Concerned About Amazon’s Growing Digital Ad Business? Turn to Email

Amazon’s rise as an advertising force means more marketers will move their digital ad spend. To stay competitive, publishers need to think holistically about new income streams and strengthen predictable ones, like subscriptions. On all counts, email can help.

For quite some time the digital advertising world has been described as a duopoly between Google and Facebook with every other online ad platform picking up the scraps. That state of affairs has been changing over the last few years, with Amazon’s advertising business catching up and becoming the third largest ad platform in the U.S.

How close is Amazon to the walled gardens? The company is predicted to reach $40 billion annually in ad revenue by 2023 — right behind Facebook’s $55 billion in 2018. And per Juniper Research, Amazon’s ad business is expected to grow more than 470% over the next five years. It might not catch Google or Facebook to crack into one of the top two spots, but its rapid growth has turned the digital ad duopoly into a triopoly.

Amazon’s rise as an advertising force means there are simply fewer ad dollars available to those outside the walled gardens. When Google and Facebook reigned as a true duopoly, publishers still had a reasonable percentage of the overall online ad marketplace to share. Now, marketers who might have spread ad dollars across Google, social, and publishers will likely move that latter group’s spend into Amazon ads as a way to reach that same audience where they are making purchase decisions. This is especially the case for CPGs and retailers.

To stay competitive with Amazon, publishers need to think holistically about new income streams and strengthen predictable ones, like subscriptions. On all counts, email can help.

Subscriptions and Email

Subscriptions as a source of revenue got lost in the shuffle as publishers became more digital. For years, publishers have given away their inventory: outsourcing traffic to platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter — and hoping they would deliver better-performing ad revenue. But this has proven to be a losing battle, with third-party distribution contributing a small fraction of total digital revenue for most publishers.

As Amazon emerges as an ad powerhouse, publishers are reverting back to what works. Per a Reuters study, 52% of publishers said subscriptions and memberships would be their main revenue focus in 2019 versus relying on ad monetization. In fact, The New York Times has publicly stated they are looking to grow their online subscriber base to 10 million by 2025.

But how can publishers win new subscribers? Just adding a paywall to the website and hoping readers opt-in to paying for content they are used to getting at no cost on Facebook or Twitter isn’t going to work. They need to entice readers. This is where a publisher’s first-party audience data is so critical — and email is a good place to start.

Publishers pursuing subscription models who have developed their email newsletters and properties have a distinct advantage here. Using the insights that a robust email system provides, publishers can determine the propensity of each potential subscriber to purchase a subscription (who opens, who reads on other devices, etc.).

The email address’s significance for publishers isn’t just a way of sending email: It’s the key to marketing and identity in this mobile world. When publishers use their email newsletters as a tool to drive their subscriptions campaign, they’re able to continue that campaign to a known person with consistent messaging, and dynamic paywalling, wherever that person is paying attention, including across mobile devices.

New Inventory via Newsletters 

However, publishers shouldn’t just rely on subscriptions, as ad revenue will always be important. Many publishers are opening up their email inventory for third-party advertisers to bid on via programmatic advertising platforms, which creates an incremental, recurring revenue stream.

Why does it work? Although email is an older technology, it remains a highly effective and impactful channel for marketers. An Adobe study on email marketing found people still spend hours on the channel each day, with the average consumer checking work email 3.1 hours per weekday and personal email 2.5 hours per weekday. Furthermore, those email newsletters are a fraud-free, logged-in channel that represents a direct relationship with a publisher’s audience — a relationship that is not susceptible to the subtle algorithm shifts that can wreck the best laid-out marketing plans on other platforms. And these emails ads can be personalized based on what the email opener is interested in, according to the publisher’s first-party data.

With this, publishers can partner with retail and CPG marketers to run non-competitive, targeted, and personalized email ad campaigns. For the recipient, it’s all about relevancy. People only tend to get annoyed by advertising when it doesn’t seem relevant to them. But if publishers can connect readers with a brand that really speaks to them, that has a product or service they care about, it’s actually a pleasant experience and produces a good ROI for the brand, and good revenue in turn for publishers!

Amazon may be turning the online ad business into a triopoly, but publishers have the opportunity to go back to a business model where they keep control over their audience and data and still offer value to brand advertisers.

Why C-Suites Are Agonizing Over the Death of Email

The higher on the corporate totem pole the executive who leaped to a premature conclusion of email’s demise, the less likely he or she is to have the time and patience to carefully drill down into the data.

There is no question that many of the fat cats inhabiting C-suites today are nervously scratching their heads and trying to conjure up strategies to protect their empires against the possibility of an economic downturn. The barbarians are not yet at the elevators; but with all the changes happening in the marketplace and Cassandra predictions that the happy days of the strong economy are coming to an end, probably sooner rather than later, the day of reckoning may not be too far off.

It is probably a good time to start worrying — if not a bit late. While the macro data and quarterly earnings calls — which always seem to be the focus of our corporate leaders — are clearly important, they often reflect superficial understanding of what’s really going on. Or the micro profit dynamics that fuel their businesses.

“I´m afraid that email is already a dead platform” complained a senior executive, having seen her company’s latest dashboard — showing a pronounced decrease in the number of responses, compared to the previous years. The conclusion: “Nobody reads emails anymore.”

That’s what we used to call, in less politically correct times, “mother-in-law research.” Suffice it to say that, on the basis of available information, the paraphrase of Mark Twain’s classic remark when he read his own obituary in the newspaper is appropriate here:

“The reports of my death (or in this case, the death of email) are greatly exaggerated.” That doesn’t mean it’s as healthy as it might be, but it may be a little early to call the undertaker.

Rodrigo Mesquita, of Return Path, a company that has an admitted preference for email as a medium, likes to quote the initial paragraph of his company’s useful study, “The State of Email”:

“Studies show that a vast majority of consumers prefer email for brand communications, and current projections indicate that by 2021, there will be more than 4.1 billion email users, worldwide.”

The trouble is that the higher on the corporate totem pole the executive who leaped to a premature conclusion of email’s demise, the less likely he or she is to have the time and patience to carefully drill down into the data and discover such critical factors as its overuse, its increasingly dirty data, or sub-optimal delivery rates — to say nothing of the creative quality of the communications.

What is more likely is an edict issued from on high, cutting the very resources that could make the email regain its place as the least expensive medium per thousand with the greatest reach and the ability for personalization, known to be a critically important element of today’s marketing and the medium with the highest ROMI (the M is for “Marketing) and the least up-front cash investment. But that’s a level of detail that seldom makes it up the last flight of steps to the C-suite. It’s too micro for management attention.

Haven’t we all seen it happen dozens of times?

Who is easier to blame for the figures that don’t come up to budget than the marketing team?

It is well-known that as public corporations look toward the end of any given calendar quarter and the estimated profit figure looks below forecast, the easiest way of instantly cutting significant expense is to cancel a large chunk of the current marketing budget. As costs come instantly down, the other end of this seesaw, profits, rise magically up. And does it really matter to the company’s success in the long run? There have been lots of learned MBA thesis on this subject, but no one is certain.

What is certain is the tendency of many companies to still view marketing as an “overhead.” The useful publication, Digiday, recently headlined an intriguing piece: “ ‘Overhead’: Why marketing is still seen as a cost-center,” which looks at some of the reasons why marketing often gets the blame when things go wrong.

Despite chief marketing officers making the case for how important marketing is to an overall business, marketing’s reputation as a “cost center,” versus one that actually drives profits, is hard to shake off …

Reducing marketing overhead became the standard approach for troubled brands following the 2008 recession. Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and General Mills, among others, cut their marketing spend, slashed their agency rosters and gave procurement departments much more power putting cost above all else. [My bolding.] That approach hasn’t always proved successful — look at what cost-cutting has done to Sears or Kraft-Heinz — but it hasn’t dissuaded the C-suite from slicing and dicing marketing.

Are companies going to be any smarter the next time? Your guess is as good as mine.


Until the C-suite executives stop “putting cost above all else and do the work of truly understanding how, in today’s increasingly B2C environment, marketing is the only bridge between the business and its customer, they are often falling into the water. Bean counters in the procurement departments are trained to buy as cheaply as possible. Not understanding the economic process that is data-driven marketing, their knee-jerk reaction is to cut expenses. Those cuts are often counter-productive. Procurement can always save a bundle getting the order to the customer in a week rather than the same day. And what’s all this wasted expense for CRM actions?

“Overhead” need not be a dirty word; especially when the majority of what is often labelled “overhead” is often the cost of the fuel which powers the total sales process.

Simplistic as it may sound; the bottom line should always be “the bottom line.” Before discarding an effective medium like email or decimating an effective marketing program by mislabeling it “overhead,” C-suite executives might do well to look carefully at the micro issues — what actually happens with each customer — instead of only at the big numbers.

It might be worth knowing that according to the Wall Street Journal, “Average Tenure of CMO Slips to 43 Months.”


If you crave success and justified adulation, glory may be waiting for you at

As data and AI increasingly drive our industry and there is increased focus on the bottom line, I’ve developed a special respect for the International ECHO Awards. They were born in the United States 80 years ago and are now also present in Latin America and Brazil.

We all know there are many advertising awards, wonderful for our egos and our CVs when we win one. The best known is the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Cannes celebrates creativity, while paying lip service to strategy and measurable results. That’s great, as far as it goes.

But as you know, our targeted business has other dimensions that deserve to be acknowledged and rewarded. That’s the purpose of the International ECHO Awards, the only ones that consistently rate campaigns on the three pillars of Strategy, Creative and Res,ults, giving equal weight to each of these components. The type of results ECHO measures are business results, the bottom line.

Entries are open through Aug. 27. Get all of the details at

Political Marketing That’s Fooling Some of the People, Some (or All) of the Time

Increasingly unable to escape the deluge of hysterical ill-directed political marketing that is overflowing my inbox, I’ve jealously started wondering what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are guiding these communications consultants to justify their million-dollar fees.

Increasingly unable to escape the deluge of hysterical ill-directed political marketing that is overflowing my inbox, I’ve jealously started wondering what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are guiding these communications consultants to justify their million-dollar fees.

Are their efforts fooling all of the people all of the time? Or just some of the people some of the time?

In product marketing initiatives, there can be lots of bottom-line winners — all of the brands whose clickthrough numbers exceed the company’s KPI targets and show the kinds of bottom-line sales results that bring smiles to shareholders’ faces and money to their pockets. But political marketing is a zero-sum game.

The ultimate KPI is winning or losing, becoming Senator, Governor or even White House occupant. Along the way, political marketers, like all fundraisers, especially those seeking campaign funding contributions, are no doubt watching to see all the obvious KPI metrics. They’re looking for percentages contributing, range of contribution amounts and average contributions, first-time or multiple “givers.” One can’t help but wonder: In the last analysis, do they really want to see more than the KPI which says “WIN” or “LOSE”?

I don’t know about you (and given our growing desires for privacy, I’m not sure I have any right to know about you) but I’ll bet my inbox gets more political fundraising and petition-gathering mail than yours does. Every day, mine displays a stunning collection that sorely tempts me to invoke the Spam solution.

But I hesitate, because I guess I’m a political junkie. Otherwise, I’d figure out a way never to hear any word that rhymes with “rump” again. (All readers’ entries will be gratefully considered, published and/or deleted.) You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Way back in early 2017, I wrote a column here venting my frustration with the tsunami of inviting, pleading, and threatening emails I was receiving daily from the Democratic party’s octopus of units, the DCCC, the Democratic National Committee, Maggie for NH, National Democratic Training Committee (the worst and most outrageous), Progressive Turnout Project and the imperious commands from House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi: “Not Asking for Money“ (which always end up asking for money) and the order, “READ NOW” “(don’t delete)”.  Here are some others:

  • URGENT — 20K SIGNATURES NEEDED: Women’s reproductive rights on the line
  • Add your name to hold Big Pharma accountable
  • Fwd: ? NOT asking for money
  • Sign this petition re: Trump’s golf course
  • Need Peter’s signature to STOP TRUMP
  • You have been selected to represent voters in your area

It appears that fooling the prospect into believing he/she is one of a very select group and asking for the target to complete a survey or a petition is this year’s most effective political marketing and, dare I say it, fundraising tool. I guess we all want to feel special; even if deep-down, we know that everyone has been “selected.”

Can I be the only person offended when assaulted by a subject line: “Peter is committed to vote for Donald Trump!?” Only after having voiced a few favorite expletives do I notice that “?”. But by then, I’m hooked on the rest of the message.

If the KPIs must first, be the number of surveys or petitions completed and the number abandoned and second, the contribution generation from the pitch at the end of the survey, I must be screwing up the political marketers’ dashboards. Given the number of headline changes, you’d think that either nothing works or everything does.

Can the almost daily surveys do anything more than fool a certain number of people into believing their voices reach the ears of anyone? Especially anyone who really cares what they think, more than whether they will pony up some money?

The hardly impartial rhetorical questions: “Donald Trump recently lied by claiming millions of voters cast their ballots illegally this year. Do you think he will use this lie to try to further suppress minority voters in future elections?” are always quite reasonably followed by, “Will you make a $3 contribution right now to help us advance our data-driven strategies to help Democrats win?”

What Data-Driven Marketing 101 teaches must be true, or they wouldn’t keep using the technique. And as pointed out recently in Forbes:

The amount of money invested will be in the billions of dollars — all spent within roughly a calendar year. The degree of sophistication, customization, micro-targeting, and proliferation across media channels is unprecedented. The goal is to create a lot of content that is both pushed to people — who then share it with others — and made available so that people find it on their own. What this means is that the authority of TV ads has diminished. At POOLHOUSE [an agency serving the Republican Party] we have to approach getting a candidate’s message out to voters in a much more complex manner, and that makes political marketing more challenging. But more interesting, as well.

The old way of marketing political candidates no longer works, as the exponential increase in information leads to higher consumer/voter intelligence.

How to develop KPIs to follow the complexity and drive strategic changes depends to a great extent on political judgement calls as much as traditional brand marketing experience, and may actually justify those sky-high consultant fees.

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical and should signal that at least some surveys have a grander purpose. Sky Croeser, writing in The Conversation opined:

Online petitions are often seen as a form of “slacktivism” — small acts that don’t require much commitment and are more about helping us feel good than effective activism. But the impacts of online petitions can stretch beyond immediate results.

Whether they work to create legislative change, or just raise awareness of an issue, there’s some merit to signing them. Even if nothing happens immediately, petitions are one of many ways we can help build long-term change.

The possibility of building “long-term” change is not without its merits; although, building the KPIs to measure the change is a daunting task.

Now imagine if that change means that political and general marketers could no longer fool all or even some of the people, all or even some of the time. But hold on a sec. Then we need to consider how many of us might have to change our ways or be out of the game.

Direct Mail Informed Delivery Enhances Your Campaigns

Are you ready to get more out of your direct mail campaigns? Direct mail is a very powerful marketing channel that can be enhanced by adding Informed Delivery.

Are you ready to get more out of your direct mail campaigns? Direct mail is a very powerful marketing channel that can be enhanced by adding Informed Delivery.

What is Informed Delivery? Basically, you provide to your customers and prospects with more touchpoints, more impressions and, therefore, create more impact. The USPS offers a free service to subscribers, which sends an email to them with an image of that day’s mail.

The default images are not in color, because they are scanned on postal equipment. When you participate in an Informed Delivery campaign, you can replace that image with a color image and even add a web link for quick purchasing or information about your product or service.

How Does Informed Delivery Enhance Your Mailing Results?

  • The USPS has a 72.5% email open rate. People will see your ad.
  • It has a 4.92% clickthrough rate on ads. People do click on the ads.
  • It encourages faster response rates, with the easy link.
  • It provides an easy way to have multiple touchpoints with clients and prospects.

Is It Complicated?

No, and that is the best part. Once you design your mail piece, you should design an image for Informed Delivery and also create a ride along ad. Both will then be sent with the landing page information to the post office, along with a mail.dat file so the post office knows who gets the mail and the ads. When the post office scans the mail piece for delivery, it will send the email to your customer or prospect with that day’s mail. Your color image with the ad and web page will be in that email.

How Can You Measure Results?

You will use your normal measuring tools for your direct mail results, plus the added Informed Delivery results. The best way to do this is to create a special landing page for your Informed Delivery ad and coupon code recipients enter at purchase. This will allow you to track how many hits come to the page, as well as how many purchases are made from the Informed Delivery portion. Your responses from the mail piece will go to a different landing page; they can also come in based on other response mechanisms, like phone or email, depending on what you provide.

Why Use Informed Delivery?

In 2019, there is a very good reason to try it out. Why? Because the post office is having a promotion for Informed Delivery. You can save 2% on your postage just for trying it out. The promotion period is Sept. 1 to Nov. 30. Over 14 million people have registered to receive these emails from the post office and that continues to grow daily. Many marketers are looking at new ways to use direct mail and Informed Delivery can help you grow your ROI. Are you ready to get started?

Here’s a Modest Proposal for Batch-and-Blast Email Marketers and Robocallers

The increased volume of data-driven marketing initiatives have taken digital marketing to the top spot in the media universe. There, it’s likely to be king of the mountain until the next fashionable tsunami comes along. Enter, batch-and-blast email marketers and robocallers.

Unnumbered terabytes have been squandered recently as the increased volume of data-driven marketing initiatives have taken digital marketing to the top spot in the media universe. There, it’s likely to be king of the mountain until the next fashionable tsunami comes along. Enter, batch-and-blast email marketers and robocallers.

Consumers who formerly complained about getting too much mail are increasingly (and rightly) up in arms about the intrusiveness of unsolicited emails, ads jumping onto their Internet pages — visually blocking desired content, just when they want to see it — location-driven cell phone promotions advising them of the goodies inside the retail shop they are passing (remember them) or receiving endless robocalls.

Anything is possible! In today’s world of almost endless permutations and combinations of digital sales messages, what faster than a speeding bullet Superthing can stop them before they plunge irretrievably into some black hole, never to be seen again?

Would you believe that the answer is neither a superman nor woman? No: It’s not even a humanoid. It is quite simply that elusive substance that is said to make the world go ’round: money.

The useful website AlterNet recently carried what could be the game-changing story for our industry. Why stop with the industry? It could be a game-changer for our society and sanity. Consumers may not complain as much about emails and push ads as they do about robocalls, but you can bet they get nearly as angry about their privacy being invaded. Wrote Matthew Chapman:

Americans are being bombarded with robocalls. It’s an epidemic, and it’s getting worse. By a recent estimate, 71 million of these scam calls are being placed per hour, [my highlighting] often completely illegally.

Robocalls make up the top source of complaints to both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC); both of which, in theory, have power to police robocalls. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to get rid of them.

Almost; but not impossible. As Shakespeare wrote:

“If money go before, all ways do lie open.” —Ford, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Act 2, Scene 2

Chapman reported that Roger Meiners, a professor of law and economics at the University of Texas at Arlington, has a brilliant proposal for how to defeat robocallers, once and for all. It has exquisite simplicity and can, by extension, apply to almost all of our batch-and-blast outrages. Professor Mainers’ proposal, which deserves nothing less than a Nobel economics nomination:

Levy a 1-cent tax on every outgoing phone call.

If codified into the law of the land, it would be collected automatically and digitally. Individuals and small businesses would hardly notice it. We’d all pay the tax but even for a heavy individual user who made 50 calls per day; his tab would be only $15.00 per month.

In the Wall Street Journal, Meiners explained how it would work:

Most taxes aren’t popular, but this one will be. Call it the Penny for Sanity Tax: a 1-cent tax on every call made. Fifty billion robocalls would cost $500 million — a powerful incentive to stop.

Because the tax would apply to all calls, it would avoid litigation about what can be legally disfavored. It would be impossible to evade by sneaking around classifications of calls. And it would not necessitate hiring more bureaucrats to enforce a complicated rule.

What a huge effect it would have if put into practice. The amount could be easily raised if it didn’t act as a sufficient inhibitor of batch-and-blast. The whole idea might also inform an app where the consumer could choose to get paid to look at ads. As the Bar proclaimed “ … all ways do lie open,” if there is coin to pay the piper. And imagine how even a little of this money might be used for the environment, the public good or worthy charities.

Now let’s stretch and imagine the application of the Meiners’ formula to email. The Radicati Group estimates the worldwide number of consumer and business emails sent per day in 2018 at more than 281 billion. If these were taxed at 1 cent each, (same as the calls, but harder to collect), the cost would be $2.8 billion per day. You get the idea.

Where technologies have run well ahead of the business models they support, not a lot of thought has been given to the actual costs of emails and robocalls. “Let’s mail another million. It isn’t costing anything. And then we can go to lunch” has an all-too-familiar ring to it, even if it happens to be more apocryphal than true. There is, as the saying goes, no such thing as a free email or robocall or lunch.

Because very few marketers have done the math to determine the real comparative bottom-line effect of over-promoting or looked at the medium- and long-term commercial and societal damage it causes, they might as well go off and enjoy lunch. Their C-Suite days are numbered.

Soon, they are likely to be replaced by a tribe of literate data nerds, a species currently in short supply. Their recruitment is driving up costs like international soccer stars. They are just what giant consulting firms, such as Accenture, need to support their acquisition of “creative” shops with funny names and casual dress and time-keeping habits certain to annoy the hell out of the senior partners, who are mostly former three-piece, dark-suited accountants who daily commute from the suburbs and arrive at the office with Swiss punctuality.

Imagine the culture clash. And imagine how in this radically changed game, our vision of response rates and costs — in fact, almost everything in our marketing sphere — would change for the better.

Best of all, when the telephone rings, we wouldn’t have to worry we were about to be propositioned or otherwise engaged in a time-wasting conversation with a robot.

Why the Email Batch and Blast Practice Is an Addiction and How to End It

It’s the junk food of marketing. We all know that the email batch and blast practice really isn’t good for anyone, but many marketers just can’t seem to wean themselves off of the practice.

In email marketing, “Batch & Blast” is a common practice. But dare I say, it’s the junk food of marketing. We all know that the email batch and blast practice really isn’t good for anyone, but many marketers just can’t seem to wean themselves off of the practice.

The addiction level in some cases is as bad as that of an opioid, not some casual black bubbly water loaded with sugar. I’ve seen marketers who are so addicted to it, they blast emails to “everyone” on the list multiple times a day. With the same creative and offer,.seven days a week. If that’s not junk mail — yeah, I said that ultimate dirty word in 1:1 marketing — I don’t know what is.

It’s a vicious cycle. With that many emails literally bombarding the targets, the list gets saturated. Open, clickthrough and conversion rates start to go down. To make up for lost sales, marketers send even more emails to cover the difference. And the downward spiral continues.

I’ve actually received requests from such clients to figure out how many “more” emails they can send out in situations like that. My answer? If everyone is getting 14 or more emails every week, there is no need for further study. Everyone in the database is over-promoted, so give them a break in the name of humanity, if not for best practice in marketing.

Nevertheless, many still see every email drop only as a sales opportunity, and they believe that more is always better. From the receiving end, however, it’s a nuisance — or even torture. Had it not been for the “unsubscribe” button hidden at the bottom of the email with the font size of a few pixels, many would have just opted out from the brand. Most email recipients would just “highlight all, then delete.”

Many marketers believe that batch and blast works, because some revenue comes in with every email campaign drop. However, in my opinion, that is like believing that prolonged trawling in the fishing industry is beneficial in the long run. Yeah, you’ll catch lots of fish that way. Initially, for a while. But if you and your fellow fishermen keep doing that, there won’t be many fish left in your area in the near future. Then what? Just eat more meat?

Sadly, many folks who are in charge of email marketing don’t even care about the long-term effects of indiscriminate and incessant email bombardment. They may not even be in that position in a particular company for long, anyway. Even if they do care, many email marketers are compensated based on the number of successful email drops and attributed revenue numbers. When the bonus plan is tied to such things, who cares about the long-term effect of batch and blast? Well, CEOs and CMOs must care.

Not that I will convince every email marketer here, but let’s pose the question, nonetheless. Why is the batch and blast practice bad for the brand in the long run? Let’s go down the list one by one.

Batch-and-blast emails:

  • Train the audience to ignore your brand: Sending non-personalized emails to everyone very frequently always ends up training valuable audiences to ignore the brand message. Yes, I do get multiple emails a day from certain reputable retailers, like Amazon. But I’m not always annoyed, because the email offers from Amazon are “somewhat” personalized for me, based on my past purchases and individual profile (or the profile of a segment to which I happen to belong). Sending irrelevant messages is bad enough. Do that every day, multiple times a day? You are literally asking them to ignore you. Tell me how that is good for anyone in your organization?
  • Opportunity cost, if not real cost: Proper targeting had been at the center of 1:1 marketing strategy in the days of direct mail. Because it costs so much money to procure lists, process data, print marketing materials, put postage on them and mail them out, every marketer needed to target better. In fact, modeling techniques for target marketing were paid for by the savings from reduced mail volumes. With properly built targeting models, we could achieve revenue targets without mailing to everyone. Math worked because, in general, it would cost more than $1 to send out a piece. No one would send an expensive catalog to “everyone” in the database if the mailer could get the same revenue by sending copies to 10 to 20 percent of the target universe. On the contrary, in the world of email, such costs are irrelevant. Marketers would still have to pay for an ESP, anyway; so why bother with targeting? In fact, why mail less, at all? But, we must think about the opportunity cost. Danger of un-subscription is real, if you consider the acquisition cost (which is always high). Dwindling open and click rates are very much real, too, bringing in less and less revenue per campaign as time goes by. And the cost of training customers to ignore brand messages? It’s hard to calculate a short-term monetary loss on that, but it’s a real loss in the long-run, nonetheless. You’d always need a fresh set of new customers, only to abuse them until the point of non-response.
  • No personalization: Batch and blast, by definition, is sending the same message to everyone, all of the time. In the days when we can’t avoid the word “personalization” in any marketing conference, that’s a real shame. There are plenty of studies and stats emphasizing that relevant messages lead to higher conversion rates. Claims vary — some are bolder than others, like eight times the conversion rate — but one thing is for sure. People respond better when the message is about them. I find it very difficult to convince batch and blast addicts to subscribe to the benefits of personalization. It is almost as difficult as converting a conservative person to a liberal, or vice versa. Now, why is that? Don’t they get tired of the same of messages from a brand as consumers themselves? I often hear about the difficulties of not having enough creatives. But that alone can be an excuse for not even trying. If it’s difficult to go for a more elaborate kind of personalization, then start with just two creatives first and add more layers slowly (refer to “Road to Personalization”).
  • Attribution: When you blast emails every day, multiple times a day, how would you ever know what really worked? What is the point of mixing up offers and creatives occasionally, if finding out how each drop performed is so difficult, or even impossible? Yes, one may rely on direct attribution (i.e., only counting direct clicks on email links leading to conversions), but we all know that is not the full picture. Consumers come back to the site not necessarily using the email links, and further, email isn’t the only promotion channel leading to the site. So, when “look-back” attribution is employed, how would you know what really worked when there are so many drops every day? Well, the answer often is that folks who just blast away emails don’t really care much about what elements of campaigns worked, for as long as they get decent — or usual — open, click and conversion rates (even if they are tainted figures). What a shame, in the age of 1:1 marketing via every conceivable channel.

How to End the Batch and Blast Addiction

Then, how do marketers wean off of the addiction?

Like any other type of addiction, it starts with the recognition. They have to realize that in the long run, the batch and blast practice is not good for the organization. I’ve been saying it for years, but let me say it again: 1:1 marketing (such as email campaigns) is about identifying “whom to contact,” and if you so decided to contact someone, knowing “what to offer, and when.” That’s it.

Even if you have a small customer base and you have no choice but to send emails to every available email address, can we at least agree that you must control the campaign frequency (i.e., “how often”), and try to send more relevant messages for each target or segment?

How do we control the frequency factor? To do that, marketers must be aware which target is over-promoted, under-promoted and adequately promoted. And such a calculation is not possible if you do not know both number of emails and number of responses on an individual level. One may say sending 20 emails to a person in a month is too much. Maybe. But what if the person purchased items more than two times in that period? Surely, that “20” looks quite different, doesn’t it?

If you keep track of response rates on a personal level, we can easily group them into Over-, Under- and Adequately-promoted groups based on response rates. Such rates often fit into a normal distribution curve, and dividing them into three groups would be simple (when in doubt, just use one standard deviation from each end, which will give about 16 percent from the top and the bottom). If anyone falls into the danger zone called “Over-promoted,” then put the red flag up for such a target, and suppress them before the campaign deployment until the flag is lifted.

Now, let me remind you that if you have been doing batch and blast for a prolonged period, do not bother with this type of data consolidation and calculation, as “everyone” in your base must be labeled as over-promoted. If fact, you may have to go the opposite way and decrease the frequency of emails for loyal customers first, to give them a break. “Loyal” doesn’t mean that you can abuse them or take them for granted. If you so must contact them frequently, at least treat loyal customers with special offers or invitations.

Of course, curbing the email frequency must come from the top. Without any elaborate calculation, CMOs may just mandate “maximum emails per person per week.” I’d say four to five times a week is a good start, but that depends on the product types and business model. The key is to give the target audience some breaks on a regular basis. If the benefits of such a practice is hard to prove to your fellow blasters, then create “hold-out” segments, and do not touch them for a set period of time. You may be able to see the before and after pictures after some hold out period (if the rules are honored by everyone in the marketing team).

As for personalization, I’ve written numerous articles about that for this fine publication. To summarize more than 10 articles in a few sentences (refer to “Key Elements of Complete Personalization,” for one), I’d say start with basic “heuristic” segmentation and try to offer different discount and products to each segment. Then move onto more elaborate segmentation or clustering techniques for better results, and ultimately develop individual level personas using modeling techniques for best combination of target and offers (refer to “Segments vs. Personas“). That may sound daunting to many organizations, so that is why I emphasize using even heuristic segments (such as high-value customers, multi-buyers, recent buyers, tenured customers, inactive customers, etc.) is far better than keeping sending the same message to everyone, every day.

The batch and blast practice is an addiction that will lead to list saturation and an unresponsive audience. Unless you have cheap and unlimited acquisition sources hidden somewhere, please cherish your customer base and do not bombard them as if they will be there forever for you to meet your email goals. Now, to wean off addiction, an organization may have to go through a 10-step process for alcoholics. Starting with the “recognition.”

Why Email Is an Easier Way to Establish User Identity

To better engage and monetize your audience, you have to know your audience. It’s no coincidence that the two platforms that command the majority of digital ad spend also collect the majority of first-party data on their users.

To better engage and monetize your audience, you have to know your audience. It’s no coincidence that the two platforms that command the majority of digital ad spend also collect the majority of first-party data on their users. To effectively compete with the duopoly and maximize audience value, publishers need the means to establish user identity, reconcile it across the multiple devices used day-to-day, and tie that identity to associated first-party data.

Of course, tackling the problem of user identity is easier said than done. Browser cookies are inherently transient, and result in different user identities for each of their devices. One common approach to resolving user identity is to add a registration layer, which effectively asks users to identify themselves. However, prompts asking site visitors to register or sign in are typically met with crickets. And customer profile or identity management technology that aims to resolve identity automatically often complicates an already-complex tech stack, only to achieve mixed results. Fortunately, establishing and reconciling audience identity can be as straightforward as tapping into technology you already have: email.

An Email Click Is a “Sign-In” to Your Site

For all its simplicity, email is a powerful key to user identity. As a direct link to the user, the email address is essentially a user’s home address on the internet, their identity. Publishers have long used this link to communicate directly with readers, but email doesn’t just allow you to reach your audience and bring them to your site. It identifies those audiences once they get there.

When readers click through an email link to your site, that click carries a token of that reader’s identity. This token is simply a unique ID on the URL that represent a known email address; you can work with your tech team to add one in your email platform. With this token on all email links and a little JavaScript on your website, each click functions as a sticky “sign-in” that establishes and reconciles visitor identity, regardless of whether that click takes place at home, on a mobile phone, on a work computer, and even on a brand new device.

An email click doesn’t depend on the user to explicitly sign-in. Onsite registration and sign in processes can only reconcile user identity if users consistently sign in — assuming you even convince your site visitors to register in the first place. There’s typically little incentive to complete a registration process (particularly when content is free), and even less incentive to stay signed in. Collecting a newsletter opt-in is generally a lower hurdle than setting up a username and password, and unlike user logins, each subsequent “sign-in” through the email address happens automatically.

Finally, email sidesteps the obstacles of customer identity or access management solutions, which use an array of tactics to identify users. While technologically advanced, these solutions aren’t infallible, as cookies are cleared and devices often replaced, leading to duplicate user profiles. Meanwhile, people tend to hang onto their email address for life, and email is the first thing they configure on new devices. This makes the email click a more reliable carrier of identity than cookies, registration credentials, or identity resolution technology.

Deriving Value From Audience Identity

Having established this “sign-in” to your site, you can collect first-party data about onsite behavior and content consumption and apply that session’s data to a consolidated user profile record. This gives you the ability to create a long-term user profile as long lived as that user’s email identity.

User behavioral data can be pushed into any number of existing platforms without requiring additional technology, for example Google Analytics, or customer data platforms (CDP). This consolidates your first-party data, with fewer additional systems in your ever-growing tech stack.

With audience identity and its associated data readily available for use across your channels, you can better engage and monetize your known audience. For instance, given that you already have the email address, you also already have an effective channel for putting data to use. With the direct link to your users that email provides, you can use enriched data to sell targeted audience segments to in-email advertisers, deliver personalized newsletter content, and nurture subscribers with marketing emails that closely align with their position in the customer lifecycle.

Another benefit of combining this new first party identity and data with your existing analytics instance is that it unlocks the historical data in your analytics you have already been collecting for years. This gives you deeper historical insight into user interests, allowing you to better answer questions about your readers and shape your content strategy to match your audience. When you know who your audience is, you are empowered to drive the most value from that audience.

Factors for Marketers to Consider in Attribution Rules

At the end of each campaign effort, a good database marketer is supposed to study “what worked, and what didn’t,” using attribution rules. Call it “Back-end Analysis” or “Campaign Analytics.” Old-timers may use terms like “Match-back.” Regardless, it is one of the most important steps in 1:1 marketing that is synonymous with what we used to call “Closed-loop Marketing.”

At the end of each campaign effort, a good database marketer is supposed to study “what worked, and what didn’t,” using attribution rules. Call it “Back-end Analysis” or “Campaign Analytics.” Old-timers may use terms like “Match-back.” Regardless, it is one of the most important steps in 1:1 marketing that is synonymous with what we used to call “Closed-loop Marketing.” (refer to my first article on Target Marketing from 11 years ago, “Close the Loop Properly”).

In fact, this back-end analysis is so vital that if one skips this part of analytics, I can argue that the offending marketer ceases to be a 1:1 or database marketer. What good are all those databases and data collection mechanisms, if we don’t even examine campaign results? If we are not to learn from the past, how would we be able to improve results, even in the immediate future? Just wild guesses and gut feelings? I’ve said it many times, but let me say it again: Gut-feelings are overrated. Way more overrated than any cheesy buzzword that summarizes complex ideas into one or two catchy words.

Anyhow, when there were just a few dominant channels, it wasn’t so difficult to do it. For non-direct channel efforts, we may need some attribution modeling to assign credit for each channel. We may call that a “top-down” approach for attribution. For direct channels, where we would know precisely who received the offers, we would do a match-back (i.e., responders matched to the campaign list by personally identifiable information, such as name, address, email, etc.), and give credit to the effort that immediately preceded the response. We may call that a “bottom-up” method.

So far, not so bad. We may have some holes here and there, as collecting PII from all responders may not be feasible (especially in retail stores). But when there was just direct mailing as “the” direct channel, finding out what elements worked wasn’t very difficult. Lack of it was more of a commitment issue.

Sure, it may cost a little extra, and we had to allocate those “unknown” responders through some allocation rules, but backend analysis used to be a relatively straightforward process. Find matches between the mailing (or contact) list and the responders, append campaign information — through what we used to call “Source Code” — to each responder, and run reports by list source, segment, selection mechanism, creative, offer, drop date and other campaign attributes. If you were prudent to have no-mail control cells in the mix, then you could even measure live metrics against them. Then figure out what worked and what didn’t. Some mailers were very organized, and codified all important elements in those source codes “before” they dropped any campaigns.

Now we are living in a multi-channel environment, so things are much more complicated. Alas, allocating each of those coveted responses to “a” channel isn’t just technical work; it became a very sensitive political issue among channel managers. In the world where marketing organizations are divided by key marketing channels (as in, Email Division vs. Direct Mail Division), attribution became a matter of survival. Getting “more” credit for sales isn’t just a matter of scientific research, but a zero-sum game to many. But should it be?

Attribution Rules Should Give Credit Where Credit’s Due

I’ve seen some predominantly digital organizations giving credit to their own direct marketing division “after” all digital channels took all available credit first. That means the DM division must cover its expenses only with “incremental” sales (i.e., direct-mailing-only responses, which would be as rare as the Dodo bird in the age of email marketing). Granted that DM is a relatively more expensive channel than email, I wish lots of luck to those poor direct marketers to get a decent budget for next year. Or maybe they should look for new jobs when they lose that attribution battle?

Then again, I’ve seen totally opposite situations, too. In primarily direct marketing companies, catalog divisions would take all the credit for any buyer who ever received “a” catalog six months prior to the purchase, and only residual credit would go to digital channels.

Now, can we at least agree that either of these cases is far from ideal? When the game is rigged from the get-go, what is the point of all the backend analyses? Just a façade of being a “data-based” organization? That sounds more like a so-called “free” election in North Korea, where there are two ballot boxes visibly displayed in the middle of the room; one for the Communist Party of the Dear Leader, and another box for all others. Good luck making it back home if you put any ballot in the “wrong” box.

Attribution among different channels, in all fairness, is a game. And there is no “one” good way to do it, either. That means an organization can set up rules any way it wants them to be. And as a rule I, as a consultant, tend not to meddle with internal politics. Who am I to dictate what is the best attribution rule for each company anyway?

Here’s How I Set Up Attribution Rules

Now that I am a chief product guy for an automated CDP (Customer Data Platform) company, I got to think about the best practices for attribution in a different way. Basically, we had to decide what options we needed to provide to the users to make up attribution rules as they see fit. Of course, some will totally abuse such flexibility and rig the game. But we can at least “guide” the users to think about the attribution rules in more holistic ways.

Such consideration can only happen when all of the elements that marketers must consider are lined up in front of them. It becomes difficult to push through just one criterion — generally, for the benefit of “his” or “her” channel — when all factors are nicely displayed in a boardroom.

So allow me to share key factors that make up attribution rules. You may have some “A-ha” moments, but you may also have “What the … ” moments, too. But in the interest of guiding marketers to unbiased directions, here is the list:

Media Channel

This is an obvious one for “channel” attribution. Let’s list all channels employed by the organization, first.

  • Email
  • Direct Mail (or different types of DM, such as catalog, First Class mail, postcards, etc.)
  • Social Media (and specific subsets, such as Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
  • Display Ads
  • Referrals/Affiliates
  • Organic Search/Paid Search
  • Direct to Website (and/or search engines that led the buyers there)
  • General Media (or further broken down into TV, Radio, Print, Inserts, etc.)
  • Other Offline Promotions
  • Etc.

In case there are overlaps, which channel would take the credit first? Or, should “all” of the responsive channels “share” the credit somehow?

Credit Share

If the credit — in the form of conversions and dollars — is to be shared, how would we go about it?

  • Double Credit: All responsible channels (within the set duration by each channel) would get full credit
  • Equal Split: All contributing channels would get 1/N of the credit
  • Weighted Split: Credit divided by weight factors set by users (e.g., 50% DM, 30% EM, 20% General Media, etc.)

There is no absolutely fair way to do this, but someone in the leadership position should make some hard decisions. Personally, I like the first option, as each channel gets to be evaluated in pseudo-isolation mode. If there was no other channel in the mix, how would a direct marketing campaign, for example, have worked? Examine each channel and campaign this way, from the channel-centric point of view, to justify their existence in the full media mix.

Allocation Method

How will the credit be given out with all of those touch data from various tags? There are a few popular ways:

  • Last Touch: This is somewhat reasonable, but what about earlier touches that may have created the demand in the first place?
  • First Touch: We may go all of the way back to the first touch of the responder, but could that be irrelevant by the time of the purchase? Who cares about a Christmas catalog sent out in November for purchases made in May of the next year?
  • Direct Attribution: Or should we only count direct paths leading to conversions (i.e., traceable opens, clicks and conversions, on an individual level)? But that can be very limiting, as there will be many untraceable transactions, even in the digital world.
  • Stoppage: In the journey through open, click and conversion, do we only count conversions, or should the channel that led to opens and clicks get partial credit?

All of these are tricky decisions, but marketers should not just follow “what has been done so far” methods. As more channels are added to the mix, these methods should be reevaluated once in a while.

Time Duration (by Channel)

Some channels have longer sustaining power than others. A catalog kept in a household may lead to a purchase a few months later. Conversely, who would dig out a promotional email from three weeks ago? This credit duration also depends on the type of products in question. Products with long purchase cycles — such as automobiles, furniture, major appliances, etc. — would have more lasting effects in comparison to commodity or consumable items.

  • Email: 3-day, 7-day, 15-day, 30-day, etc.
  • Direct Mail — Catalog: 30-day, 60-day, 90-day, etc.
  • Direct Mail — Non-catalog: 7-day, 14-day, 30-day, 60-day, etc.
  • Social: 3-day, 7-day, 15-day, etc.
  • Direct Visit: No time limit necessary for direct landing on websites or retail stores.
  • General Media: Time limit would be set based on subchannels, depending on campaign duration.

Closing Thoughts

The bottom line is to be aware of response curves by each channel, and be reasonable. That extra 30-day credit period on the tail end may only give a channel manager a couple extra conversions after all of the political struggles.

There is really no “1” good way to combine all of these factors. These are just attribution factors to consider, and the guideline must be set by each organization, depending on its business model, product composition and, most importantly, channel usages (i.e., how much money bled into each channel?).

Nevertheless, in the interest of creating a “fair” ground for attributions, someone in a leadership position must set the priority on an organizational level. Otherwise, the outcome will always favor what are considered to be traditionally popular channels. If the status quo is the goal, then I would say skip all of the headaches and go home early. You may be rigging the system — knowingly or unknowingly — anyway, and there is no need to use a word like “attribution” in a situation like that.

It’s Not My Opinion, It’s My Money That Marketers Want

Why do so many marketers choose the path of least resistance, which often means communicating more, rather than better. Even “pushing the envelope” to get what marketers want — perhaps an inappropriate metaphor, in the digital world — and bending credibility almost to the breaking point?

Why do so many marketers choose the path of least resistance, which often means communicating more, rather than better. Even “pushing the envelope” to get what marketers want — perhaps an inappropriate metaphor, in the digital world — and bending credibility almost to the breaking point?

“Enough is enough!” my mother used to howl at me when some annoying thing I was doing had gone too, too far.

We all get there sometimes, and nothing turns our listener off more permanently than being subject to mindless repetition. Why do we frequently ignore this when “creating” (or not really creating) communications, which we may find boring as marketers, but which someone believes are necessary to fuel the customer journey toward us — rather than inciting an exodos to the hills or the spam button.

As a life-long Democrat, it pains me to use the party’s very questionable fundraising tactics as an example. But for the past couple of weeks, I have been assaulted (I can’t think of a more appropriate word) by what must be considered mindless email communications from the National Democratic Training Committee  and Boldpac, seemingly one of its tentacles. It seems as if someone switched on the automatic pilot, went out for coffee and forgot to come back.

There must be a lesson here for all of us on both sides of the aisle.

I received eight emails from them in just two days this week.

Isn’t enough enough? And this too much?

DESTROYING New York, Robert Mueller DOOMED, BIG announcement, Cohen GUILTY, Trump FURIOUS, Mueller THREATENED

(After Mueller was DOOMED in another message minutes before.) You get the idea.

Here are compelling BIG words capitalized as if they were copied and pasted from a Trumpian tweet. Of course they become wallpaper by repetition and lose any sense of the urgency we all want to see in promotion. The law of diminishing returns comes into play, and perhaps they deserve to be included in Melissa’s WWTT?

And dare I say it? These particular official-sounding messages are an inherently dishonest switch-sell.

“We’ve re-launched the poll,” says the message.

Come on, guys! Let’s get real here.

Can we even, for a moment, suspend disbelief long enough to accept that they (who?) “need to know” where I stand as of Dec. 9, or even give a damn whether I approve of Robert Muller or not?

Enormously complimented as I am supposed to be, perhaps I’ve become too cynical. But somehow, I find it difficult to accept that I have been fortunate enough to have been chosen to be part of a “Special Task Force!” to protect Mueller. (If I’m that fortunate, why don’t I ever win the lottery?)  I can’t help feeling that it is not my opinion they want; it’s my money. That’s why they also ask me to contribute, “in the next hour” $3 or $10 or even more or “chip in $10 (or even $3) today?” Doesn’t this have the sound of either desperation or the copywriter plodding mindlessly on and failing to stop and think?

I tried reaching out to the Training Committee, but it didn’t respond. Its members were obviously too busy “training” to bother to provide answers to some simple questions that might inform marketers. Among other things, I wanted to ask the real reason for the surveys, petitions and questionnaires the committee seems obsessed with, and some case histories of how this data was used to affect policy, to change opinion or to do anything? It says: “Every signature makes a difference. Add your name right now.” But don’t we want to know to whom it makes a difference?

Wasn’t the inclusion of a request for donations from “Task Force” members, I wanted to ask, the real reason for the surveys? And weren’t the obviously loaded questions asked only as a path to the switch-sell? Did the target market for these efforts have such a deplorably low intelligence level that it could be so easily conned?

Also, I was curious what the fundraising consultants who were paid $1.3 million in 2018 actually did for their money and who they were? (Blackops? Perhaps.) What percentage of the unspecified money raised did their cut represent? It certainly seems that the consultants were onto a good thing. Was it they who encouraged this aggressive headline; “Peter will vote for Trump in 2020?” knowing that the statement would be sufficiently irritating to catch my attention, even with a question mark hidden at the end?

As marketing professionals, we are often challenged with honestly answering the question: How far can I go in building my promotional messages and actions to generate the highest response at the lowest cost vs. where is the red line not to be crossed over using the powerful tools in our armory?

Sadly, as we see all too frequently in today’s world, mendacity trumps truth.

Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the pendulum swings back and our customers and prospects, even our potential voters, tell us that enough is definitely enough.

6 Ways to Use the 2019 USPS Promotions to Your Advantage

USPS promotions are back for 2019. Do you have a planned marketing strategy to not only save money on postage, but really stand out? There are a variety of programs to choose from, so you should be able to find at least one that is a good fit for you.

USPS promotions are back for 2019. Do you have a planned marketing strategy to not only save money on postage, but really stand out? There are a variety of programs to choose from, so you should be able to find at least one that is a good fit for you.

If you are planning mailings in 2019, why not participate in a promotion and save money on postage?

Let’s take an in-depth look at each program:

6 Direct Mail Postage-Saving Promotions

  1. Tactile, Sensory and Interactive Promotion — This program runs from Feb.1 to July 31. Use this program to highlight special finishing technologies that engage the senses. Some ideas are special visual effects, sound, scent, texture/tactile coatings and even taste. In addition, you can create interactive mail pieces, such as pop-ups, infinite folds or other dimensional aspects. This is a really fun one that can only be done with print marketing.
  2. 2019 Emerging and Advanced Technology Promotion — This program runs from March 1 to Aug. 31. Use this program to engage customers and prospects by use of mobile technology in direct mail. This can be done with QR Codes, augmented reality, NFC, video and more. This is a very powerful way to create a longer connection and increase the effectiveness of your message.
  3. 2019 Earned Value Promotion — This program runs from April 1 to June 30. This will have a more limited application, because it is only for companies that use reply mail. If you use reply mail, use this program to save postage on each piece of business reply mail and courtesy reply mail you get sent to you.
  4. 2019 Personalized Color Transpromo Promotion — This program runs from July 1 to Dec. 31. Use this program to add color marketing messaging on your bills and statements. Turn transactional mail into promotional pieces, also.
  5. 2019 Mobile Shopping Promotion — This program runs from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31. Use this program if you are selling products during the holiday shopping season. By adding mobile technology to your mail that allows your customers or prospects to make a purchase or pursue other online shopping experiences, you can qualify to save on postage.
  6. 2019 Informed Delivery Promotion — This program runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30. Use this program of Informed Delivery, which will send an email to people with a color picture of your mail piece to let them know what is coming in their mail box that day. You can even provide a clickable link so that people can start purchasing right then.

Each of these promotions provides a 2% postage discount at the time of mailing, except for the earned value — which provides 3 cents, per piece returned. You can participate in as many of the promotions as you would like. Each promotion requires registration to participate and reporting after the mailing is complete, but they are worth the savings. Are you ready to get started?