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.

How to Consider the Buyer’s Journey, Not Just the Channel

We are obviously living in a multichannel marketing environment, whether we are marketers or consumers. Every conceivable channel is being optimized for marketing, and in a capitalistic society, that is only natural.

channel
Credit: Getty Images by Photo-Dave

We are obviously living in a multichannel marketing environment, whether we are marketers or consumers. Every conceivable channel is being optimized for marketing, and in a capitalistic society, that is only natural.

Someone has to pay for the maintenance of media channels, and marketers want to reach their target audiences through them. Voila! Demand meets supply, and the whole ecosystem is in perpetual motion.

So much so that many marketing organizations are organized by key media channels. The No. 1 reason many datasets are in silos? It is because data collected through different channels are hogged by the managers of those channels.

So the biggest hurdle towards a true 360-degree customer view is not the technology or lack of data, but the fact that interests of different channel managers do not meet in a common place, without heavy nudging from CEOs or CMOs. That is why I’ve been repeatedly saying that the first step towards proper data-readiness for advanced 1:1 marketing is the commitment from the top.

That being the reality, service providers — whether be data compilers, database designers, CRM experts, analytics experts or campaign specialists — must comply with the channel-centric environment, which is unfortunately the source of inadequate 1:1 targeting and personalization.

With all the technologies available today, why do you think that consumers keep getting similar or conflicting offers from the same organization? It’s because each channel manager acts like she “owns” the names of buyers who touched “her” channel. Let’s just say that is the exact opposite of customer-centric marketing.

Further, it gets even more complicated, as each channel exists not only on different plains, but on different spots on the timeline of customer journey.

What is customer journey? If I make a typical B2C engagement an example (because there are so many versions of this concept out there), it may follow these high-level steps:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Trial
  4. Repeat
  5. Loyalty

If this were for B2B, we may consider “Decision” and “Action” as separate steps, but the general idea of a customer journey is not all that different.

Now, the important point here is that these phases may or may not converge nicely with the “marketer’s journey,” which may look like:

  1. Acquisition
  2. Relationship Development
  3. Retention
  4. Win-back

Clearly, awareness and interest stages are closely related to acquisition; but after the purchase, we are moving into the CRM area from the marketer’s point of view, where cross-sell/up-sell, value-based targeting, various retention and anti-churn prevention measures, and win-back efforts come into play. Some actions go way past repeat and loyalty stages from the buyer’s side.

Now, add all the channels on top of this combination. No wonder there are lots of conflicts among channel managers. Who owns what stage of the game? Maybe that is just a wrong way to approach all of this.

Homework for Marketers

I’d say marketers should start with the customer’s journey first. Not just in the name of customer-centric marketing, but for practical reasons, too. So, list five customer journey phases on the left-hand side on a piece of paper.

Then, let’s write down proper marketer’s effort categories, from acquisition to win-back.

Next to it, put down data assets and technologies that you have available for each stage. You will find that distinctly different types of data and technologies should be applied to each.

For instance, third-party data are important for acquisition and win-back stages, due to lack of behavioral and transaction data. Conversely, to build proper cross-sell/up-sell, customer value or churn prevention models, you will need to use rich transaction and interaction history with your customers. Then of course, technology that you need to employ would be different for each stage.

Then, only then, write down proper media channels that would be best utilized for each stage of your marketing efforts.

For example, in the acquisition stage, where only third-party data and non-transactional data are available, what would be the best acquisition channel for you to employ? Catalog? Postcard? Email? Social media? General media?

For relationship-building and retention efforts, yes, email is the dominant one; but should it be the only one? Let’s not just settle on one channel, just because it is readily available and less costly. If you have all of the rich transaction and response data, why not use direct marketing, with rather fancy catalogs or First Class mail? Surely, with such powerful data, we can build proper targeting models to make those more expensive channels worthwhile.

Turning Marketing on Its Head

The key message here is to reverse the way we think about our channels, and shake the whole marketing ecosystem up.

I got into a heated debate with one of my colleagues the other day about this. Many digital marketers think that the journey begins at the moment a visitor lands on a website or types in a search word (refer to “Customer Journeys Don’t Start on Your Website”).

Before someone magically shows up on some site, there had to be other efforts to raise awareness and pique interest for that visitor. It could have been a banner, billboard, TV, radio, magazine, paper or more targeted media, such as direct mail, catalogs or email. All of those channels play different roles in different stages of both customer’s journey and the marketer’s journey.

Multichannel or Omnichannel concepts have been around for a long time; but to rise above the channel-centric mindset that hampers effective customer communication, markers must be aware of the timeline view, as well.

In fact, as I described in the body of this article, you may have to reverse the whole process, and see it from the timeline view first, and then assign proper channels to each stage. Otherwise, how would you ever escape from channel silos?

How Direct Mail Fits in an Omnichannel Strategy

Many times, marketers look at direct mail as an old-school choice that does not fit well in an omnichannel world. This is just not true. Direct mail helps you integrate online marketing with the physical world. Research shows people like and trust direct mail across all generations.

Many times, marketers look at direct mail as an old-school choice that does not fit well in an omnichannel world. This is just not true. Direct mail helps you integrate online marketing with the physical world. Research shows people like and trust direct mail across all generations. Direct mail is the tangible component of your omnichannel strategy. It is a physical piece that draws attention and then is remembered better than marketing that’s in digital channels.

When customers and prospects get a mail piece that ties to multiple channels, not only is your branding more effective, but your engagement goes up. Why? Attention spans are shorter, people are inundated with ads all day, and they are very busy in this fast-paced world, so reaching them multiple times across channels gives you more opportunity to get them to buy from you.

So exactly where does direct mail fit in an omnichannel strategy?

  • Start — Direct mail can be the start of your campaign. Use it to drive customers and prospects to specific online landing pages. Then create triggers for other channels, based on mail delivery date, landing page visits or lack of action.
  • Middle — So after you have sent out emails, display ads or any other marketing channel message, you can then use direct mail as a mid-campaign push to action. Then your follow up will be with other channels, based on either their response or the in-home dates.
  • End — Lack of response does not necessarily equate to lack of interest, so ending with direct mail is a very popular method. Direct mail is a driver of response. You can time it to distribute after a set number of days from other channels or be triggered based on lack of response to other channels. Direct mail as the last touch allows a final push of your campaign that can easily be saved until they have time to respond and can be given to others to increase your exposure.

Because direct mail is a good fit in any phase of your campaign, you should include the channel to help boost your sales. Now, let’s look at a real example of how IKEA uses direct mail in an omnichannel strategy. IKEA is known for its catalogs that come to life when scanned with a cell phone to show you how its furniture will look in your home, but did you also know that it’s using email and social media in conjunction with the catalogs, not to mention TV and radio ads? Each channel feeds into the other and allows them to build up audiences across all channels, which increase sales.

Direct mail doesn’t have to include an AR or VR experience like IKEA, but it does need to tie into your online content and other channels. You want the flow for customers to be the same, no matter what channel they respond to, so create a workflow that accomplishes this. Of course, what they see first is based on where and how they respond; however, the overall flow should be driven by triggers based on what each person is doing along the way. Customer experience is the key to great omnichannel marketing. You can no longer put your money into just one channel, because you will not get enough bang for your buck. Omnichannel marketing allows you to create a complete campaign based on ease of use for your customers. Every customer is different so allowing them to respond in the most convenient way for them increases your ROI. Are you ready to get started?

Small Blog, Big Strategy

It’s incredibly tough for even the biggest brands to master content marketing. So what about small blogs? How are they staying relevant today? Microtargeting and interest-based awareness have changed digital strategy and these tactics are now home to small bloggers.

Kia Street blogIt’s incredibly tough for even the biggest brands to master content marketing. So what about small blogs? How are they staying relevant today? Microtargeting and interest-based awareness have changed digital strategy and these tactics are now home to small bloggers.

Let’s call “small” any blog with more than five active content contributors and at least a few published posts. Sound like you? Keep reading for more of my take on how to amplify your blog’s online presence. If you site has yet to be born, refer to this easy-to-digest explanation on the first steps of getting a website — securing a domain name.

kia street blog graphicDevelop Reasonable KPIs

No matter how big or small the budget, there are plenty of ways to get your content out there. For example:

  • Be at the top of results when users search for you on Google
  • Maximize reach and awareness of new posts immediately after release
  • Drive and sustain website traffic via Twitter and referrals
  • Focus on what is most important to your business: such as user acquisition, overall awareness and user engagement.

This allows you to divide and conquer with paid search, native advertising, social media and affiliate marketing. Consider this perspective when developing your own KPIs.

Aggregate Your Audience Data

What does your audience like on each channel? What do they care about?

Ask your audience data a lot of questions to help you dive further into who your readers are, how they use the chosen platform and what type of content they respond to most. Now see if you can match your blog’s content to the trends found within your audience data. This can help you understand if you’re offering the right content for your audience.

Think of your analysis as instant market research. Your audience data allows you to truly map out your customer’s journey. Some marketers are innovating this concept entirely by creating content paths to match their content marketing goals.

Identify a Content Strategy

Once you’ve solidified your goals and target audience, examine your strategy. Nix any initiatives that don’t contribute to your ultimate mission. What is it that you ultimately want your audience to do? The answer to this question should drive your content marketing strategy.

Experiment With Social Tactics

Experiment with targeted content that is engaging and personalized. Be transparent and interesting to your users. Here are a few simple ideas to make this happen:

  • Host a live Q&A panel on Periscope featuring your editorial staff;
  • Let the audience choose the topic of your next blog post via Twitter polling;
  • Find, attend and capture industry events with Instagram Stories.

Depending on your audience and the theme of your blog, there are many ways of standing out to both followers and non-followers, alike. Play with and test different tactics for best results!

kia blog post chartLearn, Try, Repeat

The best piece of advice for any small blogger is to learn, try, repeat. Here are three principles for riding the trend waves of your industry:

There are tons of sources that can provide you with the training you need to be successful in content marketing. Use them!

You can never go wrong with experimentation, but you can definitely go wrong without it. Don’t be hesitant toward failure.

Digital changes by the second — and so do the needs of your audience. Remember to periodically optimize content to fit the needs of your users.

Learn, try, repeat: It’s the most effective way for small blogs to sustain authority and relevancy in 2017 (and beyond!)

Data Must Flow, But Not All of Them

Like any resource like water, data may be locked in wrong places or in inadequate forms. We hear about all kinds of doomsday scenarios related to the water supply in Africa, and it is because of uneven distribution of water thanks to drastic climate change and border disputes.

data flow and Marketing channelsThree quarters of this planet’s surface is covered with water. Yet, human collectives have to work constantly to maintain a steady supply of fresh water. When one area is flooded, another region may be going through some serious drought. It is about distribution of resources, not about the sheer amount of them.

Data management is the same way. We are clearly living in the age of abundant data, but many decision-makers complain that there are not enough “useful” data or insights. Why is that?

Like any resource like water, data may be locked in wrong places or in inadequate forms. We hear about all kinds of doomsday scenarios related to the water supply in Africa, and it is because of uneven distribution of water thanks to drastic climate change and border disputes. Conversely, California is running out of its water sources, even as the state is sitting right next to a huge pond called the Pacific Ocean. Water, in that case, is in a wrong form for the end-users there.

Data must flow through organizations like water; and to be useful, they must be in consumable formats. I have been emphasizing the importance of the data refinement process throughout this series (refer to “Cheat Sheet: Is Your Database Marketing Ready?” and “It’s All about Ranking”). In the data business, too much emphasis has been put on data collection platforms and toolsets that enable user interface, but not enough on the middle part where data are aligned, cleaned and reformatted though analytics. Most of the trouble, unfortunately, happens due to inadequate data, not because of storage platforms and reporting tools.

This month, nonetheless, let’s talk about the distribution of data. It doesn’t matter how clean and organized the data sources are, if they are locked in silos. Ironically, that is how this term “360-degree customer view” became popular, as most datasets are indeed channel- or division-centric, not customer-centric.

It is not so difficult to get to that consensus in any meeting. Yeah sure, let’s put all the data together in one place. Then, if we just open the flood gates and lead all of the data to a central location, will all the data issues go away? Can we just call that new data pond a “marketing database”? (Refer to “Marketing and IT; Cats and Dogs.”)

The short answer is “No way, no sir.” I have seen too many instances where IT and marketing try to move the river of data and fail miserably, thanks to the sheer size of such construction work. Maybe they should have thought about reducing the amount of data before constructing a monumental canal of data? Like in life, moving time is the best time to throw things away.

IT managers instinctively try to avoid any infrastructure failure, along with countless questions that would rise out of dumping “all” of the data on top of marketers’ laps. And for the sake of the users who can’t really plow through every bit of data anyway, we’ve got to be smarter about moving the data around.

The first thing that data players must consider is the purpose of the data project. Depending on the goal, the list of “must-haves” changes drastically.

So, let’s make an example out of the aforementioned “360-degree customer view” (or “single customer view”). What is the purpose of building such a thing? It is to stay relevant with the target customers. How do we go about doing that? Just collect anything and everything about them? If we are to “predict” their future behavior, or to estimate their propensities in order to pamper them through every channel that we get to use, one may think that we have to know absolutely everything about the customers.

5 Tips for Successful o2o Channel Leaping

The most strategically planned offline direct marketing effort can be sabotaged by weak links in an online sales order processing system. Moving a prospect from any offline channel marketing to online ordering has its clear benefits, but can be tricky. Whether from direct mail, broadcast, or other print source, your offline to online (o2o) channel redirection must be carefully designed, tested, and refined to maximize the conversion process. So here are five recommendations to ensure a seamless o2o leap.

The most strategically planned offline direct marketing effort can be sabotaged by weak links in an online sales order processing system. Moving a prospect from any offline channel marketing to online ordering has its clear benefits, but can be tricky. Whether from direct mail, broadcast, or other print source, your offline to online (o2o) channel redirection must be carefully designed, tested, and refined to maximize the conversion process. So here are five recommendations to ensure a seamless o2o leap.

In a past era, we direct marketers pitched our offer to our lists. When the prospect decided to buy, they would use a reply envelope to mail or phone their response. While that still happens today, more and more direct marketers prefer to drive a prospect to the web.

There is often a disconnect between concept and execution of taking a prospect from offline to online. We’re so close to the process that we sometimes assume a seamless o2o flow, but while fumbling around a keyboard, the prospect’s attention can be diverted. The online order experience can be clunky or even confusing. Sometimes too much is asked on the online order screen, and information overload sets in. Or we assume the customer is tech-savvy when in fact, they’re not. Orders and carts are abandoned because the prospect gives up.

What to do to ensure a seamless o2o leap? Here are five recommendations:

  1. Clarity Rules: Create a detailed flow chart of every possible path a prospect could take before they press “buy” to see if there is any unanswered or confusing language or visuals. Ensure that there are no dead-ends, and allow them to back up. And, be sure the form they’re returning to is still populated with their original entries, rather than being shown an infuriating screen full of blank fields.
  2. Roadmap the Journey: Manage expectations for your prospect with an overview of the process, why it’ll be worth their time, and how easy and quick it will be, especially if placing an order has multiple options.
  3. Wireframe to Visualize: If you, the marketer, are having trouble visualizing how it all works, just imagine how confused your customer will be. Developing even a crude wireframe will help ensure you don’t overlook something, or that the process unfolds logically and obviously.
  4. Clear Copy: Write to the reading level of your audience, but remember that online channels tend to be one where people are more rushed and scanning. They don’t always read for detail. Make it clear and simple.
  5. Tell and Sell with Video: People may not read copy as closely online, but they are apt to invest time watching a video with tips on how to place their order. It can save the customer time, and help reduce abandoned carts.

The back-end programming of online order systems are usually someone else’s responsibility. But, if you’re the marketer or copywriter, you need to put serious thought and effort into the customer-facing side, so it’s clear, friendly, and quick. Your prospect forms a lasting impression of your entire organization when you have an o2o channel leap requirement. And, if it’s muddled or worse, you may never have another opportunity to make it positive.

10 Best Ways To Use Direct Mail With Success

Direct mail can be a very powerful marketing tool. When executed correctly you can see a great return on your investment. However, direct mail is not the be all and end all for your marketing. It is an important channel to utilize in conjunction with your other marketing channels. Direct mail can even give you a lift in online engagement. Let’s look at how to use direct mail to shine.

Direct mail can be a very powerful marketing tool. When executed correctly you can see a great return on your investment. However, direct mail is not the be all and end all for your marketing. It is an important channel to utilize in conjunction with your other marketing channels. Direct mail can even give you a lift in online engagement. Let’s look at how to use direct mail to shine.

10 best ways to use direct mail:

  1. Counter a Competitive Offer:
    Direct mail allows you to be covert with your offer so that the competition does not know what you are doing until it has mailed and is too late. It takes them longer to find out what your direct mail says and they won’t know when you are sending it.
  2. Generate Traffic:
    Whether you want to increase traffic online, for an event or to your location, direct mail is a great way to drive people there.
  3. Customer Acquisition or Referrals:
    With the ability to purchase very targeted lists, you can reach prospects to increase your customer base as well as provide a way for your message to be passed on to others.
  4. Generate Sales Leads:
    Send direct mail to prospects in order to get responses from qualified and interested leads.
  5. Building Brand Awareness:
    Since direct mail is a very trusted channel, you can really build your brand. The better recipients know your brand the more they buy from you.
  6. Customer Loyalty:
    You can reach out to your customers to give them special offers and coupons.
  7. Announcements:
    Direct mail is a great way to get information out to people quickly and formally.
  8. Cross-sell or Up-sell:
    Use your direct mail to not only drive response to that offer but also mention other things you offer that they may be interested in.
  9. Combining Mailings With Other Companies:
    When you do a cooperative mailing with another company you not only save money but you add value for your recipients with better offers or coupons.
  10. Augmenting Other Media Efforts:
    Direct mail is a great way to drive engagement with other channels such as email, web, social media, mobile, QR codes and so much more…

Direct mail is more effective than ever, with fewer distractions in the mail box and more focus online. Don’t let the direct mail opportunity pass you by. When used as part of a multimedia campaign, direct mail can significantly enhance response. Make sure that you work together with your mail service provider to create great campaigns that are designed effectively for postage savings. Get creative and have fun!

Channel Collaboration or Web Cannibalization?

Multichannel marketers experience the frequent concern that online is competing with, or “cannibalizing,” sales in other channels. It seems like a reasonable problem for those responsible, for instance, for the P&L of the retail business to consider; same goes for the general managers responsible for the store-level P&L. I like to do something that we “digital natives” (professionals whose career has only been digitally driven) miss all too often. We talk to retail people and customers in the stores, store managers, general managers, sales and service staff.

Multichannel marketers experience the frequent concern that online is competing with, or “cannibalizing,” sales in other channels. It seems like a reasonable problem for those responsible, for instance, for the P&L of the retail business to consider; same goes for the general managers responsible for the store-level P&L.

I like to do something that we “digital natives” (professionals whose career has only been digitally driven) miss all too often. We talk to retail people and customers in the stores, store managers, general managers, sales and service staff. Imagine that … left-brain dominant Data Athletes who want to talk to people! Actually, a true Data Athlete will always engage the stakeholders to inform their analysis with tacit knowledge.

Every time we do this, we learn something about the customer that we quite frankly could not have gleaned from website analytics, transactional data or third-party data alone. We learn about how different kinds of customers engage with the product and their experiences are in an environment that, to this day, is far more immersive than we can create online. It’s nothing short of fascinating for the left-brainers. Moreover, access and connection with the field interaction does something powerful when we turn back to mining the data mass that grows daily. It creates context that inspires better analysis and greater performance.

This best practice may seem obvious, but is missed so often. It is just too easy to get “sucked into the data” first for a right-brain-dominant analyst. The same thing happens in an online-only environment. I can’t count how many times I sat with and coached truly brilliant Web analysts inside of organization who are talking through a data-backed hypothesis they are working through from Web analytics data, observing and measuring behaviors and drawing inferences … and they haven’t looked at the specific screens and treatments on the website or mobile app where those experiences are happening. They are disconnected from the consumer experience. If you look in your organization, odds are you’ll find examples of this kind of disconnect.

So Does The Web Compete with Retail Stores? Well, that depends.
While many businesses are seeing the same shift to digital consumption and engagement, especially on mobile devices, the evidence is clear that it’s a mistake to assume that you have a definitive answer. In fact, it is virtually always a nuanced answer that informs strategy and can help better-focus your investments in online and omnichannel marketing approaches.

In order to answer this question you need a singular view of a customer. Sounds easy, I know. So here’s the first test if you are ready to answer that question:

How many customers do you have?

If you don’t know with precision, you’re not ready to determine if the Web is competing or “cannibalizing” retail sales.

More often than not, what you’ll hear is the number of transactions, the number of visitors (from Web analytics) or the number of email addresses or postal addresses on file—or some other “proxy” that’s considered relevant.

The challenge is, these proxy values for customer-count belie a greater challenge. Without a well-thought-out data blending approach that converts transaction files into an actionable customer profile, we can’t begin to tell who bought what and how many times.

Once we have this covered, we’re now able to begin constructing metrics and developing counts of orders by customer, over time periods.

Summarization is Key
If you want to act on the data, you’ll likely need to develop a summarization routine—that is, that does the breakout of order counts and order values. This isn’t trivial. Leaving this step out creates a material amount of work slicing the data.

A few good examples of how you would summarize the data to answer the question by channel include totals:

  • by month
  • by quarter
  • by year
  • last year
  • prior quarter
  • by customer lifetime
  • and many more

Here’s The Key Takeaway: It’s not just one or the other.
Your customers buy across multiple channels. Across many brands and many datasets, we’ve always seen different pictures of the breakout between and across online and retail store transactions.

But you’re actually measuring the overlap and should focus your analysis on that overlap population. To go further, you’ll require summarization “snapshots” of the data so you can determine if the channel preference has changed over time.

The Bottom Line
While no one can say that the Web does or doesn’t definitively “cannibalize sales,” the evidence is overwhelming that buyers want to use the channel that is best for them for the specific product or service, at the time that works for them.

This being the case, it is almost inevitable that you will see omnichannel behaviors when your data is prepared and organized effectively to begin to see that shift in behavior.

Oftentimes, that shift can effectively equate to buyers spending more across channels, as specific products may sell better in person. It’s hard to feel the silky qualities of a cashmere scarf online, but you might reorder razor blades only online.

The analysis should hardly stop at channel shift and channel preference. Layering in promotion consumption can tell you how a buyer waits for the promotion online, or is more likely to buy “full-price” in a retail store. We’ve seen both of these frequently, but not always. Every data set is different.

Start by creating the most actionable customer file you can, integrating the transactions, behavioral and lifestyle data, and the depth that you can understand how customers choose between the channels you deliver becomes increasingly rich and actionable. Most of all—remember, it’s better to shift the sale to an alternative channel the customer prefers, than to lose it to a competitor who did a better job.

Direct Mail Marketing Drives Response

Marketers everywhere are faced every day with many marketing channel choices. It’s hard to know which ones will work best. When choosing your channels don’t ignore direct mail. You may think its old school, so why use it, but direct mail can add to your ROI.

Marketers everywhere are faced every day with many marketing channel choices. It’s hard to know which ones will work best. When choosing your channels don’t ignore direct mail. You may think, “Its old school, so why use it?,” but direct mail can add to your ROI. You can use direct mail to drive online engagement. Add QR codes, URL’s, and augmented reality to link your marketing channels together. Let’s take a look at the direct mail channel.

Why choose direct mail as one of your marketing channels:

  1. Recipients: They view direct mail as less intrusive than other forms of marketing and in return, are more receptive to the message. Even millennials enjoy getting mail. As long as you are sending them direct mail that is correctly targeted they are open to it.
  2. Competition: There is less competition in the mail boxes these days so you can stand out. People are inundated with messages all day long from email and so much more. You can build brand recognition with direct mail as well as get noticed.
  3. Tangible: With a direct mail piece you can grab the senses in so many more ways that with online channels. People can touch, save for later or even pass the information provided in a direct mail piece to their friends. Use the senses to your advantage by adding texture and scents to your direct mail.
  4. Target: Unlike all other channels, you can target your audience very specifically with direct mail. There are so many selects to choose from it would be hard to list them all. Make a list of all the specific things you are looking for in your prospects and in many cases you can match them with a direct mail list.
  5. Personalized: Direct mail is more refined now. The personalization available creates a much more appealing direct offer. You can use images as well as text to create each piece targeted to each person.

As with any marketing channel, knowing who your audience is, is the key. You cannot create a targeted direct mail campaign if you do not have a good grasp on who you are sending to. Your messaging, your list and your creative are all effected by who you are trying to reach. Don’t forget that you need to be tracking your results. The only way to continue to improve your campaigns is to modify it based on the results from previous campaigns. Don’t be afraid to segment your recipients and try something new to a group of them. It is only by trying new things that we are able to identify possible new lifts in ROI.

Omnichannel Customers Are 2X as Valuable – How to Make Them Yours

With so many trying to sort out an “omnichannel” marketing strategy, I thought it would make the most sense this month to provide some structure around what it is, the best way to take the “buzz” out of the term, and provide a framework for thinking strategically about this new mandate in marketing and strategy. For starters, here’s a simple idea, or “true north,” you can use to drive your own marketing strategy as you embrace the omnichannel consumer. “Put the Customer First” and build your “omnichannel strategy” around them.

With so many trying to sort out an “omnichannel” marketing strategy, I thought it would make the most sense this month to provide some structure around what it is, the best way to take the “buzz” out of the term, and provide a framework for thinking strategically about this new mandate in marketing and strategy.

For starters, here’s a simple idea, or “true north,” you can use to drive your own marketing strategy as you embrace the omnichannel consumer. “Put the Customer First” and build your “omnichannel strategy” around them.

Let’s remember, connecting with, engaging and finding the right new customers are where customer value is created and realized in omnichannel marketing. Optimizing that value comes through studying and tuning communications, improving your relevance and becoming more creatively authentic, not in the boardroom, but in the eyes of your customer.

Today, marketers appreciate that consumers engage on multiple platforms, devices and channels—the ones they want, when they want. With mobile devices being a spontaneous window into their thoughts and an outlet for their wants and needs as they arise. What’s a bit more subtle and more often missed is the objective and capability to respect the way your customers choose to engage and buy across them in a scalable manner—as it will either fragment their relationship with your brand or galvanize it.

Consider Kohls. Not exactly a high tech player in most folks’ minds. However they now deliver an omnichannel experience that deepens relationships with them. Recently, my wife received a promotion by direct mail (I doubt if she remembers when they asked for her phone number the first time, making the connection between the POS and her online purchases), she had it in hand as she went to the website to browse. Later, she used another promotion from her email right at the POS with her iPhone.

In a single engagement with the brand, she hopped across three channels, not including a customer service call by phone. As a consumer, she didn’t even notice—she just expected it to work.

Similarly, OpenTable will consistently get you to a good restaurant based on where you’ve dined before, and what your current online browsing and mobile location is. You probably do it all the time. Your relationship with that brand hops between mobile, desktop and point of sale effortlessly—but as a consumer, you’re not exactly impressed: You expect it to work.

As a result, effective omnichannel organizations have become “stitched into” the lifestyles of their customers. Moreover, this supports the creation of competitive advantage in the measurable, trackable, digital age.

Omnichannel Means Understanding the Customer
Putting the customer first obviates really knowing and understanding your customer in more meaningful and actionable ways. Not just with an anecdote of the “average customer,” but with legitimate, fact-based methods that are built on a statistical and logical foundation. This is the basis for the “absolute truth” that your omnichannel source is dependent on.

This, too, is no small task for many organizations, but it’s becoming more “doable.” And it has to be—because your competition is thinking and investing in this path, and it’s not a long-term, viable position to not have an actionable strategy to miss the boat on knowing your customer in a way that is valuable, actionable and profitable.

But first, let’s clear up some of the confusion that we’ve been hearing for at least a year now: Is omnichannel more than the buzzword of 2015, or is it something much more important?

Multichannel
At the most basic level, “multi” means many. As soon as you adopted your second or third channel, be it a catalog or an e-commerce website, your organization became a multichannel organization. Multichannel came quickly—as it’s not uncommon that the majority of a customer base has made a purchase across more than one channel—whether you have that resolution or not is another matter, and often requires a smarter approach to collection.

Digital growth is accelerating channel expansion. With the explosion of online and digital channels and the rapid adoption of mobile smartphones, tablets and now wearables, digital can no longer be viewed as a single channel. We now have the merging and proliferation of digital, physical and traditional channels.

Many marketers have experienced as much challenge in juggling an increasing number of channels as there is opportunity. But digital channels, of course, are more measurable and challenge the traditional approaches by bringing a greater resolution and visibility for some, and confusion for others.

Key factors in leveraging, managing, and maximizing those channels include:

  • Competencies developed in the organization
  • Identifying third-party competencies, especially in digital partnerships
  • The culture of the organization
  • Support for change and innovation in marketing
  • The depth of technical capability in an organization

As channel usage expands, data assets “pile up,” though most of the data in its raw format is of limited practical use and less actionable as one would hope. From the inside of dozens of IT organizations, the refrain is common; “We’re just capturing everything right now.” Creating marketing value would require strategists and the business units.

Omnichannel Is the Way Forward
While most organizations are still working through mastering their channels and the data they perpetually generate, the next wave of both competitive advantage and threats have come with them. The customer learns what works for them relatively quickly and easily, adopting new channels and buying where they want, how they want. Those touches are often lower touch, and introduce intermediaries, and are surrounded by contextual advertising, often from competitors.

Omnichannel buyers aren’t just more complex, they are substantially more valuable. We’ve seen them be as much as twice as valuable as those whose relationship is on a single channel. Perhaps this a reflection of the greater engagement with the brand.

Delivering that omnichannel experience will require more thought, focus and expertise than before. It requires the integration of systems, apps and experiences in a way that’s meaningful—to the customer—and that of course requires an integration of the data about those purchases and experiences.

To serve the business, the Omnichannel Readiness Process has six components, each of which require thoughtful consideration:

1. Capture—many organizations are aware that they need to capture “the data.” The challenge here is shifting to what to capture, and what they may be missing. The key challenge is: It’s impossible to capture “everything” without understanding how it can and should be used and leveraged. How that data is captured in terms of format and organization is of great importance.

2. Consolidate—In order to act on the omnichannel reality, we must have all our data in one place. In the ongoing effort to find the balance between cost, speed and value, “silos” have been built to house various data components. Those data sources must be consolidated through a process that is not quite trivial if those data sources are to create value in the customer experience and over the customer lifetime.

3. Enhance—Even after we’ve pulled our data together into an intelligent framework and model, built to support the business needs, virtually every marketer is missing data that consumers generally don’t provide, or don’t provide reliably on a self-reported basis. “Completing the customer record” requires planning and investing in appropriate third-party data. This will be a requirement if we’re to utilize tools and technology to mine for opportunity in our customer base.

4. Transform—much of the data we need to perform the kinds of analysis and create the kinds of communication that maximize response now, and the customer value over time, utilizes the derivation of new data points from the data you already have. Here is one example: Inter-order purchase time. Calculating the number of days between purchases for every customer in your base allows you to see whose purchase cadences are similar, faster, slower or in decline. On average, we’ll derive hundreds of such fields. This is one example of how a marketer can “mine” data for evidence of opportunity worth acting on and investing in.

5. Summarize—The richest view of a customer with the best data in its most complete state is a lot to digest. So to help make it actionable, we must roll it up into logical and valuable cohorts and components. Call them what you will—segments, personas or models—they are derivative groups that have value and potential that you can act on and learn from.

Many marketers traditionally spend 80 percent to 90 percent of their time and effort on getting their data to a point where it serves both the omnichannel customer and their brand. However, marketers can do better with emerging tools and technologies.There is no replacement for solid data strategy that is built around the customer, but efficiencies can be gained that speed time-to-value in an omnichannel environment.

6. Communicate—The prep work has been done, you’ve found the pockets of opportunity, now it’s time to deliver on the expectations the omnichannel customer holds for marketers. At this juncture, we need to quickly craft and deploy messages that resonate in ways consumers will think about their situation and your brand. They must address the concerns they have and the desires and opportunities they tend to perceive.

Omnichannel customers expect you will recognize them for their loyalty and their engagement with your brand at multiple levels, and that those experiences will be tailored in small ways that can make a bigger difference.

They expect your story to better-fit with their own, if not complete it. That sounds like a dramatic promise, but the ability to know your customers and engage them in the way they prefer, and at scale, is upon us.

Keep It Relevant to Your Business
This entire process must include of course, the answers to key business questions about the types of discoveries we’d make and questions we’d answer with it—for example, does the Web cannibalize our traditional channels? (Hint: It surely doesn’t have to).

That said, we’ve learned to start with the most basic questions—and are not surprised when there are no robust answers:

1. How many customers do you have today?

2. Do you have a working definition of a High Value or Most Valuable Customer?

3. If so, how many of those customers do you have?

4. How many customers did you gain this past quarter? How many did you lose?

a. Assuming you know how many you lost, what was the working definition of a lost customer?

5. How many customers have bought more than once?

6. What’s the value of your “average” customer, understanding that averages are misleading and synthetic numbers are not to be trusted? But we can measure where other customers are in terms of their distance from the mean.

7. Who paid full price? Who bought at discount? Who did both? How many of all the above?

8. For those who bought “down-market,” did they trade up?

9. How many times does a customer or logical customer group (let’s call them “segments,” for now) buy? How long, on average, is it between their purchases? And the order sizes, all channels included?

10. All this, of course, gets back to understanding more deeply, “Who is your customer?” While all this information about how they engage and buy from us is powerful, how old are they? Where are they from? What is relevant to them?

Now, even if a marketer could get the answers to all of these questions, how does this relate to this “Omnichannel” Evolution?

Simple. It only relates to your customer. Of course, they are the most important actors in this business of marketing—in fact in the business of business. What this really means is deceptively simple, often overlooked, and awesomely powerful:

Omnichannel Is Singularly Focused on Customers, Not Channels
It’s about the customer, and having the resources, data and insights at your disposal to serve that customer better. Virtually all of your customers are “multichannel” already. Granted, some are more dominantly influenced by a single channel. For example, online through the voice of the “crowd.” But even then, the point of omnichannel only means one thing: Know your customers across all the channels on which they engage with you. Note the chasm between having the dexterity to examine and serve customers across all the channels, and just knowing their transactions, behaviors or directional, qualitative descriptors.

So “knowing the customer” really means having ready access to actionable customer data. Think about it. If your understanding of your customer data isn’t actionable, how well do you really know your customer in the first place?

Considering the 10 questions above, and evaluating the answers in terms of the most important questions about your customers, is a solid starting point.

When you’ve worked through all of these, you’re now ready to create experiences and communications for customers that are not only relevant, but valuable—to your customer and to the business.

When you’re adding value and are channel-agnostic, as you must become, you’ve achieved the coveted omnichannel distinction that market leaders are bringing to bear already.

Not only is this an impressive accomplishment professionally, it surely is—but remember—it’s the customer we have to impress.