Navigating Minimalism and Maximalism in Marketing

No doubt you’ve all heard of the poor guy who starved to death, equidistant between two three star restaurants with perfectly valid credit cards in his pocket. He just couldn’t deal with having to make the momentous decision to choose one or the other. Sound familiar?

No doubt you’ve all heard of the poor guy who starved to death, equidistant between two three star restaurants with perfectly valid credit cards in his pocket. He just couldn’t deal with having to make the momentous decision to choose one or the other.

Sound familiar?

Given the number of data and AI marketing options at our fingertips, the bewildering range of media to choose from, the unlimited possibilities for product and service pricing and delivery systems, are we sure that we aren’t facing the same fate — death by maximalism.

I thought I’d made up the word but as usual, Google put me right.

“The term maximalism can refer to anything which is excessive, overtly complex and “showy”, or providing redundant overkill in features and attachments, grossness in quantity and quality and maximalism the tendency to add and accumulate to excess.”

Discussing this maximalism with a sophisticated and highly successful marketing colleague, he just shook his head and admitted that while he certainly was guided by the wealth of data available, “in the last analysis” he said, “I just follow my gut.”

Regular readers of Target Marketing will have seen a number of thoughtful pieces on determining the optimum number of marketing messages to send and when enough is enough. Not surprisingly, despite their general recommendations, none that I can remember have come down solidly and told us whether to maximize or minimize the frequency of communications.

The essence of the maximum/minimum question would appear to be driven by priorities and these are likely to be different — not only for each marketer but for each product or service. Determining what’s most important to you is a very good place to start, and surprisingly not the metric that many marketers use.

Most of us start (or should start) by looking at the bottom line. That would be easy if there was only a single bottom line. But we all know that the priority of determining whether we are looking for a single profit point, a lifetime value, an increase in brand value, the optimum return on our marketing investment (ROMI) or some other metric, must impact our answer. Haven’t we all seen instances where, for example, late in the fiscal year marketing management discovers that approved promotion monies have not yet been spent and fearing that as a result, budget allocations for the following year might be reduced, rationalizes an immediate, urgent campaign to use this money?

Various studies of consumer attitudes to commercial email communications support research published by Campaign Monitor that clearly indicated that the largest reason subscribers flag email as spam (almost 46%) is “they emailed too often.” As we all know, too often can be a big turnoff. I stopped watching CNN because the multitude of “short breaks” were longer than the news content.

This doesn’t mean that we should abandon the maximalism of our marketing efforts for minimalism despite the current and trending rage among brands for “less is more.”

From Copypress:

“Minimalism as branding is a bit of a divergence from the historic take on minimalism. It takes its core principles from the movement and presents a unified, cohesive framework that emphasizes clean, simple designs with exacting focus.”

Think not only of graphic design but of total strategic marketing focus, as well.

On the basis of long experience with what works and what doesn’t, the Denny Hatch school of direct marketing applauds with good reason, maximized “ugly” presentation and beating the bushes for orders as long as it is profitable.

That said, there is an increasingly strong argument for stepping back a little and meditating on the possibility that instead of maximizing our promotional efforts, we test minimizing them. We could then determine whether the consumer trend is away from “the more the better” consumerism and we can develop more and better customer relationships with less communications.

With so many choices available to marketers, we are like the poor fellow who starved to death, in danger of starvation in the midst of an abundance of plenty. Perhaps it’s time to start listen more to our guts than to our data.

Purpose + Frequency + Free = Marketing Turnaround

If email marketing and social media results are not meeting your expectations, it may be time to shift direction. Today we share part two of our experience that transformed an email and social media marketing campaign with online video. Sales increased 20 percent using a strategy centered around purpose, frequency and free content marketing—with online video at the center of the program—to rebuild email marketing and social media engagement. It’s easy to get into a rut of using

If email marketing and social media results are not meeting your expectations, it may be time to shift direction. Today we share part two of our experience that transformed an email and social media marketing campaign with online video. Sales increased 20 percent using a strategy centered around purpose, frequency and free content marketing—with online video at the center of the program—to rebuild email marketing and social media engagement. It’s easy to get into a rut of using the same direct marketing approach over and over and expecting results to improve. But if it’s time to change direction, this strategy has proven itself to produce results.

We’ve achieved success by telling a story, in increments over time, using online video as the central messaging delivery vehicle.

Think of reading a book. The story is divided into chapters to help the reader know where one part of the story begins and ends, and each part leads to the next. Once all consumed, the entire story comes together with the sum being greater than the parts.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)

In our last blog post, we introduced the concept of giving purpose to email, social media and other channels. We shared a marketing make-over that resulted in a sales increase of 20 percent. If you missed part one where we explain the importance of purpose, we encourage you to watch it now.

The three elements of the strategy we talk about in today’s video include:

  1. Creating purpose to your email and social media touch points
  2. Enabling frequency in reaching out to customers, donors and prospects
  3. Giving away content that’s free and builds confidence before making the purchase decision

Successful direct marketing should have purpose every time you reach out to connect with your installed base of customers or followers. Your email, social media and other channels can be transformed from a screaming “Buy me now! Here’s a discount! We can change your life!” campaign to “you’ll learn more about how the product is made” or “we’d like to earn your trust so get to know us better” or “take a behind-the-scenes look” or other transformational marketing messages.

Softer? Yes. And in our culture today, we’ve seen, firsthand, that it’s more effective.

A campaign that has purpose gives you permission for frequency.

A word about frequency: Like many of you, I’ve been in direct marketing for a long time. Whenever I’d hear that the secret sauce to making radio and television advertising a success was frequency, I’d roll my eyes.

You may look at the frequency pitch as just an excuse for radio and TV folks to sell more time and run up your cost. As direct marketers, we believe that if we mail an offer once, we’ll get most of the response in that first effort. Rarely does a second mailing produce more than the first mailing.

But we’ve learned the online space is different. When your message has purpose, with a story built through the use of video, it generates a reason for your touch points to become more frequent.

In the case history that we describe in today’s video blog, you’ll learn that we were fearful that frequency might result in email open and click-through declining. But the opposite happened. Once hooked, people looked forward to the next email or social media post to hear the continuation of the story. In fact, open and click-through rates increased substantially over what had been done in the past and those levels were maintained throughout the campaign.

Social media engagement soared because frequent posts meant friends shared the video with their friends. The Facebook metrics and reports that are available are a direct marketer’s dream. We were able to measure the viral effect of our video beyond our core group of fans.

With email and social media costs being relatively low, it means that with frequency your installed base of customers or followers spread your message on your behalf. And if you don’t have a large number of customers or followers, you can build that list faster with video.

The third key concept is a paradigm shift for those of us who are classically trained direct marketers. Over the years, we’ve always known that an offer of “free with purchase,” would increase response. Today we challenge you to shift “free with purchase,” to simply “free.” You may have heard it referred to as “content marketing.” Giving content away invites a prospective customer to build trust in you. Videos can tell the story of how your product is developed or you can interview real customers telling their real stories and testimonials.

In today’s video, we explain how giving away a 99 cent value item in exchange for a $56 average order increased sales by 20 percent.

With online tools and technology, you can create stories that are delivered on video. You’ll give purpose to email, social media and other vehicles. You will have permission from your installed base of customers and followers to contact them frequently. And when you give away something of value, you build trust and allow them to be more confident in their decision to purchase. When you combine purpose, frequency and free, it can transform and turnaround marketing approaches that are fatiguing or in a rut.

Also in today’s video, we share with you several ideas about topics you can use to create your own series of videos. If you’re struggling with ideas of how you’d use video using these three principles, tell us about your product or service in the comments below, or contact us directly. And for our loyal followers, we’ll freely share our ideas via email or a conference call of how a video series could make sense for you to engage your customers, donors or prospects.

In our next blog post, we’ll explain how to build your story, chapter-by-chapter so you can maximize the purpose/frequency/free content strategy.

Dealing With This Season’s Burned Out Subscribers

In September, all email marketers have good intentions. They meticulously map out segmentations; plan a logical calendar to support strategic initiatives; and commit to holding firm on protecting margins, avoiding the trap of ever increasing sweeteners as we near the end of December.

In September, all email marketers have good intentions. They meticulously map out segmentations; plan a logical calendar to support strategic initiatives; and commit to holding firm on protecting margins, avoiding the trap of ever increasing sweeteners as we near the end of December.

Then reality sets in. Although this year has been significantly better than last year in terms of business buying and consumer spending, most email marketers are quickly caught up in the email marketing return on investment trap. When times are tough, the pressure goes up to send just one more email campaign in order to boost revenues and response.

That strategy can work in the short term, but come January, the reckoning takes hold. This is when email marketers must rebuild relationships sullied by overmailing and lack of targeting. Hopefully, your business can pause and take a deep breath in order to both slow down the frequency as well as improve customization and relevancy. If you still see low response rates and list fatigue, then it’s time for a strategy to win back your audience.

Strategies for winning back subscribers
A win-back strategy can be anything from a friendly reminder to visit the preference center to a full-on bribe, like offering a steep discount or free service if the subscriber clicks now. Test a few of these ideas on subscribers who didn’t open or click on your emails in December and January. After a few attempts to win them back, if you still don’t see any activity, it may be time to clear the dead wood from your file.

While suppressing data is an anathema to direct marketers’ hearts, clearing nonresponsive subscribers from your email marketing file can help with everything from reducing churn to lowering costs to improving the new engagement metrics used for inbox placement and deliverability. Logically, it makes sense. More active subscribers are more likely to respond.

Surprisingly, however, clearing nonactive addresses from your file also improves response. That boost in response isn’t just on the rate off of a smaller base, but is also on absolute response and revenue per subscriber. Why does this happen? By focusing on the needs of active subscribers, marketers improve relevancy and lower frequency. They start to segment their files with tighter subscriber profiles. Be sure to note that this is the opposite of what you’re able to do in the rush of end of year.

Even permission files end up with anywhere from 25 percent to 65 percent of inactive subscribers. These subscribers, despite giving permission at some point, haven’t opened, clicked or converted from email in the past year or more. Unfortunately, the fourth quarter is when most subscribers burn out. The overflowing inbox at a busy time of year just becomes too much. They tune out your messages if you’re not offering value. Pretty soon, ignoring your emails becomes a habit.

For a long time, it was widely believed to be reasonable to keep all those dead addresses on your file, as it didn’t cost much to mail them and having a larger denominator made complaint rates and other deliverability metrics seem lower. Plus, marketers are ever hopeful. Even if a subscriber hasn’t responded to their emails in a long time, they still believe that today’s message will be the one that rouses them to profitable response. Of course, very few of these sleepers ever wake up.

However, internet service providers and mailbox providers like Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail have long been suspicious of marketers who keep such nonresponsive data on their files, believing that they’re trying to game the system and escape penalties of higher complaint rates. In the past six months, all three global providers have introduced new metrics as well as new inbox management tools to help them see subscriber-level activity. MSN/Hotmail was the first to announce the use of activity measures to block senders from a particular subscriber’s inbox (I wrote about this in early September).

I’ve seen some success in win-back campaigns that respect subscribers, are honest about the offer in the subject line, and keep the message and tone in line with the brand. Test a few alternatives and segment as much as possible to improve relevancy as well. For example:

  • A publisher tested several approaches and found that “We hate spam, too. Change your email settings now” in the subject line was the best way to encourage 90-day nonactive readers to adjust frequency and title choices. Typically, I find that clarity trumps cleverness in a subject line. Just say clearly what the subscriber is being asked to do.
  • A retailer sent an email campaign to six-month inactive subscribers inviting them to vote for the brand’s next catalog cover. The engaging campaign consistently earned 25 percent clickthrough rates. By focusing on the click (the action needed to prove that the subscriber isn’t truly dead), the campaign earned a very high response rate. As a bonus, while many subscribers were on the company’s website they took advantage of specials offered on the landing page.
  • A retailer tested the effect of a win-back campaign versus lowering frequency to six-month inactive accounts. Lowering frequency is a commonly used tactic to respect nonresponding subscribers level of interest, but, of course, does nothing to actually engage them. The win-back strategy was the clear winner, earning a 10 percent response rate and $900K in revenue versus a 2 percent response rate and $150K in revenue from the segment that received lower frequency.

Let us know how you’ve successfully re-engaged subscribers by posting a comment below.