Clear communication – do words mean what they mean?

Alan Greenspan was promoting his book on Meet the Press last weekend. At the close of the interview, Tim Russert told a humorous anecdote about how when Greenspan began dating his present wife, Andrea Mitchell, he invited her back to his apartment “to read an essay he wrote [on monopolies].”

RUSSERT: Do you often lure women back to your apartment by saying, “You want to see my essay”?

MR. GREENSPAN: I didn’t have any sketchings or etchings.

What a great answer. Oddly enough, this art joke from the past was recently mentioned in a very interesting Time article called Words Don’t Mean What They Mean:

“Would you like to come up and see my etchings?” has been recognized as a double entendre for so long that by 1939, James Thurber could draw a cartoon of a hapless man in an apartment lobby saying to his date, “You wait here, and I’ll bring the etchings down.”

Vague, ambiguous statements – arguably good when dating, unquestionably bad when dealing with clients. Recommit yourself to doing more up-front work, asking more questions, writing clearer proposals, finally finishing up those pesky “terms and conditions” and “policies” pages on your website, doing all the little things that result in fewer surprises down the road.

A stodgy old consumer products company … not!

MediaPost is liveblogging OMMA NY, and one of the posts this morning was about UniLever’s new social media strategy.  Why are some consumer products companies so edgy when others seem to be wasting time on dorky initiatives that have nothing to do with brand-building?  Given the low-margin nature of the trade, shouldn’t they all be, in the words of David Lee Roth, running with the devil

Why is technorati so easy to game?

Look through technorati seems like a reasonable way to generate new ideas for your site, blog or cart, right? I mean, let’s just do a quick search for shopping carts and see what people are talking about. Wow – Ashop sure is popular. In fact, according to many bloggers,

Ashop Commerce is a leading US provider of hosted shopping cart software that offers a complete solution for merchants to sell online.

Has anyone in human history other than a paid pitchman used the phrases “leading provider” and “complete solution” in a single sentence? And why can’t technorati filter out obvious splog postings? And why on earth is Ashop using this idiotic strategy?

Email marketing to old customers

A topic that comes up frequently on e-commerce forums is the etiquette and legality of email marketing to people who have never explicitly opted in. For example, suppose you launch a newsletter. Is it legitimate to send it to

  • all your old clients?
  • email addresses from business cards you got at a Chamber event?
  • an opt-in list from a different division of your company?

The MailChimp guys discuss this and provide some suggestions – chief among which are

  • do this with care, if at all – the best practice is 100% opt-in
  • don’t think ’email blast’ – think ‘relationship’
  • lists are not like fine wine – they don’t get better with age – so reconfirm them if they’re old
  • start with a request for permission, not a newsletter
  • expect that 50-80% of the addresses in your list will not be interested

Just because they did business with you once doesn’t mean they want to receive your marketing material now.

Abandonment rate

There’s no substitute for hard data. MarketingSherpa found that actual abandonment rates were two to three times as high as e-commerce marketers thought they were. They offer some heuristics for getting to the bottom of the problem, but they don’t discuss my favorite remedy – order total transparency. Got discounts? Show ’em. Got a shipping charge? Show it as soon as possible. Extra charges? Don’t keep it a secret until payment time; let them know up front.