperman was a riveting look at a man who was both a titan and a maverick in American journalism. And, while Bradlee's story was complemented by remembrances and anecdotes from his family, friends and Post reporters past and present, one comment in particular really jumped out to me.

That comment, from former Post Publisher Donald Graham, alluded to Bradlee's style as Editor of the Post, and I found it very relevant in today's marketing climate. Speaking of Bradlee's editorial approach, Graham said, "Ben had the sensibility of a reader. He wanted to edit the Post in ways people would read it."

Now, if content marketing is part of your company's advertising and marketing plan, ask yourself, "Is the content we're producing being produced so that our customers will read it?" If the answer is "no," then it might be time to think like a newspaper editor and approach your content from the viewpoint of its intended target audience.

First off, look at the length of your content. Is it a long, drawn-out slog of a read? If any post generates a "TL;DR" response, then it's likely your marketing message will be DOA. Instead, remember that modern day internet users have notably short attention spans, and simplify and shorten to get your point across in fewer words.

Speaking of words, you might also consider your content. Is it keyword-ridden click-bait or does it contribute to a conversation? Does it serve as a valuable resource or it merely a thinly-veiled rehash of your ads? Is your writing focused on corporate-speak or consumer consumption? Does it engage the reader or does it exasperate them? Is it mobile-friendly or HTML hell?  Does it answer the questions your customers have or is it simply another vehicle for you to promote your business?  There's plenty of content on the internet. What does yours offer to make it valuable to your current and potential customers?

Now, think about your headlines. At the Post, Bradlee would look for stories and headlines that he termed 'tube-rippers." That is, headlines and stories so compelling that the reader would excitedly rip the day's paper from their delivery tube to get to the news. Are your headlines tube-rippers? Do they encourage your customers to click on and consume your content? If not, brush up on your headline writing so that your headlines grab attention and drive traffic. If you're not sure what's working and what's not, keep an eye on your analytics to see what headlines and content drives the most traffic and adjust accordingly.

Finally, who is your content serving; you or your reader? Yes, the goal of content marketing is to market your business, but the best way to market your business is to provide content your customers can use. For example, while your customers can use tips on goods or services to help them improve their life or business, grievances, rants or political opinions aren't real useful in content marketing. Make sure your content offers a value proposition to your customers before you tell them about the values you offer.

While Ben Bradlee was publicizing his autobiography, I read a newspaper interview where he said something to the effect of, "The internet will never replace the newspaper, because you can't read it in the bathroom and you can't wrap fish in it." And, while he he was half right about that, his approach to editing a newspaper can still serve as a valuable content marketing guide.

When determining the content you'll provide, put yourself in the shoes of your customers, and potential customers, and plan your topics around what will appeal to them. Then present it in a way that makes it easy for your customers to consume. Just remember that solid content marketing may not get you featured in the movies, but it will keep your customers glued to their seats (or their phones), and loyal to your business.