What Marketers Are Buying in 2017

If you’re looking at what investments to make this year, or trying to convince your colleagues to put the company’s money where your mouth is, take a look at the chart below to find out where other marketers are putting theirs.

Along side the media usage survey we released in the January/February issue of Target Marketing, NAPCO Media Research head Nathan Safran recently surveyed marketers on one very simple question: Which technologies, solutions and services will your company be investing in for 2017?

The answers weren’t necessarily surprising, but they do give a simple, yes/no indication for where marketers are putting their money.

First of all, a majority of responses said they plan to buy tech for email and social media marketing. So over 50 percent of marketers surveyed still feel a need to make investments to unlock the full potential of those channels.

Not far behind those, in the 40 to 50 percent range, marketers are investing in content marketing, video marketing, Web analytics and direct mail solutions.

We’re also seeing a lot of respondents who plan to invest in the bedrock marketing tools of CRM. Marketing automation, databases and mobile tech.

So, if you’re looking at what investments to make this year, or trying to convince your colleagues to put the company’s money where your mouth is, take a look at the chart below to find out where other marketers are putting theirs.

TM Plan to Buy Chart

‘Programmatic’ Goes the World – Media Buying Is Audience Buying

Direct marketers have long had a love affair with data-driven media buying. In the world of direct mail, for example, list rentals and exchanges are filled with data cards (once print, now electronic) rich with audience measurements—the very attributes marketers need to intelligently target their offers to would-be buyers.

Direct marketers have long had a love affair with data-driven media buying. In the world of direct mail, for example, list rentals and exchanges are filled with data cards (once print, now electronic) rich with audience measurements—the very attributes marketers need to intelligently target their offers to would-be buyers.

Response lists not only indicate consumers (and business) buyers who are pre-disposed to buy remotely—half the hurdle overcome—but often household income ranges, gender and other characteristics that enable exceptionally performing customer lookalike and predictive behavior models. Compiled lists supplement and enhance the audience profiles, too. Yes, the offer, strategy and creative each and all are vital, but it’s the list (the data) that makes the success of the offer, strategy and creative even possible.

Of course, this is all old news to direct marketers, including digital marketers who have “grown up” in traditional direct-response channels (direct mail, DR print, DRTV, etc.).

You have to love this LinkedIn piece from Pamela Carr—founder and general manager, Chicago Trib Shops Marketplace—who is advocating that while it is important to have long-term strategies in place to college educate a new generation of marketing students in digital marketing and execution. We have much more to gain, and more immediately so, by retraining the direct marketing professionals we already have to be fully digitally conversant. Why? Because direct marketers, old ones and new ones, truly understand data-driven marketing and audience measurements that unlock any media channel’s potential.

The turn to digital and rise of programmatic media buying exchanges for many media channels. Twice during the past year, The Winterberry Group and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have co-published two white papers on the rise of data-driven, programmatic buying: “Programmatic Everywhere: Data, Technology and the Future of Audience Engagement” and “Going Global: Programmatic Audience Development Around the World.” How wise that the emphases in these programmatic studies are on “audience” engagement—underlying data on audiences—rather than “media.” No wonder Google’s CMO recently announced that 60 percent of its digital media spend will be conducted through programmatic buying. (Google says digital here, but why not other media, too?)

I’ll be looking forward to The Winterberry Group’s Bruce Biegel, in his annual address to the Direct Marketing Club of New York on January 8, where he’ll detail a media recap of 2014—and for the first time projections for 2015—on total media spend, direct marketing media spend, and digital media spend—and the drivers (and inhibitors) of each category.

Who better knows audience engagement than traditional direct marketers? The sooner we can put direct marketers in charge of the programmatic exchanges, the better for all of advertising—and for the audience-brand interactions that will surely follow. Time for retraining!

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.

7 Shopping Experience Tips to Make Holiday 2013 Your Best Ever

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience.

Companies that want to win the holiday challenge start early, plan well and focus on the customer. They invest their resources in understanding what their customers want so they can deliver. Surprisingly, price is not the top priority when people choose brand loyalty. They care more about the experience than the discount.

This is really good news for companies that don’t have the negotiating power of big box stores. Instead of creating promotions that destroy profits, they can invest in programs that improve the shopping experience. There is one caveat: If your company has been participating in the “how low can we go” marketing strategy, you will have to retrain your customers. Once people have been trained to expect deep discounts, marketing that doesn’t include them won’t be as effective.

Marketing for the holiday season needs to start now to optimize your return. Connections have to be established between your company and the people who will buy your products or services. If you already have good customer relations, focus on making them better. If your relationships need improving, focus on fixing them. The things you do today make selling easier tomorrow. To get started:

  1. Think lifetime value when creating the shopping experience. Most marketing plans focus on sales for specific campaigns instead of looking at the long term value of loyal customers. This can create an environment where hit-and-run customers generate revenue while reducing profitability. By the time the problem is recognized, it may be too late to save the company.
  2. Walk in your customers’ shoes to find the pain points. The easier and more enjoyable you make the shopping experience, the less people care about the price. Test every marketing channel to see how easy it is to understand and navigate the buying process. When you have finished, watch someone who doesn’t normally shop your business test it. Fix everything that needs it.
  3. Integrate channels for efficiency and effectiveness. Consistent messaging and the ability to cross channels with ease provide quality branding and keep people engaged. Find ways to make the channels work together where they leverage strengths in one to offset weaknesses in others.
  4. Optimize communication to insure exposure and accessibility. Email deliverability, copy effectiveness, website usability and social media engagement can be optimized to maximize the return. Paying attention to the details makes the difference between a good communication and a great one.
  5. Educate visitors on products and processes. People that understand the products your company offers and how to use them tend to buy more. Create content that teaches the best ways to use products and services. Your prospects will convert and customers will keep coming back.
  6. Simplify Everything. Making the buying decision and purchasing process simple endears people to your company. Life is complicated. Shopping with your company shouldn’t be.
  7. Target to provide the right offer at the right time. Part of the simplification process is making it easy for people to buy what they need with minimal effort. Targeting people with the right message based on their behavior improves the shopping experience.

Email Marketing Redefined: The 3 Keys to Customer Retention

Memorable experiences make people more likely to return when they need your products or services again. Memories are made by both good and bad experiences. You expect customers to place another order after a good experience. Yet, surprisingly, they are more likely to return after a bad experience when the issues are resolved than after an uneventful good experience. Solving the problems that contribute to a bad experience creates trust, and the more people trust your company, the more they buy

The best customer retention strategies begin with the first order and continue until the lifespan is complete. Everything that happens from the first visit to completion of the final order is part of the experience of shopping with your company. Memorable experiences make people more likely to return when they need your products or services again. Memories are made by both good and bad experiences.

You expect customers to return to place another order after a good experience. Yet, surprisingly, customers are more likely to return after a bad experience when the issues are resolved than after an uneventful good experience. Solving the problems that contribute to a bad experience creates trust, and the more customers trust your company, the more they buy.

Consistently keeping promises also builds trust. When an order is placed, fulfillment is expected. Simply fulfilling orders will not retain customers because every legitimate business fulfills orders. You have to do more to differentiate your company from the competition. Relationships retain customers. Email allows companies in high-volume business to communicate with people on a one-to-one basis. This establishes relationships. Yes, it is at a superficial level, but it serves the purpose of personalizing the customer experience and significantly improves retention rates.

Most people aren’t fooled into thinking that “[insert name here]” emails are personal. They know that is a form letter, but that doesn’t matter as long as the information included is relevant. People placing orders are not looking for best friends, they are looking to solve a problem with minimal effort. The problem may be not having the perfect outfit for the next party, the best coffee maker, a service that would make their jobs easier, or a variety of other challenges. Whatever the problem, if your company provides the solution, keeps the customer informed, and makes everything as easy as possible, people will keep coming back for more.

There are three key components to an effective customer retention strategy:

  1. Knowledge of the Customer Lifecycle—Knowing how people normally act provides insight into drop-off points and inspires ideas for keeping them from leaving. When you know how each segment of your customer base typically performs, you can recognize when someone prematurely drops out of the buying cycle.
  2. Execution of a Detailed Communication Plan—Good communication is the key to all successful relationships. Sharing information about order processing, special sales, use of products and available services contributes to customer retention because it simplifies the buying and consumption process.
  3. An Automated Reactivation Process—Reactivation must start as soon as a customer reaches the first drop-off point. When you know your customer types well enough to know when they have passed the next order point without making a purchase, you can catch them before they are completely gone. Email automation simplifies the reactivation process. Create a strategy designed to connect with customers before they migrate to a competitor.

Plan your reactivation strategy to start while people are still in the active buying cycle. Every email sent from your business to your customers should have a retention element in it, such as these:

  • Make people feel valued and appreciated
  • Solve problems before people ask for help
  • Provide value above and beyond offering low prices
  • Keep people informed throughout the buying process
  • Provide information on the use of products and services
  • Create a bond between company and customer

1-Click Emails Make Sales and Donations Easy

Attention spans are getting shorter every day. Emails have nano-seconds to capture the recipients’ attention long enough to get them opened. Once open, the offer has to be compelling to move people into the buying process. Every click along the way provides an opportunity to abandon the process. Providing one-click links shortens the path from email receipt to order completion reducing opportunities for people to become distracted or change their mind.

When it comes to service, people prefer easy to exceptional. They want to complete their transactions and resolve any issues in the most efficient manner possible. According to a study by the “Harvard Business Review” and Corporate Executive Board, 57 percent of the people who called customer care departments tried to resolve their issues online before making the call. Customers who reported ease in making transactions were four times more likely to be loyal. This is good information for the service team, but how could it apply to the email marketing strategy?

Attention spans are getting shorter every day. Emails have nano-seconds to capture the recipients’ attention long enough to get them opened. Once open, the offer has to be compelling to move people into the buying process. Every click along the way provides an opportunity to abandon the process. Providing one-click links shortens the path from email receipt to order completion reducing opportunities for people to become distracted or change their mind.

The first image in the media player at right is an example of a one-click fundraising email for a political candidate. It began with a salutation followed by a short story and call to action. The email provides five suggested amounts and the option to donate another amount. A click sends the donor to a confirmation page (the second image) to confirm the donation or choose a different amount.

Amazon offers a similar process with their wish list click, which you can see in the third image in the media player. Instead of an option for the one-click buy, the recipient can add the item to a personal wish list. This is the next best thing to a buy because it provides additional information so the recipient can be better targeted for future promotions. The email is crafted to be personal and well-targeted. A brief look at the anatomy reveals:

  1. The recommendations are chosen specifically for the recipient. Having my name in the first line shows that it isn’t a phishing email.
  2. Personalizing the message increases responsiveness. The letter begins by asking if I am looking for something in the fountains department. I chuckled when I read it because they know for a fact that I was looking for an automatic watering bowl. Two weeks earlier I spent an hour searching their site for one.
  3. Clicking on the “Learn More” button opens the item page so you can review it in more depth. Interestingly, the first item presented in the email is the one where I spent the most time in my search.
  4. The “Wish List” button opens a confirmation page (the fourth image) to verify that you want the item added to your wish list.
  5. The item title is clickable. It opens the same page as the “Learn More” button.

The Amazon email provides multiple ways to enter the buying process. Adding a “1-Click” option to buy would make it even easier to complete the transaction.

Making things easier for your customers or donors may improve their responsiveness. Here are some tips for testing it:

  • Count the number of clicks required from the initial click-through link to completion of order. Redefine the path to eliminate any extraneous steps. (This should be done for every email.)
  • Provide enough details in the email for recipients to make a decision.
  • Follow Amazon’s lead and offer multiple options so people are choosing between more information and buy now instead of buy now or not at all.
  • When reviewing results pay close attention to where people are abandoning the buying process. Test different options to find the best ones for moving them forward.
  • Always provide a custom confirmation page.

The B-to-B Buying Revolution, and Five Ways Marketers Need to Change Their Game

The Internet has driven dramatic changes in business buying behavior. Just as no one buys a car anymore without first checking prices and features online, business buyers now research and educate themselves online, months—even years—before ever seeing a salesperson. This has big implications for B-to-B marketers.

The Internet has driven dramatic changes in business buying behavior. Just as no one buys a car anymore without first checking prices and features online, business buyers now research and educate themselves online, months—even years—before ever seeing a salesperson. This has big implications for B-to-B marketers.

In the old days-just a few years ago-when business buyers had a problem, they’d call in their vendors for advice on how to solve it. So a sales person was in a nifty position to educate—and influence—the buyer from the earliest stages of the process.

But these days, the sales person has lost control. Buyers don’t really want to talk to vendors until somewhere akin to 70 percent of the way down the road, at the stage of writing RFPs and getting quotes. By then, the possible solutions and the specifications are already set.

But there’s more. Business buying processes are getting longer, and-most important-involving more parties than ever before. The so-called Buying Circle in large enterprise B-to-B-the influencers, specifiers, users, decision-makers-comprises as many as 21 people, according to Marketing Sherpa.

So marketers have to think differently today. First, you need to take an active role in the early stages of the buying process, to ensure that your solutions are front and center, and that you are in the game of influencing buyers as they educate themselves online. Second, you must gain access to each member of the Buying Circle, so you can understand their needs and interests, and deliver relevant messaging to them as they move from stage to stage in their buying journey.

These developments bring front and center five important areas requiring renewed focus from marketers:

  1. Complete and accurate data on customers and prospects. To influence the multiple Buying Circle members, and get to them early, you need to know who they are. Not an easy task, but more essential than ever. Here are some resources for gaining access to prospect data, and keeping your database clean.
  2. A deliberate contact strategy. Beyond blasting out prospecting campaigns, marketers must move toward a series of ongoing outbound messages, via multiple communications channels, to connect with multiple parties, over time. Here’s where marketing automation becomes an important resource for B-to-B marketers.
  3. Active social media outreach. No longer an experiment, social media has become a must-have element of the B-to-B marketing toolkit. A well-written blog, promoted by Twitter and LinkedIn groups, is a good way to start.
  4. A superb website, the core resource for engagement with buyers at all stages of the process. Enhance its interactivity by adding downloadable content in exchange for registration.
  5. A library of content assets. Populate your website with white papers, research reports, videos, how-to guides, technical documents, archived webinars, all written in objective, non-salesy language, to help educate buyers and help influence them toward your solution. Be sure to title the documents with plenty of keywords.

It’s a different marketing world today. But an exciting one, as long as marketers evolve along with buyers as they change the way they work.

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

Stephanie Miller’s Engagement Matters: Email Storytelling Sells

Combat the fatigue from crowded inboxes by embracing the role of storyteller. Telling a story, rather than just announcing a fact or blasting out an announcement, is a more engaging way to share information. The storytelling approach weaves a relationship through a cadence of touchpoints. Any nurturing or loyalty program is built on the same concept, and many B-to-B marketers are very good at telling stories to move prospects through a buying process.

Gone are the days of the passive email subscriber. Consumers and business professionals tire easily when publishers and marketers broadcast to them. It’s the online equivalent of shouting. Your customers and readers want meaningful conversations — and they know they have other options if you don’t deliver.

Combat the fatigue from crowded inboxes by embracing the role of storyteller. Telling a story, rather than just announcing a fact or blasting out an announcement, is a more engaging way to share information. The storytelling approach weaves a relationship through a cadence of touchpoints. This isn’t complex. Any nurturing or loyalty program is built on the same concept, and many B-to-B marketers are very good at telling stories to move prospects through a buying process.

It’s simply a series of stories about use cases, cool new features and real-life implementation of your editorial, products and services. So invite your subscribers to the proverbial campfire and build their anticipation with a question, “How can I help you today?” Email marketing is great for providing the answer.

Invite subscribers on a story journey
Instead of sending a generic newsletter or “special offers,” invite website visitors to accept a two to five message email series on a particular topic. Make it about how your products, services or content will help them: “Five ways to be beautiful this summer,” “Three strategies for impressing your boss,” “Doctor’s advice on buying contact lenses online,” “Ten things your CEO wants you to know,” “Five great summer games for kids under 10.”

Make it easy to sign up by putting invitations in prominent locations on pages that have related content. And be sure permission is clear. If the offer is just for two to five email messages over the same number of weeks or days, then say so. You’ll likely find a higher sign-up rate and higher response and engagement because the content is so targeted. If you’re also signing them up for your ongoing e-newsletter, be clear about that. There’s no reason you can’t encourage a further subscription after you’ve delivered the series, too. Earn their trust first, then sell. Consider the following strategies:

  • Make your story interactive.
  • Tap the socially connected nature of today’s digital experience.
  • Integrate opportunities for subscribers to share with their social networks or forward to others.
  • Invite subscribers to take a poll or survey or give you feedback.
  • Offer a page where subscribers can upload their own stories or photos, and then share that user-generated content back to the group in your series.
  • Ensure your customer service team monitors these pages so that you can quickly respond to any questions or direct prospects to your sales team or e-commerce site.

Why does it work? An email series strategy is based on a fundamental truth of marketing: Provide something of value and customers will continue to engage. A series makes it easy for you to customize messages to the interests of subscribers at that moment. The topic is top of mind for them, and that creates selling and relationship opportunities for you.

Another benefit is that when your email messages are more relevant, you won’t have as many people clicking the “Report Spam” button, which registers as a complaint at internet service providers like Yahoo or Gmail. Even a small number of complaints can result in a poor sender reputation and a block on all your messages. Make even some of your messages more relevant, and the response rates for all your messages will go up and complaints will go down.

For content, consider the following four options:

1. Make it easy to learn more. Offer website visitors a two- to three-part email series rather than a whitepaper. Most downloaded content never actually gets opened or read. Once a whitepaper is downloaded and saved, it’s out of mind. An email series forces marketers to package up content in bite-sized pieces (you can always link to more detail on your website), and gives them several opportunities over a few weeks to engage. Advertising CPMs for these targeted messages can be at a premium, as well.

2. Comparison shopping. Advertisers know that readers are researching and want publishers to help them shorten sales cycles. Use a series of email messages to help subscribers compare competitive sets — the more honest/nonadvertorial you are, the longer they stay on your site! — find testimonials and bloggers, and make a strong business case.

3. Move free-trial subscribers to paid circulation. A series can give prospects confidence in your content or technology. Help them actually use your service during the trial — help them find the best reviews or product feature comparisons, or let them download tools that help them forecast productivity, revenue or cost savings as a result of making a decision to buy. Test if increasing incentives as prospects move through the cycle helps or hurts your conversion (and margin).

4. Educate. Send one great idea each week, and include ways to practice or implement. The next week, ask for input or a story about how that idea worked or didn’t work. Then, the next day, send the next idea. This interactive cadence will build value for subscribers and let them engage repeatedly over time.

Storytelling lets you retain control over the content while giving subscribers the freedom, choice and interactivity they crave. Successful email marketing is built on a very simple concept: Give subscribers what they want, and they’ll give you what you want. Subscribers want you to help them. When you do, they’ll reward you with higher response and sales, positive buzz and sharing, and stronger brand loyalty.

Let me know what you think by sharing any ideas or comments below.