Archive | June, 2016

Understanding What’s Really Going on at the Post Office

23 Jun

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.

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4 Trends Affecting Small Businesses This Year

22 Jun

Business owners tend to spend a lot of time searching the magic oracle (a.k.a. the internet) for answers to business growth questions. How do I get new customers? How do I get existing customers to come back? Why doesn’t my cat like me?

Ok, maybe business owners don’t have issues with their cats, though the other questions are probably crowding their brain space right now. Fear not, we’ve identified 4 business trends you should be paying attention to this year.

– JOBS Act Crowdfunding Investment Opportunities

Not everything in business is free. It may be all well and good to max out credit cards or drain your savings to start and grow your business, but now there’s a better way. The JOBS Act: Title III was recently released and what that means for you is that your business can raise investments through crowdfunding, even from non-accredited investors. If you’re in the market to increase your market share, consider checking out sites like Crowdfunder.com or Equitynet.com.

– Rapid Delivery Systems

You’ve probably heard by now of rapid delivery and logistics systems like AmazonFlex and UberRUSH. Society is moving rapidly to an on-demand world, capitalizing on an economy of shut-ins, or more likely, extremely busy people. If you are in the business of selling products, you can now easily integrate an entire network of delivery drivers to hand- deliver your goods to your customers’ doorsteps.

– Cyber Security

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the world is moving to the cloud. The rise of SaaS (Software as a Service) companies and the increasing value of information have turned the web into a hackers dream. They’re becoming more creative as well. Imagine coming into the office one day and finding that all of your files have been encrypted and a ransom note is in your inbox for the key. Your business could easily come to a crashing halt.

If you’ve never thought about cyber security or don’t know where to start, head over to the Federal Communications Commission and create a custom Small Business Cyber Planner.

– Social Responsibility

Today’s consumer is becoming more socially aware and more socially active. They care about the world they live in and they expect the same from the businesses they patronize. Earn their respect and you will have dedicated clients for life. We’re talking more than just going green, though, although it’s always a great first start. The next step is to imagine ways in which your product or service could help reduce suffering, poverty, or climate change. Find an issue that resonates with you and your clientele and that finds a way to effect a little social change from within your company.

Mutual Respect: The Secret Ingredient When It Comes to Managing Employees

22 Jun

Many business leaders are still operating under the mistaken impression that the key ingredient to managing employees involves learning how to delegate responsibility. So long as you tell the right people to complete the right tasks, your business should pretty much run itself, right?

Wrong.

You can’t just demand that your employees dedicate a huge part of their waking days to helping you accomplish your own professional goals. They have to want it. You can’t buy it, either – high salaries and competitive benefits help, but they’ll only ultimately carry you so far.

So how do you make not only managing employees easier than ever, but also turn them into true, loyal team members instead of passive subordinates at the same time?

The answer is simple: mutual respect.

What is Mutual Respect?

The most important idea to understand about mutual respect is that you’re dealing with a two-way street. You can’t force someone to respect you just because you happen to be their boss or because your name is on the door. You have to earn it. You have to show them that you’re worthy of it.

However, generating mutual respect isn’t as easy as flipping a light switch. It involves a lot of small things that eventually add up to a pretty significant whole. It’s about being genuine in your interactions with employees. It’s about going out of your way to do the right thing and recognize a job well done. It’s about making sure that all employees, regardless of position, have an equal voice in all decisions that affect them. It’s about taking the time to show an employee that those eight hours they spend in the office on a Sunday didn’t go unnoticed. That they were appreciated. That you wouldn’t be where you are without them.

What Mutual Respect Means in the Long Run

If you’re able to foster an environment where mutual respect occurs organically, you’ll begin to feel a wide range of different benefits almost immediately. Mutual respect means that an employee is willing to put in a little extra effort and work harder because they know that you appreciate what they do and that you would be willing to do the same if the situation was reversed. Mutual respect means that if you do make a mistake, an employee is going to give you the benefit of the doubt because it’s the same courtesy you’ve afforded them in the past.

Mutual respect also means that all employees understand and even believe that they have an equal voice. They don’t feel like they work FOR you, they feel like they work WITH you – because you feel the exact same way. Even when a conflict does arise, it never gets heated or even contentious because people who respect each other don’t argue and fight over issues, they discuss them like civilized adults.

These are some of the many reasons why mutual respect is the secret ingredient when it comes to managing employees. Creating a workplace where mutual respect is encouraged creates a "trickle down" effect almost immediately – conflict management is easier, collaboration is more efficient, and even the types of personality or cultural differences that stood to divide employees in the past only work to bring them together.

Mutual respect allows everyone to come to the simple yet important realization that at the end of the day, you’re all part of the same team.

Using Customer Data to Create a More Powerful Customer Experience

21 Jun

Make no mistake: the data revolution is upon us and has, perhaps, affected no industry more than the wonderful world of marketing. Your average marketer now has access to huge volumes of information about who their customers are, how they’re behaving, what their thoughts are on certain issues and more – all of which can quickly prove overwhelming. It’s important to look at the big data phenomenon for what it is, however: an opportunity. It’s a very real chance that marketers have to realign their efforts and create the type of powerful customer experience that creates a loyal army of brand advocates.

Broadening Your Customer Personas

Customer personas have long been a tool marketers have used when trying to relate to their target audience. These fictionalized, typically generalized versions of theoretical people can be a great way to help the designers of a campaign keep their "eyes on the prize," so to speak. After all, if you’re setting out on a road trip across the country, it can be helpful to know exactly where you’re going before you back out of the driveway.

However, the huge influx of data that marketers now have access to is a terrific way to deepen these customer personas more than ever before. You no longer just have things like age, gender, employment status or income level to work with. You can now draw from not only what has influenced past purchasing decisions, but WHO. You have volumes of analytical data pertaining to lifestyle, interests, and behavioral patterns. You can even draw valuable information from how a person might respond emotionally to a certain event in their life.

All of this means that an already powerful tool, customer personas, can now be put to even more meaningful use in the future. These personas are no longer generalized at all, which is very much a good thing for marketers everywhere.

Redefining the "High Value" Customer

Another great way to use customer data to create a more powerful customer experience is to reassess your "best" or "highest value" customers through the lens of this new data you’re working from. You’ve always been able to call up data like average purchase size, lifetime value, and acquisition costs pretty easily, but now you can go deeper. You can get a real sense of how satisfied your customers are with your products or services and look at how that information may affect what you need to do for your customers in order to get them to remain loyal.

You can also see whether or not the people you’re actually targeting with your marketing materials are the ones who are actually spending money on what you have to offer. If there is a discrepancy there, who ARE your buyers? Is this a problem, or is this a happy accident? What does this new information say about decisions that you were previously making on assumptions? This is all incredibly valuable information to have moving forward.

At the end of the day, the huge volumes of customer data that marketers now have access to is absolutely NOT a burden. We live in an age where it’s now easier than ever to glean the type of valuable, actionable insight that you can use to make more effective, strategic decisions. All of this allows you to drive home the most important benefit of all: creating a much more powerful, organic, and deeply rooted customer experience than what was possible even five short years ago.

Mutual Respect: The Secret Ingredient When It Comes to Managing Employees

21 Jun

Many business leaders are still operating under the mistaken impression that the key ingredient to managing employees involves learning how to delegate responsibility. So long as you tell the right people to complete the right tasks, your business should pretty much run itself, right?

Wrong.

You can’t just demand that your employees dedicate a huge part of their waking days to helping you accomplish your own professional goals. They have to want it. You can’t buy it, either – high salaries and competitive benefits help, but they’ll only ultimately carry you so far.

So how do you make not only managing employees easier than ever, but also turn them into true, loyal team members instead of passive subordinates at the same time?

The answer is simple: mutual respect.

What is Mutual Respect?

The most important idea to understand about mutual respect is that you’re dealing with a two-way street. You can’t force someone to respect you just because you happen to be their boss or because your name is on the door. You have to earn it. You have to show them that you’re worthy of it.

However, generating mutual respect isn’t as easy as flipping a light switch. It involves a lot of small things that eventually add up to a pretty significant whole. It’s about being genuine in your interactions with employees. It’s about going out of your way to do the right thing and recognize a job well done. It’s about making sure that all employees, regardless of position, have an equal voice in all decisions that affect them. It’s about taking the time to show an employee that those eight hours they spend in the office on a Sunday didn’t go unnoticed. That they were appreciated. That you wouldn’t be where you are without them.

What Mutual Respect Means in the Long Run

If you’re able to foster an environment where mutual respect occurs organically, you’ll begin to feel a wide range of different benefits almost immediately. Mutual respect means that an employee is willing to put in a little extra effort and work harder because they know that you appreciate what they do and that you would be willing to do the same if the situation was reversed. Mutual respect means that if you do make a mistake, an employee is going to give you the benefit of the doubt because it’s the same courtesy you’ve afforded them in the past.

Mutual respect also means that all employees understand and even believe that they have an equal voice. They don’t feel like they work FOR you, they feel like they work WITH you – because you feel the exact same way. Even when a conflict does arise, it never gets heated or even contentious because people who respect each other don’t argue and fight over issues, they discuss them like civilized adults.

These are some of the many reasons why mutual respect is the secret ingredient when it comes to managing employees. Creating a workplace where mutual respect is encouraged creates a "trickle down" effect almost immediately – conflict management is easier, collaboration is more efficient, and even the types of personality or cultural differences that stood to divide employees in the past only work to bring them together.

Mutual respect allows everyone to come to the simple yet important realization that at the end of the day, you’re all part of the same team.

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

21 Jun

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

21 Jun

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.