At its Sept. 13 meeting, the Direct Marketing Club of New York (DMCNY) hosted an engaging panel discussion regarding the use of direct mail in a multichannel world, and the panelists included representatives from Citigroup, Gerber Life and The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks.
The representatives included Linda Gharib, senior vice president, digital marketing, for Citi’s Global Consumer Marketing & Internet division; David Rosenbluth, vice president, marketing, Gerber Life Insurance Company; and, from the agency side, panel moderator Pam Haas, who is both vice president, sales, for agency services at Harte-Hanks (and first vice president for DMCNY), and Michele Fitzpatrick, senior vice president, strategy and insight, The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks.
Hearing from two financial service brands, and an agency that services brands in several markets (tech, consumer package goods, automotive, insurance, pharma and more), packed the house. I’m not sure if it was the topic or the brands who spoke, or both, that was the draw—but the information imparted prompted lots of audience interest and questions.
First, customer acquisition—at least in the financial services area—still appears to be very dependent on mail. At Gerber, Rosenbluth said, as many as a third of new business policies are still generated by direct mail, even as the brand is “omni-channel”—digital (including web site, search, display ads, email), direct-response television, as well as direct mail. For Citi, the brand is positioned No. 2 in the nation by Target Marketing in its “Top 50 Mailers” ranking for 2012 (which is ranked by overall revenue, not mail volume), Gharib said, solidifying its importance in both acquisition and retention.
Fitzpatrick agreed, noting that in financial services, where marketing is modeled most precisely for risk and performance, direct mail remains an acquisition workhorse, particularly on new product launches. For automotive and pharma verticals, however, where as much as 80 percent of transactions are researched anonymously beforehand online, digital media is used for hand-raising, and direct mail may be then used to deliver a brochure of other information in a highly segmented way to close the deal. “Consumer preferences [for media] are situational,” Fitzpatrick said.
Who gets credit for attribution, when a multichannel communications mix produces a desired response? At Citi, Gharib said, such discussions are a “work in progress,” where the final interaction point currently gets the credit, whether that is chat, direct mail, email or some triggered communication. Adding to the multichannel attribution discussion is the mix of advertising purposes—some are pure branding messages, while others are intended to elicit a response, but both may compel or influence customer behavior in some discernible (or indiscernible) manner. Hence, there is complexity in the attribution discussion.
Yes, indeed, says Rosenbluth, where “allowances” are given for each channel in regard to the brand’s most importance metric to manage: total costs to convert a policy. Currently, “last touch” gets the attribution on response, but the policy conversion metric is the bigger-picture measurement, where everyone gets to take some credit.
Fitzpatrick pointed to recent Forrester research where “fractional attribution”—first touch, mid-touch and last-touch on the path to purchase share credit—and “engagement” is modeled, rather than response (alone). Every brand should undertake a channel impact study to determine, as best it can, the impact of incremental sales as a result of a multichannel customer experience, while also researching receiver reaction research. Clearly, direct mail, email, chat and other channels can be both or either “conversation starters” and “conversation extenders,” but analytics is the only way to know the role of the channel for any given customer.
“There’s credibility in paper,” Gharib remarked, “that helps with both the brand and its consideration.” Where email is cluttered, direct mail largely is not.
At Gerber, Rosenbluth, there really is no brand spend, all market spending is intended to produce engagement.
Fitzpatrick sees almost all “below the line” spending getting a branding blend—branding and direct marketing have come together. All the panelists agreed: it’s really about the consumer experience across channels, and having a database that enables customer recognition and a full customer view. Having tons of data is not enough—it’s having technology and processes in place for customer data integration and analytics to create smart engagement rules.
The verdict? Direct mail is and will remain a vital part of the media mix—because it’s an anchor in the consumer’s experience and brand consideration mix. As digital gets more clutter, boy that mailbox is looking pretty.