Returns Are the Final Frontier for E-Commerce Dominance

E-commerce has had to overcome several barriers in its relatively short lifespan. (Well, relatively short for a Baby Boomer. But not so much for Millennials and Gen-Zers, who don’t remember a time when milk was delivered to your doorstep daily.)

E-commerce has had to overcome several barriers in its relatively short lifespan. (Well, relatively short for a Baby Boomer. But not so much for Millennials and Gen-Zers, who don’t remember a time when milk was delivered to your doorstep daily — but you couldn’t get almost everything else delivered for free in two days.)

First, there was online penetration. In 1999, only 44% of Americans had Internet access, either at home or at work.

Next, there was the fear of using your credit card online (65% in 1999). Most people got over that as they began to trust traditional retailers’ online sites and Amazon became a household word.

Shipping costs are too high. Enter Amazon Prime and FREE SHIPPING on orders over $30 from other retailers.

“I want to see it and feel it” and “I need it today” resulted in shopping online and buying offline, a common practice for several product categories even today, including high-end electronics and clothing.

Returns are a hassle and/or expensive. Yep! About 33% of global shoppers cited online return policies and processes as deterrents. (Chain Store Age, October 2015)

If there’s one thing consumers hate more than paying for shipping, it’s paying for return shipping. As counterproductive as it seems, I go out of my way to take Amazon returns to a return center to avoid paying $7 for return shipping. Returning an online purchase to a retail location is another option that consumers will choose — one that is probably more time-intensive, with a higher negative ROI. I don’t have firsthand knowledge, but I’m sure most online retailers have tested a higher price point with free shipping vs. lower price point plus shipping. Chances are, free shipping wins.

Zappos offers free returns so you can try different sizes and colors of shoes on in the comfort of your own home. However, free returns are met with the same skepticism regarding price as free shipping.

E-commerce continues to grow at a decent pace.

“Early analysis from Internet Retailer shows online retail sales in the U.S. crossed $517 billion in 2018, a 15% jump, compared with 2017. The growth in retail sales in physical stores reached 3.7% last year. This means that e-commerce now accounts for 14.3% of total retail sales, when factoring out the sale of items not normally purchased online, such as fuel, automobiles, and sales in restaurants. And it also means that in only a decade, the web has more than doubled its share of retail sales. Ten short years ago, e-commerce was at 5.1% of total retail purchases.”

While an almost threefold growth in 10 years is impressive, I think that making the return process more satisfying for consumers can accelerate the growth of e-commerce. Changing the consumer mindset about return costs may be the answer.  In his book, “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics,” Richard Thaler notes that members view their Costco and Amazon Prime annual fees as investments and make no attempt to allocate those costs over the various purchases they make during the year.

Is there an opportunity for an unlimited free returns membership add-on from Amazon or another retailer? I know people who are chronic returners at brick-and-mortar stores who would welcome it. Pricing it certainly would be tricky. What do you think?

‘Who Cares?’ Online May Overtake Offline Spending in 2018

I found it quaint when my server at a hotel restaurant came up to me and said this morning, “Would you like to see today’s paper with your breakfast?”

server
“waiter,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by faungg’s photos

I found it quaint when my server at a hotel restaurant came up to me and said this morning, “Would you like to see today’s paper with your breakfast?”

“No, thank you,” I said. I actually had had this week’s print issue of The Economist with me, and opened that to read, instead. As I looked around the room however, most everyone who was reading anything was doing so on their smartphones.

While my youthful eyes (that’s a joke) still prefer print for reading, and I still prefer print for pictures, the truth is that even my own preferences for print in many instances have fallen away to smartphone, tablet, and PC demands and consumption habits. It’s as if print media has emerged as a quiet luxury — a respite from digital content and its potential many distractions.

Two weeks ago, Bruce Biegel of The Winterberry Group provided his annual “Outlook for Data-Driven Marketing for 2018,” along with a recap for 2017, at the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Two excellent summaries of the presentation are here and here, and the presentation is available for a download at the Winterberry Group site, currently. Scroll down on the home page.

During the presentation, I tweeted out the fact that online ad spend (display, search, email, mobile, affiliate, lead gen and social) he predicts will overtake offline ad spend (direct mail, teleservices, shopper and event marketing) for the first time in 2018 — with measured media, traditional media (broadcast TV, radio, outdoor, magazine, newspapers and cinema), still holding onto the largest slice. One of my industry colleagues tweeted back, “Who cares?”

Winterberry Gorup report
Credit: “Outlook for Data-Driven Marketing – 2018″ by The Winterberry Group

I suppose meeting a milestone such as this truly is inevitable, and matters only inasmuch as a historical marker of changing patterns of media consumption — and a growing comfort level for data-driven marketing. Advertisers are only chasing consumers where they are, after all. Bruce even remarked how Winterberry Group even underestimated the rapidity of the offline-to-online shift in 2017, with direct mail spend falling faster than anticipated. (It is not without note that Bruce characterized direct mail as perhaps the most “measurable, accountable” of all media.)

The next “Who cares?” moment may be if and when traditional media spend is overtaken by either offline or online media spend (or both of them), as advertisers seek out such “measurable, accountable” ad spend over the straightforward brand spend that tends to dominate traditional media categories. As chief marketing officers become more data-conversant, will they seek out more direct customer engagement over impressions? Will cost-per-thousand be supplanted by cost-per-action, even within traditional media categories? With spending on data set to grow in 2018 by 5.7 percent, offline ad spend by 3.8 percent, and digital ad spend including mobile by 15.2 percent — while traditional media is projected to decline by 0.8 percent (quite remarkable for a year with the Winter Olympics and mid-term Elections) — one might expect the “Who cares?” moment for traditional media may be coming soon.

But who cares? There will always be a role for branding — even as consumer interaction as an objective rises. Omnichannel marketing, single data views of the customer, and “right place, right offer, right moment” are largely directional and aspirational, and are well-worth pursuing. But 100 percent efficient ad spending will always be elusive.

I’m not even certain the consumer wants to be all that much engaged. Consumers don’t always consume — they sometimes sleep, eat, relax and recharge, too. And it’s time for me to finish my breakfast.

Streaming Video Will Beat Addressable TV to the Punch

For years we’ve been hearing about addressable television, the ability to target TV ads to individual viewers much like you would online ads with targeting, and potentially even retargeting. But in my opinion, addressable TV is at least 3 years too late.

For years we’ve been hearing about addressable television, which is the ability to target TV ads to individual viewers much like you would online ads with targeting, and potentially even retargeting. In fact, eMarketer just released a report predicting that the addressable TV market will grow from $1.26 billion this year to $2.25 billion next year and $3.04 billion in 2019!

Those numbers sound amazing. But they’re not. In fact, even at $3 billion, addressable TV will only represent 4 percent of all TV ad spend, and the rate of increase is clearly declining.

eMarketer US Addressable TV Ad Spending, 2015-2019In my opinion, addressable TV is at least 3 years too late.

In the time broadcast television has taken to catch up with online advertising, not only has online advertising lapped it repeatedly in most forms of effectiveness (save only brand impression), online streaming services are stealing TV’s entertainment thunder, too. Streaming services from YouTube to Neflix and Hulu now attract not only top talent, but prime time viewership and awards. And with more competition on the way in Facebook Watch and Disney streaming (to name just two of many), television could well be staring down the barrel of an Adpocalypse. (For more on that, see our video from Monday.)

With all of these online video sites coming up, addressable TV looks less like the wave of the future and more like the whimper of a declining ad channel. Will TV ever catch up to the targeting capability of online advertising? And even if it did, will it ever catch up to the interactivity and ability to launch a direct conversion?

Even though Adobe added TV ad management and addressability to its marketing cloud, that feels more like the exception than the rule. Like tacking an analog tail onto the digital donkey.

What seems more likely to be the state of things in 10 years? That TV adopts the capabilities of digital, or that smart TVs and other home devices based on streaming displace traditional TV in living rooms?

Well, I still have TV with cable, but a quick survey of office Millennials shows what their choice is, and it ain’t the triple-play. Younger folks aren’t just cutting cords, they’re wondering why the hell anyone had cords in the first place.

In fact, the package deal is exactly what’s wrong with TV for viewers and advertisers alike. It’s 2017, you can watch exactly the media you want on dozens on online channels, and yet on cable you can only get content by channels packaged with dozens of other channels you probably don’t want.

It’s the same with your advertising. The people you want, packaged with thousands you don’t.

This is following the same script online transformation has in a dozen other industries. Taxis couldn’t give people what they wanted, so we got Uber. Stores couldn’t give people what they wanted, so we got Amazon.

Give people what they want, or the Internet will swallow your industry whole.

And for TV, it’s way too late to try to get addressable now.

5 Tips for Successful o2o Channel Leaping

The most strategically planned offline direct marketing effort can be sabotaged by weak links in an online sales order processing system. Moving a prospect from any offline channel marketing to online ordering has its clear benefits, but can be tricky. Whether from direct mail, broadcast, or other print source, your offline to online (o2o) channel redirection must be carefully designed, tested, and refined to maximize the conversion process. So here are five recommendations to ensure a seamless o2o leap.

The most strategically planned offline direct marketing effort can be sabotaged by weak links in an online sales order processing system. Moving a prospect from any offline channel marketing to online ordering has its clear benefits, but can be tricky. Whether from direct mail, broadcast, or other print source, your offline to online (o2o) channel redirection must be carefully designed, tested, and refined to maximize the conversion process. So here are five recommendations to ensure a seamless o2o leap.

In a past era, we direct marketers pitched our offer to our lists. When the prospect decided to buy, they would use a reply envelope to mail or phone their response. While that still happens today, more and more direct marketers prefer to drive a prospect to the web.

There is often a disconnect between concept and execution of taking a prospect from offline to online. We’re so close to the process that we sometimes assume a seamless o2o flow, but while fumbling around a keyboard, the prospect’s attention can be diverted. The online order experience can be clunky or even confusing. Sometimes too much is asked on the online order screen, and information overload sets in. Or we assume the customer is tech-savvy when in fact, they’re not. Orders and carts are abandoned because the prospect gives up.

What to do to ensure a seamless o2o leap? Here are five recommendations:

  1. Clarity Rules: Create a detailed flow chart of every possible path a prospect could take before they press “buy” to see if there is any unanswered or confusing language or visuals. Ensure that there are no dead-ends, and allow them to back up. And, be sure the form they’re returning to is still populated with their original entries, rather than being shown an infuriating screen full of blank fields.
  2. Roadmap the Journey: Manage expectations for your prospect with an overview of the process, why it’ll be worth their time, and how easy and quick it will be, especially if placing an order has multiple options.
  3. Wireframe to Visualize: If you, the marketer, are having trouble visualizing how it all works, just imagine how confused your customer will be. Developing even a crude wireframe will help ensure you don’t overlook something, or that the process unfolds logically and obviously.
  4. Clear Copy: Write to the reading level of your audience, but remember that online channels tend to be one where people are more rushed and scanning. They don’t always read for detail. Make it clear and simple.
  5. Tell and Sell with Video: People may not read copy as closely online, but they are apt to invest time watching a video with tips on how to place their order. It can save the customer time, and help reduce abandoned carts.

The back-end programming of online order systems are usually someone else’s responsibility. But, if you’re the marketer or copywriter, you need to put serious thought and effort into the customer-facing side, so it’s clear, friendly, and quick. Your prospect forms a lasting impression of your entire organization when you have an o2o channel leap requirement. And, if it’s muddled or worse, you may never have another opportunity to make it positive.

Any Time Is Search Time for Consumers

At a baseball game the other day, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in my seating area were busy looking at their phones, phablets or tablets. Baseball, with its languorous pace, provides spectators plenty of extra time to search online, check their email, send texts and engage with social media. It seems no one near me at the game was wasting a single moment of this valuable screen time. Savvy sports marketers already know this and regularly encourage social media use, providing hashtags and URLs almost everywhere.

At a baseball game the other day, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in my seating area were busy looking at their phones, phablets or tablets. Baseball, with its languorous pace, provides spectators plenty of extra time to search online, check their email, send texts and engage with social media. It seems no one near me at the game was wasting a single moment of this valuable screen time. Savvy sports marketers already know this and regularly encourage social media use, providing hashtags and URLs almost everywhere. Go to any sporting event and see for yourself just how much online activity is going on all around you. It would be a fair to say almost everybody is constantly online with a mobile device.

This highly distracted behavior is not confined to sporting events. This behavior is the new norm. It is pervasive. Google has recognized this and has adjusted their algorithm to give a boost to mobile friendly sites. There are several clear signals for ecommerce site owners in this shift to mobile. With limited search real estate available on smaller screens and search rankings increasingly difficult to secure, each organic search click becomes more important. They must not be wasted. It is imperative that a site catch the surfer on their first search and direct their attention directly to the product they want with minimal effort; otherwise that searcher may very well move on to another site or to some other online activity. Are you making it as easy as possible for all your visitors to find just what they want almost instantly? That should be the goal.

If your site were perfectly optimized—an ideal, hypothetical, situation, every searcher would conduct a search and find just the right product on the very first try. It doesn’t work that way even in fairy tales. It took Goldilocks three tries to find the “just right” porridge. Are you effectively supporting the customer’s quest through your navigation, and does Google understand how your navigation supports the user? If you cannot answer this in the affirmative, you need to adjust your proverbial sails to catch the wind.

Ask yourself whether your faceting supports a second more refined search query. For example, someone searching for “batting helmets” might want to refine their search to reflect the user (youth or adult), a brand or price preference, or the whether the helmet is for slow pitch softball or high-velocity hardball. Your navigation and its faceting should support this searcher behavior. Does your site make it easy for the first time visitor to quickly find additional options when they arrive from a search engine, or must they go through numerous clicks to see them?

Your navigation should act as a secondary search tool. Google has recognized the value of the navigation, and through site links allows site owners to communicate key navigational elements. We can expect to see Google continue to make efforts to compress more useful information into less space in the search listing in an effort to satisfy the user more quickly. Give your Google listings a quick sanity check and see if they conform to how users look for your products. One quick tip is to review your two and three word phrases and see if they show up when and where you would expect them. Search and shop your own site the next time you are sitting at a ball game with spare screen time. You’ll be surprised at what you might find out.

10 Best Ways To Use Direct Mail With Success

Direct mail can be a very powerful marketing tool. When executed correctly you can see a great return on your investment. However, direct mail is not the be all and end all for your marketing. It is an important channel to utilize in conjunction with your other marketing channels. Direct mail can even give you a lift in online engagement. Let’s look at how to use direct mail to shine.

Direct mail can be a very powerful marketing tool. When executed correctly you can see a great return on your investment. However, direct mail is not the be all and end all for your marketing. It is an important channel to utilize in conjunction with your other marketing channels. Direct mail can even give you a lift in online engagement. Let’s look at how to use direct mail to shine.

10 best ways to use direct mail:

  1. Counter a Competitive Offer:
    Direct mail allows you to be covert with your offer so that the competition does not know what you are doing until it has mailed and is too late. It takes them longer to find out what your direct mail says and they won’t know when you are sending it.
  2. Generate Traffic:
    Whether you want to increase traffic online, for an event or to your location, direct mail is a great way to drive people there.
  3. Customer Acquisition or Referrals:
    With the ability to purchase very targeted lists, you can reach prospects to increase your customer base as well as provide a way for your message to be passed on to others.
  4. Generate Sales Leads:
    Send direct mail to prospects in order to get responses from qualified and interested leads.
  5. Building Brand Awareness:
    Since direct mail is a very trusted channel, you can really build your brand. The better recipients know your brand the more they buy from you.
  6. Customer Loyalty:
    You can reach out to your customers to give them special offers and coupons.
  7. Announcements:
    Direct mail is a great way to get information out to people quickly and formally.
  8. Cross-sell or Up-sell:
    Use your direct mail to not only drive response to that offer but also mention other things you offer that they may be interested in.
  9. Combining Mailings With Other Companies:
    When you do a cooperative mailing with another company you not only save money but you add value for your recipients with better offers or coupons.
  10. Augmenting Other Media Efforts:
    Direct mail is a great way to drive engagement with other channels such as email, web, social media, mobile, QR codes and so much more…

Direct mail is more effective than ever, with fewer distractions in the mail box and more focus online. Don’t let the direct mail opportunity pass you by. When used as part of a multimedia campaign, direct mail can significantly enhance response. Make sure that you work together with your mail service provider to create great campaigns that are designed effectively for postage savings. Get creative and have fun!

Measuring Customer Engagement: It’s Not Easy and It Takes Time

Here’s what’s easy: Measuring the effect of individual engagements like Web page views, email opens, paid and organic search clicks, call center interactions, Facebook likes, Twitter follows, tweets, retweets, referrals, etc. Here’s what’s hard: Understanding the combined effect of your promotions across all those channels. Many marketers turn to online attribution methods to assign credit for all or part of an individual order across multiple online channels. es as the independent variables.

Here’s what’s easy: Measuring the effect of individual engagements like Web page views, email opens, paid and organic search clicks, call center interactions, Facebook likes, Twitter follows, tweets, retweets, referrals, etc.

Here’s what’s hard: Understanding the combined effect of your promotions across all those channels.

Many marketers turn to online attribution methods to assign credit for all or part of an individual order across multiple online channels. Digital marketing guru Avinash Kaushik points out the strengths of weaknesses of various methods in his blog, Occam’s Razor in “Multichannel Attribution: Definitions, Models and a Reality Check” and concludes that none are perfect and many are far from it.

But online attribution models look to give credit to an individual tactic rather than measuring the combined effects of your entire promotion mix. Here’s a different approach to getting a holistic view of your entire promotion mix. It’s similar to the methodology I discussed in the post “Use Market Research to Tie Brand Awareness and Purchase Intent to Sales,” and like that methodology, it’s not something you’re going to be able to do overnight. It’s an iterative process that will take some time.

Start by assigning a point value to every consumer touch and every consumer action to create an engagement score for each customer. This process will be different for every marketer and will vary according to your customer base and your promotion mix. For illustration’s sake, consider the arbitrary assignments in the table in the media player, at right.

Next, perform this preliminary analysis:

  1. Rank your customers on sales volume for different time periods
    —previous month, quarter, year, etc.
  2. Rank your customers on their engagement score for the same periods
  3. Examine the correlation between sales and engagement
    —How much is each point of engagement worth in sales $$$?

After you’ve done this preliminary scoring, do your best to isolate customers who were not exposed to specific elements of the promotion mix into control groups, i.e., they didn’t engage on Facebook or they didn’t receive email. Compare their revenue against the rest of the file to see how well you’ve weighted that particular element. With several iterations of this process over time, you will be able to place a dollar value on each point of engagement and plan your promotion mix accordingly.

How you assign your point values may seem arbitrary at first, but you will need to work through this iteratively, looking at control cells wherever you can isolate them. For a more scientific approach, run a regression analysis on the customer file with revenue as the dependent variable and the number and types of touches as the independent variables. The more complete your customer contact data is, the lower your p value and the more descriptive the regression will be in identifying the contribution of each element.

As with any methodology, this one is only as good as the data you’re able to put into it, but don’t be discouraged if your data is not perfect or complete. Even in an imperfect world, this exercise will get you closer to a holistic view of customer engagement.

Channel Collaboration or Web Cannibalization?

Multichannel marketers experience the frequent concern that online is competing with, or “cannibalizing,” sales in other channels. It seems like a reasonable problem for those responsible, for instance, for the P&L of the retail business to consider; same goes for the general managers responsible for the store-level P&L. I like to do something that we “digital natives” (professionals whose career has only been digitally driven) miss all too often. We talk to retail people and customers in the stores, store managers, general managers, sales and service staff.

Multichannel marketers experience the frequent concern that online is competing with, or “cannibalizing,” sales in other channels. It seems like a reasonable problem for those responsible, for instance, for the P&L of the retail business to consider; same goes for the general managers responsible for the store-level P&L.

I like to do something that we “digital natives” (professionals whose career has only been digitally driven) miss all too often. We talk to retail people and customers in the stores, store managers, general managers, sales and service staff. Imagine that … left-brain dominant Data Athletes who want to talk to people! Actually, a true Data Athlete will always engage the stakeholders to inform their analysis with tacit knowledge.

Every time we do this, we learn something about the customer that we quite frankly could not have gleaned from website analytics, transactional data or third-party data alone. We learn about how different kinds of customers engage with the product and their experiences are in an environment that, to this day, is far more immersive than we can create online. It’s nothing short of fascinating for the left-brainers. Moreover, access and connection with the field interaction does something powerful when we turn back to mining the data mass that grows daily. It creates context that inspires better analysis and greater performance.

This best practice may seem obvious, but is missed so often. It is just too easy to get “sucked into the data” first for a right-brain-dominant analyst. The same thing happens in an online-only environment. I can’t count how many times I sat with and coached truly brilliant Web analysts inside of organization who are talking through a data-backed hypothesis they are working through from Web analytics data, observing and measuring behaviors and drawing inferences … and they haven’t looked at the specific screens and treatments on the website or mobile app where those experiences are happening. They are disconnected from the consumer experience. If you look in your organization, odds are you’ll find examples of this kind of disconnect.

So Does The Web Compete with Retail Stores? Well, that depends.
While many businesses are seeing the same shift to digital consumption and engagement, especially on mobile devices, the evidence is clear that it’s a mistake to assume that you have a definitive answer. In fact, it is virtually always a nuanced answer that informs strategy and can help better-focus your investments in online and omnichannel marketing approaches.

In order to answer this question you need a singular view of a customer. Sounds easy, I know. So here’s the first test if you are ready to answer that question:

How many customers do you have?

If you don’t know with precision, you’re not ready to determine if the Web is competing or “cannibalizing” retail sales.

More often than not, what you’ll hear is the number of transactions, the number of visitors (from Web analytics) or the number of email addresses or postal addresses on file—or some other “proxy” that’s considered relevant.

The challenge is, these proxy values for customer-count belie a greater challenge. Without a well-thought-out data blending approach that converts transaction files into an actionable customer profile, we can’t begin to tell who bought what and how many times.

Once we have this covered, we’re now able to begin constructing metrics and developing counts of orders by customer, over time periods.

Summarization is Key
If you want to act on the data, you’ll likely need to develop a summarization routine—that is, that does the breakout of order counts and order values. This isn’t trivial. Leaving this step out creates a material amount of work slicing the data.

A few good examples of how you would summarize the data to answer the question by channel include totals:

  • by month
  • by quarter
  • by year
  • last year
  • prior quarter
  • by customer lifetime
  • and many more

Here’s The Key Takeaway: It’s not just one or the other.
Your customers buy across multiple channels. Across many brands and many datasets, we’ve always seen different pictures of the breakout between and across online and retail store transactions.

But you’re actually measuring the overlap and should focus your analysis on that overlap population. To go further, you’ll require summarization “snapshots” of the data so you can determine if the channel preference has changed over time.

The Bottom Line
While no one can say that the Web does or doesn’t definitively “cannibalize sales,” the evidence is overwhelming that buyers want to use the channel that is best for them for the specific product or service, at the time that works for them.

This being the case, it is almost inevitable that you will see omnichannel behaviors when your data is prepared and organized effectively to begin to see that shift in behavior.

Oftentimes, that shift can effectively equate to buyers spending more across channels, as specific products may sell better in person. It’s hard to feel the silky qualities of a cashmere scarf online, but you might reorder razor blades only online.

The analysis should hardly stop at channel shift and channel preference. Layering in promotion consumption can tell you how a buyer waits for the promotion online, or is more likely to buy “full-price” in a retail store. We’ve seen both of these frequently, but not always. Every data set is different.

Start by creating the most actionable customer file you can, integrating the transactions, behavioral and lifestyle data, and the depth that you can understand how customers choose between the channels you deliver becomes increasingly rich and actionable. Most of all—remember, it’s better to shift the sale to an alternative channel the customer prefers, than to lose it to a competitor who did a better job.

Consumers Like Direct Mail

For the past several years, direct mail has been bashed for being too old school and past its time. The reality is far from that. Direct mail response is on the rise. Consumers enjoy getting direct mail that is applicable to them. When direct mail is targeted correctly, it will not be considered “junk mail.” Yes, even millennials like to get mail

For the past several years, direct mail has been bashed for being too old school and past its time. The reality is far from that. Direct mail response is on the rise. Consumers enjoy getting direct mail that is applicable to them. When direct mail is targeted correctly, it will not be considered “junk mail.” Yes, even millennials like to get mail.

Here are a few reasons people like to get mail:

  • Its delivered to their home through no effort on their part
  • It can be fun (get creative and think outside of the box)
  • A way to save money (people like a good deal)
  • It’s informative (people are curious)
  • It’s easily kept for future reference or use (use a magnet, they can then post on the fridge)

Direct mail statistics you should know (as reported in “From Letterbox to Inbox 2013”):

  • 79 percent of consumers say that they act on direct mail immediately
  • 56 percent of consumers stated that they found printed marketing to be the “most trustworthy” of all media channels

So what do people do after they get a direct mail piece? (“Consumer study reveals ‘direct mail matters’ in connected world,” July 11, 2013)

  • 44 percent visit a brands’ website
  • 34 percent search online for more information about the product
  • 26 percent keep the mailing for future reference

Keeping all of the above in mind, how can you change the way you send direct mail? Are you focused on the consumer and what is in it for them? Do you have a clear call to action and the benefits they get by responding? When you think you do, get someone from outside your organization to critique it for you. You will be surprised with what you can learn.

Using the fact that almost half of the recipients will go online and check you out after getting your direct mail piece, do you have landing pages designed with them in mind? Are you using responsive design so that they can view your website and landing pages on mobile devices? These days, using responsive design is the best way to have your online content look correctly no matter what device is looking at it. Direct mail will drive people to online engagement; make sure you are ready for them.

The only way that direct mail will continue to work is if we as marketers send direct mail to consumers that is designed well, has a clear call to action and is targeted to the right people. This keeps recipients happy and increases your response rates.

Money Loves Speed

“Money loves speed.” This phrase has been quoted so often that it’s difficult to know who should be credited for coining it. In an “always-on” digital world, it’s a saying that reminds us that we need to encourage fast action to make a sale, and to act fast when a customer needs help. Today, I contrast the customer service of two digital companies—both household names and both who serve direct marketers—and suggest four money-attracting recommendations

“Money loves speed.” This phrase has been quoted so often that it’s difficult to know who should be credited for coining it. In an “always-on” digital world, it’s a saying that reminds us that we need to encourage fast action to make a sale, and to act fast when a customer needs help. Today, I contrast the customer service of two digital companies—both household names and both who serve direct marketers—and suggest four money-attracting recommendations.

One of the many aggravations for any customer is the inability to get fast answers from a company when help is needed. It’s especially a problem with online merchants. In the digital age, it’s too easy to hide behind an online form.

The contrast of service and responsiveness from Facebook and Google, in my experience, is significant. Both are digital mega-corporations, both provide advertising platforms for marketers, and both are tremendous resources of online metrics for direct marketers.

Facebook is a content marketer’s dream. Gain a fan following at little or no cost, share news, videos, how-to information and much more to your audience. In social media, your audience does your work of sharing and evangelizing for you. Facebook has evolved and requires “pay-to-play” if you want your fans to see your posts. In my view, it’s completely acceptable for Facebook to say that if you want your post to float toward the top of a newsfeed for a day that you’ll need to spend a few bucks.

I pay for posts often for an organization with a vibrant social media presence. The Facebook promoted post budget isn’t huge, but over a year’s time it runs into the thousands of dollars.

The rules for including an image with a promoted post allows up to 20 percent of the image to contain text. Recently, one of my promoted posts was rejected because Facebook technology image scanners thought there was more than the 20 percent amount allowed. But with the human eye, it was apparent looking at the photo and text that we were not over the allowed amount of text. Surely Facebook would reconsider, I thought. My credit card was ready to be charged.

The only way I’ve found to contact Facebook is via an online form. So I filled one out, asking them to reconsider the image for my promoted post expecting a quick response. After all, it took them only about 15 minutes to reject the ad, so surely as an “always-on” social media platform with thousands of employees, someone will respond quickly. Well, it took nearly 24 hours to get a reply to my request. They agreed with me and approved it. But by that point, the timeliness of the news item had passed and myself, and our followers, had moved on.

But then another rejection happened a few days ago. This time, a photo of sheet music didn’t fly. The culprit? Apparently treble clefs, staffs and rests. Once again the rejection was in minutes. I immediately asked Facebook to reevaluate it, thinking that my prior experience of 24 hours for a reply may have been a fluke. It wasn’t. The reply to this second request came in at 1:51 AM the next day, more than 24 hours later, with an approval. But again, the news cycle for this event had ended.

Bottom line: Facebook customer service is pokey. They are leaving advertising money on the table with an apparently cumbersome internal review process.

Contrast Facebook with Google. I manage Google Adwords for another client with a respectable budget. Google has assigned a representative to me. We talk. They rotate representatives every few months so I get different points of view and ideas. And if I need to contact Google, they offer a phone number for me to call where I can actually talk with someone in just minutes, enabling the ads to continue without delay.

Facebook repels money. Google attracts money.

Bottom line points for marketers:

  1. Give the customer options, such as phone, online forms, chat and more to contact you.
  2. Don’t hide behind an online form. Sure, a call center may be more expensive to operate, but it’s surely less expensive than losing sales.
  3. Be responsive. If you decide an online form is less expensive than a call center, fine. But then make sure you have a customer service representative available 24/7 who can quickly answer customer questions.
  4. Remove internal bureaucracy. Sometimes movement is brought to a halt because the internal process is too cumbersome.

In an “always-on” digital age, customers can be impatient. And for goodness sakes, if your business is in technology, act fast! It’s expected.

Money loves speed.