Toasting 2018 Silver Apple Honorees: In Their Words

You might have heard of a big event that happened last week in the USA. No, not THAT one. I’m talking about but the presentation of the Direct Marketing Club of New York’s 2018 Silver Apples honors. Here’s more about the awards, from the Silver Apple honorees themselves.

Silver Apple Honorees ballroom
Photo Credit: Edison Ballroom via DMCNY, 2018

You might have heard of a big event that happened last week in the USA. No, not THAT one. I’m talking about but the presentation of the Direct Marketing Club of New York’s 2018 Silver Apples honors. Here’s more about the awards, from the Silver Apple honorees themselves.

The Silver Apples recognize leadership, stewardship and business success mid-career in the data, direct and digital marketing field. Each honoree has (more or less) 25 years of experience, with matching achievements to point to … and all have additional contributions to our industry, community, mentoring and giving back.

With the assistance of newly named The Drum U.S. Editor Ginger Conlon, I thought it worth amplifying a few key industry insights shared by this year’s individual honorees:

Anita Absey, Chief Revenue Officer, Voxy (New York):

Favorite Data Story: “Back in the very early days when I was at Infobase, we were doing data overlays on customer databases, which was novel at the time. While working with a large insurer, doing overlays of demographic and socioeconomic data on their database, the profile and segmentation scheme that emerged from that work actually defied some of the assumptions that they had about the characteristics for their customers’ profile. The insights we provided them helped them make subtle changes in their communications and targeting to customers, which improved the overall risk profile of their customer base. It was gratifying to see how data could affirm or deny assumptions and enable our client to make decisions that helped improve the risk profile of their business.”

Measurement: “Hope is not a strategy. Your actions have to be data-based, not hopeful. Similarly, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Unless you have data that points you to the actions and decisions that are best for the business, you’re running blind.”

Matt Blumberg, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Return Path, Inc. (New York):

On Choosing Marketing: “The thing that drew me to marketing was the Internet. I had been working as an investor at a venture capital firm that invested in software companies. Once Netscape went public and people started figuring out the short- and the long-term potential of the Internet, I got very excited about working in that field. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Internet is all about direct marketing. For the first several years of my career, I would never have described myself as a direct marketer; but in hindsight, obviously, I was.”

On Inspiration: “It’s several sentences out of a speech by Theodore Roosevelt called ‘The Man in the Arena.’
It’s incredible. It goes:

” ‘ … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’

“I take it as the entrepreneur’s motto. It’s a beautiful passage that I have taped up everywhere.”

Pam Haas, Account Director, Experian Marketing Services (Providence, RI):

Overhyped: “Display and programmatic technologies are overhyped. It’s like the early days of email marketing: People just started sending millions of emails, hoping some would stick. The same thing is happening in display and programmatic. That part of the industry still needs to mature.”

Best Metric: “Right now, it’s the ROAS: Return on Ads Spent. I love that. For every dollar that the client is spending, we know that we are driving X number of dollars in sales.”

Career Advice: “Diversify. In marketing, there are so many different angles and specialties that you can focus your career on. Throughout my career, I’ve [been] able to gain experience in multiple facets of marketing: direct response, email technology, and in databases and modeling. Digital is so sexy right now, but the fundamentals still apply; so it’s important not to pigeonhole yourself into one area.

“While in a mentor program at Equifax, my mentor was a woman and she told me, ‘You have to be your own PR person. You have to make your accomplishments known, because nobody else is going to do that for you.’”

Keira Krausz, EVP and CMO, Nutrisystem, Inc. (Fort Washington, Penn.):

On Her Current Assignment: “I’m proud of where we are at Nutrisystem and I’m particularly proud of what we’ve built as a team. Our job is wonderful, because we get to help people live healthier and happier lives. Since 2013, we’ve nearly doubled the business, which means we’ve helped a whole lot more people get healthier and happier. Along the way, we’ve revamped nearly every aspect of our business that you can think of, and we’re just getting started.”

On Mentoring: “In my first years in marketing, I was always being asked what my goals were and how I saw myself in years to come, and I always felt flummoxed, because I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t one of those young people who had their whole life planned out when I was 25, and I often felt insecure about that. But it turns out that was OK.

“So, one thing I did that I would advise is, from early on, try to work for someone you can learn from. Somebody who you admire, who has something unique, and who can teach you something that you think you’re missing. The rest will fall together.”

Tim Suther, SVP and General Manager, Data Solutions, Change Healthcare (Lombard, Ill.):

On Career Choice: “I’ve always been technology-oriented, from learning to code when I was 17 to graduating college with a finance degree. With that background, naturally, I was suspicious of marketing. A lot of marketing felt inauthentic and superficial to me. But I had this one moment where I actually saw a dynamic gains curve for the first time and I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen.’ It was the intersection of the art of marketing and the science of data that really drew me in; and boy, did I get lucky on that one, because that’s what it’s all about today.”

On Being Data-Driven: “This might surprise you a little bit, but it annoys me when marketers say that they’re data-driven, because that’s like saying, ‘OK, it’s time to turn off my brain and just let the data drive the story.’

“I think marketers are far better off when they are data-informed, where they’re combining what the data is telling them with their own business judgment to make the right decision. Human behavior is still too complicated to purely reduce to what an algorithm tells you to do; it has to be a combination of what the data is saying, creative savvy and business judgment.”

This year, DMCNY added two special awards not tied to mid-career, but recognizing two huge drivers in our business today: advocacy and disruption. The inaugural Apples of Excellence 2018 honorees include:

Advocacy:

Stu Ingis, Chairman, Venable LLP (Washington, D.C.):

On Policy-Making: “The whole privacy concern is overhyped. What’s not getting its fair recognition, in the policy world, is all of the innovation that the marketing community brings to society. For instance, they’re bringing real-time targeted marketing to television and delivering marketing communications that consumers are interested in on a personalized basis.”

On Careers: “Take the long view. Work really hard; don’t worry about the compensation or the glory, and then persevere. Stay with it. Don’t switch jobs all the time thinking that something else is always better. If you develop your skills, the good work will come to you. You don’t have to go to it.

“I’d been representing the DMA for about two years, and I had an opportunity to leave the law firm and go out in the early Internet age at Yahoo!

“Yahoo! stock was going up. I would have made millions of dollars a day. I went to Ron Plesser and said, ‘I like working for you; I like the clients; I like the work I’m doing. But I could go get really rich working for this company.’ He said, ‘Why do you want to do that? It’ll ruin your life.’ For whatever reason, I actually believed him and agreed with him. And I stayed at my job. It was probably the best decision I ever made. I don’t regret it for a second.”

Disruptor Award, Presented by Alliant:

Bonin Bough, Founder and Chief Growth Officer, Bonin Ventures (New York):

About Bonin: “His unique approach of applying innovative technology to create breakthrough campaigns helped to reinvigorate traditional marketing brands, such as Gatorade, Honey Maid, Oreo and Pepsi.

“But his influence doesn’t stop there. Bonin believes in supporting young talent and savvy entrepreneurs. While at Mondelēz International, for example, he created internal programs to mentor young talent and launched a startup innovation program, Mobile Futures, to provide a platform for marketing-tech and agency start-ups to work with the CPG giant.

“Stephanie Agresta, global director of enterprise growth at Qnary, describes him best in her recommendation on LinkedIn: ‘Bonin is a force of nature … A true rockstar from Cleveland to Cannes, Bonin has been [at] the forefront of the digital revolution from the beginning. Smart, successful, and connected, Bonin has the pulse on what’s next. Those that know Bonin well can also attest to his generosity, commitment to mentorship and a deep belief that anything is possible.’”

Since I had the privilege of interacting with Bonin at DMA &Then18 recently, I can attest the walls fall away when you converse with him. Disrupted, indeed.

All of these honorees as well as corporate recipient Winterberry Group have many things to teach us. That’s why it’s important we continue to recognize these business leaders, as marketing today, as Matt Blumberg says, is a 100 different things. It’s the business outcomes that matter.

Testing: Sometimes, the Little Things Count

We’re always seeking new approaches to achieve breakthrough results in direct response marketing, and sometimes we get a big win with a bold new concept. But while you’re on the quest for a big idea, don’t overlook the little things. Slight changes, particularly in your call to action or offer structure, can result in incremental improvements and even significant lifts in response. And in the online world, these tests are easy to execute and results can be read quickly.

testing in marketing
“A/B testing,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Howard Lake

We’re always seeking new approaches to achieve breakthrough results in direct response marketing, and sometimes we get a big win with a bold new concept. But while you’re on the quest for a big idea, don’t overlook the little things. Slight changes, particularly in your call to action or offer structure, can result in incremental improvements and even significant lifts in response. And in the online world, these tests are easy to execute and results can be read quickly.

Recently, I moderated a panel for the Philly DMA. Panelists Caleb Freeman of Calcium USA, Kate Gomulka of MayoSeitz Media, Julie Herbster of Quattro Direct, and Arly Iampietro of Nutrisystem all shared tips on optimizing online marketing.

Some of the insights Iampietro conveyed illustrate how little things can result in significant wins. She’s responsible for optimizing the website user experience at Nutrisystem. So Iampietro showed us how minor changes to the copy on the call-to-action button, like using a caret (>) next to the button text, made a big difference in guiding customers through the conversion process. Also, for a high-commitment product like a diet program, things that suggested a commitment by the visitor before the person was ready to commit depress response.

For example, early on in the user experience:

  • “Continue >” stimulates more clicks than “Order now >”
  • “View plan >” outperforms “Get started >”

Other easy tests include changing up the imagery on the site. For example, men converted better when shown pictures of men with women rather than with other men.

Offer structure is highly important and easy to test. In his book “Predictably Irrational,” psychologist Dan Ariely relates a classic example of how a simple change in the offer structure made a difference for The Economist magazine. He presented a group of 100 MBA students with the following offers:

  • Internet-Only Subscription                    $59
  • Print-Only Subscription                        $125
  • Print and Internet Subscription          $125

The results — 84 selected the combo offer vs. 16 selecting Internet only. With the “Print Only” decoy offer removed, only 32 selected the combo offer. I repeated this experiment with a group of 30 undergrad students, presenting the scenario without the decoy offer first. None of them chose the print and Internet option. With the decoy offer inserted, about half went for the combo offer — and these were budget-conscious undergrads who don’t consume print as a rule!

Easy-to-execute tests that bring big results are not limited to online marketing. In my agency days, we had a B2B client who was sending millions of mailers out each season. We tested multiple creative executions against a very recalcitrant control every year, without a significant win. Then we decided to buck traditional direct wisdom that mailing to an actual name would outperform a non-personal address. What we found was that addressing mail to the functional title of the decision-maker outperformed our mailings to specific names, some of which may no longer have been at the company. So don’t be afraid to test against your long-held assumptions, so long as you do it in a limited way.
The takeaway? A big win doesn’t always come from a big change.

What little things have you done that have generated big wins?