Author Archives: Evelyn Starr

How To Beat Email Triage

Evelyn in simulated skydiving chamber

Photo credit: Daniel J. Traub

For the holidays, I unplugged for 9 days.  I went on a cruise with my husband, kids, siblings, their spouses and kids, and my parents.  We were a group of 14.

Depending on your family, that may not sound relaxing to you.  But it was for me.

I participated in trivia competitions with family members (and won a couple). I read. I ate. I danced. I flew in a simulated skydiving chamber.

And though I confess to reading a few emails when we were at a port, I did not think about my business.

That’s not easy to do as a business owner, but I believe the fresh perspective and renewed energy are worth it.

When I returned I had 100+ emails waiting for me.

What’s the first thing I did?  Go through and delete those I had no intention of reading.  With that kind of volume, I resort to triage to focus on the emails that matter to me.

In fact for many of us, email triage has become a way of life.

Email Expert reports that subscribers receive 416 commercial emails each month. Emails pile up fast these days.  Inbox attention is at a premium.

And yet email remains one of the most effective ways to reach your audience.

Why?  Because they check their inbox every day.

According to Consumer Reports, 91% of consumers check their email daily.  So while inboxes are more crowded than ever, emails still offer an efficient and effective way of staying in front of your audience.

This is my 37th email newsletter.  From my three years of producing monthly e-newsletters I can tell you that the prior 36 have not only helped me stay in front of my audience, but they have also prompted referrals, brought in new clients and generated repeat business.

The payoff from a regular e-newsletter can be substantial.

If you can beat the triage.

Here are 7 tips that will increase the chances that your e-newsletter – or any group email you send – will get opened, get read, and prompt action.

  1. Offer something useful. Readers want to feel that they benefit from the time they spend reading your email.
  2. Entertain your readers. If you send something that reads like a textbook or a government proclamation, few people will relate.  Tell stories.  Make your e-newsletter fun.
  3. Tailor your message to a specific audience. Generalities water down your message, especially when you are trying to cover too many audiences at once.  You want your target audience to feel that your information is relevant to them.  If you have very different customer segments, you may need more than one e-newsletter to reach them.
  4. Write to one person. Use straightforward, conversational language, not jargon.
  5. Begin with an enticing subject line. This is where the decision to open and read the email happens.
  6. Be mobile friendly.  People are constantly on their smart phones – in line at the grocery store or the bank, sitting in the parking lot or even (gasp) at a stop light. Reading an e-newsletter can be a great way to pass a few minutes of waiting time. Be there for them.  Mobile-friendly formats are the reason that ornate and complex designs are giving way to single column formats and larger font size.
  7. Set expectations and deliver. Let subscribers know upfront what your publication will cover, how often you will send it and when it will arrive.  Delivering on these expectations will familiarize readers with your e-newsletter and even generate anticipation!

Lastly…don’t email your list too often.  Email exuberance depletes the goodwill you have with your audience.  Last December my husband Dan and I received emails daily or even more often from Laithwaite’s Wine, Bed Bath & Beyond, Harney & Sons Teas and others.  I unsubscribed from any store emailing me daily during that already frenetic time of year.

Done well, e-newsletters can help brands in adolescence broaden their base and attain their next level of growth.

So as you create your 2015 marketing plan, consider an e-newsletter.  Besides the business benefits, it’s also a fun way to stay in touch.  And much easier than simulated skydiving.

What’s your email triage strategy?  Please share it below in the comments section.


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Brand Storytelling Lessons From Harry Chapin

Harry Chapin Heads & Tales album coverI missed seeing Harry Chapin in concert by three days.

If you don’t know Harry Chapin by name, you would probably recognize one of his songs, particularly Cat’s in the Cradle or Taxi.

I was at a summer program in East Brunswick, New Jersey with 21 other teenagers in July 1981.  We had tickets to see Harry perform on Thursday July 19thHe died in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway on Monday July 16th en route to a benefit concert at Eisenhower Park’s Lakeside Theatre.  He was 38 years old.

We got the news at dinner time that day.  It was upsetting for us to say the least.  And we were not alone.

TV news anchors in New York and Chicago struggled to avoid breaking down on camera as they reported his death.  Many of the 30,000 people scheduled to see him in concert that night still went to the Lakeside Theatre to talk about him and to cry together.  Some brought guitars and sang his songs.  In the days that followed, ten senators and thirty congressmen eulogized him on the House floor.

Harry Chapin was far from the only entertainer to die young.  Why did his passing prompt such a public outpouring of grief?

Because people liked him and felt connected to him.

How did he establish such a wide connection?  Through the stories he told.

While music was an early love for Harry, singing was not his first professional career.  He started off as a documentary filmmaker.  His documentary on boxing, Legendary Champions, won the New York and Atlanta film festivals’ gold prizes for best documentary and garnered an Oscar nomination for best feature documentary.

A lull in film-making work drew him back to music, and he took the narrative skills he had developed as a documentarian with him.

The songs Harry wrote and sang portrayed people that his audience could relate to – a waitress and a night watchman, a dry cleaner who liked to sing, a taxi driver, a busy father.   His characters hailed from small towns as well as big cities – Dayton, Boise, Scranton, San Francisco.  His storytelling revealed an astute understanding of human nature and evoked a wide range of emotions.

Harry liked his characters, many of whom were based on real people.  Their faults and imperfections endeared them, and Harry, to us as well.

Once successful, Harry channeled his success to help others.  He co-founded Why Hunger (formerly World Hunger Year), worked tirelessly to combat world hunger and supported dozens of other organizations.  Half of the 200 hundred concerts he gave each year were designated benefits.  He raised over $6 million for charity.

Harry’s philanthropy endeared him to us even more, but it was his stories that connected us to him.  Bill Gates has donated exponentially more money but he rarely evokes the kind of affection that Harry Chapin’s memory does.

Stories are the way to people’s hearts and minds.  They connect us to people, places and things in memorable way.

This is why telling your brand story is important.

Your brand story:

  • Is your one proprietary differentiator, that no other brand can copy;
  • Is bound to convey problems and emotions that your prospects and customers can relate to;
  • Conveys your passion and mission better than declaratory statements can;
  • Engages your audience without a sales pitch;
  • Will stick in your prospects’ and customers’ minds more easily than product or service descriptions.

To take a page from Harry Chapin and tell your brand story well:

  • Name the founders and key players;
  • Talk about the struggles, triumphs and challenges along the way;
  • Talk about what the brand aims to achieve by describing the mission in real terms, not in corporate or industry jargon.
  • Include community and cause involvement.

Your brand story is a powerful tool to help your audience come to know, like and trust your brand.  It’s the trust that closes the sale and generates repeat business more than anything else.

Channel your inner Harry Chapin and watch how your audience remembers your brand story and comes back for more.

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Holiday Card Dos and Don’ts

holiday-dos-and-donts-image-280x204Have you heard a holiday song on the radio yet?

It always amazes me how early the holiday music starts.  I am among the 81 percent of Americans who don’t want to hear it in stores before Thanksgiving.

But while I am not ready to endure endless loops of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” I am already thinking about my business holiday cards.

In fact, I confess, I ordered them last Monday.

Why do I look forward to this ritual that many people find stressful?

Two reasons.  First, I love handwriting cards and making a personal connection that way.  Second, I do them by choice, not from a sense of obligation.

For most people though, holiday business cards present a conundrum.   To send or not to send?  Paper or e-card?  Do you send to clients only? Or should you include employees, vendors, referral sources and prospects?  How will someone feel if you don’t send them a card?

And the biggest question of them all:  is it worth the effort?

Business holiday cards are one drop in the relationship marketing bucket.  The answer to “is it worth it?” is the same as all of your other relationship marketing efforts:  only if it furthers the relationship.

Here are my holiday card guidelines to help you decide if you should send them, and to increase your success with them if you do.

  1. Do send a snail mail card. Don’t send a mass email, e-card or e-video.

    The inspiration for this article came from a rant my husband sent me last year.  He received several e-cards that turned out to be 1 – 1 ½ minute-long videos that he characterized as “a completed waste of my time.”He also said, “[With a traditional card] I know my contact put in the thought of signing their name and making it at least a scintilla personal. I will display cards in my office for a few weeks.  The video?  Gone as soon as I forward it to you.”The companies that took the time to make the videos and send the email link actually hurt their relationship with him by annoying him.  They would have been better off sending nothing at all.
  2. Do personalize the card with a short message and your signature. Don’t use a signature stamp or have an assistant sign for you.

    Companies don’t celebrate holidays.  People do.  A holiday greeting should be from sender to recipient.  Recipients see right through efforts to delegate the greeting.  If you can’t sign the cards yourself, don’t send them.This does not mean you have to spend hours thinking up what to say.  Find a short, meaningful phrase you can use for everyone (like “wishing you a happy and prosperous year!), then add something else only if you want to.  That phrase and your signature will be enough.
  3. Do keep it secular. Don’t get overly personal.  Like the rest of your business communications.
  4. Do make it a pure greeting. Don’t include a business card. The presence of a business card makes the greeting an overt marketing pitch and loses the sentiment.
  5. Do send the cards in a timely manner. Don’t sweat it if they are a few days off.  I aim to get my New Year’s cards to recipients in first week of the New Year.  Many people have thanked me for the cards.  No one has ever chided me for not getting them there before New Year’s (and many people aren’t in the office that week anyway.)
  6. Do track your recipient list each year and make the decision to send a card a conscious one. Don’t just send on automatic pilot.  Over time you will add and delete names from the list and that’s okay.
  7. Do give yourself credit for the cards you send. Don’t berate yourself for those you don’t get to.   You can always choose another holiday.  And a handwritten card on a non-holiday is always welcome!

Remember that your goal is to further your relationship with the recipient.  It’s better to send 50 personalized snail mail cards than 5000 meaningless and forgettable e-cards.

Have fun writing or not writing your cards this season.  And don’t play your holiday music before Thanksgiving!

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In the Spotlight…SkreensTV!

Skreens_logo-280x59Congratulations to client Marc Todd and his firm SkreensTV on the launch of their crowdfunding campaign!  Marc is a serial entrepreneur who channeled his frustration at missing key sports plays into the development of an entertainment solution that allows you to watch multiple TV programs, shop online and play games all on one TV screen. read more

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The Downton Abbey Method of Marketing

downton-s4-series-like-relationship-marketing-2-280x156Are you good at remembering names?

Even if you aren’t, I bet you could recite the names of the characters on Downton Abbey.  Or Mad Men.  Or The Big Bang Theory.  Or whatever TV series you enjoy. read more

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Totally Tubular

Image source: Scott Products | Facebook

Image source: Scott Products | Facebook

I never knew toilet paper could be exciting until I met Dave.

Dave joined me in the Veryfine Marketing Research Department in the early days of 1993 after a two-year stint at James River, maker of Quilted Northern bathroom tissue.  He entertained us with stories of the brand’s relaunch the year before.  Segmentation studies had characterized different types of toilet-tissue users.  Press releases detailing the segments had persuaded radio personalities to talk about the product.

Clearly James River employees and their marketing agencies had both great creativity and a good sense of humor. read more

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Driving Miss Millennial

Buick-LeSabre-280x172Last Wednesday, my husband Dan and I took a two-hour course on the Massachusetts junior operator driving laws with hints on how to teach our son AJ to drive.

Like every other childhood milestone, approaching this one for my son conjures memories of my own experience.  Being the eldest child in my family, I believe it was my driving education that caused my father’s first gray hairs. read more

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Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Image source:

Image source:

Would you hire an ambulance driver to repave your driveway?

My parents did.

Two days before Thanksgiving in 1980, my mother broke her ankle.  She tripped on something left on the stairs while she was descending and carrying a laundry basket that blocked her view. read more

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What Barbara Walters Can Teach You About Marketing


To say that I was a curious child is an understatement.  I asked questions relentlessly. I was always trying to figure out how things worked and to understand why people did what they did.  My parents patiently answered my questions, probably hoping I would outgrow the phase.

It never happened. read more

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How to Score Big on the Small Stuff

Sirius XM Radio Spring Training Announcement with Typo - Reflection on Brand

On March 18 of this year, I was signing into Sirius XM Radio online when the graphic above caught my eye.

It wasn’t the flying baseballs. Or the blue sky.

It was the spring traning. T-r-a-n-i-n-g.

I was born with an observant nature and a proofreading eye. Most of the time, my observations have been welcome and have served me well. read more

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