Remodel Woes

The course of true love never did run smooth and neither does the course of making a couple small updates to your house.

Over a month ago we started down the path of updating our siding. The old cedar shingles were slowly rotting and the paint was peeling; the idea of replacing more shingles and once again painting the house (something we did just a couple years before) just seemed like a waste. So enter a project to update to fancy HardiePlank Fiber Cement siding. Then, because hey the majority of the labor for replacing the windows would be done with the siding job we decided to get rid of our old, falling apart, drafty, leaky, horrible, aluminum windows and replace them with uber energy efficient ones. And hey while they’re at it I’d wanted a new kitchen floor for ages…. It was already adding up.

First, they found rot under the siding. Then, they found mold under the rot. Then, the windows didn’t fit as perfectly into the interior trim as we’d hoped necessitating replacing that AND one of the windows arrived from the manufacturer broken (still waiting on the glass guy to repair). Meanwhile, while replacing the kitchen floor it was discovered that the previous owners (dating back to the 50s) had never actually removed flooring, they just kept putting layer after layer after layer on top of each other (it was like a time machine even including avocado green at one point) so there was no way to actually get the floor level with the rest of the rooms without a huge job at triple the cost (let’s just say it’s not level now and I’m happy that way, probably how all those past owners ended up with layers of floor not removed). All in all it’s been an…experience.

My, should be done in just a couple weeks, project has already spanned a month and we still have to tear the bathroom down to the studs (the location of the black mold discovered under the rot!) and put in new drywall and a shower surround.

You never learn this stuff as an apartment dweller. Up until we bought our house a few years back apartments were all I knew. It’s been a real eye opener! Next time I’m taking my projected budget and tripling it, would probably be closer to the reality!

Is this what it’s always like? There are still other small updates I’d like to make, not to mention the dream of adding a second bathroom. With the way this project has gone I can’t help but think that buying a new house would be less hassle!

The house, once upon a time:

The house, a month ago (well okay, a couple years ago right after we finished painting last time):

The house, right now:

I still have to decide what color to paint. Decisions, decisions! Any suggestions?

I’ll just take it to your competitors!

The sound of those words is both sad and amusing, depending on the situation. “Amusing?” you say, with surprise (okay I’m assuming here). Yes, amusing.

A good percentage of my job is direct customer service and no, I’m not amused by customers having a really bad experience; absolutely not and in no way shape or form! I will bend over backwards to try and make sure people have the best experience possible and end a conversation with me with all their questions answered or sometimes even wanting to buy me a beer. However, another large part of my job is talking to people about best practices and permission. I talk to them about what spam is and why they can’t send to that list where someone supposedly opted in to hear from 3rd parties, they purchased a list or recipients said “sure you can contact me” a decade ago and you’re just now getting in touch. No, no and definitely not! These are the situations that tend to lead to some very passionate discussions about how I’m unreasonable, horrible and how the sender will just go to our competitors rather than live with such draconian rules (don’t I know it’s legal?).

So why is it amusing? Because not only am I trying to do my part to spread some of the great knowledge out there about best practices, rules, and striving for not only permission but engagement, but I also know that so are our competitors. Those customers just have another passionate and likely friendly (and often more patient than they deserve) conversation headed their way. If we all keep it up, hopefully someday these conversations will stop as everyone out there will finally get it. I’m probably just dreaming, but oh what a pleasant dream it is.

Business Cards and Permission

Recently, I had the privilege to both attend and speak at SXSWi down in Austin. It’s a pretty wild ride and well deserves its reputation as geek spring break. However, despite the number of margaritas I may have imbibed I still kept track of the number of mailing lists I opted in to (2) and the number of business cards I handed out (21). I’m weird like that.

As of March 30th the number of mailing lists I’ve somehow ended up on have totaled 11, only 1 of which is a list I actually subscribed to. How did this happen you ask? Well essentially it’s ignorance of best practices and people going for quantity over quality.

Rather than going into the myriad of missteps taken I’m just going to say a little bit about how it should work:

First, if someone hands you their business card after meeting you, that is not permission to add them to your list. It’s permission to send them an email yourself, and if you want you can say “hey I have this great newsletter, if you’re interested go here to subscribe.” But you can’t just add them based on being handed a card.

Second, if you’re running a competition at your booth, that doesn’t translate to permission to add someone to your newsletter. It’s permission to give them free stuff if they win. You should have an optional sign up form to let people subscribe if they’re interested, don’t just opt them in. Even if you put up a sign “if you enter my competition, I will add you to my list” it still isn’t kosher. How many people really paid attention to that sign in their frenzy to get a free iPad? They need to explicitly ask.

Third, have a sign up form at your booth. Ask people if they want to be added to your mailing list. Then, a few days later, a week at the most, send them a confirmation. Thank them for signing up at the conference, tell them that they’re on your list and this is what they can expect to receive, this is how often they can expect to get it and this is what email address you’ll be sending it from (so they can add you to their address book). They made a mistake or they just don’t want to receive it after all? Give them a link to opt out with no hassles. Or, go one step further and make them click to confirm their subscription (double opt-in is always best!).

Ask. It’s that easy. If you haven’t explicitly asked, you don’t have permission.

And if someone’s business card mentions email marketing, really, don’t add them anyway despite my recommendations. We likely know someone on the abuse desk at the ESP you’re using. I’m more likely to unsubscribe than complain at first email (don’t remove me and it’s another story), but don’t be surprised if you add me to your list without permission and then suddenly get an email from me talking about best practices!

You Don’t Own Me!

Because I work in the email marketing industry, I spend a lot of my day thinking about spam. It’s not really the happiest topic and it’s also not all penis pills or blatant phishing attempts. A lot of perceived spam out there seems to come down to a genuine disconnect between what we as people explicitly ask to hear about and what they as marketers think we want to hear about.

As someone who stands in the middle I’m often the arbiter of these disputes. I’m the person who puts the brakes on those attempts to send completely irrelevant information out to lists and who has to have those amazingly difficult conversations with people about how they may see it as being relevant and recognizable, but the people on their list may not. It’s tougher than it sounds.

After spending many, many hours looking at the issue and debating with end users over their attempts to send out emails that simply aren’t meaningful to their lists and their subscribers I’m starting to think that part of the problem is that feeling of ownership. If everyone would just take a step back and realize that these aren’t your lists, that these are human beings who may (or in some case may not but that’s another story) have asked to hear from you about a specific topic. That doesn’t give you ownership over that address. It doesn’t mean you can suddenly send them anything you want because they once upon a time expressed interest in your company or your product. You don’t own them.

Maybe it harkens to that distasteful area of list purchase and rental. Where you were “buying” addresses or “renting” their usage for a certain amount of time. Well those addresses certainly didn’t belong to the sellers either. Email addresses are not a commodity to be bartered and sold. Let’s stop thinking about them that way. Don’t think of a list as something you want to blast to. Think of it as having a conversation with people. You want that conversation to be relevant to what they asked for. You aren’t shouting into an empty room just hoping and praying someone, somewhere, is listening to you. Have some respect.

Opting In vs. Not Opting Out – A Little About Email Permissions

Part of my job involves talking to people about list permissions and it can often be a difficult conversation. When are you allowed to spa er contact your mailing list? Well the general rule of thumb should be if they’ve explicitly and directly *asked* you to contact them about that topic. And yes, I’m saying that should be the general rule no matter what, not just if you’re using the company I work for to send with.

A few things that doesn’t mean. It means you can’t say on a form “if you don’t want to hear from me click here” or say later “they can always just unsubscribe” and add them anyway. They need to explicitly opt-in first by checking a box saying something like “please add me to your mailing list” or explicitly asking you to add them to your list. You want everyone on your list to have explicitly asked to hear from you. Quality over quantity. The happier your subscribers are the more engaged they are. And the more engaged they are the more likely they are to click links, make purchases and walk away with a positive opinion about your company.

So just remember. Set the bar high for your opt-ins. Don’t try and add everyone and their cousin to your list. Make them ask to be added. Because if they truly want to hear from you…then they truly want to hear from you. Sure your list might be smaller than if you tried to add everyone you possibly could, but those are the people who truly want to hear what you’re saying.