Data Will Lead Marketers Into a New World in 2020

What will be so different in this ever-changing world, and how can marketers better prepare ourselves for the new world? Haven’t we been using data for multichannel marketing for a few decades already?

The year 2020 sounds like some futuristic time period in a science fiction novel. At the dawn of this funny sounding year, maybe it’s good time to think about where all these data and technologies will lead us. If not for the entire human collective in this short article, but at the minimum, for us marketers.

What will be so different in this ever-changing world, and how can marketers better prepare ourselves for the new world? Haven’t we been using data for multichannel marketing for a few decades already?

Every Channel Is, or Will Be Interactive 

Multichannel marketing is not a new concept, and many have been saying that every channel will become interactive medium. Then I wonder why many marketers are still acting like every channel is just another broadcasting medium for “them.” Do you really believe that marketers are still in control? That marketers can just push their agenda, the same old ways, through every channel? Uniformly? “Yeah! We are putting out this new product, so come and see!” That is so last century.

For instance, an app is not more real estate where you just hang your banners and wait for someone to click. By definition, a mobile app is an interactive medium, where information goes back and forth. And that changes the nature of the communication from “We talk, they listen” to “We listen first, and then we talk based on what we just heard.”

Traditional media will go through similar changes. Even the billboards on streets, in the future, will be customized based on who’s seeing it. Young people don’t watch TV in the old-fashioned way, mindlessly flipping through channels like their parents. They will actively seek out content that suites “them,” not the other way around. And in such an interactive world, the consumers of the content have all the power. They will mercilessly stop, cut out, opt out, and reject anything that is even remotely boring to “them.”

Marketers are not in charge of communication anymore. They say an average human being looks at six to seven different screens every day. And with wearable devices and advancement in mobile technologies, even the dashboard on a car will stop being just a dumb dashboard. What should marketers do then? Just create another marketing department called “wearable division,” like they created the “email marketing” division?

The sooner marketers realize that they are not in charge, but the consumers are, the better off they would be. Because with that realization, they will cease to conduct channel marketing the way they used to do, with extremely channel-centric mindsets.

When the consumers are in charge, we must think differently. Everything must be customer-centric, not channel- or division-centric. Know that we can be cut off from any customer anytime through any channel, if we are more about us than about them.

Every Interaction Will Be Data-based, and in Real-time

Interactive media leave ample amounts of data behind every interaction. How do you think this word “Big Data” came about? Every breath we take and every move we make turn into piles of data somewhere. That much is not new.

What is new is that our ability to process and dissect such ample amounts of data is getting better and faster, at an alarming rate. So fast that we don’t even say words like Big Data anymore.

In this interactive world, marketers must listen first, and then react. That listening part is what we casually call data-mining, done by humans and machines, alike. Without ploughing through data, how will we even know what the conversation is about?

Then the second keyword in the subheading is “real-time.” Not only do we have to read our customers’ behavior through breadcrumbs they leave behind (i.e., their behavioral data), we must do it incredibly fast, so that our responses seem spontaneous. As in “Oh, you’re looking for a set of new noise-canceling earbuds! Here are the ones that you should consider,” all in real-time.

Remember the rule No. 1 that customers can cut us out anytime. We may have less than a second before they move on.

Marketers Must Stay Relevant to Cut Through the Noise

Consumers are bored to tears with almost all marketing messages. There are too many of them, and most aren’t about the readers, but the pushers. Again, it should be all about the consumers, not the sellers.

It stops being entirely boring when the message is about them though. Everybody is all about themselves, really. If you receive a group photo that includes you, whose face would you check out first? Of course, your own, as in “Hmm, let me see how I look here.”

That is the fundamental reason why personalization works. But only if it’s done right.

Consumers can smell fake intimacy from miles away. Young people are particularly good at that. They think that the grownups don’t understand social media at all for that reason. They just hate it when someone crashes a party to hard-sell something. Personalization is about knowing your targets’ affinities and suggesting — not pushing — something that may suite “them.” A gentle nudge, but not a hard sell.

With ample amounts of data all around, it may be very tempting to show how much we know about the customers. But never cross that line of creepiness. Marketers must be relevant to stay connected, but not overly so. It is a fine balance that we must maintain to not be ignored or rejected.

Machine Learning and AI Will Lead to Automation on All Fronts

To stay relevant at all times, using all of the data that we have is a lot of work. Tasks that used to take months — from data collection and refinement to model-based targeting and messaging — should be done in minutes, if not seconds. Such a feat isn’t possible without automation. On that front, things that were not imaginable only a few years ago are possible through advancement in machine learning or AI, in general.

One important note for marketers who may not necessarily be machine learning specialists is that what the machines are supposed to do is still up to the marketers, not the machines. Always set the goals first, have a few practice rounds in more conventional ways, and then get on a full automation mode. Otherwise, you may end up automating wrong practices. You definitely don’t want that. And, more importantly, target consumers would hate that. Remember, they hate fake intimacy, and more so if they smell cold algorithms in play along the way.

Huge Difference Between Advanced Users and Those Who Are Falling Behind

In the past, many marketers considered data and analytics as optional items, as in “Sure, they sound interesting, and we’ll get around to it when we have more time to think about it.” Such attitudes may put you out of business, when giants like Amazon are eating up the world with every bit of computing power they have (not that they do personalization in an exemplary way all of the time).

If you have lines of products that consumers line up to buy, well, all the more power to you. And, by all means, don’t worry about pampering them proactively with data. But if you don’t see lines around the block, you are in a business that needs to attract new customers and retain existing customers more effectively. And such work is not something that you can just catch up on in a few months. So get your data and targeting strategy set up right away. I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions, but this month being January and all, you might as well call it that.

Are You Ready for the New World?

In the end, it is all about your target customers, not you. Through data, you have all the ammunition that you need to understand them and pamper them accordingly. In this age, marketers must stay relevant with their targets through proper personalization at all stages of the customer journey. It may sound daunting, but all of the technologies and techniques are ripe for such advanced personalization. It really is about your commitment — not anything else.

Top 3 Direct Mail Mistakes

Over the last 25 years, I have seen a lot of direct mail mistakes. Sometimes they have been really funny, like the time when a wrong phone number was put on the mail piece so when recipients called it they reached a sex hotline. That was pretty funny. Other times, the mistakes have just been sad.

Over the last 25 years, I have seen a lot of direct mail mistakes. Sometimes they have been really funny, like the time when a wrong phone number was put on the mail piece so when recipients called it they reached a sex hotline. That was pretty funny. Other times, the mistakes have just been sad, like when a nonprofit had the wrong return address on their courtesy reply envelopes, so they did not get the donation checks delivered to them. The worst mistakes are the ones that cost you the most money, so learning what to avoid can really help.

Top 3 Mistakes:

1. Missing or Unclear Call to Action
The purpose of direct mail is to get recipients to respond. When you are missing a call to action or it is unclear to recipients what you want them to do, you will not get the response you were planning on. If you get a response at all it would be surprising. Be sure to have a specific call to action that is easy to follow. Highlight the great things they will get when they respond. Remember that this is all about the recipient, what is in it for them. Engagement requires you to go beyond getting recipient attention and really getting them to interact with you. The deeper their engagement with you, the better the relationship and more money and referrals come to you.

2. Designed Without Postal Regulations in Mind
The USPS has many regulations on direct mail and if you do not follow them, it will cost you more in postage. Since postage is your biggest cost this can mean a lot of money. There are strict regulations on where an address can be placed and that will depend on which mail category you fall in. There are folding specifications as well as paper weight. Your best bet is to consult with your mail service provider during the design phase to make sure you are meeting all the requirements before you print. This can save you a lot of money.

3. Unorganized or Not Well Planned
Marketing in general is complicated. There are a lot of things to consider as well as keep track of. Direct mail is definitely one of the more complicated channels. Before you start a direct mail campaign you need to plan out all of it, from design through tracking. Set not only your goals and expectations but also your timelines with your mail date in mind. Many times, people run out of time to make their planned mail date. All the time get sucked up in design and printing without leaving enough time to get the mailing out on schedule. Whenever you rush through a step there are bound be to things that go wrong, so take the time upfront to address issues before they happen. Creating the follow up with tracking and reporting once the campaign is complete is vital to your success. You need to know what is working and what needs to be changed.

All three of these mistakes can cost you a lot of money. If you take the time to create a direct mail campaign, make sure to address the potential problems before it is too late. Don’t waste your money. Direct mail can be a great way to promote and grow your business when it is done correctly. With careful planning and tracking direct mail can increase your ROI. What mistakes have you done or seen in the past. I would love to hear about them!

Unsubscribing Should Mean Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

It strikes me that many companies seem to be out of compliance with the CAN-SPAM laws and don’t make it easy to even find the unsubscribe link. And, when I finally locate it and click on it, I’m often presented with a survey — and one that you can’t ignore.

If you’re working at the speed of light (and who isn’t, these days?), chances are you’ve opted in to a company’s email list (either on purpose or automatically when you made an online purchase).

I honestly don’t recall opting-in to many of the company emails I receive, but since I usually just smack the “delete” button, I don’t give it much thought — until I try to opt out.

It strikes me that many companies seem to be out of compliance with the CAN-SPAM laws and don’t make it easy to even find the unsubscribe link. And, when I finally locate it and click on it, I’m often presented with a survey — and one that you can’t ignore. Because I just want to be done with it, I often fill out the “why are you leaving?” field with garbage keystrokes (do you think they find that helpful feedback?).

The companies that annoy me the most are those that appear to have multiple email opt-in streams — and for some reason, somebody decided I should be opted into to all of them:

  • Daily emails with info that’s hot off the press
  • Weekly recap of the daily emails so I can peruse what I may have missed
  • Monthly emails that highlight key opportunities
  • Quarterly emails that feature the most popular content/sale items

Are you kidding me?

Recently, the landing page made me add my email address and “submit” to each one of these options in order to be unsubscribed. And yet I keep getting their emails two weeks later!

Building and keeping relationships with your customers and prospects is a vital part of the nurturing process. But when someone wants to leave your opt-in list, the last think you should do is lock the door and refuse to let them out unless they meet all of your demands.

Instead of leaving with a warm and fuzzy “It’s okay … I may still come back and peruse your products and buy something when I’m ready” feeling, I’m leaving with the snarly “I wouldn’t buy anything else from you if you were the last vendor on earth!” attitude.

Whether you’re forced to provide an unsubscribe link because of compliance, or whether you do it because you understand the real value in database marketing, I’m begging you to let your customers and prospects leave on good terms. After all, you should be hoping that it’s a temporary break up — and not that bitter, “you’ll never see your kids again!” divorce.

What Matters in Postal Concerns Now

Postal topics are not always top-of-mind for integrated marketers, but direct mail and the “mail moment” continue to be a workhorse in direct marketing — generating in excess of $45 billion a year in advertising revenue, according to The Winterberry Group. This week, I caught up with Jody Berenblatt, senior advisor with GrayHair Advisors, and a recognized “postologist” expert and industry speaker.

Jody Berenblatt
Jody Berenblatt, GrayHair Advisors

Postal topics are not always top-of-mind for integrated marketers, but direct mail and the “mail moment” continue to be a workhorse in direct marketing — generating in excess of $45 billion a year in advertising revenue, according to The Winterberry Group. This week, I caught up with Jody Berenblatt, senior advisor with GrayHair Advisors, and a recognized “postologist” expert and industry speaker — with recent contributions at meetings at the National Postal Forum and Greater New York Postal Customer Council, and is a member of the USPS Mailers’ Technical Advisory Council. (By the way, National Postal Customer Council Day 2015 is Wednesday, September 23. Contact your local Postal Customer Council to get involved.)

Chet Dalzell: At this year’s National Postal Forum, you spoke about “Postal Matters” — what were or are the three hottest topics being discussed by mailers now?

Jody Berenblatt: The 2015 NPF theme was “Growing Together.” We heard about the U.S. Postal Service’s efforts to build a bridge between physical and digital mail. We heard about “omnichannel” and the new digital mail box … offering a daily preview email of what is scheduled to arrive in your physical mailbox. While recognizing the Postal Service’s accomplishments, mailing industry representatives noted what still needs to be done, such as improving the timeliness of the data … untimely information is not actionable. And of course that goes for mail delivery as well on such activities disruptive weather, 21 named storms [in 2015], and significant postal network changes. So providing reliable, predictable mail delivery at affordable rates is still a hot topic, important to both business and consumer postal customers.

The Office of Inspector General, in collaboration with IBM, recently published a report on the Internet of Postal Things, and that will remain a hot topic for some time. Kirk Kaneer, an economist at the Postal Service — OIG, invited me and a few others in the postal community to share ideas for innovation in neighborhood delivery. I wrote about how we might better use the information we already have. These blogs are now on view at https://www.uspsoig.gov/blog.

CD: The Exigency looks like it will stay for another 8 months or so — what’s your take on this? Any surprises, or is this a ‘New Normal’?

JB: There are rumors that USPS will file a case to contest the Postal Regulatory Council ruling, once again, this Friday [August 28]. Perhaps we will know if this rumor turns true after the publishing deadline.

The exigency, and whether or not the USPS will file for a CPI [consumer price index] price change, remain areas of uncertainty. More recently, postal executives have sent signals that might result in competitive price changes in January 2016, while any monopoly price changes will depend on the CPI rate experienced over the next few months. If warranted, USPS would more likely file the CPI increase when the exigency expires to increase its income. If the exigency surcharge is removed in April 2016, prices will likely increase by whatever CPI will allow. Still, the net effect will be a reduction in prices [if CPI rate is less than the exigency rate].

The downside to not filing a CPI increase is that it does not allow the USPS to make any mail preparation changes since they affect prices.

If you happen to mail a heavy volume of Flats, then FSS [Flat Sequencing System] mail prep, FSS pricing and USPS attention to ‘bundle breakage’ are concerns. De-facto cost increases resulting from mail preparation requirements are an important concern, which recently generated this comment from Quad-Graphics’ Joe Schick.

And if you happen to mail polybags, please join the MTAC [Mailers’ Technical Advisory Council] team to examine physical characteristics to improve postal handling of polybag packages. Expect new regulations on this.

Readers ought to be aware that the USPS recently obtained funding to modernize the digital payment system (CAPS), along with a new MTAC workgroup to focus on the development of the new Oracle-based postage payment reporting function.

CD: How healthy is the direct mail medium? Is it finding a reliable role in omnichannel marketing?

JB: I think from a marketing perspective, the answer is a resounding yes.

The OIG worked with Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making to conduct a neuro-marketing study exploring the differing impacts of physical and digital media on the consumer buying process. The study highlighted strengths of both media, but also suggests that, combined the two formats provide a powerful way for marketers to optimize their media mix.

As my colleague Marc Zazeela said, “I think it is really great that USPS is catching on and catching up. Listening to, and acting upon, the comments of their customers is a behavior that is one of the hallmarks of successful businesses.”

USPS Brand Marketing Manager Chris Karpenko recently talked to MTAC about mail as a media channel [within an integrated media mix], and provided sales staff with a tool to measure the ROI of mail and optimize a dozen media channels.

A copy of Chris’s presentation is here — and for mail advocates, it’s worth a look:

CD: What new digital, interactive tools from the USPS are delivering greater transparency for mail delivery? How are these tools making a difference?

JB: Today you can sign up to MyUSPS.com and find parcel delivery information. A new technology that could become the ultimate in mail-delivery transparency will be piloted this fall in the New York area. Each morning, it sends you [the mail recipient] an email preview of the mail the Postal Service is scheduled to deliver to you that day. This bridge between the physical mail and digital mail has enormous potential, and with that comes some risks … of course.

In a Virginia pilot, the Postal Service reported that the program increased response rates and interest in the mail/contents of the mail box. How big a difference these tools will make remains to be seen.

I will be the industry co-chair for the MTAC workgroup on this new tool, Informed Delivery App, so I encourage you to sign up to MyUSPS.com, see what mail is coming your way and tell us about your experience.

CD: The USPS Mailers’ Technical Advisory Council just celebrated its 50th year. What are the current focus areas on MTAC’s agenda — and what do mailers need to watch closely?

Yes, I am proud to be a MTAC member. As executive director of the Continuity Shippers Associations (CSA), I collaborated with Judy DeTorok, manager, industry engagement & outreach, consumer & industry affairs, at the USPS to record this perspective with long-time MTAC leader Coleman William (Bill) Hoyt.

You can watch that video here. [password is MTACHOYT]

Bill served as MTAC Chair, representing Readers Digest, during the early days, when USPS was still the Post Office Department. He and other MTAC members at the time helped the Postal Service with the original ZIP Code.

Fast forward to today, USPS Postmaster General Megan Brennan outlined MTAC’s 2016 four Focus Group Areas as follows, with USPS contact:

  • Mail Preparation, Entry and Operations — Linda Malone, Vice President, Network Operations — Mail processing discussions, issues around Network Rationalization/Consolidations, equipment operation/production/capacity, discussions to optimize mail separations, service performance and MTE [My Time Entry]. This group will be an avenue for discussion around delivery, Transportation and international mail processing.
  • Payment & Acceptance, and Education — Pritha Mehra, Vice President, Mail Entry and Payment Technology — Mail acceptance, mailing documentation, methods of payment, PostalOne!, Seamless Acceptance, eInduction and mail piece design. It will also be the avenue for issues around customer education around new acceptance programs, payment technology, finance and mail prep technologies.
  • Enterprise Analytics and Data Usage — Robert Cintron, Vice President, Product Information — Product visibility, service performance measurement, data provisioning and address management. With its broader focus, it will also address IT related discussions, cyber security, data visualization and geo‐
  • Emerging Technology & Product Innovation — Gary Reblin, Vice President, New Products and Innovation — Will expand beyond its current focus on new products, promotions and product changes. It will be the place for new disruptive technologies to include market research and marketing tools.

Four items that mailers need to watch:

  1. Look to participate in USPS promotion incentive programs to improve the interactivity of mail with other media channels.
  2. Take a look at your mail quality. The Postal Service has created a feedback mechanism on all aspects of mail quality. These scorecards are accessible via the Postal Service’s web portal: the business customer gateway.
  3.  The Postal Service will be publishing clarifications of the Move Update rules. Make sure your business process for managing names and address is in compliance.
  4. Consider joining one of the MTAC User Groups. You don’t need to be an MTAC member to participate. If you don’t already belong to an association — look at joining one.

A ‘Back-to-Business’ Email Optimization Checklist

Back to school is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your email program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are six ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates:

Back to school is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your email program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are six ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates:

1. Put on the proverbial tie. Just as we don suits again in September, smarten up your email look with a template minirefresh. A simpler, more streamlined template will focus subscriber attention on key content and calls to action. Gather your creative and content teams and do a quick inventory of all the changes made to your newsletter template in the past nine months. Remove those that no longer make sense. Nearly every program has them, including the following:

  • small image, link or headline additions requested by the brand, product or sales teams;
  • the multilink masthead that no longer matches the landing pages;
  • that extra banner at the bottom of your emails promoting a special event that never seemed to go away;
  • a bunch of social networking links that no one has clicked on (usually, you’ll find two or three that your subscribers actually use. Keep those and give them breathing room so they’re more appealing and inviting); and
  • extra legal or other language in the footer.

2. Insure against failure. Take a quick look at two key engagement metrics this year: unsubscribe requests and complaints (i.e., clicks on the “Report Spam” button). First, ask everyone on your team to make sure the unsubscribe link works. Then, take a look if the unsubscribe and complaint rates for your various types of messages (e.g., newsletters or promotions) are erratic, growing or steady?

If erratic, you may find certain message types or frequency caps need to change. If growing, your subscribers may be moving to a new lifestage and are now uninterested in your content, or a new source of data may be signing up subscribers ill-suited for your brand and/or content. Both of these are great segmentation opportunities.

3. Turn frequency into cadence. Back when everything reached the inbox, being present was enough to earn a brand impression. So, many marketers just broadcast often to be near the top of the inbox. People are now fatigued from inbox clutter, however, and are employing more filters as a result. Being relevant and timely trumps volume. Subscribers visit their inboxes expecting to see timely messages tailored to their interests. On the other hand, repeated reminders about last week’s sale may turn them off forever.

4. Adopt a new attitude. Gather new information about subscribers, and use it to test content or segmentation strategies. Run a few instant polls to gauge how important key demand drivers are to your subscribers. Ask for a vote on some product taglines you’re considering. To get higher participation, make it fun by featuring the results of the poll on your Facebook fan page, inviting comments that you can share. Or keep a Twitter tally of response in real time.

5. Arm yourself for the crush. Just as traffic swells on the highways and commuter trains this time of year, the email transit way also fills up as marketers promote their fall offerings and gear up for the holidays/Q4. Just like in any rush hour, the more email traffic, the higher the likelihood that your messages will wait in line or be filtered.

Make it a habit to check your sender reputation every day that you send broadcast mailings — it only takes a minute if you have access to inbox placement data. If you don’t have this data, get it from a deliverability service, demand it from your email service provider (ESP), or even check simple diagnostics such as my firm’s free email reputation service SenderScore.org or DNSstuff.com, another free email reputation service.

Sender reputation is directly tied to inbox reach, and the best senders enjoy inbox placement rates in the 95th percentile. Don’t be fooled by ESP reports of “delivered” (i.e., the inverse of your bounce rate). Even for permission-based marketers, about 20 percent of delivered email is filtered or blocked and never reaches the inbox, according to a study by my firm. You can’t earn a response if you aren’t in the inbox. Imagine the immediate boost on all your response metrics if you move your inbox placement rate up 10 or more points.

6. Make new friends. You likely already read a number of blogs or e-newsletters that cover topics relevant to your brand and important to your audience. Audit these for new, fresh voices, then regularly link to those websites in your own messages as part of a regular “view from the world” feature. Your subscribers will appreciate the additional heads up to interesting or helpful articles, and you’ll start to build a network of experts and potential referrals back to your business.

These might be tasks already on your to-do list. Do them this week and get back to business a bit stronger and ready to optimize. Let me know what you think; please share any ideas or comments below.