What I’ve Learned (So Far) From Stuart Elliott

When I first joined the Direct Marketing Association public relations team in 1988, Stuart Elliott had just left Advertising Age to join USA Today, covering the ad business there. Then in 1991, he took over the ad column, and the advertising business beat, at The New York Times. In December 2014, after 23-plus years, he chose to depart the Gray Lady

When I first joined the Direct Marketing Association public relations team in 1988, Stuart Elliott had just left Advertising Age to join USA Today, covering the ad business there. Then in 1991, he took over the ad column, and the advertising business beat, at The New York Times. In December 2014, after 23-plus years, he chose to depart the Gray Lady. His last column ran December 18.

The Times continues to cover advertising, but the column exists no more.

This week, I had the opportunity to listen to Stuart speak with George Wiedemann, chief executive officer of UMarketing, about the changes that have transformed advertising in the last 25 years. As disruption—digital, recessions, consolidations, consumer empowerment—has been one rule that has governed Madison Avenue (in itself an anachronism), there also is resilience.

Some of Stuart’s observations (these are not direct quotes)…

Madison Avenue may have been late in leading the conversation with clients on digital, social, mobile strategy and such, but many industries—outside of Silicon Valley—never foresaw the new business models, either. We (the ad folks) adjusted. The margins and money-minting might not be what they were, but “boo-hoo”—we’re all still in business.

In fact Madison Avenue always has done what its clients have asked it to do: The rise of the global agencies was to service global brand advertisers, the rise of holding companies to enable a portfolio of services, and the more recent rise of boutiques and start-ups—and agencies buying stakes in these—to enable experimentation and innovation while managing risk. Silicon Valley, and venture capital, is not the only source of startup funding.

While the U.S. economy tanked in the financial crisis—and large players disappeared (Lehman Bros.) or went bankrupt (GM), Stuart asked how many big ad holding companies also went belly up? None.

Data and technology have transformed advertising—and the rush for ad-tech and analytics prowess is an ever-constant concern of agencies and their acquisition of skills and talent. What is “big data”? Stuart said it’s data from more sources, more volume and often in real time—and brands grapple with what to do with it all and the difficulty of sorting through it. But we’ve moved beyond promise here to delivery, even if the integration path is hard. Social media alone prompts millions to interact with branded content, in addition to traditional media touches, and often in coordination. It’s not a matter of doing one thing or another—a brand has to do it all, or a competitor will.

On Millennials—advertising’s newest obsession—branding has become more important, not less. Younger consumers have been marketed to all their lives, and they are comfortable with being targeted, but they don’t connect with brands that they feel are not authentic. Who knew that Pabst would become a cult beer—because of its heritage and history, rather than its hipness, he offered as an example. Privacy may be less of a concern among younger audiences, but marketers risk being the “social outrage of the day” if they make a mistake in their storytelling, or when their actions don’t fit the narrative. Every day there’s examples of hashtag “fails” on Twitter.

Native content is just a new word for “advertorials”—but we need to be concerned that objectivity is not lost among sponsored content. There may be short-term gains, but diluted editorial may lead to long-term questions in the minds of consumers. Blurring news and advertising is not wise, even as large publishing companies launch native content development divisions and businesses. It will be something we need to watch.

Unfortunately, George’s conversation with Stuart lasted just one hour—and the impact of programmatic media buying, the last episode of “Mad Men,” and the rise of the Pluralist Generation—well, there was not enough time to hear everything on his mind.

I will miss reading about such insights in Stuart’s next Times column, but perhaps, after a break, his next endeavor won’t stray too far from ad reporting. After all, our business may be bigger than ever, but how many advertising columns still exist?

Redefining the Art of Minding Your Ps and Qs

You know hospitality when you feel it, or as officially defined by dictionary.com it’s “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” Hospitality is actually more valuable than ever in our rushed, device-first and attention-deficit overloaded world. And yet, I find it missing in many brand experiences.

Multi-restauranteur Danny Meyer wrote a book called “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business” that caught my attention during the holiday season. Both in his book and on his website, Meyer shares his main business philosophy that has guided all 11 of his New York-based restaurants:

This is the age of the Hospitality EconomyTM. Superior products and excellent service are no longer enough to distinguish your business. How you make your customers feel is what sets your business apart—and that’s what hospitality is all about. Organizations that embrace a hospitality strategy:
1. Earn a reputation as a best place to work
2. Win customer loyalty
3. Generate persistent top line growth

Meyer believes wholeheartedly that “Hospitality is a sustainable competitive advantage. While others try to copy your products, no one can replicate the hospitality experience you create for your stakeholders.”

I couldn’t agree more. You know hospitality when you feel it, or as officially defined by dictionary.com it’s “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” Hospitality is actually more valuable than ever in our rushed, device-first and attention-deficit overloaded world. And yet, I find it missing in many brand experiences.

Perhaps, you, too, experienced this lack of hospitality over the past holiday shopping season: Brand ambassadors who often didn’t make meaningful eye contact, brusquely said “not a problem” when there was indeed a problem you needed for them to solve, and a goodbye after a transaction without a “thank you.” Why do businesses spend lots of capital on ad campaigns and new product introductions only to slip up on these basics—the real, face-to-face human interaction?

When I do experience genuine hospitality from companies, the repercussions are long and lasting and bring a smile to my face. This is likely to happen when I fly on Southwest Airlines or grab a quick lunch at Chipotle or Chick-fil-A. These brand ambassadors exude enthusiasm, seem to truly love what they are doing and make a conscious connection to engage with their customers, to treat them as friends and in doing so, validate the reasons the customers choose to spend their time and money with these companies.

Earlier this month I checked into The Ritz-Carlton for an annual girlfriend getaway. The brand lived up to its reputation for luxurious elegance, but what impressed me most was their lived value of “being ladies and gentlemen who serve ladies and gentlemen.”

My conversations with the various Ritz-Carlton team members I encountered—whether with parking attendants, concierges, front desk clerks, wait staff or spa personnel—were gratifying. They were genuinely concerned about all aspects of my stay and welcomed me like a good friend you were looking forward to getting to know better on this visit.

I like thinking about the verbs that drive hospitality—welcome and empathize—and just how they can be leveraged to a brand’s competitive advantage. I spoke with The Ritz-Carlton’s Human Resources Manager Greg Croff about this exact topic.

“Here at The Ritz-Carlton, we are all about memory-making. We want all our interactions to be positively memorable experiences. And, it all starts with our hiring process. We look for people who care about building relationships, who are naturally empathetic and easy to talk with, who make eye contact and who truly believe it is ‘their pleasure’ to take care of our guests. We welcome our new hires in a way we want them to welcome our guests. Constant hospitality is our DNA. We reinforce this each and every day with our Daily Lineup where at the start of each shift the team gathers for 15 minutes to focus on one aspect of our Gold Standard. We share WOW! stories of how team members reinforce our service mystique. We learn from each of our ladies and gentlemen about raising the bar and creating memories.”

Just how well does your brand mind its Ps and Qs? “Please,” “thank you,” “my pleasure” … simple words and phrases that may or may not bookend a customer’s experience with your brand. Why not conduct a hospitality audit with your leadership and see if this is one area of competitive advantage your brand can improve upon this year?

5 Shades of Pop-Up Email Acquisition

As marketers, one of the biggest challenges we face is growing our marketing list at a rate higher than our attrition. On average, companies report an attrition rate of about 20 percent, which means in order to show a growth of just 10 percent per year, we need an actual growth of 30 percent. That’s a lot of growth and yet many of us simply have not developed a concrete plan to achieve this goal

As marketers, one of the biggest challenges we face is growing our marketing list at a rate higher than our attrition. On average, companies report an attrition rate of about 20 percent, which means in order to show a growth of just 10 percent per year, we need an actual growth of 30 percent. That’s a lot of growth and yet many of us simply have not developed a concrete plan to achieve this goal.

In the age of shiny, new objects, we have at our disposal tools, widgets, scripts, and doo-dads all designed to entice, encourage, beg, and withhold in order to garner the most valuable of data: our prospects’ email address. I’ve tried all of these approaches I’ll describe below, either on our site or on a client’s site, and there’s not one right answer. The big question is: Why do pop-ups work?

Most of us swear we hate subscriber pop-ups; they’re annoying; they make us want to leave the site immediately—but is this actually true? Studies show it’s simply not. The web abounds with case studies by companies of all sizes who verify their pop-ups are effective conversion tools and there’s a reason: pop-ups—though annoying—jolt your visitor with a persuasion technique called pattern interrupt. This identifies a situation where something unexpected happens after your brain has become lulled into a rhythm. You can interrupt a pattern with just about any unexpected or sudden display, movement, or response. When you interrupt the visitor, they usually experience momentary confusion, and sometimes even amnesia. This confusion state causes the visitor to become open to suggestion—they become willing to trade this uncomfortable state for clarity offered by another state. Your clear call to action displayed in a pop-up offers them a path to end their confusion.

With that said, and understanding how a pop-up works, you then need to choose the right pop-up approach. You’ll find some pop-ups are better aligned with your business than others, but that knowledge is usually gained through trial and error. If you’re using a CMS site such as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, you can test any/all of these approaches simply by installing plug-ins. With HTML, it become more difficult as you sort through different jQuery or JavaScript tools, but it’s not so difficult as to deter you. In the end, pop-ups are a great way to chip away at your pursuit of 30 percent growth.

On-enter Gated
Of all the annoying pop-ups, on-enter gated is the one I personally find the largest deterrent from continuing my engagement with a site. Figure 1 in the media player at right is an example is from JustFab.com, and their pop-up experience begins the moment you land. A pop-up first offers product options you must click through so they can build a profile of your style preferences. With that done, you complete the form shown in figure 1 before being allowed to continue your shopping experience. You cannot dismiss this pop-up without providing the required information. I suffered through this process only to be able to capture this screen shot, but I can tell you I have abandoned every other site that required me to log in to view their content. Similarly, I nearly always abandon a site that allowed me to read part of an article and then withheld the ending until I proffered my email address.

On Enter
For me, pop-ups on enter like the one shown in figure 2, are far less annoying than on-enter gated. These pop-ups might display as soon as you land, after a period of time, or after you begin scrolling. These have a dismiss icon, so you can close the box without providing the information. If you choose this route, you’ll want to do some testing around the ideal time to let pass before displaying. I’ve found giving the reader 15 to 30 seconds to get a taste for the content produces better results. If you ask for their email address before they have determined the value of your site, you may scare them off.

Header (or Footer) Notification
Header or footer notifications are far less intrusive, and thus could prove to be less effective. It’s easy to miss a message displayed at the very top of the page since the visitor’s eye is more typically drawn to the area that usually displays the menu bar. If you choose a header or footer notification like the one shown in figure 3 from infyways.com, try using a heat map to ensure your visitors are even looking at the notice before you decide the effectiveness of this approach.

On Exit
The on-exit pop-up (figure 4), displays automatically as someone makes a move to leave a site. I like these pop-ups because it’s the what-have-I-got-to-lose? approach. Displaying a message after your visitor has already decided to leave your site is a great way to cause them pause and reconsider what they’ve just read. Was it really of no value? Did it have value only today? Did it have long-term value? If so, would they like to be notified of new, similar content?

Scroll-Triggered Pop-up
This pop-up (figure 5) is triggered to display along the bottom edge (configurable) of the visitor’s browser window as they scroll down the page. It will display on any/all pages of the site, so it’s effective even if they’ve clicked a link directly through to a landing page.

A/B Testing and Analytics
There are probably as many approaches as there are businesses and websites, but this list is a good overview. Don’t stop at just installing the form or plug-in, without analytics and careful monitoring, you’re not getting smarter about what works and what doesn’t. If you’ve installed a subscriber pop-up plug-in and you’re not getting sign-ups, first make sure the product is working properly and then check your analytics. Are you actually getting traffic to the page where you’ve included your capturing system? Using a heatmap, are people viewing it? Lastly, these products are not mutually exclusive. Try lots of approaches all at once—that in itself can be the A/B test: which product is most effective on which pages?

Automation
Most of these products will capture your prospects into a database of some sort, but automating the passing of leads into your email system will make the entire process more valuable to you. By passing the data automatically, you can also create instantaneous auto-responders welcoming your new subscriber. While you’re shopping for a product, ensure you check to see if it supports your chosen email-automation platform, and if not, look to see how you can automate this process. We use Zapier and have found we can directly support the client’s application about 90 percent of the time.

For most of us, we have a methodical approach to building a marketing campaign and I think this same approach can be used as a plan for growing your list:

  1. Define a measurable goal
  2. Choose tools you will use for measuring success/failure of the effort
  3. Outline with metrics are important to showing success/failure
  4. Define A/B testing points
  5. Analyze results

If you’ve had success with a particular product, please share your experience in the comments below. I’m always eager to learn about new products that can make me a better marketer—as I’m sure this blog’s readers are as well.

Do You Live Up to Your Brand?

As California suffers from one of the worst droughts in recent history, it was recently reported that the chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), was among some of the worst offenders in personal water consumption—yet he recently launched an advertising blitz to persuade 19 million people to save water.

As California suffers from one of the worst droughts in recent history, it was recently reported that the chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), was among the worst offenders in personal water consumption—yet he recently launched an advertising blitz to persuade 19 million people to save water.

When confronted with the evidence, offenders offered excuses ranging from “I may have unintentionally over watered,” to “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how I can reduce my water rate.”

Forget all the hard work we marketers do to try and help companies like MWD build a positive perception of their brand among their target audiences. Those efforts are literally flushed down the drain by the ignorance of their senior management.

Edward Leaman, branding consulting for companies like California Closets, notes that, “Brands are extremely complex and have a central, organizing principle and core purpose that is resolute … brand values guide decision-making.”

For MWD, those core brand values (aside from the obvious mission of providing high quality water in an environmentally and economically responsible way) include some ethical ones, like striving to “incorporate the mission of Metropolitan in their daily work life.”

But brand blunders aren’t just limited to water officials; sadly, there are a host of other examples everywhere you turn.

Insurance companies hog the airwaves with promises of discounts and superior “customer care.” For State Farm, it’s unfortunate they didn’t articulate the importance of that brand value to their all their agents, as a recent experience left a colleague steaming after they discovered they were not adequately insured after a minor auto accident—evidently due to the agent’s inadequate review of a policy that was being transferred from another carrier.

Of course one less-than-ideal experience may not represent the most accurate KPI of their entire agent network, but the marketing team should be distraught to learn that its hard work on customer acquisition is negated by an agent’s laziness.

So whether you’re Starbucks looking to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time, or you’re the CDC seeking to protect America from health, safety and security threats, the process of building a brand experience model and a system that can deliver the brand promise at an extraordinary level is mission critical.

And if you work for a public agency like MWD, and your state is experiencing a drought, you’d best cut back on your water usage and lead by example, because your water bills are public record.

To put a spin on author H. Jackson Brown, Jr’s quote, your brand is always reflected in what you do—even if you think no one is looking.

McKinsey Thinks Bland, Generic Loyalty Programs Are Killing Business – And They May Be Right!

A recent Forbes article by McKinsey, “Making Loyalty Pay: Six Lessons From the Innovators,” showed loyalty program participation has steadily increased during the past five years (a 10 percent annual rate of growth), with the average household now having almost 25 memberships. For all of that growing popularity, there are huge questions for marketers: Are the programs contributing to increased sales? And what is the impact of loyalty programs on enterprise profitability?

A recent Forbes article by McKinsey, “Making Loyalty Pay: Six Lessons From the Innovators,” showed loyalty program participation has steadily increased during the past five years (a 10 percent annual rate of growth), with the average household now having almost 25 memberships. For all of that growing popularity, there are huge questions for marketers: Are the programs contributing to increased sales? And what is the impact of loyalty programs on enterprise profitability?

Overall, companies with loyalty programs have grown at about the same rate as companies without them; but there is variance in performance value among industries. These programs produce positive sales increases for hotels, for example, but negative sales impact on car rental, airlines and food retail. And, companies with higher loyalty program spend had lower margins than companies in the same sector which do not spend on high-visibility loyalty programs.

McKinsey has noted that, “Despite relative underperformance in terms of revenue growth and profitability, over the past five years, market capitalization for companies that greatly emphasize loyalty programs has outpaced that of companies that don’t.” This, as they see it, may be indicative of hope among companies with programs that long-term customer value can be generated.

Within the McKinsey report, several strategies are offered for helping businesses overcome the negatives often associated with loyalty programs. Key among these are:

  • Integrate Loyalty Into the Full Experience
    Companies can link the loyalty program into the overall purchase and use experience. An example cited in the article is Starbucks, which has created its program to reflect the uniqueness of its café experience. Loyalty is built into the program by integrating payments and mobile technology, which appeals to its target audience.
  • Use the Data
    This may be the most important opportunity represented by loyalty programs. Data collected from the programs can offer competitive opportunities. Tesco, the largest supermarket chain on the planet, has been doing loyalty program member number-crunching for years through DunnHumby. Similarly, Caesars Entertainment has rich databases on its high-rolling program members. One retailer has combined its loyalty program with a 5 percent point-of-sale discount, building volume from its highest-value customers. In another well-documented example, a retailer has used its loyalty program data to identify future mothers before other chains, thus targeting offers to capture both their regular spend and new category purchases as buying habits evolve.
  • Build Partnerships
    As stated on so many occasions, organizations that build trust generate stronger, more bonded, customer behavior. This applies to loyalty programs as well, where there is ample opportunity to build cross-promotion for customers with non-competing products and services. In the U.K., Sainsbury, the major supermarket competitor of Tesco, has partnered with Nectar, a major loyalty coalition. Nectar has more members than Tesco, and participants can collect rewards across a large number of non-competing retailers. Through partnership, Sainsbury’s offers customers a broader and deeper value proposition; and Nectar also generates data from coalition partners, which it uses to better target promotions to customers.
  • Solve Customer and Industry Pain Points
    Numerous customer behavior studies have shown that people will gravitate to, and pay more for, better service. A perfect example of this is Amazon Prime, where additional payment gets customers faster delivery and digital tracking. This is good for Amazon (estimates are that members spend more than four times more with Amazon than non-members), its customers, and its suppliers, who also get access to Prime customers and the positive rub-off of affiliating with a trusted brand.
  • Maximize Difference Between Perceived Value and Real Cost
    Often, program elements can represent high perceived value without adding much in the way of bottom-line cost to the sponsor. The example cited is Starwood Hotels and Resorts where, through its Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, there is a focus on personal leisure travel rewards for high-spending frequent guests.
  • Allocate Loyalty Reinvestment to the Most Valuable Customers
    Many companies have only recently come to the realization that some customers are more valuable than others; and, to be successful, loyalty programs need to target the higher revenue customers. In 2010, Southwest Airlines revamped its loyalty program to make rewards more proportional to ticket price; and this has better targeted the most profitable customers, as well as enabled the airline to adopt a loyalty behavior metric that is closely tied to actual revenue generation.

Loyalty programs continue to grow, but they are also tending to become more closely integrated with brand-building and multichannel customer experience optimization. But, there is also lots of commoditization and passivity were these programs are concerned—sort of the “If You Build It, They Will Come” syndrome at work. And, of course, there’s a mini contra movement among some retail chains, where they have removed established loyalty programs—or never initiated them in the first place—in favor of everyday low prices and more efficient performance.

What Customer-Centric, Customer-Obsessed Companies Must Do

In building relationships with and value for customers, my longtime observation is most organizations tend to progress through several stages of performance: customer awareness, customer sensitivity, customer focus and customer obsession. Here is the “executive summary” version of some conditions of each stage.

In building relationships with and value for customers, my longtime observation is most organizations tend to progress through several stages of performance: customer awareness, customer sensitivity, customer focus and customer obsession.

Here is the “executive summary” version of some conditions of each stage.

Customer Awareness
Customers are known, but in the aggregate. The organization believes it can select its customers and understand their needs. Measurement of performance is rudimentary, if it exists at all; and customer data are siloed. There’s a traditional, hierarchical, top-down management model, with “chimneyed” or “smokestack” communication (goes up or down, but not horizontal) with little evidence of teaming.

Customer Sensitivity
Customers are known, but still mostly in the aggregate. Customer service is somewhat more evident (though still viewed as a cost center), with a focus on complaint and problem resolution (but not proactive complaint generation; internal groups tend to point fingers and blame each other for negative customer issues). Measurement is mostly around customer attitudes and functional transactions, i.e. satisfaction, with little awareness of emotional relationship drivers. The organization has a principally traditional, hierarchical, top-down management model, with “chimneyed” or “smokestack” communication (goes up or down, but not horizontal), with some evidence of teaming (mostly in areas of complaint resolution).

Customer Focus
Customers are both known and valued, down to the individual level, and they are recognized as having different needs, both functional and emotional. The customer life cycle is front-and-center; and performance measurement is much more about emotion and value drivers than satisfaction. Service and value provision is regarded as an enterprise priority; and customer stabilization and recovery are goals when problems or complaints arise. Communication and collaboration with customers, between employees, and between employees and customers is featured. Management model and style is considerably more horizontal, with greater emphasis on teaming to improve customer value processes.

It’s notable that, at this more evolved and advanced stage of enterprise customer-centricity, complaints are thought of more in terms of a life cycle component, and recovery is more of a strategy than a resolution.

Customer Obsession
Throughout the organization, customer needs and expectations—especially those that are emotional—are well understood, and response is appropriate (and often proactive).

Everyone is involved in providing value to customers—from C-suite to front-line—and everyone understands his/her role. Customer behavior is recognized as essential to enterprise success, and optimal relationships are sought.

Performance measurement is focused, and shared, on what most monetizes customer behavior (loyalty, emotion and communication metrics—such as brand-bonding and advocacy—replace satisfaction and recommendation).

Customer service (along with pipelines and processes) is an enterprise priority, and seen as a vital, and profitable, element of value delivery.

The management model is far more horizontal, replacing traditional hierarchy; and there is an emphasis on teaming and inclusion of customers to create or enhance value.

Companies that are customer-obsessed, and what makes them both unique and successful, have been extensively profiled by consultants and the business press. Often, they go so far as to create emotionally driven, engaged and even branded experiences for their customers, strategically differentiating them from their peers.

In addition, these companies focus on the complete customer life cycle, and much more on retention, loyalty and risk mitigation (and even winback) than acquisition. Support experiences are strategic, nimble and seamless, and often omnichannel. Multiple sources of data are used to develop insights. Recognizing the information needs of their customers, they invest in altruistic content creation (over advertising); and they communicate proactively and in as personalized a manner as possible

Customer obsession, what I refer to as “inside-out” customer-centricity, has been a frequent subject of my blogs and articles: One of Albert Einstein’s iconic quotes reflects the complete dedication of resources and values needed for an organization to optimize its relationships with customers: “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master.” Mastery requires, as well, a storehouse of experience coming from experimentation; so, just like in the pole vault and high jump, we can expect that the customer-centricity bar will continue to be raised.

Marketing Automation Is Not Marketing Strategy

Too often these days, I hear B-to-B marketers mouth claims like, “We got this new [fill in the brand] automation tool, so now we can reduce headcount.” Or, “Once this automation system is installed, it will take our marketing to the next level.” This worries me. Marketers sometimes see automation as a silver bullet. But it’s only a tool

Too often these days, I hear B-to-B marketers mouth claims like, “We got this new [fill in the brand] automation tool, so now we can reduce headcount.” Or, “Once this automation system is installed, it will take our marketing to the next level.” This worries me. Marketers sometimes see automation as a silver bullet. But it’s only a tool. Marketing automation doesn’t identify your best target audiences. It can’t develop value propositions. No way will it make the tough decisions among competing investment options. I’m reminded of Mike Moran’s great book title, Do It Wrong, Quickly. In other words, marketing automation doesn’t work without strategy.

Remember ten years ago, when CRM came along? Déjà vu all over again, to echo Yogi Berra. Marketers thought that the new CRM software would solve their customer service and customer retention problems. Expectations dashed. Not only was it a nightmare to get up and running, the software served only to automate the processes—good or bad—that companies already had in place.

Even the marketing automation software vendors themselves recognize the importance of strategy, for their own success, as well as that of their clients. Think about it: If their clients can’t get the value from the software, their revenues are going to be impacted.

So education campaigns are underway. Marketo, for example, sponsored a compelling study by Sirius Decisions that explains the importance of a strong process in driving results when using marketing automation software. Their data shows that companies using automation combined with a reasonable lead management process—inquiry generation, qualification, nurturing and hand off to sales—produced four times the sales volume of companies with automation but with weaker processes.

Eloqua, too, makes a strong case for strategy in its guide, “6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Your Marketing Automation Journey,” which contains the important reminder to avoid putting “too much focus on technology, and not enough focus on buyers.”

So, what should we be doing with automation, to ensure its success? Three things come to mind.

  1. Be realistic about what it can and can’t do. Automation is not a silver bullet that you can set and forget. So make sure real humans are thinking through the essential tasks of identifying your key audiences, understanding their needs, scoping out their buying processes and developing contact strategies to move them along, in your direction.
  2. Clean up your database. By now it’s clear that the database is the single most important success factor in B-to-B marketing communications. So don’t be automating messages that can’t or won’t be delivered to the right targets.
  3. Train up your team. Too many marketing groups are leaving the campaign automation system to a set of junior staffers who interface with the tools, deploy campaigns and report results. I am not saying the marketing VPs should be executing campaigns, but to get the right mix of strategy and tools, we need better integration. Senior marketers should be deeply aware of the capabilities of the software. And junior staffers need training in strategic marketing thinking.

Are there other success factors in B-to-B marketing automation you can share?

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

Using Video Production as Part of Your Customer Retention Strategy

Video is a tool designed to communicate with your customers. If you follow the statistic “80 percent of your future revenue will come from 20 percent of your current customers,” you know that the greatest part is to keep your customers happy so they keep coming back. The best way to preserve your clients is to keep them engaged.  You can keep your clients engaged by offering new videos about your product or service

How strong is your relationship with your customers? Do you have a customer retention strategy in place for your business? What are you doing to maintain your customers loyalty?

These questions are extremely important, and it’s up to you to come up with ways to maintain a healthy system designed to keep your customers and help them grow with you not against you. These hints will give you some fresh ideas that you might not have considered to plan on growing your client retention.

Video is a tool designed to communicate with your customers. If you follow the statistic “80 percent of your future revenue will come from 20 percent of your current customers,” you know that the greatest part is to keep your customers happy so they keep coming back. The best way to preserve your clients is to keep them engaged. You can keep your clients engaged by offering new videos about your product or service. Be careful not to over due it with the social media. People will get angry if you spam them out on Facebook and the like. Thinking of new ways to communicate to your clients is a big responsibility, but with a few solid ideas, you can give your customers a dose of encouragement and keep them wanting to know more about what you can provide for them.

Video can be a great answer as it’s good for promotions, technical issues, special discounts, customer appreciation, etc., etc., etc. Keeping the client engaged is one thing, but the end goal should be to keep your clients devoted to you and your brand. Video allows you to communicate with the message you want them to receive while sending that message to more of your clients. Although this can never take the place of the human element in communication, it can be a terrific alternative for when you need to send the message to the masses.

Here are some ideas that will help gain trust with your clients, keep them remembering your products, and accepting your messages.

  1. Product review
  2. Customer support, repair, assembly
  3. Customer conferences
  4. Customer testimonials
  5. Employee testimonials
  6. New product launch
  7. Webinars
  8. Video newsletters and blogging

Video featuring your product or someone talking about a focused area of your service can be extremely effective, not only by gaining a lot of attention on YouTube, but also developing trust by demonstrating your product online. Remember to have a lot of cutaways and b-roll (the images that support the dialogue).

Customer support, repair and videos of assembling a product can not only be useful to post online, they can save you money by not hiring staff to answer specific and common questions. There is customer service 24/7. More companies are using Vine for this type of video communication. Vine is great because you can create video with your cell phone. However, remember that these can only be short videos. Companies like The Gap have found this to be a unique tool to their culture.

Customer conferences are great and you can get some exposure through press releases announcing the conference. Depending on the success of the conference, often times you can gain some additional sales through word of mouth. Word of mouth is the best advertising possible.

Testimonials are always terrific for people looking to do business with new companies. Testimonials can be effective by selecting real clients, with real stories that they can relate to. Also, give your interviewee enough time to prepare what they would like to say. Remember not everyone is comfortable around the camera. Even a cell phone can be intimidating when you aren’t sure what to say.

Any time you have a new product a video, it should be on your marketing strategy. People love to read about new products, but they love it even more when they can find out pertinent information about that product for 30 seconds. Disney Collector BR on YouTube discovered a way to make a living from product reviews. She has over 800,000 subscribers who want to know what the toy features before buying it.

When it comes to B-to-B marketing, one of the best ways to make an impact on your clients is by hosting a webinar. Incorporate video subscription to those that want to attend but cant, so that they don’t miss your important message. Webinars are great because they are informative as well as valuable.

Last but not least is the use of video blogs. When your clients are interested in what you have to offer a newsletter or blog keeping them updated helps to build a relationship with them. I know many executives that utilize this method of communicating to their teams overseas and abroad.

There are thousands of terrific ideas for using video as part of your customer retention strategy. Video can always be measured by viewership and analytics. In any case if your goal is to get your clients to be loyal to your brand then using video as part of that net will be sure to help you succeed.

Are DMA Conference Exhibitors Reinventing, Too?

From 1987 to 2008, I had attended every DMA conference, always enjoying the experience of reconnecting with long-time associates, hearing presentations to continually learn, and meeting with vendors who might be good resources for clients. Last week I found myself looking at the conference through a different lens as I walked the exhibit hall to learn from the exhibitors.

It had been five years since I last attended a DMA annual conference. I decided to return last week. If there were a score card of how direct marketing service providers are reinventing what they sell to end-user companies, one measure of that could be taken from the exhibit hall.

From 1987 to 2008, I had attended every DMA conference, always enjoying the experience of reconnecting with long-time associates, hearing presentations to continually learn, and meeting with vendors who might be good resources for clients.

Last week I found myself looking at the conference through a different lens as I walked the exhibit hall to learn from the exhibitors.

The first thing that astounded me was the shrinkage of the exhibit hall. The program listed 241 exhibitors. While I don’t have access to the number of exhibitors from, say, a decade ago, it feels like it was about one-third the size that it used to be.

The second thing that struck me was the type of exhibitors who were there. I’d generally divide into one of three camps:

  1. Traditional direct marketing vendors, mostly supporting direct mail. The convention program listed 112 exhibitors self-identified as in the Direct Mail and Print Services category. Add in some of the dozens of firms supporting Data Management (who weren’t already listed under Direct Mail and Print Services) and easily over half—perhaps two-thirds—of the exhibitors supported traditional direct mail marketing channels.
  2. Technology companies offering online services to direct marketers accounted for a significant representation as well. An exact count is difficult to infer because of vendors listing themselves under multiple categories including Affiliate Marketing, Content, E-commerce, Mobile, Online Advertising, Real-Time Automated Technologies, Search and Social, but the representation was strong. These are firms that, in my opinion, generally did a poor job of communicating how they support direct marketers. As I spoke to several of them, they glowed over their technology but didn’t connect their technology to how it would generate response. It feels like they want to attract business from direct marketers, but they don’t speak our language. Many technology companies seem to be in love with their buzz words on their booths, but failed to give the passer-by any clue of what their technology would do for me to build sales. At the expansive exhibit of one of the most recognized software companies in America, I quickly spotted three typographical errors on their big screens. Their exhibit booth staff was also the least friendly and willing to explain what they offer direct marketers.
  3. Vendors that effectively blended offline and online. Only a few exhibitors, it seemed, truly attempted to be a one-stop shop where offline could be linked with online media. Those exhibitors were the ones doing business at the conference. They were the ones who were the most positive about returning next year. In one case, a long-time DMA conference exhibitor who has reinvented his service offerings, said last week’s conference was the best ever for them. This traditional direct mail services provider had teamed up with a technology firm so their booth felt like two spaces, but they seamlessly referred clients to each other. More importantly, they linked online technology with the ability to use direct mail for specialized messaging.

It appears there is work to be done by many vendors to update their services to keep up with what direct marketers must do to survive. And technology companies have a lot of work to do to understand the nuances of direct marketing. For vendors who want to grow and prosper in this field, if they haven’t already, they need to reinvent just like the direct marketing customers who they want to serve.

3 Things You Can Do Now to Make an ‘Earthly’ Difference

Readers of my blog know my distaste for financial service companies, utilities and other brands that admonish me in my mailbox to switch to digital statements “to help save the environment,” “save trees,” “pay it green” and other marketing hyperbole with absolutely no scientific backing. I’m waiting for three things

Readers of my blog know my distaste for financial service companies, utilities and other brands that admonish me in my mailbox to switch to digital statements “to help save the environment,” “save trees,” “pay it green” and other marketing hyperbole with absolutely no scientific backing.

I’m waiting for three things.

First, I’d love some examples—and you may post them in the comments section—of brands that are more honest and forthcoming about why they want their customers to switch to digital. It saves the organizations behind these brands money—money that either gets returned to the customer in lower prices or better service (right?), or (more likely) goes to the bottom line to improve margins. (Sorry if I’m too cynical here; it must be the prolonged winter-like weather.)

Second, I look forward to the Federal Trade Commission presenting an enforcement action that helps to educate businesses (and consumers) that the “print vs. digital” positioning of “being green” is misleading, if not deceptive or untruthful. Such a case would underscore the latest version (2012) of the FTC Green Guides and its substantiation requirement for any and all environmental marketing claims.

Third, I look forward to an independent apples-to-apples, cross-channel, life-cycle analysis of your “average” mail and digital communication in the United States. It may yet happen, but until then, we are left with helpful, but limited, research on paper, print, mail and electronics life-cycle inventories and analyses. Each of them have their own sets of assumptions, scopes and qualifications.

We don’t need the third event to happen, however, to take some helpful action on the mail side of the equation … right now. Here are three steps to consider:

  1. Educate yourself and follow the DMA “Green 15.” These 15 principles and practices apply to data hygiene and management, mail design and production, paper procurement, packaging and fulfillment, and recycling collection. I understand from contacts that a “digital” version may be in the works! Stay tuned.
  2. Label mail, catalogs, inserts and paper packaging to encourage recycling collection. That “junk mail” moniker is so yesterday. Discarded mail—after the consumer has used it—should be recycled. Close to two-thirds of municipalities in the United States now offer local recycling options for “mixed paper”—a threshold that FTC allows for recycling collection labels and “recyclable” claims. By using the DMA’s “Recycle Please” logo, mail marketers can help consumers increase awareness and participate in these programs without hurting response. Visit www.recycleplease.org for more information, and to download the latest version of the logo (which is available to DMA-member agencies, brands and organizations only).
  3. Use the FTC Green Guides—2012 version anew—to guide any environmental claims you may make.
  4. Extra Credit! Enter the 2013 DMA International ECHO Awards competition and its Green Marketing Award. The campaign does not need to be about an environmental product or cause—it only needs to demonstrate adherence to the DMA Green 15 in business action! The DMA Green 15 and Green ECHO are not about Earth Day and environmentalism—they’re about everyday marketing planning and decision-making that show efficiency and effectiveness in marketing: strategy, creative and response. The deadline is May 3—and agencies and brands may enter here: http://dma-echo.org/enter.jsp.

Now, if I only knew the carbon footprint of my blog. Hopefully, some of the information conveyed here will help mitigate the impact!