San Diego Dreamin’ – Charging Through ‘The DMA’

The last time the Direct Marketing Association held its annual conference in San Diego, it was 2009, we were all amid The Great Recession, and having been recently thrown out of a job, money was just too tight to attend on my own. Since then, marketing has changed—a lot—and the U.S. economy overall is in better shape than it was. Folks, looking back, we avoided a Depression

The last time the Direct Marketing Association held its annual conference in San Diego, it was 2009, we were all amid The Great Recession, and having been recently thrown out of a job, money was just too tight to attend on my own. Since then, marketing has changed—a lot—and the U.S. economy overall is in better shape than it was. Folks, looking back, we avoided a Depression.

I endured, and so did DMA. It’s 2014: The conference offering is as good as ever, and there’s simply no better place in the world for data-driven marketers to gather, learn and exchange. While I might argue, all of marketing, and all of advertising, has become data-driven, let’s not forget that measurability and accountability had its historic home in direct marketing … going back to at least 1917. ROI lives here.

It’s always good to get to The DMA early, to support Marketing EDGE (note, a client) and its Annual Awards Dinner, this year honoring Michael Becker and Google. If you didn’t make it Saturday night, you can still contribute via Marketing EDGE’s first foray into social fundraising. Literally hundreds of thousands will be raised this quarter to help build a bridge from students to market-ready marketing professionals.

Come Monday (today), it’s full-on with the conference: and I won’t be missing Magic Johnson giving “Part 3” of the opening keynote, right after DMA Chairman JoAnne Dunn, CEO of Alliant, gives the association address (can’t recall when a DMA Chairman has taken on this role at the conference), with KBM Group, joining Shell and Air Canada, on “The Evolution of Engagement: The Modern Reality of One-to-One.”

I also can’t miss “Data-Driven Marketing Genius: Google, Xerox and a Foreign Film Festival”—the first-time actual International ECHO Award Winners (they don’t know what they’ve won yet) get a main stage to tell the story behind the marketing campaigns that “Wowed” this year’s ECHO judges (including me). Happy Halloween: I’m still shaking over that Horror Festival campaign.

And since I can’t wait ’til January for my “Downton Abbey” fix, I plan to listen in on “Big Data Helps Keep Downton Abbey Alive for its Fans,” which I’m hopeful gives insight on how a popular TV program gives public television more fundraising lift through brand engagement. I’m curious about the Big Data angle.

“What’s the role of the Agency?” seems to have captured a La Jolla wave. Sessions such as “The New Engagement Agency: A Real-Time Revolution,” and “Agency A-List: The Changing Face & Role of the Agency in 2015” speak to some of the digital disruption that is going on, while Brian Fetherstonhaugh of OgilvyOne Worldwide addresses “E-Commerce: The Crucible of Customer Engagement” (all the more interesting, given Ogilvy’s creation of a new analytics agency, OgilvyAmp.)

By the time Wednesday comes, I will be exhausted, inspired and ready to put some newly learned know-how to the test—and I hope to come home with new business contacts, too—but only after I catch a wave and a libation at the Coronado.

Fresh Insights in Selling to SMBs

Despite the attention given to large enterprise marketing, it’s small and medium businesses (SMB) where the bulk of marketing investments go. SMB is where there’s enough volume to do plenty of testing. Plus, you’ve got a tighter decision-making unit and shorter sales cycles. And you’ve got a lot of company

Despite the attention given to large enterprise marketing, it’s small and medium businesses (SMB) where the bulk of marketing investments go. SMB is where there’s enough volume to do plenty of testing. Plus, you’ve got a tighter decision-making unit and shorter sales cycles. And you’ve got a lot of company. Plenty of agencies, research firms, and other marketers are focused on SMB, and willing to share their insights. One new set comes from Bredin, Inc., a Boston-based agency that just published a new study on how SMBs buy today.

Kudos to Bredin for figuring out how to persuade 532 busy business owners to take a 15-minute survey online, in May 2014. Respondents were asked all kinds of questions about their buying, influences, media preferences, resources, the works. Here are the nuggets that were most revealing to me.

  • These buyers trust their peers more than any other information source, across the spectrum from awareness to researching product details to the buying decision.
  • They still rely on trade shows and events for product information. Second only to peers and colleagues.
  • They like print materials, for brochures, checklists, handbooks, case studies. When it comes to tablets, they expect to see quotes, order confirmations, videos, interactive tools, and presentations.
  • They want to hear from their vendors, regularly. Not just when they are ready to make a purchase. Encouraging, isn’t it?
  • They welcome email, phone and face-to-face contact from vendors in the period when they are researching, but not ready to buy-what we marketers call “nurturing.” But the number of nurturing contacts they want varies widely, from weekly, to monthly, to every six months.
  • Most of the time (74 percent), the business owner himself or herself is the person investigating the new products and solutions. And this is among businesses with up to 500 employees.
  • The vendor website is a top resource when conducting product research and honing in on a purchase decision.

What should marketers take away from these observations?

Thought Leadership: Establishing your executives and your company as trusted advisers in your field is hugely important in this market. This means networking, content marketing, PR outreach, speaking engagements, and trade/industry professional activities.

Block and Tackle: There are always shiny objects out there, but make sure you have the basics covered. A well-trained sales force, enabled with informative materials, both digital and print, email, phone and trade show support.

Content-rich Website: Intuitive navigation, clarity of design, benefit-oriented copy, loaded with explanatory tools, like case studies, product comparisons, testimonials, how-to guides, video demonstrations-this is how to attract and serve the SMB buyer.

This fresh data confirms my long-held view that business owners value the help they get from their vendors. Ours is a relationship of mutual benefit, as long as we do our part to help them solve their business problems.

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

Death of the Agency? Not So Fast …

The last season of “Mad Men” is approaching, but let’s not be so fast to bury the ad agency with it. Media outlets are reading trends and are raising questions. The Economist has a special report on digital disruption in the advertising supply chain, and is quite taken by how “Big Digital’s”

The last season of “Mad Men” is approaching, but let’s not be so fast to bury the ad agency with it.

Media outlets are reading trends and are raising questions.

The Economist has a special report on digital disruption in the advertising supply chain, and is quite taken by how “Big Digital’s” profit margins and programmatic media buying have come to dominate advertising and audience selection. In one article, “Leaner and Meaner,” they’re saying:

The ad-tech firms are gleefully forecasting the imminent demise of Madison Avenue’s middlemen, but they may be wrong, for two reasons. First, ad tech has introduced so much complexity into the business that clients may want to hold on to agencies for advice, and agencies’ creative services are likely to remain in demand when brands are having to churn out so many different pieces of content.

Second, the prediction that technology companies like Google will start to compete head-on with the agencies is likely to prove wrong. To provide full client services they would need to hire thousands of new employees, for limited gains. Google’s margins this year are expected to be around 50%, whereas WPP’s are forecast at just 17%-and that is for the largest and one of the most successful advertising agencies. Perversely, the agencies’ mediocre returns may protect them from being wiped out by nimbler competitors. Their tents in Cannes may no longer have the best views, but the admen will still be there.

Mobile Marketing Watch had its own agency pity-party headline last week, “Are Yesterday’s Advertising Agencies Finally Dying?” reporting on a UK opinion piece:

As the challenges marketers face increase, the solutions from agencies shrink. It’s time for them to step up.

That’s the opinion of Tom Goodwin, founder and CEO of the Tomorrow Group, in a recent post at The Guardian.

“There is a curious tension in the current agency landscape—a vast mismatch between what clients’ needs are and what agencies are working on, and this gap seems to be widening,” Goodwin explains.

True, Goodwin admits, the Internet has been both a blessing (new opportunities) and a curse (change is always hard).

“The internet has been a mixed blessing, a volatile combination of incredible, new possibilities, rampant change and some of the most destructive forces the marketplace has ever seen,” Goodwin contends. “On a communications level, we have a plethora of new media channels, memes circling the world in seconds, the app of the moment bursting onto the scene, and trends like content marketing, native advertising and influencer marketing to navigate and leverage. The options seem more bewildering than ever and more abruptly changing, all in a context where attention is moving onto platforms which become even harder to connect with people.”

What’s to be done? Goodwin believes agencies need to up their games.

What does raising their game look like? Yes multiple screens and a crush of data are inflicting huge demands for content—some of it targeted to a few eyeballs. The scramble for creative, analytics and insight talent must be accomplished as agencies seek to keep their historic role as strategic counsel, with built-in expertise to deliver that counsel all under the same shingle.

That won’t be easy—The Economist says advertising is not the first choice for math students, for one—but skills matching must be a priority of agencies, because brands need guidance through the technology maze, and they need break-through content that engages wherever the consumer may be—something ad tech cannot or will not generate on its own.

By the way, Big Digital has its own death predictors, too.

Only Trust Professionals – and Other Lessons From the NFL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attribution and the ‘Mail Moment’ in the Multichannel Mix

At its Sept. 13 meeting, the Direct Marketing Club of New York hosted an engaging panel discussion regarding the use of direct mail in a multichannel world, and the panelists included representatives from Citigroup, Gerber Life and The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks. … Hearing from two financial service brands, and an agency that services brands in several markets, packed the house. I’m not sure if it was the topic or the brands who spoke, or both, that was the draw—but the information imparted prompted lots of audience interest and questions.

At its Sept. 13 meeting, the Direct Marketing Club of New York (DMCNY) hosted an engaging panel discussion regarding the use of direct mail in a multichannel world, and the panelists included representatives from Citigroup, Gerber Life and The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks.

The representatives included Linda Gharib, senior vice president, digital marketing, for Citi’s Global Consumer Marketing & Internet division; David Rosenbluth, vice president, marketing, Gerber Life Insurance Company; and, from the agency side, panel moderator Pam Haas, who is both vice president, sales, for agency services at Harte-Hanks (and first vice president for DMCNY), and Michele Fitzpatrick, senior vice president, strategy and insight, The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks.

Hearing from two financial service brands, and an agency that services brands in several markets (tech, consumer package goods, automotive, insurance, pharma and more), packed the house. I’m not sure if it was the topic or the brands who spoke, or both, that was the draw—but the information imparted prompted lots of audience interest and questions.

First, customer acquisition—at least in the financial services area—still appears to be very dependent on mail. At Gerber, Rosenbluth said, as many as a third of new business policies are still generated by direct mail, even as the brand is “omni-channel”—digital (including web site, search, display ads, email), direct-response television, as well as direct mail. For Citi, the brand is positioned No. 2 in the nation by Target Marketing in its “Top 50 Mailers” ranking for 2012 (which is ranked by overall revenue, not mail volume), Gharib said, solidifying its importance in both acquisition and retention.

Fitzpatrick agreed, noting that in financial services, where marketing is modeled most precisely for risk and performance, direct mail remains an acquisition workhorse, particularly on new product launches. For automotive and pharma verticals, however, where as much as 80 percent of transactions are researched anonymously beforehand online, digital media is used for hand-raising, and direct mail may be then used to deliver a brochure of other information in a highly segmented way to close the deal. “Consumer preferences [for media] are situational,” Fitzpatrick said.

Who gets credit for attribution, when a multichannel communications mix produces a desired response? At Citi, Gharib said, such discussions are a “work in progress,” where the final interaction point currently gets the credit, whether that is chat, direct mail, email or some triggered communication. Adding to the multichannel attribution discussion is the mix of advertising purposes—some are pure branding messages, while others are intended to elicit a response, but both may compel or influence customer behavior in some discernible (or indiscernible) manner. Hence, there is complexity in the attribution discussion.

Yes, indeed, says Rosenbluth, where “allowances” are given for each channel in regard to the brand’s most importance metric to manage: total costs to convert a policy. Currently, “last touch” gets the attribution on response, but the policy conversion metric is the bigger-picture measurement, where everyone gets to take some credit.

Fitzpatrick pointed to recent Forrester research where “fractional attribution”—first touch, mid-touch and last-touch on the path to purchase share credit—and “engagement” is modeled, rather than response (alone). Every brand should undertake a channel impact study to determine, as best it can, the impact of incremental sales as a result of a multichannel customer experience, while also researching receiver reaction research. Clearly, direct mail, email, chat and other channels can be both or either “conversation starters” and “conversation extenders,” but analytics is the only way to know the role of the channel for any given customer.

“There’s credibility in paper,” Gharib remarked, “that helps with both the brand and its consideration.” Where email is cluttered, direct mail largely is not.

At Gerber, Rosenbluth, there really is no brand spend, all market spending is intended to produce engagement.

Fitzpatrick sees almost all “below the line” spending getting a branding blend—branding and direct marketing have come together. All the panelists agreed: it’s really about the consumer experience across channels, and having a database that enables customer recognition and a full customer view. Having tons of data is not enough—it’s having technology and processes in place for customer data integration and analytics to create smart engagement rules.

The verdict? Direct mail is and will remain a vital part of the media mix—because it’s an anchor in the consumer’s experience and brand consideration mix. As digital gets more clutter, boy that mailbox is looking pretty.

How to Select a Social Media Agency or Consultant

Social media agencies and consultants insist that following your customers into social spaces is a smart idea. Yet it’s actually an incomplete idea, unless you have a clear means to capture demand and convert it to sales. So, it pays to make sure you have a list of specific interview questions in hand when choosing a social media agency or consultant. That’s why I’m giving you some gems that really work.

Social media agencies and consultants insist that following your customers into social spaces is a smart idea. Yet it’s actually an incomplete idea, unless you have a clear means to capture demand and convert it to sales. So, it pays to make sure you have a list of specific interview questions in hand when choosing a social media agency or consultant. That’s why I’m giving you some gems that really work.

Remember, the answer to selling more with social media is this: Starting conversations that are worth having and conversing in ways that generate questions that you have answers to. The rest is occasionally (when relevant) connecting those answers to your products/services. This is how to generate customer inquiries using social media. Your agency, freelance provider (or employee) must grasp and practice this. Let’s find out how to make sure they do.

Question Your Consultants
Overzealous “digital rock star gurus” say the social Web has revolutionized everything. We’re told to listen to and engage with customers. But what do we do with what we hear … and when does engaging connect to sales? Does it at all? As David Ogilvy himself reminded marketers decades ago “we sell or else!”

The nature of your relationship with social media agencies and consultants should be to question. Why? Because so many are questionable in terms of the results (or lack there of) they deliver!

Be Sure They’re Producing Behavior
“You don’t sell someone something by engagement, conversation and relationship. You create engagement, conversation and relationships by selling them something,” says Bob Hoffman, (“The Ad Contrarian”) CEO, Hoffman Lewis.

Read that again and notice how it flies in the face of what we’re being told to do by most social media agencies and consultants. Notice how logical this simple truth is.

Agencies and consultants that are moving the needle are reaching beyond attracting customers for clients. They’re generating leads using three practical success principles. They’re aligning social marketing with sales by:

  • Solving customers problems with social media like Facebook
  • Producing behavior by designing each social interaction to produce it—always, without fail
  • Translating needs of customers and using insights to create more behavior, more leads/sales

It’s important to consider the current social media marketing activities of the agency or freelancer you’ll hire. Everything they’re doing to “join the conversation” (tweeting, blogging, posting updates on Facebook) must be talking with customers, not at them. They must be truly interacting. Making social marketing produce behavior is the first step. Your agency needs to understand what a call to action is and practice this approach.

Ask Tough Questions
Most importantly, press your marketing consultants, ad agency reps and employees to answer business questions first. Ask them to do it without using words like traffic, engagement or buzz. Make them squirm.
In the end you should be getting answers to the following questions:

  • Is the agency hiring employees based mostly on tactical skills or ability to create tangible results?
  • Does the agency ask the right questions of us? And are they embracing or avoiding our questions?
  • When they discuss successful client cases (in their past) are they interacting with customers intimately—or are the stories more about posting and tweeting into the ether?
  • If they’re interacting with customers/prospects is it organized and purpose-driven? Are their tactics working in harmony or apart from (competing with) each other?
  • What actionable information does each customer interaction produce and where does that information go?
  • What’s done with it (or not)? Do interactions produce actionable information? Do they connect to a lead nurturing or follow-up process?
  • Are their tactics connecting with a strategy that pushes customers down the sales funnel using the collected information?

Social media marketing is a necessary component of being online. But merely “being on Facebook and Twitter” won’t generate leads and convert sales unless you hire people who are focused on purpose-drive social media campaigns. Be sure to ask the tough questions when interviewing them. Good luck!

5 Pillars of the Mobile Marketing Industry

All emerging industries reach a point where their ecosystem’s members find common and fundamental concepts that help them organize their thoughts and actions in order to ensure the long-term growth and success of their businesses. For mobile marketing, those fundamentals have emerged and can be boiled down to five verbs: promote, measure, educate, guide and protect.

All emerging industries reach a point where their ecosystem’s members find common and fundamental concepts that help them organize their thoughts and actions in order to ensure the long-term growth and success of their businesses. For mobile marketing, those fundamentals have emerged and can be boiled down to five verbs: promote, measure, educate, guide and protect.

In September, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) refined its messaging along these five pillars to improve its ability to efficiently communicate with the market and to forge forward with its mission to help foster a growing and sustainable mobile marketing industry. The following list highlights the measurable objectives of each of these pillars:

  • Promote. Promote mobile marketing best practices, standards, thought-leadership and industry leaders (e.g., brands, agencies, media companies, application providers, etc.) to foster innovation and industry development.
  • Educate. Provide structured, evidence-based curriculum to educate brands, agencies and consumers about the full scale and scope of mobile marketing practices to highlight their advantages and benefits and to ensure that all players can develop a common understanding of each other’s goals and motivations so that they may efficiently and effectively co-create value between them for their mutual benefit.
  • Measure. As we enter into the “digital age,” where all engagements, moods, preferences, interests and intentions can be digitally imprinted, the key to successful mutual value creation between marketers and consumers will be achieved through the teasing out of insights and knowledge from the vast amounts of data that’s being managed by consumers and marketers alike. In today’s digital world, consumers have as much information as marketers; both need to measure their activities (e.g., total spend in industry, effectiveness of one medium versus another to accomplish one’s goals) to ensure they’re optimizing their time, energy and money.
  • Guide. We all need guidance. By continuing to amass thought-leadership, best practices and self-regulatory codes of conduct, mobile marketers can continue to foster and grow the industry.
  • Protect. Protect consumers and your businesses. All mobile marketers need to pay special attention to the needs of each constituent in the marketplace, and ensure an even playing field for all to help maximize public and industry confidence in mobile marketing, lower barriers to entry and minimize noneconomic costs of doing business.

More than words
These five pillars aren’t just shibboleths. They’re designed to provide the mobile marketing industry with actionable concepts that are key for maintaining growth.

Here’s a real-world example: A recent MMA survey of U.S. advertisers and ad agencies shows strong confidence in mobile marketing’s reach and effectiveness — so much so that they plan to increase their spending 124 percent to more than $5.4 billion by the end of 2011. This projected increase reflects advertiser and agency plans to shift their budgets out of media such as print and outdoor and into the mobile channel.

The “measure” pillar plays a key role by providing the confidence that in turn enables this kind of growth. It’s easier for brands and agencies to justify those dramatic increases and strategy shifts when they have access to independent, primary analytics showing consumer interest in and adoption of mobile services.

But measurement is possible only when everyone is using the same baselines and definitions. The MMA recently worked with the Interactive Advertising Bureau to define what constitutes a mobile ad impression.

Another example of measurement is via independent research. An April 2010 survey conducted by the MMA and one of its official research partners, Luth Research, found that nearly one in four U.S. adult consumers uses mobile location services. Nearly half of those who noticed any ads while using location-based services took at least some action, indicating that consumers respond well to ads through location-based services. That’s the kind of actionable intelligence that brands and agencies need to make the most of the mobile opportunity.

The “promote” pillar plays an equally important role in helping drive industry growth. Case studies, for example, explain how and why certain campaigns are highly successful. This information gives brands and agencies the actionable insights necessary to develop and execute their own strategies, and it complements “measure” by providing additional confidence that the mobile channel will put their marketing budget to highly effective use.

Effectiveness depends partly on the actions of the industry as a whole. That’s where the “educate” pillar comes in. The MMA’s certification program is designed to educate marketing professionals about how to use the mobile channel effectively and appropriately.

That process starts with protecting the consumer experience and the efficiency of the market’s systems so that all players can grow their businesses in a sustainable fashion. Industry-standard guidelines such as the MMA’s “U.S. Consumer Best Practices” and “Code of Conduct for Mobile Marketing” are part of the “guide” pillar, which enables the self-regulation that helps grow the mobile opportunity.

The MMA’s role as guide includes providing a framework so that the mobile industry can create these kinds of documents, which ensure that brands, agencies, developers, carriers and other ecosystem members are all on the same page — and moving forward.

Promote, measure, educate, guide and protect. Five verbs that provide focus and momentum to the ongoing development of a burgeoning industry. Everyone can contribute, you just have to find the area that excites you the most, jump in and get engaged.