Understanding What’s Really Going on at the Post Office

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If you had a tough time during the Great Recession of the last few years, you are in the same boat with many, including the United States Postal Service. With computers, e-mail, and the rise of similar types of technology, total mail volume was already on the decline – and then, the most troubling economic times in decades hit. All types of mail volume dropped dramatically in a short period of time.

According to the official USPS website, total mail volume in 2006 was roughly 213.1 billion pieces of material. The total mail volume in 2015, on the other hand, was 154.2 billion. While that’s still a lot of mailers, flyers, and other items being delivered across the country on a daily basis, a drop of that magnitude is still pretty staggering.

What is an Exigent Rate?

Because of this situation, the USPS asked for something called an Exigent Rate Case. That meant that due to demanding circumstances, the Postal Service was allowed to “raise market-dominant prices above the CPI-U (consumer price index) price cap” for a limited time. After an approval process that required a submitted proposal and a hearing conducted on the record with an opportunity for public comment, that increase was granted – leading to the current rates that we’re experiencing.

So Why are Rates Dropping?

Exigent Rate Cases are not permanent – they have a limited lifespan as, theoretically, the special circumstances that required them in the first place will resolve themselves eventually. This is exactly what is happening. When the emergency rate expired on April 10, 2016, most of us experienced the first postal rate drop in our lifetime. With the price of a first-class stamp dropping to 47 cents, it represents the first decrease in nearly 100 years.

The good news is that mail volumes have actually recovered pretty significantly. This is especially true in terms of packages, as more people than ever before are choosing to buy their everyday items online at retailers like Amazon.com. The news may be great for consumers and marketers, but it is doing little to actually relieve the problems that the Post Office is still going through.

Megan J. Brennan, the current Postmaster General, said that multi-year revenue declines are still a very real concern and were in excess of $7 billion in 2009 alone. In a statement she would go on to say that “Removing the surcharge and reducing our prices is an irrational outcome considering the Postal Service’s precarious financial condition.”

Looking Ahead for the Post Office and Marketers

Not to worry, though. The United States Postal Service isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – however, exactly what these rate decreases will do to their bottom line remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, as previously stated, there has never been a better opportunity to truly experiment with the benefits that direct mail has in terms of your overall marketing efforts. If you’ve moved more in a digital direction due to increased mailing and shipping rates over the last few years, this rate drop is the perfect incentive to dip your toe back in these proverbial waters.

Lowered Postal Rates Mean Now is the Best Time to Give Direct Mail a Try

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To say that most small businesses have something of a love/hate relationship with the United States Postal Service is an understatement. USPS is one of those necessary things to get a wide range of direct and print mail marketing materials out into the world. With a decade of increasing prices chipping away at return on investment little by little, it’s no wonder many organizations started to skimp on direct mail spending in favor of other “cheaper” solutions in the interim. Now, however, the tides may be truly changing as postal rates are on the decline with no clear end in sight. If you’ve been waiting to jump back into the direct mail world, now might be the PERFECT time to give it a try for a number of reasons.

Postal Rates: What is Going On?

On April 10, 2016, the cost to ship a first-class letter in the United States fell to just $0.47 – a rare phenomenon in recent memory. Additionally, the price of sending a postcard dropped a penny, international letters fell $0.05, and even coveted “Forever Stamps” saw a decrease in cost at the same time. These are the most direct mail and small business-friendly prices to come along since the beginning of the 2008 recession.

Direct Mail Doesn’t Just Work – It Works Gangbusters

Despite all this, some people still refuse to give direct mail the chance it deserves because they naturally assume that digital marketing is more efficient in the tech-driven world in which we now live. After all, with people glued to their cell phones day in and day out, how much of an impact can direct mail really have?

The answer is “a great big one.”

According to a study conducted by Compu-Mail.com, direct mail is still used heavily in an iPhone and Droid-centric world: approximately 43% of all local retail advertising still falls into this category. Not only that, but young adults are actually the largest group to respond to direct mail the most, particularly among the millennial crowd. According to a recent International Communications Research survey, approximately 73% of consumers actually prefer direct mail over alternative advertising methods. This is largely due to the fact that an equal number of respondents said that direct mail marketing was a much more personable experience than internet-based materials. Keep in mind that millennials think junk mail happens in their inbox, not their mailbox.

So, if the reasons why you had overlooked direct mail in the past were because “it was too expensive” and “you didn’t think it worked,” congratulations: those two reasons just evaporated in an instant.

No two businesses are created in quite the same way, and what works for one might not work for another – especially in terms of an overall marketing strategy. However, with the recent decline of USPS postal rates, now would be the absolute perfect time to give direct mail a try if it’s something that you’ve flirted with in the past, but ultimately overlooked for whatever reason. Now, is a terrific chance to really dip your proverbial toe in the water and to see just how direct mail can benefit your organization, especially if you’re doing so for the first time. These declining rates most likely aren’t going to stick around forever, so go for it, and create your direct mail campaign today.

The Future of Search Rankings: What Companies Like Google Are Going to Focus on Next

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Starting in 2011, Google has made a series of regular updates to its search algorithm to determine exactly how sites appear in a results page for a particular string. Gone are the days where the site with the highest volume of relevant keywords “won.” Panda penalized spam-filled sites that offered little in the way of actual content in favor of valuable information that actually satisfied a particular search. Google’s changes have also focused on things like maintaining a proper balance between genuine content and advertising and pushing sites to offer social media integration and more. They’ve even given an edge to local businesses, leveling the playing field and essentially making sure that even small businesses can evenly compete with large, national corporations that can outspend them day in and day out.

What Does the Future Hold?

If you take a look at all of the high profile changes that Google has made to its ranking algorithm in recent years, what is the one, underlying thing that you see in common? Google has regularly focused on not just the volume of content that marketers are putting out into the world but the quality of content.

Simple: Google is focused on creating the best user experience possible. This means that you should be focused on this, too.

Google is Trying to Train You To Value UI

Google doesn’t just want to make sure that people can find the information they’re looking for – they want to make sure they have a pleasant experience while they do it. Therefore, it’s easy to see where this is probably all going: user retention. It’s easy to picture the world just a few short years from now where having high-quality content doesn’t matter as much as content that people are actively consuming. Google can easily start paying attention to site statistics like bounce rates to glean more insight into how its users behave when interacting with the content they’re being served. Did you write an objectively great blog post but, for some reason, users are still leaving your page after just ten seconds? Google could easily rank your site lower than a competitor with a higher session length as a result. Why is your bounce rate so high? You’re not sure, but you’d better find out – and fast.

Many of these changes that Google and other engines have implemented to their algorithm are designed to lean more and more on the users themselves to provide the information needed to identify high-quality content and weed out low-quality alternatives. It creates something of a symbiotic circle between search engines and internet users – the users identify the content worth experiencing, Google recognizes it, rinse, repeat. Because of this, the key to marketing in this type of world becomes clear: pay attention to what the users want and do whatever you have to do to give it to them. Google wants to give its users exactly what they want when they want it, how they want it. If you’re a marketer with any type of presence in the digital age, that should be your goal, too.

Demystifying Marketing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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With the existing and ever-remerging social media outlets available to us, the confusion as to how to use them can sometimes make us wish for the days when only local newspaper ads and the yellow pages were used for getting our name out there. Before you throw your hands up and invest in a sandwich sign board, let’s break down the mysteries that surround the three most popular social media platforms you can use successfully to grow your business.

Facebook

Facebook is probably the first platform you think of when you hear social media. It’s not surprising, considering that, as of January of this year, it has over 1.5 billion monthly active users. For those of you marketing to millennials (15-34-year-olds), about 91% of them use Facebook, most likely without ever looking up from their phones. With numbers like this, if your business doesn’t have an active Facebook page with content that is updated daily, you’re seriously missing out.

Facebook is a fantastic place to post longer form statements and articles, with images and links to your business website, to drive traffic. Connecting with your prospects and clients through Facebook can benefit your business tremendously by building those critical relationships. Building followers on Facebook enables you to spread the news about your business by keeping your followers up to date on what your business is doing.

Every business needs to be actively present on Facebook to stay relevant.

Twitter

Twitter, on the other hand, is a micro-blogging site that allows you to send short (140 characters) messages to potentially millions of individuals in real time. Some of the most compelling features of Twitter include:

– URL shorteners like TinyURL and Bitly – enable you to link to content on your own site without hogging all of your characters.

– Hashtags – these tiny miracle workers enable you to create or insert your message into a worldwide conversation, allowing you to reach individuals that aren’t necessarily following you, but are following the hashtag you are using.

– Trend watch – by looking at what’s trending on Twitter, you can easily tailor your content to the actively followed conversations (hashtags) and get in on the hype.

Businesses that can really benefit the most from this include mobile businesses such as restaurants, retail outlets, and food trucks. Imagine Tweeting out your current lunch special with coupons, or upcoming locations. Nothing says love like showing up to your location and seeing a hundred customers lined up and waiting for you!

Instagram

In contrast to Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is a photo-sharing app that enables you to put out rich and vibrant images to promote your business. Instagram is actually considered the single most important social network out there, so businesses that target the teen market absolutely must have an Instagram presence.

Instagram allows you to choose from a variety of filters when posting your photos. Be sure to use the same filters every time you post so that you can create your cohesive brand identity on Instagram. This will help users engage with your business. If they know it’s you, they’ll stop and like your image or make a comment.

If you’re new to Instagram, you may be associating it with a great big Selfie-Fest, but for businesses, that’s not the case. Posting aesthetically pleasing images of your products, your office, and things that may be associated with your product or service help you build your brand and show the world what you do.

Ultimately, the platform that will be most effective for your marketing efforts depends primarily on your audience, their interests, and the type of content you plan to disperse.

Marketing Automation: What You Need to Know

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“Marketing automation” is more than just a buzzword – it is a very real practice that is empowering marketers around the world to accomplish more than ever in a shorter amount of time. At its core, marketing automation is a term used to describe a set of software, technologies, and other platforms that automate marketing on certain channels. These can include e-mail, social media, websites, and more. The idea is that by automating certain repetitive tasks that, while hugely important are also time-consuming, you unlock a host of additional benefits that can’t be ignored.

Reaching Customers on a Deeper Level

Targeted marketing has always been the bread and butter of many businesses in terms of increasing customer engagement. People don’t want to feel like they’re just one of a million different people being marketed to simultaneously – they want to feel like your business is taking time out of its busy day to speak to them directly. This helps increase the effectiveness of your marketing materials and is also a great way to take an average customer and turn them into a loyal brand advocate at the same time.

The issue here is that this historically takes a lot of time – or at least, it used to. Marketing automation is one of the best tools that you currently have to reach your unique customers in a meaningful way. Previously, you would have to manually segment customers based on things like your buyer personas. You would have to spend time creating these niche groups of customers based on their personalities, their needs, their likes and dislikes and more. While effective, this takes a great deal of time.

With marketing automation, however, you can simply create restrictions that will allow your software resources to segment these customers automatically based on whatever criteria you want. You get the exact same beneficial end result, but you only had to spend a fraction of the time in order to get there.

What Marketing Automation Is NOT

When people hear the term “automation,” they often call to mind images of technological solutions or other IT developments that are designed to completely replace the jobs of human employees. While that may be true in an environment like a factory floor, this couldn’t be farther from reality in terms of marketing.

Marketing automation is not designed to be a replacement for your marketing team or the hard work they’re doing – it’s designed to be supplemental to the existing experience. Automation isn’t an excuse to hire one less employee, but to free up that employee’s valuable time to put to better use elsewhere within your organization. Maybe Thomas shouldn’t be spending so much of his day writing and sending out new tweets or Facebook updates every time you publish a new piece of content – maybe that should happen instantly so that Thomas can work on something a bit more important to your larger business objectives.

These are just a few of the major advantages that marketing automation is bringing to the table in terms of what the industry looks like today. By automating certain basic marketing functions, it’s enabling your employees to do better work in a more fundamental way. It gives them the ability to work “smarter, not harder,” so to speak.

MPM as a Marketing Tool: What is it?

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Simply put, marketing performance measurement and management, or MPM, is a means of monitoring and adjusting marketing campaigns on the fly. Any good marketing campaign is a fluid campaign, accommodating changes and adjustments as they become needed. Large corporations spend thousands of dollars on gaining a command of MPM, but that doesn’t mean that small businesses cannot benefit from trying to master the same tools.

MPM is a way of systematically managing and coordinating your marketing assets for the improvement of the overall strategic marketing of your products or services.

Really, MPM is more like a fine-tuning mechanism that allows you to tailor your best marketing assets to do their best work for you and informs you of those marketing channels that are not performing as you had hoped or planned.

MPM is About Timing and Comparison

Timing has to do with when you release specific marketing channels. If you released them all around the same time, you would never be able to evaluate which ones were the most productive for you. Staggering their release provides the necessary criteria for effective evaluation of each one’s individual value to your marketing scheme. That way the channels can be compared for their effectiveness. A spike in sales can result from any marketing channel, but if they are all released at the same time, you cannot easily determine which ones are successful and which ones are not.

Once you can establish which channels are the most successful, you can emphasize those channels, modifying them accordingly to increase their effectiveness.

In the digital realm, the metrics tell the story. The analytics, that is, the collection of data, permit you the luxury of creating new strategies based on the success of earlier efforts. With this information, you can not only improve existing campaigns, but you can also more aptly tailor future ad campaigns. Fully strategic thinking involves planning ahead, and the analytics from MPM give you the information to do that more effectively.

There are five pillars to MPM. Each has its own value and must be addressed. The first is alignment. Align your marketing efforts to your desired results. Target those results and adjust your campaign according to the success of initial strategies.

Second is accountability. This is simply a statement of how well any specific marketing channel delivers the desired results based on the metrics you have before you.

Third is the analytics themselves. This is the data that drives your campaign and complements and improves it with its needed modifications.

Fourth are the alliances. You form these naturally in the process of marketing, but using them is an important part of successfully employing an MPM strategy. Use your network partners, such as content providers and the agencies that locate them, as well as other assets to emphasize your successful marketing channels.

Finally, there is the assessment. This is the natural outcome of the process, the data that is compared and contrasted for their relative benefits. The strengths and weaknesses can be evaluated in real time as each campaign develops, permitting adjustments and allowing growth in the campaign, itself.

Change Your Leadership Style to Match Your Company’s Vision

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Nobody likes being told what to do. It rarely matters who is doing the telling, you just feel that tension rise in your neck and a little rush of adrenaline as your inner 2-year old shouts, “You’re not the boss of me!” Then, that thought that you’re an actual adult enters your mind and you usually do what you’re told, because inevitably, the person telling you what to do is technically the boss of you in some fashion.

When it comes to getting things done in business, someone has to be told what to do, otherwise, nobody would know what to do, right? While this statement has some truth to it, there are effective ways that you can direct people without channeling your inner dictator and incurring the seething wrath of your employees.

Successful leadership styles are not the same as they were twenty years ago. Employees no longer respond favorably to top-down directives. They want a more collaborative environment where their ideas are valued. They want to feel as though they have some sort of stake in the game. If you see your company as the next Google or Zappos and want to attract and retain the talent to match, you may already have that inkling that autocratic and directive leadership styles just will not do.

Today’s employees are more responsive to a democratic and more participative leadership style, where creative thinking and individual ownership of projects is emphasized. With this type of leadership style, it is not the leader or boss who is central to the decision-making process, rather, it’s the group. Think podium dictatorship versus collaborative round-table.

For an example of this, imagine your company designs and builds laptops:

Podium Dictator calls a staff meeting and tells everyone that this year they want the new model to be something no one has ever seen before. Something game-changing. That is why this year you are going to build triangular-shaped, green laptops. Collective eye-rolling ensues and everyone files back to their desks like prisoners in a chain gang. These employees will either polish up their resumes or begin the soul-sucking task of putting a bad idea into production.

On the other side of the coin, the round-table leader asks for a meeting and describes the grand vision – the design of a game-changing laptop. Regardless of how badly this leader wants a triangular-shaped, green laptop, this leader understands that they have a creative and powerful team of designers who know what game-changing really means. This leader asks for ideas. The designers around the round table feel empowered and their creative juices start to flow. Concepts are thrown up on a white board. Truly revolutionary ideas begin to form. There may even be some green involved…

You can see the difference pretty clearly, right? The collaborative leader has just empowered the group to create while the dictator has told the group what to do. Who will have the happier employees and the better product?

This new generation of leaders is able to hire talent that fits well within this new working model. They are able to clearly articulate their vision, manage expectations, and keep the project on track within that vision. They also have the self-control to allow the process to happen with the team that they’ve built. Micromanagers need not apply. When employees feel they have more control over their working environment and schedule (within the confines of the greater vision, of course), they truly want to make the company’s vision a reality.