We Regret To Inform You

My CFO (Mrs. Shevlin) tells me that, while we are in no danger of going out of business, we need to do something to improve our bottom line. So, there are going to be some changes around here (this blog, that is).

Dear Valued Reader:

Due to blogging business conditions, we must institute some policy changes. The following changes are effective retroactive to January 1:

1) Blog reading fee. Lifetime free readership will no longer be available. Per the terms of our agreement — that the end of anybody’s lifetime allows us to revoke the offer — free readership of this blog will no longer be offered. (If you think this is unfair, ask the credit card companies about their universal default policies). Retroactive to January 1, you will be charged a $.25 fee for each blog post you read, whether you link directly to the site, view it in a reader, or are simply subscribed to it at the time it was posted.

2) Subscription reversal fee. Requests to unsubscribe from this blog will be assessed with a $25 premature disconnect service charge. At this time, subscription reversal requests cannot be taken online, as my eCommerce site is currently down for scheduled maintenance. Please mail your requests to the home office address, which can be found on my eCommerce site.

3) Inactive reader fee. For every week that goes by in which you do NOT read a blog post, you will be assessed a $.50 fee. For any month in which you do not read a single post, a $5 charge will be levied.

4) Comment reply charge. The good news is that commenting will continue to be free. However, there will be a charge for any comment that I reply to — $.25 per reply if I agree with what you said, and $1 per reply if I disagree.

5) Link rebate. For every link back to this blog that you provide, you will be credited with 1 point towards your Marketing Whims Loyalty Program account. For links that improve this site’s Technorati ranking, you will receive two points.

Thank you for your understanding and continued patronage. Your business is very important to us. Please note that the new policies only apply to employees of financial institutions. It’s my small form of revenge for the trouble and hassles you’ve put me through recently.


The Blogger

What impact will these changes have on the bottom line? I’m not really sure, but the experts tell me that if I ask you just ONE SIMPLE QUESTION, I’ll be able to predict the future growth of this blog. So here goes:

How likely are you to refer this blog to your family and friends (select ONE answer)?

___ 9 Very very likely

___ 10 Most definitely likely

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If I Ran Twitter

If I ran Twitter, the prompt wouldn’t be “What are you doing?”

Because, honestly, and with no offense to my Twitter friends, I don’t care what they’re doing. I don’t care that they’re at a Starbucks working, I don’t care that they’re eating oatmeal for breakfast, I don’t care that they’re at an airport, I don’t care that they’re playing soccer, and I don’t care if they’re playing Xbox.

If I ran Twitter, the prompt would be “What are you thinking?”

That’s what I want to know from my Twitter friends. What did you just read that sparked your interest, or ticked you off? What nugget of data crossed your desk today that you found surprising? What’s your reaction to the latest news about … whatever? What’s your mood right now? Why?

That’s what I would do if I ran Twitter — change the prompt. Because what my Twitter friends are doing doesn’t generate conversation. How am I supposed to respond to “I’m at a Starbucks working”? With “Oh wow! I once worked from a Starbucks, too!”? I don’t think so.

What my Twitter friends are thinking and feeling generates conversation. And that is — by far and away — the most valuable thing about what Twitter does.

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Off-Topic: Never Look A GIF Horse In The Mouth

I got an email recently from someone who congratulated me for making his list of the top 42 content marketing blogs. (To understand the relevance of the number 42, see the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Universe).

I should have been honored and thrilled. But there was one little thing that bugged me — the request to use the supplied code to put a graphic with a link to his firm’s site on my blog. [Don’t bother scrolling down, it’s not there]

I imagine that the emailer is counting on the 81 blogs (42 plus the 39 “up and coming” blogs) to post the link, which will drive traffic to his site, and increase his own site’s visibility and Technorati ranking.

Links are currency in the blogosphere. Should I link to this guy’s site just because he ranked me in the top 42?

On the other hand, he did do me the honor of ranking my site in his list of top marketing sites. And since other bloggers on the list have picked up on it and listed all 42 blogs on their sites, they have driven some traffic to my site (which might produce a few more subscribers).

So I’m on the fence on whether or not to put the link on the site. A former colleague of mine used to warn webmasters to “beware of geeks bearing GIFs,” referring to the spate of awards that used to get handed out to sites, solely for the purpose of getting publicity for the award.

I’ll tell you one thing that makes me lean toward doing it, though — my blog is ranked higher than Seth Godin’s blog. So you know it’s a good list.

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Bad Advice From A Marketing Guru

In a recent post, marketing guru and prolific blogger Seth Godin wrote:

Don’t let the words get in the way. If you’re writing online, forget everything you were tortured by in high school English class. You’re just trying to be real, to make a point, to write something worth reading. So just say it.”

My take: This is terrible advice. Extremely terrible advice.

If you’re blogging or commenting on blogs (which I assume Godin is referring to when he says “writing online”), then you are not “just trying to be real, to make a point, to write something worth reading.”

There are many verbs that describe what you might be trying to do: Inform, educate, entertain, motivate, influence, persuade, etc. Your blog post might simply tell people about something you saw or read. That’s inform. Personally, I’m very aware that about 80% of my blog posts fall in the influence/persuade camp, while 20% or so fall in the entertain bucket.

But here’s the important point: For you to to achieve your writing objective, you must be understood. And if you don’t choose your words carefully, and arrange them in the best way, then you might not be understood.

The English language is challenging. Ask anybody who learns English as a second language, and they’ll tell you how hard it is to pick up, because of all the double meanings, homonyms, slang terms, etc.

When you write (online or offline), you can’t convey through facial and tonal cues the nuances you’re trying to convey (which is why I will often explicitly mention that I’m joking about something, so no one will get the wrong idea).

Not only should you not forget what you learned in HS English class (or whatever language you took in HS), you should go back and read through a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, which you may very well have covered in your HS English class. It is, by far, the best guide on how to write.

Bottom line: For your sake and the sake of your readers, when writing, DO let the words get in the way. Read through it through the eyes of your audience (to the best you can), and ask yourself, will they really understand what I’m trying to get across? Am I using any words that might be misconstrued? Is there a simpler and more concise way to say what I just said?

Mark Twain once wrote in a letter, “sorry for the length of this letter, if I had more time, I could have made it shorter.” Or something like that.

In other words, DON’T just say it. Think about it.

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Getting The Boss To Blog (Or At Least Let You Start One)

My friend Tim McAlpine writes:

What if your credit union could acquire new members and sell products by blogging? I’ll bet there would be a lot more credit unions blogging if the leadership and marketing department understood how they could use this new medium to better connect with members and to sell more products and services. The alternative is to bury your head in the sand and send out yet another direct mail piece that yields a 1% response rate. Am I wrong or am I right?”

Tim, I’m really sorry to say this in a public forum, but you’re wrong — on a number of fronts: 1) You confuse acquisition marketing with retention marketing; 2) You confuse relationship building with selling; 3) You completely miss a number of alternative tactics; and 4) You pooh-pooh some potentially good economic returns.

I believe that to develop a strong relationship — whether we’re talking about in a business or even personal sense — two parties have to be engaged (not the “to be married” kind, wiseguy). And I believe in the potential for a blog to help banks and CUs develop customer relationships by engaging customers in conversations that they probably would not have entered into otherwise.

But while a blog might be the final tipping point that gets a prospect to join the CU or open an account at a bank, it’s very likely to not be the main selling point. And it’s very likely to not even impact very many prospects at that. Especially — and this is the critical point — when compared to other tactics and approaches to customer acquisition.

This last point hints at why Tim’s blog post rubbed me so wrong. Blog advocates (I’m not saying Tim did this) too often come off with an attitude that just screams “OMG, blogging is the answer to all of our marketing prayers! We just have to start one! It doesn’t cost anything! We HAVE TO experiment! You JUST DON’T GET IT!”

OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but the common thread among too many advocates is the lack of context — that is, how will a blog fit in with our investments (of both money and time), and with our overall business and marketing strategy?

Anyone advocating for a blog at their financial institution better be prepared to answer the following questions:

1. Who else is doing this? It’s great to be a pioneer, but many senior execs are, understandably so, a little on the risk-averse side. So you better be prepared to tell them who else in the CU/banking space is blogging, and, just as importantly, what types of blogs they have.

2. What results have they achieved? It’s not just an ROI calculation. Citing the stats that Verity CU has made public is good data. But I’d also want to be able to tell the senior execs how many customers and prospects participate in other firms’ blogs.

3. How do they deal with negative comments? This is such a common objection or fear that you better be ready to deal with it. Personally, I think you can turn it into an advantage — namely, by showing that you plan to publicly acknowledge negative comments and demonstrate the firm’s commitment to satisfaction and timely service (or something like that).

4. Who’s going to write blog entries? The advocate is likely to say “I will!” That could be the wrong answer. I spoke to one exec at an FI that was contemplating a blog who said “I’m not sure I want Marketing to be the primary contact point to our customer base. That’s what our account managers are for.” If you’re going to emulate Verity CU’s approach (which I like a lot) — with contributors from Marketing, HR, and the exec team — then you better line up that support before going upstairs to advocate for a blog.

5. What are we going to write about and how often? On the other hand — and I don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing Verity, here — it’s the 22nd of January, and they have one blog post up for the month (which does a great job of linking Bob Dylan to its Velocity checking account, by the way).

6. What should we stop doing in order to free up the time to blog? Here’s where I think a lot of the blog advocates just don’t get it. Smart CEOs don’t just manage the ROI, they manage their firm’s attention span. They know it’s better to focus on the right number of the right initiatives. If you’ve got the time and energy to start a blog, then somebody — you or your boss — has been underutilizing you. Managing even medium-sized organizations is about making tradeoffs. I’m not saying that every exec is going to ask this question — but you should have an answer to it.

7. How will we know if we’ve been successful? “Stop our direct mail efforts” is not the answer to question #6. If I send out 10,000 direct mail pieces and convert 1% to customers, that’s 100 new customers. Assuming $0.50/piece and $50 profit per customer per year, that’s 100% ROI at the end of year two. And you’re scoffing at that? My assumptions could be way off here, but the point is that other marketing efforts have projected costs and returns associated with them. Blog advocates better walk into the exec suite with some projections of how many customers are going to be impacted by a blog, who those customers are, and how the blog is going to impact their relationship with the CU/bank.

8. How does this fit in with our current acquisition and retention efforts?
This is another area where blog advocates don’t button everything down — they don’t put the proposed blog in the broader context of the firm’s overall marketing strategy. As a blog advocate, this is where I would trot out Wells Fargo’s student lending blog, or better yet, Common Wealth CU’s (Canada) Young & Free blog that puts a blog at the core of a coordinated, focused strategy for attracting a specific market segment to the CU.

9. Is there a strategy behind all this? In other words, have you thought about the answers to the previous questions, and put them all together in a cohesive fashion. Are you walking into the exec suite ready to talk business and marketing strategy?

You’ve got to remember that you’re not the only one whispering ideas into the CEO’s ear. The call center wants to add 50 people, cuz’ hey, what better way to develop member relationships than to have more staff in the call center for them to talk to. Branch managers want more branch personnel, cuz’ hey, what better way to develop member relationships than to have more staff in the branches for them to interact with.

Now tell me again: Why we should drop everything and start a blog?

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My Blogging Resolutions For 2008

It’s not too early to make new year’s resolutions, is it? Here are my blogging resolutions for 2008:

5) I will not look at my blog’s Technorati ranking. I hate admitting that I look at it now. A couple of months ago, I watched this blog’s ranking drop 10,000 spots, even though the”authority” didn’t change. More recently, I’ve seen it seesaw between a 6,000 point spread — again with no change in the blog’s authority. I will not look at Technorati in 2008.

4) I will not look at Ad Age’s Top 150 Marketing Blogs list. Which is a list of about 500, not 150 blogs (furthering my suspicions that some ad folks aren’t great with math). A methodology that uses Bloglines subscribers is flawed right from the start. Of the subscribers that this blog has gained in the four or so months since I signed up with AddThis, only 10% of subscribers have come in through Bloglines. And Todd And only gave this blog a 12 on his subjective rating. What’s the matter, Todd, this blog isn’t “frequent, relevant, creative and high-quality” enough for you? Feh.

3) I will not blog drunk.
Not that I’ve blogged drunk before. But considering a few of the stupid comments I’ve posted, I’ve got to wonder about my mental state was at the time. So I resolve to be a lot more careful when choosing my words. A lot more careful. No more off the cuff comments that come back to bite me. If Tim McAlpine wants to challenge what I write, that’s great (I mean that). But I’m not going to give him — or anyone else — an easy target by publishing stuff I didn’t really mean.

2) I will post less (here). I will post less, and comment more on the sites I read. And I will also post more on Epsilon’s site, and less here. Make the boss happy. That’ll be a first.

1) I will focus on writing good stuff. In 2008, every post I publish will meet one criteria: Add value to the conversation. I will not be a regurgiblogger or a linklobber.

OK, enough of my blogging resolutions. You got any?

It Doesn’t Take A Genius To Read This Blog

Apparently, all you need is a high school education. At least that’s what the Blog Readability Test says. Type in your blog’s URL and it tells you what level of education is required to understand your blog.


I don’t know if this is good or bad. Does that mean I write clearly and succinctly enough that a high schooler could understand? Or does it mean that, despite four years of college, two years of grad school, and 25 years in the workforce, I can still only write at the high school level?

On the other hand, I did type in the URLs of a few of the blogs I read. At least one of them (I won’t say who, so as not to spoil the surprise for that blogger, since he might read this) has a Genius reading level. So, since I read that blog — and um, comprehend what I’m reading — I must be a genius, right?

UPDATE: Be careful here. As Keith Sibson points out, there’s a link to cashadvance1500.com (a Payday Loan site) in the HTML fragment that the site generates for copy and pasting. If you post the HTML on your blog without modification, you’re giving free advertising to a high interest lender.

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Off-Topic: Blogging Is A Public — Not Private Conversation

Last week, at the Forum/Trabian conference, I picked up a copy of the Credit Union Times, which was distributed to attendees. While flipping through the issue, I saw a picture on page 6 that caught my eye.

It was a picture of Chuck Bruen, whose blog I regularly read.

I was so caught up in my “so that’s what Chuck Bruen looks like!” reaction, that I didn’t even notice the article that dominated the rest of the page until the next day, when I flipped through the issue again on the plane ride home.

What I missed, the first time around, was an article that mentioned my name three times. A complete surprise to me since I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone from CU Times in years.

The article quoted something I had written on this site about Bellco’s campaign to attract New Horizons CU members.

What struck me as odd, though, was that the crux of the article wasn’t about Bellco. It was about the blogosphere’s response to the situation. In other words, it was the bloggers — myself, Tim McAlpine, Trey Reeme, Denise Wymore — who were making the news, not just commenting on it.

I realize this happens all the time in the political and technology arenas, but I guess I’ve either been too clueless or naive to think it was happening in the credit union/financial services space.

The CU Times article said that Denise was “puzzled by the Bellco strategy” and that Tim was “in a quandary” on what to say about Bellco’s tactics. While “puzzled” and “quandary” were words used by Denise and Tim, I doubt that they thought they’d see those words in print in CU Times.

And according to the article, Bellco has apparently “pointed to blogging remarks by Shevlin” in defending its ad approach.

On one hand, I’m flattered.

But on the other hand, it’s kind of scary. What else on this site has been used in ways I never intended? My purpose for commenting on Bellco was to provide advice to other CUs — not for Bellco to use to defend their actions. Which begs another question: To whom did they actually cite my blog in their defense?

The bottom line: We — bloggers and commenters — need to be more cognizant that our blog remarks are public statements. What often feels like (and may be intended to be) private conversations, or comments between friends, are not. And they’re subject to being taken out of context and used in ways that we don’t anticipate.

Last point: I hope I don’t sound like I’m criticizing Jim Rubenstein, the author of the article, or CU Times, in any way. I’ve got no issues with him or the magazine. What he did was perfectly acceptable, the article was well written, and in no way did he misquote or misrepresent anyone. The point of this post is for bloggers and commenters to recognize that the accountability for our statements lie with us.

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The Question Isn’t Should Banks Blog, But How And When

The Bank Channel quotes Javelin Research as saying that:

Banks should move fast to open their blog sites if they are not to miss out on a powerful new brand building and customer interaction capability.”

My take: Whoa, not so fast.

You don’t have to convince me of the potential for banks to use blogs to engage customers, strengthen the relationship, and build true customer loyalty.

But you can’t simply create a site on WordPress or Blogger (or hosted within your existing site) and say “here we are! we have a blog!”

For many banks, simply doing that is likely to produce one of the following:

  1. Deafening silence as nobody participates.
  2. Deafening noise as customers rant about their service issues.

Or possibly something in between (but closer to the first) as a few employees (maybe even the CEO) post a few entries, and a few comments trickle in.

The challenges that many banks face in trying to build strong customer relationships aren’t going to be overcome simply by blogging. A blog has a better chance of helping when you already have a set of engaged customers, or at least, customers inclined to engage with the bank.

On top of that is the question of blog strategy and execution. There are two good examples to use to contrast different approaches: Wells Fargo and Verity Credit Union. Wells has created four distinct blogs, each with a distinct topic focus. Verity, in contrast, has a single blog site, covering a range of topics that are driven (I think) by the contributor.

Both are excellent sites, but accomplish very different objectives. The common thread is a set of contributors, who, although maybe not dedicated to the blogging effort, are certainly highly committed to it.

So let me ask you this, oh budding bank blogger….is there a set of employees in your organization just chomping at the bit to blog, and who will invest their time on top of their existing workload?

And on what topics do you expect to blog about? Everything under the sun or just certain things? And why would your customers care what you have to say about those topics?

And which customers, exactly, do you think will come flocking to your blog to converse with you, fall in love with you, and give you all their money? Us baby boomers, who, quite frankly, trust you about as far as we can throw you?

Or will it be the younger consumers who you mistreated when they were in college when you socked them with overdraft and ATM fees?

And how will you promote your blog, and where are those funds going to come from?

[Let me know when you’ve had enough, I could go on for hours]

Bottom line: Don’t rush to blog, banks. You’ve got a lot of work to do before launching one.

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Might As Well Face It You’re Addicted To Blogs

blog_addicted.pngThe lights are on
But you’re not home
Your mind is not your own
Your heart sweats, your body shakes
Another post is what it takes
You can’t sleep, you can’t eat
There’s no doubt, you’re in deep
A blog post is what you need.

You like to think you’re immune to the stuff,
But you know you’re gonna have to face it
You’re addicted to blogs.

— Robert Palmer (with all apologies)

According to Mingle2, I’m 70% addicted to blogs. I’m not quite sure what that number means — I mean, you’re either addicted or you’re not, right? Maybe the higher the number, the harder it is to break your addiction.

Click on the link to take the test and find out how addicted you are.

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