iContact offers free email marketing

Email and social marketing platform iContact is now offering a free version of their service, aimed at attracting small businesses. Organizations with 500 or fewer subscribers can use the service for free; they have access to fewer options and less support than paid customers, but this is still a good opportunity for companies considering an e-newsletter to try it out with low risk.

I am a big fan of email newsletters, and suspect that any company doing at least a half-way decent job will quickly be over the 500 subscriber mark. That is a good problem to have, though, and if you have demonstrated that much growth the relatively low-cost monthly packages should be easy to justify.

When starting your newsletter, remember that consistency is key. If it is a monthly newsletter, be sure you're sending it out every month, because it will take a while to really gain traction.

How NOT to schedule an email

This one's on me.

Recently I was reviewing the analytics on an email campaign we did a while back. I wrote the email, designed the layout, double checked the coding, and it was ready to go. The question then came up, at what time should it be delivered?

The audience was mainly contractors, so I figured it should get to them early, before they start their work day, to have the best chance of getting read. The team agreed; we scheduled it to start mailing at 6:30 AM EST so all the recipients would have it by 7.

If you live in or have done business with the West Coast you probably already see where this is going. See, the email list had not been sorted by time zone. When I got into work and checked my email there was an "unsubscribe" email waiting for me. The message was short, simple, and very instructive:

"3:30 AM emails are NOT cool."

Turns out he keeps his phone near his bed at night, and my email became a pre-sunrise alarm clock, leaving him understandably unhappy.

Lessons Learned

Timing an email across multiple time zones can be challenging; planning an international campaign makes it even more so. If your email client charges based on number of contacts rather than number of campaigns, it is worth the extra effort to schedule each time zone separately. Especially if the subject is time-sensitive, or if you find you get higher open rates at certain times of day.

Problem is, email addresses do not contain any information about time zone; they also do not tell you when your contact is traveling, or if they moved. That means that, despite all your efforts, they might still receive it at the wrong time. Best defense against this, if it is a concern, is to aim for early-midday. Odds of waking up West Coasters are low, but you still catch the East Coast before lunch.

The other important lesson was about how people use their technology. One of the first things I did when I got my iPhone was set it not to check email between midnight and 6 AM. I also turn off all notifications except the ringer during those options because I don't want to be awoken by my insomniac friend's Facebook updates. Not everyone does that, though, either because they have not taken the time to adjust the settings, or because they want to be sure they are reachable in case of emergency.

That represents a change in the way people use email. It took me a while to figure out why this guy was upset about receiving an email at 3:30 AM. In the past it would not have mattered; the email goes to your computer, and you see it when you login in the morning. Now, though, technology is becoming more integrated into our around-the-clock lives.

We, as marketers, benefit from this because it allows us greater access to our customers. We must be respectful of that access, however, because abusing it will anger customers faster than any junk mail, spam, or telemarketer could.

Good buys or Goodbyes?

I recently became a Groupon subscriber for the third time. This was followed about a month later by me cancelling my Groupon subscription. For the third time.

For those not familiar, Groupon is a popular and rapidly growing "Group Coupon" service; member companies offer great deals on product or services if a certain minimum number of people pre-buy through Groupon. It has spawned several imitators, such as Living Social and Google Offers.

I am always looking for a good deal, and am married to a semi-pro competitive bargain hunter, so why am I opting out, again, from Groupon? Too many offers.

Call them a victim of their own success. There are so many local companies now participating in Groupon that no matter how narrowly I define my interests (casual dining, concerts, and travel) I get flooded on a daily basis by offers I have no interest in (manicures, laser hair removal, and pole-dancing fitness classes).

There is an important issue here; no matter how interested your customers are in what you offer, you will lose them if you do not communicate in the correct manner. Communicating too frequently can be worse than not enough, and sending them information about products they are not interested in just means they miss the ones they want to know about.

How NOT to send a World of Concrete follow-up email

Oh, where to begin...

Alright, I'll start by saying something nice. I am glad to see this company, unlike many of the ones I spoke to at World of Concrete, bothered to send any follow-up email at all. Even at a small trade show you will make dozens of new contacts; at one the size of WoC that number can easily get into the hundreds. And each of those people you met also made hundreds of new contacts. Meaning the odds of them remembering you are slim unless you do something to make yourself memorable.

Which is why a follow-up email is a good idea. It reaches everyone quickly, sends them to your webpage (or other important destination), and maintains that contact until you have time to reach them personally. I usually tell clients that, in general, any follow-up email is better than none at all.

Then I got this.

Click for large version
The text has been heavily redacted to protect the guilty, but the basic structure and every part I want to discuss are still viewable.

  1. First and foremost, look at the subject line. Yes, the subject to this email, the one that is supposed to convince me to renew my contact and do business with them, is actually "FW:    ".

    This is so bad for so many reasons. Many email systems tag forwards as SPAM, especially if it's coming from someone not in your contact book, has no subject line, or seems to be a commercial message. This hits all three counts. Honestly, I'm a little amazed it even made it to my inbox; I should probably tighten my SPAM filter.

    Worse, though, is the missed opportunity. The subject line is your chance, your only chance, to get the reader's attention. To convince them to open your email, instead of hitting delete. Like the advice given to novelists, you should spend as much time on your subject line as on the rest of your email, if for no other reason than it may be the only piece they read. Even a stock phrase, such as "Thank you for visiting our booth!", would have been better.
  2. The show ended Jan. 21. I received this email Feb. 11. That's three whole weeks! Do you think I still even remember who these people are? The window of opportunity for sending out your post-show email is very small; that's why I recommend prepping the email before you head to the show. If the email is coming this late, it's essentially a digital cold call. Which means it's getting deleted.
  3. It may not show well on this screen shot, but the font in the salutation is a different color than the body text. Ignoring the questionable grammar and business-letter formatting, that tells me instantly this is a form letter, and makes it feel impersonal. 
  4. The writing is bad. Flat out bad. The product names (hidden behind the thick black lines in the body of the text) are dropped in with no description or context, making it awkward and hard to read. And repeated, but again with no context! There is no call-to-action, no incentive, no reason for me to do anything after reading but delete.

    And despite what I said before, grammar counts. Your customers and prospects are very intelligent people; many of them are professional writers of some form. They may not reward you for good grammar, but they will definitely punish you for bad.
  5. The attachments. There are five of them! Six, if you count the company logo graphic! This is a major no-no. Do not send people attachments without their request and their permission. Period. Even if you understood your in-booth conversation with them to be a request for your guide specs, they probably did not.

    If, for some reason, you must send an unsolicited attachment, no more than one, not counting graphics, and nothing over 1 MB. Heavy graphics lowers the permissible file size; remember, they have to be able to get this on their phone. 
  6. There are not enough links. The only link in the whole email is to their homepage. In the second paragraph they mention their photo gallery and instructional videos; why not link directly to those? Why make me hunt for them? I understand not wanting to include product pictures, but at least make them easy to get to.

    Consider carefully where you want your email to take them. I recommend using a dedicated landing page with show-specific information, rather than your standard home page. Our typical follow-up email includes links to subscribe to our newsletter, and visit our Facebook and Twitter pages. Also, be sure to have "Click to view online" and "Click to unsubscribe" links.
They did include their contact information; I removed it, rather than black it all out. I don't know why they thought I needed their mailing address in an email, but they sent it. Also, their logo is much nicer than the big red block makes it look.

I do not have a problem with the minimalist style of the email; simple is good, and this email is almost guaranteed to open easily and display correctly on every system and device. I also like that it is short. No one will read your multi-page follow-up email. If they really want more information they will go to your webpage; make it easy and inviting for them to do so.

In summary, think of these emails like thank-you letters after your birthday. Do them, do them early, and make them nice enough that the recipient wants to send you another present next year.

Tips for more effective email blasts

One of our clients received a prestigious award recently. As his publicist, we prepared a press release, sent it to the appropriate editors, and posted it on the client's website.

We also wanted to share the good news with his customers, vendors, and other industry contacts. Our plan was to send an email blast to his list of contacts, using Constant Contact as our e-mail marketing service. The email was brief; a photo of our client, two short paragraphs, his logo, and some boilerplate about his firm. For those wanting more information, we included a link to the press release on his website.

Our client asked, "Shouldn't we include the text of the press release in the email?"

We included the full text of the press release in the emails we sent to editors. The typical editor needs to scan the entire press release, and decide on the spot whether or not to use the information. Asking an editor to open a link would slow down the process and decrease the likelihood of the copy being read.

But in this case, our email blast was for relationship-building. There is an inverse relationship between the quantity of copy in an email and the likelihood that someone will read it. The email had to be friendly in tone and to the point. We crafted the email to get the most important branding messages into a single email screen.

More, the invitation to click-through to the press release creates an opportunity for engagement that brings the reader to a greater level of commitment than would simply reading the email. In Constant Contact, we are able to track who clicks through, a feature that gives us clues as to which prospects have the most interest.

Send your marketing questions to michaelchusid@chusid.com

Maybe your sales rep shouldn't be local?

New research suggests that you may be more successful if you conduct your negotiations over long distance rather than nearby. If further research validates the findings and shows broader applicability, it could suggest new strategies for conducting sales negotiations. For example, it may be better negotiate via long distance instead of from across town.

Note that this research does not compare distance negotiations to face-to-face negotiations. However digital technologies are increasing the amount of negotiation done at a distance. 

According to a press release from The University of Texas:
Adding physical distance between people during negotiations may lead to more mutually beneficial outcomes...  Psychologist Marlone Henderson examined how negotiations that don't take place in person may be affected by distance. He compared distant negotiators (several thousand feet away) with those who are nearby (a few feet away) in three separate studies. While much work has examined the consequences of different forms of non-face-to-face communication, previous research has not examined the effects of physical distance between negotiators independent of other factors. 
"People tend to concentrate on higher priority items when there is more distance between them by looking at issues in a more abstract way," says Henderson. "They go beyond just thinking about their pursuit of the options presented to them and consider higher-level motives driving their priorities."
Stay tuned for more developments.

New way to reach prospects.

Concept: Pay your prospects to read your email.

Description: Conventional methods of advertising may have a low response rate and go to many unqualified individuals, Instead, you can identify the prospects that interest you the most, and pay them to read your ad.

Background: A new website, http://myattn.com/, conducts what they call an "Attention Auction." Their site explains:
If you are a busy person? Receive too many messages? Forced to spend a lot of time reading crap but still lose useful information? Sell your attention at auction.

If you want to contact an important or busy person but never had chances to deserve his or her attention. Buy attention at auction.
Myattn.com purports to provide a way to contact celebrities. For example, movie star Jim Carrey will read an email from a fan for $2.50. But for just $1.99, you can also bid to buy the attention of Jim Bonenfant whose profile says, "Designer/Architecture residential design/modern commercial design/Gourmet Kitchens and Baths/Real Estate investment." A manufacturer of gourmet kitchen appliances might find this a cost effective way to communicate with Jim, since the charge only occurs if Jim actually reads the email.

Myattn.com is in a beta release and is very crude. For example, there is no way to search for an individual by trade or location. But I can imagine an the concept being developed further to provide deep coverage of the A/E/C field.
  • As the database of participants is enriched to indicate the types of projects and level of professional responsibility, the system could become being very targetable. 
  • By including various response options in the email, such as clicking through to your website, you could measure the effectiveness of various copy.
  • Advertisers could develop algorithms to determine which prospects to contact. If you need to reach a star architect, perhaps you would be willing to pay $50 to assure that Zaha Hadid reads your email. But if goal is to support a new sales rep in Peoria, Il, you could bid for professional specifiers in town for $1.50 each.
With current economic conditions, I suspect many designers and builders would be delighted to supplement their incomes by being paid to read your advertising. If the idea catches on, it would lead to the end of spam email blasts; prospects will start ignoring the junk mail once they realize their time is worth something to other advertisers.

Instead of waiting for myattn.com to attact a critical mass of construction industry people, some smart publisher will figure out how to do this. (If you are inspired, please contact Chusid Associates to help you roll out this new service.)

Watch for further developments.

Recession Changes Where Designers Work

One result of the recession may be a further decentralization of architectural practice. This will create new challenges for sales reps wishing to make calls on design offices.

I began reflecting on this after receiving the following email from an architect that had closed his small office after 25 years of practice at the same location. While his direct impetus was a downturn in workload, he points out the shifting nature of practice as follows:
"We have seen the tools of the trade evolve from Phones, Pencils, Parallel Rules and Paper - to black and white computers, fax machines, and pagers - to color computers and mobile phones the size of bricks - to 3D CAD drawings, remote access, and multi-media cell phones. Over the past several years, staff and I have taken advantage of this technology to work more and more from homes where we have ready access to our server and speedy graphic communications. So we have now moved our operations into our home offices."
Another friend, a construction specifier, opened a home-based consulting practice after being laid off by a large A/E firm. After getting use to more flexible hours and being more available to her children, I doubt she will ever again take a job that requires her to commute into the city.

These two examples are being replicated throughout the country. The recession is accelerating a fundamental shift in design. More online bandwidth allows easier and speedier collaboration among far-flung project teams. Even as the recession recedes, it is likely that corporate offices will remain leaner while more employees work from the field or from home.

In the past, a rep could visit four or five design offices in a day and potentially see dozens of architects and specifiers at each. It would be a challenge to have as many face-to-face contacts with people working out of home offices or remote locations.

Unless, that is, the sales rep embraces the same communication technologies that designers are using: email, social media, file transfer protocols, webinars, computer-to-computer video links, mobile applications, and the rest.

The other response available to a sales rep is to take advantage of professional society meetings and other events that attract large numbers of designers.

Happy Hunting!

Hyperbole vs. Credibility

I received a bit of spam from an individual named Stephen Sands, who made me an offer I could so easily refuse.  His spam began:

“With stronger web placement on the major search engines, your online results could be infinite.” That was all I needed to read to know that I never want to do business with this guy, even if he’s right.   I have a kneejerk reaction to people who toss around promises with the concept “infinite” in them: I figure they’re probably just blowing smoke in the first place.  They’ve got nothing and they’re trying to hype into something, so it’s no worse a lie to hype it into ‘everything.’

Perhaps Stephen Sands actually has a lot to offer, I don’t know; but his opening line made me certain that I’ll never find out.

In an atmosphere of so much competition for communications channels, the temptation to speak ‘louder’ is more intense than ever.  But we also live in an atmosphere of consumerist defensiveness and distrust, where hyperbole often has a negative impact.  That means we need to be both careful and thoughtful about what we claim in ads, sales literature, and other statements about products. 

Careful, because some statements may have legal implications such as an implied warranty. 

Thoughtful, because inflated claims create a credibility problem.

The first job of advertising and sales literature is, certainly, to get attention.  But we all know from grade school that there are both productive and unproductive ways to get attention.  Don’t choose a way that torpedoes the second job, which is to create the foundation for trust.  If the nature of your claims is too good to be true, people won’t believe them.  If the tone you set is over the top, people will  be suspicious.  If the crafting of the message impairs your credibility, it doesn’t matter how good your product is.

If, on the other hand, you can state some significant truths in an interesting manner, readers may trust you long enough to find out more.

Resist the temptation to hype, for truly, it is a fate worse than death.  (Oops!  I mean, resist the temptation to hype because you’ll probably do yourself more harm than good.)

The simplest test is to step back, look at your literature, and ask yourself, “If my competitor were saying this, would I believe it?”

How to Lose Sales

Are your sales reps following up in a timely manner? Are you?

Many building product sales reps can tell stories about design professionals that took advantage of the rep's services. But the reverse also occurs too frequently.

An example of a sales rep taking advantage of a design professional's  The following is from an email I got from Mr. Specifier (not his real name), the Director of Specifications a large A/E firms:

Here is another example of a product representative dropping the ball.

Mr. Rep (not his real name) wanted to meet with me and the other spec writers here.

I checked with our other spec writers to find a date and time acceptable to all of us (not an easy task). Within 24 hours of his request for a meeting, I was able to recommend a date and time when we could all meet with the rep. But 4 business days (6 calendar days) have passed without a reply from Mr. Rep. I am irritated and have canceled the proposed meeting.

This interaction does not leave a good taste in my mouth. While it is nice that the product rep. is willing to bring lunch, it still is our time we are giving him for the presentation and to arrange the meeting. Is this product rep always going to take 4+ days to respond to me? How do I go back and ask the 4 spec writers for their second available date?

This rep. is getting off to a bad start with us. I would just blow him off - but I am very interested in his product and think the other spec writers might learn something, He is a CSI member, so I may give him another chance.

Do you think it is unreasonable to expect a quicker response?
Being generous, one might give the rep some slack. Perhaps the emails got lost in his spam filter, or maybe the rep is sick. But in this day of electronic communication, the rep can white list prospects to keep them out of the spam filter, and can set an auto-responder to let prospects who is taking care of business in his or her absense.

Email Design: Have you seen your email? I haven't.

In a recent episode of the BeanCast, the panel seemed discussed an eMarketer report that found 60% of link forwarding still happens via email. At first they seemed almost surprised by the discovery, but as they discussed it more it came to make sense.

And why not? Email is still the most widespread universal "social" media; universal because even though people are spending more time on social networks now, but while it can be difficult to cross-post something interesting from LinkedIn to Facebook, I can easily send something from my Gmail account to one at AOL, Yahoo, or any custom domain. Which is why good design is crucial to the success of your email campaign.

Today I got an email that does several important things right, but got one major piece wrong. Let's take a look at why:

Identifying information has been blurred to protect the innocent
The major problem is, I hope, apparent: the email didn't show up! The entire thing was produced as a single image or Flash movie, so all I got was a little red X where content was supposed to be.

Now obviously this is because I have my Outlook set to not download pictures, but that is a real consideration nowadays. In fairness, though, let's look at what they did right before talking about how to deal with an increasingly privacy and safety-minded email audience.

Most importantly, the "Click here if you are unable to view" message is located right at the top. The email may not have shown up, but I can retrieve it easily enough. There is also a very clear unsubscribe link. Let me stress: THIS IS ESSENTIAL FOR EVERY MARKETING EMAIL YOU SEND. They also had an enticing subject line, although it would have been helpful to tell me what the "Early Bird Savings" were for. 

When I went to view the actual email online, it looked pretty good. Message was clear, links were easy to find, and there was an embedded video to give a "personal" touch of my contact inviting me to come to the show. As they would say on Top Chef, though, I can only judge the meal by what got put on the plate, not what happened in the kitchen, so let's look at the problems.

The email was sent through a distribution company, so the address was not one I recognized (which is why the pictures did not download), but they did make sure to use the name of someone I know in the "From" section, which is why I opened it. I saw this person's name next to "Early Bird Savings" and had a pretty good idea what this would be. On balance, this point almost evens out. Unfortunately, spammers also like to use the name of someone I know next to a strange email address, so this was risky. 

In fact, without the body of the email, there were only two identifying marks in this email; look how little I had to blur out! The link at the bottom was not an identifier, I just blurred it so no one could unsubscribe me. That leaves my contact's name in the "From" line, and a generic, impersonal "support" email address in the footer. Who is "Support"? Do you have "Support" listed as one of your contacts? I don't. So how can this help me identify your email as coming from you?

One other problem with the email: it's not mobile friendly. I read at least half my email through my phone now, and even if the graphic had downloaded (which it wouldn't) or I had clicked on the link, the page it took me to would not have fit on the mobile's screen at a readable size. 

Let's look at how to avoid the main problem now. It is not reasonable to expect people to follow the link in order to read the email. The online version exists as a courtesy and as a safety net, so that if I am interested, or having HTML issues,  I can still get it. But you must act as if anyone that cannot read the email will not read the online version. 

My recommendation, and what we do with our newsletter (By the way, are you a subscriber yet?), is similar to what I would recommend for good web design: the main thrust of your email must be conveyed by plain, lightly formatted (if at all) text. Look at your email. Now look at it again with all graphics and formatting (including color and line breaks) removed. Does it still convey your message? If not, consider a redesign. If you must use graphics be sure to include captions or alt text

In general, think of graphics as the toppings on the sundae of your email; they can add flavor and texture, but without the ice cream it's just nuts!

Social Media and the Paradox of Choice

On the way to work this morning I was listening to a 2008 episode of Radio Lab about choice. The lead story had Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, discussing that for most people decision-making capability drops sharply when they are confronted by more than seven options. Listening to him as I walked, I realized this could also explain one of the major obstacles to social media adoption: there are too many channels for businesses to make effective decisions about which to use. And if there are too many options for businesses, what is that doing to our customers?

The answer is not to limit choice, but to sharpen focus.
A new client recently asked me what I considered "essential social media" for a B2B company. Off the top of my head, I listed (in no particular order):
  • Blog
  • Twitter stream
  • Facebook fan page
  • LinkedIn profile for key executives and company
  • Email newsletter
  • YouTube channel
  • Online photo gallery
  • Website optimization
  • Wikipedia editing
  • Mobile landing page
...and then I paused to take a breath. Is it any wonder my client felt overwhelmed? Seeing the panic on his face, I considered the list and refocused. The first thing we did was narrow the list down by combining similar items:
  1. Website overhaul (which includes blog, mobile page, and SEO review)
  2. Online media gallery
  3. Social networking
  4. Email marketing
  5. Online brand monitoring
Suddenly we had a manageable list.  Sure, creating an "online media gallery strategy" takes more work than starting a YouTube channel, but it made it easier to see the full picture and start our next step: prioritizing.

We began with goal setting; what was the purpose of this online campaign? The client's experience showed that their existing sales network was very effective; the major needs were brand awareness, education, and maintaining customer loyalty. That suggested a single technology to me: email newsletters.

E-newsletters can be very effective at keeping your brand top-of-mind for both new prospects, who need education and awareness, and existing customers, who are reminded of past positive experiences. With the right set-up it is even easy to send multiple versions of your newsletter at once, each customized for a particular audience. Better yet, all of the other online options we discussed suddenly became part of a single project by contributing content to the newsletter, building awareness of it, and building a subscriber base.

It is also important to remember that no company can be successful in every social media venue, so it is always acceptable - encouraged even - to pick the few you want to focus on and ignore the rest. Redesigning the social media mix is fairly simple, so there is little opportunity cost involved. Still, this experience with my client was a good example of how asking the right questions and focusing on goals can change a seemingly impossible list of options into a single manageable project.

Language Matters

Bad writing is a turn-off to potential customers. An example of very bad writing is in the following message that came in an e-mail from a building product promotion company:
Understanding Quartz Surfacing Material
"Provides 1 AIA/CES HSW LU

This course will better inform the designer on quartz, the history and its relationship with quartz surfacing materials. Quartz has played a unique role in the history of quartz surfacing materials. Its unique properties have made it into an exceptional material in the building industry. This course will help you gain a general understanding of quartz the unique manufacturing process of Quartz surfacing materials. You will also gain insight on the differences between solid surfaces, stone surfaces and quartz surfaces. 
This text cries out for a copy editor.  For example:

The first sentence mentions the relationship of quartz to the history of quartz surfacing. So does the second sentence.  The statement that "Quartz has played a unique role in the history of quartz surfacing materials." is outrageously obvious.

The word "unique" is abused by being used three times in this short paragraph, diminishing the word's impact.

The fourth sentence would benefit from a conjunction so that it would read: "This course will help you gain a general understanding of quartz AND the unique manufacturing process of Quartz surfacing materials."

There are other errors, too. See if you can identify them.

If you are not a skilled writer, find an editor to check your work before sending it out.

PR & Social Media Success Story

Here is a great example of how publicity and social media combine to create market awareness and produce leads.

I monitor the online discussion group artconcrete@googlegroups.com on behalf of several clients that are suppliers to this field. The group links artists and artisans from around the world that work at the leading edge of decorative concrete. While the collective buying power for this group is not huge, the members of the group are often at the cutting edge of innovations in concrete.

On July 18, Deborah asked for help:
I know there are issues combining concrete and glass...  I want to set old bottles into bases of concrete. Will I get degradation of the concrete segment that holds the bottle? Is there a additive I can use to eliminate the problem? I do use metakaolin in my mix; will this reduce or cure the issue?
Two days later, Andrew responded:

I found this great article that speaks to the problem and solves it
with metakaolin: http://www.solutions.precast.org/precast-concrete-recycled-glass-tiles-case-study They replace up to 20% of their cement with metakaolin when using all kinds and colours of recycled glass in their concrete.
I wrote the article over six years ago -- a reminder of the enduring value of getting published. At the time, I was a consultant to BASF, producers of MetaMax brand High Reactivity Metakaolin (HRM). The article includes a great case study and explains how HRM makes it practical to use glass in concrete mixtures. The article cites my client's brand names and includes a link to their then current website.*

I have now jumped into the conversation. Even though I explained why Deborah would not need metakaolin for her project**, the online discussion was a chance to reiterate the key benefits of metakaolin and point readers towards my client's product.

My contribution will have high credibility among this online community as one of their own has cited my article as a great resource. This word-of-mouth, peer-to-peer communication is an invaluable addition to a building product marketing communication program.

* The link is no longer valid.  Companies should periodically search the internet for obsolete links to their website. I suspect that Precast Solution would revise the link on its website if BASF requested it.

** The short technical explanation is that concrete reacts in a self-destructive manner when exposed to crushed glass. The bottles Deborah wants to do not have enough surface area to create the reaction.

5 Essential Social Media Tools for Manufacturers

With so many social media options available, the biggest challenge in starting a campaign is deciding which systems not to use. Most successful social media campaigns will be multichannel, but starting with too many platforms is overwhelming. For most companies it will work best to start with a small, focused campaign, and gradually grow to include new networks and technology. With that in mind, here are five tools I consider essential for a successful social media launch:

  1. Photo Sharing: A recent study by Architect magazine found that most architects begin the design process by searching images online to find inspiration. I consider a good online photo gallery the most important, and most overlooked, part of your online presence. The big players right now are Flickr and Picasa. Photos should be clearly named and tagged to enhance searchability.  
  2. Video Sharing: First the web was about linked documents; text. As bandwidth increased it became about graphics. Now the big thing is video; more importantly, it's mobile video. Estimates suggest over 200,000 new videos are posted on YouTube per day, and that number is growing. Installation videos, project case studies, and video product announcements are all great material for video. The goal should not be to create the next big viral video, but to provide useful, searchable video information.  
  3. Blog: A major contributor to improved SEO, a forum for getting your message out, and a place to demonstrate your industry expertise; a successful blog is all of these. The topic of your blog is essential; if  it feels like an advertisement or a collection of links and fluff, no one will subscribe. But pick a topic that gets to the core of your message, and provide content that helps your audience do their jobs better, and you can build a community that sees every update, reads them, comments, and comes to you for more information.
  4. E-newsletter: It may seem archaic given the range of media now available, but email is still one of the most widely used internet technology. Constant Contact estimates that 90% of internet users use email (personally, I wonder about that other 10%). As I've discussed before, creating a newsletter can be very simple; use the most popular posts from your blog, add in important news and upcoming events, and be sure to include links to the rest of your social media activities. Pick a regular update schedule and stick to it, and be a firm believer in opt-in marketing.
  5. Wikipedia: Have you searched for your product category on Wikipedia? Does the page exist? If so, is your product properly represented? Remember that anyone can edit Wikipedia, so add your information if it's not there. Play fair, though. Wikipedia's community of editors will zap you if you don't, and the backlash can be worse for your reputation than missing information would have been. Read Wikipedia's guidelines, and when in doubt ask the community for help.
Conspicuous by their absence from this list are all the major social networking platforms. These networks can be very powerful tools for developing customer relationships with your brand, but for most buliding product manufacturers and reps providing useful content will be more valuable and beneficial than building a list of friends. Once you have developed content, however, use these tools to spread your message across the net.

Which social media tools are most valuable for your company?

Are Toll-Free Phone Numbers Obsolete?

A toll-free phone number used to be vital for most building product businesses. Long distance charges were high, so the free call made it easier for out-of-town prospects to dial in. Having an 800 number was also perceived as a red carpet that made customers feel welcome.

But times have changed. Competition among long distance providers have caused prices to tumble. Many callers have unlimited service plans that do not charge extra for long distance. Voice Over Internet Protocols (VOIP), Skype, and other internet-based telephones are virtually free. An increasing number of sales inquiries come via e-mail rather than by phone. And toll-free numbers aren't useful in for calls from international clients - an increasingly important part of the construction business.

With this in mind, one of my clients just eliminated their toll-free number from their website.

What do you think? Is it still important for a building product company to publish a toll-free number?

I would love to hear from readers with thoughts about this.

"Scriptio Continua" Online Addresses

When telling someone about this website, I explain the address is, "building product marketing dot com, written as one word without spaces or punctuation."

"Written as one word without spaces or punctuation" has become common in daily language as we exchange e-mail and website addresses. To my ear and tongue, the phrase sounds and feels clumsy and inefficient.

Fortunately, there is a more elegant way to say, "written as one word without spaces or punctuation," and that is the Latin phrase "scriptio continua."

"Scriptio continua" means "continuous script" and is a writing style used in ancient Greek, Latin, and other languages. For example,


(This is written in scriptio continua.)

I believe it its time to bring back the term. It allows me to say, simply and concisely, "Visit my website at building product marketing dot com, scriptio continua."

My proposal will not work, however, if I have to explain "scriptio continua" every time I use the phrase. One person, alone, cannot change the language or reinvigorate an archaic term. But working together, it can happen very quickly.

If you feel my proposal has any merit, I invite you to embrace and use "scriptio continua" in your spoken communications. More importantly, please use the power of social media to spread the word about "scriptio continua."

Repost this on your blogs and facebook page, twit it, digg it, share it with the other tools of cybermedia to make "scriptio continua" part of our common language.


P.S. A Google search on "scriptio continua" today returns about 24,300 hits. I will report changes in this result from time to time on this blog.

Email List Servers for Building Product Marketing

Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing medium. This is also true in the online world; there are many places where the issues of your market segment are being discussed and where people are sharing their experience with or opinions about building products and manufacturers.

While new platforms such as Facebook and Twitter get more notice these days, the "automated mail list server," a concept first developed in the 1980s, is still an important medium. Google Groups and Yahoo Groups are types of list servers, and they exist in many other formats as well. When an email is addressed to a list serve mailing list, the email is automatically sent to everyone on the list. The result is similar to a newsgroup or forum, except that messages are transmitted as emails and are therefore available only to individuals on the list. The owner of the particular list server can determine whether inclusion in the list is open to anyone that subscribes or to only a controlled list.

EXAMPLE: I have subscribed to the ArtConcrete list server for many years.
Most of the subscribers are artists or artisans that use concrete in their work: sculptures, landscape installations, furnishings, and even jewelry. The moderator of the group, Andrew Goss, is the author of the seminal book, Concrete Handbook for Artists, making him an important figure at the nexus of art and concrete.

I joined because several of my clients make products for decorative concrete. While the total amount of material actually purchased by concrete artists is minuscule compared to the tonnage consumed in building or civil engineering construction, monitoring the group has provided valuable information and opportunities. I have:
  • Identified prospects for my clients.
  • Gotten early market intelligence about new products.
  • Learned about technologies and products not used in the US.
  • Heard concerns and about experiments that have stimulated new products, market niches, and distribution channels for my clients.
  • Discovered new uses for existing products.
  • Corrected misrepresentations about my clients' products, and provided an alternative perspective about competitors.
  • Found examples of "artistic" uses of my clients products that provided unique case studies and illustrations for our clients' sales collateral.
  • Gotten my clients' brands discussed by a global audience of "early adopters" and innovators.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Monitoring sites like this is an increasingly important part of an overall social media marketing strategy. I recommend you identify and monitor list servers that relate to your market sectors. Postings come right to your email box, so they are easily accessible. Depending on the amount of traffic on the list server, it may take only a few minutes a day to follow; if necessary, assign the task to someone on your team or to a marketing consultant.

List servers, generally, are not the place to be overtly commercial -- for example, don't post press releases here. Etiquette calls for peer-to-peer sharing. Within this guideline, however, I can join discussions about my clients' products, suggest solutions, refer people to information that is posted on my clients' websites.

I can also post requests for feedback, for example: "My company makes [is considering] a new product. We think it has X, Y, and Z benefits, but we don't have much experience in this regard. If you have any thoughts, I would love to hear from you, either via the list server or directly at my email."

Social Media in Trucks, Exams, and SEO

Three posts that, taken together, reveal the extent to which social media is changing our cultural landscape:

1. Tweet While Driving Hands Free: Ford CEO Alan Mulally is bringing innovations that will make Ford trucks a part of your mobile media life. Major changes include live streaming of Pandora internet radio, iPhone-like customizable controls, ability to send/receive Twitter posts using voice-to-text software, and major overhauls of the truck buying experience to make it a highly personalized "design your own" experience reminiscent of online shopping.
"What is striking to me about Ford is that many people often ask about the ROI of social media. With the great work of Mulally, James Farley and Scott Monty at Ford there is something that can’t be measured; a cultural change."

2. Danish pupils use web in exams: Fourteen schools in Denmark are experimenting with allowing students to surf the web during exams. They are allowed to access a wide range of sites, as long as they do not send or receive messages or emails. Supporting this change,
"Students are no longer required to regurgitate facts and figures. Instead the emphasis is on their ability to sift through and analyse information."
Says one of the professors involved,
"As a nation we've been really good at embracing technology - we've been really at the forefront of doing this well in the classroom. Then they go into the exam room and all that's taken away and they're given a fountain pen and a sheet of lines paper and a three hour time limit. It's time to get real, isn't it?"

3. The Battle Between SEO and Social Search: As social media results are popping up more and more in search engine results, the way we think of SEO needs to change. People tend to put more stock in their friends' experiences, rather than paid ads or third party reviews, meaning these social media results could be disproportionately influential. On the other hand, Google is still far and away the first stop for most inquiries.
"Ultimately choosing the right tool for the job is as important as ever. SEO, social media, and all of the other facets of online marketing (don’t forget email marketing) will continue to be relevant for some time to come."

Taken together, these three articles make a powerful statement about the extent to which social media is now influencing our "real lives" - even our digital real lives! When my family got our first car phone - the size of a modern netbook - it was strictly for emergency purposes only. And ordering pizza during the commute home. We could barely imagine needing to talk to anyone so badly that we needed to take the call in the car. But now there is such an expectation of constant connection that "I'm busy driving" feels like too weak a reason to turn off Twitter.

The shift in educational styles reflects this, too. The knowledge of the world is at our fingertips 24/7; locating, analyzing, and processing information is a far more valuable skill than rote memorization.

The integration of social media into every aspect of our lives will continue, and probably even accelerate during the next few years, limited only by the availability of high-speed wireless networks. Even as specific technologies come and go - someday even Facebook and Twitter will become passe - our culture has permanently changed.

How will you integrate social media into your sales and marketing plans this coming year? Which technologies do you see as most important for your company?

What Your Email Address Says About You

Are you still using your original AOL or Hotmail email address? The editors at Lifehacker have some compelling reasons why you might want to change it.

One of the most important points raised for companies evaluating their online presence:
More concerning than people using inappropriate emails handles on their resumes? Businesses that don't have their own domain and personalized email. SomeCompany@sbcglobal.net or SomeDude2049@yahoo.com were huge turn offs to readers and many expressed that they would question the professionalism of a company with such an unpolished image and do business elsewhere.
Read the article with a grain of salt; Lifehacker is a site for tech enthusiasts, and most of the respondents to their survey work in IT or for high tech companies. This may not be as vital an issue for us in the construction industry but it is still important to consider, especially if your market includes tech savvy or design sensitive audiences.