Dec 282006

Just Because You Can Do Something, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Just Because You Can Do Something, Doesn’t Mean You Should

This has always been one of my favorite axioms for life and for entrepreneurship.  Today’s example comes from Brad’s new running blog, and ultimately from an AP story reported in the Northwest Florida Daily News.  The full story is here, but this teaser ought to get you hooked enough to click through, much as drivers slow down to see accidents on the other side of the road:

Pain doesn’t defeat unshod marathoners

Last month, after returning from an eight-mile run, Tsuyoshi Yoshino heated up a three-inch sewing needle until it turned bright red. Then, he says, he plunged the glowing instrument into the ball of his foot, puncturing a three-inch-long blister.

Despite the risk of infection, he walked around his San Diego house for 20 minutes on the open wound to get used to the pain. “It’s not something I like doing,” he says. “But I have to.”

Apologies to the squeamish.  Happy New Year!

Dec 192006

Second-Class Status for a First-Class Channel

 Second-Class Status for a First-Class Channel

(Below is the beginning of my December column for DM News.)

The e-mail industry has changed a lot in the seven years since we started Return Path. And the past few years have been the most exciting in many ways. As the spam problem becomes more manageable, e-mail has enjoyed a renaissance, both from the marketer and the consumer’s view.

So it surprises me that so many companies still don’t take e-mail as seriously as other direct marketing strategies. Too often…(read the rest at DMNews here).

Filed under: Email

Dec 172006

Merry Whatever

Merry Whatever

We had two horrendous customer service experiences at Return Path lately that just leave me scratching my head about how one could possibly run a business that way.

In the process of buying some holiday gifts for a few of our larger clients, we first tried to order gift baskets from Harry & David.  But we couldn’t, because they wouldn’t take our order via Excel spreadsheet — our office manager would have had to enter each order in a web form by hand.  I imagine the conversation going something like this:

Andrea from Return Path:  “Hi, I’d like to give you $2,500.”

Clerk from Harry & David:  “Um, no thanks.”

So, ok, fine, we moved on to vendor number 2 – Wine Country Gift Baskets.  We ordered something suitably nondenomenational, and the ordering experience was great.  But we heard back from a number of clients (ones whose last names were probably like mine – Blumberg, Goldstein, you get the idea) that they were surprised we send them such a Christmasy present.

So were we.  So we looked into it, and apparently our vendor ran out of whatever we ordered and decided to just go ahead and send something entirely different, without asking us.  Again, one has to wonder how that decision went down, but possibly something like this:

Clerk at Wine Country Gift Baskets:  “Hey boss, we’re out of wine and cheese, so how about we substitute in a nativity scene?”

Supervisor:  “Whatever.”

Clerk:  “Should I call the customer to see if that is okay with them?”

Supervisor:  “Is that my donut you’re eating”

Why bother being in a customer service business if you’re not actually going to service customers?  It’s too bad everyone isn’t as fantastic at that as Zappos.

Dec 112006

Book Short: A Primer on Viral Marketing

Book Short:  A Primer on Viral Marketing

“People talk about Andy,” writes Seth Godin in the foreward to Andy Sernovitz’s new book, Word of Mouth Marketing:  How Smart Companies Get People Talking.   “He’s a living, breathing example of the power of word of mouth.”  Andy’s the CEO of WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, and a former colleague of mine.

Ever since reading The Tipping Point, I keep looking for the secret sauce around viral marketing.  What is it that makes something cool enough to buzz about?  My conclusion from reading Andy’s book is that secret sauce doesn’t exist.  Like everything else, being buzzworthy comes from hard work, being inherently good, AND using the techniques and understanding in Andy’s book.  Tables like “The Three Reasons People Talk About You” and “The Five T’s of Word of Mouth Marketing” are worth the price of the book in and of themselves, as they explain how to manage, handle, and drive viral marketing — once you have your own secret sauce down.

Andy’s wanted to write a book for a long time (in fact, he got us started on ours), and I’m glad he finally did it.  If you’re interested in an easy-to-follow, practical, hands-on guide to viral, or word-of-mouth marketing, this is the book for you.

Dec 062006

Lucky 7, or the 7 Year Itch?

Lucky 7, or the 7 Year Itch?

Today is the seventh anniversary of the founding of Return Path.  There are days when it feels like it’s been much longer, but most of the time, I feel like we’re still in the first quarter of the game here.  The business is completely different than what we started and what we ever thought it would be, but it’s healthy, growing, and we’re having more and more fun every day.

When I started the business, another more seasoned entrepreneur told me, "however long you think it’s going to take to build a great business — triple it."  I’m not sure how long I thought it was going to take for us to hit scale and really take off, but it certainly wasn’t this long.  It’s good to have enough stamina to stick with something that has promise, even if the early days are rough or uncertain.

I may be different from a lot of entrepreneurs, but I am not feeling the 7 Year Itch to move on, do something different, start something new.  The business is as exciting to me today as the day we started it, if not more so.  I feel like we just finished Lucky 7, and now we’re looking forward to Year 8.  As we’ve been chanting in the office today…Eight is Great!  Eight is Great!  (or as one of our European colleagues emailed me today:  fr: Huit, c’est super!  de: Acht ist wunderbar!  it: Forza otto!)

Congratulations to our team, and thanks to our team, customers, and investors for all their hard work and support these past 7 years.

Filed under: Entrepreneurship

Dec 012006

I’m Embarrassed for My Profession

I’m Embarrassed for My Profession

File this under the heading of “just when you think you’ve seen it all” — I am a marketing services person and typically applaud ingenuity and buzz-generating things wherever I see them.  But even I was a bit surprised last night at dinner when I went to use the restroom to find a new form of advertising — the custom urinal cake.

Urinal1Urinal2Universal is promoting its new film, Let’s Go to Prison, in this somewhat unorthodox manner.  It did have my rapt attention for, say, 30-60 seconds, which is more time than I usually give ads.  And perhaps I paid more attention to it than I would have had it been a wall-mounted eye-level ad above the urinal.

I know from my MovieFone days (and ironically, I was at a MovieFone alumni happy hour last night just before this restroom odyssey) that studios will try anything, but honestly, do you want your customers literally pissing on your brand?  What’s next, print ads on toilet paper?  Hopefully at least the fulfillment company would come up with a sure-bet non-bleeding ink.

And as my colleague Tami said when I mentioned this to her today, how exactly are they planning on tracking the effectiveness of these ads?  It’s not like you can measure the click-stream.  :-)

Filed under: Business

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