3 Charges for Direct Marketing in 2015

The New Year represents a time to reflect on how to recharge direct marketing approaches and strategies. If 2014 results were disappointing, or worse, a decline from the previous year, here are three charges to examine and consider for 2015. But I should warn you: If you’re a long-time direct marketer like myself, accepting some of these charges might not come easily.

The New Year represents a time to reflect on how to recharge direct marketing approaches and strategies. If 2014 results were disappointing, or worse, a decline from the previous year, here are three charges to examine and consider for 2015. But I should warn you: If you’re a long-time direct marketer like myself, accepting some of these charges might not come easily.

  1. Cultivate Your Platform
    Long-term success is a result of creating a platform of raving fans, prospects and customers. Your platform is your revenue source. You must grow and cultivate it, whether you’re an established organization or a start-up. And you nurture your platform over time by positioning your organization as a trustworthy leader with authority in your market.

    If you haven’t already, reexamine your organization’s persona—how you’re perceived—in the market. You can build your organization’s persona in the marketplace with content marketing tools such as producing videos, writing blogs, and engaging both existing and prospective customers via social media. Even direct mail can include a content writing component with reports, research, and long-form, content-rich letters.

    As direct marketers, we’ve had it ingrained in us for generations that every marketing effort we use must deliver a measurable response. Cultivating and investing in the development of a platform of prospective customers, before making a sale, is counter to the culture of direct marketing. We expect every marketing effort to produce a measurable result.

    A challenge is accepting that content marketing, which normally doesn’t deliver a measurable sales response, does in fact contribute to long-term success. As prospects comb the Internet, you must meet them where they are—whether it’s at their mailbox, filtering through email, reading a magazine, watching TV, or online while checking social media, viewing video, or multi-tasking all of the above.

  2. How Do You Make Them Feel?
    After you meet your customers where they are physically, you must engage them emotionally using a methodical creative process that tracks what is happening in their mind.

    In the first step, you were charged with looking at your organization’s persona. Now, imagine the personas of your prospects and customers. The knowledge of who they are dictates how to stir emotions and calm the mind with your solution’s message. By establishing who you are with your position—your leadership and unique selling proposition—and using storytelling, you can embed new memory grooves. When the time is right, you interpret your offer for the metaphorical “left brain” part of the mind. The tipping point comes when you intensify the desired emotional “right brain” feeling so they give themselves permission to respond.

    As you consider how to create feeling in your selling message, heed this quote from Maya Angelou:

    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    Make your customers feel good and connect with them at a level they will always remember.

  3. Strategically Monetize
    With the charge to cultivate your platform and intensify the emotional feeling in your creative processes, never lose sight of the need to strategically monetize. Your efforts to create fans and followers must have an endgame plan that moves them to become paying customers.

    One challenge, for example, is measuring the value of content marketing in the total marketing mix of positioning leadership, establishing authority and building trust. It may mean that you have to look at the total effect of your numbers in a different way. Your budget may have to blend in the cost of marketing efforts you can’t track and average out a cost per order based on all activity. Perhaps you carve out a separate budget for content and other hard-to-track efforts. You might look at those costs as a branding expense or as part of overhead.

    Whatever makes sense in your organization, 2015 may be the time to view some types of marketing activities as contributing to your overall success without specific attribution to a sale. By my own admission, as a classically trained direct marketer this has been a tough concept for me to accept.

If 2014 was a banner year for you, stay the course, but remain vigilant for trends and tools that may prove valuable. But if response was lackluster or declining, consider that the days of profitably casting out a pitch to buy a product that’s unknown, without trust, credibility or authority, have passed for more and more organizations.

Your success includes the charge to build and cultivate a platform. The charge includes communicating a deeper, more cerebral approach that impacts memory and swells the emotional feelings inside your prospect’s and customer’s mind. And the charge for 2015 suggests that to calculate bottom-line profitability, you may have to rethink how you budget and monetize.

Marketing: It’s the New IT

Spring is here and change is in the air for marketers in the way they consume technology. Big change. Not incremental or run-of-the-mill change. We’re talking a paradigm-busting tectonic shift that’s going to change the way that companies are structured. And when the dust settles, things will never be the same again, for Marketing or IT.

Spring is here and change is in the air for marketers in the way they consume technology. Big change. Not incremental or run-of-the-mill change. We’re talking a paradigm-busting tectonic shift that’s going to change the way that companies are structured. And when the dust settles, things will never be the same again, for Marketing or IT.

What do I mean? What I mean is we’re on the ground floor of a transformational process in which marketing replaces IT as the stewards of the Marketing Technology Infrastructure. At the end of this process, marketing will own and manage vast majority of IT’s responsibilities, as they relate to marketing functions. This is going to happen—sooner than you might think—as a result of several parallel trends that are already underfoot in the business world.

  • Emergence of robust and easy-to-use SaaS marketing technologies—the proliferation of tools like Constant Contact, Eloqua, SalesForce and Marketo give marketers access to incredibly powerful plug-and-play solutions that can be used with virtually no internal IT support. Because they’re delivered using the SaaS model, all updates and tech support are managed by the vendor. Talk about a marketer’s dream …
  • Development of secure and dependable cloud storage and computing infrastructure—as little as five years ago, companies could never have imagined moving their precious data outside the organization’s firewall. Oh, how times have changed! Numerous security breaches combined with improved cloud technology and falling prices for storage have turned the tables on this argument. Why go through the cost and hassle of maintaining your own databases if you don’t need to? For many companies, this is already a rhetorical question.
  • Standardization of Web-service-based API architecture—Now that API technology has grown up, so to speak, we have a universally agreed-upon language (XML) and set of standards (SOAP/REST) developers can use to tie disparate systems together. Building on point No. 1, APIs are a quick and effective way to pass information back and forth between various platforms. What’s more, a new generation of developers has grown up that’s fluent in this ecosystem, and companies are taking advantage by staffing up big time. Within the next couple years, you’ll never again hear, “We don’t have an API developer on staff.”
  • Validation of the “Platform” model for development—why build a platform when you can use someone else’s? What’s more, why try to build a better mousetrap yourself when you can leverage a network of thousands or tens of thousands of developers who are willing to give it stab? This is the power and promise of the platform model. Over the next few years, the marketing space will be increasingly dominated by large platforms who create ecosystems their clients can tap into for cutting-edge capabilities, and developers can leverage to line their pockets. By 2020, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re a developer, you’ll either be working at a platform, developing apps for one, or building tools and methodologies that pass information back and forth between them. So if you like to code, get with the platform program, and quick!

Because the relationship between IT and Marketing could be described as “frosty,” at best, I think it’s safe to say that, overall, this will be a welcome change for most CMOs. In my experience, marketing departments tend to feel that IT is understaffed, distracted and overall not a strong partner for the marketing team to rely on. If anything, the adversarial nature of this relationship will serve to accelerate the overall trend of many IT functions dissolving into marketing department’s purview.

But what’s most interesting about this process is that it will not be limited to the marketing department. Think about it. Other departments consume technology as well, right? That means it’s going to happen in parallel throughout the entire enterprise organization: Finance, Accounting, Purchasing, Procurement … They will all go through the same transformation, as software is procured from SaaS service providers, and data storage and database management is migrated to the cloud. We’re talking comprehensive and organization-wide transformation.

I’ve already seen the beginnings of this process within many of my client’s organizations. In a previous post, The Great Marketing Data Revolution, I touched upon the incredible transformation organizations are being forced to make as they deal with and try to make sense out of with the deluge of unstructured marketing data they are collecting every day, which is often referred to as “Big Data.”

For many companies, the ultimate Big Data strategy involves a Master Data Management (MDM) solution for collecting, aggregating, matching and storing this vast pool of information. While supported by IT, MDM initiatives tend to be marketing projects, as most of the data is collected and used by marketing. MDM/Big Data solutions tend to be cloud-based and take advantage some, if not all, of the four points I addressed above.

Now what’s going to happen to IT, you might ask? If you’re working in IT, don’t fret. Your department won’t disappear. But its role will undoubtedly change with the times. Instead of focusing on product development and infrastructure maintenance, IT will instead focus on identifying the right players to engage with, testing, auditing and supporting the process—not to mention providing API technologists to help tie systems together. And, possibly, developing specialized tools to help fill in gaps the marketplace has overlooked.

If you’re a developer, this means that you’re going to need to redefine your skills to align them to the needs of the marketplace. And the good news is you probably have a few years to get it sorted out. Still, things will undoubtedly change and—once the proverbial tipping point is reached—they’ll change awfully fast.

So I hope this all makes sense. I do have a feeling this may be a controversial topic for many readers—especially those in IT. If you have any questions, comments or feedback, please let me know in your comments.

Turn Your Customers Into Your Best Salespeople

Happy customers are your brand’s best salespeople. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for brand advocates to share their enthusiasm with hundreds (if not thousands) of colleagues and other prospects in their online networks. The power given to consumers is real. It’s created a sort of forced collaboration between marketers and their customers — with industry bloggers, analysts and journalists chiming in too. Empower customers and your marketplace and you win. Try to control it and you may incite a mutiny.

Happy customers are your brand’s best salespeople. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for brand advocates to share their enthusiasm with hundreds (if not thousands) of colleagues and other prospects in their online networks. The power given to consumers is real. It’s created a sort of forced collaboration between marketers and their customers — with industry bloggers, analysts and journalists chiming in too. Empower customers and your marketplace and you win. Try to control it and you may incite a mutiny.

Enabling satisfied customers to spread the word takes a combination of the right messaging and some careful listening to ensure you don’t lose out on valuable opportunities for positive online word-of-mouth. Empower your brand advocates by devoting attention to these four specific areas:

1. A great customer experience. Certain customers will go out of their way to praise a high-quality product, helpful customer service or even a compelling interaction with a brand. (This holds true whether they’re B-to-C or B-to-B customers.) Naturally, the first step is to offer a great product or service. Then start paying attention to who’s talking about your brand, what they’re saying and where they’re saying it. Social media listening tools will help you locate enthusiastic customers online. Make them prime targets for engagement.

Don’t wait for the active few, go after the silent majority, too. The primary reason most customers don’t share good news about brands they do business with is because they’re never asked. After every appropriate interaction — and without being creepy or becoming a nag — invite your customers to participate in product reviews, experience surveys, customer forums or just plain telephone calls as part of “executive outreach sessions.” Use the channel that the customer used, whether it’s SMS, social, email or retail.

2. Loyalty. Customers willing to share their positive experiences with your brand are well worth your time and resources. Once you’ve found these happy customers, invest in them to create a loyal following. You can’t underestimate the power of simply thanking customers for their business.

In addition, keep your database up to date and integrated with your segmentation and campaign management tools. Update customer profiles to include recognition of brand advocacy and nurture loyalty with special acknowledgments, promotions and discounts. It’s critical to keep these interactions relevant, personalized and well-timed. In other words, don’t spam. Just because you can email a brand advocate on her birthday, before holidays and whenever her favorite item is on sale doesn’t mean your messages will be welcome.

Track response rates over time so you can optimize message frequency and timing. While many of your loyal customers will be happy to receive lots of notices from you, never assume their interest. One of our retail clients recently found that a whopping 10 percent of their most loyal customers had marked their email messages as spam in the past year. When the retailer reached out to these customers via other channels to find out why, it learned that the email messages were too frequent and not specific to the interests of those customers. Don’t risk upsetting or annoying your customers to the point of complaints. Listen to the response data you have and back off when necessary.

3. A platform to promote. Help your brand advocates find their voice by giving them ample opportunity to share their feelings online. They’re multichannel, so think across channels too. Engage them via email, your website, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Make sure they feel welcome to talk about their positive customer experiences online.

Is your company blog comment friendly? Do you provide a timely response to mentions of your brand on Twitter? Are you using clickstream and email data to inform your personas and segmentation? Does your website provide easy access to contact information for customer service and social media accounts? Present a seamless approach across all platforms — both traditional and digital — so that your messaging is consistent and credible.

4. Pull your head out of the sand. There are dozens of examples every month of brands that tried to ignore negative social commentary or got “shamed” for suppressing negative comments on Facebook. Nestle, for example, battled with Greenpeace supporters who voiced their concerns over the company’s use of palm oil. Rather than listening and engaging with concerned consumers, Nestle created a wealth of bad PR for itself by deleting posts and snapping back at fans. Similarly, Pfizer agitated consumers by deleting Facebook posts that suggested one of its viral video campaigns may be sexist.

If you’re going to listen and respond to social data, you must accept and engage with consumers who don’t agree with your positions or didn’t have a good brand experience. Like all battles of public opinion, the trick is to empower your advocates to respond to your detractors while providing a fact-based, reasonable platform for thoughtful discussion.

Brand advocates have always played the role of valuable, cost-effective salespeople. Now their voices can be amplified even more via social media networks. With a little encouragement and support, today’s brand advocates can become a powerful sales force. Put marketing automation and integration tools to work and you’ll be able to find your satisfied customers, engage with them and delight them even more with offers and promotions that resonate and cultivate deeper brand loyalty.