Month: June 2011

Your customers are leading pathetic, boring lives

Vegas Suburbs by delbz on Flickr
It’s true. Most people lead boring, un-eventful lives. Most of your customers probably work a nine to fiver, have a long commute, watch American Idol, and occasionally have average sex with an average partner in an average house in the burbs.

If most people are bored, with enough free time to read the Facebook news feed of their equally boring friends, it’s kindof patetic us marketers have such a hard time getting people’s attention. Why’s this? Because we (marketers) are no different than our customers: boring as hell.


How to start social media relationships

There are millions of transaction points over the life of a “social media” relationship. Let’s start with one of the first: right after the follow. What do you do? Follow back? Tweet thanks? Send a DM?

After following a social media brand on Twitter I recently received this DM:

Thanks for the follow SwagLove. Hope you find some interesting stuff on Social Media in Business with us.

This is obviously an auto-DM. And I know that link is self-serving without even clicking on it! Go ahead and push your stuff on your website, but on social you have to earn that privilege. Sending a message like this right after someone follow you is not a long enough relationship!

It’s like trying for a home run on the first date

This never works! Instead, say hi. Ask something genuine about the person or their business. Tweet your thanks. Tell others that you followed me. Do something engaging!

What do you think? How do you start off your social relationships?

How t-shirts helped create a community

This is a guest post by Kelly Young, who writes daily blogs on her website Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior. She is more than her disease and her website is more than her own story. It is a growing community of empowered patients and a source of information about fighting RA and stories of other patients with autoimmune arthritis.

Do you really need t-shirts for your cause?

I have a t-shirt drawer, doesn’t everyone? Every year, I weed out a few old ones I finally admit I’ll never wear again. There are shirts from every school or church event we ever volunteered for – not to mention those from amusement parks and sports teams. The memories are wonderful, but some shirts are scratchy and never fit right. Do we really still need t-shirts for one more cause? Yes. Let me explain why…

The value of a visual identity

I have watched the birth of a new community. Unlike the diabetes community which has existed online for almost a decade, the rheumatology patient community did not exist at all. But over the last couple of years, patients have begun to connect. Several things played a part in this beginning: first blogs, then a Facebook group, then Twitter chats. But t-shirts played a surprising role, too. Here’s one example.

Launching an awareness campaign using t-shirts & social media

Last spring, Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior held a t-shirt contest based on a Wonder Woman image I created as a t-shirt design called Warrior Woman. People used the design as a profile image on Facebook or Twitter to enter to win the contest. To earn more contest entries, they could also mention the contest on their own blog or social media profiles. Even guys played along.

In case you haven’t already guessed it, the contest was actually a clever awareness campaign for RA. But, it was even more than that: it was also a significant moment for our budding community. Every day, we could see one another using the same image – the Wonder Woman t-shirt design. It re-enforced that we were a team. Before long, members of the community were posting photos on Facebook of themselves in our t-shirts.

Creating a sense of belonging in virtual communities

A virtual community is a real community since real people are involved in real conversations that often become relationships. However, when there is something visual, it helps people to consider the community as real. T-shirts are a one way to help people feel like they belong to one another.

I hope this gives someone another way to think about t-shirts and other kinds of branded swag. They are more than just advertising for a company. And they are even more than just tools for awareness for a good cause. Sometimes, they can help create a family resemblance.

When I think about the relationships I’ve developed…

“When I think about the relationships I’ve developed … they evolve over a period of time. They don’t require boondoggles or fancy things; they require sincerity and substantive interaction over a long period of time. Then, when there are moments of opportunity, these are the people that I go to (and hopefully who come to me).”

Brad Feld, on How not to start a relationship.

Three Steps to Ending a Customer Relationship Well

It had been 13 years of ups and downs. Commitments and re-commitments. Happiness, ambivalence, anger, and satisfaction. All the emotions that come with long-term relationships. A phone call was the beginning of the end. All I wanted to do was anounce the end of the relationship. But I was practically screaming obscenities as I hung up.  No, I’m not talking about the end of a romantic relationship. This was the end of 13 year relationship with my cellular phone service provider- practically an eternity for this industry.

Unsexy Companies

The other day someone asked me a question so ridiculous I almost spit out the beer I was drinking:

“How did you manage to make custom t-shirts so cool and sexy?”

I explained how our company was pretty un-sexy in my eyes. I even admitted I’m not super passionate about t-shirts.

The product is not the purpose

So why am I building an unsexy company selling a product I’m not super passionate about? Because the real goal is to help other people grow great businesses. And that’s something I really care about. We happen to be doing this via a very unsexy business model that’s been around for 100 years: custom promotional merchandise. But that’s okay. And I think others in the startup ecosystem need to embrace a little unsexiness too. Here’s why.

The “coolness” factor of your product, or lack therof, has nothing to do with your startup’s success.

For most companies, there’s a direct correlation between how boring your startup is & how much money you make. This is why I don’t understand why everyone in the tech community is so obsessed with creating cool, sexy products. Why is the implied goal of tech startups to build the coolest new product that makes your techie friends, tech community, and the venture capitalists you’re lusting after go ooh and ahh? Having the hot startup du-jour or being the coolest geek in your community does not equal startup success.

Your role models are boring and ugly

What really baffles me is how the tech community admires so many unsexy companies, yet marches onward building cool things instead of solving real problems. For example:

  • Amazon sells books over the internet. Not sexy. Not even in ’95. Nobody walks into a bookstore and goes ‘Ooh, ahh. Look how cool these books are! I want to start a business that sells books!’ But Amazon is a pretty cool company, aren’t they?
  • LinkedIn puts resumes online. Resumes are boring. But with their recent IPO & $8 billion market cap, Reid Hoffman is laughing all the way to the bank.
  • 37signals helps you mange projects using fairly basic software. Project management sucks. But their company has a cachet most startups only dream of. They also rake in cash and have Jeff Bezos as a mentor and investor. That’s sexy.
  • Keurig brews coffee. But they do it differently. Different is sexy.
  • Freshbooks creates invoices and helps you get paid. Accounts Receivable is as boring and tedious as it gets. But Mike McDerment bootstrapped his company to the market-leading position within the very boring niche of online invoicing.

These business models are all simple and boring. Amazon wasn’t the first company to sell books. LinkedIn didn’t invent the resume. People have been brewing coffee and writing invoices for who knows how long. Yet all of these companies are wildly successful.

Look for the opportunity

The takeaway? Instead of looking at existing human behavioral habits as a bad thing, look at it like an opportunity. If you can change how people do something they’ve always done, you’re probably solving a real problem. When you solve, or even just slightly improve upon, boring but important issues, you’ll have more customers and cash than you ever dreamed of.

Amazon forever changed how people buy books. Jeff Bezos has impacted far more people than most startups ever will. Changing the world doesn’t mean you have to create innovation out of thin air. It’s perfectly fine, and often highly profitable, to incrementally improve the status quo.

The Bottom Line

Unsexy startups don’t get the attention they deserve because people hate change more than they hate new ideas. It’s easier for people to accept new ideas (sexy startups) than it is to change existing behaviors (unsexy startups).

Email marketing reply-to addresses

The digital space is mighty crowded. There’s no excuse for using a email if you care about building solid relationships and having strong customer service. This message recently made its way across Twitter. Note the sarcasm. Others (including us) retweeted it. It wasn’t good!

What’s wrong with No Reply?

Using a No Reply in your email marketing implies you’re too important to help your customers should they have a question. You might as well send your e-mails from It says “You can email us but don’t count on hearing back from a real person.”

What about linking to a contact form within the email?

Even if you clearly link to a contact form, it still puts a burden on your customer. You’re making the customer jump through hoops. If you’re worried about replies not getting into your support ticketing system, try creating a friendly alias like or and route this to your queue.

Try something human instead!

Your customer facing email address is a chance for you to build your relationship with customers while reinforcing your brand. So instead of an unfriendly handle like No Reply, use something that’s funny, interesting or unique. This lets customers know you care. It will build customer loyalty and make you stand out. Showing a little personality gives your customers a reason to talk about your company and spread your brand by word-of-mouth.

Here’s one we love from Sticker Giant.

Robots are not humans

Here’s another interesting way to handle the No Reply issue from Moo Cards. Although the company has a no-reply address, they handle it in a very clever way that actually creates a connection with their customer. They do this by acknowledging it’s a bot AND by directing users through their customer service process – a process that ends with a human.

Marketing takeaway

You don’t want to be “that” company being talked about poorly on the internet. Or the one that gets customers but somehow can’t seem to keep ‘em. Be the company that creates a human connection in a fun and interesting way. It’s a quick way to create customer loyalty and humanize your business.

Have you seen a great e-mail reply address or way to address the bot issue? Send yours in and we’ll thank you by sending you your choice of free swag.

Boulder Beta: 3 Ways Startups are Connecting With Their Customers

Boulder Beta is a local event of connection–between people, local companies, the university, and the entrepreneurial community. We love this event because startup companies get to make some of their very first in-person, real life connections with early customers and prospects. Many tech startups spend months developing their product in a vacuum, so local events are extremely important to get these new ideas out in the wild collecting feedback as soon as possible.

Here are three of the big ways companies successfully connected at the event.

1. Meet the founders & give a demo

One of the best things about this event is spending quality time to meeting the founders, getting a demo of the product or service and asking  questions. So often, everyone in the local community “knows” about new startups in town yet hasn’t had a chance to connect with them in real-life. As a startup marketer or founder, developing real-life connections with startup enthusiasts in your commuinity can be a cheap, cost-effective marketing strategy. Let the community help you get the word out! All you have to do is build connections with members of the community. We were happy to see three of our clients doing this:

Fidatto – A free Facebook application which allows you to recommend local services to your friends.

Book Brewer – Enables authors and bloggers to easily create and publish eBooks to major devices and retailers.

SnapEngage – Is a chat tool which allows you to engage with your website visitors, turning them into customers and ultimately, friends.

We were also excited to see other high-impact Boulder startups in action: CardGnome,, ID Weeds, RoundPegg, StatsMix, TeamSnap and Vacation Rental Partner.

2. Refine your pitch & marketing collateral

Most startups don’t have enough traffic at launch to properly A/B test their marketing message, sales pitch, or website. Demo’ing in-person at a local event gives you lots of fresh prospects to help you test your collateral.

First, explain your product in different ways to different prospects. Then, evaluate their facial expressions and the number of questions you get. If everyone’s asking the same questions, make sure the copy on your homepage answers them! You can also use the feedback you get to start a FAQ page. This simple exercise will result in double-digit improvements to your signup conversion rates before you even launch your product!

3. Creatively use swag to connect with prospects for a beta launch

One of the fun things about this event were these little dolls that Meeps set out around the event. The company wanted to do something special to celebrate their launch. Most importantly, they wanted to spark conversation since they’re about spontaneous conversation around a shared interest. It worked. People talked about the dolls at the event and afterwards on Twitter. Buzz from the dolls resulted in 160 signups and over 800 unique visits to their site!

Marketing Takeaway

Building strong relationships with your customers is the key for success. It happens in both daily interactions and during special events. Next time you notice a local event happening around your industry, make sure to attend. Better yet, apply to present or pitch your company.

So, we want to know… How do you connect with your customers outside of business as usual?

Boulder Beta is the brain child of Tim Falls of local Boulder company SendGrid.