The Bizz by

Business & marketing advice, news and features, design inspiration, and the art of gifting.

An Email Marketing Tactic that Works Really Damn Well


By Fausto Mendez

    Email marketing is a tricky beast to tame. Effective tactics vary from business to business, so A/B tests and audience surveys can work wonders. But some basic strategies exist that can unlock big rewards if you execute them well - no matter your industry or audience. A recent EDM campaign by REI is a perfect example.

    This morning, I stumbled upon a great piece at Freelance Writing Solutions on follow-up marketing emails that seem to be working pretty well on customers that made recent purchases at REI. Below, I break down the story to the basic details, but the whole thing is worth a read if you have the extra time.

+ The author of the article recently purchased a pair of cross-country skiesat REI, an outdoor-equipment retailer with a lot of street cred within the outdoor-sports community.

+ Approximately three weeks after purchase, he received a follow-up email from REI. The message congratulated him on his recent purchase of skies, and it included some very helpful articles, including how-to guides on equipment cleaning & maintenance and a web-based tool that displays snow reports at your favorite ski spots.

+ The customer felt like REI was paying attention to him because REI knows that he didn’t purchase downhill, or mountain, skies. Also, the email marketing team at REI did a great job at guessing exactly the kind information a recent purchaser of cross-country skies might need. Actually, that customer didn’t even know he needed some of the information in the message, so it was a welcome surprise overall. 

+ This marketing email is not designed to immediately catalyze purchases. Unfortunately  a lot of marketers expect instant results out of every message sent to subscribers, but this message has a much greater, longer-lasting effect. The effect this message seems to have on the customer is that it builds a relationship with the customer, increasing brand awareness and brand appreciation in the process. As a result, his next outdoor-sports purchase will probably be at REI. 

    The story illustrates the importance of building long-lasting and close relationships with your customers - not just through email marketing but through any and all available channels. More importantly, email marketers need to exercise more out-of-the-box creativity to find the best ways to do this.

    It’s a great idea. No doubt. But we suggest a few more tips that’ll help you make the most out of every EDM:

+ Stay visual. Effective web marketing is always mixed in with amazing graphics, photography and lay-out design. Rely on a tried-and-true graphic designer to help you achieve the best results.

+ Though your graphic artist has a great eye for visual design, he’s probably not a great marketing manager. The same can be said about your customer service reps and salesmen. The EDM campaign as whole, including message and content, should be managed by a well-trained marketing manager that can easily see the world through the eyes of other people. 

+ The subject line is critical! This text is the first thing the customer will see, and it will literally determine whether or not the customer opens the email at all. It may even encourage customers to label your messages as spam, which can weaken your delivery rates in the future. In other words, you can build the best EDM emails that have ever existed, but if the subject line is weak, no one will even open it in the first place. 

+ Seek the opinions of an outside consultant with a fresh and unbiased view of your business. This consultant can offer answers to confusing issues that you would have no idea how to approach, such as: low deliverability rates, IP address issues, domain issues, choosing the best email service provider for your current circumstances, A/B testing, blacklists, whitelists, changing privacy laws, and much more. If a consultant is out of your budget, you may consider signing up with an email service provider, SEO firm or marketing company with an EDM specialist on staff that you can call upon when you need help. 

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Businesses Are Losing the Right to Ask Customers for Zip Codes? Yes, But It Doesn’t Matter.


By Fausto Mendez

    It’s expected that businesses make some kind of effort to obtain the personal info - including phone and address - of their customers. That’s why I was surprised to hear that it’s becoming illegal for businesses to ask for customer zip codes in the US. It was even more surprising to me when I learned that this has been illegal in California since 2011.

    Now that I think about it, a business hasn’t asked me for my zip code since my college days. That’s because California considers zip codes to be a critical piece of identifying information, and with just your zip code, they can accurately guess your home address and phone number. Whether you like it or not, it seems that as California goes, so does the rest of the nation. Massachusetts is the next state that’s outlawed the collection of zip codes during customer transactions, and there’s no reason to assume this trend will reverse itself anytime soon. Fortunately for marketers (and unfortunately for consumers), this isn’t a big deal. Consumer information is more available than ever.

    The rise of online marketing and social-media marketing makes these laws irrelevant. Let’s put it this way: if a marketer gains access to your Facebook profile, they probably have a lot more on file than just your zip code, phone number and home address. And by connecting with you on Facebook, they have a much faster and more convenient way of communicating with you than annoying junk mail or telemarketers. 

    As a result, these laws are generally perceived as good for the public, but they won’t protect consumers’ info from prying eyes - at least not in this day and age. The new laws may force marketers to rely on the online world even more, and in the digital realm, it’s much easier to get the same info and a lot more. In the end, these laws only coerce businesses to rely on easier and more effective web-based methods. Though that’s great for the marketing industry, consumers are not receiving any effective protection by the passage of these laws

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(Source: Business Insider)

The Best Way to Deal with Difficult or Mean Clients


By Fausto Mendez

    Business is business - until it gets personal. Actually, when big money and reputations are on the line, it’s almost always personal. It’s really easy for your clients to step on your toes (or the other way around), but no matter who’s at fault, you need to be ready to deal with moody, rude or emotionally unstable customers in a positive and calm way that moves you closer to your business goals without sacrificing top-tier service.

    Law firms are a perfect example of a business atmosphere that is bursting with emotions. When you’re serving a client that’s on the verge of losing his house, business, freedom or a ton of cash, it’s silly not to expect some frustration to surface in ugly ways - not just from the client but perhaps from yourself too. That’s why the Harvard Business Review's Mark Goulston is sharing the lessons he’s learned as a lawyer who’s served some of the rudest and downright meanest clients in his industry. His entire article is worth a read if you have the time, but we break down his advice to some actionable basics below. His tips can apply to any industry, so take notes. 

+ Start out by preparing yourself for the worst. Don’t expect your clients to respect you. This attitude prevents clients from surprising you with outbursts or insults.

+ If your career requires you to deliver really bad news to clients, it’s best to ask your clients how to approach them with bad news. When the time comes, bring up your previous conversation about how to deliver bad news, recap the client’s advice on delivering bad news, and then deliver the bad news in the way the client recommended.

+ In the event that insults come your way, detach yourself from the insults. It’s much easier said than done, especially when you’re caught off guard, but that’s why your start by preparing for the worst. It’s also important to keep in mind that the client doesn’t really know you as a whole person, so insults, in this case, are just a symptom of frustration. 

+ When shit finally goes down, the client may insult you, yell and maybe even threaten to fire you. Your ego won’t want to take it, and you may be tempted to yell back. Don’t. Just take a deep breath. Look them in the eyes, and pause. Though it’s not acceptable behavior, now would be a good time to remember that circumstances can drive anyone to behave this way.

+ When the insults finally come your way, ask a question that forces the client to examine and repeat what he or she just said, “do you really believe what you just said?” Another great question: “What was that all about?” Chances are that they expect you to fight back, so they won’t know how to respond.

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Why Social-Media Marketing Works: The Psychology of SMM


By Fausto Mendez

    I’m honored to be a guest contributor at SmartBlogs, one of the most useful digests for marketers, business owners and industry leaders that seek to improve both their own day-to-day performance and the performance of the organizations that they steer.

    This is an excerpt from my latest post on the psychology of social-media marketing at the SmartBrief blogs.

"Today, social-media is one of the most effective marketing channels for any company. Why? Most experts explain away the phenomenon with the how, not the why: "social is an excellent venue for content sharing and a useful tool for subscribing to news of your favorite brands." While that is true, it only scrapes the surface. There must be a better answer, and I’ve found it.

Social media is unlike any other marketing channel because it requires the customer to reach out to the brand before the brand reaches out to the customer with a message that leads to customer action. Normally, it works the other way around, but why is it so effective when the roles are reversed? The explanation boils down to a basic rule about relationships between people.”

    Read the rest of “The Secret Psychology of Effective Social-Media Relationships” at SmartBlogs.

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Caribou Coffee’s Brilliant and Fresh Marketing Campaign: Life is More than Coffee


By Fausto Mendez

Apparently, life is more than coffee. I was unaware of this, but this is the message of Caribou Coffee’s new marketing campaign. Well, I’m glad someone finally told me because I’ve been working inside this cubicle, sipping on lattes and green tea all day. The brilliant marketing campaign is a stark contrast from the classic message that coffee is all about focus and office productivity. 

    “Life is more than coffee. That’s why there’s coffee,” says Caribou Coffee via its new marketing campaign. The campaign launched in March with a series of innovative cups that aim to inspire and exercise your creativity with designs that you can draw on, color in or paint yourself.


     The coffee shop’s napkins also offer similar function with inspirational and time-wasting fun while you sip, sip, sip. 


    Of course, that part of the campaign is great at marketing to current customers, but what is Caribou doing outside of its shop to attract the attention of the rest of us? Images coupled with messages that promote a love of life beyond the office and coffee shop populate the company’s consumer-facing marketing materials, including billboards. 


    The message is quite the opposite of the message of the marketing campaign that popularized the term “coffee break”. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the Pan American Coffee Bureau launched radio, magazine and newspaper campaigns that touted the benefits of coffee, mostly as it relates to work. Prior to this marketing campaign, employers didn’t allow for coffee breaks. The idea of a coffee break was absurd, but people didn’t associate coffee with productivity at the time.


    The absurdly successful slogan, which took many forms over the years, originally read: “Give yourself a coffee break, and get what coffee gives to you.” And the promotion worked. Employers learned about the benefits of coffee, and they made room for it during work hours. Cigarette companies tried a similar scheme, though it didn’t work as well. 

    Today, Caribou Coffee is taking a different approach, disassociating coffee with the drab office. Why should marketers limit the benefits to work? Now that everyone understands the benefits of coffee, the association to the boring office is actually a downer, not a positive message. After all, coffee can boost any moment, so take a cup with you wherever you go and smile. Marketers and advertisers, take notes.


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Sale on Premium Promotional Products: Bags, Wallets and iPad Cases


Our partner is a promotional products supplier/retailer, which leads the promotional products industry in low prices, quality of service and product variety. Each week, AnyPromo launches a new set of special offers throughout its social-media network. 

    AnyPromo just launched a sale on premium promotional bags, iPad cases and wallets. These are the kind of promotional giveaways that really make your brand stand out from the rest. Though it’s always a great idea to stock up on the cheap and easy giveaways - pens, notebooks, etc. - you should target specific leads with a premium promotional gift that is nice enough to keep around for several months or years. By upgrading to a premium gift, you maximize brand awareness  because it’ll be seen by your lead and those around him for a much longer period of time.

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Recipes to Boost Focus & Mood in Meetings: Snickers Popcorn


By Fausto Mendez

Pitching to a hungry audience is shooting yourself in the foot, so we always recommend that you bring along some tasty treats, preferably sugary stuff, to boost client focus and mood. It can make a significant difference in the success or productivity of your meeting. This week’s recipe: Snickers popcorn.

    Making Snickers popcorn is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is cook up the syrup, chop up some Snickers bars and coat the popcorn. It breaks down to a few simple steps.

Step 1 - Stir up the Syrup

+ Start by popping some kernels. An air popper works best. The popcorn should be plain, no butter. Next, make the popcorn’s caramel coating. It consists of brown sugar, butter and corn syrup. You stir up, and boil it for about five minutes. Be careful. Don’t burn the syrup. 


Step 2 - Mix and Bake

+ Put it all together. Drizzle the caramel over the popcorn. Add peanuts or other nuts, if that’s your thing. Bake at 200 degrees for about an hour.


Step 3 - Top it Off

+ While it bakes, chop up some snickers bars. Slightly thin slices work best, but you can do whatever you want. You can also try crumbles instead of slices. Finish it with melted chocolate drizzles. Let it dry for a few minutes. Then, dig in. 


    Thanks to Cookies and Cups for the recipe, and make sure you check in next week - same time, same channel - for another recipe that’ll help you conquer hearts and minds.

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Social Media Has Taken Over SEO and Online Marketing: What You Need to Know


By Fausto Mendez

The old saying goes, “content is king.” This is still true, but recent developments in search-engine algorithms have forced marketing professionals to rethink their SEO strategies. Older SEO techniques are just about useless and, in some cases, dangerous to a brand’s reach, authority and reputation. Why is this happening? More importantly, what can you do to fix your SEO strategy?

    For better or worse, social media has taken over online marketing and search-engine optimization (SEO). The direct force behind these changes appears to be the search industry, but the real driving force is the online marketing industry. That’s because, in the past five to ten years, online marketers have learned to game search engines too well, so search companies were forced to rethink the way their search engines work in order to serve more relevant search results, not just the results of the companies with the most cash to spend. 

How Did Social Media Take Over SEO?

    The marketing industry’s relentless gaming of the system actually caused a significant drop in search performance, which is really bad for the good ol’ fashioned web surfer. And that’s really bad for the search companies, which are arguably the heart and veins of the Web.

    Marketers would game search engines by manipulating backlink counts. At the time, Google assumed that pages with the most backlinks are the most relevant and carry the most authority. For example, a New York Times article may be reposted, curated and outright copied thousands of times across the Web, which would create tons of backlinks to the original article. Google realized that such articles must be important because it is the target of so many links. But what happens if an online marketer pays a few teenagers to build some artificial backlinks to that article?

    What if it’s not a few links; what if it’s a few thousand links? What if it’s a few million links? In Google’s eyes, the page must be important, but if its backlinks are not genuine, chances are it’s not relevant to the end user. As a result, fake backlinks became a real problem, real fast. 

    Google had to diminish the SEO power of backlinking, but how would it measure authority without giving backlinks so much weight? Google learned that another signal of important content is social engagement, meaning the sharing, “liking”, reposting, commenting, etc. of keywords, content, links and brands. This is why social media has taken over SEO.

How do you adjust your SEO strategy?

    Now, how can your company take advantage of the new search algorithms? First, read Google’s just-released-to-the-public Search Quality Ratings Guidelines, which the company hands out to evaluators that manually rate pages for search relevancy. You’ll learn some critical stuff, but we’ve also made a quick and dirty best-practice list to help you get started fast. Check it out below: 

+ Google and search engines prefer user friendliness over relentless keyword optimization. Over-optimization can actually hurt you, and hiding keywords with invisible text or coding tricks is a red flag to Google. It was a cheap trick that worked back in the day, but those days are over. 

+ Set up sharing buttons on all your posts or product pages. If you run an e-commerce store, set up the sharing buttons on the product pages. You also need obvious links to your blog and other social-media accounts. A user shouldn’t have to think twice after deciding to take a few seconds out of his day to visit your brand’s social-media profiles. 

+ Content is still king (you just have to make sure it’s shared over social media). Before this year, you could submit your latest blog post to your SEO company, and suddenly you’d have hundreds or thousands of backlinks that push your post to the top of search-results lists. It’s not so easy anymore. You need real fans, not dead social-media profiles, to share your content. Work on social-media recruitment, and stop relying on services that fill your social-media profiles with fake fans. 

+ Use a tool or company to find poor quality backlinks, and remove them. If you paid for backlinks, chances are they are now hurting your search engine performance. 

+ If you need real fans and followers, that also means you’ll have to work on improving your content. Ugly, over-optimized content just don’t cut it anymore. It must really appeal to your fan base. Otherwise, it’s dead in the water. Amazing content is king.

+ Don’t forget about your robot.txt file and other website optimization. This makes it easy for search engines to find relevant content on your website, and it also boosts load speed to prevent impatient users from leaving too quickly.

+ Take advantage of microdata markup. This is the next level of meta tagging, and all the major search engines use it to read and understand the content on websites. In the eyes of a search engine, it defines content, such as “article” or “product”. Otherwise, content is just code and keywords, which is not good enough if you want to boost your SEO to the max. also competes with Facebook’s Open Graph protocol, so Google will use it more as Open Graph becomes more widespread. Actually, may prevent the widespread adoption of Open Graph since it’s more open and doesn’t require integration of Facebook’s proprietary API, JavaScript and other Facebook annoyances. Also, it was launched and widely implemented before OG.

    If you plan to integrate your business with OG, the best thing to do is to learn it, understand it and, if you decide it’s worth your time and effort, plan it into a long-term strategy. This is exactly our strategy at

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This is Why Good Design Powers Big Business


By Fausto Mendez

Good design goes beyond aesthetics; it’s about the whole experience. When done well, design is virtually invisible. It gets out of the way to allow you to get stuff done. As a result, when your business, its operational materials and its marketing materials are designed well, your customers never have to think about engaging in business with you. It just happens, like walking or breathing.

    We thoroughly enjoyed 12most’s article on good design as the investment that differentiates good businesses from great businesses. We break down the “hows” and “whys” below, but the whole thing is worth a read if you have more time.

+ It makes you stand out. Spend a little extra on an exceptional artist for your logo and any costumer-facing marketing materials to make the most of every moment.

+ It impacts the public’s perception of your brand. I’m sure you’ve heard the following nugget of wisdom before: “It’s not about what you say. It’s about how you say it.” For example, Starbucks doesn’t just sell coffee. The entire coffee-buying experience at Starbucks is unique in a way that makes it easy, enjoyable, effortless and - most importantly - thoughtless.

+ It makes your message understandable and memorable. Consider the difference between an encyclopedia and the Discovery Channel. Whether you’re talking about aesthetics, creative copy or user experience, you want to produce a message that is easy to swallow (and tasty too). Last week’s article on how to improve your marketing copy is a good place to start if you’re thinking about improving your writing talent.

+ It makes for an enjoyable customer experience. No matter the industry, customers want to enjoy themselves. Also, the more enjoyable a moment, the more likely it is to be remembered.

+ It makes you relevant or credible. There is an old saying: “If you’re right, appear right.” In other words, people make a connection between what they feel is true and what is actually true. If those two line up perfectly, you’ve hit the jackpot. If they don’t line up, you’ve successfully confused your customers and maybe even your own employees.

+ It makes you trustworthy. Good design requires intelligence, creativity and an above-average sense of the human experience, and people tend to trust people with those qualities - whether they realize it or not.

+ It boosts efficiency. When you automate processes and remove paths that lead away from the end goal, everything happens with less effort, less confusion and less waste. Good design also makes it easier for managers to understand the way their company works, which helps them have a greater understanding of company as a whole.

+ It makes your employees feel better. Putting on the right outfit for work can make a huge difference in your confidence and capability. In the same way, working for a company that is designed well is great for employee morale. Employees hate working for a company that can’t recognize and fix its faults.

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Is Your Business Ready for Facebook’s Open Graph Search?


By Fausto Mendez

Facebook is in the process of launching a new search engine called Open Graph, which will modify your search results from Facebook or Bing by considering your social-media activity and interests. You will, of course, need to update your website and marketing strategy to stay ahead in the SEO and SMM game.

    As early as last year or further back, Google began considering your businesses’s social-media engagement and popularity when measuring its authority for keywords to help it deliver relevant content to search users. Google has only increased the relevance of social media since then, and now, Facebook is in the process of launching the Open Graph protocol. If you want your business’s web properties to pull search traffic from Facebook or Bing, you’ll need to perform a few preparatory measures as Open Graph takes off.

+ First, make sure you and your business are on Facebook. This is important because it shows Open Graph that you’re having conversations with your customer base, so it means your business is alive and relevant.

+ Post to your Facebook page on a regular basis - either weekly or daily. What’s important is to engage your fans. It helps Open Graph define and identify your business and its keywords. Make sure you post any relevant content to your Facebook page, or Open Graph may not even know it exists. Furthermore, Facebook pages and posted content with the most “Likes”, comments and shares have much more authority and search relevance.

+ Implement Facebook markup (meta tags), which help Open Graph identify critical snippets of identifying information about your website, business and social-media properties. Double check your Open Graph markup with the Facebook Debugger to make sure your markup is working correctly. 

+ Add a “Like” button to your web pages, blog posts and any other content where it makes sense to have one. This helps Open Graph keep track of who “Likes” what, so it can modify search results according to social-media activity. Note: The old “Like” button is incompatible with this new version. If you installed the button before November 7th, 2012, it will not work with Open Graph.

    For more information on optimizing your website for the Open Graph Protocol, check out Facebook’s developer documentation and additional resources

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How to Make the Ultimate Cake Pops


You probably know that giving out food, especially sweets, is an easy way to boost potential clients’ focus on your sales pitch, but it also helps to provide exceptional delights in the meeting room for added emotional effect. After all, the more emotional a moment, the more memorable it is.

    We love this tutorial on baking and making the “ultimate” cake pops, courtesy of the Frugalette. I warn you: use this power wisely. Everyone that eats these pops may come back to you for more, so don’t give ‘em to anyone you don’t want to see again! 

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10 Ways to Improve Your Marketing Copy


By Fausto Mendez

    Throughout the last decade or so, copywriters have taken a backseat in the marketing industry. Unfortunately, that means poor marketing copy is more common than ever, but text and message are two critical components of any marketing campaign. Improve your marketing copy, and you’ll gain a significant advantage over competitors that forget the importance of the written word.

    During our early-morning reading spree, we stumbled upon an excellent piece, courtesy of Entrepreneur, that describes five ways to better marketing copy. We break down the basics below - followed by some of our own in-house tips.

+ Find better reading material. Expose yourself to exceptional writing, and, eventually, you’ll notice a significant improvement in your own.

+ Vary your sentence structure and vocabulary. Find new ways of saying the same thing. You might be surprised at what’s possible with the English language. 

+ Stop using static text in your marketing materials. Your newsletter/flyer/whatever shouldn’t feature the same opener every month.

+ Carry a pen and notebook everywhere you go. Some people, like myself, use it mainly for notes and brainstorming. Other professional writers actually write everything by hand before finalizing it in the digital world. Handwriting uses different parts of your brain, so you may develop new and interesting writing styles this way.

+ Try what you haven’t done before. The best way to learn anything is to get your hands dirty with it. 

    These are some excellent points, but don’t stop there. You can do a lot more to improve your marketing copy. We add our own in-house tips below.

+ Add a dictionary, thesaurus and grammar guide to your arsenal. Don’t be ashamed to look up word definitions, synonyms and antonyms. More importantly, double check your grammar if you’re not 110% sure about it, though in some cases, you may choose to intentionally break grammar rules. No one expects you to have every minute detail of the entire English language memorized, but incorrect grammar is embarrassing in most situations (see the above picture).

+ Test your marketing copy! This could mean a lot of things, including the use of market research and focus groups, but always test your copy on the medium on which it’ll be published. For example, if you’re writing copy for a billboard ad, put the text on a mock-up billboard to see what it’s like in action. Similarly, if you’re writing for the homepage of an e-commerce site, upload the text onto a dummy version of the site before publishing. You might be surprised at how different it looks in a real-world setting.

+ Read Mark Twain’s work. Study his writing philosophies. As the inventor of the American novel, his writing style and story-telling techniques continue to be imitated to this day! Even if you never write a novel, understanding why his work is so massively beloved is important. 

+ More is less. Writing a big message with many words is easy. Writing a big message with few words is much harder. In the world of marketing, if your message is made up of less words, it’s more likely to be consumed and understood. This is actually one of Mark Twain’s fundamental principles on good writing.

Never stop writing. Develop habits that keep your hands busy with a keyboard or pen. Practice makes perfect. 

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