The Business of Honoring our Veterans

Each year Veterans Day is held on November 11th in the United States and celebrates the sacrifices that our veterans of the armed forces have made throughout the years.  At Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., a ceremony starting with laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldiers followed by a parade and other activities to honor our fallen brothers and sisters who have made the ultimate sacrifice as well as those that survived the hardships of war and put themselves in harm’s way for the betterment and protection of our way of life.

You may be asking yourself what does all of this have to do with a business blog, and it may seem out of place in a place where you have come to read business and marketing articles.  I say to you that it has everything to do with business and marketing because we live in a free society where we have the freedom of getting up each morning and going to our offices and conducting business that affords us a comfortable lifestyle.  This life that we have created for ourselves, the businesses we have worked hard to build and the commerce that we participate in each and every day would not be possible had it not been for the sacrifices that were made on our behalf.  Whether you live in the United States, the United Kingdom, or any other free democratic society, somewhere at sometime a sacrifice was made which has allowed you to be free, allowed you to participate in this capitalistic society we have created.

So I ask you to take a moment today in the midst of your wheeling and dealing and to pause for a moment and to thank those that have sacrificed so much, those that have given up their freedom, their life in order to allow you to have the life you have.  Let’s not forget those that have given so much in order to protect our way of life and granting us the freedom to conduct business and live the life we live.

Does your business card scream “I’m broke, clueless or stuck in 1980″? – Guest Post – Karen Post

Tuesday I attended a networking event. I met many interesting entrepreneurs and business professionals. I was also blown away by the number of butt-ugly, unprofessional and down right cheesy business cards that were passed out.

If you are seven years old and selling lemonade,  OK, I’ll cut you some slack. But if you are or expecting to sell at least $10,000 of good or services in year, you need to invest in an effective business card that best reflects your value, quality and expertise. Business cards are often the first impression a new contact gets and the lasting impression that is filed for future connections.

Buying a preprinted template is a big mistake no matter what industry you are in.  It implies you the smallest potato you can be and most buyers will not be turned on by this status as most are looking for experts with a history of success.

Even if this means skipping a meal to pay a professional to help you, your business card is one of the most important branding touch points.

4 must do moves to make sure your business card is working with you, and not against you.

1) Think differently
How can your card stand out from the pack of totally boring ones? Size of card, material that it’s printed on or does it have a scent?

2) Keep copy concise and compelling
A business card is not intended to be a book. In most cases,  your company name, your name, a graphic mark, your web site, email and phone is enough. Give them a reason to go to your website to learn more.

3) Use typefaces that are relevant to your brand
Society is conditioned to associate type with many brand attributes. A typeface can communicate innovation, creativity or a blue leisure suit from 1980. Select the one that best articulates your brand.

4) Leverage the white space and the back of the card too.
Sounds conflicting? Don’t fill every inch of the card with stuff. White space is good. This is the most cost effective way to communicate a quality  and upscale image. Think of an old yellow pages add vs. a stark Neiman Marcus ad, I rest my case. Use the of back of the card too.  Consider a simple image, a provocative question or your web address.

Investing in a memorable, on-brand business card is not an option. If you are a startup and you can only launch with two tools for your new business, make them a killer business card and a website. Then let your product or service carry the load until you can do more.

If you are interested in other ideas, check out an older blog on the subject of business cards and branding.

The Email Marketing Chronicles – The danger of “Do it yourself” Email Marketing

You have decided that you are going to try some new marketing, you have already gravitated from traditional marketing to SEO and SEM and even do a little PPC, but you want more, you want to try email marketing, you have been reading how great the response rates are, and it all makes sense, that many advertisements directly into the email box of thousands of people, the response rate should be exceptional.

At first sight it all really seems so simple, you found a legitimate company that has the email data that you are looking for, it is all double opt in and comes with the opt in information.  You are all set, so you take the data, which are about 25,000 records.  You have an email ad created and you are all set to go, you load the 25,000 records into the BCC field, type in a subject and push the button, and being that it’s just after five o’clock you call it a day and go home.

The next morning you come in to the office to find that you have no website and no email, you call your ISP (Internet Hosting Provider) and they tell you that they noticed an unusual amount of email has been sent, and you explain to them that you conducted an email marketing campaign but the data you used was all opt-in email.  They tell you that doesn’t matter that it is against their AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) for commercial emails to be sent out.  They agree to turn your hosting back on but require you to pay a fee of $500 and to agree to never do this again and that next time they will disconnect you permanently.

This may seem a little farfetched to you but this happens every day, and sometimes there is no second chance, sometimes the account is disconnected permanently on the first violation of the AUP depending on the level of tolerance of the particular ISP in question.

Even if this had not happened there are other issues that could have happened such as many ISP’s set the amount of email that can be sent at one time, some are at 100 at a time, others are at 25, and some have a daily limit, and once that limit is hit all outgoing email will be denied until the next day.

There is also the issue of the reputation of your IP address; see (http://www.techterms.com/definition/ipaddress) for definition of an IP and how it works. Sending out a lot of email, even opt in email will generate complaints; people forgot they opted in, email address changed and the person who received the email is no longer the person who opted in, etc.  Also the mail servers that process email from the domains that you are sending to will become suspicious when large amounts of email are coming from the same IP and will most likely block the email, both of these issues then get reported to “Blacklists”. Blacklists known as an RBL (Real Time Blacklists) are services that ISP’s and individual email users report spam, and suspicious activity to, most if not all major ISP’s subscribe to these blacklists and block any domain and IP that is listed on them.  Once you get on a blacklist it means many people will not be able to get to your website or receive your email.  Some of the major Blacklists are “The spamhaus Project” (http://www.spamhaus.org/)  Spamcop (www.spamcop.net) and it is very difficult to get off of one, and this can cause you major issues.  I once had a client that got on the Spamhaus list and it took them months and thousands of dollars in legal fees to finally get off.

The bottom line is you should not be using your server to send email, hire a professional email marketing company to do this.  It might cost you more, but that cost is miniscule compared to the cost of losing your hosting.

Digital Billboards – The future of advertising?

Billboard marketing is something that just about everyone is familiar with, they line major highways and high traffic streets, busy intersections not to mention sports stadiums from minor league hockey to Major League baseball and National football. We can barely turn a corner without seeing some billboard advertising some product or company or promoting an event whether it be a concert, a sports team or a nonprofit event, they are everywhere and have been for some time. The most popular method of billboard advertising is aimed at drivers thus the reason we see them on busy highways and streets and they can be useful , letting you know what’s up ahead or how far to the next hotel or restaurant and are aimed at allowing a driver to quickly view and grasp the message being broadcast. Anyone who has ever driven across the United States is familiar with billboards advertising truck stops, restaurants, motels and hotels. I recall seeing billboards advertising the “Waffle House” across several states and starting in Kansas seeing billboards for “Stuckeys” all the way to Philadelphia.

 

The history of billboards goes back thousands of years starting with the Egyptians who used a large tall stone obelisk to publicize laws and treaties. This was one of the first methods of broadcasting a message to a large audiencedesktoppub.about.com. In 1436 Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press known as the Gutenberg press, and while this was a revolution in the production of books it also was the start of a technology that allowed and made it possible to cheaply disseminate information to the masses (inventors.about.com). This invention made it possible and led to the creation of the handbill, which was an advertisement intended for wide distribution (thefreedictionary.com). In early America we saw some of the first billboards as roadside advertising for local businesses. In 1835 Jared Bell starting printing posters for the circus and in New York is where the first large American poster was born and around the turn of the 20th century a national billboard advertising boom started with big advertisers mass producing billboards for the national market (about.com) advertising everything from toothpaste to cigarettes to tequila, coca-cola, and Disneyland docstoc.com.  Modern billboards are still going strong and cost anywhere from $500 to $2500 a month, depending on location, location, location.

Let’s fast forward to today and discuss a relatively new form of advertising which is Digital Billboards which is based on the traditional platform of billboard advertising using a digital format. While this is fairly new, some form of digital signage started being used in the 1970’s using in-store VCR’s and T.V.’s as a way to attract customers, but unlike modern digital signage this was always a closed circuit and prerecordedezinearticles.com.

Today digital billboards are popping up everywhere all over the country. Anyone who goes to Las Vegas for the weekend will see a myriad of digital billboards splattered across the Las Vegas Strip from the famous MGM Grand billboard to a smaller but very visible one at Circus Circus and of course anyone going to Times Square in New York has seen the giant digital billboard that encompasses that building.

 

There are hundreds of  digital billboards popping up in metropolitan areas all over the U.S. which pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of traditional billboards seen all over America, but these numbers are expected to grow and rapidly qualitylogoproducts.com. So what is all the hullabaloo about? While digital is sexier and is the all dressed up ready to party version of billboard advertising, but from the advertiser’s perspective, what’s the difference? Does it really make a difference? The difference is they are backlit, easier to read, advertising can be changed frequently and on the fly and from the marketing companies perspective they can rotate through several clients ads instead of just one being there, so that each time a driver passes by they can potentially see a different ad. These billboards can rotate ads every few seconds and they can change the ad from miles away, and clients can change ads anytime, without having to wait a month for the redesign to be applied. Want to change the dates, or add a location? No problem, it will be changed this afternoon washingtonpost.com Paul Meyers the CEO of Clear Channel says this technology is not limited to just large billboards, it can be applied to anywhere there is a flat surface such as buses, bus stops, taxi cabs, mall kiosks and more.

Okay so you want to cut to the chase, how much does it cost? The cost varies depending on the size and the location but the average cost is anywhere from $1200 to $10,000 a month, a huge lead from $500 to $2500 a month. Is it worth it? Only time will tell but according to Magic Media Jimmy McAndrew within a few years all billboards will be digital inc.com.

Unfortunately the news on digital billboards is not all good; some cities are banning this new technology due to safety issues. In March, the city of Denver has outright banned them and other cities have temporarily suspended them pending a federal study on whether or not they distract drivers. In Los Angeles a one year moratorium was placed which was challenged in federal court by Liberty Media Corp. but U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins tentatively upheld the band for the time being latimes.com.

“The digital billboards are a distraction,” says Fred Wessels, an alderman in St. Louis, which just approved a one-year moratorium on new signs in that city. (Copeland, L., 2010, usatoday.com) “There’s no doubt in my mind that they are not a driving distraction,” says Bryan Parker, an executive vice president for Clear Channel Outdoor (Copeland, L., 2010, usatoday.com) So the jury is still out on the legal future of digital billboards… Stay tuned.

Is Live Chat the Future of Customer Service?

This week I am going to be reposting three of our most popular articles from over the summer, these articles have been the most read and the most commented on, so I thought this would be a good time to re-circulate them for those who haven’t read them.

Customer service is important to every company in every vertical everywhere; it is a measurable benchmark that is constantly being eyed by company executives worldwide.  There has been research done by numerous companies in numerous verticals in an attempt to measure customer satisfaction.  Just about everyone at one time or another has called their bank, or credit card company, hosting company,  phone company and more and been asked if they would like to participate in a customer satisfaction survey.  It goes without saying that if the customer is not happy, they are most likely not going to continue to do business with  a company, which is why so many companies work so hard at determining if the customer is happy.

With success comes the burden of having to service the customer which up to now has meant having a call center with customer service agents.  One of the biggest issues that companies have faced is customers complaining about being on hold or not able to get a customer service rep on the phone.  This is not unique to any one type of company, it happens everywhere and it is not an uncommon situation for customers having to wait for up to 30 minutes to get someone on the phone due to the huge influx of incoming calls. The resolution to this problem in the past has always been a complicated one, and while the answer may seem simple, which is to hire more agents, it’s really not always that simple. Hiring more agents mean spending more money and a company has to consider whether that is cost effective and if it is in the budget.  And even if it is, it still may not be that simple, is there enough capacity to accommodate the hiring of new agents?  Are there enough seats, phone lines, will the dialer be able to handle the additional work load?

Thanks to modern technology there are solutions to the customer service issue, and that solution is “Live Chat”.  Live Chat is an online communication interface which allows a customer to speak to a customer service agent online using an instant message system.  It alleviates many of the customer service issues that have existed in the past.

LivePerson is a publicly traded company that is a leader in the live chat market and has been in business since 1995 and went public in 2000.  I called LivePerson asking to speak to someone because I was writing an article on live chat services and they directed me to their Corporate Communications Director Amy Inlow, who was more than willing to talk to me and was very helpful.

I asked Amy how many clients they had and she told me they had 8500 customers with an aggregated  10 million chats per month.   I asked Amy if to her knowledge any company had completely abandoned using traditional customer service and sales contact centers and had gravitated totally to Live Chat and she said that she was not aware of any; however she said many companies have made Live Chat their primary method of customer service.  Traditional customer service is limited to an agent talking to one customer at a time, I asked her how many customers could an agent talk to using Live Chat and she replied that using LivePerson an agent could comfortable have three to four concurrent chats at the same time and that having this ability creates operational efficiency which leads to an overall reduced cost in terms of customer service.  She said, “Chat is a critical communications channel due to the real time component, and while online customers can have their  questions answered at the point they need help, chat provides that real time communication that other channels may not, which is why it is so effective.”

Amy gave me access to research that was conducted just last month by Forrester Research, Inc. (Making Proactive Chat Work, by Diane Clarkson for eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals, June 4, 2010) which provided some very interesting statistical information.  According to this research 44% of online customers say that having questions answered while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features that a website can offer.  Nearly one in five online customers have used chat in a customer service aspect in the last year and that 57% of these customers stated that they would likely abandon a purchase if they cannot find the answer to their questions quickly.  The report stated that 19% of online consumers have used chat for customer support and that 29% are interested in using it and that the 53% difference between the combination of use and interest is most likely due to chats low availability compared with other customer service channels.  27% agreed that they would like having a chat box appear asking if they needed any help and while this number is small compared to the 71% that would prefer to initiate contact for customer service Forrester believes that the number of people who would like it would grow in appeal as the number of proactive chat invitations increase.

 

It appears that Live Chat is definitely becoming more popular, and is cost effective, with the average cost being around $100 per month per agent, with discounts for bulk purchasing.

During my research I found myself at dell.com which uses Live Chat by LivePerson and through their Live Chat I was able to talk to “Cherry” who was more than happy to answer my questions.  I asked Cherry if Dell’s customers seemed to be satisfied with customer service using the Live Chat platform and she said that they ask every customer at the end of the chat if they were satisfied with the level of service and that the majority of them are pleased.  I then asked  Cherry if she thought that Dell’s customers would rather use Live Chat than calling in on the phone and she said that in her experience customers prefer using the chat especially customers that are on the go because they do not have time to sit in a phone queue waiting to be helped.  The last question that I asked Cherry was has she had any positive feedback from customers on Live Chat and she said that she has had quite a bit of positive comments made especially mentioning having the ability to send them reference links in real time.

A few years ago I did some consulting for a manufacturing company that had a small customer service department with around six customer service agents.  Their relations with their customers was a nightmare because the average hold time was over 30 minutes and sometimes as high as forty five minutes with as many as 30 or 40 people on hold at once.   They had a website but it was not utilized much and was not put together very well.  I brought in a web design professional and under my direction the website was completely redesigned with a live chat application installed.  I had the customer service department telephone greeting message changed to advise callers that they could get faster service at the website.  I had two of the six agents assigned to nothing but Live Chat with the other three rotating and at the end of three months the average queue time was less than one minute with only about five people in the queue at any given time.  This is evidence to me that Live Chat is effective even on a small scale and that while the jury might still be out on the final decision on Live Chat that so far it is looking good and that Live Chat may be the future “standard” for customer service.