The Danger of a Single Story for Marketers in the Age of Storytelling

We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers. Instead of coming up with those clever ads we once used to live to create, or live POS promotions when people actually went to stores, we now live, breathe, and exist pretty much to write and share stories.

We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers. Instead of coming up with those clever ads we once used to live to create, or live POS promotions when people actually went to stores, we now live, breathe, and exist pretty much to write and share stories.

Facebook stories drive SEO and build our network, so we can troll for new business. Instagram tells our stories visually and helps our brands come alive. Linkedin allows us to tell our business stories to peers and prospects in a “news” orientation.

Our websites, white papers, and content marketing are written just like classic novelettes. A teaser to create intrigue, a climax that builds with all of the reasons a customer needs us and needs us now, and a conclusion for how customers can get what they need from us. For a price.

Brands that win the most likes, posts, shares, retweets and resulting web traffic, live traffic and ultimately sales  are those same brands that know how to tell the best stories. Stories about our founders, our values, our products, our mission, and how customers can be part of our tribe. Patagonia is a master storyteller. Its catalogues read like diaries in the life of a customer who is living the life we’d like to live: canoes over white water to school, rock climbs at 80 years old, treks in Asia with sherpas, and more. In fact, its stories have been so well-received Patagonia’s published several books with content from its catalogues which you can buy on Amazon. True story!

Most reading this post likely have mastered the art and science of crafting solid brand stories and sharing them across all of the diverse communications channels we use today. So let’s shift perspective for a moment and look at storytelling another way.

What Are the Stories of Your Customers?

We invest enormous energy into CRM programs and systems that tell us about customer transactions, anniversary dates, revenue spend, demographics, and so on. This information helps us form “mass personalization,” as we lump them into categories of like customers and try to make them feel singularly special. They’ve caught on. Personalization at this level does little for sales and loyalty these days. Largely because we are telling a Single Story and trying to make it fit many diverse people.

My amazing daughters introduced me to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author famous for her TED Talk on “The Dangers of a Single Story.”

She points out just how much people within all societies look at others, issues, the world from the lense of a single story, instead of multiple stories that, when combined, present a more accurate story of a person, a population, an issue, culture, a brand, and a customer. She discusses what it was like to go from Nigeria to school in the U.S. and how she was put into a story that others believed, as it was the only one they knew

You are from Africa. You must be poor, hungry, uneducated, and so much more.

Marketers are so often guilty of listening to and acting upon a single story when it comes to our customers. Women in a given demographic all shop alike, want the same products, have the same values. Men from coastal cities like purses, men from middle America do not. We craft our customer profiles around these stories and build messaging, content workflows, and experiences, accordingly. And it works, to a limited degree.

But what if we went a little deeper in researching our customers, so we could really tell amazing stories about them or to them that really struck at their heart and soul?

What if we asked them for their stories? Not testimonials about how wonderful we are; but instead, stories about them? How they feel about the world in which we live? Their communities? What inspires and moves them in life? How they like to spend their free time? Their favorite jobs, hobbies, and so on?

If we could create customer profiles that go deeper than transactions captured in our CRM systems, we would see our customers from many different perspectives. We would know what moves them to do what they do, choose what they do, and how we might be able to be part of a more meaningful story than just what they value enough to buy. In other words, a story about their life.

Takeaways

Slow down for a moment and listen to your customers speak about anything BUT your product. Discover those fascinating stories that make customers more than statistics. Move away from the “Danger of a Single Story” about customer groups you manage and sell to. As you do, you could just compete with Patagonia someday for the top-selling book on loyal customers!

4 Ways to Cultivate an Effective Direct Mail Experience

What direct mail experience do your customers and prospects get when they receive your mail pieces? The first moment when they touch and interact with your mail piece is the moment when you either get a second look or get tossed into the trash.

What direct mail experience do your customers and prospects get when they receive your mail pieces? The first moment when they touch and interact with your mail piece is the moment when you either get a second look or get tossed into the trash.

How many of your pieces are going into the trash? Probably more than you think, especially if you are sending to prospects who do not have a history with you. How can you turn your direct mail into a positive experience for prospects and customers?

4 Ways to Improve the Direct Mail Experience

  1. Personalization — This is more than just using a name: your offer, images, and copy should all be tailored to each individual and their needs. This means your data is crucial to get personalization right. You need to capture as much information about customers as possible, beyond just purchases.
  2. Touch — Direct mail is a great way to engage people with touch. There are so many options to add texture. Now, you can really make paper feel like just about anything you want it to. Tactile experiences are powerful, so take full advantage of them: Because other marketing channels are unable to give that experience.
  3. Visual — This is more than just images, it is your color scheme, and layout, too. You want to draw attention and keep it consistent with your messaging. If you are unsure of what the colors mean and how best to use them in marketing, refer to our post on colors. You can now include special effects inks to really get a pop in visual appeal.
  4. Something Different — People crave unique experiences. When you can provide something new and build curiosity around it, you have natural engagement. Get creative here! This can be augmented reality, video, die cuts, special folds, or anything you can think of.

Keep in mind that creating an experience with your mail piece is not all about entertainment, it is about engagement. The longer they spend interacting with your mail piece, the more your message resonates and gets acted upon. It is also about enhancing your message, not distracting from it. Many times, we focus too much on snazzy concepts, which take away from the message, instead of using the concept to boost the message. When you are able to integrate the experience with your message, you drive an increase in response rates.

Be bold and try something new. It does not have to cost a lot of money, but it does need to drive engagement in order to work. To maximize your potential, try personalization along with one of the other three, you will see a lift in results. Are you ready to get started?

How Dimensional Mail Can Be an Impressive Direct Mail Strategy

Sometimes, direct mail marketing is really fun. Have you ever opened a can of worms? I did, and that dimensional mail really was a can of worms.

Sometimes, direct mail marketing is really fun. Have you ever opened a can of worms? I did, and that dimensional mail really was a can of worms.

I received a soup can in the mail about 25 years ago. It looked just like a Campbell’s soup can, but instead of chicken noodle soup it was labeled “Can of Worms.” If you didn’t look too closely, you would swear it was a real soup can. Being in the direct marketing business, I appreciate stuff like this. It is one of the best promotional items I have ever received and I have never forgotten it.

Dimensional items are fun to get in the mail. What fun mail pieces have you seen or mailed?

More recently, I received a direct mail piece that focused more on personalization than on a cool factor. It was a full-color 6 x 9 envelope with a headline that read, “Values are way UP in the Gould neighborhood.” It had an aerial picture of my neighborhood, with my house highlighted. Below the headline it said, “(Yes, that’s your house!).” When I opened it (and who could resist opening an envelope like that?) there was a brochure, again with a picture of my house, describing the product and offer. This is very impressive to recipients.

  • What have you received that really caught your attention and motivated you to buy?
  • What are you doing to create that experience for your customers and prospects?
  • What do you know about the people you mail to and how can you use that to get them to buy?

As marketers, we grapple with these questions all of the time as we try to come up with more effective mail pieces. Obviously, the answers to these questions will be different for every company as your goals, what you sell and how you sell it all factors into how you create your direct mail marketing.

The worst direct mail strategies are the ones where they add a dimensional piece or personalization that means nothing to their customers and prospects. What you are sending needs to be relevant to recipients and needs to coincide with the messaging of the campaign. When there is a clash between what you say and what you sent, people will throw it away. This is just a waste of money. The can of worms worked because it was a unique dimensional piece that was selling software to keep people from creating a real can of worms. Then the hyper personalized house mail piece was selling homeowners insurance.

You must have synchronicity in order to get results.

Creating an impressive direct mail campaign takes time and commitment. Create fun experiences for your customers and prospects that they will remember and share it with others. It probably won’t be 25 years from now. But if it’s good, it can lead to referrals six months from now. Are you ready to get started?

 

Automation — With a Little Help From Good Machines

Some claim that human behaviors are just algorithmic responses developed over past 70,000 years or so. Now, armed with data that we are casually scattering around, machine-based algorithms outperform human brains in most areas already, and such evolution will continue.

We should be mindful when dropping buzzwords (refer to “Why Buzzwords Suck”). As more and more people jump on the bandwagon of a buzzword, it tends to gain magical power. Eventually, some may even believe that buying into a “word” will solve all their problems.

But does it ever work out that way? Did anyone make a fortune buying into the Big Data hype yet? I know some companies did; but, ironically, the winners do not even utter such words. I’ve never seen any news release from Google or Amazon that they are investing in “Big Data.” For them, playing with large amounts of data have been just part of their businesses all along.

Now the new buzz is about AI, machine learning and automation, in general; and it will be a little different from buzzwords from the past. Whether we like it or not, that is the direction that we are already headed in the world where each decision will be increasingly more dependent on deterministic algorithms.

Some even claim that human behaviors are just algorithmic responses developed over past 70,000 years or so. Now, armed with data that we are casually scattering around, machine-based algorithms outperform human brains in most areas already, and such evolution will continue until most humans will become largely irreverent in terms of economic value, they say. Not that it would happen overnight, but the next generation may look at our archaic way of things the way we look at our ancestors who were without computers.

First, the Marketing Case for AI

If such is our fate, why are contemporary humans so willingly jumping onto this automation bandwagon where machines will make decisions for us? Because they are smarter than average humans? What does “smart” even mean when we are talking about machines? I think people generally mean to say that machines remember details better than us, and calculate a complex series of algorithms faster and more accurately than us.

Some may say that humans with experiences are wiser with visions to see through things that are not seemingly related. But I dare to say that I’ve seen machines from decades ago finding patterns that humans would never find on their own. When machines start learning without our coaching or supervision — the very definition of AI — at a continuously increasing rate, no, we won’t be able to claim that we are wiser than machines, either. In the near future, if not already.

So, before we casually say that AI-based automation is the future of marketing, let’s ask ourselves why we are so eager to give more power to machines. For what purpose?

The answer to that philosophical question in the business world is rather simple; decision-makers are jumping onto the automation bandwagon to save money. Period.

Specifically, by reducing the number of people who perform tasks that machines can do. As a bonus, AI saves time by performing the tasks faster than ever. In some cases — mostly, for small operations — machines will perform duties that have been neglected due to high labor costs, but even in such situations, automation will not be considered a job-creating force.

Making the Marketing Case for Humans Using Data

Some may ask why I am stating the obvious here. My intention here is to emphasize that automation, all by itself, doesn’t have the magic power to reveal new secrets, as the technology is primarily a replacement option for human labor. If the result of machine-based analytics look new to you, it’s because humans in your organization never looked at the data the same way before, not because it was an impossible task to begin with. And that is a good thing as, in that case, we may be talking about using machine power to do the things that you never had human resources for. But in most cases, automation is about automating things that people know how to do already in the name of time and cost savings.

Like any other data or analytics endeavors, we must embark on marketing automation projects with clear purposes. What would be the expected outcome? What are you trying to achieve? For what types of tasks? What parts of the process are we automating? In what sequence?

Just remember that anyone who would say “just automate everything” is the type of person who would be replaced by machines first.

At the end of that automation rainbow, there lie far less people employed for given tasks, and only the logical ones who see through the machines would remain relevant in the new world.

Nonetheless, providing purposes for machines is still a uniquely human function, for now. And project goals would look like those of any other tasks, if we come back to the world of marketing here. Examples are:

  • Consolidate unorganized free-form data into intelligent information — for further analyses, or for “more” automation of related tasks. For instance, there are thousands of reasons why consumers call customer service lines. Machines can categorically sort those inquiries out, so that finding proper answers to them — the very next logical step — can also be automated. Or, at least make the job easier for the operator on the call (for now). Deciphering image files would be another example, as there has been no serious effort to classify them with sheer manpower in a large scale. But then again, is it really impossible for humans to classify large numbers of images? How about crowdsourcing? Or let an authoritarian government force a stadium-full of North Koreans to do it manually? We’d use machines, because it would be just cheaper and faster to do it with machine learning. But who do you think corrected wrong categorization done by machines to make them better?
  • Find the next, best product for the buyer. This one is quite a popular task for machines, but even a simple “If you bought this, you would like that, too” type of product recommendation would work far better if input data (i.e., product descriptions and product categories) were well-organized — by machines. Machines work better in steps, too.
  • Predict responsiveness to channel promotions and future value of a customer. These are age-old tasks for analytics teams, but with sets of usable data, machines can update algorithms and apply scores, real-time, as new information enters the system. Call that AI, if algorithms are updated automatically, all on its own. Actually, this would be easier for a machine to pick up than fixing messy data. Not that they will know the difference between easy and difficult, but I’m talking about in terms of ease of delegation, from our point of view.
  • Then ultimately, personalize every interaction with every customer through every touch channel. I guess that would be the new frontier for marketers, as approaching personalization on such massive scale can’t be done without some help from good machines. But I still stand by my argument that each component of personalization efforts is something that we know how to do (refer to “Key Elements of Complete Personalization”). By performing each step much faster with machines, though, we can soon reach that ultimate level of personalization through consolidation of services and tasks. And the grand design of such a process will be set up by humans — at least initially.

This Human’s Final Thoughts on AI

These are just some examples in marketing.

If we dive into the operational side, there will be an even richer list of candidates for automation.

In any case, how do marketers stay a step ahead of machines, and remain commanders of them?

Ironically, we must be as logical as a Vulcan to control them effectively. Machines do not understand illogical commands, and will ignore them without any prejudice (but it would “feel” like disrespect to us).

Teaching Humans to Automate

I heard that some overzealous parents started teaching computer programming to 4- or 5-year old children, in addition to a foreign language and piano lessons. That sounds all Cool and the Gang to me, but I wondered how they would teach such young kids how to code.

Obviously, they wouldn’t teach them JavaScript or Python from Day 1. Instead, they first teach the kids how to break down simple tasks into smaller steps. For example, if I ask you to make a grilled cheese sandwich, you — as a human being — will go at it with minimal instruction. Try to order an imaginary machine to do the same. For the machine’s sake, it won’t even know what a grilled cheese sandwich is, or understand why carbon-based lifeforms (especially gluttonous humans) must consume such large quantities of organic materials on a regular basis.

Teaching Machines to Human

If you try it, you will find that the task of writing a spec for a machine is surprisingly tedious.

Just for a little grilled cheese sandwich, you have to:

human automation, the grilled cheese story
Photo by: Christoher Del Rosario (www.christopherdelrosario.com) | Credit: Getty Images by Christopher Del Rosario / EyeEm
  • instruct it on how to get to the breadbox,
  • how to open it,
  • how many slices of bread should be taken out,
  • how to take them out without flattening them (applying the right amount of pressure),
  • how to open the refrigerator,
  • how to locate butter and cheese in the mix of many food items,
  • how to peel off two slices of cheese without tearing them,
  • how to ignite a stove burner,
  • how to find a suitable pan (try to explain “suitable,” in terms measurements and shape),
  • how to preheat the pan to a designated temperature (who’d design and develop the heat censor?),
  • how to melt butter on the pan without burning it,
  • how to constantly measure and monitor the temperature,
  • how to judge the right degree of “brown” color of grilled cheese,
  • etc. etc..

If you feel sick reading all of this, well, I didn’t even get to the part about serving the damn sandwich on a nice plate yet.

Anyway, Human Marketers, Here’s the Conclusion

I am not at all saying that all decision-makers must be coders. What I am trying to emphasize is the importance of breaking down a large task into smaller “logical” steps. Smart machines will not need all of these details to perform “known” tasks (i.e., someone else taught it already). And that is how they get smarter. But they would still work better in clear logical steps.

For humans to command machines effectively, we must think like machines — at least a little bit. Yes, automation is mostly about automating things we already know how to do. We use machines to perform those tasks much faster than humans. To achieve overall organizational effectiveness, break down the processes into smaller bits, where each step becomes the stepping stones for the next. Then prioritize which part would be the best candidate for automation, and which part would still be best served by human brains and hands.

For now, that would be the fastest route to full automation. As a result of it, many humans may be demoted to jobs like reading machine-made scripts to other humans on the phone, or delivering items that machines picked for human consumers in the name of personalization. If that is the direction where human collectives are headed, let’s try to be the ones who provide purposes for machines. Until they don’t even need such instructions from us anymore.

3 Trends to Survive the ‘Every Channel’ Paradigm

Savvy companies realize they’re finally in a position to benefit from the shifting tides of digital transformation. Now more than ever, shrewd marketers realize they are in a position to retrench themselves with compelling content that can cut through the noise.

In 2005, YouTube broke the media monopoly on content creation by turning everyone into a content creator. In 2012, Facebook reached 1 billion users globally embedding social channels as the most important outlets for content distribution. In 2013, The Boston Globe, unable to monetize a digital world, was sold for a 93% loss.

It’s no secret that the underlying force causing media strife for nearly two decades is digital transformation. More than a distribution approach, digital is a lifestyle that shifts the balance of power to consumers by providing greater freedom and choice.

Savvy companies realize they’re finally in a position to benefit from the shifting tides of digital transformation. Over the last decade, it has become increasingly clear that quality content remains the foundation for success. The value of this content is evident as user-generated content powerhouse YouTube has developed its studio content. Now more than ever, shrewd marketers realize they are in a position to retrench themselves with compelling content that can cut through the noise.

So how can marketers take advantage of the change? Three significant trends are converging to drive marketers to further heights: personalization, multichannel optimization, and new revenue opportunities.

1. Content Must Be Personalized

The ability to understand, segment, and deliver relevant content has never been more critical.  Because of the Netflix-Amazon effect, people expect deeply personalized experiences from media.

Content creators have approximately six seconds to capture reader/viewer attention—and keeping users engaged requires anticipation and delivery of relevant additional content. Personalizing content drives results across channels. For example, HubSpot reports that the open rate for emails with a personalized message was 17.6%, compared to 11.4% without personalization.

Understanding user preferences, patterns, and behaviors start with data collection. However, it’s not enough to collect the data; you must analyze, derive insights, and then use those insights to create a solid content strategy with personalization.

Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and other advanced algorithms packaged via readily available APIs, in theory, make personalizing content easier. However, following consumers across channels, devices, and ecosystems—while not running afoul of increasingly stringent privacy laws—is creating a paradigm of heightened consumer expectations alongside growing technological and security-based complexities.

Developing a robust but realistic personalization strategy is essential. Get the basics right first—such as personalizing emails and calls to action (CTAs). Then, move on to customizing recommendations on site and later add additional channels into the mix. This approach allows for experimentation, optimization, and acceptance.

2. Optimize Your Approach for Every Channel

According to comScore, users spend 69% of their media time on smartphones. Amazon’s Alexa boasts more than 25,000 skills. More than 473 million people subscribe to over-the-top (OTT) video services. The proliferation of channels is favoring companies with the content to support them.

However, engagement with relevant, compelling content per channel is just the beginning. To take advantage of the six seconds of viewer attention, marketers must also deliver the right content on each new and emerging medium in an optimized way. There are over 60 different channels to contend with from social media and web, to voice, audio, smart speakers, TV, apps, and video. The plethora of channels that potential audiences inhabit makes marketing with an omnichannel experience the new imperative.

You should be able to fully control the experience for each channel, with the help of the right technologies. For example, mobile users spend two times more time on Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) than desktop sites rendered on mobile. This is but one example of how optimized content outperforms non-optimized content.

3. Use the Data at Your Fingertips to Drive New Revenue Streams

Real-time data is becoming the new currency, and is increasingly valuable when combined with hyper-targeting strategies to open a world of new revenue opportunities.

Some examples include:

  • Native advertising in the form of branded content, allowing marketing messages to deliver relevant value
  • Premium content subscription tiers that offer opportunities to surpass the competition
  • Affiliate revenue, which helps online entities to form “partnerships” to promote one another through their content and channels
  • Selling user information or database access, like e-mail addresses collected from lead generation efforts
  • Brand licensing that allows product and service companies to leverage well-known publishers for hefty licensing fees
  • Events and conferences with growing attendance numbers and high-dollar sponsorship
  • Content delivered in cutting-edge formats to drive subscription revenue or revenue from technology partners developing the format

It’s clear that users are now willing to pay for their content, especially if it’s highly personalized. There are many additional potential revenue streams worth exploring and carefully considering, including social, video, and memberships.

By personalizing communications, delivering the appropriate types of content in a channel-optimized way, and maximizing potential channel revenue opportunities,  companies will be well positioned to attract and retain customers and effectively compete in the digital era.  Are you ready to embrace the change?

Crafting a Branding Plan in 3 Steps

Like a house, a brand is built up … sometimes with a clear plan, sometimes organically. Using this concept of a house is a very simple way to get your team started in creating a fundamental branding plan.

When you were young and slept over your friends’ houses, you noticed the difference of the whole home experience. Each house had its own smell, right? Your friends’ families had different routines, foods, laundry detergent, etc. Every family ends up making their own home style … you could even say they have their own brand. Using this concept of a house is a very simple way to get your team started in creating a fundamental branding plan.

Like a house, a brand is built up … sometimes with a clear plan, sometimes organically. In the case of strong brands, all the “touches” of the house seems to make sense. For example, in my house, where we don’t watch much television, we cut cable and tuck our TV flat screen inside an armoire so it doesn’t show. That makes sense for our family and our home. A huge TV on our wall would be “off-brand.”

In thinking about building a branding plan like you would a house, I like to tell my students that they can build it up in 3 steps:

Step 1: Positioning – ‘The Foundation’

Positioning is what the brand is built on. How a brand shows it’s different than other brands is the beginning of being unique and making sure your story is something that is compelling. And if a foundation is made of concrete and soil, Positioning is made of Customer Research + Competition Analysis.

By understanding what customers want and are motivated by, plus knowing your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, you find a position that is both attractive to your buyers and different than your competitors. No single business is best at everything, and if your strengths align with what customers actually want, then leverage that strength to solidify your position.

Helpful Tip: Use this framework to craft an internal Positioning Statement: {BRAND NAME} is the brand of {FRAME OF REFERENCE} that {POINT OF DIFFERENCE} because {REASON TO BELIEVE}.

It worked for Snickers. Snickers laid a beautiful, simple, and extremely strong brand foundation with this Positioning Statement: SNICKERS is the brand of CANDY BAR that SATISFIES YOUR HUNGER because IT’S PACKED WITH PEANUTS.

Step 2: Brand Architecture – ‘The Floorplan’

With the foundation put down, the brand story has a place to start and be built upon. In previous articles I wrote about creating the five words that help describe a brand, and a description if your brand were a person, and those exercises come into play here. By using descriptive words and personality types, you place the shape and boundaries of what your brand is and is not.

Think of it as creating the rooms, angles, steps, roofing, landscaping and more when planning how a home will be built. What will the “house” will be? Will it be a cute and funky urban 1-bedroom, a fabricated suburban McMansion, or a minimalist Haus in grey and black?

For example, Warby Parker made an intentional decision to begin with an online experience (in 2010), and then expand into retail locations. They now have 100 locations, and the question would be, what would those retail experiences be like? The Brand Expression (Step 3) follows from that. Since personalization is the position of the Warby Parker online and instore experience, they made the logical decision to have unique stores in each city. Every store — San Diego to Pittsburgh — looks different. It’s really cool and personal. That’s a natural Brand Architecture to sit on top of their Brand Position.

Step 3: Marketing Expression – ‘The Paint, Furniture and Fixtures’

The “Marketing Expression” is finally what the customer sees. It’s the messaging, the actual words and images, the YouTube videos, etc. Continuing the analogy, the Expression is the choice of furniture, the armoire, the wall color, the decorative touches, etc., in a house.

With the Position (Foundation) and the Brand Architecture (Floorplan), the Marketing Expression should actually be a fairly easy set of decisions to where you can see if something fits or doesn’t fit. In my house, for example, a huge TV or a strobe-light “Miller Beer” sign would be a terrible and awkward fit … as would an antique suit of armor in the corner. Instead, a painted armoire, decorative fabric on the chairs, small cardboard Chinese dragons placed keenly around the house, are perfect fits.

For Warby Parker, the natural extension of the position of offering personal eyewear and the brand architecture of personalizing the online and retail experience is: The San Diego store has an image of two readers lounging on a big book that looks like a floatie in a pool. It’s the final touch of personalization for San Diego, which is different than the personalization for Pittsburgh. It’s a touch that gives their brand consistency, memorability, and uniqueness.

Just like the homes we visited as children give us a smell, sound, texture and memory, so do the great brands. They feel like homes we visit, giving us a wonderful and memorable experience.

Use People-Oriented Marketing: Because Products Change, But People Rarely Do

In 1:1 marketing, product-level targeting is “almost” taken for granted. I say almost, because most so-called personalized messages are product-based, rarely people-oriented marketing. Even from mighty Amazon, we see rudimentary product recommendations as soon as we buy something. As in: “Oh, you just bought a yoga mat! We will send you absolutely everything that is related to yoga on a weekly basis until you opt out of email promotions completely. Because we won’t quit first.”

In 1:1 marketing, product-level targeting is “almost” taken for granted. I say almost, because most so-called personalized messages are product-based, rarely people-oriented marketing. Even from mighty Amazon, we see rudimentary product recommendations as soon as we buy something. As in: “Oh, you just bought a yoga mat! We will send you absolutely everything that is related to yoga on a weekly basis until you opt out of email promotions completely. Because we won’t quit first.”

How nice of them. Taking care of my needs so thoroughly.

Annoying as they may be, both marketers and consumers tolerate such practices. For marketers, the money talks. Even rudimentary product recommendations — all in the name of personalization — work much better than no targeting at all. Ain’t the bar really low here, in the age of abundant data and technologies? Yes, such a product recommendation is a hit-or-miss, but who cares? Those “hits” will still generate revenue.

For consumers, aren’t we all well-trained to ignore annoying commercials when we want to? And who knows? I may end up buying a decent set of yoga mat cleaners with a touch of lavender scent because of such emails. Though we all know purchase of that item will start a whole new series of product offerings.

Now, marketers may want to call this type of collaborative filtering an active form of personalization, but it isn’t. It is still a very reactive form of marketing, at the tail end of another purchase. It may not be as passive as waiting for someone to type in keywords, but product recommendations are mixture of reactive and active (because you may send out a series of emails) forms of marketing.

And I’m not devaluing such endeavors, either. After all, it works, and it generates revenue. All I am saying is that marketers should recognize that a reactive product recommendation is only a part of personalization efforts.

As I have been writing for five years now, 1:1 marketing is about effectively deciding:

  1. whom to contact, and
  2. what to offer.

Part One is good old targeting for outbound efforts, and there are a wide variety of techniques for it, starting with rules that marketers made up, basic segmentation, and all of the way to sophisticated modeling.

The second part is a little tricky; not because we don’t know how to list relevant products based on past purchases, but because it is not easy to support multiple versions of creatives when there is no immediate shopping basket to copy (like cases for recent purchases or abandoned carts).

In between unlimited product choices and relevant offers, we must walk the fine lines among:

  1. dynamic display technology,
  2. content and creative library,
  3. data (hopefully clean and refined), and
  4. analytics in forms of segments, models or personas (refer to “Key Elements of Complete Personalization”).

If specific product categories are not available (i.e., a real indicator that a buyer is interested in certain items), we must get the category correct at the minimum, using modeling techniques. I call it personas, and some may call it architypes. (But they are NOT segments. Refer to “Segments vs. Personas”).

Using the personas, it is not too difficult to map proper products to potential buyers. In fact, marketers are free to use their imaginations when they do such mapping. Plus, while inferred, these model scores are never missing, unlike those hard-to-get “real” data. No need to worry about targeting only a small part of potential buyers.

What should a marketer offer to fashionistas? To trendsetters? To bargain seekers? To active, on-the-go types? To seasonal buyers? To big spenders? Even for a niche brand, we can create 10 to 20 personas that represent key product categories and behavioral types, and the deployment of personalized messages become much simpler.

And it gets better. Imagine a situation where you have to launch a new product or a product line. It gets tricky for the fashion industry, and even trickier for tech companies that are bold enough to launch something that didn’t exist before, such as a new line of really expensive smartphones. Who among the fans of cutting-edge technologies would actually shell out over a grand for a “phone”? This kind of question applies not just to manufacturers, but every merchant who sells peripherals for such phones.

Let’s imagine that a marketer would go with an old marketing plan for “similar” products that were introduced in the past. They could be similar in terms of “newness” and some basic features, but what if they differ in terms of specific functionality, look-and-feel, price point and even the way users would use them? Trying to copy some old targeting methods may lead to big misses, as even consumers hear about them from time to time.

Such mishaps happen because marketers see consumers as simple extensions of products. Pulling out old tricks may work in some cases, but even if just a small bit of product attributes are different, it won’t work.

Luckily for geeks like us, an individual’s behavior does not change so fast. Sure, we all age a bit every year; but in comparison to products in the market, humans do not transform so suddenly. Simply, early adapters will remain early adapters, and bargain seekers will continue to be bargain seekers. Spending level on certain product categories won’t change drastically, either.

Our interests and hobbies do change; but again, not so fast. It took me about two to three years to turn from an avid golfer to a non-golfer. And all golf retailers caught up with my inactivity and stopped sending golf offers.

So, if marketers set up personas that “they” need to push their products, and update them periodically (say once a year), they can gain tremendous momentum in reaching out to customers and prospects more proactively. If they just rely on specific product purchases to trigger a series of product recommendations, outreach programs will remain at the level of general promotions.

Further, even inbound visits can be personalized better (granted that you identified the visitor) using the personas and set of rules in terms of what product goes well with what persona.

The reason why models work well — man-made or machine-built — is because human behavior is predictable with reasonable consistency. We are all extensions of our past behaviors to a greater degree than the evolution rate of products and technologies.

Years ago, we’ve had a heated internal discussion about whether we should create a new series of product categories from VHS to DVD. I argued that such new formats would not change human behavior that much. In fact, genres matter more than video format for the prediction of future purchases. “Godfather” fans will buy the movie again on DVD, and then again in Blu-ray. Now some type of ultra-high-definition download from some cloud somewhere. Through all of this, movie collectors remain movie collectors for their favorite types of movies. In other words, products changed, but not human attributes.

That was what I argued then, and I still stand by it. So, all the analytical efforts must be geared toward humans, not products. In coming days, that may be the shortest path to fake human friendliness using AI and machine-made models.

 

Marketing ROI Is in Your Past

That rumor we’ve been hearing for years is simply not true: “Marketing ROI is in your past.” And it never will be, as human nature does not and will not change. And neither will all the chaos in marketing channels from hundreds of marketers trying to get consumers’ attention simultaneously, 24/7.

That rumor we’ve been hearing for years is simply not true: “Marketing ROI is in your past.” And it never will be, as human nature does not and will not change. And neither will all the chaos in marketing channels from hundreds of marketers trying to get consumers’ attention simultaneously, 24/7.

What is true is that every 60 seconds more than:

  • 156 million emails are sent
  • 29 million messages are processed on What’s App
  • 350,000 tweets are sent
  • 243,000 photos are uploaded on FB; 70,000 hours of video contents is watched
  • 400 hours of video are uploaded on Youtube
  • 3.8 million searches take place on Google

And a lot more.

What’s not true is the decade-long rumor that print is dead. And it’s not going to happen anytime soon, if ever.

In fact, print is one of the most powerful channels for engaging consumers with brand messages that lead to more fulfilling brand experiences, according to the Data and Marketing Association’s 2016 response rate report and other sources:

  • Direct mail outperforms digital for response nearly 2X!
  • Print achieves 30% more recall than digital.

Most of us thought print died when email took over with nearly 4 billion people worldwide using email.

But we humans are a tactile species. We thrive on being able to touch things, and physically engage with the stimuli around us vs. observe from the other side of a screen. We like to hug those we love vs. send a digital wave. We like to touch the silky coat of our pets vs. just post cute photos on our screen savers. We like to touch paper books and turn the pages, and feel the weight of the story yet to unfold in our hands.

When we engage our senses beyond just sight, and actually touch things, we concentrate more and end up feeling more emotionally fulfilled.  The response rate and sales volume generated by printed sales-oriented communications such as direct mail and catalog, is powerful and does not show any signs of letting up. In fact, 90 million consumers in the U.S. make purchases from print catalogs and spend on average $850 annually, and printed direct mail commands a higher response than email, as mentioned earlier.

According to a  2018 Radicati Group study, there will be more than 3.8 billion email users before the start of 2019, over 100 million more than the previous year. In other words, over half of the entire planet uses email.

With all the technology constantly being developed by leaders in the print industry such as Xerox, it continues to engage more of our senses and create deeper levels of emotional engagement. Just recently, Xerox released its new Iridesse production press allowing printers to more beautifully and easily use metallic prints to further engage our visual senses and the emotions that result from exposure to shiny new objects.  Xerox has also simplified the process of highly personalized catalogs, allowing retailers to print consumers’ names, and past transaction information on covers and pages of catalogs, engaging our sense of value and appreciation, another “sense” proven to increase sales as more than 50% of customers will shop elsewhere if a brand does not recognize them personally.

Because of Xerox technology for personalization, and the ability to print striking, engaging, rich colors in communications that are highly relevant to consumers, print is not just competing with email. It’s now winning the game. We respond more and we actually engage a lot longer. We open envelopes with compelling graphics and relevant messages over clearly written subject lines and we respond twice as much. And we don’t opt out of print as easily as we do emails with that very convenient “unsubscribe” button, giving marketers another chance to communicate something that really matters to us.

Marketers in both B2B and B2C need to slow down when it comes to assigning market budgets to the latest technology apps and channels and rethink the past: print. Spending money on printed communications distributed via mail, trade show events, and in-store does and will pay off, and will drive consumers to your digital channels where you can engage via online chat, email and other ways. Trying to initiate engagement via email today is just getting harder, especially with GDPR becoming reality in the EU and other countries.

No matter how sophisticated digital technology becomes, and it will continue to find ways to engage us in fun ways such as augmented reality tools. Print will never die because human nature will never change. We will always want to touch things, to cozy up by a fire with a good story in a nicely printed book or catalog, and to “unplug” from the electrical world that in just 60 seconds bombards us with more messages and distractions than our human minds can fathom.

Marketing AI Is Overhyped, and That’s Good

Today, marketing AI is a know-it-all with a short resume. Just like Big Data and personalization, it is also a catch-all phrase that is becoming harder to define. As a result, it is no surprise that most marketers are rolling their eyes at the topic. Nevertheless, this is also the time to take the topic seriously, unless you plan to retire into seclusion in the next few years.

AI
“artificial-intelligence-2228610_1920,” Creative Common license. | Credit: Flickr by Many Wonderful Artists

Today, marketing AI is a know-it-all with a short resume. Just like Big Data and personalization, it is also a catch-all phrase that is becoming harder to define. As a result, it is no surprise that most marketers are rolling their eyes at the topic. Nevertheless, this is also the time to take the topic seriously, unless you plan to retire into seclusion in the next few years.

New research by marketing automation provider Resulticks shows that 73 percent of marketers are either skeptical, neutral or simply exhausted by the hype around marketing AI. In addition, large numbers of marketers think that vendors using industry buzzwords are full of it. This is not surprising, considering how most vendors are probably over-selling their AI solution. In the same Resulticks study, only 18 percent of marketers claim that AI vendors are delivering the goods as promised and 43 percent felt they were over-promised.

However, for those of us who have lived through (and even reveled in) industry catchphrases, from “marketing analytics” to Big Data to “MarTech,” these statistics indicate that “Marketing AI” is on a strong growth trajectory. This is because the combination of huge industry-level investments and a few success stories is generally a recipe for a new frontier of innovation. Some time ago, I wrote an article on the VC investments being made in data-driven marketing technology and many of the technology solutions were still evolving innovations, like marketing automation. Today, the phrase “Marketing AI is also heading toward becoming broad and meaningless, with heavy investments in the sector. In a few years, underneath that generic umbrella will evolve smart, pragmatic solutions which will become part of the standard tool kit. For example, under the Big Data and MarTech labels, we now have well-adopted solutions, such as CRM, programmatic buying and marketing automation. While there are still bugs and varying degrees of success, there is also a large body of fruitful use-cases which demonstrate how these tools can be very effective.

So, what is a marketer to do in this environment where marketing AI has yet to evolve to a stage where it is a stable and valued marketing tool? The most important step is to set low expectations and begin to dip your feet in the water. Experimenting now is critical, as new skills sets and operating frameworks will be required to fully take advantage of the coming AI-driven innovations, and building those individual and institutional capabilities will take time.

3 Quick Ways to Bullet-Proof Your Cold Email Messages

No matter what target market my students are calling on when sending cold email messages, I see the same weak spots over-and-over. Unknowingly, sellers are often sabotaging themselves by “blasting” prospects. But starting a conversation with email can happen. I’ve seen it.

Patrick's email blogNo matter what target market my students are calling on when sending cold email messages, I see the same weak spots over-and-over. Unknowingly, sellers are often sabotaging themselves by “blasting” prospects:

  1. long, un-personalized “push” copy (rather than pull)
  2. persuasive marketing prose (rather than copy that embraces rejection)
  3. using words that sabotage (signal “I’m needy” or “I’m a waste of time”)

Let’s say you’re aiming to start a conversation with an executive decision-maker. You sell a product or service that takes time, involves “consultative selling,” probably requires a few yeses. Your biggest enemy is the status quo.

Starting a conversation with email can happen. I’ve seen it.

But increasingly chief executives and top VPs are suffering from inbox saturation, in general. Mostly from SDR/BDRs (sales and business development reps) whose approaches are obnoxious.

Moreover, it’s not effective at starting conversations.

Shorten, Personalize and Pull

Long, non-personalized messages that push meetings using “blasts” that “push on pains” are not good conversation-starters. Yet we see them all the time.

The goal of your cold email is to provoke a reaction — that leads to a short conversation, qualifying a longer one … or not. No is a great answer too.

The goal is not to get referred. It’s not to set a date for a demo or meeting. These are what I mean by pushy.

Before pressing send make sure your email:

  • contains a first paragraph proving you researched the prospect
  • takes 10 seconds or less to read
  • does not ask for a meeting
  • contains a provocation, likely to trigger a reply asking for clarification

Calling on C-suite executives comfortable with the status quo? Generating a conversation with these people takes more than a “blast.” It takes a personalized message that is short (and provocative) enough to attract the prospect.

Don’t push, pull. Attract.

Don’t Need the Sale

Want the sale. Don’t need it. Show your prospect you don’t need it. Shift the tone of your cold email by shifting your mindset. This avoids writing in ways that communicate “I’m desperate for your business.”

Some of my best students avoid these words like the plague:

  • Please
  • Love
  • Looking forward to
  • Hope

Each one of these adds up. Every word counts. The more weak words used the more you help readers feel you need the sale.

The more weak you sound the less attractive you become.

Think about it this way: If a prospect truly believed your solution could double their productivity or increase revenue by 30% would they delete your message?

No. They would immediately hit pause (on what they’re doing) and make time.

Don’t Signal “I’m Wasting Your Time”

When a prospect deletes you they actually mean “This isn’t worth a moment of my time.”

Why? Because you convinced them it wasn’t… often by using weak words.

Time is another element where your words demonstrate lack of respect. Often unknowingly. Do you ever use these phrases?

  • As you probably realize …
  • Again …
  • Obviously …

These are all words that communicate, “I’m about to waste your time” to your reader. I’m about to tell you something you already know. Or I’m about to repeat myself. Or I’m about to tell you something obvious.

People don’t have time for you when you signal “I’m good at wasting it.” Your words are powerful. Keep this in mind.

Stop Persuading

As a sales person, your goal isn’t to convince the prospect to talk with you. That speaking would be smart. The goal is for the prospect to convince themselves that talking is smart … if, in fact, it is.

Stop trying to persuade. Everyone hates strangers who try to persuade them, especially in an email.

Are your cold emails and voicemail messages helping buyers feel an urge to ask for help? Are your follow-ups helping them reach conclusions on their own? That’s different, powerful.

Or are you trying to persuade the prospect you are credible?

I know experts say, “you’ve got to write something convincing them to reply …” and “you’ve got to appear credible to earn the response.”

No you don’t.

You have to be provocative, not credible. Credibility comes later — when a customer is considering doing business with you. You don’t need to have credibility to initiate a short conversation about a longer one.

You need to be provocative.

The problem with using words that posture is… well… you’re posturing. You’re trying to appear credible to someone you don’t know. And that never works in email, nor in general, when you talk about yourself.

When we try to appear credible we actually “signal” to strangers:

  • I have my own agenda
  • I am out to convince/persuade you
  • I know you won’t believe me, so I’ll bring in 3rd parties to prove it (your research report, your Gartner praise, etc.)

Instead, challenge the prospect to challenge you!

Make your claim. Boldly. Let them react to it. Let them label it nonsense or ask you to prove it.

Now you’ve provoked a discussion.

I have many students who do well with CEOs and CIOs using the phrase, “unorthodox but effective” when describing a strategy or tactic … relating to what they sell. This dares the prospect to hit reply and ask, “ok, you’re on. What’s so unorthodox about what you’re asking me to consider?”

What has your experience been?