Affiliate communication should be exciting, not banal, Amazon!
I've been a member of the Amazon Associates affiliate program for years. In fact, as a book author, I probably signed up and joined when the program was first released. It feels like I've been working with the company forever.
Even after all these years, though, I'm constantly astonished at just how boring and uninspired the communications from the group are. Just this morning I got my Amazon Associates statement and from the subject of the message to its content, the way it presents my earnings to the fact that there's no individual signing the message, is shockingly banal.
I mean, really, guys, the subject title Remittance Advice from "Amazon Accounts Payable <firstname.lastname@example.org>" just seems like the poster example of what happens when accountants run a program, not marketing people. This should be "Great news from Amazon Associates!" and should come from the head of the program at Amazon, or at least the Associates program itself.
Then the message itself? Holy cow, it needs an injection of some sort of positive thinking. Here's what you get instead:
In case you can't read it, it's basically just accounting talk, details about how payments are processed and, at the bottom, barely even recognizable, is the actual amount you've earned. Not even a "$" is included to help you see it in a glance, though.
If I were reframing this email, I'd start by saying thank you to the associates for helping Amazon sell products and be a bit more enthusiastic about the actual amount earned. For example:
"We're pleased to tell you that you earned $152.04 on this payment cycle through the Amazon Associates program. We at Amazon.com thank you for your help in selling our products and will be mailing you a check (or initiating an electronic funds transaction) within the next 48 hours."Doesn't that seem a bit more friendly and perhaps a bit more motivating to Associates who you really want to be excited about the program?
In fact, why not include 3-4 bullet items that highlight exciting changes to the program, new product lines available for promotion, and even case studies on people who are doing very well in the program?
But perhaps I'm just a lone voice in the wilderness. Are you in the Associates program, and if so, does their current email earnings notification work just fine for you?
Bad PR Pitch #317: Shaklee / Lippe Taylor Brand Communications
I don't know why I keep writing about these bad pitches that are mistargeted and demonstrate such an appalling lack of research on the part of the PR agency. Maybe it's because one of my tentacles extends into the PR world through my work with local agencies seeking to understand and properly utilize social media, but maybe it's the same reason people slow down at a car wreck: morbid curiosity.
The pitch this time? A competition sponsored by multi-level marketing (MLM) based Shaklee Corporation. The title is "Shaklee Announces the Cinch Biggest Loser Challenge" and the pitch email message starts out "Dear Dave" (good so far) then continues with " I thought some of the moms reading your site may be interested in this opportunity."
As Piglet would say, "dear d'dear dear dear". I do not run a mommy blog (my parenting blog says right on top "run by an attachment parenting dad...") but even if I did, why would anyone think that I only have female readers? This is an example of where it would be sooooo easy to say "I thought some of your readers may be interested..." and be more inclusive.
The bigger gaffe is that I am just not a fan or proponent of MLM or network marketing companies. I've written about it more than once, most recently What's wrong with MLM as a business model?, and any PR professional who has done their homework would be clued into the fact that MLM pitches are best not sent along to my mailbox.
And yet, I get this pitch that starts out:
"It’s been hard for many people to stick to their New Years resolution to lose weight, but between cooking dinner, doing laundry, reviewing homework and attending baseball practice, this task has been especially difficult for moms."Now, as a single Dad, I find this pretty darn offensive. This just feels like such a 50's perspective, that it's Mom's work to raise the children and Dad's work to just earn the money.
Dunno, maybe I'm just getting cranky about this stuff now that I get 30-50 "blogger press releasses" and similar each day, but please, PR agencies, do your homework and focus not just on the big categorization of "parent bloggers" or "mommy bloggers" but also the more narrow demographics. Heck, there are tools that you could use that would tell you if a given blogger ever writes about a specific topic before you bother them.
(And here's a free tip: most of the women I know who blog, even about their families, do not consider themselves "mommy bloggers" and find the concept insulting and belittling. I mean, men who blog about business, tech, and parenting aren't "daddy bloggers", they're just bloggers. So what's the diff anyway?)
The hard truth is that PR isn't the same as it used to be, and that you can't be measured by the number of releases you send out, but by pickup and mindshare.
That's not an numbers game, it's a targeting one.
Those companies that can more accurately target are the ones that will get consistently better results and be the winners in this pony race.
Guys & Dolls: Fighting the Economic Slowdown on Broadway
Got an interesting query message from a publicist associated with the hit Broadway show Guys & Dolls that's a fine example of a short and sweet PR query to a blogger:
I represent the Broadway Musical, Guys & Dolls (currently starring Lauren Graham). We are running a special offer for families during Presidents Day week that we think your readers would enjoy. The full details of the offer can be found at this address: http://www.guysanddollsbroadway.com/offer.html. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask!The publicist is Kristie (next time, include a last name, please) and she's with the entertainment agency spotnyc.com. Their client list includes some terrific organizations, including Cirque du Soleil, Paramount, Dreamworks, MTV, and more.
What I like about this query is that it's short, to the point, and professional. No intro letters, no blather about the show itself (I have seen and greatly enjoyed Guys & Dolls, though it was the traveling show, not the Broadway production), just a straight pitch.
And the deal? This week they're offering kids see the show for free and there's a buy-one-get-one-free ticket deal too. That's a smart way to deal with economic tough times on Broadway: a family of four can go see the show for the price of one ticket. Why would you NOT do that?
It's a sweet and funny play, too, revolving around "Nathan Detroit, the organizer of the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York, who bets fellow gambler Sky Masterson that he can't make the next girl he sees fall in love with him. The next girl he sees happens to be Miss Sarah Brown, a pure-at-heart Salvation Army-type reformer, and the stage is set for an hilarious evening of complications." [src]
What is "net plus thirty" on an invoice?
Had an interesting experience this morning. I sent a standard email invoice to a client company (whom I shall not name) that included the line
Payment: Net Plus 30
His response was "is that who you want the check made out to, Net Plus 30"?
me: "no, those are the payment terms: I am stating that I want to be paid within thirty days of receipt of my invoice"
he: "Wait, so you want to be paid the amount you billed us plus 30?"
me: "skip the "net plus thirty" and just ask accounting to process my invoice, please."
Now, I've been doing business - including processing invoices and purchase orders - for a long time, so for me, an invoice that says "net + 30" or similar is well understood. It's basically saying "don't pay me in three months, please. Just issue the darn check."
Obviously, though, that's not common parlance, at least not with the organization to which I sent the invoice this morning.
Which leads to my question: how much jargon, how many common catchphrases or acronyms, do you use in your daily correspondence that aren't being clearly understood by your recipients?
A great example of this, of course, is with culturally-contextual metaphors. If I say "that's a home run!" would you understand? Probably, if you're in the United States of America and are at all familiar with baseball. But if you're not? If you're in Madrid and are obsessed with soccer (which you'd call futbol) or if you're in Mumbai and are a cricket fanatic? There a "red card" or a "sticky wicket" would make sense, but then most Americans would be completely clueless about the reference and its implication in your communication.
That's your exercise for the day: pay attention to how you're communicating with others and ask yourself the question what metaphors, what jargon am I using that might be getting in the way of clear communication?
Do it right and I promise you, it'll be a touchdown. :-)
The importance of good titles and headlines
One of the aspects of writing online that I am constantly surprised so few people pay attention to is the critical importance of writing good headlines, good titles that help readers identify the topic of the piece and whether it's something they should read or not. There's a secondary benefit too for those of you savvy about search engines, but even without that, I wanted to just write briefly about the critical importance of good titles.
At its most basic, a headline is intended to draw you into the subject, to highlight whatever it is you're saying and give people a very, very brief synopsis of the content of the article.
The title to this blog entry, for example, wasn't "don't be witty" or "good titles = good" or "brevity is not your friend" or even "blog entry for Thursday", was it? By my writing The importance of good titles and headlines you knew immediately what I was going to talk about, you were given a promise, in essence, that it's now my task to deliver. If you weren't interested in headlines, you knew you could safely skip it too, an added benefit.
This subject came to me as I read through the 200-odd RSS feeds that I consume daily through Google Reader. Here's a snapshot of what I see in the mix:
Let's start by picking apart a classic grammatical mistake...
Grammar? Yes, grammar.
This gaffe shows up on the otherwise terrific Marriott on the Move blog written by company leader Bill Marriott. The title? Courtyard by Marriott Opens its 800th Hotel in Shanghai, China.
This is a really good title, actually, telling you exactly what's going on. Except it really desperately needs a comma because I'm pretty sure that there aren't actually 800 Courtyard by Marriott hotels in Shanghai. Instead: "Courtyard by Marriott Opens its 800th Hotel, in Shanghai, China"
Picky? Yeah, probably. But you need to pay attention because your blog title is going to be out there forever.
What If You're Recommended?
The next title I want to pick on is Fan-Shaped view of what opened what. What the heck does that mean? Knowing it's from Liz Blankenship's engaging TabViz blog, where she's talking about the design and implementation of tabs in user interfaces (how's that for a narrow topic?), gives us a context, but I suggest that instead the title itself should give us more information. How about "Tabs as visual cues: fan-shaped view of what opened what" as a way to tie the title to the blog topic?
There's an interesting secondary issue with this blog title too, because I don't subscribe to Liz's weblog. This showed up in my reader because my friend Andy Edmonds had recommended it. Titles therefore cannot be written assuming the reader has a known context: until I dug further into the blog I'd never seen her weblog before.
To spin this another way, how much attention do you pay to the serendipitous discovery of your content by people who aren't already subscribers or fans?
Brevity? No thanks.
Now I do read, and greatly enjoy Brad Feld's Feld Thoughts weblog, but his latest entry Making the Rounds is not a good example of a functional title. What rounds? Where? What's the metaphor he's tapping here, an intern at a hospital?
The first sentence in his blog entry tells the story, actually: "I've been spending more time talking in public recently." I suggest that a much better title for the article itself might have been "Spending more time talking in public..." or even "Speaking, speaking, speaking" if brevity and wit are also desired.
If you have an international audience, also be careful of your metaphors. A classic Americanism, for example, is to use a baseball or football metaphor like "make a touchdown" or "hit a home run" and then be surprised when your overseas audience has absolutely no idea what the heck you're talking about!
Technology Can Prove a Barrier
BusinessWeek's Amy Choi has a delightful example of how brevity - and technology - can be your worst enemy. On the Small Biz blog, her latest entry comes up in my RSS reader as What I Learned in the Trenches.
To understand why this is a problem, check out this screenshot of exactly how it appears in "expanded" view in my reader:
It's not until you click through to the story itself that you get the subtitle "Veterans-turned-entrepreneurs offer advice". Suddenly there's a context and it sounds like a very interesting story to boot! Military veterans who have become entrepreneurs and the advice they offer up to the rest of us small business owners? Well worth reading.
Why, though, isn't that part of the title of the piece? Without taking the time to click through, I'd never have had a clue about what "trench" Amy was talking about and why I'd care.
When you're creating titles, remember that your reader is busy and overwhelmed by information sources so you do need to put in the extra effort to create something both informative and engaging.
Good Titles Convey Key Information
Even über-blogger Robert Scoble isn't immune from pedestrian titles. His latest blog post is entitled Keeping Kids Online Safe. Read the piece itself, however, and you find out it's really about "How Symantec aims to help keep kids online safe" (or, more grammatically correct, "help keep kids safe online").
Again, there's the sense that you can omit some critical information in the title because you just know people are going to click through and read the article. But what if they don't?
Since Robert spends a lot of time writing about startups, knowing that a major corporation like Symantec is getting into this space is more interesting than the generic headline "keeping kids online safe", which could go in any of a hundred different directions.
Search Engine Optimization Is Your Friend?
Notice in this entire discussion I haven't said a word about SEO. For many people who are hip to the online world, ensuring that you have a good keyword or two in your title is of utmost importance. Ironically perhaps, it's also a smart way to ensure that you end up with a good title for humans too.
Think about it: the titles that haven't worked are those that lack a specific noun or subject. This also means that they lack a keyword or key phrase. Instead, focus on the single most important concept, idea, product, vendor or topic in your blog entry or article and then ensure that appears in the title too and you'll be well on your way to creating good titles.
A few more quick thoughts: how long should a good title be? Well, not too long but not too short. "good titles" is not as good, for example, as "how to create good titles", which can still be improved with "how to create good article and blog titles". Get to "Everything you need to know about how to create good article and blog titles for both human readers and search engines (SEO)" and it's probably grown beyond a reasonable length. :-)
I won't say I'm the end-all expert on titles and headlines, but I hope these give you some things to contemplate next time you're working on crafting the perfect title for your blog entry or online article.
What's wrong with multi-level marketing as a business model?
Let me preface this by saying that I am not involved in any multi-level marketing (MLM) business, nor do I have an interest in joining one, whether at the top of the pyramid or somewhere in the downline. The very fact that I feel the need to include this disclaimer, though, is part of what I want to talk about in this essay. Why does MLM have such a bad reputation, what's wrong with it, and can it be fixed?
If you're a salesman, you're already quite familiar with the challenge and opportunity of working on a commission basis. It's easy: the more you sell, the more money you're paid. If you're selling $500 gizmos and you're paid a 5% commission, selling 3 in a day nets you $75, not much at all. But sell 20 in four hours and you're doing very well, earning $500, or a delightful $125/hour.
This business structure is so well established that many of the businesses with which I consult have "pure commission" salespeople on the team, people who are paid a very healthy fee for each closed sale, but who are paid zero if they can't close. Since few businesses can afford to be philanthropic efforts, good intentions inevitably meet harsh reality at the sales desk, so it makes sense.
No sales = no income = no company.
Take a step up the food chain in a typical corporation and you'll find that the sales manager gets a bonus based on the performance of their salespeople, and that the VP of Sales also gets a bonus based on the aggregate sales of the team. Indeed, the CEO of the company is also likely to get a bonus based on the growth of the company revenue year over year.
In essence, a pyramid system where that $500 product might well produce a $25 commission for the sales person, a $10 commission for the sales manager, a $10 commission for the VP of sales and (more likely than not) a $20 commission for the CEO. In other words, $65 (13%) of the $500 sale might well go to commissions in this sort of scenario.
Let's go a bit further down this business scenario too. Now try to imagine the motivation for the sales manager when she (or he) is interviewing a potential hire. What's their primary motivation? That they can sell the heck out of the product/service. In essence, the sales manager (and VP and everyone else in the company) is going to act based on enlightened self-interest and hire the candidate who seems most likely able to close on product sales.
Many large companies also offer a bonus or reward for new employee referrals too, which extends the incentive for finding good salespeople who can close deals down to the front lines. Now everyone in the sales loop is trying both to help sell product and find new salespeople who can maximize product sales.
(well, some salespeople might be concerned about new folks adversely impacting their own sales, but that's typically addressed by sales territories, where each salesperson is assigned a different geographic or demographic customer group)
With a typical company, then, we have salespeople who are paid to sell their product and to find new salespeople, managers who are paid partially based upon the ability of their sales team to close sales and, through ESI (enlightened self-interest), also motivated to find new and better employees to continually maximize sales and revenue, and so on, up the chain to the CEO.
They also have a distributed sales team where each team member is paid on a commission-only basis and are also paid based on a percentage of the sales of their team (in the MLM space, they call this your "downline"). The sales manager has a similar structure and sits one rung higher up on the ladder, on and on, up to the Amway or Avon corporate team itself.
There are two core differences I see between a Fortune 500 sales team and the folks in my neighborhood who are selling an MLM product, though: first, traditional corporations don't have an ever-growing org chart. Imagine if every few weeks another level of management was added to Kodak (NYSE: EK) or Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX). It'd produce chaos and, more importantly, would continually dilute the accountability chain. If sales drop, who is actually responsible when the sales team could be arbitrarily wide and deep?
The second difference, and this is the big one I think, is that in a traditional sales group, your incentive for bringing someone else on the team is a one-time bonus, not a percentage of their sales for a specified -- or endless -- period of time.
The first problem can be addressed by disciplined MLM organizations, of course. They can just say "after we're four levels deep, we can't go any deeper". This makes intuitive sense if you think about each party taking a slice of the pie: even if each party only gets a 5% commission on a sale, eventually you'll run out of base revenue and be paying more commission than the profit on a given product. That's a recipe for bankruptcy.
Which leads us to what is the core problem with multi-level marketing companies: offering a percentage of transaction revenue from your downline or sales team without a specified duration.
The math is easy too. If I can earn 5% of every sale you make as part of my sales team or 10% of any sale I make, I'd rather just get you on board and take some leisure time while you do the hard work of closing the sale.
This is the core of where MLM breaks down, obviously, when members are incentivized by the very structure of multi-level marketing to find new team members rather than sell the individual products (and that's times ten if there's an "initiation fee" that's split by the existing organizational members).
But what if there were an MLM business where both of these problems were addressed? Where it couldn't grow arbitrarily deep (or wide, depending on your metaphor) and where people are paid a sales commission bonus for bringing new people on board, but only for a very finite amount of time?
As I said, I'm not involved with any MLM business, but when I do think about the fundamental business structure, I'm always intrigued by its extraordinary parallels to sales teams in traditional corporations along with its few core differences.
Seems to me that there should be hybrid MLMs that enjoy the benefits of a highly motivated, distributed affiliate-only sales team while avoiding the trap of motivating your team to the wrong end goal: finding more team members rather than selling products. Is there?
MLMs generally have a miserable reputation and even asking a question about MLM businesses structures on Twitter quickly elicited sarcastic and hostile responses. People don't like 'em, but most of the commentary seems to be more about the people who are the most vocal proponents / salespeople rather than about the business itself. One way to look at that is that Avon, for example, sells a good line of products, has its own R&D team, etc.
Nonetheless, there is a stigma around MLM. Is it justified when you just look at the business structure?
For that matter, if I include an affiliate link to Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) or a redirect through something like Clickbank that pays me a commission because you decided to buy something through my link, is that really fundamentally different to me selling you some Avon skin lotion or a carton of Amway dishwasher soap?
What's your take, dear reader?
My favorite Superbowl XLIII Advertisements
Generally I've watched the Superbowl more to see the ads than to watch the football game itself (I'm a lot more enthused about World Cup soccer than American football, personally), but I have to admit that this game, the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Arizona Cardinals, was darn exciting!
Nonetheless, I'm hardly a football commentator, so instead I thought I'd talk about which of the rather large number of TV ads I liked.
Here's my short list: GE: Wind Energy, Hulu: Alec and Huluwood, GE: Scarecrow, Coke: Heist, Bridgestone: Hot Item, NBC Heroes: Football, Teleflora: Talking Flowers, Pedigree: Crazy Pets, Doritos: Power of the Crunch, and Doritos: Crystal Ball.
Coke: Heist advert
Of these, if I had to pick one or two that were my favorites, I'd choose Coke: Heist for its creative brilliance, GE: Scarecrow for its creative use of a very well-known visual metaphor (The Wizard of Oz), and Doritos: Crystal Ball for its wry surprise twist and splendid situational humor.
Escape to Witch Mountain
I was also surprised about the movie previews for both G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Race to Witch Mountain, they're both films I'm definitely going to want to see in the theater after these exciting trailers.
I'll also add that there were a few ads that I thought were particularly ghastly, particularly given that one hopes entire families watch the Superbowl, not just adults, and they were all pretty much from NBC itself. Specifically, there was a spot for NBC's "Medium" show that had an image of a man holding a dead child (looked like an 8yo girl perhaps?) that was just the wrong imagery for a family sporting event on TV.
It's bad enough that we have to put up with what I consider oft-inappropriate sexual and violent imagery on TV programs (for example, I turned off the Rose Bowl after an ad for My Bloody Valentine 3D, a film that does not need to be advertised on a daytime sporting broadcast!) but images of death - especially the deaths of children - are way over the top. Sorry, NBC, this was a big, big fail to me.
Otherwise, I really enjoyed the ads, and while I read on Twitter that many parents were upset with the GoDaddy ads for being clearly both stupid and sexist, I just thought they were dumb. I am sure that the imagery of a buxom model will be far, far less upsetting to my child than the advert for The Medium would be.
Anyway, congrats to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a great, great Superbowl game, and to the Arizona Cardinals for one heck of an attempt. They came really, really close to winning their first Superbowl game ever.
Tip: if you seen an "unavailable" error from Hulu on the adverts, it might be because their server is overloaded. It's also a problem - for Hulu, not me - if you live outside of the United States of America. Sorry, that's their limitation, not mine!
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