How Do Agencies Succeed in Changing Times?

The marketing and advertising industry, like many other industries, appears to be in a constant state of flux. So why do some advertising agencies succeed while others fail?

I love the marketing and advertising industry. And like other industries, it appears to be in a constant state of flux. So why do some advertising agencies succeed while others fail?

In business school you’re taught the concept of competitive landscape, the notion that this landscape is dynamic and ever changing. And that competitive advantage is fickle and fleeting. Your competitors are lurking and there’s a constant threat of losing your position in the ecosystem. The companies that succeed in this environment are the ones who continuously evolve and grow. This concept has proven itself to me time and again.

I’ve worked in the advertising industry +20 years. And I believe my professional experience has many parallels with changes in the industry. I’m an accountant by trade, started my career at a privately held marketing firm, followed by many years  in the holding company environment, and now am the CFO at an independent agency. Over the years, I’ve watched the industry that I love evolve into various renditions of itself.

I witnessed an industry predominately comprised of small independently owned agencies, transform via acquisitions and mergers into a handful of publicly traded holding companies. Unfortunately, these agencies have become so large and complex, they’ve struggled to react to client and market demands. And recently,  like my career the industry has come full circle with the return of the small independent agency structure.

And still there is more change in the horizon.  New players such as media giants, consultancies, and in house marketing departments have entered the space and are competing for marketing dollars. Have you ever wondered why agencies like DDB, BBDO, Ogilvy have succeeded with longevity?  Why have they dominated the industry for so many years while so many others have sailed away in the night?

  • These organizations understand what differentiates them from other players and are smart enough not to become complacent. They cultivate, invest in, nurture those differentiations and do not stray very far from their core capabilities. I once worked for an agency, founded in 1903, which originally specialized in tombstone print advertisement. Up until about the 1990’s, tombstone advertising was a very lucrative business and the agency’s client list included many large financial institutions on Wall Street. However, tombstone advertising was a dying art doomed for extinction with the prevalence of Internet technology. But when I joined the agency in 2013, it had successfully evolved to a B2B specialist with a niche in the financial sector. The +115 year old agency is a good example of the importance of nurturing and cultivating ones craft, it didn’t straying from its core capabilities and continues to service many of the same financial institutions at an  expanded capacity.  Evolution is key.
  • Standards need to be high. “If you have passion for what you do, the company you keep, the life you live, it will be reflected in whatever you create. Passion is like that; it springs out, jumps, unpredictable and unplanned, into everything we touch.” — R.D. Laing. These organizations have very high standards for the company they keep, services they provide and are passionate about the work they produce. My first Omnicom agency experience was invaluable in so many ways. Largely, because of the smart, talented, accomplished, passionate individuals that I had the pleasure to work with. Our leadership team of four, consisted of me, an Wharton MBA, NYU MBA and Oxford University graduate.  No, an Ivy League degree  wasn’t a prerequisite for the job. However the agency employed a rigorous screening process and were very selective with hires.  It was truly a special environment where each day was filled with opportunity to grow as a professional, collaborate with extremely talented colleagues and learn from super accomplished senior talent. The agency was successful in many ways, but largely for developing exemplary talent many of whom now hold senior leadership roles at various agencies across the country.
  • Lastly, there is a plan. It’s too easy to lose focus, the most successful leaders and organizations stay focused on the north star.  Successful agencies develop, communicate and deploy a well thought out strategic plan that is flexible and nimble enough to easily and quickly adjust. Generally, the leaders of these organizations are well liked and respected. They communicate their vision and strategy and inspire large groups of people to work towards that shared vision.  There is intention behind every decision, every purchase, every hire, every client interaction.

I believe the advertising industry is at a crossroads. With recent senior leadership changes at several of the holding companies, changing client demands and structures, with a steady growth of internal marketing departments. Which agencies will prevail and succeed in this next phase?

 

The 5 Best HR Tips for Increasing Employee Engagement

Effective employee engagement improves sales figures, decreases workforce turnovers and improves client satisfaction. The companies with the healthiest company culture are those with management who actively engage with employees. Follow these five best HR practices for the most effective employee engagement.

Effective employee engagement improves sales figures, decreases workforce turnovers and improves client satisfaction. The companies with the healthiest company culture are those with management who actively engage with employees. Engagement within an organization is the most effective tool companies can use to track and encourage employee successes. 

Below are the five best HR practices for increasing employee engagement:

1. Employee Engagement Begins With Training

Employee training is key for ensuring new employees have a smooth transition into an organizations culture. An informative and instructive on boarding process is the foundation upon which  employee engagement begins with an organization’s goals. By communicating clear and defined expectations management can pave the path for reaching the desired results.

Unfortunately a lot of management teams fail to incorporate employee engagement into the company’s organizational structure. In fact, 55% of new hires are not provided a sufficient induction or training plan.

Every company has different organizational structures. For that reason, it is imperative that management outlines the key expectations of the role. Outlining job responsibilities is the framework for which employees can reach goals and is essential for success.

2. Communicate Role Expectations

Setting up initial goals and objectives within your organization is a great way to ensure that your staff is on the right track. Individual roles should have their own set of responsibilities. Be sure to make time every few months for communication between management and staff members. This fosters the opportunity to evaluate role satisfaction and develop a plan for employee progression and career development. This will not only increase autonomy and integrity in the work place, but also allows management to understand the respective areas of interest for future positions and hiring.

This will also bolster engagements and motivate your new employees to strive for excellence in all areas. A successful CEO will make sure that new hires have a sound understanding of the firm’s values, mission, and goals.

3. Active Engagement and Role Maintenance

Once management is confident that the new hires have fully settled in to their designated role, it is important to keep levels of employee engagement as high as possible.

Commitment and gratitude toward employees goes a long way. Model behavior for employees starts at the top. So, it is likely that a company’s staff will mirror that same level of commitment and gratitude in their work performance.

Regular “one-on-ones”, acknowledgments and objective setting will motivate employees to reach goals and improve their skillsets. Don’t be afraid to challenge your people and engage in healthy competition.

4. Promote From Within

There are many tools available for managers to utilize to acknowledge the accomplishments of their team. One of the most traditional and effective means of rewarding hardworking employees, is granting them a raise or promotion; or both if you can.  If available, promotion from within is key for morale and a great way reward your staff members for their hard work.

Promotion from within provides an extremely strong index of the firm’s core culture. Managers should recognize that the individual  rewards send a message to the entire organization. Be certain that the behaviors which are being endorsed by the promotion are in line with the firm’s culture and values. Again, being a model of positive behavior will ensure the remainder of the staff will look to emulate those behaviors you want to see reinforced.

Encouraging employee engagement through vertical communication is also great way to express mutual respect and show appreciation amongst one another.

5. Hire Multi-talented Employees

To maintain an edge in this increasingly competitive economy, companies need to ensure that they employ individuals referred to as “Unicorns” by HR managers. A Unicorn refers to a multi-skilled employee who is able to multitask and wear more than one hat.  .

Unicorns are normally talented in numerous areas and can execute them all beyond a superficial level. Finding these employees starts before the interview process. A persons references and past work experience provides a window to the type of benefits they can provide your company.

Here are some of the key advantages of hiring Multi-talented employees:

  • Multi-talented employees can save you a significant amount of money.
  • Employees with a wide range skill sets improve productivity and business efficiency. You won’t need to worry about the level of work quality since they’ll perform remarkably in all business tasks and projects handed over to them.
  • Having multi-talented employees allows for other team members to take sick and vacation days due to their ability to step into various roles. He or she can easily fill in and execute many jobs impeccably.
  • Improves staff retention and motivation.

 

5 Practices That Grow Good to Great Marketing Leaders

If you’ve been in direct marketing, say, 20 years, do you have a career full of wide-ranging experience? Or are you stalled with only five years of experience repeated four times? Growing your value proposition to management is essential, because sometimes marketing leaders have to make difficult choices of whether the right people are “on the bus,” if they need to be “moved elsewhere on the bus,” or if there are people who need to be “moved off …

E-commerce for the B-to-B MarketerIf you’ve been in marketing, say, 20 years, do you have a career full of wide-ranging experience? Or are you stalled with only five years of experience repeated four times? Growing your value proposition to management is essential, because sometimes marketing leaders have to make difficult choices of whether the right people are “on the bus,” if they need to be “moved elsewhere on the bus,” or if there are people who need to be “moved off the bus.”

The bus metaphor comes from the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. In my last column, “Neuroscience, Leadership and 7 Challenges for DM Leaders,” I described a brain-adaptive approach linking neuroscience to leadership.

Today I share another requirement of leaders as described in “Good to Great.” This is where great leaders get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out the route to their destination.

If you’re not a direct marketing leader today, but aspire to be a well-rounded professional, in a moment I’ll share five growth practices you can adopt to position yourself to not only have a seat, but someday drive the bus.

But let’s begin with looking at what leaders are encouraged to consider as they look at their “team on the bus.” The concept of “First Who, Then What,” from “Good to Great” summarizes it well:

  • Good to great leaders begin organizational transformation by first getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive it.
  • “Who” questions come before “what decisions” like vision, strategy, organizational structure and tactics.
  • When in doubt, don’t hire.
  • When a people change is needed, act.
  • Put the best people on the biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.

For leaders, seating your team on the bus, and in the right seat, they (you) must leverage individual strengths that will have the highest impact on an organization’s success.

For direct marketing team professionals, there are five practices where you can bring value to both the organization, and to yourself and your own future.

  1. Reinvent every few years. You don’t want to be the professional who has been in the workforce for 20 years, and suddenly realizes that it’s really only five years of experience, repeated over and over, like you’re on a treadmill.
  2. If you want to grow, ask leadership in your organization what you have to do to attain certain goals. Muster the confidence to ask someone you admire, and who’s successful, if they will be a mentor.
  3. Learn about what others are doing in your organization. Cross-train yourself. If you’re a marketing manager, learn more about product fulfillment. If you’re a copywriter, learn from the marketing manager. If you’re deeply rooted in direct mail, learn digital. Not only will you become more valuable, but you’ll enrich your understanding of the bigger picture.
  4. Attend events, especially local programs. Read every day. Challenge yourself, from time-to-time, to read about a topic outside your normal area of interest.
  5. Peer into the future. Anticipate what you can contribute to transform your organization’s direct marketing success.

For aspiring leaders: when you take charge of your career and your future with these five practices, you can improve the odds that you’ll be placed on the correct seat of the bus in your organization.

For leaders: evaluate your organization’s structure and the people on your team now to determine who should be on your bus and where they should be seated. This is your first step to grow from good to great.

(Read more about using neuroscience in marketing, along with left brain/right brain thinking in my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code” available at the DirectMarketingIQ bookstore. Or download my free seven-step guide to help you align your messaging with how the primitive mind thinks. It’s titled “When You Need More Customers, This Is What You Do.” )

What Does a Data Marketer Look Like?

The currency of nearly all marketing today is data. Ten years ago, we might have said much the same of digital marketing, and all the email, display, social, search, and mobile that’s came forward from it.

The currency of nearly all marketing today is data.

Ten years ago, we might have said much the same of digital marketing, and all the email, display, social, search, and mobile that’s came forward from it.

Twenty years ago, we could have said the same of database marketing and customer relationship management.

And wind back—measurability and accountability, the hallmarks of direct marketing—always have relied on data. We may have called it lists back in the day—but data are what lists have become. The inherent value of data is to know the shared attributes among the data elements and to use that knowledge.

Without a doubt, the “marketing of data” has evolved and transformed as much as marketing itself. Every day in our world, it’s not enough to have contact details on people, or any number of the hundreds of demographic, psychographic, contextual, social and behavioral overlays that may be available, we also need analytics power.

Recent research from The Winterberry Group underscores this point: data is now an $11 billion business in America, and that includes analytics services revenue. I recall an unofficial guestimate of a $2 billion data market back in the early 1990s, when that meant a North American directory of 30,000 plus response and compiled lists available for rental and exchanges.

Next month, the Data Innovators Group will host its annual Data Innovator of the Year Award dinner in New York. This year’s honoree is Auren Hoffman, CEO of LiveRamp (now owned by Acxiom), who says his mission “to connect data to every marketing application.” And so it shall be… Soon.

But who is going to all make it work? Let’s welcome the data marketer and the data scientists and strategists they employ.

Still, too many brands keep customer data in siloes. And while responsibly using offline data with online data is fast coming down the pike, marketing organizations need people in place who can help clients navigate the brave new world of data management platforms, data quality strategies, programmatic media exchanges, big data and small data, and all the algorithms that drive this important “stuff” often in real time. A list sale exists largely no more. Instead data is a pathway to opportunity, a challenge overcome, by way of a data-to-insights-to-strategy recommendation, and a discipline for testing and data quality that leads brands (and their agencies and data marketer partners) to succeed.

It’s more difficult than ever to be a successful data marketer, but our field is producing the partners that businesses, brands and chief marketing officers need. Now if we could just go find a few.

Thank you to the Hudson Valley Direct Marketing Association for enabling my participation at its recent “Meet the Masters” event. Ryan Lake (Lake Group Media), Mark Rickard (Rickard Squared) and Rob Sanchez (Merit Direct) are three CEOs of data marketing organizations who have a few suggestions on where we can all go to look.

Truly Greening Digital: The DMA ‘Green 15’ Gain a Digital Edge

With little fanfare, the Direct Marketing Association just published a “refresh” of its “Green 15” sustainable marketing practices first announced in 2007, via the good work of the sustainability team from the DMA Ethics Policy Committee.

With little fanfare, the Direct Marketing Association just published a “refresh” of its “Green 15” sustainable marketing practices first announced in 2007. Via the good work of the sustainability team from the DMA Ethics Policy Committee: Green 15 Best Practices.

The original publication took on such areas as paper procurement and list management, among others, in a bid for the marketing field to reduce GHG emissions by 1 million metric tons through last year. Whether or not that goal was achieved has not been reported by DMA, but then again, there is likelihood of huge reductions in carbon emissions if only for the fact that that there is less mail in circulation today then in 2006 (source reduction).

Yet in the growth of digital, there are also greenhouse gas impacts, among other environmental concerns, says DMA:

The use of certified paper, renewable energy, and consumer messaging to encourage recycling are all well-established best practices that address tangible environmental issues associated with print communications. Today, the rise of data-driven and digital communication requires marketers to address less visible environmental impacts. Toxic ‘e-waste’ impacts people and the environment as a result of improper disposal of electronics. Air pollution, including elevated greenhouse gas emissions, is an environmental and economic consequence of the growing demand for fossil energy to power digital devices and data centers.

The new Green 15 gives some guidance on just what digital and data-driven marketers might look to do:

  • Conduct energy audits at offices and production facilities to identify cost-saving opportunities (energy reduction).
  • Determine the source of power facilities in your facilities, and look to purchase more renewables in the mix gradually. Leverage suppliers of digital and data services to do the same.
  • Use links instead of attachments when sending internal and external communications – minimizing bandwidth and storage space for such documents.
  • Immediately implement best practices for responsible disposal of all electronic equipment at end of life, using such resources as Earth911.com, the EPA’s Web site, and seeking recyclers who adhere to E-Stewards Certificate standards

As anyone on a corporate “Green Team” knows, this list is really just a beginning. The savings and gains in efficiency that can happen as a result, are real—and ripe—for business bottom lines. There’s no reason not to consider these steps. All it takes is an internal champion, and a belief that being digital alone is not being green. Data and interactive communication have to be managed from a sustainability point of view—just as print communicators have done. I am glad the DMA, for one, has taken the lead and given us constructive steps all integrated marketers should consider.

What Customer-Centric, Customer-Obsessed Companies Must Do

In building relationships with and value for customers, my longtime observation is most organizations tend to progress through several stages of performance: customer awareness, customer sensitivity, customer focus and customer obsession. Here is the “executive summary” version of some conditions of each stage.

In building relationships with and value for customers, my longtime observation is most organizations tend to progress through several stages of performance: customer awareness, customer sensitivity, customer focus and customer obsession.

Here is the “executive summary” version of some conditions of each stage.

Customer Awareness
Customers are known, but in the aggregate. The organization believes it can select its customers and understand their needs. Measurement of performance is rudimentary, if it exists at all; and customer data are siloed. There’s a traditional, hierarchical, top-down management model, with “chimneyed” or “smokestack” communication (goes up or down, but not horizontal) with little evidence of teaming.

Customer Sensitivity
Customers are known, but still mostly in the aggregate. Customer service is somewhat more evident (though still viewed as a cost center), with a focus on complaint and problem resolution (but not proactive complaint generation; internal groups tend to point fingers and blame each other for negative customer issues). Measurement is mostly around customer attitudes and functional transactions, i.e. satisfaction, with little awareness of emotional relationship drivers. The organization has a principally traditional, hierarchical, top-down management model, with “chimneyed” or “smokestack” communication (goes up or down, but not horizontal), with some evidence of teaming (mostly in areas of complaint resolution).

Customer Focus
Customers are both known and valued, down to the individual level, and they are recognized as having different needs, both functional and emotional. The customer life cycle is front-and-center; and performance measurement is much more about emotion and value drivers than satisfaction. Service and value provision is regarded as an enterprise priority; and customer stabilization and recovery are goals when problems or complaints arise. Communication and collaboration with customers, between employees, and between employees and customers is featured. Management model and style is considerably more horizontal, with greater emphasis on teaming to improve customer value processes.

It’s notable that, at this more evolved and advanced stage of enterprise customer-centricity, complaints are thought of more in terms of a life cycle component, and recovery is more of a strategy than a resolution.

Customer Obsession
Throughout the organization, customer needs and expectations—especially those that are emotional—are well understood, and response is appropriate (and often proactive).

Everyone is involved in providing value to customers—from C-suite to front-line—and everyone understands his/her role. Customer behavior is recognized as essential to enterprise success, and optimal relationships are sought.

Performance measurement is focused, and shared, on what most monetizes customer behavior (loyalty, emotion and communication metrics—such as brand-bonding and advocacy—replace satisfaction and recommendation).

Customer service (along with pipelines and processes) is an enterprise priority, and seen as a vital, and profitable, element of value delivery.

The management model is far more horizontal, replacing traditional hierarchy; and there is an emphasis on teaming and inclusion of customers to create or enhance value.

Companies that are customer-obsessed, and what makes them both unique and successful, have been extensively profiled by consultants and the business press. Often, they go so far as to create emotionally driven, engaged and even branded experiences for their customers, strategically differentiating them from their peers.

In addition, these companies focus on the complete customer life cycle, and much more on retention, loyalty and risk mitigation (and even winback) than acquisition. Support experiences are strategic, nimble and seamless, and often omnichannel. Multiple sources of data are used to develop insights. Recognizing the information needs of their customers, they invest in altruistic content creation (over advertising); and they communicate proactively and in as personalized a manner as possible

Customer obsession, what I refer to as “inside-out” customer-centricity, has been a frequent subject of my blogs and articles: One of Albert Einstein’s iconic quotes reflects the complete dedication of resources and values needed for an organization to optimize its relationships with customers: “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master.” Mastery requires, as well, a storehouse of experience coming from experimentation; so, just like in the pole vault and high jump, we can expect that the customer-centricity bar will continue to be raised.

Cheat Sheet: Is Your Database Marketing Ready?

Many data-related projects end up as big disappointments. And, in many cases, it is because they did not have any design philosophy behind them. Because many folks are more familiar with buildings and cars than geeky databases, allow me to use them as examples here.

Many data-related projects end up as big disappointments. And, in many cases, it is because they did not have any design philosophy behind them. Because many folks are more familiar with buildings and cars than geeky databases, allow me to use them as examples here.

Imagine someone started constructing a building without a clear purpose. What is it going to be? An office building or a residence? If residential, for how many people? For a family, or for 200 college kids? Are they going to just eat and sleep in there, or are they going to engage in other activities in it? What is the budget for development and ongoing maintenance?

If someone starts building a house without answering these basic questions, well, it is safe to say that the guy who commissioned such a project is not in the right state of mind. Then again, he may be a filthy rich rock star with some crazy ideas. But let us just say that is an exceptional case. Nonetheless, surprisingly, a great many database projects start out exactly this way.

Just like a house is not just a sum of bricks, mortar and metal, a database is not just a sum of data, and there has to be design philosophy behind it. And yet, many companies think that putting all available data in one place is just good enough. Call it a movie without a director or a building without an architect; you know and I know that such a project cannot end well.

Even when a professional database designer gets involved, too often the project goes out of control—as the business requirement document ends up being a summary of
everyone’s wish lists, without any prioritization or filtering. It is a case of a movie without a director. The goal becomes something like “a database that stores all conceivable marketing, accounting and payment activities, handling both prospecting and customer relationship management through all conceivable channels, including face-to-face sales and lead management for big accounts. And it should include both domestic and international activities, and the update has to be done in real time.”

Really. Someone in that organization must have attended a database marketing conference recently to get all that listed. It might be simpler and cheaper building a 2-ton truck that flies. But before we commission something like this from the get-go, shall we discuss why the truck has to fly, too? For one, if you want real-time updates, do you have a business case for it? (As in, someone in the field must make real-time decisions with real-time data.) Or do you just fancy a large object, moving really fast?

Companies that primarily sell database tools often do not help the matter, either. Some promise that the tool sets will categorize all kinds of input data, based on some auto-generated meta-tables. (Really?) The tool will clean the data automatically. (Is it a self-cleaning oven?) The tool will establish key links (by what?), build models on its own (with what target data?), deploy campaigns (every Monday?), and conduct result analysis (with responses from all channels?).

All these capabilities sound really wonderful, but does that system set long- and short-term marketing goals for you, too? Does it understand the subtle nuances in human behaviors and intentions?

Sorry for being a skeptic here. But in such cases, I think someone watched “Star Trek” too much. I have never seen a company that does not regret spending seven figures on a tool set that was supposed to do everything. Do you wonder why? It is not because such activities cannot be automated, but because:

  1. Machines do not think for us (not quite yet); and
  2. Such a system is often very expensive, as it needs to cover all contingencies (the opposite of “goal-oriented” cheaper options).

So it becomes nearly impossible to justify the cost with incremental improvements in marketing efficiency. Even if the response rates double, all related marketing costs go down by a quarter, and revenue jumps up by 200 percent, there are not many companies that can easily justify that kind of spending.

Worse yet, imagine that you just paid 10 times more for some factory-made suit than you would have paid for a custom-made Italian suit. Since when is an automated, cookie-cutter answer more desirable than custom-tailored ones? Ever since computing and storage costs started to go down significantly, and more so in this age of Big Data that has an “everything, all the time” mentality.

But let me ask you again: Do you really have a marketing database?

Let us just say that I am a car designer. A potential customer who has been doing a lot of research on the technology front presents me with a spec for a vehicle that is as big as a tractor-trailer and as quick as a passenger car. I guess that someone really needs to move lots of stuff, really fast. Now, let us assume that it will cost about $8 million or more to build a car like that, and that estimate is without the rocket booster (ah, my heart breaks). If my business model is to take a percentage out of that budget, I would say, “Yeah sure, we can build a car like that for you. When can we start?”

But let us stop for a moment and ask why the client would “need” (not “want”) a car like that in the first place. After some user interviews and prioritization, we may collectively conclude that a fleet of full-size vans can satisfy 98 percent of the business needs, saving about $7 million. If that client absolutely and positively has to get to that extra 2 percent to satisfy every possible contingency in his business and spend that money, well, that is his prerogative, is it not? But I have to ask the business questions first before initiating that inevitable long and winding journey without a roadmap.

Knowing exactly what the database is supposed to be doing must be the starting point. Not “let’s just gather everything in one place and hope to God that some user will figure something out eventually.” Also, let’s not forget that constantly adding new goals in any phase of the project will inevitably complicate the matter and increase the cost.

Conversely, repurposing a database designed for some other goal will cause lots of troubles down the line. Yeah, sure. Is it not possible to move 100 people from A to B with a 2-seater sports car, if you are willing to make lots of quick trips and get some speeding tickets along the way? Yes, but that would not be my first recommendation. Instead, here are some real possibilities.

Databases support many different types of activities. So let us name a few:

  • Order fulfillment
  • Inventory management and accounting
  • Contact management for sales
  • Dashboard and report generation
  • Queries and selections
  • Campaign management
  • Response analysis
  • Trend analysis
  • Predictive modeling and scoring
  • Etc., etc.

The list goes on, and some of the databases may be doing fine jobs in many areas already. But can we safely call them “marketing” databases? Or are marketers simply tapping into the central data depository somehow, just making do with lots of blood, sweat and tears?

As an exercise, let me ask a few questions to see if your organization has a functioning marketing database for CRM purposes:

  • What is the average order size per year for customers with tenure of more than one year? —You may have all the transaction data, but maybe not on an individual level in order to know the average.
  • What is the number of active and dormant customers based on the last transaction date? —You will be surprised to find out that many companies do not know exactly how many customers they really have. Beep! 1 million-“ish” is not a good answer.
  • What is the average number of days between activities for each channel for each customer? —With basic transaction data summarized “properly,” this is not a difficult question to answer. But it’s very difficult if there are divisional “channel-centric” databases scattered all over.
  • What is the average number of touches through all channels that you employ before your customer reaches the projected value potential? —This is a hard one. Without all the transaction and contact history by all channels in a “closed-loop” structure, one cannot even begin to formulate an answer for this one. And the “value potential” is a result of statistical modeling, is it not?
  • What are typical gateway products, and how are they correlated to other product purchases? —This may sound like a product question, but without knowing each customer’s purchase history lined up properly with fully standardized product categories, it may take a while to figure this one out.
  • Are basic RFM data—such as dollars, transactions, dates and intervals—routinely being used in predictive models? —The answer is a firm “no,” if the statisticians are spending the majority of their time fixing the data; and “not even close,” if you are still just using RFM data for rudimentary filtering.

Now, if your answer is “Well, with some data summarization and inner/outer joins here and there—though we don’t have all transaction records from last year, and if we can get all the campaign histories from all seven vendors who managed our marketing campaigns, except for emails—maybe?”, then I am sorry to inform you that you do not have a marketing database. Even if you can eventually get to the answer if some programmer takes two weeks to draw a 7-page flow chart.

Often, I get extra comments like “But we have a relational database!” Or, “We stored every transaction for the past 10 years in Hadoop and we can retrieve any one of them in less than a second!” To these comments, I would say “Congratulations, your car has four wheels, right?”

To answer the important marketing questions, the database should be organized in a “buyer-centric” format. Going back to the database philosophy question, the fundamental design of the database changes based on its main purpose, much like the way a sports sedan and an SUV that share the same wheel base and engine end up shaped differently.

Marketing is about people. And, at the center of the marketing database, there have to be people. Every data element in the base should be “describing” those people.

Unfortunately, most relational databases are transaction-, channel- or product-centric, describing events and transactions—but not the people. Unstructured databases that are tuned primarily for massive storage and rapid retrieval may just have pieces of data all over the place, necessitating serious rearrangement to answer some of the most basic business questions.

So, the question still stands. Is your database marketing ready? Because if it is, you would have taken no time to answer my questions listed above and say: “Yeah, I got this. Anything else?”

Now, imagine the difference between marketers who get to the answers with a few clicks vs. the ones who have no clue where to begin, even when sitting on mounds of data. The difference between the two is not the size of the investment, but the design philosophy.

I just hope that you did not buy a sports car when you needed a truck.

A Successful Social Selling Example in B-to-B Marketing

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) is one of my favorite social selling examples in B-to-B sales. Telling this story at conferences is always a crowd-pleaser because of how practical and repeatable the approach is. JLL is a global player in real estate management and investments. The firm helps commercial real estate owners make money managing big properties and buildings smarter. In this short video, I’ll reveal how JLL’s sales team is using YouTube videos to get more discussion going with hard-to-reach decision-makers.

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) is one of my favorite social selling examples in B-to-B sales. Telling this story at conferences is always a crowd-pleaser because of how practical and repeatable the approach is.

JLL is a global player in real estate management and investments. The firm helps commercial real estate owners make money managing big properties and buildings smarter. In this short video, I’ll reveal how JLL’s sales team is using YouTube videos to get more discussion going with hard-to-reach decision-makers.

Behind the Scenes
What’s at work here? Let’s look at what’s going on behind the scenes so you can replicate social selling success in your setting.

JLL’s sales team has an unusually smart, very effective, starting point when approaching social selling.

They start with customers’ problems, challenges and goals in mind. Then, they design everything they put out onto social media to create one thing: response. For them that’s all that matters—getting clients to email or pick up the phone and ask for a meeting to talk about their problems.

JLL’s sales and account reps know how to structure what to say. They know how to talk to clients, not just what to say. They also know when to talk and when to clam up. This helps them create so much curiosity in JLL that customers cannot resist responding.

JLL’s reps provoke customers to take action. Here’s the surprising part: In the world of social media, what actually generates response has very little to do with technology.

Generating leads and appointments is based on one, essential practice: Copywriting. Direct response copywriting that grabs attention, challenges status quo thinking and provokes a response. So here’s one of my best social selling examples: A multi-billion dollar organization using the copywriting technique I love to train sales teams to execute.

The Problem and Solution
JLL had a new energy & sustainability division to launch, but current customers told sales reps their whitepapers were horrible. Potential customers were distracted—impossible to reach. The “greening of corporate America” was in full swing, but customers didn’t want to engage.

The problem: JLL’s whitepapers were filled with knowledge that clients already. So JLL’s sellers decided to focus more on capturing video sound bytes from a variety of property management experts.

Each two- to three-minute video captured surprising and, sometimes, shocking information. Knowledge that was structured to intentionally irritate customers—cause them to think, “Uh-oh, I didn’t realize that. I’d better call my rep to get to the bottom of this,” or “WHAT?! I had no idea. I better find out more about this right away … my butt is on the line here!”

For the rest of the story, watch the video clip above and learn how got the attention of busy, distracted property owners—many of whom were interested in talking about JLL’s services after all! I’ll show you exactly how they got prospects and clients to ask for discussions!

USPS Exigency Becomes a Political Toss – and a Punishing Farce

With the sole exception of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) swinging for the United States Postal Service ratepayer (you and me), January 2014 was a dismal month for those who advocate direct mail in the marketing mix … and in February, I’m definitely looking for some love. Will we find it?

With the sole exception of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) swinging for the United States Postal Service ratepayer (you and me), January 2014 was a dismal month for those who advocate direct mail in the marketing mix … and in February, I’m definitely looking for some love. Will we find it?

First, there was January 26 … the day new postal rates took effect, full-on. “The 6.0 percent postage increase—three times the rate of inflation—will not help the Postal Service shore up its financial base,” said Peggy Hudson, senior vice president, government affairs, Direct Marketing Association, part of a coalition which filed a court appeal to halt the exigency portion of the rate hike, 4.3 percent. “It will simply drive mail from the system, which harms the financial viability of both the Postal Service and its business customers. It is a lose-lose proposition.”

Then, there is an unpalatable compromise brewing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. (Compromise always deals with some distaste, or else it wouldn’t be a compromise.) On our behalf, Sen. Baldwin was attempting to strip “offensive” Section 301 from the legislation, which would have abandoned the inflation consumer-price-index peg for annual postal rate increases, and replace it with a new CPI+1 percent index—adding potentially 10-percent higher rates over a decade than would happen under existing law.

Last week, one of the primary sponsors of the current postal reform bill—Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)—offered a deal: Essentially, Carper would keep the CPI index mailers crave in place but, in return, the exigency (4.3 percent hike) would be included in the baseline for future annual hikes—thereby removing the 2-year limit on the exigency imposed by the Postal Regulatory Commission in its oversight of the rate hike and making the exigency permanent. Further, the PRC’s oversight role on postal rate changes would be kept intact—something the current language of the bill is attempting to strip. Sen. Baldwin asked for a mark-up delay, no doubt to consider the offer with her constituents.

What a farce: An exigency made permanent? Now that’s a paradox—and an audacious one at that. We can see the Postal Service getting much of the would-be CPI+1 back over the next 10 years, assuming there’s no more crises forcing USPS management, the mailing community or both clamoring for another postal reform bill within 10 years’ time.

Is keeping the CPI index so important to us now that we’ll hold our noses on this compromise? A mark-up on the bill—a Committee vote—has been moved to February 6 As of January 31, DMA is still asking its members to weigh in here to get Section 301 tossed.

There is a disturbing pattern here. The Postal Service is our business partner, for sure—and there’s nearly universal support for that partnership across the board. But if it (USPS management, USPS labor, and the both of them) keeps fighting its customers with higher postal rates, and running to Congress with mock exigencies or new rate-setting formulae that undermine fiscal discipline, then the financial reality of that partnership gets sadder by the day. Lose-lose ignites a dying cycle.

Mailers have suffered through recession. Marketers deal with digital migration. They have had to endure cost-cutting, price-cutting and layoffs to make it to 2014—and they’ve relied on invention to survive and thrive. What they have not been able to do is take their customers for granted, by passing along hardships in higher prices.

“Business-like” USPS policy and operations remain marred in politics—exigency is another sadly perfect example.