How often should we email our customer base?

This is a key question every large company has two answer, especially when different groups want to contact customers with messages about training, events, new products, promotions, surveys, etc.

When I was responsible for the Developer audience at Microsoft, I tried to create communication channels that would carry all these messages: the MSDN site, MSDN Flash newsletter, sub-audience specific sites, blogs, etc. But there is always a need for more formal communications that would go via email. The audience owners had to approve any communications going out or any new channels to avoid spamming customers and having a massive number of newsletters. At some point many companies have a discussion about how often they should be sending emails to their customers.

I have seen companies who have a rule about not sending broad emails to the customer base more than once a week. Some companies think it should be every two weeks or every month. Some companies have no rules and every one is free to spam everyone who has ever opted-in. Defining a fixed cadence to contact customers misses the point altogether.

The key for customer communications, either via email, RSS, twitter, fax, etc., is relevance.

Yetserday at the Omniture Summit, Forrester Analyst Emily Riley was sharing how after two years she still enjoys the weekly email newsletter sent by BabyCenter and read it thoroughly because it is relevant – it has information that is useful for her becaus eit has been targeted based on her baby’s age.

But when I get emails from a similar site (to remain unnamed) those emails are spam. My two daughters are 7 and 9, I don’t care about pretty much baby anything, the communcation is not relevant. Now, if the company had a Pre-Teen Parent newsletter, I might be interested. After all, they have my information, my permission (I haven’t opted out, my bad) and the exact age of my two daughters. Whay wouldn’t these companies continue to provide relevant information to parents as they grow? from diapers to cell phones and college.

If I am a developer heads down on a project or trying to understand a technology, I will dig every piece of relevant, useful information you send my way. If the information is useful, I will be grateful for that information even if I get an email every single day, scoring points for your brand. But if you send me information that is not targeted, relevant and useful, then every email is spam even if I only get one every leap year.

Content is King, Relevance is the Crown that makes Content the King.

The Key to Success in 8 Words

This is the holy grail for entrepreneurs and employees. How to be successful.

I have thought long about the key to success and I have been asked often about what makes people successful. I have my own credo (maybe for another post) but I found this video to be pretty close to what I believe the keys to succes are. A video well worth spending 4 minutes watching.

Seth Godin blogged about the same topic this week . malcom Gladwell wrote about 10,000 hours of effort being the magic number for being successful. Seth disagrees.

“You win when you become the best in the world, however ‘best’ and ‘world’ are defined by your market. In many mature markets, it takes 10,000 hours of preparation to win because most people give up after 5,000 hours. That’s the only magic thing about 10k… it’s a hard number to reach, so most people bail.

Yo Yo Ma isn’t perfect… he’s just better than everyone else. He pushed through the Dip that others chose not to. I’m guessing that there are endeavors (like being CEO of a Fortune 500 company or partner at a big law firm) where the rewards are so huge that the number is closer to 20,000 hours or more to get through the Dip.

But, ready for this? The Dip is much closer in niche areas, new areas, unexplored areas. You can get through the Dip in an online network or with a new kind of music because being seen as the best in that area is easier (at least for now). You can get through the Dip as a real estate broker in a new, growing town a lot quicker than someone in midtown Manhattan. The competition is thinner and probably less motivated. “

It’s been a couple years since I posted this and I thought I should update with three words that I really like.

Fire, Focus and Faith

Fire is passion and drive. You either have it or you don’t. It’s what pushes you to work hard and to persist.

Focus is the wisdom to know what you want and to eliminate distractions. It’s especially hard in today’s world.

Faith is ethics, principles, the need to transcend, to help others, to do something meaningful.


– Time is our most precious resource. Use it wisely. Live each day to its fullest.

– The most important thing is that the most important thing remains the most important thing.

– Most people think money will make them happy, waste their life trying to get more money then they find it is not.

– Vices give you instant pleasure, meaning all the goodness is gone after it.

– Doing things for others gives you perpetual happiness that remains in you forever.

Marketing and Social Hubs

Today a colleague pointed me to an interesting post that talks about Social Hubs and how companies participate in these hubs. I posted a loong comment that I thought I could share as a blog post on my own:


I think marketers will continue to do traditional marketing and advertising. But participation in social networks will be part of the marketing toolbox, and in many cases more important than traditional marketing. Jackie Huba (author of Citizen Marketers) calls this the fifth ‘marketing P’ – Participation.


You bring a really interesting point – maybe not explicitly: the social networks exist, and sites like Twitter and Linked in are simply tools where the people that form the hub meet. It is like a group of friends who can meet at a bar, at a sporting event or at a friend’s house. The group of friends is the social network itself and the bar or venue is the tool they use to interact. The community exists independent of the tool.


Like you, I am a firm believer in the power of social + enterprise content (what you call user generated content with professional content) and that integration deliver tremendous value to end users. But I have a different vision on how to get there: I don’t think marketers should moderate or editorialize social media. As you say, it is about trust and transparency – but this requires authenticity and personal conversations. The marketer can present both social and professional content labeling each as such: “here is the unedited content from the community, and here is our official corporate content”.


We did this at Microsoft where in our web properties and some of our products a search query will produce the official company “editorial” results, content from Microsoft bloggers and answers from the community. Social media is integrated on the website, technical support, marketing activities and also in the product Help system. Even the technical documentation is now a wiki.


Measurement tools and paradigms need to shift. It is not enough to measure community engagement or activity, maybe we should measure trust and sentiment. Maybe even loyalty. It is about winning hearts and minds.


About your question of how to identify the hubs? I see this as one of the intrinsic values of social media: it fosters the gravitation of people with similar goals and interests towards areas where they can have a conversation. Social media is enabling conversations across geographies, cultures and organizational boundaries.


Here is quote from the Cluetrain Manifesto written almost 10 years ago:


“Markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking…the human voice is unmistakably genuine… Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.”

How Apple Did It

When the iPhone was first announced, I remember exchanging many emails with industry colleagues -as many people did – speculating about the possibilities of Apple hitting the 10 million target that Steve Jobs set during the announcement.

Many emails were based on market research: how many people were buying phones at over $500 at the time, how big was the market for smartphones, etc. I was skeptical given the complexity of the software stack that powers a phone. Most of us had to eat our words.

How did Steve pull it off?

There are many answers: articles and surely books are being written about it. I found a key piece today while reading a new book “Do you matter? how great design will make people love your company“. In this book, the authors explain how apple and other leading companies are design-driven and how most other companies are metrics-driven.


As a marketer , many times I have had to justify my plans with market research: opportunity analysis, market sizing, CAGR (compound annual growth rate) numbers, etc. Most companies financial discipline require this type of financial justification based on hard data and require some kind of proof that an investment will yield results based on research, focus groups, etc.

Not at Apple. The key to design-driven companies is that they place significant value in customer experience. The company is aligned behind it. The problem with customer experience is that it is emotional, therefore not measurable. Steve Jobs has a knack for great design (in the broad sense of the word, meaning how to create products people love) and is able to pull it off because he runs the company and the board of director trusts his investments will pay off most of the time. Or at least he has a success ratio that allows the company to experiment.

If Steve had to justify the iPhone based on hard numbers, or if anyone at Motorola had envisioned the iPhone, they would have more than likely been shut down by senior managers because market research, hard data and market trends do not support the idea of a $600 first-generation smartphone selling 10 million units in the first 18 months.

Interestingly enough, Motorola actually came up with the idea of the iPhone: they went to Apple and had to convince Jobs it was a good idea based on the fact you don’t leave your house without three things: car keys, cell phone and wallet. Everything esle is secondary. But I digress.

If this is a topic you are interested in, I highly recommend the book. It is written by Robert Brunner and Stweart Emery. I am half-way though but it is well worth it already.

Fake Steve on Google

Fake Steve is Spot-on: “Another piece of food for thought. In all these years Google has spent millions, maybe billions, trying to create an Act II for the company, some way to go beyond search and advertising. They’ve done the classic Valley thing — hire nerds, turn them loose to dream up wacky ideas, put some of those ideas out into the market, throw them against the wall and see what sticks. Only, um, in their case so far nothing sticks. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Sure the stock is at almost 700 bucks and the dopes on Wall Street are lapping it up but the truth is that out in the Valley people are starting to snicker.”


Get the rest here

Tradeshow Marketing 101

This is one of my pet peeves as a marketer. Last week I was at CTIA in San Francisco, a key event in the wireless industry. As usual I walked around the show floor to see what’s new. Like many trade shows, there were well over a hundred booths. Like me, I imagine most customers don’t spend more than a few seconds glancing at each booth before deciding if they will stop by for more information.

Here is the problem: the information that marketers are using as “headlines” in their booth look more like slogans than actual descriptions of what the company does or how it helps customers. I walked down one aisle and wrote down what I could read in the booths as I walked along:

  • The First Total Solution for the Mobile Channel.
  • How Everybody Knows – Right Here. Right Now.
  • Powering Mobile Business.
  • Mobile Services 24x7x365
  • Freedom. Security. Choice.
  • Any text. Anywhere.

Nice slogans. These companies must have paid quite some money to an agency to get their top creative talent to come up with these smart words. But they don’t tell me anything about your company. I consider myself a pretty smart guide, and I have spent over 7 years in the wireless industry. A week later, I can’t recall what product or service was being offered by any of the companies using the slogans above.

What is the solution? make the healdine your value prop. Clear and simple In plain English. No marketing-speak, no slogans. One company stood out from the rest in doing this right. In fact, I glanced over the list of exhibitors and the company stood out immediatelly. Although I don’t need their services I will remember this company and might even refer business to them if a friend asks me for companies that offer these services.

Their booth read “$22/Hr Software Development” – I am impressed. The makreting guy could have hired an agency and come up with something smart like “Solutions for a Wireless World” (which I swear I have seen). “$22/Hr Software Development” is super clear: I understand what they do and the company value proposition. I remember the company clearly. If I needed software development cheap you bet I would have stopped by their booth. It would be simple to find them in the event directory because they opted to get their listing under “$22/Hr software development”.

If a customer walks by your booth at the next tradeshow, what message will he leave with in the 2 seconds he will spend?

Bad Marketing: Magazine Subscription Renewals

I am a loyal subscriber of Business Week. I have been reading it since I was a teenager – back in the 80s. (Late eighties). When I moved to Redmond, I extended my subscription via a third party. I started receiving two issues of Business Week in the mail every Monday. Guess their computer system is not smart enough to know if it is the same name and the same address, it is probably a duplicate or a renewal.

I called customer service to try to correct the problem, which did not happen. A few weeks later my old subscription was running out and I started getting calls at home (with telemarketer precision – at dinner time) to ask me to renew. I told them I had already renewed, but they did not listen.

This week I got a letter in the mail with the words “Important Tax information – open immediately” – no logo, plain envelope. I was suspicious, yet intrigued, so I opened it to find a “third notice – please renew your Business Week subscription”.

Now I was mad. Not only they deceiving me into opening their envelopes with cheap tactics, the message I got was “You must renew your subscription, this is the third time we ask you, are you not understanding?” Sure, the fine print read “your subscription may qualify as a tax deduction” – but that is just annoyingly bad marketing.

I have received other deceitful offers – like the subscription requests that look like an invoice, hoping another decision maker in the household (A wife, for example, but I am trying to be politically correct) opens the mail, assumes the other person has already made the commitment, and mails a check for a few dollars. That’s the kind of world we live in, too bad. But that is not the kind of tactics one expects from Business Week

Bad Marketing: Credit Cards and Respecting Your Customers

I am an American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum member, which means I spend way too much time on planes and a considerable amount of money on American Airlines. In the last six months, I have received a few dozen pieces of mail from this company, which tells me I am a valued customer since they call me Platinum. I am also a shareholder. That’s why every time I get one of those pieces in the mail with messages like “Important information for you” or “Time sensitive material” I have an expectation of what will be inside the envelope.

Every time I open it, I have the same experience: they are trying to sell me the Citi Aadvantage credit card. I already have a Citicard, I don’t need another one, even with the promise for 10,000 miles. I have seen the ads in every issue of American Way, I saw the banner ads, I got your promotional emails. STOP! It is getting to the point where AA is destroying the trust in their communications. Soon I will ignore any envelope I get from them, which will be headed straight for the shredder.

 Speaking of the shredder, on which I got a good deal at Target, it is a device that I don’t want. A shredder is a purchase that I was forced to make because of the hundreds of credit card offers we get in the mail every year. Credit card companies should pay for it. Just to point that American Airlines is not the only bad marketer. I sometimes get two credit card offers from the same company on the same day!! (and I don’t think my credit is even that good). Why can’t credit card marketers be more creative??

Humility, Pride and Ego

I am an avid reader of Harry Joiner’s blog. He is a recruiter

He has a few posts about the importance of humility. Humility is an interesting concept, hard to describe. One can say Humility is the lack of Ego or it could mean seeing every other person as equal to you. I just checked Wikipedia, which defines Humility as a quality of a humble person: someone who does not think that he or she is better or more important than others.

How can you be bold, how can you be a leader if you are humble. Think of the business leaders or people you admire: Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer, Sam Walton, Ghandi – who has the right “angle” on humility? how do they combine their passion for success and for being the best in their field with the need to be humble?

I tend to think of it from the perspective of Pride versus Ego. The difference is relativity: someone who has a strong Ego evaluates his accomplishments in relationship with his peers. He feels good about being better than the others. On the other side, someone who has Pride evaluates his accomplishments in relationship with himself, with his potential – independent on how the other people do.

I think of myself as someone with great Pride but low Ego. That’s who I want to be.

Managers not MBAs

I just read the abstract for a book called Managers, not MBAs which is focused on the concept that MBAs are being thought too much theory which is completely useless in a business where leadership and proven experience are the basis for performance. The book also claims top-school MBAs are arrogant and makes a case for top Harvard graduates who failed miserably in business. Furthermore, enrollment in the best schools is limited to students with high test scores instead of professionals with proven performance. The fundamental premise is that management is art and our education system focuses on theory.

 It is true that in general, education is not evolving as quickly as businesses do. However, as long as companies keep hiring MBAs to high-paying high-profile jobs, the schools will continue to offer them, students will continue to pursue them as there is little incentive to change anything. I think some schools are trying to move in the right direction by introducing more case studies and role playing.

 I still think there is a huge opportunity for innovation here for academic institutions and hiring departments in all sorts of companies.

Is your hiring department screening candidates based on the practical skills needed to do the job? Take a clue from The Apprentice: Donald Trump did not hire the top graduating students from a brand-name school nor he made his choice by a written test on management theory. Of course, that scenario would have produced poor rating in all likelihood. At the end, trump hired the person who performed best in real-life scenarios.

That’s why I found it so interesting to interview at Microsoft. The focus of the interview discussions are not based on what positions were held or what you studied. Interviewers present challenges that test problem solving, innovation, and other much more important, sometimes relatively subjective aptitudes. I think the fact that Microsoft is known for hiring smart people (except for me maybe) proves the point about the opportunity for companies to look at candidates in a new way.

Is there a market for a new kind of academic institutions, the Harvard of the 21st century?