Monday, September 29, 2014

Return to Sender 10 Months Later?

By Rose Strong

Have you ever wished you could follow a letter from the time you sent it to the time it arrives in the mailbox of your intended recipient? It might be an interesting journey.

As a communications firm, Furia Rubel is ready quite early with our holiday cards and video greetings. We plan for them to go out in the mail about three weeks before the actual holiday.

Last year, our greetings were sent out on or about Dec. 9 from the Philadelphia postal hub. As happens with any mass mailing, some addressees are no longer at the address we have on file. We typically receive these cards back, investigate for the updated address, and resend. This process usually takes 10 to 14 days.

However, we recently received one of our 2013 holiday cards back, marked Return to Sender / Unable to Forward / Not Deliverable As Addressed - more than 250 days after it had been mailed.

Please indulge me as I give a quick and brief history lesson about the United States Postal Service. The organization began as the United States Post Office, a governmental agency first suggested by publisher William Goddard in 1774 as a way to get information out to citizens without the prying eyes of the British postal inspectors. The USPS began moving the mail on July 26, 1775, as approved by the Second Continental Congress. Benjamin Franklin was appointed its first postmaster general.

Upon the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, the U.S. Postal Service functioned as a regular, tax-supported, agency of the federal government. Still an agency of the federal government today, in 1982 U.S. postage stamps became “postal products,” and the USPS now is funded solely by sales of stamps, shipping and other services.

As of this writing, there are more than 30,000 post offices, stations and branches throughout the United States to handle domestic mail. If you take a gander at the USPS website’s ‘About’ page, you can see the numbers regarding mail volume, the people involved, fleet of vehicles and the department’s yearly budget.  Here are just a few of the numbers, based on 2013 data, that I found interesting:
  • 152.9 million — total number of delivery points nationwide
  • 158.4 billion — number of mail pieces processed
  • 211,654 — number of vehicles — one of the largest civilian fleets in the world
  • 1.2 billion — number of miles driven each year by mail carriers and truck drivers
  • 38.8 million — number of address changes processed
  • If it were a private sector company, the U.S. Postal Service would rank 45th in the 2013 Fortune 500.
  • In the 2013 Global Fortune 500 list, the U.S. Postal Service ranked 140th.
From those fine facts, it can be concluded that the United States Postal Service is a colossal organization. So, one long lost letter in that sphere of people and mechanical processes shouldn’t be surprising.

I took our returned card to my local post office and asked the postmistress why it could have taken so long to come back to our office. She made a copy and said she’d pass it along to her regional office and see if they had an answer.

Checking in a few days later, the postmistress told me that there was no conclusive answer.

“It could have fallen off the belt in the sorting facility and gotten stuck, and someone found it when the machine jammed or they cleaned and just sent it along on its way,” she said.

Sometimes one doesn’t get answers to the mysteries they question. I guess that’s all there really is to Return to Sender - unless you’re an Elvis fan.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Inbox is Exploding

By Kim Tarasiewicz

My email is bursting at the seams, and chances are you feel the same way. Whether to their business or personal email address, most people get advertising emails that may no longer be pertinent. At some point, I opted into many of these emails, but as work, clients and life changes, so do your interests and promotional needs.

For example, when my sons were young, they loved to play with K'NEX so I was on the email list for alerts when sales came along. My boys are grown now, so I no longer need toy alerts. But I have to admit, it took me a while to opt out of the emails; it was easier to delete them each month than spend time opting out.

If K'NEX was paying per person on the list, I was wasting their money by remaining on their mailing list. However, as a marketer, I would have suggested that they clean their list of customers like me who had not placed an order for years. Sure, my presence was keeping their mailing list numbers high, but that wasn’t providing them with an accurate snapshot of their target audience.

As a consumer, I suggest:
  • Check the privacy policy before you submit your email address to any website. Most websites do not sell your email to others, but some will share your information with affiliates. You might decide not to submit your email address to websites that won't protect it.
  • When submitting your email address, look for pre-checked boxes that sign you up for email updates from the company and its partners. Some websites allow you to opt out of receiving these mass emails or at least let you chose which ones you prefer to hear from. There is also a division of the Direct Marketing Association where you can direct what type of mail you would like to receive called
  • Set your email software to automatically filter your emails into folders. Google’s Gmail does this for you and other systems have options in their settings that allow you to sort your emails automatically. This allows you to read them at your leisure, view how many you get from certain companies, and then determine if you’d like to opt out.
As a marketer, I would suggest to clients:
  • According to the CAN-SPAM Act, you must provide an opt-out mechanism and it must be available for 30 days after your email is sent. If someone on your mailing list sends a message asking to opt out, you must comply within 10 days. This means every time you send a mailing, you should be running your lists against opt-outs.
  • Keep your lists clean. This may mean keeping up with bounces and unsubscribers or proofing the names as you enter them into your master list. Also, you may want to send an email once during the year asking if your customers still wish to be included. Many companies that you can use to send your emails will charge per name on your mailing list; keeping clean lists saves money.
  • The Direct Mail Association is a great resource for anyone sending email or snail mail correspondence and they advocate for improving consumer confidence in email. They hold a list called “Do Not Mail” for anyone that may want to opt out of all commercial emails. While it is not a rule, it is a good idea to run your mailing lists against these to prevent potentially offending future clients.
Companies would like to believe that every person on their mailing list reads everything sent out to them, but is that really feasible? Why not focus on your true clients and customers, keep your costs down, and bring in the quality business leads you are really looking for?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Diary of a Bull$hit Explainer

By Gina F. Rubel

How often do you have to explain something to a client, family member, colleague or friend that you know is bullshit? Please forgive the language, but there really is no other term for it. It is what it is, as they say!

Today, I actually thought to add “bullshit explainer” to my bio. It disgusts me that there are so many marketing scams and schemes out there, run by people and companies who are just trolling for victims. In fact, has dedicated a whole section of its website to Marketing 101 urban legends.

As a result, I’ve decided to keep a diary this week of bullshit that we come across regularly, that otherwise would victimize the unsuspecting.

Those “fake” Yellow Page listings: Every few months, we receive a letter in the mail that says it’s time to renew our Yellow Page listings. If you get one of these, be suspicious.

The big dogs in Yellow Page advertising, both print and online, have thousands of well-trained sales representatives who call on their clients annually for renewal. Sales reps often are compensated based on new or increased sales and renewals, so they don’t simply rely on snail mail. If you get one of those letters, question it. Don’t just put it in your bookkeeper’s “to pay” file. That is exactly what bullshit companies are hoping you’ll do.

Google’s latest unsolicited analytics, “Your personalized Analytics report”: This week, we received an unsolicited email from “Google” which provided us with analytics for our blog, The analytics were so nebulous that we couldn’t help but deduct that they are being distributed simply to increase ad word sales.

There is no time frame for the analytics. They use terms like “bounce rate” in bold as a scare tactic. In fact, when you read the fine print, “bounce rate” means “how many people leave your site without visiting any other pages on your site.” For a blog, that’s not necessarily bad. If you are driving traffic to a particular story that interests the reader and they read it and move on, you have accomplished your goal.

Here, bounce rate is not synonymous with the “bounce rate” of electronic newsletters. Couldn’t they come up with a better descriptive phrase? They came up with the name “Google,” didn’t they?

Bogus online listing about to expire: Almost weekly, our clients get emails stating that their “listing is about to expire.” When you investigate further, there was never any listing to begin with.

The most recent notice received by one of our clients was from a low-quality website where our client had not been listed in the first place. Scamming companies such as these hope that people, such as our clients, will click on those listings which will, in turn, boost the flow of internet traffic to their website. If the visitor then creates an actual listing for her company on that website, the scammer has benefitted in two ways.

Feel free to add your bullshit marketing stories here, too. I’m sure there’s more where these came from.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Facebook is Changing Everything AGAIN - And You’ll Never Believe How

By Sarah Larson

See what I did there? I crafted a clicky headline that (hopefully) piqued your interest enough to get you to click on the link and open this post.

It’s called “click-bait” and it has spammed all corners of the online universe, but Facebook – arguably the birthplace of click-bait – is taking a stand.

The behemoth social network announced recently that it is changing the way its News Feed works. “We’re making two updates, the first to reduce click-baiting headlines, and the second to help people see links shared on Facebook in the best format,” Facebook said in its announcement.

Even if you don’t know what the term click-bait means, if you’ve spent any time online in the past two years, you instinctively know what it is. Click-bait is a post carefully designed to appeal to human curiosity in order to get you to click on the link. Think Buzzfeed, Business Insider, or pretty much anything posted from Upworthy.

Link-clicking is oxygen for online companies. It helps them build their audience, an audience against which they can sell advertising. It is how they survive.

After spending three years in the ultra-competitive, lightning-paced world of online news, I can tell you two things. No. 1, click-bait is annoying. Everyone claims that they hate it. But, much like negative political advertising, it continues to flourish because (point No. 2):

It works.

It works because we really want to know what that kitten did, and how many Basset Hounds fit into the “clown car” of the doggie house.

And when the content itself reinforces our own world view – “Take a look at these kids and parents and then tell me why the hell we’re sending them back ‘home’”; “People say this world is going to hell in a handbasket, but they’re wrong. Here’s why.” – well, then, that is Internet gold.

Racking up huge numbers of eyeballs on digital content does not just happen. The algorithms that control the content delivered to a Facebook news feed or a Google search results page have enormous power to shape who sees what and when. Changes to those algorithms can blow up a site’s traffic or slash it to zero overnight. This piece from The Atlantic offers an interesting look at the history of the rise of click-bait headlines and how it was driven by the ongoing battle for supremacy between Facebook and Twitter.

Crafting headlines is not easy. There is a reason why, in most traditional news organizations, reporters did not write headlines. Copy editors did, and it takes an extremely under-appreciated talent to write good ones.

Crafting great online headlines is even harder (and many of the best practices for newspaper headlines do not work online). It is a fine line to walk, this idea of giving a reader enough information to decide whether to click, without giving it all away and negating the need to click at all.

As to the specific changes Facebook is implementing, you can take steps to ensure that your content still has good chances of being seen on the world’s most important social network.

First, make sure that if your headline promises glory, the post itself can back it up. Facebook's new algorithm will take into account how long people stay on a post after they've clicked on it. A quick return back to the Facebook feed will be seen as an indication of shallow content.

Second, Facebook makes it pretty clear that the actual way people share links matters. Follow Facebook’s advice and post a link as a link, not in the caption of a photo:
“We’ve found that people often prefer to click on links that are displayed in the link format (which appears when you paste a link while drafting a post), rather than links that are buried in photo captions. The link format shows some additional information associated with the link, such as the beginning of the article, which makes it easier for someone to decide if they want to click through. This format also makes it easier for someone to click through on mobile devices, which have a smaller screen.”
Both those best practices go back to the core truth of content marketing: poor content won’t market anything effectively, no matter how you got the reader to look at it. Focus your efforts on capturing the full attention of your future customer, not on tricking them into clicking.

Bait, after all, is for traps.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Hackers Abound – 6 Tips to Protect Your Business

By Rose Strong

Computer hacking, data breaches, information leaks, security breaches, hacktivism, cyber espionage. Whatever you may call them, cyber attack attempts are targeting businesses and entities around the globe, with cyber crimes the No. 1 kind of attack, as these statistics by Paolo Passeri for show.

In one of the latest incidents, hackers broke into the network of Community Health Systems and stole more than 4.5 million records. The attack, which originated in China, affected 206 hospitals in 29 states, giving hackers access to patients’ names, birth dates and social security numbers, the exact information they would need to commit identity fraud and wreak havoc on people’s lives.

You’d hope your local hospital would consult with a cyber-security company long before something were to happen to its highly sensitive data. However, the local UPS Store where you ship packages and make copies seems to be in just as much danger of a security break that would allow customers names, addresses, email addresses and payment card information to fall into the wrong hands.

Several years ago, I had a small online antiques and collectibles business. I was using PayPal for customers to pay me safely. PayPal sent an email asking me to update information about my account. There was a link to their website in the email. I logged in, followed the steps by filling in some info and that was it. I went about my business, never thinking twice about it. Then, just days before Christmas, my debit/credit card, which was tied to my personal checking account, was hacked. 

I’m fortunate to have a small-town bank with big-city technology and protection. Visa noticed unusual activity on the card, stopped the transactions, and notified my bank, which reimbursed my account. This past January, the bank again noticed unusual activity on my account, stopped the transactions, and reimbursed my account. Would you be so lucky in a cyber attack on your business?

Here are some tips to keep hackers out of your business:

•    Assess your company’s risk – Identifying the risk of potential attack and knowing who should have access to certain information is the start of a best practices program for your organization’s IT security., part of the National Cyber Security Alliance, shares suggestions to conduct a cyber risk assessment.

•    Reconsider your passwords – Using your dog’s name or 123LookAtMe? Cute and “clever” passwords are easy to break through, so making them longer and more randomized can help keep hackers at bay. This article by Caroline McMillan Portillo for is spot on for protecting your information systems.

•    Think encryption – For a small business, the impact from a cyber crime can shut the doors. Large companies like Target or other big box stores may be able to survive, but when data is breached at a small company, customers lose trust and go elsewhere. This article by John Patrick Pullen for discusses how encrypting your data will help keep it safe.

•    Don’t carry out business on a public network – Don’t use the local library’s Wi-Fi or coffeeshop hotspot when dealing with sensitive information such as bank accounts. Regardless of whether you’re using a public computer, your own laptop or even a smartphone, it’s still risky. This Huffington Post article by Jason Alderman, vice president of Visa, gives some clever tips on how to protect yourself out in the open if you must do business there.

•    Know where to find answers – Take some time and do research. We are all busy, but this is time well-spent for a small business without access to an IT specialist. If you can afford an IT company on a retainer basis, they should be up-to-date on the latest security issues and hoaxes and have the ability to fix something for you. If they don’t or can’t, find someone who can. If you are unable to afford that type of service, take time to do some reading on reputable websites. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team has information for all size companies as well as individuals. It’s a good place to start.

•    Be aware – The ways of cyber criminals are numerous and varied and becoming even more intricate. That PayPal site I mentioned earlier was an exact replica of the real thing. Nothing would have tipped me off that it wasn’t the real PayPal site. Today, the company sends out emails warning of fraud and scams to its users. And so does my bank, for that matter. Does yours?

Have you or your company ever been involved in a security breach? How did you handle it? What did you learn from it? We’d like to hear your experiences.