One Size DOES NOT Fit All in B-to-B Marketing

Here’s a painful truth: B-to-B lead generation takes a lot of hard work BEFORE you execute any marketing or sales program. Work smarter, not harder, and follow these six steps to make a real difference:

Here’s a painful truth: B-to-B lead generation takes a lot of hard work BEFORE you execute any marketing or sales program.

Work smarter, not harder, and follow these six steps to make a real difference:

  1. Do your homework. What do you know about your existing customers? Do they fall into any particular vertical industries? What types of job titles do they encompass? It’s doubtful that they’re all C-level executives—chances are your real customers are well down the food chain. Select your top four or five vertical industries, identify their job titles, and plan your next steps with these verticals in mind.
  2. Find prospects that look like your target. Finding the right target is NOT like finding a needle in a haystack, and if you’ve always relied on renting a D&B list, then good luck to you. Think like your targets. Join their industry organizations, attend industry conferences and read their trade publications—increase the breadth and depth of your industry knowledge. Most of these organizations/events make their lists available for rent, and their data is probably more current and accurate at the levels you’re really targeting.
  3. Determine your targets’ pain points. What problem does your product or service solve? It’s probably different by vertical industry and by job title/function. Rent your list and use an outside research firm to contact prospects to help identify the challenges facing them in your particular area of expertise.
  4. Gather sales support assets. Use the information gathered in Step 3 to reposition your product, create new white papers or industry articles aimed at different functional areas within each company. Review existing case studies and determine how you can refresh and repurpose them by vertical industry based on your new found insights. Create assets digitally and in hard copy so you can use them in fulfillment and follow-up efforts.
  5. Create a destination of information. Before you start reaching out to prospects, create an online destination BEYOND your existing web site. Organize your new assets by vertical industry, as most organizations want to know that you understand and have experience in their category. A healthcare company, for example, will probably not have the same challenges as a financial services organization. And it’s most likely that your solution wouldn’t be identical either.
  6. Execute an outreach program. Now that you know your top four or five verticals, you’re ready to tap targets on the shoulder. Create a campaign by vertical target in order to highlight key benefits that are most relevant to that target (you should know what these are as a result of your research in Step 3).

All your outbound communications to each of these job functions within each of your target verticals should be different. The individual in finance, for example, will want to understand ROI while the individual on the technology side might be concerned about how well your product can be integrated into existing technology.

Your research should have already helped you identify the pain they’re facing, so leverage that learning in your communications. Whether it’s the initial contact, the follow up materials, or the landing page, mirror what you’ve heard to make the conversation most relevant from the beginning. Your participation in industry events and conferences should help you establish the correct tone and language in your communications.

B-to-B marketing should never apply a “one size fits all” strategy. The more relevant your communications, and the more you can demonstrate that you understand their particular industry and business challenges by tailoring your solutions, the more likely you are to engage in a meaningful discussion with your target. Listen to feedback and refine your communications accordingly. And yes, the results will be worth it.

Marketing ROI in B-to-B: Why Is It So Hard, and What Can We Do About It?

The other day, I had the pleasure of discussing the challenges of marketing ROI with Jim Obermayer, CEO and executive director of the Sales Lead Management Association, on his Internet radio show. Our conversation got me thinking: Why is the Holy Grail of marketing ROI so tough to achieve in business markets? And what can we do about it?

The other day, I had the pleasure of discussing the challenges of marketing ROI with Jim Obermayer, CEO and executive director of the Sales Lead Management Association, on his Internet radio show. Our conversation got me thinking: Why is the Holy Grail of marketing ROI so tough to achieve in business markets? And what can we do about it?

The “why” part is pretty clear: Business buying cycles tend to be long, and involve multiple parties at either end. Marketers produce campaigns to generate an inquiry, and then qualify that interest with a series of outbound communications, and finally pass the qualified lead to a sales rep for follow up. From that point, it can take more than a year to close, and involve a slew of people on the customer side, from purchasing agents, to technical specifiers, to decision-makers.

The sales process is also complex, involving not only the face-to-face account rep, but sales engineers, inside sales people, and others who help get all the buyers’ questions answered, negotiate the terms, deliver, install and trouble-shoot the product, and whatever else needs to be done to satisfy the customer’s needs.

So, consider the difficulty of establishing the numbers that go into an ROI calculation in this kind of situation. Just to put a definition behind the concept: ROI, meaning return on investment, subtracts the marketing expense from the revenue generated, and then divides by the expense, resulting in a percentage that shows how much net return was produced by the investment.

But in this lengthy, multi-party, multi-touch selling situation, the “investment” part can be pretty tough to get at. Frankly, it’s a bit of a cost accounting nightmare, assigning an expense number to each sales and marketing touch that resulted in a particular closed deal. This brings up issues of variable versus fixed costs, marketing touch attribution—the list goes on and on.

Worse, the “return” part presents its own challenges. First problem is connecting a particular lead to a particular piece of revenue, which means carefully tracking a lead over its multi-month process toward closure.

Further, if a third-party distributor or agent is working the lead, it’s very likely that revenue results reporting is not part of the deal. With good reason: The distributor considers the relationship with the end-customer as his, and none of the manufacturer’s business. So the marketer who generated the lead often has no visibility into the associated revenue. Even if the deal was closed by a house rep, you’re looking at the endless squabble between sales and marketing about who gets the credit.

You can’t blame B-to-B marketers for throwing up their hands and relying on interim metrics like response rate and cost per lead. Especially when marketing staffers come and go, and may not even be in the job when the lead generated a while ago finally converts to a sale.

This is why I was so pleased at the arrival of the new book by Debbie Qaqish, The Rise of the Revenue Marketer, where she urges marketers to raise consciousness of their role in driving revenue results. “The revenue marketer uses the language of business,” she says. Examples of the metrics she recommends for revenue marketers include funnel velocity, sales conversion rates, pipeline revenue and campaign ROI.

My conclusions from this investigation:

  • Begin with a deep conversation with your finance counterparts to get at the best way for marketing to serve your company’s financial interests, like:
    • The right approach to assigning sales and marketing expense.
    • Whether to calculate returns based on net sales or on gross margin.
    • Decide which expenses are fixed and which are variable.
    • How to attribute the contribution of sales and marketing touches across the sales cycle.
    • Setting the ROI “hurdle rate” needed to support your company’s profitability goals.
  • Figure out where to get the revenue and expense data—not everything will be in your CRM system. Your finance counterparts should be help you source the data you need.
    • If a distribution channel party is a roadblock to revenue visibility, conduct a “did you buy” survey into accounts to which qualified leads were passed.
    • If the account-based revenue is captured internally, try supplementing your CRM system with data match-back to connect campaigns to sales, circumventing the arduous process of following a lead along its complex conversion process.
  • Set clear objectives for each marketing expenditure, so you know how to declare ROI success when you see it.
  • Get inspiration from The Rise of the Revenue Marketer, Debbie Qaqish’s innovative thinking on the role of marketing in B-to-B.
  • Get an education from Jim Lenskold’s 2003 classic, Marketing ROI: The Path to Campaign, Customer and Corporate Profitability.
  • If to many obstacles are in the way, fall back and rely on “activity-based” metrics like cost per inquiry and cost per qualified lead, which tend to be pretty easy to calculate, being mostly within the purview of marketing.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Packaging: A Conspiracy Among Dentists?

Regardless of what I buy lately, getting inside the package to the actual product is like breaking into Fort Knox. I recently purchased a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles from Costco. They were encased in plastic sturdy enough to survive wind, hail, sleet, snow and a 500-pound gorilla. But since I had no plans to take the poles with me while still inside the packaging, what was the point?

Regardless of what I buy lately, getting inside the package to the actual product is like breaking into Fort Knox.

I recently purchased a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles from Costco. They were encased in the plastic sturdy enough to survive wind, hail, sleet, snow and a 500-pound gorilla. But since I had no plans to take the poles with me while still inside the packaging, what was the point?

It honestly took me about five minutes to get to the actual poles because it required heavy-duty shears (buried inside our gardening shed), and all of my strength just to cut through the plastic shell. I nearly damaged the poles (not to mention my fingernails) while trying to pry the clam shell pieces a part. Who designs this stuff? And more importantly, why?

These same plastic clamshells are used to encase all sorts of products, equally protected from the hazards of the modern world. I was in an airport a while ago, wasting time between flights by browsing products at the smart phone accessories counter, and every single item was hanging in one of these plastic prisons.

It would be logical to assume that the plastic protects the product from being damaged during shipment, but did that industrial designer ever give one moment’s consideration to the consumer and how they’re going to access the product post-purchase? Who among us travels with scissors or knives (especially in an airport)? And that’s when my conspiracy theory started.

Have you ever gone “old school” and purchased a music CD? Forget trying to listen to the CD in your car on the way home, as there is simply no way to rip open the package—period. The plastic wrap is on so tight there’s nothing to use as leverage to start the “cutting” process.

I’ve tried using my car key, a small screwdriver designed for sunglasses screws, a pen, a sharp stick and, of course, the final resort—my teeth (sorry Dr. Pelfini!). And even then, I’ve repeatedly broken/damaged the CD case while trying to get it open, so it can’t be re-used for storage.

I’ve used my teeth to try and rip open small packages of nuts on the airplane (those little “slits” are a joke for fingers), and am often rewarded with the bag slicing open, but my 10 precious peanuts are scattered across the laps of my seat mates.

I know I’m not alone in this practice: I’ve watched a guy rip off the paper that encases a straw with his teeth and then spit out the torn off end, and a Mom open the plastic bag covering a toy from a fast-food joint with her teeth while her toddler had a melt down.

But it was a recent jar of peanut butter that stopped me cold. After unscrewing the lid, the paper covering that came between me and my craving didn’t have one obvious way to peel it off other than stabbing at it with a sharp knife. While I was lucky enough to be in my own kitchen at the time, I thought about all those kids out there trying to make their first sandwiches, weeping in frustration.

Since packaging is one of the “Five P’s of Marketing,” I’d like to suggest to marketers everywhere that they re-examine their current packaging from a consumer point of view. If opening your product requires knives, scissors and the strength of 10-men, you may want to take a step back and rethink your packaging options.

The A-Z List of Stop That! Behaviors

In the April issue of Target Marketing, I wrote about 26 verbs that sometimes get in our way when we’re building brands that we want our customers to be passionate about. Now that I’ve transitioned my Brand Matters column from print to digital, I’ve decided to give you 26 more! Use this checklist as a reminder to review your brand practices. No doubt, we all slip into some of these behaviors unintentionally.

In the April issue of Target Marketing, I wrote about 26 verbs that sometimes get in our way when we’re building brands that we want our customers to be passionate about. Now that I’ve transitioned my Brand Matters column from print to digital, I’ve decided to give you 26 more!

Use this checklist as a reminder to review your brand practices. No doubt, we all slip into some of these behaviors unintentionally. I encourage you to take some “Stop & Think” time with your brand team and have the necessary and fierce conversations about your latest offerings and evaluate them through these lenses:

Aggravate: What is niggling at you that might be perceived (big or small) as an annoyance to your customers?

Boggle: Are you giving your customers too many choices to consider?

Cannibalize: Might you be threatening your own market share in some way?

Doubt: What areas of your offering raise concern for your customers? Value perceptions? Price parity? Benefits? Competitive differentiation? What will you do about it?

Embarrass: What was your OOPS or DO OVER with this latest offering? Have you fixed it for next time? What is your post-mortem procedure for reviewing these things?

Forgot: Look over your offering carefully … what might you have overlooked by mistake?

Grovel: Are you asking your customers to do too much? Who is working for whom? How will you rectify that?

Inundate: Offering too much? How will you know what is “just right?”

Juggle: How many messages do you want your customers to absorb? How will you limit those or prioritize them strategically for maximum impact?

Know How: What special insider knowledge do your customers need to know to do business with you? Is that fair? How will you inform the newbies?

Loathe: A hard question for sure … but what don’t your customers like about you?

Mimic: What have you done that is totally UNLIKE your competitors these days?

Negate: What are you doing that detracts from your brand?

Obstacle: What hoops might your customers have to needlessly jump through to do business with you? How will you find out?

Pester: Are you asking your customers questions you intend to do nothing about? Why bother?

Quibble: What terms do you make your customers fight over In relation to your offering? Is that really necessary? How do your competitors handle the same issue?

Reverse: Is there any aspect of your offer that reverses your brand promise even in some small way?

Stagnate: In the last 12 months, what have you decided to do differently to stay relevant to your customers’ changing needs?

Taunt: How is your brand teasing your customers in negative ways?

Underestimate: Have you taken your customers loyalty for granted in some way?

Vex: What keeps you up at night about your customers’ behavior in relation to your brand? How will you solve this puzzle?

Water Down: Have you diluted your brand message in some way by too many stories? Too much information? Too little focus?

[E]Xit: What was your parting message to your customer? Brand enhancing or brand detracting? (Brand neutral doesn’t count!)

Yank: Are you pulling your customers toward your brand or away? How?

Zipped: Great brand stories are meant to be shared. Have you zipped your customers’ lips by not creating a shareworthy experience?

Take a look at these “what not to do” verbs. Create your own list. Let me know what happens!

Why SMS Will Be Your Mobile Workhorse and 5 Ideas to Get You Started

We’ve talked about the importance of a mobile-friendly Web presence and mobile-optimized email for your small business. But there is one mobile tool that your small business should be leveraging that will be a key puzzle piece to the success of your mobile strategy. Some might argue that SMS is the most effective mobile channel that exists, when it comes to ROI.

We’ve talked about the importance of a mobile-friendly Web presence and mobile-optimized email for your small business. But there is one mobile tool that your small business should be leveraging that will be a key puzzle piece to the success of your mobile strategy.

Some might argue that SMS is the most effective mobile channel that exists, when it comes to ROI.

There is a reason it continues to be the workhorse within the mobile strategies of brands like Coca-Cola, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, Target, jcpenney and many more.

5 reasons SMS will be the workhorse in your mobile strategy.

Instant Deliverability: SMS messages offer one of the most immediate marketing channels for businesses. More than 97 percent of messages are read within four minutes of receipt. So if you have a message that is time sensitive, there is no better way to connect with your customer.

Everyone’s Reachable: Nearly 100 percent of the handsets on the market can send and receive text messages. I don’t care that we’ve surpassed 50 percent smartphone penetration in the USA. I don’t care that that will continue to grow. You’re missing out on 40 percent to 50 percent of your audience right now by catering to smartphone-only customers.

Just because my 65-year-old dad has an iPhone now doesn’t mean he will use it the way I do. But you know what … he sure sends a whole lot more text messages to me.

Highest-Possible Visibility: Remember how I said that 97 percent of SMS messages are read within four minutes? Well, that means that 97 percent of your SMS messages are being read—period. When was the last time your email open rate was over 90 percent? I’ll let you figure that one out on your own.

Now I’m not saying “Stop using email.” Email is super powerful and has its place. But SMS offers you a new, quick, high-converting way to connect with your customers that no channel can match.

Highly Targeted: Because buying lists is a no-no when it comes to SMS, you have to build your database of loyal customers. Being a permission-based marketing vehicle, your customers have to opt in to receiving these messages from you.

Yes, that means they essentially raised their hands and said, “I’d like you to connect with me on my most personal device.” The next best thing in my mind is if your customer invites you over for dinner. Mmmmm …

Cost Effective, Considering the Return: For all you marketing folk, this means Return on Investment (ROI).

SMS is way more affordable than you think. Many of you still spend a good part of your budget on direct mail. Again, it has its place in your marketing mix. But look at some of the costs associated with direct mail: You have postage, shipping, mailing lists, printing, packaging/fulfillment etc.

Direct mail depends on your volume. But, at the end of the day, you could be spending 20 cents to more than a dollar per piece. SMS could cost you pennies per message.

As a small business, a Yellow Pages ad could cost you up to $4,000 per year. Yes, people (especially older demographics) do still reach for their Yellow Pages when they need a business in a hurry, but it offers little to no engagement or tracking.

Depending on the size of your small businesses, incorporating SMS into your monthly budget could run you $25 to a few hundred bucks a month. The level of return will far outweigh your older, traditional media vehicles.

OK, so you’re sold on adding mobile to your marketing mix. Congratulations, it was a wise decision, trust me.

Here are 5 ideas for you to get started with SMS this year.

Mobilize Your Loyalty Program: Begin building your list of mobile numbers and send timely, relevant messaging to your customers. This can include special mobile-only offers, promotion opportunities, sales, new product or service offerings.

The more you can personalize these messages, the better. Many of you may already have some sort of loyalty program in place. I’m not asking you to do something totally new. Just add SMS as a component of the loyalty program to bring loyal customers back with relevant, high-value messaging.

Mobilize Your Coupons: Target, jcpenney and Bed Bath & Beyond are great examples of this. Each and every week, these businesses send mobile coupons to their mobile databases. It’s fast, cost effective and convenient for the customers who prefer to receive these offers to their phones. They just bring their phones to the store and redeem their mobile coupons at the point of purchase.

Eliminate No-Shows: Does your businesses depend on filling appointment slots? Doctors, Lawyers, Salons, etc. rely on filling appointments, but what happens when your customer misses an appointment?

Let me guess, you don’t charge for no-shows? Some estimates state that missed appointments for a single physician can be as much as $150,000 in lost revenue and additional labor costs. Multi-physician offices are even more drastic, estimating no-shows in a single year resulting in losses of over $1 million.

So how can SMS eliminate no-shows?

Why not send an appointment reminder via SMS within an hour or two prior to the appointment? Include a number for those who have to cancel. Better yet, let them reply to the message so that it updates your appointment software.

Oh no, someone canceled! Send out a message to your database to fill that last-minute appointment.

If you’re a salon, restaurant or massage therapist, you can send a message to your customer SMS list offering a savings opportunity to the one that fills that appointment slot.

Add SMS and stop losing money due to no-shows.

Engage Customers With Giveaways: Sweepstakes and giveaways have been great ways to build your SMS list in the early stages.

Offer up one big prize and let your customers text in to enter. Give away a monthly prize and give customers a reason to stay on your list.

Not only do sweepstakes entice customers to opt-in, but everyone loves winning prizes. Is giving away one or two free services a month worth generating hundreds of new opt-ins to communicate with moving forward?

Learn About Your Customers With Polls and Surveys: Did one of your loyal customers just purchase from you? A quick SMS message could let them provide valuable feedback on their experience.

SMS is a two-way interactive tool that lets customers provide feedback just by replying to your messages.

Are you thinking about releasing a new product or service? Are you a restaurant and looking to add a new menu item? Poll your audience to get their feedback to help make smarter decisions.

Bonus point: Tie a sweepstakes to your survey and award a lucky customer with a prize of some sort to encourage participation.

Now it’s on you.

These are just a few ways you could quickly begin to incorporate SMS marketing into your business. It’s important to remember that SMS without a strategy or goal will lead to poor results.

Make sure you understand why you’re adding SMS and determine measurements for success to continually optimize your efforts.

The trick is to not re-invent the wheel. You should look to mobilize initiatives you already have in place.

You don’t need to create a separate marketing initiative. You’re already doing what you need to do. Now mobilize it.

Do Birthday Acknowledgements Build Brand Relationships?

Asking a customer for birth date information is a very intimate question, and one that I tell clients to consider carefully before including on any registration form. When I celebrated my birthday in early December, I received all sorts of interesting emails and direct mail wishes and offers from a variety of brands. So which ones left me feeling warm, fuzzy and loved, thereby achieving their objective of deepening my relationship with them, and which ones left me in the cold?

Asking a customer for birth date information is a very intimate question, and one that I tell clients to consider carefully before including on any registration form.

If you have a legitimate reason for collection (identification, age requirement, etc.), then no one thinks twice about providing it—and accurately. But many brands only collect for analysis purposes—which means they’ll often get useless, incorrect data—while others note that they have a special birthday program, and for those consumers who like freebies, they provide that data point willingly.

When I celebrated my birthday in early December, I received all sorts of interesting emails and direct mail wishes and offers from a variety of brands. So which ones left me feeling warm, fuzzy and loved, thereby achieving their objective of deepening my relationship with them, and which ones left me in the cold?

Here’s my assessment:

  • 5 Stars to Chico’s: In the week before my birthday, I received a birthday card in the mail with a coupon for X percent off on my next purchase. However, when I got to the store, I failed to bring the coupon with me. Not an issue for Chico’s! Their database showed I had the birthday discount available and the clerk applied it to my purchase. Love that.
  • 4 Stars to Sharebuilder: I’ve been a loyal Sharebuilder customer since their inception, over 12 or 15 years ago. The weekend before my special day, I got an email acknowledging my birthday and an offer for a free “buy” trade on my account. All I had to do was click on the link provided and enter a promo code. Easy… which mimics their brand essence.
  • 3 Stars to Starbucks: As a Gold Account holder, Starbucks used to send me postcards after every 15 lattes for a free drink (which I loved). About a month before my special day, they sent me an email that my freebies would now to credited to my card automatically (fabulous!). However, about 2 weeks before my birthday, I got a birthday email telling me I’d get a freebie. When I got to Starbucks, however, it turns out I had to TELL the barista that it was my birthday, otherwise it’s not automatically tied to my card. Bizarre.
  • 2 Stars to ING: On my birthday I got a Happy Birthday message and a link to a video… which wasn’t really about birthdays, but more about being happy. I love ING, but judging from all the comments left from previous birthday viewers, they thought it was as strange as I did.
  • 1 Star to Wells Fargo: For a few ATM visits in early December, I got a “Happy Birthday” message on the ATM screen. No “extra” credit to my savings account. No waiver on an overdraft. No nothing. Gee, thanks.

Of course there’s always one party pooper. In this case, it’s the “Hey It’s Free” guy who assembled all his birthday freebies and posted them for everyone to see on his website. Guess who’s feeling not so special after all?

Did any of these efforts endear me to their brand? Or cause me to rethink my relationship? I can honestly say that they all made me feel a little special and loved in their own way. And they certainly help me to think twice about forgiving them for a future screw up. So as a marketer who knows how hard it is to sustain client loyalty, that’s certainly worth all the candles on my cake.

7 Email Marketing Mistakes Even Seasoned Marketers Make

Email marketing is so easy that it is tempting to use it as a set-and-forget marketing tool. Failure to optimize email marketing strategy and execution affects customer loyalty, sales and costs. Email provides a personal, one-to-one connection between customer and company. It’s a shame to lose opportunities to build relationships, increase revenue and reduce expenses by not committing the time and effort required to maximize email effectiveness.

Email marketing is so easy that it is tempting to use it as a set-and-forget marketing tool. After all, if the subscriber list is large enough, almost every send will generate revenue. Marketers dealing with constantly changing technology, platforms and channels have little time to commit to a channel that works with minimal effort.

Failure to optimize email marketing strategy and execution affects customer loyalty, sales and costs. Email provides a personal, one-to-one connection between customer and company. It’s a shame to lose opportunities to build relationships, increase revenue and reduce expenses by not committing the time and effort required to maximize email effectiveness.

Most of the mistakes made in email marketing have simple fixes with minimal costs. Here are seven common mistakes made by even the most experienced marketers:

1. Treating All Subscribers Alike
People choose to receive your emails for personal reasons. Some are trendsetters who want to see the latest and greatest items. Others are discount shoppers seeking the best deal. Nestled between the two are a variety of personalities looking for specific solutions to their problems. Failing to recognize the different types and create customized marketing messages for them speeds the email fatigue process and reduces sales opportunities.

2. Failing to Capitalize on Contact Opportunities
The email subscription process provides several opportunities to connect with people interested in knowing more about your business and products. Each step should be used to educate, entertain, and enlighten new subscribers. Poorly designed confirmation pages and welcome emails are lost opportunities.

3. Ignoring Deliverability Rules
The problem with this mistake is simple and obvious: Emails that don’t reach recipients won’t generate responses. Spam is a huge problem. According to a report by Symantec, 75 percent of global emails are spam (pdf). The tools designed to eliminate spam aren’t perfect. Encouraging subscribers to whitelist your emails increases deliverability but it doesn’t guarantee it. Ensuring that all emails follow deliverability rules improves chances that people will actually receive them.

4. Repeatedly Sending the Same Visual Email
Creating branded templates so that your emails are easily recognized is a good practice. Using the same one repeatedly isn’t. You have less than three seconds to capture the recipient’s attention before the delete button is pushed. People respond to visual information first. If all of your emails look alike, they trigger an “I’ve seen that already” response.

5. Presuming Recipients Recognize Icons and Know What You Want Them to Do
Icons are great visual add-ons, but they need a text call to action to encourage people to take the next step. People are trained from an early age to follow instructions. If you want them to connect with you on social platforms, visit your website, call your business, or get directions to your store, tell them. Icons without a call to action are tools for people who already know what they want. Icons with a call to action encourage people to do what you want.

6. Neglecting to Make Emails Mobile Friendly
According to a study by YesMail, over 41 percent of mobile device owners said that they have made either an online or in-store purchase as a direct result of an email promotion they viewed on their device. Are your emails easy to read on the small screen? Do all sections render properly for mobile devices? Some emails show a blank body when viewed on cell phones. Be sure to test your emails on Apple, Android and Blackberry devices to ensure recipients can read them.

7. Expecting HTML Emails to Automatically Convert to Readable Plain Text
The automated conversion tool provided by most email marketing services simply converts HTML to text. It does not make it readable. If your email is filled with links, the text version will look like a page of computer code instead of a message from a company that cares about customers and prospects. Always create HTML and text versions of every email to insure the message is appealing and readable for all recipients.

Only Trust Professionals – and Other Lessons From the NFL

I’m not even a big football fan, but I could certainly relate to the pain felt by the Saints when that last minute touchdown call was ruled against them. Of course the problem was with the inexperienced referees, called in when the professionals went out on strike. The same blame game is used when a direct marketing campaign goes awry. The client’s pointing its finger at the agency for its work/ideas, while the agency’s pointing its finger at the client for its direction/changes.

I’m not even a big football fan, but I could certainly relate to the pain felt by the Saints when that last minute touchdown call was ruled against them. Of course the problem was with the inexperienced referees, called in when the professionals went out on strike.

The same blame game is used when a direct marketing campaign goes awry. The client’s pointing its finger at the agency for its work/ideas, while the agency’s pointing its finger at the client for its direction/changes.

A successful direct marketing campaign is comprised of many complex facets—and it takes knowledge, experience and expertise to execute it flawlessly.

Despite the fact that many agencies claim complete integration and global knowledge, the reality is they often talk a good strategic game, but when handed a DM assignment, the executional details are left to the inexperienced.

I’ve received several calls recently from colleagues who want me to “help their agency” with the direct mail portion of a campaign. Not the strategy or the creative (their agency won’t let anyone touch that golden egg), but the list. It seems the agency doesn’t know the first thing about lists … and had been trying to sell the client something found on the internet from an unknown supplier.

That’s like asking the NFL referee to make the call on the Saints interference, but not on the Seahawks touchdown. The two are inexplicably entwined.

So I am asking, no begging, that clients identify and leverage agency partners based on their specialty. Spend your time understanding what skills are truly in the agency’s wheelhouse—and not a “sure, we can do that too!” skill. If the agency specializes in branding, then that’s what they’re probably very, very good at … and if it specializes in digital marketing (kind of a broad skill, but whatever), then ask them for help with your digital needs.

Good direct marketing agencies understand how to step back and think about your marketing needs based on your business goals and objectives. They delve deep into target audience research, trying to understand the audience mindset and identify key messages that will resonate and motivate a response. They may, in fact, recommend that you don’t use email (horrors!) or direct mail (gasp!) in your campaign mix for a variety of reasons, including the inability to find blue-eyed, left handed crane operators in any meaningful quantity that would make sense.

Good direct marketing agencies know how to source lists that are compiled from reputable sources. And they know how to evaluate those lists, identify the potential winners, and set up an unbiased test matrix to test and learn from a statistically valid sample size.

Good direct marketing agencies know how to design a campaign that will yield the desired response from the target. They’ll have solid rationale as to why a #10 package makes sense instead of a postcard, or why a three-panel self-mailer doesn’t make sense—even though your brand agency designed one that was “cool.” Or why an email shouldn’t consist of product images, or have a Subject line that’s longer than 40 characters.

Good direct marketing agencies know how to write compelling teasers, headlines, subheads, Johnson Boxes, P.S.’s and body copy based on years of testing and experience. They know how to leverage customer quotes, and the difference between a brochure, a buckslip, and a lift note.

Good direct marketing agencies don’t pick an offer because it sounds like fun, or because the client wants to get rid of the pile of chachkies in the warehouse. Their recommendations for offers is based on a deep understanding of what can motivate a target, an evaluation of the ROI model, and in-depth experience based on years of testing.

So if you view direct marketing as a skill set that can be handled by the temporary ref, then let your branding agency take charge. But if you want real results, bring in the pros.

Direct Mail Still Haunted by the J-Word

Summertime and the living is easy. So I stopped by the local spirits shop for a bottle of pink Sancerre and I was greeted with a window display for Double Cross Vodka that included a tongue-in-cheek campaign called “Project Double Cross.” Of course, the campaign’s creator had to get his digs on direct mail

Summertime and the living is easy.

So I stopped by the local spirits shop for a bottle of pink Sancerre and I was greeted with a window display for Double Cross Vodka that included a tongue-in-cheek campaign called “Project Double Cross.” (See the image in the media player at right.)

Of course, the campaign’s creator had to get his digs on direct mail (somehow I assume “hardcore adult magazines” fascination is a male trait, though I could be wrong here) …

Well, I’m not a vodka drinker, but I’m happy to give a Slovakian import a little extra publicity here to make a point: Consumer activism against “junk mail” is a little self-defeating, even if this new brand is seeking to have a little fun. We all know direct mail provides consumers with choices, and is often used as a brand’s secret weapon for targeted marketing. Heck, the entire porn industry, ironically, was built on mail order. Even in 2012, you can be sure some folks in our advertising business still love to ridicule the medium.

The same day I was reading Advertising Age, the recognized voice of agencies and Madison Avenue, and I came across this coverage of a recent Negotiated Service Agreement (NSA) between Valassis Communications and the United States Postal Service, which gives Valassis preferred postal pricing in return for volume increase guarantees: “Postal Ruling Makes Junk Mail Cheaper.”

The newspaper business was taking its shot at criticizing the agreement, and the reporter—who accurately described Valassis as a direct mailer of coupons and circulars—matter-of-factly covered the story. (It’s very quaint in this digital age to see newspapers still set on duking it out with direct mail.)

Still it seems to me funny that the headline editor of a leading trade magazine for integrated marketing falls for the “junk mail” moniker so readily to describe direct mail. Plainly, in this case, direct mail’s power (and value) in circular advertising is its local targeting ability—precisely why newspaper publishers feel so threatened by the Valassis NSA. That doesn’t sound like junk to me, Advertising Age.

You’d think that after the rise of customer relationship management in the 1990s (and how CRM and direct-response agencies emerged as cash cows for their holding companies), and after today’s recognition of direct marketing’s now-very-much-in-vogue accountability and measurability, that both branding evangelists and well-informed journalists would move beyond the tired j-word terminology.

When I worked at the Direct Marketing Association years ago, we were ever-vigilant to monitor brands and newspapers and local governments and other influencers that spewed their attacks on “junk mail” in various rants and ravings, even if the reference was more casual than caustic. The point was then, and it’s still true today, that “junk” is not a label that can be assigned by anyone but the recipient—and no channel is immune from having its content being labeled as junk.

In my opinion, “digital junk” and “screen junk” is everywhere, for example, and there’s much less of it in my mailbox. But I understand that it all pays the way for free Internet, television, email, etc. And as a consumer, I welcome nearly the whole of it. The key for all brands is to use data to create less junk and more relevance—hardly worth a consumer “double cross.”

Now back to my glass of Sancerre.

Take Command of Marketing Data Governance—Because We Have To

The emergence of “big data” as an enterprise concern for many businesses and organizations is, as with most trends, both an opportunity and a concern. I recently was involved in reviewing new and recent Aberdeen Research on “Big Data”—how it is defined, how it is changing information volume (astounding in quantity), variety (both structured and unstructured, with tremendous pressure to integrate and make sense of it), and velocity (pushing the insight, analytics and business rules that flow from such data to lines of business that can best profit from it).

The emergence of “big data” as an enterprise concern for many businesses and organizations is, as with most trends, both an opportunity and a concern.

I recently was involved in reviewing new and recent Aberdeen Research on “Big Data”—how it is defined, how it is changing information volume (astounding in quantity), variety (both structured and unstructured, with tremendous pressure to integrate and make sense of it), and velocity (pushing the insight, analytics and business rules that flow from such data to lines of business that can best profit from it). An infographic that captures some of this research is now posted at Mason Zimbler, a Harte-Hanks Company, which created the visual presentation.

Alongside this current fascination and business trend, perhaps it’s not surprising that members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, also are posing questions at the marketing business as to how we collect, buy/sell, rent and exchange data about consumers online and offline, and if there is adequate notice and choice in the process. In the rush to capitalize on Big Data, we need to ensure that we’re collecting and using marketing data for marketing purposes only, and doing so in a manner that is respectful of fair information practices principles and ultimately serves the end-customer, be it consumer or business individual or enterprise. [See Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA: http://markey.house.gov/content/letters-major-data-brokers.]

All too often, privacy adherence is considered a legal matter, or an information technology matter—but I maintain that while these two business areas are important in respecting consumer privacy, it is marketers who have the most to gain (and lose) by smart (or insensitive) information practices. Data is our currency, and we must treat data (our customers as data subjects) as our primary asset to protect. Our method of marketing is in the balance. One or two major privacy mishaps can spoil it for everyone.

Of course, marketing data governance is far more than privacy compliance. Data quality, data integrity, data security, data integration, data validation and data flows within an enterprise all, too, are part of marketing data’s customer intelligence equation. It is in this spirit that the Direct Marketing Association recently introduced its newest certification program for professionals: “The Institute for Marketing Data Governance and Certification,” taught by marketing veteran Peg Kuman, who is vice chair at Relevate Group. The three-day course, which has launched on a two-year, multiple-city tour, is indispensable in understanding how multiple channels, multiple data sources and platforms, customer expectations and business objectives combine to command better understanding, tools and processes for data handling for smart integrated marketing. Forthcoming course dates and registrations are available here: http://www.dmaeducation.org/dm-essentials/marketing_data_governance.php

For three days last month in New York, approximately two dozen professionals from large and small enterprises, both commercial and nonprofit, attended the first seminar. I, too, attended. There were representatives from marketing, public relations, analytics, legal, IT and fundraising, representing brands, agencies and service providers. This group was engaged—providing examples, asking questions and reporting experiences as the curriculum moved along. (For those who don’t know Peg—a former client of mine—she is quite the facilitator.)

Alongside a workbook, I took home some great handouts, too:

  • A sample security policy; a sample information security vulnerability assessment;
  • A security due diligence questionnaire;
  • A sample vendor risk management program vendor questionnaire;
  • The latest copy of the DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice (recently updated with new email append guidelines, by the way) and a bevy of news articles that captures the media’s and public policymakers’ current attention on consumer data in America.

The meat of the course tackled, among other topics:

  • Categorizing data and assigning priority and sensitivity (personally identifiable information, sensitive data and other categories);
  • Mapping data flows and interactions with customers; enhancing data with appended information, and ensuring its use for marketing only;
  • Having a data quality strategy as part of a data strategy;
  • Calculating return on data investment;
  • The emergence of digital, mobile and social data platforms, and how these present both structured and unstructured data collection and insight analysis challenges;
  • Assigning data “ownership”;
  • Calculating and assigning risk regarding security;
  • Monitoring security, investigating potential incidents of a breach, and handling a response to a breach were it to occur (using recent breach response examples of LinkedIn and Epsilon); as well as
  • Laws, ethics and best practices for all of these areas.

One of my concerns is the importation of European-style privacy protection in America, and current fascination with such protections by U.S. regulators and elected officials. That is worth another blog post in itself, but I can assure you that we need to educate politicians about the superiority of self and peer regulation where no consumer harm exists.

Thank you, DMA. Marketing data does not harm. It only creates consumer choice, commerce, jobs and (tax) revenue—and pays for the Internet and other media, too—and it is ridiculous to even entertain government-knows-better regulation of such information through a potential omnibus law in America, or other notions such as a government-mandated “privacy by design” requirement in marketing innovations. (On the other hand, I’m more than happy to see laws pass that protect Americans from potential government abuse of private sector marketing data—Big Brother should not be getting access to marketing data for non-marketing purposes, unless there is a demonstrable greater public good, where subpoenas are served and heard.) Privacy by design is smart business, but only when left to the innovators, not the policymakers.

Which brings me to close—and if you’re still reading this, I congratulate myself for not chasing you away. Big Data (which can incorporate far more than marketing data) goes hand-in-hand with marketing data governance. Whether a Big Data user or not, we all use marketing data everyday as our currency. Protect it. Respect it. Serve it. Govern it. So we can use it.