CEM: Getting Acquainted With Your Customers

You’ve probably heard of CRM, right? CRM is old hat. An acronym standing for Customer Relationship Management, the goal of any CRM program is to manage a company’s interactions with prospects and customers, while reducing the costs and building customer lifetime value. Now how about CRM’s twin sister, CEM? Probably not.

You’ve probably heard of CRM, right? CRM is old hat. An acronym standing for Customer Relationship Management, the goal of any CRM program is to manage a company’s interactions with prospects and customers, while reducing the costs and building customer lifetime value.

Now how about CRM’s twin sister, CEM? Probably not. Unknown to many, CEM is an acronym that stands for Customer Experience Management. As a side note, Customer Experience is sometimes also referred to as CX. Now if you’re a marketer, regardless of what you decide to call it, Customer Experience Management is a discipline you need to get acquainted with.

In general, CRM programs tend place a heavy emphasis on marketing and communications. After all, establishing touchpoints with customers or potential customers at crucial points in the customer journey is incredibly important to achieve desired behavioral outcomes. Fair enough.

In many ways, CRM programs tend to be one-dimensional in nature, focusing on how the firm makes decisions as regards place, product, price and promotion, with little emphasis on customer needs or desires. It shouldn’t be too surprising then to learn that many CRM programs fail because they use an approach that—while brilliant on paper—is misaligned to actual customer wants, needs or expectations.

This is where CEM steps in. You see, it turns out that to succeed in today’s challenging multichannel and mobile/social environment, firms need to expand their scope of their CRM initiatives to create a program that aims to focus like a laser on customer needs, both rational and emotional, and drive toward expected outcomes and KPIs.

At a baseline, the goal of any CEM program is ostensibly to move customers from satisfied to loyal and then from loyal to advocate by taking a holistic view of the totality of their experiences—regardless of place, time or channel.

This is important because, let’s face it, at the end of the day customer perception is built through interactions across multiple events—most usually through multiple channels. As such, successful CEM programs all feature the capability to manage and track engagement where they actually take place—on the Web, on a mobile device, when a customer speaks with a customer service rep or deals with an automated switchboard on an IVR. It all adds up.

Depending on the type of business, customer engagement channels might include contact the Web (main website), mobile (mobile website or app), brick-and-mortar stores and call centers, while touchpoints may include phone (call center, IVR or in-house customer service team), Social Media, email, self-service Website (traditional or mobile) or in-person. Lifecycle engagement includes ordering, fulfillment, billing and support.

But that’s not all—CEM programs also take into account when engagements take place in relation to the customer’s (or buyer’s) journey. An initial conversation between a sales rep and a new customer would be tracked and discerned, for example, from an inquiry on the Web. And this has real-world repercussions. A customer service inquiry by a high-value customer, for example, would be handled differently than in initial inquiry by a prospect on a Web form.

As is the case with most disciplines, CEM programs have evolved over time. This is a good thing. If you look at the chart, you’ll observe that I’ve broken down CEM into its three dimensions: Engagement Channels, Engagement Touchpoints and Engagement Lifecycle.

You’ll notice that I’ve bolded four of them in red. I’ve done so because these are recent additions to the CEM value system.

Okay, I know I could go on more, but I’m running out of room for this post. Got any questions or feedback? Please let me know in your comments.

Thanks,

Rio

The ‘A’ Word—Learn It, Love It, Live It!

I attended a seminar earlier in January held by the Direct Marketing Club of New York titled “Annual Outlook: What to Expect in Direct & Digital Marketing in 2012.” The main speaker at the event was Bruce Biegel, managing director at the Winterberry Group, a strategic consulting firm that focuses on advertising and marketing.

I attended a seminar earlier in January held by the Direct Marketing Club of New York titled “Annual Outlook: What to Expect in Direct & Digital Marketing in 2012.” The main speaker at the event was Bruce Biegel, managing director at the Winterberry Group, a strategic consulting firm that focuses on advertising and marketing.

For those of you who have never before attended an event where Biegel presents, I highly recommend attending one if you get a chance. He’s a highly engaging speaker with many interesting insights gleaned from years of experience in the field, and backed by the research and analytics of the Winterberry Group.

The focus of the presentation was a review of the marketing and advertising world of 2011, along with some predictions for 2012. According to Biegel, 2011 was the year in which many firms intensified their focus on reporting and analytics tools. For 2012, he predicted many marketers will finally begin to pursue true multichannel integration across their firms, driven by data, analytics and the quest for cross-channel attribution. He touched on the term attribution repeatedly, referring to it as the “Holy Grail” of multichannel marketing.

In a marketing sense, I define attribution—or the “A-word” for the purposes of this blog post—as the act of determining what marketing channel or budget was responsible for generating a particular action: be it a click, lead, order, etc. As a direct marketer, I just love this word. And you should, too. Attribution is where the rubber meets the road. Attribution is what separates the men from the boys, the measurable from the immeasurable, direct response from … well, branding. Not to disparage brand marketing, but I think I can speak for most—if not all—colleagues in the industry when I say that demonstrable attribution is really what has always separated direct response marketing from branding—analytics that essentially give us the ability to calculate the actual ROI of every precious marketing dollar we spend. Enough said.

But, let’s face it, there’s a dirty little secret in the direct response community that those outside of it might not necessarily be aware of. The fact is that attribution has not been all it’s cracked up to be over the past 10 years—and a far cry from an exact science, to say the least. We have the Internet to thank for that. To elaborate, let’s take a moment and turn back the clock around 15 to 20 years, and think back to a time in which the Web did not play such a prominent role in our lives. Back then, most direct response marketing was done via direct mail, catalogs and inserts, as well as DRTV. In this relatively simplistic world, customers could only really place orders using the return mailer or by calling a toll-free number. That was it. Since each piece was stamped with a keycode, attribution was as easy as: “Could you please tell me the five-digit code on the bottom right-hand corner of the order form” … and we knew with certainty why the sale originated.

Then along came the Web—and, with it, an entirely new channel for consumers to interact with their brands. And this is when things got confusing. Let’s say, for example, a consumer received a postcard or catalog from a company. In place of calling the toll-free number, he could instead go to Google and search for the website, find it, locate the products he’s interested in and place an order. Now who gets the credit for the sale? The direct mail team? The search engine marketing team? The catalog team? The email team? All of them? None of them? The fact is, there was really no scientific way to tell for sure. The gears of attribution broke down, creating a vast gray area of uncertainty where the worlds of traditional and new media converged. This was the direct marketer’s dirty little secret in the age of Web 1.0.

To deal with this mess, new techniques and technologies invariably emerged to bring some order to the chaos. Before long, many marketers turned to the concept of campaign-specific landing pages to send their cross-media (or cross-channel) customers to. At least this bypassed the regular website and kept and sales or leads it made in one bucket, separate from the home page and other Web traffic. This was a huge improvement.

Then other technologies like personalized URLs, or PURLS, entered the mix. Gimmicks aside, PURLs work because they are a tool for attribution—not because they give someone a link made out of their name. Sure, giving someone a personalized link is nice … but that’s only window dressing and obfuscates the real value of this cross-media technology. PURLs help marketers attribute activity to the direct mail channel. That’s it in a nutshell. Now of course, there are additional benefits, such as improved Web traffic rates resulting from personalized content, and higher website conversion rates due to a simplified workflow on a landing page that’s been optimized for this purpose alone. But the real value of this technology is attribution—and don’t ever let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Similarly, across other channels useful cross-media technologies emerged like QR Codes, which really solve in mobile the same issue marketers face on desktop Web browsers—namely, the inability to properly track and attribute cross-media actions resulting from their offline campaigns. When push comes to shove, sending individuals to purpose-built, mobile-optimized landing pages, personalized or not, enables precise tracking and measurement, not to mention a better overall user experience and, presumably, a higher conversion rate, too.

Looking forward, the next stage in attribution will most certainly need to deal with the advent of Web 2.0 and the world of social media. Seeing as firms are now making investments in social media strategy, CMOs are going to want to attach some kind of ROI calculation to the mix. Now, of course, you could pretty easily argue that it’s absurd to try to assign any type of ROI to social media in the first place. In that vein, Scott Stratten has a great blog post called “Things We Should Ask The ROI Question About Before Social Media” on UnMarketing that does just that pretty convincingly. But that’s an argument for another time and place. Regardless of whether you feel it’s a smart policy, I think it’s safe to say that where the marketing dollars go, pressure will ultimately follow to show value (ROI).

At the same time, regardless of what dollars are being spent and how these expenditures make CFOs hyperventilate, social media can and do generate sales for organizations. This is an indisputable fact and should not be up for debate anymore. What is in question is the ability of firms to track what happens in social media and attribute the activity to this emerging channel. As we speak, we’re starting to see the introduction of the first generation of effective tools (SocialCRM) that track social media interactions among pools of prospects or leads, and make them available to marketing teams for actionable analysis and follow up. Very cool stuff. But, of course, social media data are only one piece of a much larger puzzle, named “Big Data.” I briefly touched on Big Data in a previous post titled “Deciphering Big Data Is Key to Understanding Buyer’s Journey.”

Actually, on that note, I think this is a good place for me to call it a day. Not only am I running out of space for this post, but that last thought will make a great segue to my next post, which will address the amazing transformation that is taking place within many firms as they deal with the endless volumes of unstructured data (Big Data) they are tracking and storing every day. This wholesale repurposing aims not only to make sense out of this trove of data, but also to break down the walls separating the various silos where the data are stored, such as CRM/SocialCRM platforms, social media websites, marketing automation tools, email software, Web servers and more. Stay tuned next time for more on this topic.

Until then, I welcome any questions, comments or feedback.

The Mobile Nexus—If You’re a Marketer, Be Prepared to Live or Die By It

It’s no secret that the mobile channel is exploding in our lives. Unless you’ve recently been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly come across some jaw-dropping stats on mobile usage. Here’s a couple more to chew on. According to a recent article in Mobile Commerce Daily, mobile retail dollars doubled between April and December 2011 alone. That’s just eight months! And, Mobithinking.com reports that approximately 25 percent of Americans access the Web only on their mobile devices. Kowabunga!

It’s no secret that the mobile channel is exploding in our lives. Unless you’ve recently been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly come across some jaw-dropping stats on mobile usage. Here’s a couple more to chew on. According to a recent article in Mobile Commerce Daily, mobile retail dollars doubled between April and December 2011 alone. That’s just eight months! And, Mobithinking.com reports that approximately 25 percent of Americans access the Web only on their mobile devices. Kowabunga!

Many marketers refer to the mobile device as the Third Screen, after the television and personal computer. In this post, I’m going to propose a bold new idea here about the Third Screen, and why recent technological advances mean this exciting new channel is going to change our lives in ways we cannot possibly fathom today. This idea is predicated on the fact that in its new form, mobile essentially presents us with an entirely new paradigm in not only the way individuals interact with technology, but also how companies engage with and market to individuals. Let me explain.

Remember in the movie Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, in which stores changed their signage when you entered, using your profile data to create a custom experience? Well, to a certain extent, that’s what’s possible now with mobile. Using location services, you see, mobile knows exactly where you are. Not where you live. Not where you’ve been. Where you are right now. It’s effectively marrying your personal profile to your geographic location. But that’s not all. Mobile also connects you seamlessly to your social networks—friends, followers, networks, reviews, blogs posts, etc. This provides a truly three-dimensional user experience. I call it the Mobile Nexus.

The Mobile Nexus is the intersection of three major elements in our lives—Personal Attributes (your demographic and psychographic profile), Geographic Location and Social Media. In theory, this confluence should enable marketers to craft marketing messages and personalized promotions based not only on who you are, but where you are, while at the same time giving users the ability to interact with your various social media networks to get more information, invite friends, share opinions, post reviews, and so on. The possibilities are simply staggering.

Sure, one could argue that mobile phones have been around for a while. But it was the recent emergence of the smartphone connected to the Internet and enabled with location services that, in my opinion, at least, changed the rules of the game for marketers. And although smartphones only came on the scene a few years ago, they’re gaining traction fast. In fact, according to MediaPost, smartphone penetration in the US is currently at 44 percent. What’s more, Mobile Marketing Watch reports that, as we speak, an astounding 75 percent of all new mobile phone contract subscribers are for smartphones. So count on the number of devices in the marketplace to skyrocket in coming months as old contracts expire. Can you say, “game changer”?

Of course, anyone familiar with the interactive marketing world could easily argue that geographic profiling is nothing new. Yes, it’s true that many websites and pretty much all ad serving networks drive personalized Web content based on IP address location. But, location services takes geo-targeting to an entirely new place, by providing real-time dynamic location data while you go about your day—not where your computer happens to be plugged into the Internet.

Turning to the social media component, if you look at current usage stats, you begin to appreciate its pervasiveness in our lives and why it’s playing such a big role in the mobile channel. Facebook has 600 million users. Twitter has 175 million. Meanwhile, 10 million foursquare members “check in” at more than three million locations a day, and consumers have posted more than 20 million business reviews on Yelp, and counting. So the numbers are eye-popping. Now with smartphones becoming the norm, accessing social media on the go is becoming mainstream, too.

Hype aside, let’s not forget that the mobile channel is still in its infancy and it will need much more time to reach maturity. At this early stage, enterprising firms are only now releasing the first generation of tools, while innovative agencies and consultants concoct new techniques to harness its power for business. In fact, we can see the preliminary results of the Mobile Nexus already.

Want to go out to eat? How about searching for a local restaurant nearby using your mobile device? Then use an app like Yelp and it’s not hard generate a list of nearby places, based on your preferences, along with user-generated reviews, hours of business, contact details, etc. Are you a traveling salesman in need of some fresh leads to visit? Well, install the Hoover’s “Near Here” App and, voila, you can search for look-alike businesses in the surrounding area based on proximity and business type. And if technology like this already exists, imagine what the future will hold?

“Those who call themselves ‘Mobile Experts’ only have two to three years of experience in the field,” explained a friend of mine who works as a consultant at a major management consulting firm. He and his team develop multi-channel sales and marketing strategies for their clients. With the recent proliferation of mobile technology, it should come as no surprise that many, if not all, of their new projects have a mobile component.

At this point, even the most experienced consultants have overseen no more than a handful of mobile implementations, and successful mobile marketers probably have no more than a dozen successful campaigns under their belts. “But things are changing so fast. Those who jump in now will be able to call themselves experts within a year’s time,” he explained. In other words, the best is yet to come.

Are you getting involved in the exciting new Mobile channel? If so, what success have you enjoyed? I’d love to hear your comments.

The Database Marketer Superhero: Expanded Role, Big Impact

Riddle me this, Batman: What sort of marketing strategies today require deeper, strategic database insight? Not so puzzling, is it? Pretty much everything a marketing team does today is driven by data — e.g., digital outreach, content, media, attribution, return on investment analysis, lead nurturing, PR and social community participation. In fact, the list would be shorter if we tallied up those marketing functions that don’t benefit from data-driven decisions.

Riddle me this, Batman: What sort of marketing strategies today require deeper, strategic database insight?

Not so puzzling, is it? Pretty much everything a marketing team does today is driven by data — e.g., digital outreach, content, media, attribution, return on investment analysis, lead nurturing, PR and social community participation. In fact, the list would be shorter if we tallied up those marketing functions that don’t benefit from data-driven decisions.

Database marketers were traditionally the geeks of the marketing department. They kept to themselves, ran queries to answer questions posed by other strategists, and worked hard to keep data clean and updated. Today’s database marketers are part of an emerging and essential marketing operations team that’s driving a lot of brands’ strategies. One marketer said to me recently, “Whomever knows the customers best gets to make the call.” Who knows your customers better than the people working with the data every day? All of a sudden, database marketers are superheroes — or at least have the opportunity to wear capes if they choose to accept the challenge.

There are two factors driving this trend, one being consumer habit. Given the ability and choice to interact with brands in many ways and across many channels, consumers are taking full advantage. It’s a me-centered consumption world where customer preference and whim create habits. At the same time, marketing automation technology is advancing and data integration is possible. Marketers can track and, more importantly, react to customer behavior in order to meet needs across channels.

Consider these five initiatives that have become imperatives for many chief marketing officers today:

1. Obtain a 360-degree view of the customer. One B-to-C marketer told me that there are more than 25 ways customers can interact with her brand, from a kiosk to a store counter to email to mobile commerce to branded website to call center to social communities. Most consumers participate in three or more of those channels. Communications can only be optimized if those habits and experiences are captured — and actionable — in your database.

2. Respond to customer behavior in the channel where the interaction occurred. This also has to be aligned with self-selected preferences.

3. Select the optimal channel for your next offer. A hotel owner uses past booking behavior to send last-minute alerts via SMS to those who have opted in and accessed the brand’s mobile commerce site. All others get the information via email. Response has boosted overall 8 percent.

4. Outline personas representing key customer segments. Do this in order to profile audience types and improve communication messaging and cadence.

5. Test and optimize your mix of channels for lead nurturing campaigns. For a live seminar event, one B-to-B marketer emailed reminders and offers based on interaction with previous email campaigns. Those who didn’t respond got simple reminders on date, location and keynote speakers. Those who did respond got more robust offers. Revenue from the offers increased 50 percent over the previous year and spam complaints dropped 25 percent. This is surely because those who demonstrated a willingness to engage prior to the event were nurtured with offers that made sense to their actions, and the others were left alone.

I’m sure there are infinite variations of these opportunities. Perhaps you’re testing some of them now. It will also be great to see how database marketers react to this new level of attention and interest from the C-suite. Will you embrace it and join the strategists, or will you run back to the corner and take orders?

How are you and your team embracing the need for a data-driven marketing approach? Please tell us by posting a comment below.

5 Steps for Putting Twitter to Work for Your Brand

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Coming on the heels of a recent $200 million investment and $3.7 billion valuation, Twitter has firmly cemented itself as a force to be reckoned with. A critical communication tool for leading brands, marketers are flocking to this burgeoning social media platform, adding more than 65 million tweets each day. However, establishing and building an effective presence on Twitter takes more than grabbing a name and sending a tweet. It requires work, just like any other channel. With that in mind, here’s a checklist to get you started:

1. Establish your Twitter objectives and do your homework. Spend the necessary time up-front to identify areas of your business that can be served by Twitter — e.g., customer service, tech support, marketing, PR. Define your objectives and metrics for success. Do your homework by conducting a competitive analysis. Read case studies and learn from industry experts and your peers by attending Twitter industry events.

2. Build your presence. Create and complete your bio. Include a clear description of your brand and your stream. Create an avatar and custom background to help reinforce and distinguish your brand. Include a URL to your website or other official brand communities in your bio. Check out @twelpforce if you need help.

3. Develop compelling content and dialogues. Start by listening before speaking. Investigate how your brand/products are organically mentioned and look for opportunities to establish a conversational feed with brand advocates. To engage users, share relevant content and look for opportunities to provide unique value on Twitter, such as offers or photos not found anywhere else. Test content themes such as trivia, historical facts or challenges, and reward your loyal followers with prizes.

Over time, consider establishing multiple accounts to streamline content or interest areas. For example, the NBA uses its primary Twitter account for game updates, offers and breaking news. However, it launched a separate Twitter feed dedicated to historical facts: @NBAHistory.

Also, remember to listen and respond to customer inquiries quickly. Weave conversations across communities. Many brands, such as @CastrolUSA, share news on Twitter and invite followers to join the discussion on their Facebook page.

4. Grow your audience. Promote your communities using all touchpoints — e.g., TV commercial tags, call centers, email. Consider integrating your Twitter feed into your existing website, and experiment with Twitter feeds and advertising units in contextual environments to peak interest and increase followers. Find people already tweeting about your subject and follow them. Identify key influencers, showcase them and encourage them to retweet or @mention you.

Publish Twitter lists to further extend your content and attract followers. List your Twitter account in directories and test sponsored tweets and/or promoted accounts.

5. Manage and measure. A recent study by R2integrated found dedicating time and resources to be the No. 1 issue for marketers when managing their social media presence. Create a team micro-blogging strategy to help keep your social operations nimble and responsive.

The good news is that many people and groups across your organization are interested in learning more about Twitter, and they’ll all benefit from a successful Twitter presence. Get them involved and consider investing in a social media campaign management tool to streamline the process of creating, implementing and analyzing tweets and Facebook posts.

Campaign management tools also enable organizations to manage multiple users. Create benchmarks around key metrics such as customer satisfaction and service levels. Leverage the real-time nature of Twitter to solicit feedback. Be a stickler about channel attribution by using unique coupon codes or tracking URLs tied to shortened URLs.

Finally, take the time to understand the difference and dynamics between public and private tweets, and use direct messages to handle private or sensitive one-to-one conversations.

Twitter isn’t only a new ecosystem, but a constantly evolving one. While a great deal of its evolution is driven by its users, the recent influx of $200 million and focus on making money is certain to increase the opportunities for marketers — advertising and beyond. For marketers to effectively embrace this channel, however, they need to galvanize their internal teams, build a compelling strategy aligned to corporate goals and customer needs, stay current on industry best practices, and maintain and grow their followers by building an engaging dialogue. In the end, some things never change: same marketing fundamentals, different channel.

What’s On the Minds of Email Marketers

I lead a chat session with attendees of eM+C’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo late last month and enjoyed the dialog and all the questions raised. It’s clear that even though email marketing is a pretty well-established channel, it’s still not fully understood – or utilized – by the people tasked with generating higher response and revenue from it.
 

I lead a chat session with attendees of eM+C’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo late last month and enjoyed the dialog and all the questions raised. It’s clear that even though email marketing is a pretty well-established channel, it’s still not fully understood — or utilized — by the people tasked with generating higher response and revenue from it.

Two questions came up repeatedly (perhaps you struggle with these issues, too, and will share what you’ve learned or offer other questions that challenge your program’s success):

1. What can email practitioners do to keep up with their brethren on the social marketing side, who seem to get all the attention and new resources these days?

Just because social marketing hasn’t killed email (all the dire predictions are well dismissed by now), it doesn’t mean that email marketers can rest on their laurels. You have to continue to innovate and improve the experience for subscribers. Email marketers must prove that the channel can grow revenue in order to get more funding and resources.

First, the solution is in smart segmentation, intelligent content strategy and the discipline to match message cadence to the needs of different subscribers. Automation and triggering technology is readily accessible from most email broadcast vendors. Be careful, however, because just sending more and more messages won’t build long-term revenue opportunities. (It might generate revenue in the short term, which is why too many marketers fall into that trap.)

Email marketers must send more of the kinds of messages that subscribers value — e.g., post-purchase offers or reminders; information that helps to make renewal decisions; or tips on how to improve productivity, lose weight this summer or look good in front of your boss (or kids). Try the following three ideas for improved results, higher customer satisfaction and more executive attention:

* Segment and customize content that’s regularly consumed on mobile devices.
If you don’t know what this might be, ask your subscribers! Optimize your mobile rendering by trimming out images and unnecessary links. Streamline your content by sending shorter bits of info more frequently than one longer message.

* Treat customers and prospects differently. They have different relationships with your brand. Even simple segmentation can make a huge difference in relevancy and response — and lowering spam complaints.

* Send fewer generic messages and product announcements in favor of custom content based on customer status, product ownership and recent activity. For B-to-B marketers, acknowledge products customers already own, and celebrate things like anniversaries and renewals. For B-to-C marketers, sitewide sales can be effective, but only if they’re perceived as being somewhat unusual and unique. Customize sales for key segments of your audience, even if that means just changing the subject line or which content is at the top.

You can’t earn a response if you don’t reach the inbox — something that’s becoming increasingly harder to do. Mailbox providers like Yahoo, Gmail and corporate system administrators are using reputation data pulled from the actual practices of individual senders to identify what’s welcome, good and should reach the inbox versus what’s “spammy,” unwelcome, and should go to the junk folder or be blocked altogether.

This creates both friction as well as opportunity. Email marketers must keep their files very clean, mailing only to those subscribers who are active and engaged. And to be welcome, they must create better subscriber experiences. Sender reputation is based on marketers’ practices and is the score of your ability to reach the inbox consistently and earn a response.

2. How do I break through the clutter of the inbox?

The inbox isn’t just more crowded, it’s fragmenting, becoming more device-driven and crowded. Only the best subscriber experiences will break through. The number one mistake email marketers make is forgetting about subscribers’ interests. It’s not about sending out “just one more blast” this week in order to make this month’s number. Do that too often and you’ll soon find your file churning and possibly all of your messages blocked due to high spam complaints (i.e., clicks on the Report Spam button).

Focus on building long-term relationships with your subscribers. Change your metrics to measure engagement and subscriber value, not list size or how many people bother to unsubscribe. What drives the business is response, sharing and continued activity.

Defy internal pressure to abuse the channel by sending only what’s relevant. Work hard to customize content and contact strategies to meet the life stages and needs of each key segment. Ensure that your email program contains content that’s right for the channel. Don’t duplicate with Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Make each channel sing with some unique and powerful value proposition. If you can’t think of one for each channel, then you probably don’t need to be in that channel after all. Tie your business goals to subscribers’ happiness and success. They’ll reward you with response, revenue and long-term subscription.

Thanks to all who participated in the virtual event and my chat session! For everyone, let me know what you think and please share any ideas or comments below.

Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: A Marketer’s 12-Step Program to Accepting Social Media

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

While the proliferation of social networks, social shopping and the corresponding tools needed to facilitate these connections is new and exciting, social media can also be overwhelming to marketers as they struggle to learn the new skills necessary to reach and engage key audiences across the social web.

Consequently, the thought of engaging customers and the fear that those conversations may not go as intended often cause the most experienced marketers to cling to the traditional marketing channels they’ve become most dependent upon. So, how to break free of old habits? Like any good rehab, it starts with a solid 12-step program.

1. Admit you’re an addict. Advertising, direct mail and, yes, even email are seen as comfort food. While still useful, they remain, for the most part, one-way communication channels. Recognizing this and embracing the need to change and be “open” to truly creating dialogues with customers is the first step.

2. Get wet.
Use social networking in your personal life to familiarize yourself with the tools. Don’t be shy because you’re new to the party — you’re not the last one in the pool.

3. Learn some history. Find case studies in your industry, as they’ll often help you identify new opportunities, best practices, cautionary tales and potential business models. Two dozen good ones can be found on my association’s (PMN) website.

4. Evangelize and find an advocate.
Often, embracing social media requires a sea of change, and support is critical. Find an executive sponsor to help push your program through, and continue to evangelize.

5. Get to work. I love starting with Forrester Research’s POST methodology. Take the time to understand your customers, set some objectives, build a strategy and search for the technologies you need to embrace the medium. You may also want to start by socializing some of your traditional channels to test the waters. For example, try adding sharing capabilities within your emails.

6. Build incrementally and listen. Ultimately, you want to be everywhere your customers are. But you need to start somewhere; take small steps. I always recommend starting narrow, but going deep. Take the time to understand each channel, and listen and learn before adding additional networks into the mix.

7. Take chances. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be open to the possibilities of the social web, but keep customers’ needs front and center.

8. Create value. Take the time to understand the value of each channel and how each channel and program can add value to your customers’ experiences with your brand.

9. Be honest, transparent and responsive. Anything otherwise will be quickly noticed in a social environment.

10. Be a team player. Create cross-functional teams to brainstorm and share learnings.

11. Measure success. Review and track activity, measure programs against your business objectives, and calculate ROI. And don’t lose sight of how your programs impact customer satisfaction, as well as customers’ likelihood to recommend and purchase more products.

12. Communicate success. After all, it’s about creating conversations. Share your insights and create excitement for your efforts both internally and externally so others can learn from your experience.

Building conversations and relationships is hard, but when it’s done right and with the best of intentions it can be very rewarding. Welcome to the Age of Conversations.

Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of the Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at info@thepmn.org.

The Future of DM: It’s Interactive

Earlier this week, the Direct Marketing Association released a qualitative report on the future of direct marketing, concluding that it will most certainly be interactive.

More on how the report was put together in a moment. Bottom line: Customers will be in control, analytics will rule and digital marketing will increase.

Earlier this week, the Direct Marketing Association released a qualitative report on the future of direct marketing, concluding that it will most certainly be interactive.

More on how the report was put together in a moment. Bottom line: Customers will be in control, analytics will rule and digital marketing will increase.

The DMA asked more than 35 well-respected direct marketing leaders — including copywriting maven and columnist Herschell Gordon Lewis of Lewis Enterprises, Alan Moss of Google, Jeanniey Mullen of Zinio, and Akira Oka of Direct Marketing Japan — their opinions on the future of direct marketing and their industries/segments. The report provides insight into what these leaders think about the short- and long-term future of direct marketing.

Specifically, they were asked the following questions:
* Where do you think direct marketing will be in five years? Ten years?
* How should direct marketers prepare for these changes?
* How will your industry/segment change during this time?
* How is the state of our nation’s economy impacting your industry/segment?
* How do you think the election of Barack Obama will affect the direct marketing community?

The report revealed the following about the future of direct marketing in the next five to 10 years:

Customers will be in control. Technology has given consumers myriad choices, options and resources that let them find what they want and skip over what they don’t. Technology also will continue to advance, opening up great opportunities for both consumers and marketers.

Measurable and accountable marketing will increase. The health of the economy has made marketers think and rethink about where to put each dollar of their marketing budgets, according to the report. As a result, allocations will move away from traditional channels such as catalog and direct mail into digital channels, which are intrinsically more measurable.

Traditional DM will decrease; digital marketing will increase. Environmental pressures, postal rate hikes and the potential for a do-not-mail bill will result in a decrease in both direct mail and catalog volume. Digital has many advantages over traditional DM, such as its ability to track real-time measurements; create more targeted, relevant and personalized messages; and reach new generations of consumers who were born with a mouse in hand.

Many channels, one message. It’s not all bad news for direct mail and catalogs, though. Integration always has been a key component to direct marketing and will only increase in importance as the number of viable channels increases, the report says. There also will be a movement from single channel campaigns to more integrated, multichannel strategies. These campaigns have the same message across multiple channels, allowing marketers to reach more customers, who have more opportunities to respond via the channel of their choice.

While the death of direct mail will not come in 2009 — or any time in the near future — interactive marketing clearly is growing in importance. If you’re not participating in any interactive marketing programs now, it’s time you start. Your future depends on it.