A Blog Recipe for Success

dinner-party-14747630For the last five years, nearly every Saturday night my husband and I have intimate dinner parties for a few close friends. Well they’re more like gatherings rather than actual parties – fancy dress is optional (and should you show-up in your “Sunday best” we reserve the right to tease you mercilessly.)

Why after a week of 2+ hour daily commutes do I slave away in my kitchen every Saturday? Because I love to cook. For me there’s nothing more rewarding than whipping-up some concoction that is met with “oohs and aahs” around the dinner table. It makes me feel good just thinking (writing) about it.

My specialty? Well, chicken marsala is what I’m best-known for; however any dish I can serve with a wine-based pan sauce, finished with butter and herbs, is a winner in my book. Sadly I’m responsible for adding a few inches to our friends’ waists, as well as my own… my husband on the other hand can eat anything and not gain a pound… grumble, grumble.

Is there anything I can’t cook well? Yup. Bread. I don’t know why, I’m just not great at it. My mom bakes wonderful bread, and she is known as the best bread baker in the family. So why didn’t I inherit this trait?

Then last year I was reintroduced to King Arthur… King Arthur Flour that is. kaflogo-121

My first experience with King Arthur Flour was met with mixed results. As a young adult when I first moved out on my own, I tried to make a sweet rolled bread recipe that was a holiday favorite in my family. I wanted to use the best flour, and bought King Arthur. Unfortunately the dough was unmanageable and I ended-up throwing it away. When I called my mom asking what I did wrong, she said it was possibly because KAF was “too good” for this recipe, and that my grandmother used some other “crappier” brand. I think she was complementing KAF in her own weird way…

Today if I had that same situation I could call the King Arthur Flour baker’s hotline or turn to their website to figure-out what went wrong. But back in the 90’s that wasn’t an option.

Almost 20-years later I knew that if I wanted to find any success in baking bread, I needed (kneaded?) to once again turn to this trusted baking resource, and required a recipe that would work.

Wanting to keep it simple, and not worrying about kneading dough until it “squeaked” (something that I still don’t understand, even after my mom’s explained it to me several times) I discovered a no-knead crusty white bread recipe and a fun-to-read blog post about it.

Success! A free-form crusty bread with a chewy interior. Having triumphed with my first bread attempt, I was anxious to try other bread recipes – and I did.

Today, while loaf-style bread isn’t a huge hit in my family, artisan-style and free-form breads are, and I’m proud to serve a variety of crusty breads or Parker House Dinner Rolls at our Saturday night soirées.

Who’d have thought that this direct mail company offered so much more than mail-order flours and mixes?

A hearty thank you to King Arthur Flour for helping me overcome my inability to bake bread!

Blogging Done Right 

Part of King Arthur Flour’s (KAF) success is their robust social media. From humorous flourish-bannertweets to followers, to their robust blog, bakers of all skills can find resources to help them in their own bread adventures.

King Arthur Flour’s blog has some of the most-embraced tips and tricks by the Social Media Examiner:

  1. Categories. The King Arthur Flour (KAF) website and blog is broken-out into categories, from recipes, tips & techniques, and news. This makes finding information easy and informative.
  2. Headings. The headings used by King Arthur Flour draws you in and makes you want to read more. The voice of KAF bloggers comes through loud and clear, often using humor to gain attention.
  3. Photos. One of the best things KAF does is shows photos of the finished product. From crusty, crackly bread to mile-high apple pie. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the KAF blog has millions.
  4. Bios. Who is posting on behalf of KAF is never a question, as there are bios contained on each post. Many writers have journalism backgrounds coupled with baking skills that inspire at-home bakers.
  5. Questions. Including questions at the end of blog posts are key to creating engagement. KAF bloggers also respond to comments or concerns from at-home bakers and make suggestions to improve their experience.

Do you use any of these tips and tricks in your blog posts?

 

 

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Why Direct Mailers Fail at “Social Studies”

is-direct-mail-deadBack in the late 90’s while I was still learning direct mail, I attended a regional conference where I went to learn from some of the best direct mailers around. Sadly on this occasion, the buzz in the auditorium wasn’t about the next great direct mail tactic; rather it was focused upon this new fangled online platform that was going to spell the end of direct mail as we knew it. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

Thankfully some fifteen plus years later, direct mail is still alive and kicking! But while some organizations and industries are still finding success with direct mail, they’re dropping the ball when it comes to social media.

Why Social Media is Important to Direct Mailers

As any savvy marketer in the 21st century will tell you, you need to be where your customers are – and let’s face it folks, people are using, embracing, and interacting on social media each and every single day. Compared to online channels, direct mail is at a disadvantage as it’s not “attached” to the Internet. With that being said, social media is a great way to link these online and offline worlds. As I as I shared in my blog post last week, Direct mail can use QR codes to link the two mediums.

So why do some direct mailers continue to ignore the importance of social media?

If I Ignore It, It Will Go Away Social-Media-Relationship-Engagement-Driver

False. That train of thought won’t work with that infected cut on your finger, and it won’t work with social media. According to Business Insider, social media is now the #1 Internet activity, (Adler, 2014). That’s more than shopping, more than email, more than just surfing the web.

Unhappy Customers Will Have a Place to Complain

True. Seasoned direct mailers are accustomed to controlling the information stream, (Watson Helsby Report, 2010). With that being said, without a two-way forum for customer-bad-service-e84a26bdcustomers to voice their frustrations, then they’re doing so – perhaps more vehemently – on other social media forums. As noted in my blog titled Tools to Integrate Social Media into Direct Mail, today’s consumer expects to have two-way communication with companies. Unfortunately this sometimes means that an unhappy customer will voice their complaints.

But fear not when customers do so! This is an ideal opportunity to flex your customer service muscles and right the situation. What better way to show your customers and prospects that you truly care, than to address a problem head-on?

Social Media Isn’t ImportantSocial-media1

False. This common misnomer – or simple lack of understanding – is often another reason direct mailers fail to embrace social media, (Watson Helsby Report, 2010). In fact, social media increases exposure and traffic, generates leads, and improves sales, (Stelzner, 2013.) Sounds a lot like the goals of direct mail, doesn’t it…

 A Few Examples of Not Making the Grade

Rather than call-out direct mailers by name, I’m simply going to share a few general examples I noted when reviewing the social media presence (or lack there of) of some of the larger direct mailers:

  1. No Presence. At this point in time there is no excuse to not have a social media presence. This holds true for non-profits that may target to an older demographic as well. One non-profit direct mailer I found was lacking a social media presence entirely. While the older generation may not be as savvy online, they’re still out there none-the-less.
  2. Half-Hearted Presence. Making infrequent social media posts is about as bad as making no posts at all. One large direct mail retailer hadn’t made social posts since mid-April, and it’s now mid-May. For social media to truly work, you need to make regular, engaging posts.
  3. Only Promoting Sales. In the final example I’ll share, a large cataloger blanketed their social media platforms with sales and deals. They weren’t exchanging or sharing relevant information; rather they were only “pushing” information to followers. Organizations that neglect to have two-way communication with consumers are truly missing the social media opportunity.

Have you seen examples of companies missing the mark when it comes to Social Media? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

References:

Adler, Emily. (2014). Here’s How Social Media Time is Shaping Up… Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/social-media-engagement-statistics-4-2014-3

Stelzner, Michael A. (2013). 2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report. Social Media Examiner. Retrieved from: http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/SocialMediaMarketingIndustryReport2013.pdf

Watson Helsby Report. (2010). Digital communications and Social Media. The Challenges facing the PR Industry. Retrieved online, from: http://www.scribd.com/doc/31722606/Digital-Communications-and-Social-Media-the-Challenges-Facing-the-PR-Industry

Direct Mail and QR Codes: What Good Are Those Weird Things Anyhow?

At the office a few months ago we were checking out a competitors direct mail package that contained a QR code with a discount tied to it. We wanted to see where a potential customer was taken once they scanned it, as perhaps “inspiration” for what we should be doing better. So I pulled-out my handy-dandy mobile phone and started the search my apps for a QR code scanner. Nothing. When I had my blackberry there was a QR code scanner built right in; however apparently my new phone didn’t seem to come equipped with this ability.

I made my way across the information super highway to an app store where I was confronted by far too many QR code reader choices. It seemed that lots of organizations wanted to get into the game of offering QR code scanners (it’s too bad this technology never really gained a strong foothold.) How the heck was I going to choose one from all these apps that appeared just the same? Thankfully the ratings and reviews of consumers just like me helped make the decision.

Give Something to Get Something

With my scanner app downloaded, I was ready to check-out where our competitor’s QR code would take me.  Once scanned the code took us to a sign-up page where I entered my email and mailing address. A few short minutes later, an email arrived containing the advertised product discount. Very clever. Give something to get something. Of course the last step in this transaction is for the customer to make an actual  purchase and “cash-in” their discount; however the critical initial connection with a customer has already been made.

Typically a mobile app will make your life easier; however in the case of direct mail, it’s the QR code that does the heavy lifting, and the QR code reader app is just a catalyst.

Measuring Success with QR Codes

From a tracking standpoint I’m sure the particular QR code I scanned in the aforementioned story, told the organization exactly where I saw their code. As QR codes are customizable, companies can use different codes (even if they drive to the same locale) for tracking purposes. This adds the benefit of an additional layer of  analysis within a mail program. Furthermore, even if a purchase isn’t made, organizations can glean how far-reaching their campaign might be, and if their “ask” when the code is scanned is applicable to their target audience.

Bolstering Mailing Lists

While most QR codes require a user to sign-in or enter an email address (thus helping to build their email list,) through methods such as requiring a full customer “sign-up” to receive the benefit, organizations can also effectively gather mailing addresses for future direct mail uses, too.

When attempting to gather full customer information and organization may need to be willing to offer something of greater value (a deeper discount or higher dollar-off discount) as customers are often less-willing to share their mailing address.

Increasing Social Media Following

Using QR codes to drive customers and prospects to social media is a great use. I’ve often seen print pieces that encourage customers to like them on Facebook via the use of QR codes. QR codes and the twitter bird are another example I’ve seen. Through print, QR codes are a great way to increase social media followers, especially since most people are already accustomed to using social media right from their mobile device!

 

What are your favorite uses for QR codes? Seen any great examples of QR codes you’d like to share? Are QR codes passé?

 

 

Direct Mail and Social Media: Playing Nice Together

Can’t We all Just Get Along?

The other day I got a piece of local mail that suggested I follow an organization on Twitter Dogsand like them on Facebook. While their sites could use a bit of improvement, it was refreshing to see this advertiser making an attempt to connect these two often disjointed mediums.

While many direct mailers still seem resistant to bumping their audience to social media (the jury’s still out on if it’s because they haven’t embraced social media yet, or because they don’t see the connection,) it needn’t  be this way. The vast power of social media coupled with the tangibility of direct mail can be a match made in heaven.

So What’s the Problem?

In today’s online world, we (as consumers) have become expectant of ease and instant gratification. I know when I was a kid and my mom dragged me to the store to get something boring (like new vacuum bags) I was as miserable and rotten to her as I felt about having to be there, (sorry mom!) My behavior was only compounded by my asking for a zillion different things that would inherently jack-up the total check-out price, (while this latter part may have been intentional, I was a kid and “I just had to have it.”) Today a consumer can jump online and through sites such as Amazon.com, they can have their vacuum bags in just a day or two. Simple. Easy. Fast. Stress-free.

Connecting direct mail and social media is unfortunately like taking a bratty child to the store; it’s just not easy. When you get a piece of mail you can’t just touch or click something to get instantly satisfaction (like placing an order;) rather you have to make a conscious decision to hold onto it until you’re ready to take action.

 How DM and Social Media Interact Today

As noted in last week’s post about tools that can integrate DM and social media, the two most-commonly used tools to physically connect DM and social media are QR codes and hashtags.

Here are a few more ways how they can and do work together:

1. Feature Icons.By featuring social media icons on your DM packages you can show that your organization has a social presence. You can make this even more effective by showing your physical social media address as well (i.e. facebook.com/JohnDoe) — just make sure your content is relevant and timely.

2. Gather Followers. Since it’s typically has a greater open-rate compared to email, direct mail is a great way to build your social media following. If you’re effectively targeting the right audience with DM, then you can promote special contests or other social media initiatives that will appeal to your audience.

3. Bolster Mailing Lists. Although slightly more difficult as people are less-likely to share their mailing address compared to email address, social media can be effectively used to build a mailing list. As social media followers have a grater affinity to your organization, they’re more-likely to respond to your direct mail programs compared to true prospect lists.

4. Innovation. Social sites such as Pinterest have pages dedicated to unique d83fcf06cdd40241b0eae883c731cc3aand creative direct mail pieces. Just by thinking outside the box (outside the envelope?) your direct mail piece could land (or be strategically placed) on a site such as this. I regularly visit the Pinterest site for creative inspiration as there are many, many unique and creative examples of direct mail.

The Future?

With the way our technology is rapidly improving who knows what the future will hold for linking social media and DM. I’d like to think that the brilliant minds of MIT will identify a futuristic way to allow direct mail to interact with the web; thus allowing the recipient to instantly connect to the Internet and social media right after the receipt of their mail piece. Until then, methods above will have to suffice.

Next week: How Mobile Applications connect Direct Mail and Social Media

Tools to Integrate Social Media into Direct Mail

A Brief History of DM

Sears-catalog2-230x300I remember when Sears stopped printing their “big book;”  a catalog that was in existence for over 100 years. Growing-up my mom got this behemoth in the mail each year; as a kid the only thing I thought it was useful for was as a “step” to reach something on a higher shelf, for killing icky bugs, and sometimes for flattening flowers in cling-wrap that I wanted to save.

With the advent of Internet shopping, like many historical direct-marketers, Sears made the decision to move away from an all-encompassing large-format catalog (JC Penney is another retailer who did the same) in lieu of smaller, targeted catalogs, and of course to focus on their budding Internet offering.

The Integration of Online and Offline

As someone who dedicated their adulthood to direct mail — I’m glad to report that the Internet hasn’t replaced print. This is partly due to marketers’ understanding that integration between online and offline channels is crucial for success; and partly because catalogs and other types of direct mail offering something that the Internet doesn’t — tangibility.

Today, many consumers enjoy flipping through the pages of a “book,” looking at clothing or for inspiration for that perfect gift for someone they love. What has changed since the heydays of direct-response mail is the physical buying transaction. Gone are the days of filling out an order form, or calling an 800-number — today people log-on to the Internet to place their order — whenever and wherever they want.

Social Media Changes Everything

In more recently times, social media has taken a front seat when it comes to consumer online interaction. Today’s consumers expect two-way communication with marketers, and actively initiate the conversation. This communication could be in the form of feedback given on Facebook, or by monitoring platforms such as twitter where they interact and “expect” (hope) to be rewarded for their loyalty.

Capture

use your QR Code app to scan

Integrating social media into direct mail proves a challenge of its own. While online mediums such as email allows point-and-click abilities, print components don’t easily allow this same type of interaction.

QR Codes

QR codes is one way to bridge the direct mail social media gap. Although often seen as passé, QR codes are a great method for linking direct mail to social media via mobile technology.  The biggest challenge in using QR codes is that they never really gained popularity; thus many people see them and have no idea what they are or how to use them. This confusion can be partially alleviated by adding “usage” text along with the QR code, as I’ve done to the right. Couple imagery such as the Twitter bird along with the QR code, and visually tell your customers where the link will take them.

Hashtags

Speaking of Twitter, featuring hashtags within your direct mail pieces helps create imagesCA69RCT0awareness with consumers, especially in this age of social media. Hashtags allow users to search for and follow topics that are of interest to them. This can be of particular interest to recipients when running a special campaign or event. When using hashtags within your direct mail piece, don’t make them too long, as the recipient needs to remember them when they go to their social media pages, and try to make them memorable and meaningful.

Which social media tools work best for you?