10 Tips Judging Marketing Awards Allow Me to Teach Brands

I’m judging marketing awards during the dog days of August, with steaming heat in New York City. It’s been a challenge this week choosing which campaigns will win recognition on Oct. 7 in Las Vegas. Earning my vote takes some doing. Here’s how marketers did it.

I’m judging marketing awards during the dog days of August, with steaming heat in New York City. There’s no better time than now to gather 100 or more data-driven marketing storytellers, strategists and creatives to judge this year’s Data and Marketing Association’s International ECHO Awards. (DMA is now a division of Association of National Advertisers).

It’s been a challenge this week choosing which campaigns will win recognition on Oct. 7 in Las Vegas. Earning my vote takes some doing.

Why?

1. Measurement Matters. Great creativity abounds. Yet, what matters to most CMOs is defining what business objective is achieved or surpassed through any campaign. If strategy and creative are stellar, but results toward an objective are nebulous or not addressed at all, then I’m going to discount the campaign’s overall score.
2. Talking to the Category Matters. Many award shows allow an entry to be submitted in more than one category. In that regard, ECHOs are no different. But just don’t check a box when entering. Instead, tailor the single entry campaign description to address in a meaningful way all the categories that are checked. For example, if “customer acquisition” is one of the checked categories speak to customer acquisition in the strategy and results. Show how the creative makes it easy for the customer to engage.
3. Creative Matters All of the Creative. I love a good video that summarizes a campaign entry it’s helpful for the judges in a pinch. But don’t solely rely on the video as a surrogate for showing all of a campaign’s creative elements. Judges don’t want to read or hear about a direct mail piece they want to see the actual direct mail piece (or PDF). Likewise, the mobile app, the landing page, the display ads and so on. Don’t leave a judge guessing which components worked and which may not have.
4. Set a Stage for Strategy. Open with a pain point, an opportunity statement, or some salient market research. Provide the context for the entry with a candid discussion you’ll get rewarded for brutal honesty. If a prior campaign flunked and this marked a turnaround, then say so. We’ve all been there. On the other hand, if a new campaign establishes a new control, hallelujah!
5. Let’s Get Technical. And Let Me Hear Your Data Talk. ECHOs are all about data-inspired creative and accountability. Tell me the customer and prospect data integration story the tech platforms, the analytics, and the personalization techniques. I get high when the love for strategy shows in the data discussion and how that strategy shapes creative and gets validated in results.
6. Make America Great Again … No, Not That One. Courageous clients and out-of-the-box thinking seem to co-thrive in many, many places around the globe. Because I don’t know who will be named ECHO winners this year I can only say from prior years that some innovative strategies are in play … petroleum made from beer:

Empowered sick kids:

https://youtu.be/DbRS9NxgWBU

And an 800 number answered by a nation’s citizens:

There are many well-executed U.S.-based campaigns with solid results but that extra magical mojo still seems to be shaken, not stirred in cocktails elsewhere. Bring it back home. Be a risk-taker. Let’s get the U.S. Navy more cryptologists.
7. What Was the Budget (Range)? Judges scratch their heads when key elements used to determine return on (marketing) investment are absent, or when no ROI or cost data are shared at all. No one expects proprietary information to be disclosed but there are ways to convey cost or ROI data (cost per acquisition, cost per conversion, cost improvement) in ways that are indexed or objective specific. Judges love understanding if and when campaigns truly break even.
8. Proofread and Check Your Math. I’m one of those people who shudders when The New York Times or New Yorker has a spelling or usage error. (You’d think I’d live my own life mistake-free, well hardly.) I can’t be the only stickler left on this planet, am I? In the rush to get entries in the door ahead of deadlines, errors do get through sometimes slight, but sometimes it’s more substantial “engagement” math off by a power of ten! No wonder the return on investment was so good … or was it?
9. Camaraderie and Conversation Among Peers Are Really Cool. When you judge Round 1 (online and alone), you get to see clever campaigns and a store of ideas to apply in your own marketing. When you are lucky to be chosen to judge Round 2 (face-to-face in New York), wow! You still cast your votes alone but only after a lively discussion, debate and worldwide reality check. It’s an 8-hour day (or three in a row), but with plenty of meal-time and after-hour networking, too. It’s a true marketing exchange and the points of view are well-articulated. Discussions open eyes and minds.
10. Awards Matter, as Do the Entries. There will be Gold, Silver, Bronze and Finalist ECHOs named plus a Diamond ECHO for top campaign overall. Still, there was at least one great idea in nearly every individual entry I saw.

Collectively, I also saw something else, which too often gets overlooked and underappreciated. Advertising and today, that also means the data that fuels it may seem to serve brands. And it does. But this week while judging marketing awards I saw a lot more. Advertising (and data) also creates customers. It creates commerce. It moves markets. It creates and serves audiences. It informs. It finances. It employs. It empowers. It inspires. Advertising is essential, yet we cannot take any of it for granted. Awards call attention to great work, by great people, achieving spectacular returns and those extend way beyond the brand. It’s good to be a judge.

Should Your Direct Mail Campaigns Be Lean?

First of all, what is “lean”? It is a systematic way to reduce waste without sacrificing return on your investment. So how can we apply the lean concept to direct mail campaigns?

First of all, what is “lean”? It is a systematic way to reduce waste without sacrificing return on your investment. So how can we apply the lean concept to direct mail campaigns?

First, you will want to look at both customers and employees. Lean is a great fit, because you can save money with a lean direct mail approach. Reduce internal costs and increase customer response. The more you save, the more you make. Are you ready to apply the five lean principles to your next direct mail campaign?

5 Direct Mail Lean Principles

  1. Define the Value: This is extremely important. You need to determine what value your product or service has for your customers and prospects. Look at your company from the eyes of your customers. When you can easily identify all of the benefits to them, you are able to convey your value. Your customers and prospects buy the value of what you sell, not the product or service you are selling.
  2. Value Stream: Now that you have identified the value, you need identify all of the steps it will take to create the best direct mail piece to target the values. You can create a map of what needs to be done and who will be doing it. Ideally, you can identify any congestion points and plan around them before you execute your campaign. This will decrease the amount of time and frustration with actual campaign creation.
  3. Flow: After you have identified all of the potential waste points and worked out a plan, you are ready to make sure the plan will flow smoothly without bottlenecks or other issues, both internally and for customers receiving the direct mail pieces. The quicker you can start the campaign, the sooner you are making money. You should also create flows for each campaign stream, such as retention, acquisition, and events that trigger marketing communication to customers and prospects.
  4. Pull: This is where it gets fun; you have created the system to expedite your direct mail campaigns. Therefore, you are ready to provide mail pieces as people are ready for them. You can have triggering events that have you send mail to your customers and prospects, such as when a product or service is about to change or customers reach a time period which would require them to buy from you again. The customer needs pull the mail pieces to them based on the campaign flows you have created.
  5. Perfection: Now that you have the steps in place, you need to continually work to perfect them. By checking in with people at each step, you can identify more problem areas and ways to improve them. You can then look at your direct mail results and improve them with better data, targeting and offers. This is a continual process to keep your mail performing better and better internally and with customers/prospects.

This process is probably a new way of looking at planning and executing your direct mail marketing. Most of the time, we are running behind and throw mail campaigns together at the last minute, then wonder why we are not getting the response rates we planned on. With this process, you are trying to create more value for your customers and spend less time and money creating it. Are you ready to get started?

What Is Agile Direct Mail and Why Do I Need It?

Many organizations are familiar with agility strategy, but have you considered how you can create agile direct mail campaigns? Why should we even consider this for direct mail, because agile means we can quickly adapt to changing circumstances to stay ahead of the competition? Are you ready to see how you can create an agile direct mail campaign?

direct mail
“Mailboxes in ivy,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ryan McFarland

Many organizations are familiar with agility strategy, but have you considered how you can create agile direct mail campaigns? Why should we even consider this for direct mail, because agile means we can quickly adapt to changing circumstances to stay ahead of the competition? Are you ready to see how you can create an agile direct mail campaign?

Agile Campaign:

  1. Roadmap: First you need to build your roadmap. This will consist of three to four direct mail deployments and tracking. Each mailing will highlight a new benefit of your product or service, along with a new offer. After each mailing, check reporting to see what is working and what needs to be changed. It all comes down to the four basics of agility: Thoughts/ideas, Questions, Decisions and Actions.
  2. Mailing 1: Design and mail your first drop. Be sure to include multiple ways to respond and track your responses.
  3. Mailing 2: Look at the responses from the first mailing. What worked? Keep that. What needs improvement? Make changes to design and the offer, then mail your second drop with the ability to track your responses.
  4. Mailing 3: Check responses, not only from Mailing No. 2, but also in comparison to the first one. You should see an improvement. Again, you will need to make changes that help to improve your responses.
  5. Mailing 4: You should now see a clear pattern emerging that you can then use to make changes to enhance this mailing’s appeal and, thereby, response.

The key to direct mail agility is consistent mailing over time, with constant vigilance on what is working and what needs improvement. There are no excuses for not tracking your responses; if you have no idea if something is working, you have no reason to send another one. You are just wasting your money. You and your team need to constantly be having conversations; not just about what you are doing, but about what the competition is doing, too. What new ideas are you coming up with? Where can you find inspiration? Constantly feeding the conversation about your direct mail campaigns will keep agile thinking top of mind.

One key thing to be careful of, especially if you have been doing direct mail for a long time, is assumptions. What are your assumptions about direct mail? How are they blocking you from seeing a better way? You can try listing all of the facts you think of about direct mail, and then challenge someone else on your team to provide facts that contradict what you thought. This is very enlightening and can help you see beyond your own assumptions to ideas you never thought possible. There are many opportunities with direct mail that you may not have considered before.

Many times, marketers are afraid to fail. Agile direct mail says even if you don’t get the first result you thought you would, it’s not a failure but an experience to build a better mail piece the next time around. Every direct mail piece you send tells you something. Use that information to build better and better campaigns. Agility will get you to success much faster than you have before. Are you ready to get started?

4 Great Holiday Mail Tips

The holiday season is quickly approaching. Are you ready to send direct mail that gets you better results than last year?

holiday mail
“Mail Direct,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by frankieleon

The holiday season is quickly approaching. Are you ready to send direct mail that gets you better results than last year?

Both customers and prospects are on the lookout for great deals during the holidays. So now is the time to get started planning yours. Staying ahead of your competition is important this time of the year. Are you ready to get started?

How to create great holiday direct mail:

  1. Target — Make sure that you are targeting the right holiday messages to the right people. Yes, your offers need to be targeted. But if you send a Christmas greeting to a Jewish family, you are missing out on a great opportunity to connect with them on a more personal level. The better you target and personalize, the better response you will get. So really look at your data to make sure you have enough information to target correctly.
  2. Fun — Have fun with your mail pieces! This time of year is full of fun, so join in and create a mail piece that is not just an offer, but a really fun experience. Think outside of the box about what you can do differently to have more fun with your prospects and customers. It does not have to be super expensive. Think about adding some texture as a way to make your piece feel different or fun folds that keep on going.
  3. Savings — Make sure you are offering great savings to your prospects and customers. This time of year, they expect it. Remember, it’s all in the wording of the offer. Interpretation is the key, so a higher percentage off a lower-cost item is seen as a better deal than a lower percentage off a high-price item. Target the discounts based on things they are interested in. You can use variable data to make a highly targeted coupon.
  4. Sharing — Offer a way for people to share the savings with friends and family for the holidays. This time of the year, people love to share. So you can have your message expand well beyond your list when they do. This can really help to increase your ROI and make customers and prospects happy they can share.

Great holiday mail incorporates all four of the items above. It is a special time of year that is also reflected in the special types of mailings that get sent out. Don’t just send a postcard — be extra creative for the holidays to not only stand out in the mail box, but to get people to respond. Also, don’t wait for December. Send something for Halloween and Thanksgiving, too. Really get into the holiday spirit and have fun. Customers will appreciate it.

If you have a little extra funds for the holiday campaigns, consider using video or fun cut-outs. Anything you can do to make your mail more interactive and staying on message will help increase your ROI. Make sure that as you are brainstorming ideas, you continue to look at it from the customer’s perspective. You need to focus on what they will respond to and enjoy. If possible, get some customer feedback on your ideas before you launch — just to make sure you are on the right road.

Are you ready to get started on a fun holiday campaign?

Forecasting a Cheery 2010 Holiday Shopping Season for Paid Search Campaigns

With the holidays fast approaching, news and economic trends relevant to this year’s holiday shopping season have been mixed, though generally favorable. A recent study by ChannelAdvisor revealed that 81 percent of shoppers plan to spend the same or more on holiday gifts this year. The study also found that more of that shopping will be conducted online.

With the holidays fast approaching, news and economic trends relevant to this year’s holiday shopping season have been mixed, though generally favorable. A recent study by ChannelAdvisor revealed that 81 percent of shoppers plan to spend the same or more on holiday gifts this year. The study also found that more of that shopping will be conducted online.

From a performance perspective, actively managed holiday paid search campaigns delivered impressive results during the 2009 holiday shopping season in comparison to the rest of the year. In 2010, these campaigns have already achieved strong year-to-date (YTD) growth. This strong YTD growth will likely continue into the fourth quarter, and Performics predicts this will net out to 15 percent year-over-year (YOY) growth for actively managed holiday paid search campaigns. The results could be even stronger for search advertisers who are able to make Q4 outshine the rest of the year like they did in 2009.

Either way, all signs point to growth for these campaigns, and marketers should keep the following opportunities in mind:

Continued emphasis on value. Free shipping and discounts have become standard as retailers continue to vie for cost-conscious consumers. Average order value is down 9 percent YTD according to a Performics Holiday Retail Group report, and this trend will likely continue into Q4. Providing offers on upsell or cross-sell products can help boost order totals and offset free shipping and other discounts merchants offer.

Delayed shopping as savvy consumers research and wait for late sales. The first two weeks in December 2009 saw sales increase by 27 percent compared to 2008, while Black Friday sales decreased 17 percent YOY. Sales during the last week of free standard shipping prior to Christmas also increased significantly in 2009. However, numbers may shift this year if consumers feel more confident with compelling sales already underway. The recently released Compete Holiday Insights survey found that 50 percent of consumers have already started holiday shopping.

Shoppers are reaching for their phones. Nearly half of adult smartphone owners younger than 25 will use their smartphones to shop this holiday season, according to a new survey from the National Retail Federation and BIGresearch. An increasing share of overall clicks are coming from mobile — 6.7 percent in September, and projected to be greater than 10 percent within 12 months.

Improved efficiency of last-minute shopping. Consumer spending and cost per clicks dropped dramatically following the last week of free standard shipping prior to Christmas 2009. Active paid search advertisers can do more for less after Dec. 17.

Marketers looking to capitalize on these opportunities and improve holiday performance should consider the following recommendations:

  • follow best practices to actively manage campaigns and effectively respond to market forces;
  • offer aggressive promotions early to capture shoppers;
  • actively participate in the last week of free standard shipping prior to Christmas;
  • embrace mobile to ensure the channel’s increasing user base can find you when searching; and
  • continue active management of paid search beyond Dec. 17 to further boost efficiency.

By following shoppers’ changing behaviors this holiday season — and planning and executing campaigns accordingly — marketers can boost their odds of a jolly holiday.