Personalization in Email

I just read some interesting observations by Justin Premick over at AWeber with regards to personalization and email. It made me recall a story from several years ago (as in 10+)  when I was working for a banking automation campaign that was focusing on helping banks leverage 1-to-1 marketing and CRM to focus on the most profitable customers in a bank.

This could be an urban legend, but this is how I remember it:

A junior employee at BankBoston was using mail merge software to send messages to their most 1000 most profitable customers… as in people with a very high net worth. As a placeholder on the mail merge instead of “Dear {!firstname}”, he used the placeholder of “Dear {Rich_bastard}.

And yes, he lost his job when the 1000 most valued clients received the communciation with exactly that in the personalization field.

February 27, 2009 at 11:44 am Leave a comment

Advertising Golf on FaceBook

Well I finally succumbed to the masses. I joined Facebook. Not as in the sense that everyone could ‘poke’ me or add me as a friend (I am still a holdout on that side of the ledger), but in the sense of that I am now starting to advertise tee times using FaceBook’s contextual ads for my TeeTimes.net venture.

First impressions (3 days in)? I expected to receive poor results, but I didn’t think it would be that poor. Here are some details:

  • Averaging 3800 impressions per day
  • Affinity targeted to those people who like “Golf”, “Golfing”, “Playing Golf”, “Vacations”, etc.
  • Geo-targeted to people from whom I receive a large percentage of web traffic for golf trips

The results:

  • CTR = 0.00%
  • Clicks = 0

The good news:

  • Ad Spend:  $0.00

I mean, I have heard that Facebook converts poorly and that the latest eye tracking is showing an increasing amount of banner blindness [one would expect that the results are higher for really sticky websites that people interact with on a daily basis like FaceBook], but I would have thought that I might have gotten at least one accidental click or something. But nope. Nada. Thank goodness for PPC.

With regards to Facebook’s business model, I am sure that monetization through advertising is not a sustainable strategy. And with Facebook expected to have a negative cash flow of $150 million for this next year, one has to hope (for all those addicted to their community), that they could figure out how to capitalize on the traffic, and more importantly, the knowledge of the “who”, the “what”, the “when”, and the “why”.

What are your thoughts? Will social network advertising ever work? Or should Facebook and others just hurry it up and get on with other business models?

I heard someone compare Facebook to broadcast television a while back [I don’t remember who] with the arguement that if NBC, ABC, et al could monetize the eyeballs with advertisements, why can’t Facebook. I don’t buy it. My interpretation: NBC and ABC are now fighting to prevent people from skipping over  the ads with Tivo and other PVRs, injecting commercials into programming and finding other ways to monetize.

Anyhow… my thoughts for the day

February 27, 2009 at 10:27 am Leave a comment

5 Things I learned about Blogging, Twitter, Social Media, and Myself at Northern Voice 2009

So here is the real post… the post that shows that I showed up at the event and not just for the keynote. Here are 5 things that I learned or observed at Northern Voice 2009, the social media and blogging event that occurred in Vancouver this past weekend.

  1. If the big one finally hits Vancouver, or more precisely, if the big one hits Vancouver at the precise moment a social media conference was occurring and the entire room was buried in rubble for thousands of years, future generations would conclude that Apple was the dominant computing platform of the generation. I mean, it was almost comical how everyone (except yours truly) was embracing Apple as their sword. Myself, I was toting around my beefy Dell Inspiron1720. Sure it is bright red and proudly sports an “I am a PC” sticker, but I must admit I had a bit of device envy in watching the Apple army wield their weapons. Part of me is left wondering if Stewart Butterfield’s keynote about identity (and by extension individuality) was actually speaking about this group. “My mac is a symbol of my individuality… and I am not like the other 100 people in this room… we just have the same tastes.”  … So what did I learn for point number one? I learned that if the blogger and social media artist is also the maven and predictor of what is to come, then methinks that Apple’s resurgence is only just beginning.
  2. Speaking of Apple and geekiness. I probably saw one of the geekiest displays that I had seen in a long time. Two attendees having a “sword fight” with their tripped out iPhones, complete with the requisite StarWars’ lightsaber sound effects. Me and my Blackberry once again had device envy. I learned that there is a big difference between a social media conference, and any of the enterprise software or traditional marketing conferences that I attended in recent years.
  3. I learned that an “unconference”, though unconventional, can be unnerving for many… or at least that was my impression for the first half of the day. Up until about mid-afternoon on Friday, I thought that the un-conference format in which discussion was encouraged would result in all sorts of insightful back-and-forth discussions, witty comments, etc. I was surprised that many in the room were just sitting silently staring into their screens while a few of us in the room engaged the presenter with questions and rebuttles. It wasn’t until I was shoulder-surfing while waiting for one session to begin that I learned why everyone was so quiet. All the real conversations were occurring on Twitter. And it wasn’t until that very moment that I saw that Twitter actually had some use [see point 4 below].  As a Twitter newbie, I had never heard of TweetDeck nor seen it in use.  But seeing all the comments back and forth as the presenter/facilitator worked the room, made me realize how much things have changed. You see, I am on that cusp of being old and being intertwined with technology. I attended a conference last year when the presenter made the point that today’s teenager and twenty-something was able to multi-task in ways that I will never know. Here was such an example in all its glory. It was almost like the whole room was passing notes back and forth giggling at inside jokes. I guess you can say that “social media” is redefining what it means to be social.
  4. I almost learned that Twitter has some value. I wouldn’t say mass value, but I can see 200+ people Twittering about a single conference and ideas must see the value in there somewhere. One of my reasons for attending Northern Voice 2009 was to get a better handle on Twitter and its applicability into the world of marketing and business. I mean, I am creating Twitter accounts for each of my ventures (though not yet for myself), but I really didn’t have a reason to do this… I just felt that I should. What the room was doing, when the presenter was talking and I was synthesizing, was that the collective was sharing real-time thoughts and observations, learning not just from the presenter, but from each other. I could see utility for Twitter in classrooms where people are debating the arguments of a professor as they are made. It is almost communal note taking if you will. Part of me, however, can’t get over the feeling that twittering your thoughts to the collective while participating in such a forum is kind of like going to a movie and sitting next to that person who voices more to themselves, though within earshot of others, all those obvious points of the movie, “Hey that song is Elvis”, “Oh all that garbage was collected by Wall-E. He must have been there for a long time.” Perhaps I am just being selfish (and somewhat unavoidably competitive), but I have always viewed my personal thoughts as my competitive advantage.
  5. There are a lot of smart people in Vancouver and a lot of people who have a lot of great ideas. People who impressed me and I would like to do coffee with…
  • Ian Capstick (www.MediaStyle.ca) – Ian led one of the more engaging discussions of the day asking the question (“Did Obama really use social media to win?”). Ian seems to have done a lot already, appears quite plugged into the machinations of the Canadian political/social media scene [if one exists]. My contribution to the discussion was the observation that social media was merely an extension of his brand mantra of “Change”. Everything Obama did was about “change”. Heck, he is representative of the very word himself. And all that is social media (blogs, Flickr, Twitter, groups, SMS), this is just an extension of this “change”. As a somewhat related aside, I still maintain that there is an incredible opportunity for politicians to engage their constituents in “direct democracy” via SMS and Text Messaging. In fact, this is one of the verticals that we will be pursuing with Texts.com.
  • I also ran into Jason Landry with whom I worked briefly back around the year 2000 at Maximizer (I am glad he recognized me… I suck at faces). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to connect with Derek Miller (whom Jason mentioned was also there). I also worked with Derek at Maximizer, and I can most assuredly say that Derek’s blog PenMachine was the first blog I ever read, and that was – I think – before I ever heard the word “blog” ever being said. It would have been good to see Derek, and wish him well. I have been very fortunate to not have many people I know be diagnosed with Cancer. And while I haven’t spoken with him in many, many years, I have been following his battle via his site now for the past 2 years. Keep up the good fight Derek.
  • Dave Olsen (www.UncleWeed.com) – I attended this unconference session by accident sort of. I was chatting with some of the attendees after the conclusion of Chris Heuer’s “Death of Advertising” talk [ed. note: meh… ], and then in walked this odd looking chap: floral shirt, a tickle trunk, smokey-grey fedora, and a smile that said that he knew the next 30 minutes was going to be fun. I asked those next to me what this session was about. They said, “wait and see”, and I am glad I did. Dave gave one of the more enjoyable presentations (“Letters from Russia”) that I have seen in a long time. Summarize it? I don’t think I can, and even if I tried, it wouldn’t do it justice.

Well that about sums up the event. There was definitely a lot going on, and I already look forward to next year’s event. Who knows, by that time, maybe I will be fully up to speed on Twitter, its use, and the appropriate vernacular to make myself fit it… as long as I have an Apple by that time.

February 22, 2009 at 11:08 pm 8 comments

Northern Voice 2009 – Thoughts and ponderings

EDITED POST …  2-days later …

My first Northern Voice conference is about to begin. I am here thanks to DreamBank (thanks Dawn!). I haven’t been back to UBC for years, having left the campus in 1995 (degree in Enlgish and Arts History). I will attempt to live blog as I come across interesting points, or meet interesting people.

Sitting next to Benson Wong for Stewart Butterfield’s keynote address. Benson is the IT manager for Sutton Group Realty.

Interesting little ramble about identity and the web from Stewart. I have been listening to the audio book on the drive in for Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. Need to think more about the power of community and the concept of an idea “tipping”. Hmmm…

Stewart is talking about ubiquity of devices enabling community. I wonder what came first, the desire to be part of the community (and thus the use of the device), or the device itself? I hope I can learn later if this is why I am Twittering? Did I get a Twitter account because everyone else that I am aware of is starting to Twitter, or am I Twittering for my ventures (www.Twitter.com/SMSTexts and www.Twitter.com/GolfTeeTimes) because there is actually utility in there somewhere. Hmmmm.

UPDATED on Sunday, 2 days after I started “live blogging” the conference.

Well I learned something about myself in the past couple of days: I absolutely suck at Live Blogging. Let’s see… I got a few points down during the opening keynote, and then failed to blog anything else for the entire day. I think this actually reminded me of my experience at UBC [dripping irony] and my classes there. At the end of every term, when I would go back and review my notes for an exam, I would have page after page of single item “notes” for an entire class. The note would read: “Important to remember about Goya’s etchings that you need to remember is that” … and that was it… Oh sure, I may have underlined the word “important”, but rarely would I have finished my thought.

I guess my learning style is what you would consider participatory. I listen, I ask questions, I engage, I synthesize. But for the life of me, I can’t multitask and write down what the presenter was saying. Oh well.  Stick to your knitting as they say. For those that wanted realtime commentary, you should have paid attention to one of the following blogs:

Hummingbird604 or Miss604.

I will offer my thoughts on the event in a separate post.

February 20, 2009 at 10:29 am 1 comment

Clarifying your value proposition… and your elevator pitch

Forty-seven minutes. That is how long it took me to drive home from Downtown Vancouver to back here in Maple Ridge. Through the fog every mile of the journey… that is until I got to my front door.

You see, I live out here on the edge of a Mountain, slightly elevated above a very scenic commuter community. For those who are not local and would not know, there is a low pressure inversion blanketing the Lower Mainland. Our home is above it. When people ask me why I live out here, I often have standard answers: more affordable housing, a small-town feel, wider parking spaces [which is great for small children]. However, I now have another answer to give.

“Living in the suburb provides you with more opportunity to clarify your value proposition, practice your elevator pitch, and come out of the fog.”

You see… I had one of those days of meetings and networking. I met a former colleague for lunch to catch up and talk about the latest business projects, what’s new, what’s different and how we are going to change the world. A quick hop into Starbucks [London Fog Latte… it seemed appropriate] to work on a business plan that I was preparing for the late afternoon’s First Round Capital’s Office Hours. Then a meeting with a business partner to discuss development plans on one of my ventures (TeeTimes.net). Followed by the aforementioned Office Hours [I pitched an angle of Texts.com, not the business plan I was preparing earlier]. Followed by a quick dinner (responding to a day’s worth of emails while eating). Followed by networking at the Vancouver Entrepreneur’s Meetup. Followed by a late night coffee with a few other entrepreneurs and genuinely nice people that I met tonight (here, here, and here). And then the drive home.

All day long, I practiced my elevator pitch (or on a day like today I should say, “pitches”). And all day long I listened to others explain their business models and communicate their value propositions. Some were well done, and others like the presenter from the Investor’s Group who must have misread the 30 second pitch guidelines as 3 minutes… not so much.

But the drive home provided me with 47 minutes to rehearse my pitch and think about what resonated with my day’s companions, and what left people in a fog. Well actually it was only 45 minutes. The first 2 minutes were spent listening to the radio to hear that the Canucks blew another game.

So here is what I learned from tonight:

  1. Texts.com –  One of the things that I like about good quality generic domain names, especially when it is your company’s name, is that it leads your audience into your pitch before you open your mouth. At the Entrepreneur’s Meetup on my name tag, I scribbled “John” and beneath it I wrote “Texts.com“.  From here, depending on the audience, I could adjust my pitch to one of the following:
  • Texts.com provides international text messaging and SMS Marketing services. With our international text messaging service, we save money for those who wish to send an SMS message internationally. Rather than paying your standard carrier a message rate that reaches as high as  $0.50 per message, we can deliver a text message to your overseas friend or family for as low as $0.10 per message. In other words, we simplify international text messaging.” … or…
  • Texts.com provides international text messaging and SMS Marketing services. Our SMS marketing services focus on the smaller local merchant. A typical short code that is required for mobile marketing campaigns costs anywhere from $15k to $30k per year and takes 12 weeks to set up. This is not practical for a small business. Likewise, a merchant could lease a shared short code, and while this is more affordable, if a person unsubscribes from a campaign that happened to be on the same network, you lose that customer. Instead, we are implementing technology to let a person “Call-to-Subscribe” to a mobile marketing campaign at rates that are much more affordable than the cheapest shared short codes. Small businesses now have an affordable option to participate in mobile marketing.”

So in hindsight (and one 45 minute drive later), how did I do? I think it would have been better to simply lead with a single message around local SMS Marketing. Next time I would start off with the key value proposition of our SMS marketing and how we differ from existing systems. Full stop.

  1. TeeTimes.net – A few times tonight I had the opportunity to talk about another one of my ventures, TeeTimes.net. Once again, the domain name says a lot about the business. A person who has any sort of understanding about golf, would know that this business has to do something about TeeTimes and they would probably even conclude that it is a place for online golf reservations. So how did I do?
  • “We operate a web-based golf reservations business that allows golfers to book their tee times online for more than 1,000 golf courses across North America.”

People got this. They understood what we did. It was simple. In some instances, I delved deeper into the business model and our execution strategy that made us unique, but for the most part, I stopped it after the first sentence. In other words, to paraphrase Jerry Maguire, “You had me at Hello”.

What other messages did I hear tonight that I liked?

  • Elizabeth Southall of PowerhouseCopy (a direct response copywriter) — “I specialize in direct response copywriting for the web that helps you convert more of your visitors into paying customers.” Cool. Sounds good. I could use that.
  • Tom Gibson of OutsideIncredible (a product marketing consultant) — “I’m a product value specialist. I help companies make their products and services resonate instantly with buyers.” He even had that exact pitch written on his business card. Nice touch.
  • Derek Bell of Tynt“We enable people to Graffitti  up the web, sharing their thoughts via the social web”… At least I think that was it. In any case, I got it right away… but perhaps this is just because I have always been a fan of the website PostIt note model since I came across Third Voice many, many years ago.

For everyone else that I met tonight… I look forward to seeing you again real soon.

John

January 16, 2009 at 2:35 am 1 comment

Update on FRC Office Hours in Vancouver

I wrote below about the First Round Capital’s Office Hours event that is being held later today (Thursday, Jan 15) at the Agro Cafe. It was initially reported that they were encouraging “Come one, come all” to attend and BS/pitch your concept/solicit advice.

They said that there was no need to RSVP. I was a little suspicious at this, not at the cordial invite, but at whether the little cafe could accommodate the hordes that might descend. After all, if 6s Marketing filled the Yaletown Brew Pub with 250 people at the recently reborn Ideas on Tap, then surely this small and “deliciously” scrumptious cafe [pun fully intended] would be bursting at the seams. It also looks like the guys at Bootup Labs were beating the drums to get people out.

I did receive this email from Kent Goldman of FRC this evening:

All-

I wanted to give you all a heads-up that the 4:00-5:00pm hour was very popular for Office Hours sign-ups. If you come during that time slot there will likely be a bit of a wait (and while you do wait, we’re buying the coffee and treats). Nevertheless, there should be more than enough time to meet with folks over the two hours that Chris, Boris and I will be at the Agro Cafe. We’ll have a sign-up sheet with more specific times at the event tomorrow.

We’re looking forward to seeing all of you then!

-Kent

OK everyone… bring a jacket and be prepared to huddle/cuddle outside while waiting for your audience.


January 15, 2009 at 2:08 am Leave a comment

FRC Office Hours in Vancouver

I see that W Media Ventures is welcoming First Round Capital up to Vancouver for a coffee talk session (also known as FRC Office Hours). It sounds like an intersting concept. Basically it sounds like a entrepreneurial BS session in a somewhat structured format. Cool… count me in. Sounds like fun

I have avoided the venture/fundraising scene this pass through the entrepreneurial scene… mostly because for most ventures, I think bootstrapping to launch is a good way to go. And once you launch, you should be able to run and automate the business on cash flow (or micro capital outlay anyhow). However, there are a couple of ideas that I am brainstorming that would take longer to incubate and a bit more cash up front (less than $100k). First Round has also invested in Ofer Ronen over at Sendori who I spoke with on several occasions back in the domain world, and some of my ideas are quite synergistic… hmmm.

EDIT –  I just checked my calendar for the same day [on my new BlackBerry Bold, I might add] and I see that the Vancouver Entrepreneurs Meetup occurs immediately following the Office Hours event. How appropriate.

January 7, 2009 at 9:03 pm 1 comment

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