Thursday, September 25, 2014

To the future!

This is the last Calvin and Hobbes ever published (12/31/1995). I had this framed not long after it was published (the shop didn't get to many requests from college students for professional framing of comics but I think they did a great job).

I thought it a most excellent send-off and a really great illustration of hope and potential. It never made it to my last office but it hung or sat on my desk at previous jobs.

I saw it this morning in the family room and thought it really appropriate and inspiring. I've always enjoyed Calvin and Hobbes (and felt i could relate to Calvin) and delighted to see my daughter engrossed in the comics now.

Monday, September 22, 2014

None-Too-Small: Email Marketing for Nursing Homes

Welcome to my second in a series on places that should do email marketing but in most cases probably don't.

Today, nursing homes.  Let's start with the objections:

My customers are already here. And they're really not the email type.

The audience for email marketing for nursing homes aren't its residents. They are:

Audience #1: Children and Grandchildren of Residents

The decision to move a loved one into a nursing or assisted-living home often comes with guilt. But there are many reasons, some that need rationalizing and some that are obvious and legitimate, but the guilt will still persist. Email marketing for a facility will serve to build confidence that their loved ones are well-cared for and that they made the right decision selecting this particular facility.  It will also serve to give families additional things to talk about when they do come to visit or talk by phone or Skype.  Emails might cover fun events, guests or enrichment activities that residents participated in, birthdays, profiles of notable residents and profiles in excellence lifting up staff who have gone above and beyond. It also serves to educate readers about the different levels of care available and answer frequently asked questions that the staff otherwise spends a lot of time answering over and over again.

Each email gives the recipient a glimpse into "campus life" for their loved ones. And I suspect that will also result in more frequent visits and phone calls to the residents from their families.

Audience #2: The Facility Staff

As the newsletter communicates professionalism, care and dedication to its residents, making it required reading for staff means that they see what you're telling the patients' families and it serves to reinforce the mission, expectation and level of excellence expected from staff by the facility management and the families.

For some staff, it might need to be printed out and placed into their mailboxes if they aren't typically or regularly interacting with computers, but I would presume that most facilities these days do have a few computers available to its residents and staff could use those same computers to engage with the online version of the email if so inclined.

The more that's done to celebrate staff in the newsletter, the more they will want to engage with it as well.

My customers are all but locked-in already. Why expend the effort?

The email newsletter also serves as a marketing tool. An impressed reader will share the email with their friends and say "Look at the kind of stuff they're doing with dad!" That will cause others to consider that facility if they have need of residential care for a loved one and raise the bar on facilities in general.

Your customers have choices. 

Moving to a new facility isn't easy, but it's possible. Also, they, too, may someday be in the market themselves. An email marketing newsletter will serve to build confidence that this the right place for a family member's care or for their own care and evoke positive emotions about an industry that suffers from the very true and sad fact that some people will pass away while in their care.

By focusing on the positive aspects, you will create an atmosphere that celebrates life, brings families closer together and replaces pointless guilt with confidence and peace of mind.

I started BoostCE to help businesses use the power of Email Marketing and other Social Media channels to improve their engagement with their customers. If I can help you, please call, tweet or email me today.If you think you can stump me with an industry that you can't possibly see how Email Marketing would help, please leave it in the comments.

Friday, September 19, 2014

So I got an email from The White House...

I don't know if it's just me, but it would appear that The White House fired up their email marketing machine on Monday, Sept. 8.  I'll take a look at the stream I've gotten so far and make some observations.

In some ways, The White House is a unique brand. While it's well known in its own right, it's actually the temporal brand extension of a movement - our elected President, his leadership of our country, his global influence and his particular (political) objectives. Any media, whether it's a blog, press release, Facebook post, radio address, Tweet, etc., must be cognizant that its audience may be anyone in the world, even those who are opposed to the brand and its messsaging for any number of reasons.

Still, there are still plenty of take-aways here that can apply to any email marketing campaign.

Since Sept. 8, I've received at least seven emails from five different senders. Between the sender's name, the preheader or the odd predilection with the colon (what is that?), I can tell that these are all from the same organization when they arrive. (Is the colon on purpose? A quirk to signify that the subject is the start of the message? Or something else? Feel free to theorize in the comments. It feels unfinished but maybe that's just me.)

click to enlarge
It is rare that all of your emails will be lined up like this without other emails interspersed, but it's still a good exercise in examining your program for consistency.

Look at your campaigns and ask:

  • From: Is it clear to readers who the email is from? 
  • Subject Line: Does it pique the subscriber's interest. If there is no pre-header/preview text, is it enough on its own to give them a reason to open the email?
  • Pre-header/Preview Text: This is a great way to (a) expand on the subject, (b) give them additional information or (c) identify the ultimate call-to-action.

So here's one of the emails:

click to enlarge
This is clearly an informational email. The subject line clearly notes "Five things you need to know about ISIL:" (I liked that it acknowledged the other names ISIS and the Islamic State, the first ISIL mail from the White House that I received didn't and it stuck out to me as odd that they were choosing a term different from what I heard more often in the media.) 

It has a video for those who want to watch a video and text for those who want to read - all nicely punctuated by headers for those who want to skim. The White House is rendered stylistically as a graphic at the top, but without the logo you typically see.

The links near the top take you to a blog post which contains the same information as well as some additional information. Even though the goal here is informational, it was a miss not to have any links near the bottom. You never want to deliver someone to a dead-end.  It get to the bottom and my choices are "unsubscribe" or "privacy policy" or to send an email or call The White House. In most cases, this would be an appropriate place for a "recapture bar" - a few selected navigational items from your website to drive traffic to your website. At minimum, I think they should have had one more link to the website here.

No social media elements in this particular email and but that's understandable considering the topic.

Rendered well and was quite readable on my mobile device, but required 14 thumb-scrolls to get through all the content.

And then lastly, an argument for the use of Google+:

This appeared in the right nav of Gmail next to the email gives them additional branding (including the logo) and another opportunity to promote something else to readers.  The promotion here is a video which means it's going to go to YouTube and therefore also be highly accessible. (Many have skipped Google+, but it may be worth testing response rates to Google+ content at the time of an email send.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why "tvjames"? What does it mean?

Occasionally I'll hear someone ask what "tvjames" means. Sometimes they'll think "tv" means something very different than it does. In a way, this is my digital "tattoo" - a choice I made years ago that now I have to live with.  My digital brand is all tied to "tvjames" even though it's a slightly outdated term now.  It all happened long ago in a land far, far away.

Los Angeles, that is.

I had just graduated from college, been recruited as the first employee of an internet startup and we had the assignment to create a website for a brand new television show for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We were originally TV Net and then UTV: Your Ultimate Television Network and then UltimateTV - now you know it at as (Microsoft wanted the UltimateTV name and was willing to pay handsomely for it.)

Anyhow, part of the new site was a forum attended by fans as well as the show's cast, crew and creators. I participated as a fan and as a semi-official voice of the website (but not the show), encouraging conversation and helping police the forum. I decided pretty early on that I needed a unique and identifiable persona and chose "TV James." Eventually in time, I dropped the space and made the entire thing lowercase (tvjames or "tvj" for short) because it was better for Search Engine Optimization, especially after a certain bleach-blonde vampire portrayed by an actor named James was added to the show. As I've established new digital claims online, I've tried to be consistent, even if it's slightly outdated now because it's got search history and I'm identified in at least one book and at least one doctoral thesis as James Lamb aka tvjames.  (Oh, and Wikipedia, too.)

Sadly, at least one other person is also trying to make this their personal brand persona because it's the initials to their first and middle name plus their last name and in some cases has established made the digital land grab to the nickname so it's not 100% perfect, but I do score high on Google, far better than with my own name since there's a Canadian band named James Lamb (really!) and a (now deceased author) named James Lamb Free who wrote a very popular book about training dogs. There's also a few criminals with my name that clutter up Google searches for my real name. And also an actual show runner in L.A. who recruits for trashy reality show who has a very similar email address to mine. I sometimes get get photos and stories from women who want free makeovers intending to reach him.

My sites:

None-Too-Small: Email Marketing for the Independent Restaurant

(cross-posting my article which originally appeared on LinkedIn)

Is there any business that can't benefit from Email Marketing? I'm not sure there is. This might be the first in a series - please feel free to try to stump me by suggesting industries where email marketing wouldn't be successful.

Let's take the small, independent restaurant. Imagine their protest:

"We're not selling anything online."

No, you're using email as a reminder to bring repeat business to your physical retail location. Your conversion will look different from that of an online retailer, but you'll still see a lift from sending out emails. If someone's indicated to you that they want to be on your newsletter, it will serve as a great reminder to get them back in again.

Pick your slowest night of the week, send it around 1:30 in the afternoon and remind them that you offer take-out.

"We don't know who our customers are."

You should. People want to be known, noticed, made to feel special.

Give them a printed card with their receipt that they can fill out and drop off on their way out the door or leave with their signed receipt. Don't ask for too much or you'll get fewer responses. Email address, first name, optional birthday (month/day only) is probably good enough. Be prepared for bogus (and sometimes rude) responses and run them through a double-opt-in to make sure they're serious. Don't wait too long, though, or they'll forget they signed up.

(Ed.: A reader on LinkedIn also suggested Text-to-Subscribe - using a text message from their phone.)

"We don't have time for that."

There are companies (like mine) who can handle this for you rather inexpensively. They'll collect the cards (or you fax or email), enter them into the database, perform the double-opt-in and perform the sends on your behalf.

"We can't afford to be sending out coupons all the time."

While it is true that many have become conditioned to expect coupons, it's not an absolute. There may be cases where this is a good idea, but more on that later.

But there are plenty of other things you can send them.

"We don't have enough to say to bother with a newsletter."

You do. Trust me, there are some customers who think of you as friends, even if their visits are infrequent and you don't necessarily know them as well as they know you. (I'm thinking of Betty and Ernie at Aloha Food Factory in Alhambra as I write this. So good but so far away. Alas.) They come back repeatedly because the enjoy the experience, love the food and want to support local independent restaurants. What could a newsletter to people like that include?

  • Reviews from other customers (especially those posted on other sites like Yelp - increases trust)
  • Special invitation to order new exclusive item not yet on the menu
  • Opportunity to vote or provide feedback on new potential menu items
  • Highlight new seasonal items
  • Talk about the quality ingredients or the sourcing if that's an element
  • Free (fortune cookie, soft drink, etc.) on your birthday with paid order
  • A discount on a larger to-go or catering opportunity (where you've already got better margins and the opportunity to expose your food to a larger audience)
  • "Share this" coupons (encourages them to print out the email and give to friends or to bring friends)
  • Celebration of staff achievements outside of work (to promote the "family" feel if that's core to your restaurant's experience)
  • Celebration of the Little League or PeeWee team your restaurant sponsors
  • Charity or fundraising nights
  • Reminders about things like gift certificates
  • Stories of customers who recently celebrated big occasions at your restaurant (anniversaries, proposals, birthdays) and how you can help make that special night a little more special

The options, really, are endless. You (or your family) started this restaurant because you knew you had something unique and different to offer. According to Business Week (2007), success rates for restaurants are around 40% (43% for franchise). You owe it to yourself to make every effort to make sure those who love you don't forget you.

So let's get sending. For a small independent restaurant, I would recommend mailing once or twice per month.

I founded BoostCE ( to help small businesses write successful digital marketing success stories. Let's connect if you'd like to learn more about how I can help.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Customer Un-friendly

I had to buy something tonight. I had researched it this afternoon and now I was ready to buy. And while I was in my shopping cart, they took they site offline for scheduled maintenance. At 9 pm on a weekday? Who does that?

I tried finding a competitor, but no one was coming close. None of the competitors gave me the peace of mind that I was buying precisely what I needed. After about 15 minutes their site came back online and I was able to finish my transaction.

But the checkout was horribly designed - the fields you fill out were in a random layout and the explanation of what was in each field was in the field, so as soon as you clicked on it, you no longer knew what you were expected to put in that field. And then on the last screen, you get this bit of awesomeness.

Order acceptance policy: The order acknowledgement is not a contract and does not constitute an acceptance of your order, but only a record of your offer to purchase a particular item at a particular price.

After you place an order, [COMPANY] will determine whether or not to fill the order, and [COMPANY] may refuse or limit your order for any reason. By placing your order, you agree to accept all terms and conditions set for anywhere on this site, including [COMPANY]'s terms and conditions of sale.

[COMPANY] reserves the right to accept, refuse, or limit your order for any reason, including, but not limited to, credit review, the unavailability of a product or errors in the prices and product descriptions posted on this website. By placing your order, you agree that [COMPANY]'s total liability, under any legal theory or claim, shall be limited to the purchase price actually paid to [COMPANY] for the product giving rise to [COMPANY]'s liability.

Sad. Doesn't make me feel appreciated as a customer.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Book Review: Birthmarked

Birthmarked by
Review by ()

Yes, one of these days I need to read another non-fiction book. But I do love the escapism provided by the YA post-apocalyptic and dystopian genre.

I enjoyed Birthmark - it was a pretty easy read with a great ending - satisfying as a read but with a decent cliffhanger to make you want to read the next one. This book would fall into the "haves/have nots" subgenre - facing an end to petroleum and declining sources of water, an enterprising group formed a walled community, designed to be self-sufficient, ruled by a benevolent first family. Situated on the shore of one of the now empty Lake Michigan (or "unlake"), its scale is difficult to understand - they are big enough to be able to produce intricate technology like watches and water bottles (despite the lack of petroleum?), but it's small enough that the only forms of transportation mentioned are walking or carts and beasts of burden like horses or donkeys. Inside the wall, they enjoy lights on motion-sensors, but both inside and out use gutters and cisterns to capture water for drinking and bathing.

Around the outside of the walls, communities formed. They have bakers and tailors and small business, but they don't have full autonomy - the militia of the walled community may interfere in the business of the people outside, including arresting them. In time a co-dependency formed - the "Enclave" would provide valuable things (like water, mycroprotein - a manufactured food - and passes to an entertainment complex it maintained for the have nots) and eventually grew to a requirement to provide the first two children born each month to the Enclave. For a brief moment, I wondered about the connection between the babies and the mycoprotein and had a worry that it was going to be a Soylent Green thing but I was relieved that it wasn't. Without giving away too much, the founders miscalcuated the size of population needed for the Enclave and now after too many generations the gene pool is contaminated and weak and the Enclave needs outsides to add diversity back in - they are having trouble conceiving children and too many who are born die young from diseases like hemophilia.

Our heroine is a 17-year-old girl named Gaia who was burned by hot wax when she was 10-months old. At that time, the Enclave chose children once a month from all one-year-olds, so she had been passed over because of her scarring, and that was not the last time she'd be passed over. Later, the Enclave decided that babies would need to be surrendered within 90 minutes of birth. Gaia followed in her mother's footsteps, becoming a midwife, a lucrative job. She had apprenticed with her mother, but the story picks up the night she's forced to deliver a baby on her own after she can't find her mother. The delivery goes well but she returns home to news from her neighbors that her parents have been arrested and to find a member of the Enclave militia in her living room.

An interesting distinction from a lot of this genre, the relationship between the haves and have nots is not as adversarial as you might expect. It's not great - despite promises that all children who wish to leave the Enclave on their 13th birthday to return to their birth parents, none ever do. But it's also not a war. There is subversion, but I liked that it's not an out-and-out war where every single person is suspect. You can't trust people's motives, but the book lacks that sort of paranoia and edge of fear that can be a little wearying. Maybe I've been reading too many zombie books.

I also liked how well things were described - it was easy to get a picture in my mind of surroundings, even when they passed quickly during action sequences. It just seemed effortless to read.

I'm looking forward to book 2. Right now, you can read the first five chapters for free
on a Kindle, Kindle app or the web Kindle cloud reader.


Monday, September 01, 2014

Leading in Challenging Situations (A Work-Related Post)

I recently attended a leadership workshop where a model was presented that could be used to "foster [trait] in [person]" or "bolster [person/team] during challenging times."

As I've had opportunity to apply the model since then, I've refined it and wanted to share my refined version.

Essentially, this model takes you along the page from WHO to WHY to HOW to WHAT. (WHEN and WHERE are ultimately covered in HOW and WHAT.)

The model was presented as rings arranged in a circular fashion, it was suggested that you could traverse the ring in any fashion. Depending on the situation, you may start at different points. You may start with WHAT (what you want, what must happen) but don't make that the default. In some cases, you may leave the HOW and some of the WHAT to the staff themselves. I do recommend starting with "Understand the Situation" - that wasn't in the original model. Perhaps it was implied, but I thought it was important to call it out.

WHO -> WHY (relational)


This may be the behavior or actions of an employee that you wish to change, or it may be a situation external to (but impacting the employee). The situation may seem unclear at first but as you start writing you'll get it - or you'll have written down "the situation is unclear" which is in fact a legitimate situation.

In one to three sentences, summarize the situation. (Two examples: Bob seems to offend people when delivering bad news; it's Saturday morning and the server has crashed and the CEO is screaming into my boss' phone and Erika's already looking into it but we don't know any more beyond that)


Again, two to three sentences about the person and why they're reacting the way they are.

Bob delivers the truth logically and unemotionally. He thinks he's being helpful by getting right down to the point, but without any preamble people think he's being aloof and without any context they don't know what to think about the data he's providing.

Erika has quickly responded to the server failure and diagnosed it's a problem with the hardware. She's called the hardware team but they're not responding. Erika has a strong sense of duty and gets things done, but she tends to quickly become frustrated when she has to rely on others who she doesn't think are working as hard. Also, her family is in the car waiting for her so they can head off to the beach.



This is a pervasive and ongoing process that you should be regularly investing in - what is the identity of the team? What is its voice, branding, engagement model? How is it expected to behave? This helps build a framework that can be used in all situations. In this particular situation does team culture fit? And is the team member exhibiting it?

MODEL (Lead by example)

This is how you personify the team culture as you expect it to exist. This happens before, during and after any challenging situation - you must be consistent and you must know what you expect and what you want others to perceive.


EXAMINE PROCESS (Foundational, Vision-in-action)

For all situation, some sort of framework should exist. Even in the case of a true "fire" where little is known, people are running around crazy, process should exist (and have been defined during a period where there is no "fire"). This is the vision being carried out. This should allow people to act in new situations in a manner consistent with the vision.


At a certain point, it may become appropriate to step in and identify what you expect will occur. This may be a change in behavior or a final deliverable or a resolution to a problem. You are identifying what you want. This may be a coaching opportunity.


In most cases, you may leave the outcome or the method of getting there up to the staff themselves. If this is the case, you need to make sure you understand their plans so that you can affirm, course correct or manage up as appropriately.


The issue at hand does not truly exist until you acknowledge it and begin the process (until you're involved, the situation is someone else's). By working this model, you are also clearly stating that you expect the situation to have an end point. A lot of this work is internal, you'll keep it to yourself. But taking the time to think through the steps will help you to make sure you have a solid, honoring approach to resolution.