February 04, 2016

Ship Something!

There's Julie Bornstein, of Nordstrom / Sephora fame, shipping something to prospects at Stitch Fix. You take a quiz, and a personalized assortment is shipped to the customer.

I know, I know. You are unique. You are different. You sell widgets. Why would a customer ever fill out a quiz that enables the customer to receive a personalized set of widgets?

I get the chance to analyze continuity programs ... you know ... programs where customers receive monthly shipments of stuff they don't even know they want yet ... or stuff they know they want and are happy to receive. Either way, the Stitch Fix example is really nothing more sophisticated than the old "receive twelve VHS movies free" concept that caused a customer to receive movies for a full year. It's just a modern twist on an old concept.

I know, I know, you think continuity programs only work for best customers. Not true. The concept fully depends upon what you ship to the prospect. And if the hypothesis were true, so what? Why not use your current merchandise assortment to up-sell the customer into monthly shipments?

Customer Acquisition is the most important topic in 2016. We need to shake things up. We need to try different strategies. It's time to hire a brand response marketing professional and then it is time to get busy implementing different tactics / strategies.

February 03, 2016

Language and Talent

You hire copywriters.

Snapchat hires "Language Designers".

I know, I know, you believe this is an issue of semantics. You are doing the same thing they're doing, they just have a fancy title.

Imagine being a 29 year old writer. Are you likely to take the catalog job writing copy, or are you likely to become a Language Designer at Snapchat?

Game over. Snapchat wins the talent battle.

Now imagine that the 29 year old writer actually takes the copy writing job in Georgia ... has personal reasons for wanting to stay home and all that. Are you going to give this person the leeway to do great work? Or are you going to demand that the individual adhere to company standards? You already know the answer. You'll turn the copy writer into a drone ... and then, not surprisingly, the copy on your website reads like a text book. Who wants to read that?

If you want to acquire the best customers, you need to hire the best talent. In order to hire the best talent, we all need to modernize our internal structures. Nobody wants to write copy. Many people want to design language. That subtle distinction pays dividends.

I know, I know. You sell widgets. You are unique. You are different. You hired a Creative Director in 1997 because you watched the J. Peterman character on Seinfeld and thought somebody like that could make a difference, but the person you hired came in to work every day barefoot and wearing flannel pajama pants ... "it didn't work out, so he left the company to spend more time with family." You vowed to never make that mistake again.

It is very difficult to be great a customer acquisition while writing boring copy. Do something different.

February 02, 2016

Packaging and Copy and Storytelling

They share tips for small businesses ... but of course, many of the tips apply to your business as well.

They recently shared a tip about Frostbeard Studio. Stop everything you are doing right now, and go visit them on Etsy (click here).

Do you put as much energy into your packaging, copy, and storytelling as they do?

They are selling a soy candle ... heck, everybody sells candles. So, they take a different approach to their craft, don't they?

Packaging and Copy and Storytelling are Customer Acquisition Strategies, aren't they?

I know, I know, you are unique, you are different, you sell widgets and you tried clever packaging back in 1996 and you got product placement on Friends and sales didn't increase, so you strongly believe that this is yet another tactic that "doesn't work".

You can't have it both ways. You cannot grumble that it is hard to acquire customers in a "competitive landscape buffeted by headwinds" and then assert that you've tried everything and nothing works. Either you go all-in on math (co-ops, Google, Facebook, Retargeting, Programmatic) and you create a soulless experience, or you hire brand response marketers and give them the freedom to creatively solve problems. Since the soulless experience isn't getting anybody anywhere, why not try to creatively solve your problems?

February 01, 2016


In my Customer Acquisition presentation (click here), I share a slide about humor. The slide features a commercial where the candy bar being advertised is "not for girls".

I know, I know. Your brand is unique, your brand is different, your brand is inclusive, your brand is serious ... you sell widgets, and there's nothing funny about widgets. You tried a joke back in 1988 about Michael Dukakis and sales didn't increase. Humor doesn't work.

Customer Acquisition is the biggest story of 2016. One way to find new customers is to entertain prospects. Maybe humor hasn't historically worked for your business. Is it possible what you've tried, historically, wasn't funny in the first place? I mean, I spent years working on the "Gliebers Dresses" series ... not saying it was funny, but it was an attempt at humor, and subscribers increased and it was frequently mentioned during client visits ... so it did something.

Try something.

January 31, 2016

Coloring Books

In my customer acquisition draft (click here), I created this slide ... about coloring books.

Yup ... physical book sales actually increased in 2015, and coloring books were a huge reason why. It's not so much that physical books are making a comeback as that a genre was re-imagined.

All of us manage businesses where we could re-imagine something old in a new way. We simply choose not to. 

I know, I know. Your business is unique, it is different, you've tried stuff that didn't work, you have to make your quarterly numbers. You just haven't hit upon the right idea yet, and you won't hit upon the right idea if you keep telling everybody who has an idea that the idea won't work.

Customer Acquisition is the biggest issue for businesses in 2016.

January 28, 2016

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January 27, 2016

When Channel Transition Happens

It's January 2000. I was invited to a meeting about the future of the catalog business at Eddie Bauer / Spiegel / Newport News. Lot's of VPs. VPs from Spiegel, our parent company.

I was a Director at the time ... the worst job title in corporate America. Trapped below a Vice President and above a handful of Managers, the Director is frequently paralyzed ... no budget to make changes ... no authority to make changes ... required to sell Executive changes to Managers.

Credibility is also a problem. If you are a 53 year old Director, you have experience. If you are a 35 year old Director, well, you don't have as much experience and you are not accountable when the business changes ... a group of VPs are accountable.

So there I was, with my VP and his VP in the room, presenting to other VPs from other companies. I shared the slide above ... I predicted that by 2003, the online channel would surpass the "catalog" channel (i.e. phone) and at that point, the business would be fundamentally changed. I told the room that we had three years to craft a reasonable strategic direction. I also reminded the room that this change in customer behavior was unavoidable ... we were going to be swallowed up by the internet.

It was at this point that the meeting turned ... it turned back toward the "catalog".
  • Your forecast is wrong.
  • What is the error rate associated with your forecast?
  • Catalogs have been around forever, the internet is new and unpredictable.
  • The only reason the internet looks good is because the catalog pushes all of the demand to the internet ... without the catalog, the internet is "dead".
  • You don't have the business experience to understand that fads come and go.
  • You are defining catalog and internet buyers wrong ... if you define them the way we'd define them, you'd learn that nothing is going to change.
I specifically remember a handful of Spiegel executives who were laughing ... "this isn't the way the world works". As they laughed and found every possible reason why the slide was incorrect, I noticed that the room aligned with "the laughers". It's hard to blame folks for aligning with them ... they're the ones paying the bills.

Four weeks later, I resigned.

Three years later, at the time when I forecast the catalog/online trajectory to switch, Spiegel filed for Chapter Eleven protection. In 2012, Wikipedia tells us that Spiegel, after being sold several times, elected to focus on "digital media".

A similar transition is happening, right now, in e-commerce. E-commerce is going to be swallowed-up by mobile. It's unavoidable. Now, if your customer is 63 years old, then no, e-commerce isn't going to be swallowed up. But if your customer is 36 years old, then yes, your e-commerce division is already being swallowed up. You can't get away from this dynamic. I analyze businesses where the dynamic is self-evident. The signatures of the catalog-to-e-commerce transition are similar.

Today, you might be the Executive. You might have a Director, in her mid-30s, and she is trying to tell you what is coming. You don't like what's coming, do you? You built an entire career on how e-commerce functions, and now the rules are changing. That hot-shot Director in her mid-30s has ideas for what you need to do in the future. Those ideas are contrary to your instincts.

Say you disagree. That's the likely scenario - read anything out there, and folks will tell you that mobile is an extension of e-commerce and they'll tell you that mobile isn't going to swallow up your business (and it won't if your customer is 63 years old, you have a different set of challenges). If you disagree, is it necessary to badger the young professional in her mid-30s, a person who sees the world different than you see it? Is it necessary to question each assumption she made? Is it necessary to badger her publicly in meetings?

Or is it necessary to give her and her hypothesis a chance? Is it possible that she is right? Is it possible to follow her ideas and protect her when her ideas don't initially work out so well?

The next five years are going to be really interesting in e-commerce and retail. The catalog-to-e-commerce transition is coming to e-commerce via mobile. We get to decide if we embrace the transition, or if we will fight it in the same way Spiegel fought it sixteen years ago.

Attention RSS Subscribers!

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For the RSS audience, I'd like to recommend subscribing via email. I removed all ads from my email subscriptions, and posts are emailed to you at about 7:40am Paris Time / 1:40am EST / 10:40am PST. 

January 26, 2016

Brand Response Marketing And Direct Marketers

So you are saying you are different ... you are unique ... you are special ... you cater to a different customer ... a customer who could care less about Instagram. You don't have time to be a Brand Response Marketer ... you have to get a customer to purchase today to make your quarterly numbers.

You need a different set of answers, and preferably, you want me to give you the answers for free. You deserve free advice that enables you to earn your salary.

Take a look at the Paula Young home page (I know, I know, fewer than half your customers arrive at your home page ... do you want me to dump 12,000 Paula Young landing page images in this post?). This is an example of Direct Response Marketing. Every message is designed to get a purchase TODAY. 80% off clearance. SAVE on your favorite styles. SALE items. The best merchandise is on SALE. FREE standard shipping. 150% price guarantee.

When you don't have a low cost customer acquisition program in place and/or a Brand Response Marketing Team, you are forced into a corner.
  1. Your merchandise must stand out from the competition and be fundamentally better than the competition.
  2. And/Or your pricing has to be better than everybody else.
  3. And/Or your promotions have to be better than everybody else.
  4. And/Or you have to pay a gate keeper (Google, Co-Ops, Facebook, Retargeters) for access to customers.
  5. And/Or you must stay one step ahead of every competitor who copies what you do within twenty-four hours.
Since (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) are so difficult to do on a consistent basis, and since your customer isn't going to respond the way a customer < age 50 responds, you have no choice but to do something else.

Tell me what your online conversion rate is? We know it is probably well under ten percent. This means you have an opportunity to leverage Brand Response Marketing Techniques (#BRMT) with the 90% of visitors who will not purchase. Some would call this "engagement". I don't. Engagement ends up being a lowest-common-denominator tactic to astroturf repeat visitation. The Brand Response Marketing Team leverages low-cost activities on your website to keep customers coming back.

Like Crutchfield ... they utilize experts to overcome Instagram weakness ... with the end result (hopefully) being similar. Maybe this works, maybe this doesn't work. At least they have somebody who resembles a Brand Response Marketer who tries to leverage customer service as a Customer Acquisition strategy.

If you are an older brand ... a catalog and/or direct mail brand in particular, you really need to think about using your website as Brand Response Marketing channel ... you capitalize on the million(s) of visitors you have each year who never convert in the short term.

January 25, 2016

Voodoo Doughnut

Here's an example of Brand Response Marketing.

Take a look at Voodoo Doughnuts (click here to see them on Instagram). A handful of locations and more than 12,000 followers.

The Direct Response Marketer would leverage copy and offers to demand that the customer buy a tasty treat immediately (act now and get 20% off on a maple bar ... sugary frosting resting on top of a light, gluten free cake, and not just for breakfast anymore).

The Brand Marketer would create a beautiful image of a non-descript bear claw and then wonder why the image didn't go viral.

The Brand Response Marketer re-imagines merchandise (this is important) ... then tells an interesting story via merchandise and imagery and content ... and does not demand payment RIGHT NOW.

I mean, how is it that a tiny doughnut brand has nearly ten times as many followers as Crutchfield (click here)? Crutchfield is a credible business, right? Buried under snow, but a credible business.

There is a strong correlation between an outstanding low-cost customer acquisition program and a highly competent Brand Response Marketing team.

How many people are employed in Brand Response Marketing efforts at your company?

Who at your company has the creative chops to do what the folks at Voodoo Doughnuts do?

January 24, 2016

Brand Response Marketing

Look at that ... Zara, with more than eight million followers on Instagram.

What's that? You say that social media doesn't work? You are on Instagram too and you have 14,384 followers and you have only been able to track $9,439.37 of sales in the past year?

Here's the thing, folks. Maybe there are three types of marketers. Those who love the co-ops and those who love Google tend to be direct response marketers. These folks want to do something today, and see sales come in tomorrow.

There are "brand marketers". We've all dealt with this phenomenon. We spent $1,000,000, see little return on investment, and then are told that the money was well spent because it helped "build the brand", whatever that means.

Then there are "brand response marketers". These folks amass more than eight million followers on Instagram, and don't ask a thing of any of the followers.

"Brand Response Marketing" is different than "Brand Marketing". Brand Response is about planting seeds. Brand Response is about fertilizing the soil, about rotating crops, so that the work you put in during April is rewarded in October.

Zara is executing "Brand Response Marketing".

Most of us either execute "Direct Response Marketing" or "Brand Marketing".

Those with the best customer acquisition programs tend to be brilliant "Brand Response Marketers". They are constantly planting seeds, they are constantly fertilizing the soil. Consequently, these businesses tend to get a lot of new customers for free. When you get a lot of new customers for free, you generate profit on a first purchase. When you generate profit on a first purchase, you can invest a ton of money elsewhere within the business.

The Brand Response Marketer is happy with eight million followers on Instagram, because the Brand Response Marketer doesn't have to pay somebody for access to the eight million followers (though some day, I'm sure Instagram will ruin that and then the Brand Response Marketer goes elsewhere).

Describe the percentage of your marketing efforts that are focused on each area. Are your efforts skewed too heavily toward Direct Response Marketing?

  • % Spent on Direct Response Marketing.
  • % Spent on Brand Marketing.
  • % Spent on Brand Response Marketing.

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