Your Top 5 Direct Marketing Problems

What do you consider your greatest marketing problem? Or perhaps of even more interest: What do your peers report as their top marketing problems? And if you could, wouldn’t you want to know what channels your competitors report as working for them?

Angry manWhat do you consider your greatest marketing problem? Or perhaps of even more interest: What do your peers report as their top marketing problems? And if you could, wouldn’t you want to know what channels your competitors report as working for them? I recently surveyed a few marketers with those questions, so today I share what’s on their minds, along with an analysis of those marketing problems and successful channels as we go into 2016.

First, the top five problems:

  1. “Finding new customers and reengaging the ones we have to buy again.”
  2. “Competitive pressure is relentless and we’re struggling to break out.”
  3. “Overwhelmed with channel choices and uncertain what channels to use.”
  4. “Marketing in general isn’t delivering like it used to.”
  5. “Profitability is too low.”

Next, the channels with the highest satisfaction:

  1. Email
  2. Websites/landing pages
  3. Facebook
  4. Video
  5. Direct mail

Combining these two topics, I offer this analysis in the form of three takeaways:

Takeaway No. 1
Problem No. 1, finding new customers, and No. 3, channel choices, are linked. If these two elements are your problems too, you may be limiting your profitability with the channels you’re using. The number of channel choices and the pace at which they evolve is dizzying. You need to be knowledgeable about them (or find someone who can untangle them for you). You may need to venture out into the unknown. As they saying goes, you need to “meet your customers where they are.” If they’re on a channel you’re not using, then you likely suffer from difficulties in finding new customers and reengaging past customers.

Now, let’s overlay these problems with the channels where your peers report satisfaction.

  • The marketers who I heard from are satisfied with email marketing. If you’re not happy with your email marketing results, maybe it’s time to more aggressively A/B test new approaches to identify winners. Don’t forget the importance of your landing page to close deals.
  • Consider A/B testing of video on your landing page and evaluate its impact on conversions. Or test a long-form video sales letter. A well-done video can create greater comprehension.
  • Have you tried Facebook remarketing? Promoted posts? Are you engaging your followers frequently, with meaningful content, to create raving fans? Once you build Facebook followers, you have to continue to deliver meaningful content before you see results.

Takeaway No. 2
Problem No. 2, competitive pressure, and No. 4, marketing not delivering like it used to, can also be linked. How do you break away from your competition? You may need to re-examine your unique selling proposition, and then reposition your product or organization.

Have you conducted a competitive analysis? Research what your competitors are doing online and the channels they are using. Document your findings, then make a list of the top five things they’re doing that you’re not and test new approaches.

Takeaway No. 3
Problem No. 5, low profitability, reveals that you need to find lower-cost channels, or make a higher-cost channel like direct mail work better. Another possibility: reevaluate your offer and price. The top three channels where marketers are satisfied (email, websites and Facebook) are typically less expensive than direct mail, but require ongoing content development. Video doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you’re able to use customer-generated video for testimonials.

If profitability is lower than you want, now is the time for two tests: One is to invest in lower cost channels. The second is to test new creative and/or production values in direct mail to either increase response, or lower your cost per response.

Data Athletes in Modern Organizations

Let’s look at the ideas, insights and strategies for becoming what I have termed a “Data Athlete.” This term has evolved during the many years I have been involved with training and developing exceptionally smart creative analysts. These professionals have a high aptitude and passion to solve big data challenges and possess the dexterity to leap from the intellectually engaging problems to the immediately actionable digital media plays that yield a high ROI. I have found smart analysts love this term—they enthusiastically consider it a badge of honor in making it to the major leagues, where they solve complex marketing problems and optimize campaigns.

Let’s look at the ideas, insights and strategies for becoming what I have termed a “Data Athlete.” This term has evolved during the many years I have been involved with training and developing exceptionally smart creative analysts. These professionals have a high aptitude and passion to solve big data challenges and possess the dexterity to leap from the intellectually engaging problems to the immediately actionable digital media plays that yield a high ROI. I have found smart analysts love this term—they enthusiastically consider it a badge of honor in making it to the major leagues, where they solve complex marketing problems and optimize campaigns.

I’m sharing all of these learnings with you, as organizations are under ever greater pressures to change in a world that only grows more digital, and in the process is generating more and more data at a blinding pace. Keeping up will require a shift in thinking about businesses, marketing and data—and of course its value, or lack thereof. This will require you and/or your team to become or be more of a Data Athlete to compete in an ever more digital world.

What is a Data Athlete?
Like any athlete, a Data Athlete is competitive. If you’re striving to become or to be more of a Data Athlete, competitiveness is important. Data Athletes compete with the norm—challenging it and outperforming it. They also challenge all assumptions, opinions and even the data they work with. Nothing’s too sacred not to inquire, challenge and test.

Most importantly, Data Athletes build brands by creating solutions based on the evidence and the impact. They seek to affect change based on the impact it will realistically have. They methodically create the future and its outcomes.

Data Athletes have that internal drive to solve and to accomplish. Contrast this with the kitschy T-shirts at the Google Developers Conference that say “data nerd” (disclosure, I have one myself). Data Athletes aren’t interested in tech for tech’s sake, or data for data’s sake.

Data Athletes Don’t Come From Traditional IT Structures
Traditional IT organizations may have staff entirely comfortable with data, having spent entire careers working with databases—building and maintaining infrastructure, building cubes, reports, integrating systems and data sources, and performing the necessary “care and feeding.” Until very recently however, traditional IT and marketing have organizationally been far apart. Bridging that gap may realistically take years in some organizations. The cultural differences between Athletes and Traditional IT aren’t trivial, and they are well-founded. IT has, for decades, been focused on stability, consistency, repeatability—command and control and gradual cautious change.

Data Athletes, on the other hand, will seek to fail and fail fast, test and learn. They require an environment that is not only tolerant of, but embraces the rigorous, ambitious development of multiple hypotheses informed by customer data, rapid testing of those hypotheses, and speedy implementation of those tests—quickly weeding out the ideas that don’t work through a data-driven system of meritocracy and speed. Gumming up that value creation process through a traditional IT process and “queue” stifles the innovation and positive change. Data Athletes often have engineering backgrounds—and have little patience, as they know the cost of slow and lumbering improvement, or lack thereof.

Not surprisingly, Data Athletes don’t come from traditional IT departments, even though many come from software engineering, front-end development, Web analytics and data science. They bring direct marketing logic and understand how brands are built. They enjoy marketing and they are creative—they challenge marketing that “can’t” be measured and improved.

So while the circa 2015 Data Athletes has a deep appreciation for traditional IT and the back office, they are different from traditional IT in critical dimensions. Data Athletes are typically driven to engage, communicate and connect with the end customer at scale, where traditional IT tends to serve corporate management and internal customers.

So, why is it so difficult to cultivate an environment that nourishes and rewards data athletes? Why are some large organizations with abundant operational reporting capabilities slow to address the evolving needs of the more digital, “big data” marketplace?

Let’s answer these questions and discuss how companies can move the ball downfield with the help of data athletes, our future organizational stars, and thinking about your level of fitness as a more “data athletic” organization.

Here are four major considerations in the era of the Data Athlete as a mission-critical team member:

1. Data Athletes Differentiate Quickly Between Reporting and Analytics
More than 90 percent of the analytics programs I’ve looked at, specifically in Web analytics, are little more than reporting programs. Visits, clicks, time on site, sales, etc. All good. All interesting, and all are short on actionability.

2. Actionability Is The Data Athlete’s Priority
Successful businesses have the habit of tracking progress over time. It’s often driven by the CFO’s office. All rhythms drive from those operational metrics: sales, units sold, turnover, etc. They have reports on top of reports. No small effort or expense is required to make those reports and answer questions based on them. These are good for business. They also can shape a culture, a culture of looking at the same things. A culture of reporting.

A “report-driven” culture isn’t all bad. Maintaining that continuity of reporting over time doesn’t, in itself, address new challenges, new consumer behaviors, the impact of Pinterest on your customer relationships, or the threat of a new intermediary who’s putting pressure on you and driving up your acquisition costs. These things affect those top-level, “operational” numbers driven by that reporting. By the time they really hit the reports hard enough, you’re already behind, which sets up “fire drills” and suffocates marketing strategy. The direction is oftentimes driven by opinions. More about that in a moment.

Reporting by definition is reactive, where analytics is really driving the creation of strategies to affect change.

3. HiPPOs Usually Aren’t Athletes.
This isn’t the “hippo” at least some of you were thinking of …

A HiPPO is the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.” You probably know from experience how often the HiPPO in the room has an opinion—and challenging it isn’t easy. Or maybe you are the “HiPPO” in the room, at times. HiPPO-dominated organizations don’t need evidence that data provides. They don’t assess the impact of decisions with data, either.

HiPPOs often come from backgrounds where data and evidence are non-existent or primitive. Their ideas are rarely tested or proven, they are qualitative and only shoot straight from the hip.

In comparing Amazon to JCPenney, Fortune described Amazon’s perspective on HiPPOs as “leaders who are so self-assured that they need neither others’ ideas nor data to affirm the correctness of their instinctual beliefs.” HiPPOs sometimes frown on using data to inform and shape a business, labeling anything that seeks to create business model scalability through the intelligent use of customer data as “analysis paralysis.”

HiPPOs miss the fact that Data Athletes don’t just gorge themselves on data, they actually loath excessive unusable data and the overhead that comes with it.

An Athlete does not believe in data for data’s sake. They know what they need, and what they can do with it.

Instead, they see the HiPPO’s experience and knowledge as a source to shape problem definition. They validate the opportunity and problem with the right data. Without strong and accurate problem definition, it’s hard for anyone to effectively choose what data matters and what can be thrown away.

If you have these smart data athletes in your organization, don’t be a HiPPO and trample them—for when you do, you miss opportunity.

If you hire smart Data Athletes, it’s a business risk to ignore them. When you do, you’re under-leveraging and you’re not learning and growing yourself.

How Does This Help a Marketer?
First, think about your own organization, your own challenges, and evaluate if you’re dominated by HiPPOs or if you’re leveraging Athletes in your organization. It’s hard to debate if you need them anymore—you do, and you will. Partner with the Athletes in your organization, and you’ll begin the process of performing at an advanced level.

In future articles, we’ll discuss more specific strategic approaches and tactical executions that can help you execute and become more of a Data Athlete and introduce this unique type of “athleticism” to your organization.