A Look at Marketing Spend Recalibrated: Where Are the Green Shoots?

We are well into Q2, and the pandemic is having a detrimental impact on U.S. marketing spend. How much so? Firm principal Bruce Biegel recently updated some parts of The Winterberry Group’s Annual Outlook report as COVID19 took hold, citing various sources — and the updated data is worth a look.

We are well into Q2, and the pandemic is having a detrimental impact on U.S. marketing spend. How much so?

That’s where we turn to The Winterberry Group which tracks data, digital, and direct marketing spend vs. general advertising, and releases its Annual Outlook each year in January. As COVID19 took hold, firm principal Bruce Biegel recently updated some of its numbers, citing various sources — and they are worth a look:

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

Green Shoots in Media

Hey, I see a green shoot here. In digital, while display, search, and social are taking the greatest hits, digital video’s loss is less pronounced — and we might guess why. Consumers are consuming digital media in record numbers. In fact, OTT (connected TV) and podcast ad spend is out of sync with the number of consumers migrating to these media, even before the pandemic took hold.

As reported in Digiday:

“According to Magna Global, OTT accounts for 29% of TV viewing but so far has only captured 3% of TV ad budgets. And as consumers increasingly flock to internet-connected TV devices, a wide range of players — from tech giants, to device sellers to TV networks and more — are building services to capture a share of the ad dollars that will inevitably flow into the OTT ecosystem.”

So if anything, advertisers may need to get their tech stacks ready to enable OTT and podcast engagement. But this is not a linear TV buy based on cost-per-thousand (CPM). This is an opportunity to personalize, target, and attribute on a 1:1 level.

Another green shoot: Email remains a staple. Again, as we stay at home, whether as consumers or as business people, it’s been email that is sustaining connections for many brands. So “flat spending” is a positive, even as price compression is underway.

Offline is not a pretty picture — right now.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

My last post sought to document U.S. Postal Service’s woes. I still believe direct mail is a brand differentiator, particularly right now — as I watch my own household pause from the sameness of screens, and take our “print” moment with each day’s incoming mail and catalogs. We’ve dog-eared pages, placed our DTC (direct to consumer) orders, and even some B2B purchases for home office supplies. (Thankfully, all but one of us are still working.)

Green Shoots in Verticals

The Winterberry Group also examined some primary verticals — which ones will lead our economic recovery?

One green shoot is identified as financial services. After the Great Recession (2008-2009), the financial sector — which prompted the Recession beginning with subprime mortgages — recapitalized and strengthened reserves. Banks had to do it, by law. As a result, they are better positioned to weather the pandemic storm; though there may be pressure to lend to less-than-stellar-credit customers, the Winterberry Group reports. We shall see. As of May 7, the NASDAQ had completely erased its 2020 year-to-date market loss.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

In the Media & Entertainment sector, live events are effectively gone — except where they can go virtual, but that’s hardly a dollar-for-dollar exchange. The good news is that media subscriptions (for on-demand media) are rapidly increasing, and ad-supported on-demand media also is increasing — pertinent to the aforementioned OTT discussion.

And another green shoot candidate, Healthcare & Pharma, is actually on neutral ground. Some trends, such as telemedicine, online prescription fulfillment, and anything COVID-related — are booming, but elective surgeries are on hold, and 33+ million laid-off Americans may wind up uninsured.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

Ingenuity — The Greatest Green Shoot of All

And my last green shoot is this — our own innovation, agility, and creativity. I leave you with this one anecdote heard last week on National Public Radio.

Can you imagine being a member of the Graduating Class of 2020? These students will go down in history perhaps as a model of resiliency. Time will tell. But next door in North Salem, NY, the town and school system landed on a novel idea: The faculty, students and families will drive one hour north to a one of the state’s few remaining drive-in theaters. The commencement address will be projected — and the diplomas handed out vehicle by vehicle.

Who knows, maybe Summer 2020 will be the Great American Comeback of the drive-in theater. Maybe Bruce will need to update his out-of-home and cinematic spending accordingly. (You can learn more from Bruce at this upcoming June 17 Direct Marketing Club of New York virtual briefing on your laptop. Registration here.)

I love such ingenuity. If you know of other examples, please share them in the comments section. Stay safe — and keep America innovating.



WWTT? So Many COVID-19 Emails … But Are There Any ‘Good’ Ones?

Right now, the world feels like a very scary, uncertain place, as we all make adjustments to our daily lives during this pandemic. But there is also a lot of room for hope and positivity. For today’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I want to look at some COVID-19 emails I’ve received from brands and nonprofits to my personal email account, showcasing a couple that I think did an excellent job at standing out in my inbox and offering value.

Right now, the world feels like a very scary, uncertain place, as we all make adjustments to our daily lives during this pandemic. And while each day often seems weirder or scarier than the one before it, there is also a lot of room for hope and positivity. For today’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I want to look at some COVID-19 emails I’ve received from brands and nonprofits to my personal email account, showcasing a couple that I think did an excellent job at standing out in my inbox and offering value.

Because if you’re not offering up value right now (and no, I don’t mean a sweet sale on a pair of shoes), then maybe think twice about what campaigns you’re running, especially if they include COVID-19 messaging.

Also, a little tip I’d like to offer: Consider removing inactives from your list BEFORE you message your entire list. I don’t need to know that you’re keeping your establishment clean and being decent to your employees if we interacted maybe once, back in 2014. If you can wash your hands, you also can take some time for list hygiene.

So much like an episode of MTV Cribs, step into my inbox with me, and let’s look at some examples of COVID-19 emails done right:

COVID-19 email message from Lush I received this email from Lush on March 14, and the headline reads: “Be safe, get clean.”

Already I’m thankful the subject line isn’t the usual canned “[Company name] and COVID-19 update.” Yes, in some cases we do need an update from a particular company we do business with — for example, when my hair salon emailed me how they were were taking care of their staff and the salon, how this would affect services, hours, etc, I definitely read that email. My salon is a very personal marketer to me … some others who email me, however, are not.

Back to Lush. So the subject line is great and has me curious enough to open. The main message is simple: “Wash your hands for free at Lush.” The rest of the short email says that their stores are still open in North America, come on in and wash your hands for free with no expectation of purchase.

Now yes, this can be looked at as a way to increase foot traffic, but they are offering a service that is very relevant right now (How many of us have replaced our usual goodbyes with “Wash your hands!”?) Sure, some people might make a purchase, but the focus of this email is about a beneficial service Lush wants to provide the community, wherever one of their brick and mortar stores reside.

Unfortunately, the next day I received a second email from Lush alerting me to North America store closures from March 16-29, but even that didn’t feel like a boilerplate email. You can check it out here.

The bottom line about Lush is that their emails were compassionate, offered value to their customs, and were on-brand.

Now, let’s look at a nonprofit I support:

The Western New York Land Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust that permanently protects land with significant conservation value in the Western New York (WNY) region of the Empire State. It’s a second home to me, due to the fact I went to college there and I have friends and family in the area.

While the WNYLC’s subject line is a bit closer to some of the boilerplate ones I’ve seen out there on other COVID-19 emails, what works so well is the message. It starts with a note from their Executive Director, leading off with a cancellation of a specific hike for the safety of others, as well as information about how future events will either be conducted via phone or video, or rescheduled. All important info, especially if you’re a donor who actively participates with this organization.

But what I appreciate the most is how this email ties into part of the land conservancy’s mission — to experience the land. The call to action to go outside and take it in during these uncertain times is what a lot of people need to hear: to take a break, step away from the constant news cycle or ding of email, and go breathe some fresh air. The specific mention of the Stella Niagara Preserve (land the WNYLC has protected) is fitting, and the P.S. includes a reminder that social distancing is great for the outdoors, so send photos of your favorite moments.

This call for photo submissions isn’t only user generated content, but when the WNYLC posts these images, their follows can enjoy them and feel a little less distant. Something we all need.

As marketers, before all of “this,” our jobs were to educate prospects and customers about our services and products, and to often help people be their best selves, whether professionally, personally, or both. Our creative and analytical minds were put to work building campaigns and helping support sales teams. And yes, those are all still our jobs right now.

But I think we have some new ones. We need to be there to help lift up our customers and donors (when appropriate and relevant, don’t just barge in out of nowhere). We need to make sure we share good, accurate information, no matter what the topic is. And we need to be positive … because I think keeping a positive attitude through the darkness is the only way through this. And we’re gonna get through.

Marketers, what do you think? Tell me about some thoughtful, well-executed COVID-19 emails you’ve seen in your inboxes (and if you’ve seen some cruddy ones, tell me about it on Twitter, over at @sass_marketing). And take care of yourselves, each and every one of you (Gary, stop touching your face.).

‘Too Much’ Is a Relative Term for Promotional Marketing

If a marketer sends you 20 promotional emails in a month, is that too much? You may say “yes” without even thinking about it. Then why did you not opt out of Amazon email programs when they send far more promotional stuff to you every month?

If a marketer sends you 20 promotional emails in a month, is that too much? You may say “yes” without even thinking about it. Then why did you not opt out of Amazon email programs when they send far more promotional stuff to you every month? Just because it’s a huge brand? I bet it’s because “some” of its promotions are indeed relevant to your needs.

Marketers are often obsessed with KPIs, such as email delivery, open, and clickthrough rates. Some companies reward their employees based on the sheer number of successful email campaign deployments and deliveries. Inevitably, such a practice leads to “over-promotions.” But does every recipient see it that way?

If a customer responds (opens, clicks, or converts, where the conversion is king) multiple times to those 20 emails, maybe that particular customer is NOT over-promoted. Maybe it is okay for you to send more promotional stuff to that customer, granted that the offers are relevant and beneficial to her. But not if she doesn’t open a single email for some time, that’s the very definition of “over-promotion,” leading to an opt-out.

As you can see, the sheer number of emails (or any other channel promotion) to a person should not be the sole barometer. Every customer is different, and recognition of such differences is the first step toward proper personalization. In other words, before worrying about customizing offers and products for a target individual, figure out her personal threshold for over-promotion. How much is too much for everyone?

Figuring out the magic number for each customer is a daunting task, so start with three basic tiers:

  1. Over-promoted,
  2. Adequately promoted, and
  3. Under-promoted.

To get to that, you must merge promotional history data (not just for emails, but for every channel) and response history data (which includes open, clickthrough, browse, and conversion data) on an individual level.

Sounds simple? But marketing organizations rarely get into such practices. Most attributions are done on a channel level, and many do not even have all required data in the same pool. Worse, many don’t have any proper match keys and rules that govern necessary matching steps (i.e., individual-level attribution).

The issue is further compounded by inconsistent rules and data availability among channels (e.g., totally different practices for online and offline channels). So much for the coveted “360-Degree Customer View.” Most organizations fail at “hello” when it comes to marrying promotion and response history data, even for the most recent month.

But is it really that difficult of an operation? After all, any respectful direct marketers are accustomed to good old “match-back” routines, complete with resolutions for fractional allocations. For instance, if the target received multiple promotions in the given study period, which one should be attributed to the conversion? The last one? The first one? Or some credit distribution, based on allocation rules? This is where the rule book comes in.

Now, all online marketers are familiar with reporting tools provided by reputable players, like Google or Adobe. Yes, it is relatively simple to navigate through them. But if the goal is to determine who is over-promoted or adequately promoted, how would you go about it? The best way, of course, is to do the match-back on an individual level, like the old days of direct marketing. But thanks to the sheer volume of online activity data and complexity of match-back, due to the frequent nature of online promotions, you’d be lucky if you could just get past basic “last-click” attribution on an individual level for merely the last quarter.

I sympathize with all of the dilemmas associated with individual-level attributions, so allow me to introduce a simpler way (i.e., a cheat) to get to the individual-level statistics of over- and under-promotion.

Step 1: Count the Basic Elements

Set up the study period of one or two years, and make sure to include full calendar years (such as rolling 12 months, 24 months, etc.). You don’t want to skew the figures by introducing the seasonality factor. Then add up all of the conversions (or transactions) for each individual. While at it, count the opens and clicks, if you have extracted data from toolsets. On the promotional side, count the number of emails and direct mails to each individual. You only have to worry about the outbound channels, as the goal is to curb promotional frequency in the end.

Step 2: Once You Have These Basic Figures, Divide ‘Number of Conversions’ by ‘Number of Promotions’

Perform separate calculations for each channel. For now, don’t worry about the overlaps among channels (i.e., double credit of conversions among channels). We are only looking for directional guidelines for each individual, not comprehensive channel attribution, at this point. For example, email responsiveness would be expressed as “Number of Conversions” divided by “Number of Email Promotions” for each individual in the given study period.

Step 3: Now That You Have Basic ‘Response Rates’

These response rates are for each channel and you must group them into good, bad, and ugly categories.

Examine the distribution curve of response rates, and break them into three segments of one.

  1. Under-promoted (the top part, in terms of response rate),
  2. Adequately Promoted (middle part of the curve),
  3. Over-promote (the bottom part, in terms of response rate).

Consult with a statistician, but when in hurry, start with one standard deviation (or one Z-score) from the top and the bottom. If the distribution is in a classic bell-curve shape (in many cases, it may not be), that will give roughly 17% each for over- and under-promoted segments, and conservatively leave about 2/3 of the target population in the middle. But of course, you can be more aggressive with cutoff lines, and one size will not fit all cases.

In any case, if you keep updating these figures at least once a month, they will automatically be adjusted, based on new data. In other words, if a customer stops responding to your promotions, she will consequently move toward the lower segments (in terms of responsiveness) without any manual intervention.

Putting It All Together

Now you have at least three basic segments grouped by their responsiveness to channel promotions. So, how would you use it?

Start with the “Over-promoted” group, and please decrease the promotional volume for them immediately. You are basically training them to ignore your messages by pushing them too far.

For the “Adequately Promoted” segment, start doing some personalization, in terms of products and offers, to increase response and value. Status quo doesn’t mean that you just repeat what you have been doing all along.

For “Under-promoted” customers, show some care. That does NOT mean you just increase the mail volume to them. They look under-promoted because they are repeat customers. Treat them with special offers and exclusive invitations. Do not ever take them for granted just because they tolerated bombardments of promotions from you. Figure out what “they” are about, and constantly pamper them.

Find Your Strategy

Why do I bother to share this much detail? Because as a consumer, I am so sick of mindless over-promotions. I wouldn’t even ask for sophisticated personalization from every marketer. Let’s start with doing away with carpet bombing to all. That begins with figuring out who is being over-promoted.

And by the way, if you are sending two emails a day to everyone, don’t bother with any of this data work. “Everyone” in your database is pretty much over-promoted. So please curb your enthusiasm, and give them a break.

Sometimes less is more.

Simple Math: Direct Mail + Email = Better Response

The job of direct mail is specific. You can’t ask direct mail to do too much; just like you can’t ask Facebook ads or Instagram to do too much. Each channel has a job to do, and they all do different jobs.

Direct mail is a strong channel by itself for nonprofits, but like I’ve written before, the job of direct mail is specific. You can’t ask direct mail to do too much; just like you can’t ask Facebook ads or Instagram to do too much. Each channel has a job to do, and they all do different jobs.

And knowing this, you have numerous opportunities to parlay multiple channels to create a stronger response. Let’s dive into a combo that’s an easy one: direct mail and email.

Think of it like shortstop and second-base position players: They each have a distinct job on the field, but when a double-play is available, they work as a tight combination and move as a duo.

The reason direct mail and email is a natural pairing is because their jobs and strengths are so different, but they’re united by data and personalization.

Direct mail is great at storytelling and using its leave-in-the-basket physicality to just simply hang around until your donor acts. Email is great for peppering your donor with reminders and moving them through an easy click-to-donation experience. And both of these channels reference the donor’s name and drop their message right into that person’s life space — mailbox or inbox. It’s a personal outreach.

Plus, the data shows this works: All the studies from the ANA (formerly the Data & Marketing Association) reveal that combining digital and direct mail increases response about 20%.

Use the Strengths

Direct mail is strong with storytelling. Use direct mail to tell a longer story via a letter, and drop in some visual assets that linger as a reminder. Most folks don’t want to or have the basket space to keep a letter, but if you have an insert slip, sticker, bookmark or postcard as a visual leave-behind, it lets the user recycle the letter without feeling like they’re going to forget you. They can put the asset on the fridge, keep in the basket, etc. as a lingering reminder to get back to you with that donation.

Emails are strong in visual frequency. Since emails can be designed lots of ways, and with high frequency, reference a direct mail asset in the email. Visually connect the inserts of the direct mail package in the emails. And use snippets from the letter in the shorter form email, telling the story of the letter in multiple touches. Also, you can use the email as a preview for a letter package coming in the mail. If your open rates are 30%, then those folks may be on the lookout for the upcoming letter and be more inclined to open the letter, too.

Judo-Block Weaknesses

One of direct mail’s weaknesses is that postage is a necessary expense and the frequency needs to be paced based on your budget. It’s rare for a business or nonprofit to mail more than once per month to their own customer base, and letter rate postage varies widely (from as low at $0.18 up to $0.42). As you plan the project, ask your mailing services provider for postage prices.

Judo Block: Use different formats for mailing that may be less expensive. Postcard rates — especially for nonprofits — are less than letter rates and could be an alternative. The postcard postage usually runs about $0.24 per piece, and some mailing services co-mingle to get even lower rates (for a full rate sheet, see the USPS calculator).

One of email’s weaknesses is that the donor data is incomplete. To make the subscription process easier and have lower barriers, many nonprofits just have name and email in their opt-in forms. That makes it faster to subscribe, but it doesn’t give you their home address, which limits your ability to do multichannel touches.

Judo Block: Do reverse-append to get a mailing list of your email subscribers. Usually a good partner can get 60% to 80% of your emails matched to a home address. Next to your house file of donors, this is the best mailing list you can get. And since they’ve opted in with their email, appending address data is privacy compliant (including GDPR and the upcoming California Consumer Privacy Act).

In the end, you want your direct mail and email to work together to tell your story to your donors and move them along the next-step action. Cross-referencing, using images, pacing the story between the two, are all good ways to get the combo working together.

As you move into your 2020 marketing plan, pair these channels up in new and creative ways, as two players in an integrated double-play.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments.

Purging (and Blocking) Bot Traffic From Email Reporting Metrics

How many “fake” email metrics are out there — spurious traffic measured in opens, clickthroughs, and other engagement metrics? How many of these email reporting metrics may be built into service-level guarantees offered by some email service providers (ESPs)? And what should we do about it?

How many “fake” email metrics are out there spurious traffic measured in opens, clickthroughs, and other engagement metrics? How many of these email reporting metrics may be built into service-level guarantees offered by some email service providers (ESPs)? And what should we do about it?

For those of who pay attention to such metrics (thank you for reading this far), perhaps we need to do more data investigation, working closely with our ESPs to make sure there’s nothing “fake” in our marketing performance reporting.

This was essentially the point of Stirista Global CEO Ajay Gupta in a blog post he shared after a competitor’s operations were reportedly shut down by its new parent company this summer. I’m using this post to share some of his observations  which may be helpful as we look to our email campaigns, and read the engagement data in order to best ascertain accuracy. [Disclaimer: Stirista is a continuing client. My interest in amplifying this content is intended to serve email marketers, at large.]

A Cautionary Tale: Take 5 Media Group Shutdown

Gupta gave permission to share his Aug. 9 post:

Ajay Gupta
Ajay Gupta

Stirista Global CEO Ajay Gupta has something to say about email reporting fraud.

“Tongues have been wagging in the marketing world ever since the New York Times’ shocking exposé in early 2018 about how easy it is to buy social followers. And, how most of the followers you buy turn out to be ‘bots’ or fake accounts, and not real people.

“I was not surprised, because I work in digital media and knew about this practice. So, I cried, screamed, and wrote about an even bigger epidemic in the world of email. My articles were received with polite applause and not much more in terms of action.

“But then last week happened. One of our competitors, Take 5 Media Group, shut down operations with a ‘ceased operations’ message on its website. While details are still murky, one of our partners shared an email from them that mentioned the parent company had completely shut down the business after discovering inconsistencies in how open and clickthrough rates were inaccurately reported to its clients.

“The parent company did the right thing, in after discovering these inconsistencies, took immediate action to first, take responsibility, and subsequently, offer its clients reimbursement for payment of services already rendered. Kudos to them for standing up for the right thing, but there are still at least a half dozen companies masquerading as legitimate entities that continue the practice.

“This incident is but a sobering reminder that bots remain a big problem in email marketing today. Sadly, when you order up a prospecting campaign from an email service provider, chances are that the large part of the campaign is being sent to fake bot accounts. And nobody seems to care.

“We have, as an industry, created a fake floor of 10% open on acquisition emails. When marketing managers of Fortune 1000 companies ask Stirista to guarantee 10% open just because some guy from Florida said so, we know we have a problem.

“Now, it should be clear to any marketer worth his or her salt, that if the bulk of the clicks come through bots, that conversion rates will be dismal. So, I can only assume that the marketers ordering up these campaigns aren’t keeping their eyes on conversions. They must judge them on clicks and opens. Or, maybe they don’t care. We are here today because many large data companies that outsource email campaigns have subsidized fraud.

“Let Take 5 serve [as] a cautionary tale, but realize that this is not an isolated incident. The pressure to deliver fake open, fake clicks, and fake form fills transcend one company and one incident. Collectively, this industry has turned a blind eye to fraud, just because ‘so and so’ is a nice guy and a vegetarian who loves animals.

“These fraudulent providers often work quietly, behind the scenes, for a reputable agency or data provider. Many times, marketers are shielded from the dirty dealings underneath the hood. But all parties involved — the providers, their partners, and the marketers themselves — should be ashamed of themselves. And, the FCC should be on their case. Until then, we must all be responsible for fighting back against bot fraud.

“I urge all marketers to shun this practice. It’s wasting your company’s money. And it’s given honest, transparent providers like me a bad name. Open rates are a terrible metric to track as in you can’t track it that well.

“So, if you hear a guarantee that sounds too good to be true, very likely it is. Walk, make that RUN, the other way, FAST.”

Back to Chet. I remember the first time I saw a data provider advertise a way to “buy” 5,000 followers on this-or-that social platform for some CPM, some 10 to 12 years ago and I thought then, “here we go again with the shysters living on and off the fringes of direct marketing.” In each and everywhere data is in play, and the compensation from it, we must guard ourselves from the “fake” and the “fraud.” Better to measure conversions, sales, and metrics that are real.

Concerned About Amazon’s Growing Digital Ad Business? Turn to Email

Amazon’s rise as an advertising force means more marketers will move their digital ad spend. To stay competitive, publishers need to think holistically about new income streams and strengthen predictable ones, like subscriptions. On all counts, email can help.

For quite some time the digital advertising world has been described as a duopoly between Google and Facebook with every other online ad platform picking up the scraps. That state of affairs has been changing over the last few years, with Amazon’s advertising business catching up and becoming the third largest ad platform in the U.S.

How close is Amazon to the walled gardens? The company is predicted to reach $40 billion annually in ad revenue by 2023 — right behind Facebook’s $55 billion in 2018. And per Juniper Research, Amazon’s ad business is expected to grow more than 470% over the next five years. It might not catch Google or Facebook to crack into one of the top two spots, but its rapid growth has turned the digital ad duopoly into a triopoly.

Amazon’s rise as an advertising force means there are simply fewer ad dollars available to those outside the walled gardens. When Google and Facebook reigned as a true duopoly, publishers still had a reasonable percentage of the overall online ad marketplace to share. Now, marketers who might have spread ad dollars across Google, social, and publishers will likely move that latter group’s spend into Amazon ads as a way to reach that same audience where they are making purchase decisions. This is especially the case for CPGs and retailers.

To stay competitive with Amazon, publishers need to think holistically about new income streams and strengthen predictable ones, like subscriptions. On all counts, email can help.

Subscriptions and Email

Subscriptions as a source of revenue got lost in the shuffle as publishers became more digital. For years, publishers have given away their inventory: outsourcing traffic to platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter — and hoping they would deliver better-performing ad revenue. But this has proven to be a losing battle, with third-party distribution contributing a small fraction of total digital revenue for most publishers.

As Amazon emerges as an ad powerhouse, publishers are reverting back to what works. Per a Reuters study, 52% of publishers said subscriptions and memberships would be their main revenue focus in 2019 versus relying on ad monetization. In fact, The New York Times has publicly stated they are looking to grow their online subscriber base to 10 million by 2025.

But how can publishers win new subscribers? Just adding a paywall to the website and hoping readers opt-in to paying for content they are used to getting at no cost on Facebook or Twitter isn’t going to work. They need to entice readers. This is where a publisher’s first-party audience data is so critical — and email is a good place to start.

Publishers pursuing subscription models who have developed their email newsletters and properties have a distinct advantage here. Using the insights that a robust email system provides, publishers can determine the propensity of each potential subscriber to purchase a subscription (who opens, who reads on other devices, etc.).

The email address’s significance for publishers isn’t just a way of sending email: It’s the key to marketing and identity in this mobile world. When publishers use their email newsletters as a tool to drive their subscriptions campaign, they’re able to continue that campaign to a known person with consistent messaging, and dynamic paywalling, wherever that person is paying attention, including across mobile devices.

New Inventory via Newsletters 

However, publishers shouldn’t just rely on subscriptions, as ad revenue will always be important. Many publishers are opening up their email inventory for third-party advertisers to bid on via programmatic advertising platforms, which creates an incremental, recurring revenue stream.

Why does it work? Although email is an older technology, it remains a highly effective and impactful channel for marketers. An Adobe study on email marketing found people still spend hours on the channel each day, with the average consumer checking work email 3.1 hours per weekday and personal email 2.5 hours per weekday. Furthermore, those email newsletters are a fraud-free, logged-in channel that represents a direct relationship with a publisher’s audience — a relationship that is not susceptible to the subtle algorithm shifts that can wreck the best laid-out marketing plans on other platforms. And these emails ads can be personalized based on what the email opener is interested in, according to the publisher’s first-party data.

With this, publishers can partner with retail and CPG marketers to run non-competitive, targeted, and personalized email ad campaigns. For the recipient, it’s all about relevancy. People only tend to get annoyed by advertising when it doesn’t seem relevant to them. But if publishers can connect readers with a brand that really speaks to them, that has a product or service they care about, it’s actually a pleasant experience and produces a good ROI for the brand, and good revenue in turn for publishers!

Amazon may be turning the online ad business into a triopoly, but publishers have the opportunity to go back to a business model where they keep control over their audience and data and still offer value to brand advertisers.

Why C-Suites Are Agonizing Over the Death of Email

The higher on the corporate totem pole the executive who leaped to a premature conclusion of email’s demise, the less likely he or she is to have the time and patience to carefully drill down into the data.

There is no question that many of the fat cats inhabiting C-suites today are nervously scratching their heads and trying to conjure up strategies to protect their empires against the possibility of an economic downturn. The barbarians are not yet at the elevators; but with all the changes happening in the marketplace and Cassandra predictions that the happy days of the strong economy are coming to an end, probably sooner rather than later, the day of reckoning may not be too far off.

It is probably a good time to start worrying — if not a bit late. While the macro data and quarterly earnings calls — which always seem to be the focus of our corporate leaders — are clearly important, they often reflect superficial understanding of what’s really going on. Or the micro profit dynamics that fuel their businesses.

“I´m afraid that email is already a dead platform” complained a senior executive, having seen her company’s latest dashboard — showing a pronounced decrease in the number of responses, compared to the previous years. The conclusion: “Nobody reads emails anymore.”

That’s what we used to call, in less politically correct times, “mother-in-law research.” Suffice it to say that, on the basis of available information, the paraphrase of Mark Twain’s classic remark when he read his own obituary in the newspaper is appropriate here:

“The reports of my death (or in this case, the death of email) are greatly exaggerated.” That doesn’t mean it’s as healthy as it might be, but it may be a little early to call the undertaker.

Rodrigo Mesquita, of Return Path, a company that has an admitted preference for email as a medium, likes to quote the initial paragraph of his company’s useful study, “The State of Email”:

“Studies show that a vast majority of consumers prefer email for brand communications, and current projections indicate that by 2021, there will be more than 4.1 billion email users, worldwide.”

The trouble is that the higher on the corporate totem pole the executive who leaped to a premature conclusion of email’s demise, the less likely he or she is to have the time and patience to carefully drill down into the data and discover such critical factors as its overuse, its increasingly dirty data, or sub-optimal delivery rates — to say nothing of the creative quality of the communications.

What is more likely is an edict issued from on high, cutting the very resources that could make the email regain its place as the least expensive medium per thousand with the greatest reach and the ability for personalization, known to be a critically important element of today’s marketing and the medium with the highest ROMI (the M is for “Marketing) and the least up-front cash investment. But that’s a level of detail that seldom makes it up the last flight of steps to the C-suite. It’s too micro for management attention.

Haven’t we all seen it happen dozens of times?

Who is easier to blame for the figures that don’t come up to budget than the marketing team?

It is well-known that as public corporations look toward the end of any given calendar quarter and the estimated profit figure looks below forecast, the easiest way of instantly cutting significant expense is to cancel a large chunk of the current marketing budget. As costs come instantly down, the other end of this seesaw, profits, rise magically up. And does it really matter to the company’s success in the long run? There have been lots of learned MBA thesis on this subject, but no one is certain.

What is certain is the tendency of many companies to still view marketing as an “overhead.” The useful publication, Digiday, recently headlined an intriguing piece: “ ‘Overhead’: Why marketing is still seen as a cost-center,” which looks at some of the reasons why marketing often gets the blame when things go wrong.

Despite chief marketing officers making the case for how important marketing is to an overall business, marketing’s reputation as a “cost center,” versus one that actually drives profits, is hard to shake off …

Reducing marketing overhead became the standard approach for troubled brands following the 2008 recession. Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and General Mills, among others, cut their marketing spend, slashed their agency rosters and gave procurement departments much more power putting cost above all else. [My bolding.] That approach hasn’t always proved successful — look at what cost-cutting has done to Sears or Kraft-Heinz — but it hasn’t dissuaded the C-suite from slicing and dicing marketing.

Are companies going to be any smarter the next time? Your guess is as good as mine.


Until the C-suite executives stop “putting cost above all else and do the work of truly understanding how, in today’s increasingly B2C environment, marketing is the only bridge between the business and its customer, they are often falling into the water. Bean counters in the procurement departments are trained to buy as cheaply as possible. Not understanding the economic process that is data-driven marketing, their knee-jerk reaction is to cut expenses. Those cuts are often counter-productive. Procurement can always save a bundle getting the order to the customer in a week rather than the same day. And what’s all this wasted expense for CRM actions?

“Overhead” need not be a dirty word; especially when the majority of what is often labelled “overhead” is often the cost of the fuel which powers the total sales process.

Simplistic as it may sound; the bottom line should always be “the bottom line.” Before discarding an effective medium like email or decimating an effective marketing program by mislabeling it “overhead,” C-suite executives might do well to look carefully at the micro issues — what actually happens with each customer — instead of only at the big numbers.

It might be worth knowing that according to the Wall Street Journal, “Average Tenure of CMO Slips to 43 Months.”


If you crave success and justified adulation, glory may be waiting for you at echolatam.org.

As data and AI increasingly drive our industry and there is increased focus on the bottom line, I’ve developed a special respect for the International ECHO Awards. They were born in the United States 80 years ago and are now also present in Latin America and Brazil.

We all know there are many advertising awards, wonderful for our egos and our CVs when we win one. The best known is the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Cannes celebrates creativity, while paying lip service to strategy and measurable results. That’s great, as far as it goes.

But as you know, our targeted business has other dimensions that deserve to be acknowledged and rewarded. That’s the purpose of the International ECHO Awards, the only ones that consistently rate campaigns on the three pillars of Strategy, Creative and Res,ults, giving equal weight to each of these components. The type of results ECHO measures are business results, the bottom line.

Entries are open through Aug. 27. Get all of the details at echolatam.org.

Direct Mail Informed Delivery Enhances Your Campaigns

Are you ready to get more out of your direct mail campaigns? Direct mail is a very powerful marketing channel that can be enhanced by adding Informed Delivery.

Are you ready to get more out of your direct mail campaigns? Direct mail is a very powerful marketing channel that can be enhanced by adding Informed Delivery.

What is Informed Delivery? Basically, you provide to your customers and prospects with more touchpoints, more impressions and, therefore, create more impact. The USPS offers a free service to subscribers, which sends an email to them with an image of that day’s mail.

The default images are not in color, because they are scanned on postal equipment. When you participate in an Informed Delivery campaign, you can replace that image with a color image and even add a web link for quick purchasing or information about your product or service.

How Does Informed Delivery Enhance Your Mailing Results?

  • The USPS has a 72.5% email open rate. People will see your ad.
  • It has a 4.92% clickthrough rate on ads. People do click on the ads.
  • It encourages faster response rates, with the easy link.
  • It provides an easy way to have multiple touchpoints with clients and prospects.

Is It Complicated?

No, and that is the best part. Once you design your mail piece, you should design an image for Informed Delivery and also create a ride along ad. Both will then be sent with the landing page information to the post office, along with a mail.dat file so the post office knows who gets the mail and the ads. When the post office scans the mail piece for delivery, it will send the email to your customer or prospect with that day’s mail. Your color image with the ad and web page will be in that email.

How Can You Measure Results?

You will use your normal measuring tools for your direct mail results, plus the added Informed Delivery results. The best way to do this is to create a special landing page for your Informed Delivery ad and coupon code recipients enter at purchase. This will allow you to track how many hits come to the page, as well as how many purchases are made from the Informed Delivery portion. Your responses from the mail piece will go to a different landing page; they can also come in based on other response mechanisms, like phone or email, depending on what you provide.

Why Use Informed Delivery?

In 2019, there is a very good reason to try it out. Why? Because the post office is having a promotion for Informed Delivery. You can save 2% on your postage just for trying it out. The promotion period is Sept. 1 to Nov. 30. Over 14 million people have registered to receive these emails from the post office and that continues to grow daily. Many marketers are looking at new ways to use direct mail and Informed Delivery can help you grow your ROI. Are you ready to get started?

Here’s a Modest Proposal for Batch-and-Blast Email Marketers and Robocallers

The increased volume of data-driven marketing initiatives have taken digital marketing to the top spot in the media universe. There, it’s likely to be king of the mountain until the next fashionable tsunami comes along. Enter, batch-and-blast email marketers and robocallers.

Unnumbered terabytes have been squandered recently as the increased volume of data-driven marketing initiatives have taken digital marketing to the top spot in the media universe. There, it’s likely to be king of the mountain until the next fashionable tsunami comes along. Enter, batch-and-blast email marketers and robocallers.

Consumers who formerly complained about getting too much mail are increasingly (and rightly) up in arms about the intrusiveness of unsolicited emails, ads jumping onto their Internet pages — visually blocking desired content, just when they want to see it — location-driven cell phone promotions advising them of the goodies inside the retail shop they are passing (remember them) or receiving endless robocalls.

Anything is possible! In today’s world of almost endless permutations and combinations of digital sales messages, what faster than a speeding bullet Superthing can stop them before they plunge irretrievably into some black hole, never to be seen again?

Would you believe that the answer is neither a superman nor woman? No: It’s not even a humanoid. It is quite simply that elusive substance that is said to make the world go ’round: money.

The useful website AlterNet recently carried what could be the game-changing story for our industry. Why stop with the industry? It could be a game-changer for our society and sanity. Consumers may not complain as much about emails and push ads as they do about robocalls, but you can bet they get nearly as angry about their privacy being invaded. Wrote Matthew Chapman:

Americans are being bombarded with robocalls. It’s an epidemic, and it’s getting worse. By a recent estimate, 71 million of these scam calls are being placed per hour, [my highlighting] often completely illegally.

Robocalls make up the top source of complaints to both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC); both of which, in theory, have power to police robocalls. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to get rid of them.

Almost; but not impossible. As Shakespeare wrote:

“If money go before, all ways do lie open.” —Ford, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Act 2, Scene 2

Chapman reported that Roger Meiners, a professor of law and economics at the University of Texas at Arlington, has a brilliant proposal for how to defeat robocallers, once and for all. It has exquisite simplicity and can, by extension, apply to almost all of our batch-and-blast outrages. Professor Mainers’ proposal, which deserves nothing less than a Nobel economics nomination:

Levy a 1-cent tax on every outgoing phone call.

If codified into the law of the land, it would be collected automatically and digitally. Individuals and small businesses would hardly notice it. We’d all pay the tax but even for a heavy individual user who made 50 calls per day; his tab would be only $15.00 per month.

In the Wall Street Journal, Meiners explained how it would work:

Most taxes aren’t popular, but this one will be. Call it the Penny for Sanity Tax: a 1-cent tax on every call made. Fifty billion robocalls would cost $500 million — a powerful incentive to stop.

Because the tax would apply to all calls, it would avoid litigation about what can be legally disfavored. It would be impossible to evade by sneaking around classifications of calls. And it would not necessitate hiring more bureaucrats to enforce a complicated rule.

What a huge effect it would have if put into practice. The amount could be easily raised if it didn’t act as a sufficient inhibitor of batch-and-blast. The whole idea might also inform an app where the consumer could choose to get paid to look at ads. As the Bar proclaimed “ … all ways do lie open,” if there is coin to pay the piper. And imagine how even a little of this money might be used for the environment, the public good or worthy charities.

Now let’s stretch and imagine the application of the Meiners’ formula to email. The Radicati Group estimates the worldwide number of consumer and business emails sent per day in 2018 at more than 281 billion. If these were taxed at 1 cent each, (same as the calls, but harder to collect), the cost would be $2.8 billion per day. You get the idea.

Where technologies have run well ahead of the business models they support, not a lot of thought has been given to the actual costs of emails and robocalls. “Let’s mail another million. It isn’t costing anything. And then we can go to lunch” has an all-too-familiar ring to it, even if it happens to be more apocryphal than true. There is, as the saying goes, no such thing as a free email or robocall or lunch.

Because very few marketers have done the math to determine the real comparative bottom-line effect of over-promoting or looked at the medium- and long-term commercial and societal damage it causes, they might as well go off and enjoy lunch. Their C-Suite days are numbered.

Soon, they are likely to be replaced by a tribe of literate data nerds, a species currently in short supply. Their recruitment is driving up costs like international soccer stars. They are just what giant consulting firms, such as Accenture, need to support their acquisition of “creative” shops with funny names and casual dress and time-keeping habits certain to annoy the hell out of the senior partners, who are mostly former three-piece, dark-suited accountants who daily commute from the suburbs and arrive at the office with Swiss punctuality.

Imagine the culture clash. And imagine how in this radically changed game, our vision of response rates and costs — in fact, almost everything in our marketing sphere — would change for the better.

Best of all, when the telephone rings, we wouldn’t have to worry we were about to be propositioned or otherwise engaged in a time-wasting conversation with a robot.

3 Ways to Combine Direct Mail With Digital Marketing

When you combine your direct mail with digital marketing, you enhance it and drive better results. There are many ways to add digital to your direct mail campaigns in a cost-effective way so that you can test to see how it works for you.

Direct mail has been around for a very long time and it is easy to continue to send mail the same way it was done 20 years ago, but this is much less effective now. Direct mail marketing in 2019 is so much more targeted and personalized, which makes it more effective. However, many marketers continue to silo their direct mail. This is a mistake. When you combine your direct mail with digital marketing, you enhance it and drive better results. There are many ways to add digital to your direct mail campaigns in a cost-effective way so that you can test to see how it works for you.

Let’s check out some winning digital and direct mail combinations.

  • Display Ads — You can use display ads in conjunction with your mail. You can match your direct mail data file to an IP address file to target specific people on your mail list. This is cookie-free marketing that displays banner ads on web pages as your customers and prospects are browsing. It gives you more opportunities to persuade your prospects and customers to make a purchase. Keep in mind that display advertising can affect people at every stage of the marketing funnel from awareness, education and evaluation to purchase. You can see real-time click rates to monitor progress.
  • Facebook Ads — You can use Facebook ads in conjunction with your mail. You can match your direct mail data file to Facebook. This will allow you to send targeted ads to your customers and prospects. They will see an ad in their News Feed. There are several ad options you can choose the one that is right for you. Your prospects and customers spend a lot of time on Facebook, so using these ads helps keep you top-of-mind. As with display ads, you can monitor click rates to make sure you are getting the results you need.
  • Email — Surprisingly, most marketers are using email, but are not combining it with their mail campaigns. The great thing about adding email to direct mail is that you can use it both before you mail to help build curiosity about your mail piece and after they receive it to keep your offer fresh and remind them to respond. This also gives you a chance to make an additional special offer to get them to buy now.

You can choose to use all three with a mail campaign or pick and choose what is best for your customers. If you don’t have enough people on your mail list, you can create a list of people who look like your current customers to send them mail, as well as display and Facebook ads. Email address append is also an option, but it usually only has about a 40% match rate. So if your list is small, it may not be worth it.

Increasing your exposure with customers and prospects increases your response rates, so by adding a digital component, you can increase sales. The best part about digital marketing is that it has a relatively low cost and can be tracked in real time. Plus, you will have additional metrics about your prospects and customers when they interact with you across channels. Are you ready to get started?