Direct Mail Acquisition vs. Retention

Surprisingly, many people don’t know the difference between sending direct mail for acquisition purposes and sending direct mail for retention purposes. The most common response we get is, “why can’t I send everyone the same thing?”

direct mail retention vs. acquisitionSurprisingly, many people don’t know the difference between sending direct mail for acquisition purposes and sending direct mail for retention purposes. The most common response we get is, “why can’t I send everyone the same thing?” The reason is that prospects (acquisition) and customers (retention) are very different. You know about your customers, who they are and what they have purchased from you before, so your direct mail to them can be much more personalized. Let’s take an in-depth look at the two:

1. Direct Mail Acquisition

Direct mail that falls in this category is to get you new business. This means that you are sending to prospects who either do not know your company or may know of you a little bit. So the first thing you need to do is to get their attention before your piece is thrown out. Once you have their attention, you need to concisely convey who you are and what you can do for them. The key here is to list all the benefits they will get from your product or service — creating a need for your offer is a must. Then you need a strong call to action to drive their response. In many cases, a small, free giveaway or an introductory discount is given to entice them. It is also a good idea to create a sense of urgency by limiting the length of time the offer is available.

2. Direct Mail Retention

Direct mail that falls in this category is to keep your customers buying from you. This can be to get them to buy new products or services you offer, or ancillary items to what they have purchased before. The types of products or services you offer may limit the frequency of this type of mail. Do not send the same direct mail over and over to your customers. It will be trashed. You need to only send them mail that has new offers.

Retention mail is easier because your customers know you and are willing to read what you send them. You also know your customers so you can provide them only the offers they would be most interested in. This keeps your costs down and your ROI up. This is not to say that you don’t need strong benefits and a strong call to action, it is to say that you already have their attention, so use it well. Keep in mind that giving them a special customer only offer really helps to get responses.

Your direct mail campaigns can be a combination of acquisition and retention as long as you use the correct messaging to both. Variable data can help you do that while keeping everything together as one mailing to keep your postal discounts. Many times it is necessary to mail separately simply because you are mailing to acquisition people more often than you are to retention people.

Keep in mind that your response rate on acquisition mail will be smaller than retention mail. It takes seven to 10 touches for people to feel as though they know your company and would be willing to buy from you. Keep in mind that the touches can come from all different channels, they don’t all need to be direct mail. Another way to help acquisition people to buy from you is to include testimonials. When they can read how others feel about your product or service it eases some of the tension they feel trying something new. Give unique attention to both groups of people to improve your results.

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.

Too Big to Fail – But Not Too Big to Suck

On a recent “Real Time With Bill Maher” show, Maher responded to the announcement that Time Warner Cable would merge with Comcast Corp. in a $45 billion purchase. He noted that, combined, the two cable systems represent 19 of the 20 largest U.S. markets; and, apart from suppliers like Dish and DirecTV, they have no competitors in these metros. Further, Maher said, the two companies have the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of any cable system. So, as he asked his panelists, where is the value for customers in this merger if both companies are known to have questionable service performance?

On a recent “Real Time With Bill Maher” show, Maher responded to the announcement that Time Warner Cable would merge with Comcast Corp. in a $45 billion purchase. He noted that, combined, the two cable systems represent 19 of the 20 largest U.S. markets; and, apart from suppliers like Dish and DirecTV, they have no competitors in these metros. Further, Maher said, the two companies have the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of any cable system. So, as he asked his panelists, where is the value for customers in this merger if both companies are known to have questionable service performance?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will, of course, have a great deal to say about whether this merger goes through or not. During the past couple of decades, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of cable companies, from 53 at one point to only six now. Addressing some of the early negative reaction to its planned purchase of TWC-which would increase Comcast’s cable base to 30 million subscribers from the 22 million it currently has (a bit less than 30 percent of the overall market)-Comcast has already stated that it will make some concessions to have the merger approved. But, that said, according to company executives, the proposed cost savings and efficiencies that will “ultimately benefit customers” are not likely to either reduce monthly subscription prices or even cause them to rise less rapidly.

Comcast executives have stated that the value to consumers will come via “quality of service, by quality of offerings and by technological innovations.” David Cohen, their Executive VP, said: “Putting these two companies together will not deprive a single customer in America of a choice he or she will have today.” (Opens as a PDF) He also said, “I don’t believe there’s any way to argue that consumers are going to be hurt from a price perspective as a result of this transaction.” But, that said, he also admitted, “Frankly, most of the factors that go into customer bills are beyond our control.” Not very encouraging.

As anyone remotely familiar with Comcast’s history will understand, this is not the first time the company has navigated the river of communications company consolidation: 1995, Scripps, 800,000 subscribers, 1998, Jones Intercable, 1.1 million subscribers; 2000, Lenfest Communications, 1.3 million subscribers.

In 2002, Comcast completed acquisition of AT&T Broadband, in a deal worth $72 billion. This increased the company’s base to its current level of 22 million subscribers, and gave it major presence in markets like Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia and San Francisco-Oakland. In a statement issued by Comcast at the time the purchase was announced, again there was a claim that the merger with AT&T would benefit all stakeholders: “Combining Comcast with AT&T Broadband is a once in a lifetime opportunity that creates immediate value and positions the company for additional growth in the future. Shareholders, employees, and customers alike are poised to reap considerable benefits from this remarkable union.”

There have been technological advances, additional content, and enhanced service, during the ensuing 13 years. But “immediate value” and “considerable benefits”? Having been professionally involved with customer research conducted at the time of this merger, there was genuine question regarding the value perceived by the newly acquired AT&T customers. In a study among customers who discontinued with Comcast post-merger, and also among customers who had been Comcast customers or AT&T customers prior to the merger, poor picture quality (remember, these were the days well before HD), service disruption and high/continually rising prices were the key reasons given for defection to a competitor.

Conversely, when asked to rate their current suppliers on both key attribute importance (a surrogate measure of performance expectation) and performance itself, the highest priorities were all service-related:

  • Reliability of cable service
  • Availability of customer service when needed
  • Speed of service problem resolution
  • Responsiveness of customer service staff

On all principal service attributes except “speed of service problem resolution,” the new supplier was given higher ratings than either Comcast or AT&T. And there were major gaps in all of the above areas. Overall, close to 90 percent of these defected customers said they would be highly likely to continue the relationship with their new supplier. When correlation analysis was performed, pricing and service performance were the key driving factors. In addition, even if Comcast were now able to offer services that overcame their reasons for defection, very few (only about 10 percent) said they would be willing to become Comcast customers again.

Finally, we’ve often focused on unexpressed and unresolved complaints as leading barometers, or indicators, of possible defection. Few of the customers interviewed indicated problems with their current suppliers; however, as in other studies, problem and complaint issues were frequently surfaced for both Comcast and AT&T.

It should be noted that having lost a significant number of customers to Verizon’s FiOS, Comcast has a winback program under way, leveraging quotes from subscribers who have returned to the Xfinity fold. In the usual Macy’s/Gimbel’s customer acquisition and capture theater of war, this marks a marketing change for Comcast. As often observed (and even covered in an entire book, with my co-author, consultant Jill Griffin), winback marketing strategies are rather rarely applied, but can be very successful.

One of the key consumer concerns, especially as it may impact monthly bills, is the cost and control of content. For example, Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast for an exclusive direct connection into its network. As one media analyst noted, “The largest cable company in the nation, on the verge of improving its power to influence broadband policy, is nurturing a class system by capitalizing on its reach as a consumer Internet service provider (ISP).” This could, John C. Abell further stated, be a “game-changer.” Media management and control such as this has echoes of Big Brother for customers, and it is all the more reason Comcast should be paying greater attention to the evolving needs, as well as the squeeze on wallets, of its customers.

Perhaps the principal lesson here, assuming that the FCC allows this merger to proceed and ultimately consummate, will be for Comcast to be proactive in building relationships and service delivery. There’s very little that will increase consumer trust more than “walking the talk,” delivering against the claims of what benefits customers will stand to receive. Conversely, there’s little that will undermine trust and loyalty faster, and more thoroughly, than underdelivery on promises.

Get Ready for 2013: Customer Acquisition Emails

Acquiring long-term platinum customers is much harder today than it was even a decade ago. The globalization of the marketplace created an environment where people have access to multiple choices for every product or service they want to buy. This availability has created an environment where long-term customer loyalty has been replaced by hit-and-run shoppers. The only way to offset this to create a relationship with your customers that makes them want to stay with your company even when the competition offers lower prices and faster service.

Acquiring long-term platinum customers is much harder today than it was even a decade ago. The globalization of the marketplace created an environment where people have access to multiple choices for every product or service they want to buy; a simple search on Google for any item or service will reveal a multitude of choices at a variety of prices.

This availability has created an environment where long-term customer loyalty has been replaced by hit-and-run shoppers. The only way to offset this to create a relationship with your customers that makes them want to stay with your company even when the competition offers lower prices and faster service.

Relationships begin at the first contact point. Prospects who sign up for your email list have different expectations than your customers. Sending them the same promotional emails may convert a few, but it will not create the foundation for a long-term lasting relationship. People need to know they’re valued. The best way to communicate that is by creating customized emails designed to woo prospects into becoming customers. The same technological advances that increased your competition also make it easier and more economical to connect with people.

Every email marketing strategy needs a triggered systematic campaign designed to convert prospects into customers. Most companies have a welcome email automatically triggers when someone subscribes to their email list but very few businesses follow-up with additional emails that communicate information about the company products and services. It’s as if they presume that everyone knows everything there is to know about their company.

People subscribe to email lists for a variety of reasons. Some are simply looking for discount offers, others want to learn more about the products and services. Failure to take advantage of the opportunity to share information with people who have indicated they want to know more is a waste. The cost is minimal. The potential return is huge. If you do not have a customized prospect conversion strategy, you are squandering an opportunity to build a foundation for long-term customer loyalty.

It’s almost impossible to identify the prospects with long-term customer potential. The only information you have available is the original source and what people choose to share. Requiring additional information to better qualify subscribers is counterproductive—long sign-up forms yield fewer subscribers. The objective of your sign-up form is to gain permission to email prospects. The trigger emails following subscription can be used together additional information as well as convert the subscribers.

Start with a welcome email that thanks people for subscribing. Ask if they will share their preferences so you only send relevant emails. Be very careful with this. Do not ask what the subscribers want if you are not going to honor their wishes, it will alienate your prospects. If you choose to ask the questions, limit them to five. Keep them on one page above the fold with the save button in clear view. People’s eyes start to glazing over when they see a long list of questions.

The emails following the welcome letter need to build trust, provide relevant information and match the preferences indicated earlier. Don’t presume your prospects know about your top-notch service, liberal return policy or special promotions. If they do, the emails will serve as a reminder. If they don’t, providing the information is a service. Including customer testimonials and product reviews provide social proof and help establish trust.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for creating a triggered welcome email campaign:

  • Do include an added bonus in every email. This can be as simple as providing tips. For example, a B-to-C business selling cookware could offer recipes and cooking tips. A B-to-B company selling office supplies could offer productivity tips.
  • Don’t overwhelm new subscribers by bombarding them with emails. Test different delivery times and spacing to find the best strategy.
  • Do provide links to your website and additional information in every email. Always gives people a place to go and easy way to get there if they want more.
  • Don’t include icons for social media sites without providing a call to action. Give people a reason to connect with you on the other channels.
  • Do test everything. What works for your competitor may fail for you and vice versa.
  • Don’t think of your welcome email campaign as “set it and forget it” marketing. Strive for continuous improvement to maximize your return.

Get Ready for 2013: Email Marketing Redefined

How much time do you spend thinking about your email marketing strategy? Would you make the time if you knew that changing your email marketing strategy could make your job easier, increase revenue, and improve customer acquisition and retention? Email campaigns can do it all, but they have to be carefully planned and orchestrated to make the good things happen.

How much time do you spend thinking about your email marketing strategy? If you are like most marketers, juggling multiple channels in an ever changing marketplace doesn’t leave much time for contemplating the whys and wherefores in any area.

Would you make the time if you knew that changing your email marketing strategy could make your job easier, increase revenue, and improve customer acquisition and retention? Email campaigns can do it all, but they have to be carefully planned and orchestrated to make the good things happen. The way people access information and connect with each other is changing rapidly. Your email marketing has to adapt or die.

The best strategy is multifaceted with specific processes that move people for one stage to another. It provides access to the content via the technology that fits your customers and prospects. The people who subscribe to your messages aren’t always at their computers. Your content and how it is delivered has to adapt to their needs.

The first step in creating a comprehensive strategy is defining the purpose of your email marketing. Do you want to acquire more customers? Sell more products and services? Keep customers happy? Reduce operating costs? Or, is it all of the above?

The four primary objectives for email campaigns are:

  • Customer Acquisition
  • Sales
  • Customer Retention
  • Service

Each objective requires a customized strategy designed to move people from original contact to completion. Everything varies from the point of origin forward. The messages that sell the latest products to seasoned customers are rarely as effective with prospects. Creating a specific process for each objective moves email marketing from generic blasts to targeted marketing that connects with people. There can be some crossover, but in general, every email sent needs a specific objective and clearly defined success metrics.

Start the planning for 2013 by reviewing 2012. How many customers were acquired via emails? What percentage of sales is directly attributed to email campaigns? What percentage of sales was influenced by email marketing? How does customer retention for people who subscribe to your emails compare with those who don’t? How do service metrics compare for subscribers versus non-subscribers? You have to know where you are before you plan the journey to your destination.

Next, look at the content of the emails sent in 2012. Does it match the information in your analysis? Are there exceptions? For example, if the majority of the emails were sales promotions, then a low customer acquisition rate and strong sales generation would be expected. If there are any exceptions, try to identify the elements that made people act.

The last part of the 2012 review is looking at segmentation and consistency. Was your list segmented so people received emails targeted by behavior, or did everyone on your list receive the same emails? How often did each group receive messages? Is there a pattern of response in relation to timing? Are all of the emails branded so your company is easily recognized?

The 2012 review provides a benchmarking foundation so you have a reference point for comparison. The review process often triggers ideas and awareness that can be used to maximize the return in 2013. Document your thoughts and any metrics readily available for future reference.

It is time to look forward to the New Year. What do you want to accomplish with your email marketing in 2013? The best strategies have a balanced approach to accomplishing the four primary objectives. They attract new customers, keep existing ones happy and generate revenue while reducing operating costs.

Identifying specific targets provides goals and accountability. How many customers do you want to acquire? What are your direct and indirect sales goals? How much should your retention rate increase? What effect do you expect on service levels and operating costs?

There are many questions to be answered in the process of creating a comprehensive email marketing strategy. The better the answers, the more likely your email program will succeed. Investing the time and resources required to do this right is guaranteed to generate a solid return on investment.

This post is the first in a series on developing a comprehensive email marketing strategy.

Use Social Media and Email to Get More Customers and Keep Them Coming Back

Apathy kills more customers than bad service and poor quality products combined. Loyalty is inspired when people are interested, engaged and valued. The top priority of every business that wants long-term growth and profitability is acquiring customers and keeping them coming back. Focusing on one without the other is a recipe for disaster.

Apathy kills more customers than bad service and poor quality products combined. Loyalty is inspired when people are interested, engaged and valued. The top priority of every business that wants long-term growth and profitability is acquiring customers and keeping them coming back. Focusing on one without the other is a recipe for disaster.

Customer acquisition without retention is expensive. Costs typically run $25 to $75 per customer depending on the industry and competition. Three or more orders are required to break even. Profitability and growth come when people continue to buy year after year. Companies that excel in acquiring customers but don’t retain them will eventually crumble under the high costs.

Retention without acquisition is equally dangerous. Natural attrition will eventually leave the company without customers. When people complete their buying lifespan, they leave. Replacements are vital to keep the company moving forward. Companies without a stable of new customers coming in on a regular basis are dying. It is only a matter of time until operating costs exceeds revenue.

Apple is a good example of a company that has a good balance between acquisition and retention. The company keeps people coming back even when the products offer less performance than those from competitors. Loyalty remains high even after “antennagate” in 2010 because people are so emotionally invested in Apple’s culture leaving is harder than staying. Any company without a customer cult-like obsession for its products would have suffered irreparable damage from a similar challenge.

What if your company isn’t Apple and has little hope of creating an obsessive fan base? How do you continuously acquire customers and keep them coming back? Creating an integrated strategy that uses the best features of individual channels to connect with people and provide an engaging experience is the key to your success. Start by combining social activity with email campaigns and expand from there. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Let people know that you value their business. Neglect is one of two components that make it easy for competitors to snag your customers. Use custom emails to keep the connection between customer and company strong. People know the difference between “personalized” (insert name here) and “personal” (specific messages about orders or challenges). The same technology that creates personalized messages can create personal ones. Make the effort to send custom emails that invite a two-way conversation on a regular basis. Most people won’t respond, but you will still plant a seed that can grow into loyalty.
  • Keep things interesting. Boredom is the second component that opens the door for competitors to steal your customers’ attention with flashy ads, deep discounts, and the promise of something new. Shake things up by injecting new templates in your email campaigns and offering fun activities on your social platforms. After receiving the same format multiple times and repeatedly seeing the same types of posts, people miss the message because their mind tricks them into thinking they’ve seen it before. Avoid this by injecting fresh looks and participation opportunities.
  • Have a plan that moves people from participating in social communities to subscribing to your emails and vice versa. An email sign-up page on Facebook and links to your social platforms at the bottom of emails is not a plan. You need specific calls-to-action that include good reasons for people to move between channels. The process needs to be easy and fun. The more fun you make it, the more likely they will respond.
  • Reward people. Use great offers to get people to convert from prospect to customer. Provide even better benefits for long-term loyalty. Create a special club for people to join when they’ve placed their fifth order or reached a sales benchmark to encourage them to keep coming back. Include membership in private groups on social platforms and exclusive email messages. Let the people who provide the most benefits to your company receive the best offers first.

Attribution and the ‘Mail Moment’ in the Multichannel Mix

At its Sept. 13 meeting, the Direct Marketing Club of New York hosted an engaging panel discussion regarding the use of direct mail in a multichannel world, and the panelists included representatives from Citigroup, Gerber Life and The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks. … Hearing from two financial service brands, and an agency that services brands in several markets, packed the house. I’m not sure if it was the topic or the brands who spoke, or both, that was the draw—but the information imparted prompted lots of audience interest and questions.

At its Sept. 13 meeting, the Direct Marketing Club of New York (DMCNY) hosted an engaging panel discussion regarding the use of direct mail in a multichannel world, and the panelists included representatives from Citigroup, Gerber Life and The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks.

The representatives included Linda Gharib, senior vice president, digital marketing, for Citi’s Global Consumer Marketing & Internet division; David Rosenbluth, vice president, marketing, Gerber Life Insurance Company; and, from the agency side, panel moderator Pam Haas, who is both vice president, sales, for agency services at Harte-Hanks (and first vice president for DMCNY), and Michele Fitzpatrick, senior vice president, strategy and insight, The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks.

Hearing from two financial service brands, and an agency that services brands in several markets (tech, consumer package goods, automotive, insurance, pharma and more), packed the house. I’m not sure if it was the topic or the brands who spoke, or both, that was the draw—but the information imparted prompted lots of audience interest and questions.

First, customer acquisition—at least in the financial services area—still appears to be very dependent on mail. At Gerber, Rosenbluth said, as many as a third of new business policies are still generated by direct mail, even as the brand is “omni-channel”—digital (including web site, search, display ads, email), direct-response television, as well as direct mail. For Citi, the brand is positioned No. 2 in the nation by Target Marketing in its “Top 50 Mailers” ranking for 2012 (which is ranked by overall revenue, not mail volume), Gharib said, solidifying its importance in both acquisition and retention.

Fitzpatrick agreed, noting that in financial services, where marketing is modeled most precisely for risk and performance, direct mail remains an acquisition workhorse, particularly on new product launches. For automotive and pharma verticals, however, where as much as 80 percent of transactions are researched anonymously beforehand online, digital media is used for hand-raising, and direct mail may be then used to deliver a brochure of other information in a highly segmented way to close the deal. “Consumer preferences [for media] are situational,” Fitzpatrick said.

Who gets credit for attribution, when a multichannel communications mix produces a desired response? At Citi, Gharib said, such discussions are a “work in progress,” where the final interaction point currently gets the credit, whether that is chat, direct mail, email or some triggered communication. Adding to the multichannel attribution discussion is the mix of advertising purposes—some are pure branding messages, while others are intended to elicit a response, but both may compel or influence customer behavior in some discernible (or indiscernible) manner. Hence, there is complexity in the attribution discussion.

Yes, indeed, says Rosenbluth, where “allowances” are given for each channel in regard to the brand’s most importance metric to manage: total costs to convert a policy. Currently, “last touch” gets the attribution on response, but the policy conversion metric is the bigger-picture measurement, where everyone gets to take some credit.

Fitzpatrick pointed to recent Forrester research where “fractional attribution”—first touch, mid-touch and last-touch on the path to purchase share credit—and “engagement” is modeled, rather than response (alone). Every brand should undertake a channel impact study to determine, as best it can, the impact of incremental sales as a result of a multichannel customer experience, while also researching receiver reaction research. Clearly, direct mail, email, chat and other channels can be both or either “conversation starters” and “conversation extenders,” but analytics is the only way to know the role of the channel for any given customer.

“There’s credibility in paper,” Gharib remarked, “that helps with both the brand and its consideration.” Where email is cluttered, direct mail largely is not.

At Gerber, Rosenbluth, there really is no brand spend, all market spending is intended to produce engagement.

Fitzpatrick sees almost all “below the line” spending getting a branding blend—branding and direct marketing have come together. All the panelists agreed: it’s really about the consumer experience across channels, and having a database that enables customer recognition and a full customer view. Having tons of data is not enough—it’s having technology and processes in place for customer data integration and analytics to create smart engagement rules.

The verdict? Direct mail is and will remain a vital part of the media mix—because it’s an anchor in the consumer’s experience and brand consideration mix. As digital gets more clutter, boy that mailbox is looking pretty.

4 Hot Topics From eTail

Here are four hot topics in cross-channel retailing that are being discussed at eTail 2011 in Palm Desert, Calif. this week:

Here are four hot topics in cross-channel retailing that are being discussed at eTail 2011 in Palm Desert, Calif. this week:

1. Customer acquisition is back in vogue. OK, customer acquisition is nothing new for retailers. But after a few sluggish quarters, retailers are back to spending money on ways to find more customers. Both traditional and innovative acquisition trends were discussed in the following session: Developing a Long-Term Sustainable Mix of Acquisition and Retention Channels.

Traditional channels work best for Musicnotes.com, according to Bill Aicher, the e-tailer’s web director, as well as a panelist at the session. Paid and natural search, affiliate channels, and word-of mouth are the acquisition marketing techniques his company relies on. Testing is important too. “We test a lot of programs, and if we can get a 2 percent or higher response rate, we consider it successful and put more money into it,” Aicher said.

Search engine optimization is a leading acquisition tool for Motorcycle Superstore, said Erick Barney, vice president of marketing for the online retailer and another speaker at the session. “While search has been around for such a long time, I still think of it as a channel that’s progressing,” he said. “There’s so much more we as an industry need to learn about it.”

An innovative customer acquisition technique was raised by panelist Sara Ezrin, senior director of strategic services at Experian CheetahMail. It focuses on the growing use of iPads in retail stores. “Salespeople in retail establishments are using iPads more and more in-store to collect email addresses and other contact information from customers,” she said.

2. Social commerce getting mixed reviews. The concept of social commerce — i.e., using social networks in the context of e-commerce — has also been a hot topic at the show. Some e-tailers were on the hunt for Facebook developers who could help them create Facebook stores. Payvment, a Facebook shopping platform, seemed to have a crowd at its booth consistently. In general, however, retailers are approaching this concept cautiously.

Consider Tony Bartel, president of video game retailer GameStop, who spoke at a session titled Navigating the Retail Rapids. Bartel said that while GameStop does have a Facebook store, most of the company’s e-commerce transactions take place on Gamestop.com. “We have a lot of interaction with our 1.8 million Facebook followers,” he said, “but we’ve found that when they want to buy something they go to our website.”

Bartel wasn’t quite sure why that’s the case. “Maybe it’s because there are only a few items for sale in our Facebook store, and we don’t have all the bells and whistles there,” he said. “But we’ve been testing the concept for two months now, and will continue to do so.”

3. Retargeting marketing programs are picking up speed. Retargeting, a marketing technique that enables retailers to reach consumers who have visited their sites by serving ads to them post-visit on other content sites across the web, was a heavily discussed subject at the show. Most retailers here believe the tactic is effective because enabling consumers to receive multiple marketing messages from them means their brand can be top of mind.

4. E-commerce media is on the rise.
E-commerce media, a form of online media that allows retailers to target shoppers with product-specifc ads on their sites, was another popular theme. HookLogic, a company that creates product and media placements on e-commerce sites, announced that Shoebuy.com will be using its services to offer premium brand and product placements from its partners within its online store.

DiJiPOP, a company that offers “digital shelf space solutions,” announced that Wal-Mart Canada has selected it to power the digital shelf space monetization efforts of its Walmart.ca online property. The solution will allow Wal-Mart Canada to offer premium placement to its vendor partners, creating a new high-margin revenue stream. Just as a vendor pays a retailer for prime shelf space in-store to stimulate sales, the acquisition of optimal digital shelf space achieves the same goal.

Email Strategies & Tactics Exposed – An Insider’s Look at Mint.com

There’s been a lot of talk lately about socializing email, and it makes a lot of sense. While social media is the hot topic of the moment and adoption continues to increase, many brands continue to struggle with measurement. In fact, according to a recent Mzinga and Babson Executive Education survey, 84 percent of professionals worldwide do not currently measure the ROI of their social media efforts.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about socializing email, and it makes a lot of sense. While social media is the hot topic of the moment and adoption continues to increase, many brands continue to struggle with measurement. In fact, according to a recent Mzinga and Babson Executive Education survey, 84 percent of professionals worldwide do not currently measure the ROI of their social media efforts.

Pretty shocking, considering the economic environment we’re in and the increased pressures placed on marketers to deliver results. On the other hand, email’s ROI has been analyzed to death and remains the most efficient marketing medium used today.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that these two communication and marketing powerhouses join forces to drive success and efficiency for today’s leading brands. The only questions that remain now are: “How?” and “Who’s doing it well?” One brand that’s been successful doing it to acquire new customers is Mint.com.

Launched in 2007, Mint.com has quickly become America’s No. 1 online personal finance service. Mint’s intelligent and easy-to-use approach to money management has quickly attracted more than 1.5 million users to date. Given its online audience and technologically savvy user base, Mint.com recently turned to the power of email marketing and socialized it to further drive new customer acquisition.

Building a successful social email marketing campaign
Taking the time to understand user motivations is key, and Mint.com did an impressive job in a recent campaign that tested a series of offers appealing to a diverse spectrum of user needs.

The winning campaign, analyzed below, appealed to Mint.com users’ desire to achieve “insider status” – or access to beta features and products prior to their rollouts to the general user base. In return, users were encouraged to tell friends. If three of those friends became Mint.com users, they would be granted exclusive access. The campaign also helped Mint.com identify key influencers – those who self-identified by indicating their desires to know more and demonstrating the ability to drive new users. In the end, the results were impressive – the effort drove one new user for every 2.6 invite clicks.

Looks like Mint.com is well on its way to making a mint thanks to some great planning and testing, and by combining two incredibly powerful and relevant mediums – email and social media. However, like all campaigns, Mint.com has a great opportunity to take it a step further by considering the following:

Testing personalization. Mint.com could strengthen its relationship with users by making it more personal and conversational. Using the subscriber’s/user’s name, such as “Dear Michael,” and signing the communication with an actual Mint.com employee (i.e., “Bob Smith, director of new product development”) may improve performance even further.

Add additional response mechanisms. The email might benefit from including a text link, in addition to the “Tell Your Friends About Mint.com” button, in case images are blocked.

Flagging responders for future marketing efforts. Given these users’ desire to know more and ability to drive new users, Mint.com should consider building an influencer communication program around these users to further leverage their knowledge and reach.

Great program with lots of learnings. Congratulations, Mint.com.

Note: Michael Della Penna currently sits on the board of directors at StrongMail Systems, Mint.com’s social marketing technology provider.

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.

LeadsCon: Everything You Want To Know About Online Lead Gen

Had a great time at LeadsCon this week.

I was invited to serve on an expert panel of judges for LeadsCon’s “In the Spotlight’ Company Showcase.” The showcase, which took place on April 3, the first day of the first LeadsCon, provided a stage for some companies that may not be well known to a general audience, but had something truly unique to talk about.

Had a great time at LeadsCon this week.

I was invited to serve on an expert panel of judges for LeadsCon’s “In the Spotlight’ Company Showcase.” The showcase, which took place on April 3, the first day of the first LeadsCon, provided a stage for some companies that may not be well known to a general audience, but had something truly unique to talk about.

Other judges on the panel included Jodi Harris, managing editor, iMediaConnection; Mike Kelly, media advisor, investor and chairman, Eyeblaster; and Jay Webster, general manager, lead generation, Yahoo.

Each company presented for seven minutes. Us judges then had two to three minutes during which to share our impressions with moderator Saar Gur (Partner, Charles River Ventures). The companies represented a broad mix, and each were selected for bringing something slightly different to the table. They were all really neat.

Two companies aid in the acquisition of customers (MarketingAnd and Creative Calls), while another was one of the pioneers in the new era of ad networks (SocialMedia Networks). Others were AdReady, which makes display advertising as accessible as search; GLAM Interactive Group, a women’s-only business networking group; and Mint.com, a consumer-oriented Web site that shows what happens when you focus on the consumer and build something they can’t live without. And, one company was well established (TARGUSinfo) but presented a new product helped make quality a focus in this space.

The winner? SocialMedia Networks, because they have built an innovative platform for publishers of social media applications to monetize their traffic.

I thought they were all great, though!

The conference in general has been great as well. LeadsCon was created and produed by well-know online lead generation guy Jay Weintraub. It is a conference and expo expressly designed for companies and individuals in the online lead generation and customer acquisition industry.

Many conferences address online advertising and marketing, and some vertical confercne address online lead generation in their industry, but LeadsCon is the only event I know of to focus entirely on the challenges, issues and opportunities that are unique to the fast-growing, sometimes controversial and ever-changing online lead generation and customer acquisition segment.

The conference was targeted, well attended (over 600 total attendees, according to Jay) and interesting. It also had a warm, family feeling to it. In fact, Jay’s mom helped out with registration! And most speakers were fiends with Jay from his background –he worked at Advertising.com and Oversee.net—and all commented on what a great guy he is.

Congratulations, Jay!