Make sure your mass emails look good naked

My Gmail account is set so I don’t see images embedded in emails unless I choose to, on a case-by-case basis. I just received another email today from the company that sent the one below. In both cases, I had no idea who was sending it to me, unless I remembered what company is behind the Goldpoints Plus continuity program I subscribed to ages ago (fat chance!). Can you tell me who this is? This is a screen capture of the first one I received.

With the images turned off. If you don’t see anything below this image, click on the MORE link to see who it is.

And here is what that same email revealed once I turned on the images:

Continue reading “Make sure your mass emails look good naked”

What playwrights can teach about strong ad copy

Playwrights listen to the way people talk. The best of them turn this spoken music into something more than the merely authentic. They use it to convey a higher truth (even if the play simply makes us laugh; or maybe especially if it does). So what about ad copy — be it online, on a printed page or whatever?

Must jarring authenticity go out the window as the “polish” of professionalism is applied to an ad? This week, Roy Williams made an eloquent case for sparing some of the polish that can water down an ad and sap its power.

Williams even makes reference to a wonderful statement in the first chapter of a book of his — a book I’d recommend to anyone who is looking for a fresh perspective on advertising and marketing. Right there on Page 12 of The Wizard of Ads are these “Nine Secret Words”:

The risk of insult is the price of clarity.

Think of this the next time you review a proposed ad that is a little too jarring for your comfort. It could be bad, or unwise. This is always possible. BUT, it might instead be the most effective marketing investment you make this year.

Advertising legend David Oglivy once wrote that the ideal copywriter is “half killer and half poet.” I don’t know any professional killers, but I do have my favorite poets. Most of them, from what I’ve read about them, would be about as welcome in “polite company” as a paid assassin. Or a brilliant playwright, for that matter.

Could it be that this untamed, feral quality in art is something you should be looking for in commerce — in your next online ad, perhaps?

Serving SUPERVALU customers one niche at a time

I really like the direction that Kevin Hillstrom’s One Positive Day blogging concept is taking. While I used the occasion this month to share a favorite work tool, Kevin was inviting many of his social networking and database colleagues to speculate on how to improve the online presence of SUPERVALU, a grocery and pharmaceutical retail and supply chain company.

I’ve had the luxury of a week since that July 1 post to think about my response. I started with the question of corporate mission. There are many ways to drive consumers to your site, such as an online version of the old “Green Stamps” promotion, but as Kevin states at the end of his post, you ultimately have to show something beyond raw page views. You have to add to the stores’ bottom lines, either by saving money by automating something that is now labor-intensive, or generating greater sales totals, or both.

In the comments, Ron Shevlin and another contributor mentioned how helpful it would be to create an aisle-by-aisle shopping list of items. I can understand the logistical challenge of this, since every store floor plan seems to be at least a little different, something exacerbated by the thousands of new products introduced (and pulled!) every year. This last point was made another contributor to the dialog — 10-year food business veteran Harry Joiner.

A Store-generated Shopping List

I had even wondered if something could be done with a mobile-enabled service. For instance, from your cell phone, you call or text a list to a SUPERVALU short code. Then, either through voice recognition (in the case of a voice call) or standard database look-up, you get back a list in your email box, ordered in the walking pattern of the store and complete with related specials and exclusive couponing.

Perhaps something could even be done with a WiFi-enabled version of this voice-activated shopping list device. This device would take your family’s accumulated voice lists of groceries, digitize the list into text using its native voice-recognition system, and — after it is sent via a wireless internet connection to SUPERVALU computers — the device receives and prints the final list with coupons.

This certainly would align itself with SUPERVALU’s Mission  Statement: “To serve our customers better than anyone else … provide our customers with value through our products and services, committing ourselves to providing the quality, variety and convenience they expect.” The mission statement goes on to talk about building strong communities surrounding its stores, which is the other theme of how to help this web site become a greater contributor to the store’s success.

Harry Joiner mentioned creating Ning-like online communities surrounding each of the most significant lifestyle and demographic categories. He gave some examples of how other product marketers have succeeded with this tactic.

A few community examples for SUPERVALU that spring to mind are the following: Young, growing families, single adults looking for tips on cooking for one (and perhaps even place-based events specifically for singles), and of course cooking enthusiasts.

Some value-creating tactics could be things like product-related cooking demonstrations or give-aways, or tie-ins with non-profits that the SUPERVALU business supports through its foundation. Only online community members would be privy to them, of course. One thing is clear. These communities would need to find a great deal of value on the sites.

Many companies have tried to build a critical mass among their “wired niches.” Most have failed.

And speaking of long tale strategies, here’s one that my friend Steve Ward had cooked up well over 10 years ago, and I think still has promise: An online database of all nutritional information for every product on the shelves (or as many as possible)!

Those who are striving to reduce their sodium or fat consumption, or improve their nutrient intake, could create shopping lists that tell them the exact nutritional values of what they eat.

Would this, or any of the above ideas, fundamentally change the way SUPERVALU returns shareholder value? No. Would it help the company fulfill its mission? Absolutely. But like so many online endeavors, this would be accomplished slowly and at a significant investment, one niche at a time.

Steve Rubel finds a novel way to report on iPhone launch

If you’re covering the launch of a mobile device, and it’s as revolutionary as the Apple iPhone, how do you post in a way that’s novel and immediate? If you’re Steve Rubel of Edelman, and write the influential blog Micro Persuasion, you blog from a mobile device. All while standing in line for the gizmo it is destined to be replaced by.

Here is Rubel’s Twitter feed over that period. For those not familiar, the top posts are the most recent. You can review even by clicking the “More” link I’ve provided.

I’m sorry there aren’t live links (I grabbed these as graphics off the posts Sunday night), but if you’d like to find the originals they should be available for a while at Steve Rubel’s Twitter Home Page.

Continue reading “Steve Rubel finds a novel way to report on iPhone launch”

Thinking in mapped networks, with connections real and implied

More than a year ago I started telling trusted friends and colleagues about a great piece of software. Half-joking, I would lean forward and confide that this is one secret too valuable for me to blog about. The digital equivalent of a performance-enhancing drug, it was something I’d prefer not to leak to competitors. That is, until today. In the spirit of openness, and timed to coincide with my friend Kevin Hillstrom’s One Positive Day campaign for blogging civility, I am ready to spill the beans.

Thinking With Both Sides of the Brain

Ever since my college days I had wondered if there was a smarter way to organize my thoughts. Common note-taking techniques didn’t seem to cut it. Looking around, I wasn’t optimistic. Certainly the first personal computers, with their DOS-like lists, hierarchies and sequences, were of no help.

Then I found the books of British “pop psychology” author Tony Buzan. In a Madison, Wisconsin used bookstore, I discovered the first: a copy of his 1974 Use Both Sides of Your Brain, where he talked about something called mind mapping.

Buzan wrote that standard outlines require scanning from left-to-right, top-to-bottom. This causes the brain to work harder to make the interconnections between concepts.

Back then Buzan couldn’t have envisioned the modern solution to this dilemma, which is to boil lists down to a point where they lose much of their potential meaning and utility. Or conversely, the author will stretch out the information across a blinding sheaf of slides and spray of “bullets.”

I’m referring to Powerpoint of course, a product that Edward Tufte, author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and other classics, so eloquently lambastes in this essay.

Our brains are built to survey information as it is seen in the physical world, making associations through placement, space, distance and color. The more complex the subject, the greater our brain resists tidy categorizations and rankings.

Thinking In Mapped Networks

Enter the mind map. The illustration below shows a hand-drawn example. It’s one Buzan that would have been proud to call his own.

An example of a hand-drawn mind map

To the person who drew it, there is more meaning here than could be crammed into a dozen pages of lists.You can instinctively see how these maps help with lateral associations while still allowing for more formal hierarchies and sequences. As you might expect, some maps are never really completed by their owners. They are continually refined. New insights and perspectives leap off the page with every rereading. This is a good thing, because it shows how concepts can grow and deepen over time.

That was Buzan’s point, and luckily, many modern software developers have listened.

An advantage of the computer-based mind mapping tools is they are easier to share with others (you can even port some softwares’ output to other programs, including … Powerpoint!). Annotation features also help. They add explanation that is needed when you’re showing your map to others — or just trying to remember what the heck you meant when you drew it!

The best mapping tools can even be used as collaborative brainstorming aids. I’ve checked out several over the years, and the best by far is the award-winning Mind Manager. Visit to see for yourself.

Put bluntly, it could change the way you think.