Denny Hatch Takes on a Direct Brand With Direct Marketing

Harry’s is what’s now classified as a direct brand. But is traditional direct marketing more powerful? Politically correct or not, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” reminds us that the piece we write today may be chuck full of insight and wisdom now, but demands a fresh new look only a few milestones down the road.

Harry’s is what’s now classified as a direct brand. But is traditional direct marketing more powerful? Politically correct or not, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” reminds us that the piece we write today may be chuck full of insight and wisdom now, but demands a fresh new look only a few milestones down the road.

Denny Hatch’s name should not be an unfamiliar one here. Former Target Marketing editor, blogger and general gadfly, Hatch retains the mantle of data-driven marketing’s provocateur, par excellence, now sadly deprived of his joy at being able to limit his writings to twice the number of characters of the original Twitter. His new marketing blog is full of good stuff.

For his recent 700-character, “Getting Your Prospects to Say ‘Yes’ ” piece, he has turned his sights on Harry’s, the upstart direct-to-consumer razor company featured in this Maverick space almost a year ago. At that time I asked you, our readers:

Will the powerful copy and offer, the Harry’s against Goliath approach, go viral or sufficiently viral to extend the reach of the promotion well beyond the media that has been paid for? Will it bring the cost of trials and conversions down low enough to be “affordable,” attracting customers whose loyalty generates sufficient lifetime value to amortize the total marketing costs over that lifetime and let Harry’s end up with more than a sustainable profit?

direct brand Harry's
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Although headlined, “Make Your Bet on Harry’s or Goliath,” readers were only asked whether they believed that the soft, brand-focused approach would be enough to build a loyal and profitable client base. This direct brand ad and similar treatments break all of the DM101 rules and, because they keep appearing, either they are driving a satisfactory response or, sooner or later, the remains of Harry will be marketing history.

The Denny Hatch traditional direct marketing answer to the “will you bet your money on Harry?” question is a snarling “no.” And he is willing to put his “cheek” (so to speak) where his money is, by offering Harry’s a Denny original, an ad designed to test the “on your face” Free Trial offer against the company’s editorial lede with the same Free Trial offer.

Hatch’s proposed direct marketing ad, seen here, is a classic old school mail-order: “FREE,” “GUARANTEED,” “No Cost,” “No Risk,” “No Obligation.” The call to action couldn’t be improved: “CLICK HERE FOR NO-RISK FREE TRIAL.” And the copy appears to be signed-off by a real person. It’s got everything.

direct brand vs. direct marketing ad
Credit: Denny Hatch’s Marketing Blog by Denny Hatch

But is “everything” what moves today’s consumer, or is the intriguing narrative about changing a $13 billion industry better attuned to today’s sensibilities? Problem is: Will we ever know the results? At this writing, Harry’s soft-focus direct brand ads are everywhere I seem to go on the web.

If Harry’s would run a valid split test of Hatch’s direct marketing ad against one of its regular ads, we would know which one had the better clickthrough. And if we waited long enough, we would know which would have the better lifetime value. (A parenthetical aside: The trouble with measuring lifetime value is that, theoretically, you have to wait until everyone is dead. That’s likely to be longer than you care to wait.) Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some data in this case and share it with you sometime in the future.

When there is more to come, journalists advise you to “watch this space”!

Creating a Culture of Wow Customer Experiences

I have urged many companies to differentiate on the basis of wow customer experiences, because the bar is so low. It’s also easier for a small and mid-size company than a large company to perform outstanding CX, because you can instill customer-centric values from the top down, as well as hire and promote based on the customer experience they are providing to both internal and external customers.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend two user conferences in two weeks. Both of the companies hosting the conferences are fast-growing high tech companies. One is a hybrid multi-cloud management platform and the other provides an artifacts management platform for DevOps teams.

The segments of IT in which both of these organizations compete are rife with competition, yet both companies are growing quickly and are delivering consistently outstanding customer experiences. One has an NPS score of 92; the highest I had ever heard of was 83 from USAA. The other has 97% customer retention and 245% upsell to current customers.

Both of these organizations understand the importance of listening to customers and helping them find value in their technology investments. In talking with customers and employees alike, it’s obvious these companies are differentiating themselves by providing wow customer experiences.

I have urged many companies to differentiate on the basis of wow customer experiences, because the bar is so low. It’s also easier for a small and mid-size company than a large company to perform outstanding CX, because you can instill customer-centric values from the top down, as well as hire and promote based on the customer experience they are providing to both internal and external customers.

Where do you start? With employees. While it’s important to meet monthly, quarterly and annual sales goals, you can make the argument that providing a great customer experience is more important; especially if you’re selling a product or service from which the consumer can select another provider at any time.

A great CX starts with your employees. Are they more concerned with making sure the client is happy with the experience they are having with your product or service or making their sales goals? If your customers are happy, you’re going to make your sales goals – maybe not this month or quarter, but over the long-term.

Happy customers generate more revenue and help you attract other customers. They serve as references, provide case studies, testimonials and referrals; thereby reducing, or amplifying, your marketing investment.

Engaged, empowered employees help provide a great CX. Do your employees know that’s what you expect of them?

Don’t Let Old Habits Dictate Your Marketing Thoughts

When marketers play with data, we often get confined within the limitations of the datasets that are available to us, or worse, tool sets through which we get to access data. Some bad habits live through an organization for multiple generations, as we all get trained in marketing thoughts, in the beginning of our careers, by others who have been doing similar jobs.

marketing thoughts
Credit: Pixabay by Mohamed Hassan

When marketers play with data, we often get confined within the limitations of the datasets that are available to us, or worse, tool sets through which we get to access data. Some bad habits live through an organization for multiple generations, as we all get trained in marketing thoughts, in the beginning of our careers, by others who have been doing similar jobs.

When a few iterations of such training go on through a series of onboarding processes, the original intents of data, reporting and analytics get diluted. And the organization ends up just using those marketing thoughts to go through motions of producing lots of reports that no one cares about or benefits from. I’ve heard some radical claims that the majority of decision-makers today won’t miss over half of automatically generated reports.

We shouldn’t really look at a single report or initiate data-related projects without setting a clear goal first. Often, the most important role of a consultant is to remind clients “why” they should do anything in the first place.

For example, why should we all watch clickthrough rates every day, often locked in a set frame of time parameters? As in, compared to the same time last year, the clickthrough rate went down by 0.8%! The horror! Why do marketers make a big fuss about it, when the clickthrough rate is just one of many indicators, not even the most effective one at that, of actual purchases? Because someone in the past set the KPI reports up that way?

In other words, sometimes marketers and analysts who help them needed to be reminded that the goal is to sell more things and retain customers, not live and die with open and clickthrough rates. I am not flatly dismissing those important metrics at all; I’m just pointing out that we need to have a goal-oriented mindset when dealing with data and analytics. Otherwise, we end up in a maze of metrics and activities that do not really help us achieve organizational goals.

What are those ultimate goals? Not that I want to be a smart ass who would say “From Earth” to an innocuous question “Where are you from?”, but let’s really go to that high level for a moment; we play with data (1) to increase the revenue, or (2) to decrease the cost. Since Profit=Revenue-Cost, well, we can even reduce this whole thing to just one goal: Increase the Profit.

Why am I pointing out the obvious? Because I’ve seen too many data players who just go through motions without questioning the original intent of the activity or key metrics, and blindly believe that all that hard work will somehow lead to success. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth.

If you run on an airplane midflight, would you get to the destination any sooner? Definitely not. In fact, the captain may even go back to the originating airport to drop such crazy person off, further elongating the length of the journey.

You may think this analogy is silly, but in the world of data and analytics, such detours happen all of the time. All because no one questioned how and why any activity set in motion in the distant past would continue to help achieve long and short-term organizational goals – especially when goals need to be constantly adjusted thanks to ever-changing business environments. Nothing in scientific activities, no marketing thoughts, should be carved in stone.

That is why the first question by a seasoned consultant should be what the organization’s long and short-term goals are. Okay, we can all easily agree that we are all in this data and analytics game to increase profit, but what are the specific goals, and what are the immediate pain points? Of course, like any good doctor, a consultant must remedy immediate pain points first. But what do we call those doctors who make the patient’s condition worse just to relieve immediate pain? We call them quacks.

Bringing back this discussion to the world of marketing, having the clear long and short-term goals for every data and analytical activity is a must. If you do that, you may never need an expensive consultant just to remind you that you are wasting resources digging wrong places. Clear business goals beget proper problem statements (not just list of all symptoms and wish lists), which beget appropriate measurement metrics, which in turn lead us to proper digging points in terms of data and methodology, which would minimize waste of time and energy to achieve predetermined goals. In short, we can avoid lots of mishaps and detours just by remembering the original intents of data and analytics endeavors.

Should Your Direct Mail Campaigns Be Lean?

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

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

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

5 Direct Mail Lean Principles

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

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

Marketing Promises: Does Your Brand’s CX Add Up?

Customer experience (CX) is more critical than clever ads and interesting content for getting new sales, securing repeat sales, referrals and loyalty. And it’s been this way for more than a couple of years. So how is it, then, that we continue to get really bad service from some of the really big brands that have the resources to really know and do better?

Customer experience (CX) is more critical than clever ads and interesting content for getting new sales, securing repeat sales, referrals and loyalty. And it’s been this way for more than a couple of years. So how is it, then, that we continue to get really bad service from some of the really big brands that have the resources to really know and do better?

Bad customer experiences, including difficulties customers have getting information about your products, not only kill sales, but can wipe out all of your efforts and spend on marketing, and actually backfire. Take this next statement seriously if you want to keep your job.

If your marketing promises a happy, customer-first friendly experience through words, offers and images, but your sales and customer service are not lined up to deliver accordingly, change your marketing or don’t market at all!

Missed expectations don’t just miss the mark, they miss the ability to generate trust, loyalty and referrals from customers. Oftentimes, they create such bad impressions people go to the competition and tell everyone how bad your business was!

Case in Point: Here’s a rundown of the experience I had just this week with Lowe’s while shopping for new kitchen countertops.

  1. Visit website and find no information on pricing for options listed.
  2. Go to the store and look at samples.
  3. Salesperson tells me she can’t help me, but the guy tied up on the phone can.
  4. Wait and he never acknowledges us, so we leave.
  5. Go to website and look for granite and quartz styles.
  6. Again no prices, no measurement guide or cost estimator to guide selection.
  7. Call the store again.
  8. Told I have to call the store closest to my house, as prices change at each location. (What? Does this mean they mark up prices when they think they can get away with it?)
  9. Call the local store.
  10. Am told sales rep is out to lunch and will call back.
  11. Never does.
  12. Connect with online chat that tells me they don’t have prices.
  13. Call the store again.
  14. Get sales rep, who tells me she’s busy, but will call me back.
  15. Never does.
  16. Get an automated email from sales rep per the online chat I did.
  17. Sales rep has no idea I am the one she told she’d call back, but never did.
  18. Email sales rep asking for prices.
  19. She sends me category prices, which are of no help as they are not listed on website.
  20. I email back as to what styles are in the lower category.
  21. She emails me names of styles that are not on their website.
  22. I delete the email and get an estimate for various options from Home Depot in less than 10 minutes, using its online estimator based on actual prices listed on website.

That Lowe’s experience involved 21 touchpoints or actions on my part that went nowhere.

A friend of mine bought a microwave from Lowe’s and paid for installation, which was promised in 48 hours. Instead, he got a series of unreturned calls, and excuses from employees, which included, “It’s been a long day so I can’t help you; I’m going home early,” over eight days. He returned the microwave and shopped local, where he got the same microwave for less money and got it installed in 24 hours.

Its advertising promise is, “Never Stop Improving.” But perhaps Lowe’s needs to change it to “Never Will Be Improving” as this kind of service, and difficulty in getting information about products you are trying to buy, is unconscionable and has been for years in this decade of customer experience strategy and technology.

On the other hand, Home Depot’s promise, “More Saving. More Doing.” was right in line with my experience. It DOES provide information about products online and on the phone. It DOES provide guides to help you determine what you need and what your costs will be, and it DOES help you save by offering discounts frequently. Even though it, too, didn’t return phone calls. I totally don’t get that for any business.

The purpose of sharing this story is not to call out Lowe’s, even though it deserves it, but to make a critical point. Your ad copy, marketing promises, content offers and more, MUST align with the experience you offer at all touchpoints of a customer journey. You can’t just come up with a great slogan that promises unexpected, delightful service and products. You have to deliver!

When people see slogans like “never stop improving,” they call or chat or go to the store with an unconscious expectation that their experiences will be an “improvement” over what others offer. When this does not happen, the levels of disappointment and respect fall deeper than if they had not seen your promise in the first place.

Unfulfilled expectations from slogans are much like “fake news,” as they become fake marketing promises that can kill a brand as quickly as fake news can a politician.

Take inventory of your customer service protocols and see just how well they align with your promises. Here are some tips:

  • Mystery shop your own brand.
  • Pay a friend to mystery shop and give the friend some tough questions or situations to pose to your staff.
  • Find out what your NPS score is. Do your own NPS survey and, if you’re a big brand, go see what SatMatrix and others list it as. Is your experience worthy of referring others or not?
  • Survey customers immediately upon purchase and ask them to evaluate their experience in their words.
  • Ask customers to rate their experience by the words you currently use. If you promise, “friendly,” “extraordinary” and “best in class,” how much do they agree with you?
  • Make employees feel like they matter to you and they will make customers feel like they matter to them. A simple, yet critical and often overlooked concept that costs almost nothing.

Actionable Takeaway: Define how you want customers to feel after every touchpoint with your brand. Create an experience protocol for all to follow that supports that outcome. Train your employees on how to deliver on your marketing promises, and make sure they are promises you can keep! Every day, every customer.

Active Investing During a Market Correction | Is There a Marketing Data ‘Correction’ Under Way?

During most market corrections — when the Dow drops by 10 percent or more — equity investors are reminded to take a long-term view, and to sit tight and ride it out. Most corrections don’t result in bear markets, after all; particularly when market fundamentals are strong.

market correction
Creative Commons license. | Credit: Pixabay by geralt

During most market corrections — when the Dow drops by 10 percent or more — equity investors are reminded to take a long-term view, and to sit tight and ride it out. Most corrections don’t result in bear markets, after all; particularly when market fundamentals are strong.

This is not a financial advice post, however.

We are undergoing a market correction of another sort, perhaps more aptly described as a marketplace correction. Except there are no pullbacks or declines here — it’s instead about protecting and projecting long-term growth. This correction has been under way at least since 2017 (and arguably before that), when Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard made his urgent address at IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting — and IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg reminded us to get out of the “fake anything” business. This correction continues in 2018.

In this market, we are the investors — holding active positions in the long-term health and well-being of the data-driven marketing marketplace. And the last thing we should do is “sit tight and ride it out.”

We all have an active role to play in “steering in a new direction,” for example, in making sure human activity, not bots, are the brand engagement and performance metrics we are measuring – and compensating.

The bots are usually associated with programmatic media buying, which dominates the buying and selling of digital display — where the majority of media buys are very much legitimate, but not wholly so. The “walled gardens” — largely, the social media platforms, among others — too have had to answer to policymakers as to why and how their targeting algorithms have been being duped by ill-minded foreign agents. How do we bring transparency to the social advertising we see — at least in political ads, where labeling and disclosures rules are now in force across other media categories?

But one of my clients — Stirista CEO Ajay Gupta — reminds us that it isn’t just online ads where fraud may be being perpetrated: Even email campaigns can be undermined by fake accounts, running up open and click-through rates which falsify an accurate reading of results.

We don’t need a European-style “data protection” law that would strip the digital marketplace of wholly beneficial intelligence — and hurt business, innovation, competition, journalism and diversity of content in the process. We also don’t need to denigrate the proven value of third-party data in if and how we append our first-party data, gain deeper understanding of our customers and build better models in the process. Both of these “throw out the baby” outcomes would be recipes for failure.

But we do need to tend to our long-term growth — keeping focus on end-users (consumers) and the brands and publishers who seek to employ intelligent and responsible ad tech, marketing tech and relevant data to give customers more precisely what they want.

We need to be active investors — more so because we know precisely that market fundamentals remain strong. Fraud is fraud. And fake is fraud. But advertising itself is not fraud, and neither is relevant content. We — the purveyors of advertising, marketing and relevant content — are victims of fraud, too. And we have the most to lose if we don’t audit our data sources, document and validate actual customer and prospect permissions and preferences, decoy our data and networks, test for bot fraud, and isolate and eradicate bad players.

There are great minds who have come together to tackle these issues — through our trade associations, self-regulatory programs and working group initiatives. As data-driven marketers, we may no longer choose to be passive by-standers — and simply ride it out. Be involved — and stay involved is the best course of action. We are active investors because we all have a stake in growth.

Lest we forget just how successful we can be, investors usually get burned when they pull completely out of the market. So it is with data.

A Listing of U.S. Trade Associations — and there certainly are others:

A Listing of Relevant Self-Regulation Programs for Digital & Data-Driven Advertising:

Disclosure: I have an individual membership with Data & Marketing Association, and a client relationship with Digital Advertising Alliance, which is founded by the six trade associations listed here, with the advice of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Deliver an Outstanding CX When Customers Aren’t Talking to You

Customers like self-service. This makes sense when you already have a relationship with a company and you’re just trying to execute a transaction as quickly and efficiently as possible. I do this with American Airlines, interacting with a kiosk to check in rather than an agent.

I just saw the headline, “Consumers Like Self-service More Than Associate Interaction, Reveals Survey.” The gist of the research is if consumers have a choice they’re more likely to tap self-service technology vs. interacting with a retail sales associate, according to a SOTI survey.

This makes sense when you already have a relationship with a company and you’re just trying to execute a transaction as quickly and efficiently as possible. I do this with American Airlines, interacting with a kiosk to check in rather than an agent. I use the self-check-out at Harris Teeter (a grocery store). And I use an app on my phone or an ATM more frequently than a teller at my bank. I also have more than a 20-year relationship with each of these brands.

If they don’t know me after 20 years, they aren’t listening. And, after 20 years, if I’m not pleased with an experience, I’ll let them know about it.

If I didn’t already have a relationship with the airline, the bank or the grocery store, I don’t think I’d trust their other distribution channels. I certainly wouldn’t be familiar with them, they’d be less convenient to use, and I likely would not use them — it would no longer be the most efficient way for me to do what I need to get done.

  • What are you doing to engage your customers and provide an outstanding customer experience?
  • Are you providing a product or service that addresses a problem or concern of your customer?
  • Do you make it easy for your customer to buy?

Do you, or your customer-facing employees, try to engage your customer in a conversation along these lines:

  • What’s driving you to buy our product?
  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • Have you used our product before?
  • How’s our service?
  • What can we do to improve our product or service?

A lot has been written recently about how customers don’t want to have a relationship with a brand. However, a brand is not a person.

I believe customers do want to have a relationship with a representative of the brand. Someone with whom they can share a comment or suggestion and know that it will be heard and acted upon.

Typically, the people interacting with your customers are your employees.

Do you encourage your employees to engage customers in a conversation to learn more about their needs and wants? What they’re happy with and what can be improved?

Your customers probably don’t want to talk to you because you’ve shown no interest in talking to them. They may have no emotional connection to your brand and don’t care whether you succeed or not.

I have an 11-year relationship with Chipotle and fill out an online feedback form after every visit because I do have an emotional connection with the brand and I want to see it delivering an outstanding customer experience.

You may send a customer satisfaction survey or mine sales data, but have you, or your employees, had a conversation with the customer?

People like to do business with people they know, like and trust. People also don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care about them. This is done person-to-person, not by analyzing data. This is how you build an emotional connection between a customer and a brand.

This is a function of having empathy and being sincerely concerned about why the customer is buying your product vs. that of your competitors — B2B or B2C.

Customers want relationships with brands and product and service providers on their terms. They want to be able to talk with a real person with some knowledge and authority if they have a question, suggestion or complaint.

The customer wants what they want when they want it, and it’s up to the service provider to figure out what it is.

Empower employees to find out what your customers and prospects want to know and how they want to find out about it.

By finding out how different customers want to learn about your products and services, you’ll be able to differentiate and segment your customers; thereby, providing them with more relevant information of value.

You must provide your customers the options they want in order to keep them satisfied. If you don’t, they will find someone else who will. In order to understand your customers’ needs and wants, you need to have a relationship with them, so you’ll be able to fulfill their needs on an ongoing basis.

If customers don’t want to talk to you, it may be because they don’t have a need right now, or they’re pressed for time. However, they are not saying they never want to talk to you or give you feedback.

Don’t stop trying to have a relationship with your customers. Don’t stop trying to gather real customer insights. Be there for your customers when they’re ready to talk.  If you’re not, they’ll go to someone who is.

The Keyword in ‘Customer Journey’ Is ‘Customer’

The keyword in “Customer Journey” is “customer,” not “journey.” In fact, in this Omni-channel world, the word “journey” doesn’t even do much justice to what that journey study should be all about; there is no simple linear timeline about any of it anymore.

The keyword in “Customer Journey” is “customer,” not “journey.” In fact, in this omnichannel world, the word “journey” doesn’t even do much justice to what that journey study should be all about; there is no simple linear timeline about any of it anymore.

We often think about the customer journey in this fashion: awareness, research, engagement, transaction, feedback and, ever-important, repeat-purchase. This list is indeed a good start.

However, if you look at this list as a consumer, not as a marketer, do you personally go through all of these steps in this particular order? On a conceptual level, yes, but in the world where everyone is exposed to over five types of screens and interactive devices every day, old-fashioned frameworks based on linear timelines don’t always hold water.

I, as a consumer, often do research using my phone at the place of purchase. I may feel rewarded even before any actual purchase. I may provide feedback about my “experience” before, during or after a transaction. And being a human being with emotions, my negative feedback may not be directly correlated to my loyalty to the brand. (Actually, I am writing this piece while flying on an airline with which I have a premiere status, and to which I often provide extremely negative reviews.)

People are neither linear nor consistent. Especially when we are connected to devices with which we research, interact, transact and complain anytime, anywhere. The only part that is somewhat linear is when we put something in the shopping basket, make a purchase, and keep or return the item. So, this timeline view, in my opinion, is just a good guideline. We need to look at the customer journey from the customer’s angle, as well.

Understanding customer behavior is indeed a tricky business, as it requires multiple types of data. If we simplify it, we may put the key variables into three major categories. For a 3-dimensioal view (as I often do in a discussion), put your left hand out and assign each of the following dimensions to your thumb, index finger and the middle finger:

  • Behavioral Data: What they showed interest in, browsed, researched, purchased, returned, subscribed to, etc. In short, what they actually did.
  • Demographic Data: What they look like, in terms of demographic and geo-demographic data, such as their age, gender, marital status, income, family composition, type of residence, lifestyle, etc.
  • Attitudinal Data: Their general outlook on life, religious or political beliefs, priorities in life, reasons why they like certain things, purchase habits, etc.

One may say these data types are highly correlated to each other, and more often than not, they are indeed highly correlated. But not exactly so, and not all the time. Just because one keeps purchasing luxury items or spending time and money on expensive activities, and he is enjoying a middle-age life style living in posh neighborhood, we can’t definitely claim that he is politically conservative. Sometimes we just have to stop and ask the person.

On top of that, what people say they do and what they actually do are often not the same. Hence, these three independent axis of data types to describe a person.

If we have all three types of data about a person, prediction of that person’s intention — or his journey for commercial purposes or otherwise — will become incredibly accurate. But, unfortunately for marketers, asking “everyone about everything” simply isn’t feasible.

Even the most thorough survey is based on a relatively small sample response. One great thing about traditional primary research is that we often get to know who the respondents are. On the other hand, if we rely on social media to “listen,” we get to have opinions from far more people. But the tricky part there is that we don’t get to know who is speaking, as PII (personally identifiable information) is heavily guarded by the social media handlers. Basically, it isn’t easy to connect the dots completely when it comes to attitudinal data. (Conversely, connecting the dots between the behavioral data and demographic data is much simpler, provided with a decent data collection mechanism.)

Now let’s go back to the timeline view of the customer journey for an initial framework. Let’s list the key items in a general order for a simpler breakdown (though things may not be totally linear nowadays), and examine types of data available in each stage. The goal here is to find the point of entry for this difficult task of understanding the “end-to-end” customer journey in the most comprehensive way.

Listing typical data types associated with these entries:

  1. Awareness: Source (where from), likes/followings, clicks other digital trails, survey results, social media data, etc.
  2. Research: Browsing data, search words/search results, browsing length, page/item views, chats, etc.
  3. Engagement: Shopping basket data, clicks, chats, sales engagements, other physical trails at stores, etc.
  4. Transaction: Product/service (items purchased), transaction date, transaction amount, delivery date, transaction channel, payment method, region/store, discounts, renewals, cancelations, etc.
  5. Feedback: Returns, complaints and resolutions, surveys, social media data, net promotor score, etc.
  6. Repeat-purchase: Transaction data summarized on a customer level. The best indicator of loyalty.

Now, looking back at the three major types of data, let’s examine these data related to journey stages in terms of the following criteria:

  • Quality: Are data useful for explaining customer behaviors and predicting their next moves and future values? To explain their motives?
  • Availability: Do you have access to the data? Are they readily available in usable forms?
  • Coverage: Do you have the data just for some customers, or for the most of them?
  • Consistency: Do you get to access the data at all times, or just once in a while? Are they in consist forms? Are they consistently accurate?
  • Connectivity: Can you connect available data on a customer level? Or are they locked in silos? Do you have the match-key that connects customer data regardless of the data sources?

With these criteria, the Ground Zero of the most useful source in terms of understanding customers is transaction data. They are usually in the most usable formats, as they are mostly numbers and figures around the product data of your business. Sometimes, you may not get to know “who” made the purchase, but in comparison to other data types, hands-down, transaction data will tell you the most compelling stories about your customers. You’ll have to tweak and twist them to derive useful insights, but the field of analytics has been evolving around such data all along.

If you want to dig deeper into the “why” part of the equation (or other qualitative elements), you would need to venture into non-transactional, more attitudinal data. For the study of online journey toward conversion, digital analytics is undoubtedly in its mature stage, though it only covers online behaviors. Nonetheless, if you really want to understand customers, start with what they actually purchased, and then expand the study from there.

We rarely get to have access to all of the behavioral, demographic, and attitudinal data. And under those categories, we can think of a long list of subcategories, as well. Cross all of that with the timeline of the journey — even a rudimentary one — and having readily usable data from all three angles at all stages is indeed a rare event.

But that has been true for all ages of database marketing. Yes, those three key elements may move independently, but what if we only get to have one or two out of the three elements? Even if we do not have attitudinal data for a customer’s true motivation of engagement, the other two types of data — behavioral, which is mostly transaction and digital data, and demographic data, which can be purchased in large markets like the U.S. — can provide at least directional guidance.

How do you think the political parties target donors during election cycles? They at times have empirical data about someone’s political allegiance, but many times they “guess” using behavioral and demographic data along with modeling techniques, without really “asking” everyone.

Conversely, if you get to have access to attitudinal data of “some” people with known identities, we can build models to project such valuable information to the general population, only using a “common” set of variables (mostly demographic data). For instance, we may only get a few thousand respondents revealing their sentiment toward a brand or specific stances (for example, being a “green” conscience customer). We can use common demographic variables to project such a tendency to everyone. Would such a “bridging technique” be perfect? Like I mentioned in the beginning, no, not always. Will having such inferred information be much better than not knowing anything at all? Absolutely.

Without a doubt, understanding the customer journey is an important part of marketing. How else would you keep them engaged at all stages of purchases, leading them to loyalty?

The key is not to lose focus on the customer-centric side of analytics. Customer journey isn’t even perfectly sequential anymore. It should be more about “customer experience” regardless of the timeline. And to get to that level of constant relevancy, start with the known customer behaviors, and explain away “what works” in all channel engagements for each stage.

Channel or stage-oriented studies have their merits, but they won’t lead marketers to a more holistic view of customers. After all, high levels of awareness and ample clicks are just good indicators of future conversions; they do not instantly guarantee loyalty or profitability. Transaction data tend to reveal more stable paths to longevity of customer relationship.

You may never get to have explicit measurements of loyalty consistently; but luckily for us, customers vote with their money. Unlock the transaction data first, and then steadily peel away to the “why” part.

I am not claiming that you will obtain the answer to the “causality” question with just behavioral data; but for marketing purposes, I’d settle for “highly correlated” elements anytime. Because marketing activities can happen successfully without pondering upon the “why” question, if actionable shortcuts to loyalty are revealed through sold transaction data.

How Direct Mail Is Your Little Engine That Could

Because direct mail is the little engine that could for your marketing funnel, it can sustain you through troubled times. Direct mail is most powerful when used in a long-term, multi-touch plan. The average prospect needs to see your mail piece seven to 10 times before buying from you.

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

Because direct mail is the little engine that could for your marketing funnel, it can sustain you through troubled times. Direct mail is most powerful when used in a long-term, multi-touch plan. The average prospect needs to see your mail piece seven to 10 times before buying from you. So a well-planned direct mail program includes multiple drops with various mailers and postcards. Then once the prospect makes a purchase from you, you move the consumer into your customer retention mail program. These types of programs are extremely effective and can be counted on to consistently generate sales.

Are you taking advantage of direct mail programs throughout the year? Do you mail consistently? Do you have a plan? Depending on what you are selling and who your customer base is, it will determine what your direct mail plan should be. The more data you are capturing on your customers, the better you will be able to target them with direct mail.

So what should a basic prospect direct mail plan look like?

  • List — Purchase a multi-use list of prospects based on what you know about your customers such as demographics, psychographics and more.
  • Message — Prospects need to learn who you are, what you do and see testimonials from current customers. You are trying to convert them to customers.
  • Offer — You need to create offers that will resonate with your prospects. What is in it for them?
  • Format — To be most effective, alternate formats for each mailing so that each prospect will get a letter, postcard and self-mailer over the course of your program. You can use formats more than once, but always make sure to add something fresh and new to each mailing. Sending the same thing over and over again does not get you the results you need.
  • Schedule — This will really vary depending on what you are selling, more expensive purchases are made less frequently vs. some items that need to be purchased all the time. The general rule of thumb is once a month to once every other month for high-ticket items and twice a month for more frequent purchases.

So what should a basic customer direct mail plan look like?

  • List Pull as much information as you have on each customer. You can use their purchase history to get your direct mail highly targeted.
  • Message — Customers should get messaging that is applicable to them and what they buy. You can suggest add-ons that complement what they have already bought or items that other people like them have purchased.
  • Offer — Customers love coupons on items that they buy. You can also give them special offers on new items they have not previously purchased from you but are likely to buy.
  • Formats — Just like prospects you should vary the formats of direct mail you are sending to customers.
  • Schedule — Customers should have a more scaled-back schedule than prospects. They know who you are and how to buy from you so send to them less frequently. We recommend at most once a month.

Are you ready to get started planning your ongoing direct mail campaigns? By constantly feeding your pipeline with your direct mail prospects and customers, your marketing funnel will always be generating sales. Get excited about your direct mail programs and create some really fun direct mail pieces. When you get creative you stand out more and get remembered. Make you direct mail campaigns real profit-drivers. Have you had a very successful long-term campaign? We would love to hear about it.

Is Your Direct Mail Misunderstood?

Are your direct mail pieces engaging with your audience or are you talking over the audience? Do you use lingo that only people in the industry understand?

Are your direct mail pieces engaging with your audience or are you talking over the audience? Do you use lingo that only people in the industry understand?

Acronyms can quickly get you into trouble when people do not know them; especially in the age of texting, your acronym may be misinterpreted. What is obvious to you will not necessarily be obvious to them. This is a big problem if your audience is confused; the chances of you getting your important message across are significantly decreased. Basically, you have turned your direct mail piece into trash.

For the best results, create direct mail that is clear and concise. You have just a few seconds to be understood and engage them to read more rather than toss your mail piece in the trash.

So how can you be sure you are creating the best message?

  1. What Is Your Goal? Do you need to sell so many widgets or get so many phone calls? Clearly define your goal and how you will track results before you start writing.
  2. Write a List About Your Customers: What is their biggest problem? Who are they? What makes them happy? What makes them mad? Again, you need to be specific about them in order to create an actionable persona.
  3. Pick One Main Message: You should theme your entire message around one key idea. It needs to be easy to grasp quickly and be relevant to your audience.
  4. Benefit: Get specific on ONE benefit that they are in desperate need of. Consult your list about your customers to find which benefit will work best. The benefit sells your product or service, not features.
  5. Guarantee: Offer them some type of guarantee to alleviate any buying concerns. This shows buyer that you stand behind your product or service, because it really is the best and they should buy it.

We strongly suggest that you test message versions with different groups of your list. In order to test correctly, you will need to group like people together to get the right message. A benefit that works well for one group may be a dud for another. So take your time in creating the groups and which messages should go to which group. Make sure you can track your responses to see which ones are working best. You can make changes to the ones that had less traction.

Okay. Now you are ready to put it all together and write your messaging. Most of the time, there is still fluff in the message after the first couple of drafts. Go back though everything and eliminate any word that is not necessary. No extra words and no acronyms should be in your final copy. Make sure to have someone outside of your organization read your final copy. You need to see if they understand what you are saying, in the way you meant them to. Usually there is a need for a few more edits.

Your direct mail piece to should be easy to understand, targeted to the right people and with a clear call to action. Never use acronyms on your mail piece, they are too easily misunderstood. Remove long explanations and fluff from your message. You can provide links on the mail piece for them to look up more information if they want to, but most people prefer concise, straight-to-the-point benefits that make them want to buy. Are you ready to get started?