Has COVID killed the culture cult…

As anyone working in a medium to large organisation will be aware, culture has taken on a cult-like reverence since organisations switched from people managing people, to ‘people managing software to manage people.’

No longer do managers walk the floor to understand their staff and the office environment/mood. Instead, they let their fingers do the walking on keyboards linked to culture software. And culture software has become big business. Just search ‘culture software’ and at least seven advertisements appear on the first page of results.

There are even culture software conferences which, according to a mate who attended one in San Francisco, are large gatherings akin to a cross between an Anthony Robbins event and a Pentecostal service.

But first a little history – in prehistoric days before the internet, I worked with TNT. We were planning some professional development and team building programmes to improve the workplace culture. We did some informal research of staff. Curiously the results were split down the middle. Either the staff were all for being involved, or completely against it. Spoiler alert: Not every employee wants to play a part in the company culture.

One group of administrative staff – all aged over 40 – had no interest in professional development. They worked 9-to-5 and banked their salary to fund a family holiday, or new fridge, or help pay the mortgage. Their reason for working was simply a means to an end. Their family needed money to live and their job provided it. As one clerk said “I wouldn’t have anyone I work with in my home for dinner, so why would I want to have a group hug at some motivational session?”

Free food at work isn’t new

They were very shrewd too. The company provided free lunch for all staff. Yes, it’s true folks. Free food at work wasn’t invented by the internet age – it’s just another digital fallacy. Each morning we’d place our order at the cafe downstairs and at lunchtime a cafe employee brought huge trays of lunch orders to reception. Each order was labeled with the employee’s name.

But the administration clerks didn’t order a sandwich or salad. No, they each ordered a whole BBQ chook and roasted vegetables, then took them home for dinner. They brought in their own lunch each day and fed their families on the free food provided by the company. Consequently, a cap was put on the value of lunch orders.

That’s what I call a cultural insight!

But let’s return to present-day. Lots of research is currently being conducted about work from home and the intention of workers to return to the office. It even has its own TLA: WFH. Apparently research by Deloitte suggested 90% of its staff don’t want to return to full-time work at the office and want to work from home more often than not. This week Deloitte announced “staff can decide where and when they work.

So how will culture-cultists manage culture in a world of remote working? Particularly given so many employees prefer a non-invasive culture that let’s them work on their terms from home? Could the future of culture be low-touch? How will the software measure this new culture?

Will this new way of working mean, that when given the opportunity, more employees prefer less company culture in their work life than pre-COVID?

Regardless, the culture software is like so many other computerised tools – garbage in equals garbage out. And so it is with culture measurement. I’ve worked with a digital agency of less than 30 staff. The management use culture software to monitor the happiness level of the team. All staff work in one large warehouse space, each within touching distance of the people either side of them. You could throw a tarpaulin over the lot.

Over drinks one night, some of the staff shared with me how much they play the system by turning the happiness dial up or down, just to screw with the heads of management. One account manager said, if they can’t be bothered reading the room by talking to us, then we’ll have fun fiddling with their heads via the software.

During lockdown I was discussing covid-culture with my bank manager. He’s with one of the big four banks. He explained his bonus is linked to the happiness dial on the culture software. The stronger the happiness level between senior and middle management, the bigger the bonus pool.

So dear reader, guess what all the staff have done? The middle and senior managers have agreed to scam the software to maximise the bonus pool for all concerned. Nothing they enter into the software is correct. Everything is designed to maximise their salary, not provide feedback on the culture. The Minister for Culture at the bank must think she is doing a fabulous job, given the software’s happiness ratings. Maybe the Minister is part of the bonus pool too?

I’m from the culture is caught, not taught school. Culture is a living, briefing thing that continually evolves as new people join and others depart an organisation. You provide staff with the right leadership, responsibilities, boundaries and feedback mechanisms and let the culture happen. And as Peter Drucker is alleged to have said “culture kills strategy for breakfast“. Great workplace cultures make an enormous difference to the wellbeing of staff as well as to productivity, loyalty and general organisational performance.

But this doesn’t mean you hire people to fit a specific culture criteria. Cloning employees to suit a culture creates inbreeding problems. You may as well get the banjos out and roll the Deliverance tape. Diversity is the key to a healthy culture.

Maybe it’s the rise in weird job titles for Human Resources Managers that has caused the culture cult? The fancier the title, the more the HR Managers need to use culture software to appear as flash as the title? Here are just a few I’ve found:

  • Culture Operations Manager
  • Champion of Office Happiness
  • Chief Happiness Officer 
  • Chief Heart Officer 
  • Chief People Pleaser 
  • Culture & Geek Resource Manager
  • Director of Attracting Talent
  • Employee Experience Designer
  • People Champion
  • Senior VP of People Operations 
  • Vibe Manager & Head of all things Awesome
  • Chief People Officer
  • Chief Talent Officer

Change is inevitable, but not always an improvement. I’m curious to see how COVID will change company culture and how culture software will evolve, given the way it is currently being scammed. And of course there is the problem of how companies deal with public liability insurance for staff working from home. Who covers a ‘workplace injury’ when the injury occurs while on-the-job walking down the front steps?

Although of more immediate concern, is the quality of future leaders who don’t know how to manage people, because they’ve only ever managed software to manage people. Frightening really.

Gotta go – some marketing automation software is asking me to rate my satisfaction level of how a parcel was handed to me by a delivery driver. Can you imagine that workplace culture?

Social selling has become the new spam…

Marketers are a strange lot. They actively ignore the lessons of history rather than learn from them. And then repeat the same mistakes, over and over. So-called digital marketers are exemplary performers of this behaviour.

Around 35 years ago, as a result of marketers flooding residential letterboxes with too much irrelevant mail, the “Do Not Mail” register was created. It allowed consumers to opt-out of mailing lists so they wouldn’t be sent unwanted marketing messages.

Then around 30 years ago, as a result of marketers abusing the privilege of calling people on their home landlines, the “Do Not Call” register was created. It allowed consumers to opt-out of telephone lists so they wouldn’t get unwanted calls from telemarketers.

At the turn of the century, and in record time from the commencement of a new marketing channel, the “Spam Act” was legislated to stop marketers sending unsolicited emails. It only took marketers a few years to fully abuse email, forcing laws to be introduced globally to stop them.

So now it is illegal to send unsolicited commercial marketing messages to consumers and workers via their email address, unless they opt-in to a list or database. Though some dodgy operators are still scraping email addresses from websites and trying their luck.

But we never learn do we?

Because, rather than do the right thing, marketers are now getting around the Spam Act.

It’s hidden behind the fancy buzzwords of “Social Selling” and here’s how it works. Ironically it’s completely anti-social selling, but who cares about the details?

Step 1 – Somehow get convinced by an alleged social selling expert to ignore what has always worked, as the future of B2B marketing is social selling on LinkedIn.

Step 2 – Use LinkedIn’s automation tools to solicit massive numbers of (often irrelevant) connections.

Step 3 – Once an executive accepts a connection, go to town spamming them with unsolicited automated messages – most of which you’d never email or mail to said executive. The assumption being that because of the ‘connection’, the social seller has carte blanche to send as much spam as they like without repercussions.

Step 4 – Increase your illegal spam. Some social sellers also double-up and replicate their unsolicited LinkedIn messages via unsolicited email, in case the new connection missed their messages on LinkedIn. This is entirely illegal and in breach of the Spam Act. They’ve simply scraped your email address from your LinkedIn profile, wrongly assuming they have permission to do so.

Maybe LinkedIn should create a “STOP SOCIAL SELLING” digital badge to put on your profile? Though I doubt it – they’d lose too much money.

I’m unsure what qualifies as the worst part of social selling spam:

  • Firstly, there’s the one-size-fits-all automated solicitations.
  • Then there is the one-size-fits-all follow-up message to get an appointment, despite knowing nothing about the prospect. For example, I have a brand called The Content Brewery – I regularly get proposals from salespeople selling beer and coffee equipment, because the stupid social selling algorithm is using keywords to target prospects. After all, why should a salesperson use their brain to think, when they can use an algorithm instead?
  • Then there are the “definitive guides” – that are only definitive for the product or service the salesperson is flogging.
  • And of course, the fake thought-leadership articles, most likely created by outsourcing to Fivver.com.

There are legitimate consultants in the social selling space

They practice what good B2B salespeople have done since the 1950’s when Account Based Marketing (ABM) was invented – there’s nothing new in B2B marketing. They manage a database of prospects and a database of customers, using appropriate contact strategies for each. (more here) They communicate with relevance and respect. LinkedIn is just another way to add contacts to your database and do what has always been done in lead and sales generation. To think otherwise is simply naive.

But I often get the feeling that many of the alleged social selling experts have never sold anything in their life except: How to get rich by selling the secrets of how to get rich with social selling.

It’s why so much social selling has become the new spam

Driven by marketing automation, and devoid of any copywriting skills, salespeople blindly pump out vacuous messages in a numbers game, while ticking off their KPIs for ‘total contacts made‘.

If you’re in B2B marketing, you need to tread carefully using digital-first tactics. Direct mail with QR codes linked to landing pages is still the most powerful lead generation channel, apart from face-to-face. And as social selling zealots have ignored direct mail, the opportunities using mail are enormous.

It’s easy to test the success (or otherwise) of social selling spam

Simply reply to one of the automated solicitations and say you’re not a prospect. One of two things will happen. Either nothing, because the reply isn’t monitored, or you’ll get a thank-you response from a shocked salesperson. They are stunned that a human replied.

Apparently very few executives respond to social selling spam – I wonder why?

If you have similar experiences, please share them with me.

But I have to go now, I just got a LinkedIn invitation: “I’m glad we have a platform where we can connect with like-minded business people. Would love the opportunity to connect and share insights with you if you’re open to it?

Everyone can type, but not everyone can write…


, , ,

As any experienced marketer knows, one of the casualties of the digital marketing industry has been the quality of marketing communication. The majority of digital marketing messages don’t communicate at all, let alone persuade.

The reason is simple – the marketing messages are written by typists, not copywriters.

I’ve written about this problem before. It also afflicts photography – but that’s another story.

Today I was again reminded of this sad reality. This time in an email from Facebook – more frequently known as Facecrook.

The From Line said the email was from ‘Lara F. from Facebook‘. Any person writing to you who doesn’t reveal their surname, instantly creates a red flag. Are they a human or a bot? Is this phishing or sp*m? Can they be trusted?

The first sentence said: “I wanted to reach out because I noticed you haven’t yet had a chance to take advantage of your free consultation with our team of Facebook Marketing Experts.

Firstly, only creeps and assailants ‘reach out’ – there is a rule for using the term ‘reach out’ in business:

The sentence is moronic in its meaning. I have had a chance to take advantage of the free (best written FREE) consultation – but I just haven’t bothered to take a chance. I don’t want a consultation – let alone from a ‘team’ of alleged Facebook Marketing Experts – all with initial capitals in their job title.

Lara F. then continues: “We’ll be available to connect during business hours, Monday through Friday.” Again, what does “available to connect” mean? Talk on the phone? Have a video conference call? Chat on Messenger? Swap messages using homing pigeons?

Let’s connect…

And thank you for wanting to do business during business hours – very generous. Why would I want to do business with Lara F. after hours?

She continued: “We know you’re new to Facebook Ads, and that’s okay. You don’t need to prepare anything before the call because we’ll start by:”

Wrong! Thanks for playing.

I’ve been doing Facebook ads since Facebook ads were available. Why make such a false claim? And why is it OK that ‘they’ know I am supposedly new to Facebook ads? Poor Lara F. doesn’t even understand the subject of the sentence she wrote.

Here is what followed “…because we’ll start by:”

  • Learning about your business and typical customers.
  • Understanding your goals and how best to help you.
  • Providing resources tailored to help you grow your business.

If you are “reaching out” to me about my business, wouldn’t you do some homework first? Rule 101 of B2B marketing – understand your customer. If Lara F. doesn’t know about my business and typical customers, why the hell does she assume Facebook is a channel worth using?

And why would I share my company goals with a strange team I’ve never met, or a person without a surname?

The email was only three sentences – but had way more than three fundamental errors. The first sentence started with “I”. The second with “We’ll” and the third with “We”. Not one sentence started with the word ‘you’ or ‘your’ or ‘you’re’. In the three sentences there were six uses of “I”, “we” and “our” – completely abusing “The You Rule” of copywriting. (See Below)

The subject of the message was mainly Facebook, not me the recipient of the message, whose business Lara F. is chasing.

There are two major problems with this email:

  1. It was not written by a copywriter, it was written by a typist with a poor grasp of writing
  2. It relies on marketing automation, which suggests minimal human involvement, hence so many errors or ability for me to respond

I did try to reply to Lara F. but the message didn’t really come from her. It came via a marketing automation system with the address donotreply@facebookmail.com – another giveaway of the low trust and quality of the message and sender.

I’m sure if Lara F. needed surgery, she’d want an experienced surgeon with the requisite skills for the job. She wouldn’t want someone who claims they are a surgeon just because they’ve hung around a casualty ward. So why do digital marketers like Facebook’s Marketing Experts use inexperienced typists to do the valuable (and money-making) task of copywriting, just because the typists hang around digital marketing offices?

So I am pleading with digital marketers. Please use copywriters and save us from wasting our time digesting your word vomit – or leave the industry now. Both outcomes will make the industry healthier. Go on, do it for the good of the industry.

You might find this worth reading too:

The You Rule

The most powerful word in business writing is ‘You’. Far too much business writing is about the writer, the writer’s organisation and the product, service or point of view the writer is trying to sell. Far too little is about the reader, out of whose pocket flows the money that keeps us all employed. Or not, as the case may be.

Make your business writing about the reader. This is especially true if the reader is already a customer. When this is the case, the first two words out of your computer – in almost any form of business writing – should be “Thank you”.

This does two things, both beneficial to your cause:

1. It grants the power in the relationship to the reader. The reader is the patron; you are the supplicant or servant.

2. It reminds the reader that he has a relationship with you or your organisation. It identifies you as someone with whom he has done business in the past, and therefore with whom he may want to do business again.

Here’s a summary of the You Rule:

  1. Write about the reader, not the firm or its products.
  2. When you use the word ‘YOU’, always make it singular.
  3. If you’re writing to customers, open with ‘Thank You’.

And always use you, your, yours, you’ll, you’re way more often than I, we, we’ve, we’ll, us, our, ours, my or mine, throughout your message.

It’s time to truthfully rename BIG DATA to what it is: “just lots more data – mostly useless”…


, , ,

Or maybe; “I know 90% of the data I capture is useless, I just don’t know which 90%”

On January 28, this year, Tim Cook, CEO, Apple delivered a presentation at a Data Privacy Day event.

Here is some of his most insightful words about the use of data:

Technology does not need vast troves of personal data stitched together across dozens of websites and apps in order to succeed. Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it. And we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.

At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement, the longer the better. And all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.

If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.

As I’ve been saying for more than a decade, “Most companies aren’t correctly managing their small data, let alone getting BIG DATA right.” And it’s costing them dearly. Small data such as a customer’s name, address, phone number, email address or previous purchase are regularly incorrect, or not even stored. Marketers appear to be focusing on the least valuable data.

For all the investment in BIG DATA this century (and marketing automation software that functions from that data) there has been almost no significant change in marketing results or performance of campaigns. The majority of sales in every category occur without any help from big data.

Ask any senior marketing executive “how has the investment in bigger data helped their sales?” If they’re like those I talk with, they’ll say “I have no idea” or “it hasn’t“. But hey, they do know how many people bounced off page three of their website and who liked a Tweet.

The 90/10 Rule applies to data
90% of the value from using data comes from 10% of the data. Yet most marketers are playing at the margins where the incremental value of lots more data doesn’t cover the cost of investing in gathering it.

I declare my hand here – I am a firm believer in the power of relevant data. I also understand the delusion of productivity created by capturing lots of data for no other reason than it can be done. In 1988 I opened Australia’s first data consultancy and database management service while running Ogilvy & Mather Direct – called Ogilvy DataConsult. Three years later I opened my own data marketing service as part of my agency – MAD. And have worked with data ever since, even publishing a magazine called Database Marketing.

It may come as a surprise to some, but marketing data wasn’t invented yesterday – there is just lots more data now, most of it useless.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should
Just because we can track every digital contact doesn’t mean we should. It’s the equivalent of recording the fact a shopper walks into a grocer, looks at the bananas, walks towards them, maybe even picks up a hand, then puts them down before deciding not to buy – possibly because they remembered they had some in the fruit bowl at home? What is the value in tracking this action? So why do we chase non-qualified consumers around the web with irrelevant messages just because they visited our website?

Stop trying to sell me breast pumps
This happened to a friend of mine who was in her early sixties at the time, as well as me when I tested her experience. After searching for baby gifts online, the insanely stupid marketers started following us around the internet trying to flog us breast pumps. Each time we visited a site, up popped breast pump advertisements.

Even worse are the B2B marketers – particularly those flogging marketing automation software – who follow you around after you’ve visited their site. When browsing a website for personal relaxation, that has nothing to do with business, I get ads asking me to trial their marketing automation software. Or they promote an offer to download a “definitive guide” which at best is nowhere near definitive, rather it’s a sales pitch for the software the marketer is flogging. Here is why most definitive guides aren’t – definitive that is. All this does is damage their credibility.

How ignoring small data resulted in abuse of senior citizens
My 80-year old neighbour shared his story with me last month, he was shaking as he told it. His bank mailed him a letter telling him the email address on his account was incorrect and he needed to fix it. Obviously this was a data-driven message as no human in their right mind would have sent the letter. He logged into his account and checked his email – it was correct. It’s the only email address he has ever owned.

He then received another letter threatening to charge him fees if he didn’t fix the email address. So he rang the bank. They told him he had to go to his branch – which has been closed – so they gave him a new branch to attend. When he arrived he didn’t have the 100 points needed to prove his identity, despite having his bank cards. He had to drive home and then drive back to the bank.

Upon returning, the clerk checked the account and realised the email address was being used in my neighbour’s joint account with his wife. So the clerk demanded to speak to my neighbour’s wife. He told her she was in a dementia hospital. The clerk asked to speak to her there. My neighbour explained it was impossible, as she cannot converse and he was her legal guardian. The clerk then demanded proof.

So my neighbour had to go home and contact his lawyer to get legal documentation to prove his status as legal guardian of his wife who is living in a dementia hospital, because the bank’s data-driven systems believed his email address was incorrect. He ended up driving to the bank branch three times to accommodate their requests.

The clerk finally admitted that the email address was correct and the whole saga was a complete data-driven waste of time. You can imagine how my 80-year old neighbour felt? This bank makes $Billions in profit every year and spends $Millions on BIG DATA capture.

My (even older) father is a lifetime customer of one of the other ‘Big 4 Banks’ in Australia. He used a travel card in 2004 and cancelled it in 2005 after using all the funds. Every year since, he gets a data-driven bank statement telling him he has no funds on his travel card. He has spoken to the bank more than a dozen times and rung them more times than he cares to remember to advise them he no longer has the travel card account. They finally admitted they have no idea where his account is in the database, nor do they have any idea how to stop the statements being issued. This bank also makes $Billions in profit every year and spends $Millions on BIG DATA capture.

My father is also a customer of the largest telco in Australia. He was asked to provide an emergency email address in his account in case of, well, an emergency. With my permission he used my email address. Immediately I started to get his monthly statements emailed to me, while he didn’t get any statements. Over a period of six months he wrote numerous letters and emails to the telco requesting the mistake be corrected, and also rang the offshore customer support a few times. I forwarded the email to some customer service address to try to sort it out, but just got a useless auto-reply. Hours of my father’s and my time were wasted because the telco’s data-driven systems.

And not only that, the statements incorrectly spelt my name. I’ve given up asking the telco to fix it. The data-driven system automatically combines my first and middle names into a single word. Go figure?


Rather than waste money on gathering terabytes of useless data just because you can, and then relying on computer software to do your customer service, my advice is to invest your marketing funds in human beings who can talk personally to your customers. They’ll have far more success than any automated data-driven programs and ensure the relevant small data is correct. You’ll make more money and have happier customers. You’ll also inject more money into the economy by employing humans.

Only then, once your small data is correct, should you consider an investment in BIG DATA. And then, only if there is proof the marginal returns are worth the financial investment and effort – not to mention improve, not reduce, your customer service and bottom line.

Gotta go now – I have my monthly three-step data verification to complete, so I can get permission to access my own email account. Where is my passport for proof of identity…

How manufacturers use QR codes to steal sales from retailers who sell their brands…

In my first book on email marketing published in 1998, titled “They laughed when I sat down at the keyboard, but when I began to email…” I made a couple of predictions.

One was that manufacturers would use their packaging to direct customers to the manufacturer’s website to build a database of customer data. These manufacturers would then use email to take their websites directly to the customers and use embedded e-commerce to sell directly to them. The second prediction was that the manufacturers would redirect their advertising funds from mass media to email marketing and database management.

Unfortunately, the technology we were pioneering – streaming video emails with embedded e-commerce links – became vulnerable as vehicles for introducing viruses, and only lasted a short time before being eliminated forever. But manufacturers have developed databases and now use email to sell directly to consumers. Wisely though, they continue to use mass media to build and maintain brand value.

This leads me to the recent rise in ubiquity of QR Codes that I wrote about in my previous article. It seems my last-century prediction has come true but with a sinister twist – at least in the cosmetics category. I’ve yet to research other categories and welcome any examples you may have dear reader.

Here is how manufacturers are using QR codes to steal customers from a retailer distributing their product, and push the sale to a competitor or to the manufacturer’s own online store.

This case in point is a highly successful Australian retail pharmacy that stocks brands such as Revlon, L’Oreal and nudebynature, yet is having sales stolen directly at Point Of Sale.

The brands have introduced QR codes at the counter to promote virtual mirrors or look-books so retail customers can inspect the products in use, or learn more. But here’s what’s really happening:

Here is Revlon’s QR Code to try the virtual mirror:

Scan the QR code to download the virtual mirror

Here is the landing page:

And here is where you can link to from the landing page – directly to an offer from a competitor:

Her is the L’Oreal QR Code at Point Of Sale:

It links to a tool to trial the lipstick shades. Here is the landing page:

Here is the page after the ‘Tap & Try” link disappears:

And here is where the ‘Buy Online” link takes you – again directly to a competitor:

This is obviously good business if you’re Chemist Warehouse, but not if you’re the incumbent pharmacy paying to stock and promote the cosmetics in your retail store.

Here is the nudebynature QR code:

This opens a look-book:

Click on the logo and you link to the nudebynature website:

Clicking on the “Shop Sale” button links to the e-commerce page where the customer can buy direct at a special sale price:

I have no idea if this is planned surreptitiously, but it certainly smells on the nose. Using QR codes to stealthily switch customers from the retail store in which they are standing, to buy online at a competitor, or directly from the manufacturer, does not pass the pub test.

It feels dishonest and certainly not in the spirit of a good partnership between manufacturer and retailer. If this continues I suspect retailers will simply refuse to allow QR codes at POS, unless the codes link to the website of the retailer in which the customer is physically shopping. This is a shame as QR codes can add value to the shopping experience.

If you have any thoughts or examples please share them. I’m curious to learn if this practice is widespread or just getting started.

I’m off to sort out another service hassle at the Telstra store and consider buying a new phone – I wonder if there are QR codes on their displays???

QR codes are dead, long live QR codes…


As you know dear reader, more often than not, the latest shiny widget hailed as the new-new-thing in the digital marketing world, dies a rapid death and is soon forgotten as the next new-new-thing takes its place. Google glasses being an example.

And so it was with QR codes. Relegated to the digital dustbin, they had a short life mainly due to the hassle of downloading an app for scanning the code. Not all apps scanned all codes. Some were proprietary to certain code types – for example those used by magazine publishers to link you to more of the story on a website.

Sometimes they just didn’t scan easily, and not all phones worked with the apps as the phones weren’t so smart back in the day – mid-90’s to early 2000’s. So inevitably, frustration and impatience eventually killed off the humble QR code.

Then along came a global pandemic. Who’d have thought hey?

Thanks to smart phones and contact tracing, QR codes are now ubiquitous in our lives. Every retail store, cinema, theatre, restaurant et al, requires the humble punter to scan the QR code upon entry. Right now we cannot live in society without QR codes, so it’s only natural marketers tap into this new habit.

Publishers, religious organisations, real estate agents, packaged goods manufacturers and more have jumped at the opportunity to use QR codes as a response device – or should that be ‘engagement device’ for those limited to marketing to digital channels.

Ironically, in a digital world, QR codes are helping to lead an already resurging interest in direct mail – the codes appear on the envelope, letters and brochures as the response device that takes you to customised landing pages. A seamless measurable link between the real and the virtual worlds.

The smartest B2Bmarketers know, direct mail is by far the best performing media channel to generate hot leads – always beats LinkedIn, email and online advertising hands-down. Until QR codes, the mailings linked to PURLs (Personalised URLS) – but you had to enter the PURL into your keyboard. But who wants to type when it’s much easier and faster to scan and link to the PURL on your phone?

Here is an example from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for an Easter mailing that arrived in my letterbox this week:

The QR code in the letter links to landing page…
The QR code in the brochure also links to the landing page

Here is the landing page:


Here is a real estate sign in my neighbourhood – though why you would restrict your marketing to just social media is beyond me:

Why limit your marketing to a single channel?

My local Mayor uses a QR in his letters to the constituents:

A modern mayor…

This is a mailing I did two years ago to promote an event on how to use direct mail. The QR code linked to a landing page to buy tickets.

Everywhere you look there is a QR code being used to encourage consumers to scan and link to a landing page, website, app or shopping cart. Or even to start a bit of virtual reality – though the VR experience is still a tad frustrating.

Just as the barcode changed retail as we know it, the QR code is here to stay and I suspect all brand advertising will start to include QR codes to encourage response.

However, there is also a seedier side to QR codes that I will reveal in the next article. I’ll share how some brands are using the codes to steal customers from their existing retailers. Retail is going to get nasty.

As they say in adland “Watch this space“…

I’m not a ballerina, so stop asking me to pivot…

This ridiculous email arrived in my inbox this morning from Dropbox – the highly successful digital equivalent of the storage sheds you rent to store your excess junk.

The sender is <no-reply@dropbox.com> – this is a cardinal sin when sending emails for marketing purposes. If you are communicating personally and directly to an individual, then you need to identify yourself and give the recipient an option to reply. It also creates distrust for the sender’s brand.

In email marketing the rule of thumb is simple: The “From Line” gets your email opened, while the “Subject Line” gets your email deleted.

Your recipients ask themselves “do I know the sender?” If they do they look to the Subject Line to see if the message is relevant and worth opening. If the Subject Line is relevant and persuasive, they will open the message. If they don’t know who is sending the message, or if the Subject Line is irrelevant, they delete without a second thought.

The Subject Line from <no-reply@dropbox.com> reads “are you ready to pivot?“. This message is wrong in so many ways.

Firstly, a headline should never ask a question where the answer can be yes/no – because so many of the recipients will answer “no” and delete your message without further thought. If you are going to ask a question, ask a rhetorical question – just as any good salesperson would when selling face-to-face.

Secondly, I’m not a ballerina. Why do I want to pivot? This is one of those buzzwords created by the cyber-hustlers who use a jargoniser to create fake words/meanings to try and position themselves as having some special secret sauce for marketing success.

Here is the Websters Dictionary definition of pivot:

When someone uses the word “pivot” in a business context, what they mean is you should continue to do what businesses have done since the invention of business. Adjust and refine your business according to market conditions. This is not new – it is common sense. Businesses have always created new products/services to grow their businesses, otherwise they don’t stay in business.

There is no need for a jargoniser to create a new word for an existing business practice. Here is an example of an extraordinary business response by a pie purveyor to the current pandemic. He didn’t need a buzzword to act.

But back to the email from <no-reply@dropbox.com>. I opened it to see what to do if I was ready to pivot.

The headline is a glib generalisation about the bleeding obvious: “The best teams know how to work together, does yours?” What business continues in business if its staff don’t cooperate? Why assume my team may not be working together?

Then this gem is offered: “With the right mindset — and the right tools — any team can thrive in this new digital world

Am not sure how a team has a mindset, but I thought in any world, individuals with the right mindset and right tools would thrive. After all, who would try to thrive with the wrong mindset and wrong tools?

Now I’ve only been working in digital marketing since 1995 (it’s 26 years this year since I ran my first online marketing seminar). At what stage does this “new digital world” stop becoming new?

And why would I believe a digital storage shed could help me? By the way, the response button “Explore Dropbox Plans” is a link to the fees charged by Dropbox to store stuff. There is no “reason why” I should use Dropbox – What’s In It For Me?

Given I am already a customer, there is nothing to explain why I should consider upgrading or changing my contract with Dropbox.

Sadly, these types of emails invade inboxes daily – usually written by a digital or content marketer who has typing skills, not copywriting skills, because hey “everyone can write” right?

In case you’re wondering, there was no signature file in the message, but given the email came from <no-reply@dropbox.com> that’s not really surprising.

Even more frustrating is the fact that email marketing has been around for more than two decades, yet these fundamental errors continue to be made. There really is no excuse for such amateurism, particularly from a successful organisation like Dropbox.

Gotta go now. I have to see my chiropractor after I injured myself practicing my office pivots…


A phone call with pictures won’t cut it for events/conferences/seminars in 2021…

Like many of you in 2020, I attended virtual versions of events originally designed for conference venues. The worst part of this forced process was enduring the events on conference call technology that was not designed for running events online – Zoom, Teams, Skype et al.

I also had to teach university classes using Zoom and Teams – these are definitely not media designed for teaching, let alone learning. Talking to screens with cameras switched off is painfully difficult.

Definitely not the most efficient way to run events…

These stop-gap measures were forced upon us due to the pandemic. Companies scrambled to keep scheduled events going (and not lose revenue) by migrating them to conference call technology – known affectionately as a phone call with pictures. It became immediately obvious the video conference technologies were no substitute for the real thing – a conference centre with staging, speakers, catering, exhibitors and delegates you could mingle with face-to-face over a drink.

But if you’re considering a repeat performance for your annual event in 2020, using a phone call with pictures, you’d better rethink your plans. The forced 2020 solution will not cut it in 2021.

Organisations have no excuse to force delegates to attend an online event using conference call technology. They’ve had 12 months to move on from the emergency option and must now invest in professional event platforms designed for engaging your audience, speakers, exhibitors and sponsors.

I’ve trialed a couple of technologies, there are many and varied suppliers. e:volve by Synergy Effect offers all sorts of options for fully online virtual events or hybrid ones simultaneously combining delegates at a venue and with those attending online.

The immediate benefits will make you reconsider what’s possible with online events:

  • Unlimited options for virtual stages and backgrounds
  • Whatever you can imagine can be created
  • Stream speakers live from anywhere in the world
  • Integrate face-to-face audience with virtual audience
  • Conduct live Q&A between delegates and speakers wherever they are located
  • Checkout the demonstration video below

You can even run a live online Awards Event linking presenters and award winners in real time:

I’ve also attended a webinar using the ON24 platform, which is a much better webinar experience than the standard technologies.

So, if you want to do the right thing by your delegates, guests, speakers, sponsors and other stakeholders, invest in a decent online event service. You might just surprise yourself at the results.

And you’ll be pleased to note I didn’t use the jargoniser and mention “the new normal“.

But I have to go now – I have a Zoom meeting to attend…

Irrefutable evidence the fake marketers and cyber-hustlers are destroying the joint…

Today, I conducted a small experiment on two social media channels – Facebook and Instagram. I simply scrolled for a couple of minutes on each, capturing screen shots of the advertisements posted in my feed.

I work in and teach marketing, do research on marketing stuff and speak about marketing near my smartphone, so the advertisements in my feed are mostly about marketing services or similar – sad but true. As you know dear reader, both these social channels are owned by the same organisation, so a number of advertisements appeared in both channels.

If ever there was irrefutable evidence of the destruction of marketing industry’s credibility, you need look no further than what appears in my feed. The advertisements are brought to me by those who come from the digital school that preaches “How to get rich online, by telling others how to get rich online“. There were so many, this story could be a three-part series.

Here is but a small sample:

This fake marketer is using a paid advertisement (excuse my tautology) to con suckers that they don’t need to pay for advertising to land clients. I suppose he is also a fisherman, hence the use of ‘land’, instead of ‘acquire’ or “get new”? It seems he’s out of his mind – and it definitely needs changing. Please leave the industry now.

Here’s another one. An advertisement on Instagram claiming you can sell products on Instagram without ads. And not only do you not need ads, you don’t need an audience to sell to or any marketing experience. Making money requires no skills apart from, well, nothing but replying to this ad. Mind you, this ad costs the advertiser money to advertise their message about how to make money without spending money. Bloody hell.

Do they really believe people are completely stupid? Or maybe they are happy with stupid customers, or random monkeys tapping keyboards, given their criteria for customers? Please leave the industry.

Jeff Bezos once famously said “Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.” and yet Amazon is now the world’s largest advertiser ($11Billion PA) shunting P&G into second place.

A brand automation tool – amazing stuff. Just press a button and brands are automatically created? Does Coca Cola just hit the Brand Automation Button and go to lunch because the brand is now somehow automated and generating a profitable ROI? What does this headline mean? At least the subheading says “Join the Brand Automation revolution” not “Join the Brand Automation conversation”. But seriously folks – they want marketers to believe their brands can be automated – this defies all logic and demonstrates it was written by a digital typist not a copywriter. Leave the industry now.

Read this headline aloud – “The 2.0 100 viral content templates“. And they trademarked them!

I suppose if you’re selling templates you want those template messages to go viral, as by definition, you’ll sell more. But selling templates is a limited market and as most marketers know, there is very little linkage between “going viral” and sales. Most of what “goes viral” is simply chewing gum for the brain, with very little engagement or commerce involved in the process.

And usually it’s the content within the message that is the reason the message “goes viral” – if the template was the reason for virality, then every social media advertisement would “go viral”. That’s because all social media advertising is produced in a template – including this one. Advertisers are restricted to the same size image space, same character count and same location for the text and images.

This has created the unconscious habit known as banner blocking as the design of the advertisement signals to the viewer “this is an ad” so viewers unconsciously ignore them.

If I believe this “advertisement in a template” all I need to do is put content in one of the templates and it will “go viral” – whatever that means. So just dump a bunch of lorum ipsum into a template and sit back to witness the virality and the money appearing in my bank account?

Personally I’d rather know what type of content to put into a template to make it go viral – and I suspect this “advertisement in a template” has yet to reach pandemic-spread levels. Leave the industry now.

I have no idea why you would post such a distorted image, let alone lead with an irrelevant headline that doesn’t relate to the image. Readers expect headlines and images to relate to each other. The reason is simple – it’s how we’re taught to read.

For example, a picture of a dog, with the word ‘dog’ underneath it. A picture of a cat with the word ‘cat’ underneath it. It’s in our DNA to look at an image and link the caption or headline. But this advertisement does nothing of the sort.

Then the dead giveaways appear confirming this was written by a cyber-hustler. The first giveaway is the Use Of Capitals To Start Every Word In The Headline. The next is the use of the jargoniser to add buzzwords for alleged credibility – in this case it’s the buzzword hack – as if a hack is something special, for no other reason than it’s called a hack.

The other is the zero cost to do do something ‘secret’ that those who make $Billions don’t want you to know. It’s always $0 and only available through this special member of the “priesthood of marketing secrets” who out of sheer generosity wants to share it with you.

But there is a catch – you have to pay for the new $0 marketing hack if you want to use it. Please, please leave the industry now.

Once again, the first giveaway (Use Of Capitals To Start Every Word In The Headline) shows itself immediately. The ‘&’ is also a giveaway. I find this fascinating. How come no legitimate expert in the world of B2B sales and marketing has every written or run a training course on how to do what you are paid to do as a B2B salesperson – get some sales?

The sales training category must be bereft of education materials, so thank goodness for Hubspot – which I believe has one of the largest outbound telemarketing departments in the world of software marketing. Sorry, I meant to say “martech” – forgot to use the jargoniser. The company uses telemarketing to sell software that is supposed to automate the selling process, so you don’t need telemarketing – go figure.

For those who don’t know, Hubspot was made famous in Dan Lyon’s hilarious book Disrupted – Ludicrous misadventures in the tech start-up bubble. Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “the best book about Silicon Valley,” takes readers inside the maddening world of fad-chasing venture capitalists, sales bros, social climbers, and sociopaths at today’s tech startups. It’s a great read by the way.

And the hilarity is real. This advertisement uses the jargoniser to create a TLA for ABM. That’s a Three-Letter Acronym for Account-Based Marketing. Back in the dark ages of mid-last century, the term Account-Based Marketing or Account-Based Selling was invented. It was used to sell mainframe computers and other office and industrial equipment to major organisations and government. The sales teams were divided by market segment, or account type. For example, government or education.

So why use a jargoniser or TLAs to allege special skills are required for a business process that is about 70 years old? If you believe you need to reinvent the name of a process that has hardly ever changed – people selling to companies, assisted in some way by technology – then please leave the industry now.

Analogue tactics rule

The really interesting thing about the cyber-hustlers is how so many of them want you to buy or download a book to discover their secrets. That’s right folks – that old-fashioned analogue thing called a book. You can buy one and have it printed by a publisher and mailed to you, or you can download it and print it yourself.

Curiously, most downloaded books never get read online and even less are printed and read. The sheer act of downloading the book satisfies the respondent they are doing the right thing, then life gets in the way. Because the book isn’t physically sitting in front of them waiting to be read, the downloaded version gets ignored. But some SaaS expert will attribute value to your download and tick-off an achieved task on their KPIs.

The first 20 years of the 21st century are sadly being remembered as the decades that the cyber-hustlers and fake marketers destroyed any semblance of respect for the marketing industry. Even sadder is the glib acceptance of them by the industry. Why are we so intellectually and morally lazy?

After all, if Twitter will put fact-checking messages on Trump’s Tweets and Facecrook will remove fake content, why don’t these platforms protect us from fake marketers?

Have to go now, I’ve been asked by a young digital marketer for advice on how to become a thought leader without any expertise – now there’s an idea for a book…

Google MD writes hilarious job application to join Saturday Night Live…


, , , , , ,

Well folks, job applications take many forms, but this week the MD of Google in Australia obviously played her cards to pursue a career as a comedian.

How else can you explain this hilarious Open letter to Australians? It was written in response to the Australian Government deciding that Google must pay for news written by other publishers and journalists, rather than steal the news from them. Go figure – don’t be evil!

You must be aware of how this works dear reader. If you take something from someone or an organisation without their permission, then make money from what you’ve taken, you must pay that person or organisation for what you stole. It’s common sense, common courtesy and common law.

Sadly, Google appears to be just a common thief

The headline of this article was going to be: Common thief launches comedy channel, also known as Google…” but I changed my mind.

Even the most inexperienced marketing clerk knows that Google steals IP and content from legitimate publishers/journalists without paying for it, and offers it up within search results to make money from the associated advertising. It also manipulates search results for its economic benefit, so you cannot necessarily rely on organic results.

Bob Hoffman – The Ad Contrarian – has been calling out these and other unsavoury organisations/practices for years. Think Facecrook for example.

Yesterday, in what has been described as one of the funniest articles of all time, Google’s MD tried to threaten Australians with outlandish claims about loss of free search services. Google has been roundly condemned by marketers, consumers, media organisations, school children and most importantly, the ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission). The story is on all TV news bulletins and online news channels.

In addition to the letter, Google is displaying this image on its homepage on Chrome – it’s not appearing on other search engines.

The ACCC’s response to Google is here.

The reason the Google letter makes you laugh out loud is the naivety of the author to assume anybody would believe the outrageous claims it makes. Who is advising this alleged leader?

The whole situation raises a number of issues.

The first is the quality of the staff that work at Google. Why do they work in such an unethical business? Where is their moral compass? Why aren’t they calling out the organisation and suggesting it change its way? It’s not like Google is struggling – it made $4Billion in the Australian market alone in 2019.

The second is the misguided delusion many executives live under because they work for a major brand. This is particularly true in marketing roles. They believe that because they work for an established global brand, they somehow have more talent, or are better than others.

Most marketing clerks are just process functionaries – pushing paper and pixels for profit. They’re not innovative, creative or inspiring. They don’t invent new products or services or distribution channels. They just spend the advertising budget – and that’s an important function.

You consistently see the evidence at seminars, where executives with flash job titles are invited to speak. The audience anticipates something brilliant because of the job title and brand. Then reality hits – they have no secret sauce, they don’t know much more than the audience and most are rather average presenters.

But the real kicker is how even the highest paid executives know the power a letter has over all other media. Whenever there is a crisis or a desperate bid for credibility, you’ll find executives, politicians, church leaders et al, writing “an open letter” and publishing it in newspapers or online – just as the MD of Google did.

If you ever wanted evidence of the credibility and power of direct mail, look no further. But that’s another article…

Yours sincerely,

Malcolm Auld