1-Trick Ponies and Customer Loyalty Behavior

About 30 years ago, Paul Simon wrote a song entitled “One-Trick Pony.” The song describes a performing pony that has learned only one trick, and he succeeds or fails with the audience based on how well he executes it. As Simon conveys in the lyrics: “He’s got one trick to last a lifetime. It’s the principal source of his revenue.”

About 30 years ago, Paul Simon wrote a song entitled “One-Trick Pony.” The song describes a performing pony that has learned only one trick, and he succeeds or fails with the audience based on how well he executes it. As Simon conveys in the lyrics: “He’s got one trick to last a lifetime. It’s the principal source of his revenue.”

For a long time, I’ve seen this song and its message as something of a metaphor for what challenges many companies endeavoring to create customer loyalty behavior and more effective customer loyalty programs.

A key reason companies have a difficult time achieving stronger customer loyalty is they fail to provide full value and emotional relationship fundamentals. They focus on satisfying customers exclusively through basic rational and functional benefits, which is often too benign and passive an approach to create lasting value.

Mostly, they emphasize single-element or minimal element tactical approaches with customers, such as pricing, merchandise, loyalty cards or points-based programs, without determining (either before programs are launched or after they are up and running) whether this is sufficient motivation for building a long-term relationship. Smart marketers know, for instance, being a low-cost provider can be a trap and that only overall perceived value will prevail. In the United States, chain discount retailers like Caldor, Bradlees, Jamesway, Value City, Ames and Filene’s are either in trouble or have gone out of business, while Target, Costco and Walmart, with strong brand equity and high perceived value, have sustained.

Being a low-cost provider means that brand and customer strategies get little emphasis, and they require little investment. Let’s be honest. Cutting costs seems safe. The downside is it usually does not produce much loyalty (customer or staff), strategic differentiation or profitability.

In a 1980 Harvard Business Review article by William Hall (written, parenthetically, about the same time Simon wrote “One-Trick Pony), he reported study results comparing companies that competed on differentiated customer value vs. companies that competed principally on cost. On any important measure—return on equity, return on capital, and annual revenue growth—companies delivering both rational and relationship value beat the price competitors every time.

Customers can almost always locate cheaper products or services. Ultimately, they will invest a greater share of their purchase dollars with suppliers who create stronger emotional bonds and deliver superior perceived value. Competing on price, or any other single dimension, may pull away customers from other suppliers in the short run, but it will be difficult to keep them for long. Price is rarely a sufficient “barrier to exit,” and is more often an invitation to churn.

The same thing often holds true for incentive programs. Many consumers participate in programs like supermarket bonus clubs and airline frequent flyer programs, but they aren’t particularly effective at producing greater loyalty for any one airline or any one supermarket chain. Customers are often members of several programs, and the most active users tend to be those who would have been frequent purchasers, anyway. The incentive and reward structure more often benefits the already loyal rather than increasing loyalty. Gift programs, travel, dining, entertainment, merchandise, and cash award programs, and other plateau and pre-selected response stimulus programs are having an increasingly difficult time breaking through the clutter to provide unique, differentiated customer value.

Some of the online incentive programs have positively increased transactions, mostly among younger, female and active surfing potential buyers. To keep these incentive promotions from being one-trick ponies, they must be carefully targeted to the right consumers and at the right time. These programs must have four effective elements: ability to attract prospects to the website and, once there, to generate consideration, preference, and purchase. Getting infrequent buyers to purchase more often, or frequent buyers to place larger orders through the use of incentives, will hinge on how well companies leverage their customers’ profiles. Even more basic, it must be well-understood what customers perceive as value and what it will take to optimize their repeat purchases. The essentials for bricks and mortar product and service providers are virtually the same.

Generic, cookie-cutter and “me, too” discounts or incentives don’t do particularly well at increasing overall customer “share of wallet,” because they don’t sufficiently reward the customer for their enhanced purchase activity over time. All that’s really required to meet the customer halfway is infusion of some targeted, personalized elements to the incentive program to make them more attractive and beneficial.

The first step is to segment customers who should receive different incentives. This can be done through both basic data analysis and applied, or pilot, customer research. For example, for large customers who purchase infrequently, the company might have determined that, if they offer special discounts made within the near future, say 60 or 90 days, these customers would find that attractive. Customers who purchase frequently but in low volume amounts might be offered a discount on their next order, so long as it is larger than their last order. The array of potential loyalty program offerings can be customized based on identified needs.

What about incentives for customers who are both frequent and large volume purchasers? Well, start by saying “thank you” to them. Few things are more appreciated than thanks, and few companies express their gratitude as much as they should. Many forget to thank their customers altogether. This is especially critical for Web-based companies, or ISPs and cable companies, where the purchase experience is frequently virtual rather than personal. Thanked customers are more likely to go out of their way to provide positive referrals and testimonials.

Paul Simon’s song lyrics conclude: ” … the bag of tricks it takes to get me through my working day.” Companies would be well-served to have a bag of experience and customer loyalty tricks, using disciplined research and customer data to identify them, rather than relying on only one—price—to get them through.

PPC Shockers and Secrets

Pay per click (PPC), particularly Google AdWords, is a marketing channel that can produce profitable results for your business, whether your goal is lead generation or sales. I have been managing PPC for businesses, as an in-house marketing leader as well as marketing consultant, for over a decade now. Though the years, I have noticed many secrets to success that I wanted to share—especially with business owners and marketers that haven’t tried PPC yet.

Pay per click (PPC), particularly Google AdWords, is a marketing channel that can produce profitable results for your business, whether your goal is lead generation or sales.

I have been managing PPC for businesses, as an in-house marketing leader as well as marketing consultant, for over a decade now.

Though the years, I have noticed many secrets to success that I wanted to share—especially with business owners and marketers that haven’t tried PPC yet.

First, I’d like to clear the air about a big shocker … or actually a fallacy … that you need a big budget to run an effective PPC campaign.

You don’t. If you happen to have a large budget, your ads will be shown more and you can spread out your ad groups and test different types. With a smaller budget, you do need to be more judicious with your efforts. But if you market smarter, not broader, your campaigns can still produce positive results.

I have run PPC campaigns with total monthly budgets of $1,000. I have run campaigns with total daily maximum budgets ranging from $25 to $50. These campaigns brought in both sales and leads, despite their limited spending. But they do require active management, strategic thinking, deep PPC knowledge and refinement/optimization.

The PPC Tri-Pod
What is going to determine the cost and return of your campaign are three simple things I call the “PPC Tri-pod”, as it supports your entire PPC efforts:

  1. Keywords
  2. Creative (or banner ad, if it’s running on the display network)
  3. Redirect URL

So in order for you to get the most bang for your buck with PPC, you should be aware of a few things regarding the PPC Tri-pod:

Keywords. The more popular the keyword, the more cost per click (CPC) it’s going to have. So it’s very important to do your keyword research before you start selecting your keywords as you’re setting up your campaign.

I like to use Keywordspy.com. The “lite” version is free, but you can also upgrade to the full version and see more results and have more capabilities for a monthly fee. Google used to have its Keyword External Tool, which has since morphed into Google AdWords Keyword Planner. You need a Gmail account to access this free tool.

Either of these tools will allow you to enter keywords or keyword phrases and then view popularity (actual search results), as well as what the average CPCs are. This is important for your keyword selection and bidding. You can also type in your “core” or focus keywords and get additional ad group/keyword ideas. To help refine your search terms, you can also choose broad match, broad match modifier, phrase match, exact match and negative match.

If you pick a word that is too vague or too under-searched, your ad will not see much (or any) action. Impressions will either not be served, or if they are served (in the case of a vague word), it may cost you a high CPC. In addition, a vague keyword may not be relevant enough to get you a good conversion rate. Because you pay by the click, your goal is to monetize that click by getting an instant conversion. And conversions, my friends, will be the role of the landing page. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.

Creative. This is your text ad (or banner ad, if you’re running in AdWords’ display network). For Google to rank your ad favorably, and more importantly, for you to get the best conversion results possible—there needs to be a relevancy and synergy between your keyword, text ad and landing page. Google will let you know if you’re not passing muster by your ad’s page position and quality score. Once you’ve carefully researched and selected your ad group keywords, you’ll want to make sure those keywords are consistent across the board with your ad and landing page. Your text ad has four visible lines with limited character count:

  1. Headline (25 Characters)
  2. Description Line 1 (35 Characters)
  3. Description Line 2 (35 Characters)
  4. Display URL (35 Characters)

Your keyword must appear in your text ad, as well as follow through and appear in the content of your landing page.

This will give you a good quality rank with Google, but also help qualify the prospect and carry the relevancy of the ad through to the landing page. Why is this important? It helps maintain consistency of the message and also set expectations with the end user. You don’t want to present one ad, and then have a completely different landing page come up.

Not only is that a “bait and switch,” but it’s costly. Because you’re paying for clicks, a great ad that is compelling and keyword rich, but not cohesive to your landing page, will not convert as well as one that is. And your campaign will actually lose conversions.

Redirect URL. This is your landing page. Different goals and different industries will have different formats. A lead generation campaign, which is just looking to collect email addresses to build an opt-in email list, will be a “squeeze page.” This is simply a landing page with a form asking for first name and email address in return for giving something away for free—albeit a bonus report, free newsletter subscription or similar. It got its name because it’s “squeezing” an email address from the prospect. Some retail campaigns will direct prospects directly to e-commerce sites or catalog pages (as opposed to a sales page). Direct response online marketers will drive their traffic to a targeted promotional landing page where it’s not typically a Web page where there’s other navigation or distractions that will take the prospect away from the main goal. It’s more streamlined and focused. The copy is not technical, it’s compelling and emotional, like promotional copy you would see in a sales letter. The anatomy of your redirect URL will vary on your goal and offer. It will take optimization and testing to see what’s working and what’s not. And that’s par for the course. If you’re testing, I suggest elements that scream and not whisper, such as long copy vs. short copy, or headlines and leads that are different themes. However, no matter what your goal, whether it’s going for the sale or the email address, you still need keyword consistency between all creative elements.

Tips And Tricks For Maximum ROI
Whether you have a big or small budget, there are a few things I’ve learned during the years that help the overall performance of a PPC campaign. Some of these are anecdotal, so if you’ve seen otherwise, I suggest testing to see if it makes a difference to your particular industry.

Ad and Landing Page. In general, I have noticed that shorter, to the point, landing pages produce better results. And the rationale is quite obvious. People searching the Web are looking for quick solutions to a problem. This means your creatives have to not only be keyword rich, but compelling and eye-caching. You have seconds to grab a Web surfer’s attention and get them to click. In the same sense, the landing page has to be equally relevant and persuasive, and typically shorter in copy. Keep in mind Google has many rules surrounding ad copy development. So write your text ads in accordance to its advertising policy.

Price Point. Again, in my personal experience, most Web surfers have a price threshold. And that’s items under about $79. When running a PPC campaign, think about price points that are more tolerable to “cold” prospects; that is, people who haven’t built a relationship with you or know anything about you. They have no brand loyalty. They don’t know you from Adam. So getting a sale at a lower price point is an easier sell than a product you have that costs hundreds of dollars. Luxury items or items with strong recognition and brand loyalty are the exception to that rule. As a direct response marketer, I urge you to price test and see for yourself.

Campaign Set-up. There are a few tactics I notice that help with ad exposure, clicks and saving money. When you’re setting up your campaign you can day-part, frequency cap and run ad extensions. Day parting allows you to select the hours of the day you’d like your campaign to run; ad extensions allow you to add components to your text ad to help visibility and call to action—such as location, site links, reviews and more; And frequency capping lets you set a threshold on how many times you’d like a given person to see your ad (based on impressions).

PPC Networks. It’s smart not to put all your eggs in one basket. In addition to Google AdWords, try running campaigns on other PPC networks, such as Bing/Yahoo, Adroll (retargeting through Facebook), Advertising.com/AdSonar.com, SiteScout.com (formerly Adbrite.com), and Kanoodle.com. Then see where you get the best cost per click, cost per conversion and overall results.

I’ve only touched the surface here. There are more tactics and features that can help a PPC campaign’s performance. So get yourself familiar with it, read up on the best practices, and don’t be afraid to put your toe in the water. As with any marketing tactic, some channels will work for your business, and some won’t. But you won’t know unless you test. Just remember the foundation of success hinges on the PPC Tri-Pod. The possibilities are endless.

McKinsey Thinks Bland, Generic Loyalty Programs Are Killing Business – And They May Be Right!

A recent Forbes article by McKinsey, “Making Loyalty Pay: Six Lessons From the Innovators,” showed loyalty program participation has steadily increased during the past five years (a 10 percent annual rate of growth), with the average household now having almost 25 memberships. For all of that growing popularity, there are huge questions for marketers: Are the programs contributing to increased sales? And what is the impact of loyalty programs on enterprise profitability?

A recent Forbes article by McKinsey, “Making Loyalty Pay: Six Lessons From the Innovators,” showed loyalty program participation has steadily increased during the past five years (a 10 percent annual rate of growth), with the average household now having almost 25 memberships. For all of that growing popularity, there are huge questions for marketers: Are the programs contributing to increased sales? And what is the impact of loyalty programs on enterprise profitability?

Overall, companies with loyalty programs have grown at about the same rate as companies without them; but there is variance in performance value among industries. These programs produce positive sales increases for hotels, for example, but negative sales impact on car rental, airlines and food retail. And, companies with higher loyalty program spend had lower margins than companies in the same sector which do not spend on high-visibility loyalty programs.

McKinsey has noted that, “Despite relative underperformance in terms of revenue growth and profitability, over the past five years, market capitalization for companies that greatly emphasize loyalty programs has outpaced that of companies that don’t.” This, as they see it, may be indicative of hope among companies with programs that long-term customer value can be generated.

Within the McKinsey report, several strategies are offered for helping businesses overcome the negatives often associated with loyalty programs. Key among these are:

  • Integrate Loyalty Into the Full Experience
    Companies can link the loyalty program into the overall purchase and use experience. An example cited in the article is Starbucks, which has created its program to reflect the uniqueness of its café experience. Loyalty is built into the program by integrating payments and mobile technology, which appeals to its target audience.
  • Use the Data
    This may be the most important opportunity represented by loyalty programs. Data collected from the programs can offer competitive opportunities. Tesco, the largest supermarket chain on the planet, has been doing loyalty program member number-crunching for years through DunnHumby. Similarly, Caesars Entertainment has rich databases on its high-rolling program members. One retailer has combined its loyalty program with a 5 percent point-of-sale discount, building volume from its highest-value customers. In another well-documented example, a retailer has used its loyalty program data to identify future mothers before other chains, thus targeting offers to capture both their regular spend and new category purchases as buying habits evolve.
  • Build Partnerships
    As stated on so many occasions, organizations that build trust generate stronger, more bonded, customer behavior. This applies to loyalty programs as well, where there is ample opportunity to build cross-promotion for customers with non-competing products and services. In the U.K., Sainsbury, the major supermarket competitor of Tesco, has partnered with Nectar, a major loyalty coalition. Nectar has more members than Tesco, and participants can collect rewards across a large number of non-competing retailers. Through partnership, Sainsbury’s offers customers a broader and deeper value proposition; and Nectar also generates data from coalition partners, which it uses to better target promotions to customers.
  • Solve Customer and Industry Pain Points
    Numerous customer behavior studies have shown that people will gravitate to, and pay more for, better service. A perfect example of this is Amazon Prime, where additional payment gets customers faster delivery and digital tracking. This is good for Amazon (estimates are that members spend more than four times more with Amazon than non-members), its customers, and its suppliers, who also get access to Prime customers and the positive rub-off of affiliating with a trusted brand.
  • Maximize Difference Between Perceived Value and Real Cost
    Often, program elements can represent high perceived value without adding much in the way of bottom-line cost to the sponsor. The example cited is Starwood Hotels and Resorts where, through its Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, there is a focus on personal leisure travel rewards for high-spending frequent guests.
  • Allocate Loyalty Reinvestment to the Most Valuable Customers
    Many companies have only recently come to the realization that some customers are more valuable than others; and, to be successful, loyalty programs need to target the higher revenue customers. In 2010, Southwest Airlines revamped its loyalty program to make rewards more proportional to ticket price; and this has better targeted the most profitable customers, as well as enabled the airline to adopt a loyalty behavior metric that is closely tied to actual revenue generation.

Loyalty programs continue to grow, but they are also tending to become more closely integrated with brand-building and multichannel customer experience optimization. But, there is also lots of commoditization and passivity were these programs are concerned—sort of the “If You Build It, They Will Come” syndrome at work. And, of course, there’s a mini contra movement among some retail chains, where they have removed established loyalty programs—or never initiated them in the first place—in favor of everyday low prices and more efficient performance.

Too Big to Fail – But Not Too Big to Suck

On a recent “Real Time With Bill Maher” show, Maher responded to the announcement that Time Warner Cable would merge with Comcast Corp. in a $45 billion purchase. He noted that, combined, the two cable systems represent 19 of the 20 largest U.S. markets; and, apart from suppliers like Dish and DirecTV, they have no competitors in these metros. Further, Maher said, the two companies have the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of any cable system. So, as he asked his panelists, where is the value for customers in this merger if both companies are known to have questionable service performance?

On a recent “Real Time With Bill Maher” show, Maher responded to the announcement that Time Warner Cable would merge with Comcast Corp. in a $45 billion purchase. He noted that, combined, the two cable systems represent 19 of the 20 largest U.S. markets; and, apart from suppliers like Dish and DirecTV, they have no competitors in these metros. Further, Maher said, the two companies have the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of any cable system. So, as he asked his panelists, where is the value for customers in this merger if both companies are known to have questionable service performance?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will, of course, have a great deal to say about whether this merger goes through or not. During the past couple of decades, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of cable companies, from 53 at one point to only six now. Addressing some of the early negative reaction to its planned purchase of TWC-which would increase Comcast’s cable base to 30 million subscribers from the 22 million it currently has (a bit less than 30 percent of the overall market)-Comcast has already stated that it will make some concessions to have the merger approved. But, that said, according to company executives, the proposed cost savings and efficiencies that will “ultimately benefit customers” are not likely to either reduce monthly subscription prices or even cause them to rise less rapidly.

Comcast executives have stated that the value to consumers will come via “quality of service, by quality of offerings and by technological innovations.” David Cohen, their Executive VP, said: “Putting these two companies together will not deprive a single customer in America of a choice he or she will have today.” (Opens as a PDF) He also said, “I don’t believe there’s any way to argue that consumers are going to be hurt from a price perspective as a result of this transaction.” But, that said, he also admitted, “Frankly, most of the factors that go into customer bills are beyond our control.” Not very encouraging.

As anyone remotely familiar with Comcast’s history will understand, this is not the first time the company has navigated the river of communications company consolidation: 1995, Scripps, 800,000 subscribers, 1998, Jones Intercable, 1.1 million subscribers; 2000, Lenfest Communications, 1.3 million subscribers.

In 2002, Comcast completed acquisition of AT&T Broadband, in a deal worth $72 billion. This increased the company’s base to its current level of 22 million subscribers, and gave it major presence in markets like Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia and San Francisco-Oakland. In a statement issued by Comcast at the time the purchase was announced, again there was a claim that the merger with AT&T would benefit all stakeholders: “Combining Comcast with AT&T Broadband is a once in a lifetime opportunity that creates immediate value and positions the company for additional growth in the future. Shareholders, employees, and customers alike are poised to reap considerable benefits from this remarkable union.”

There have been technological advances, additional content, and enhanced service, during the ensuing 13 years. But “immediate value” and “considerable benefits”? Having been professionally involved with customer research conducted at the time of this merger, there was genuine question regarding the value perceived by the newly acquired AT&T customers. In a study among customers who discontinued with Comcast post-merger, and also among customers who had been Comcast customers or AT&T customers prior to the merger, poor picture quality (remember, these were the days well before HD), service disruption and high/continually rising prices were the key reasons given for defection to a competitor.

Conversely, when asked to rate their current suppliers on both key attribute importance (a surrogate measure of performance expectation) and performance itself, the highest priorities were all service-related:

  • Reliability of cable service
  • Availability of customer service when needed
  • Speed of service problem resolution
  • Responsiveness of customer service staff

On all principal service attributes except “speed of service problem resolution,” the new supplier was given higher ratings than either Comcast or AT&T. And there were major gaps in all of the above areas. Overall, close to 90 percent of these defected customers said they would be highly likely to continue the relationship with their new supplier. When correlation analysis was performed, pricing and service performance were the key driving factors. In addition, even if Comcast were now able to offer services that overcame their reasons for defection, very few (only about 10 percent) said they would be willing to become Comcast customers again.

Finally, we’ve often focused on unexpressed and unresolved complaints as leading barometers, or indicators, of possible defection. Few of the customers interviewed indicated problems with their current suppliers; however, as in other studies, problem and complaint issues were frequently surfaced for both Comcast and AT&T.

It should be noted that having lost a significant number of customers to Verizon’s FiOS, Comcast has a winback program under way, leveraging quotes from subscribers who have returned to the Xfinity fold. In the usual Macy’s/Gimbel’s customer acquisition and capture theater of war, this marks a marketing change for Comcast. As often observed (and even covered in an entire book, with my co-author, consultant Jill Griffin), winback marketing strategies are rather rarely applied, but can be very successful.

One of the key consumer concerns, especially as it may impact monthly bills, is the cost and control of content. For example, Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast for an exclusive direct connection into its network. As one media analyst noted, “The largest cable company in the nation, on the verge of improving its power to influence broadband policy, is nurturing a class system by capitalizing on its reach as a consumer Internet service provider (ISP).” This could, John C. Abell further stated, be a “game-changer.” Media management and control such as this has echoes of Big Brother for customers, and it is all the more reason Comcast should be paying greater attention to the evolving needs, as well as the squeeze on wallets, of its customers.

Perhaps the principal lesson here, assuming that the FCC allows this merger to proceed and ultimately consummate, will be for Comcast to be proactive in building relationships and service delivery. There’s very little that will increase consumer trust more than “walking the talk,” delivering against the claims of what benefits customers will stand to receive. Conversely, there’s little that will undermine trust and loyalty faster, and more thoroughly, than underdelivery on promises.

Loyalty Programs? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Loyalty Programs!

Without fear of (much) argument, it’s a fair statement to say that all companies want, and try to generate and achieve, optimum loyalty from their customer bases. They should want this, because study after study shows the financial rewards of having loyal customers. Some companies reach this goal through superior value delivery, built on quality products and services, and positive, consistent customer experiences. For the past several decades, many companies have relied on customer loyalty cards or programs, by which they can track purchase behavior and give rewards for repeat and volume buying activity.

Without fear of (much) argument, it’s a fair statement to say that all companies want, and try to generate and achieve, optimum loyalty from their customer bases. They should want this, because study after study shows the financial rewards of having loyal customers. Some companies reach this goal through superior value delivery, built on quality products and services, and positive, consistent customer experiences. For the past several decades, many companies have relied on customer loyalty cards or programs, by which they can track purchase behavior and give rewards for repeat and volume buying activity.

Customer loyalty programs are especially popular among retailers. During the years, retailers have found these programs to be powerful business tools within their highly competitive markets. But some retailers have completely disavowed loyalty programs, either never initiating them in the first place or canceling them, in favor of reduced pricing. In fact, this has become something of a trend. What’s behind it?

Let’s start with the biggest retailer—Walmart. The company has long claimed that a loyalty program isn’t needed because its prices are so low. Walmart believes that loyalty programs can, indeed, provide excellent information about customers who participate; however, as one Walmart executive put it: ” … some of the loyalty programs are very expensive, and we don’t think that serves everyday low cost and everyday low price.” Lower-than-competition everyday prices has been Walmart’s merchandising and marketing mantra since its inception. But, at least for groceries and sundry products, that often isn’t the case. Supermarket chains like Save-A-Lot and Aldi’s, neither of which has a loyalty program, will often beat Walmart’s item-for-item pricing by a significant margin. And other competitors can use their loyalty programs to selectively pick products, and individual customers, to offer pricing—which undermines Walmart.

As for generating customer purchase data, Walmart has a “scan & go” app for mobile devices, which allows customers to scan their own items as they shop; and this provides the company with valuable information on what customers are purchasing, the length of time they’re shopping in the store, and what offers and coupons might drive future purchases. Walmart uses additional methods of understanding individual customer purchases. One of these is Walmart credit cards. Another is reloadable MasterCard and Visa debit cards. A third is “Bluebird,” a prepaid debit card which functions as Walmart customers’ alternative to having a checking account, with which they can make deposits, pay bills—and shop at Walmart. Like Tesco is already doing in the U.K, Walmart has been considering development of its own bank, which would provide even more customer data.

Asda, a Walmart-owned supermarket chain in the U.K, also has no loyalty program. It’s the second-largest supermarket company, behind Tesco; and, as in the U.S., newer low-priced chains, such as Aldi, are actively competing with Asda. In place of a loyalty program, Asda believes it provides customers with what they want most, a “great multichannel retail experience.” The chain, according to executives, focuses on the key fundamentals: prices, quality, convenience and service. Alex Chrusczcz, Asda’s head of insights and pricing, offers two explanations of how the organization is endeavoring to build customer loyalty:

  • “Aspire to treat customers equally, or you’ll create a fractured brand and shopping experience. If you have someone paying one price and another customer with a coupon paying a different price, the perception of the brand is becoming fractured. Make sure it’s consistent.”
  • “Be pragmatic in terms of technology and analytics. They aren’t a silver bullet. Use these tools and combine them with the experience of your team.”

From my perspective, the second explanation is common sense; however, the first statement is really questionable—even counterintuitive, if a subordinating goal of loyalty behavior is to help drive customer-centricity. Simply put, all customers are not equal in value; and marketing strategies which treat them as such often create lower revenue.

In the U.S., regional supermarket chain Publix has no loyalty program. The company doesn’t have, as a result, the ability to track, at a household level, what customers are and aren’t purchasing in their stores. What Publix does, instead of loyalty cards, is try different alternative approaches to build sales. One of these, for example, was to test a program where shoppers could set up an online account where they could digitally clip coupons; and then, in the Publix store, the discounts they’d set up online could be automatically applied by typing in their phone numbers. Publix also has a BOGO program for their own brands, and accepts competitors’ coupons in their stores.

Some retailers do more than emphasize the sales and service fundamentals. They build genuine passion for, and bonding with, the brand by creating a more human, emotional connection. And, though there are few organizations like this, retailers such as Trader Joe’s are the exception that proves the rule. Trader Joe’s has no customer loyalty program. What they have is enthusiasm, achieved through differentiated, every-changing customer experiences, enhanced by upbeat, helpful employees. This has enabled Trader Joe’s to generate sales per square foot that are double the sales per square foot of Whole Foods. So, another way of stating that Trader Joe’s creates loyalty behavior without a program is to say: The shopping experience is, defacto, the loyalty program.

Now, we come to retailers which had customer loyalty programs, usually of long-standing, and elected to discontinue them. Actually, much of this has been done by one organization, Cerberus Capital Group, the early 2013 purchaser of multiple regional retail supermarket chains from Supervalu (Shaw’s, Acme, Star, Albertson’s and Jewel-Osco). Calling the new positioning “card-free savings,” and reflective of the first strategy stated above by Asda, each of the chains issued statements with themes like “We want buying to be simple for all, so that every (name of company) customer gets the same price whether a loyalty card has been used or not.” Additionally, and again like Asda, these chains have said they will go back to the basics: clean stores, well-stocked shelves, reduced checkout time, clearly marked sale items and creation of a more customer-focused culture. Some of their executives have also theorized that the chains will now adopt a more local-level approach, rather than customer-level, to their decision-making, and that individual store managers will now be more actively involved in driving successful performance.

So, the chains acquired by Cerberus appear to believe that “sunsetting,” or eliminating these programs, is a calculated risk and that they would still find good ways of providing value to retain more loyal customers, as well as incentives for those with the potential to move from purchase infrequency. Most analysts, however, felt that Cerberus eliminated the programs largely because the chains they purchased were either not mining card data, or not effectively analyzing and applying this material for better marketing and merchandising, thus making the loyalty systems too expensive to maintain.

Cerberus has entered into takeover discussions with California-based Safeway, which also owns Vons and Pavilion. If this sale takes place, it’s a good bet that these chains will also drop their reward cards, because Cerberus-owned supermarkets clearly don’t need, or want, no stinkin’ loyalty programs.

Here’s a Recommendation, You Cheap Bastard

What Travelocity knows is that every time I go to New York, I book a four-star hotel—and usually through them. When the email popped up and said “Recommended for you. The Jane.” I was shocked to see an accompanying visual of the smallest hotel room known to man. It looked like a room on a train!

Travelocity is my “go to” travel site. I was a very early adopter and over the years have used them to book airline flights, cars and hotels. You’d think by now they’d know my travel tastes and preferences, so I was totally surprised when I got an email recently that recommended a two-star hotel in New York City.

Okay, I’ll admit I had recently stayed at a two-star hotel in a small town outside of Yosemite, but Travelocity didn’t know that because I had been price shopping and booked that hotel through Hotels.com.

But what Travelocity does know is that every time I go to New York, I book a four-star hotel—and usually through them. When the email popped up and said “Recommended for you. The Jane.” (sidebar: This garnered a first reaction of “Hey, Travelocity, my name is NOT Jane!”—clearly glancing at a headline doesn’t mean one always reads it accurately), I was shocked to see an accompanying visual of the smallest hotel room known to man. It looked like a room on a train!

It was a picture of a single bed next to a wall, suitcase on the floor next to it and a door (hopefully leading to a bathroom and not a hallway with a shared bath) that looked like Melissa McCarthy would have trouble squeezing through.

With a price of $105 a night and only 2 stars, I knew it wasn’t a hotel I would ever consider—after all, this is New York City. The next hotel on the list was the Wyndham at $255 a night (three and a half stars) and the one after that was the Trump SoHo at $525 a night (five stars).

Surely Travelocity has the intelligence to leverage their database full of my years of hotel bookings to suggest hotels closer to my past purchase behavior. If not, shame on them.

They could be sending me intelligent—nay, relevant—emails with suggestions for hotels that are having a sale (You’ve enjoyed the Hotel Mela in the past, now enjoy it again and save!) or airlines with a deal (You’ve booked Delta to New York in August in the past, now plan ahead and bring a friend for only $50). You catch my drift.

I’m sure the folks at The Jane paid Travelocity a lot of money to promote their hotel at the top of the weekly email, but come on guys. Travelocity’s marketing team needs to help their clients be a little more intelligent about selection of the target audience.

Instead of choosing people who’ve booked a hotel in New York in the past (which is probably a very large pool of targets), why not either:

A) Only select people who have booked a two-star room in New York; or

B) Craft your message to us three or four star people that says something like this: “New York hotels don’t have to be expensive. Check out this interesting option: The Jane.” And follow it up with one of the Traveler Reviews (that I don’t need to click-through to read) because this hotel sounds far more interesting after you read the “Quirky Hotel” and “One of my best travel experiences.” reviews. That way, I might actually learn more about this suggested hotel without a pre-disposed bias (remember, my finger is poised over the “delete” button!).

The lesson here is: If you’re an online seller of goods and services, you have a wealth of customer insight at your fingertips. Make sure you’re leveraging it—in an intelligent way—and you’ll be sure to keep customers and fans coming back for more.

Email Marketing: 5 Steps to Better Results

The biggest challenge with email marketing is that it is so easy to be successful marketers don’t reach for the next level. After all, when something isn’t broken, why invest time and energy in making it better? Most marketers don’t make the effort to optimize their strategy because “good enough” serves them well enough. For those who want more, optimizing emails delivers more than additional sales—it turns casual shoppers into long-term loyal customers by creating a better shopping experience.

This post is excerpted from the e-book “31 Ways to Supercharge Your Email Marketing.”

The biggest challenge with email marketing is that it is so easy to be successful marketers don’t reach for the next level. After all, when something isn’t broken, why invest time and energy in making it better? Most marketers don’t make the effort to optimize their strategy because “good enough” serves them well enough. For those who want more, optimizing emails delivers more than additional sales—it turns casual shoppers into long-term loyal customers by creating a better shopping experience.

There are four reasons to send emails to customers and prospects: Acquisition, retention, sales and service. Most companies are very good at generating sales with emails, but fail miserably at the other three objectives. People miss opportunities to acquire new customers, improve relationships and increase satisfaction because email marketing is so good at generating revenue. Simple changes to your email marketing strategy make a big difference in results.

The first step is to complete a mini review of your email marketing program to see how effective it is at acquisition, retention, sales and service. Make a list of the emails sent over the last year and place them into the appropriate category.

What percentage of the emails were designed to acquire new customers? This includes all emails sent to prospects and those that specifically ask customers to share the information with a friend. (Placing a “Tell a Friend” button in the email doesn’t count.) How effective were the acquisition emails at generating new prospects and customers? What changes made them better? How much did it cost to acquire new people?

How many of the emails were specifically designed to keep customers coming back? This question is often met with the response, “our promotional emails keep customers coming back.” If your company is Walmart or you can effectively compete with low price leaders, this response is right. If your company is like most, you don’t have the margins to guarantee the lowest prices and need to create loyalty-based customer relationships.

Do your sales emails consistently generate revenue, or are you seeing peaks and valleys? Email promotional programs are very predictable once you have enough historical data. Peaks and valleys that are not seasonal suggest that there may be underlying issues affecting your revenue. Subscriber fatigue is one such issue. It happens when people receive the same type of emails over an extended period of time.

The first sign of subscriber fatigue is a decline in open rates. If there is nothing new, then why open the email? The second sign is a higher click-through rate on opened emails. When people are ready to make a purchase, they look for a discount. The combination of lower open rates and higher click-throughs indicate that your emails may have become a coupon mecca.

Are your service emails a statement of facts or a conversation with your customers? Order and shipping confirmation emails can be much more than “here’s your information, thank you for your order” notices. They can be entertaining and sharable.

A good email marketing strategy increases sales. A great email marketing strategy increases sales, introduces the company to new people, and keeps customers’ happily coming back for more. The only way to move from good to great is to optimize every email sent to customers and prospects. Tips for making the move include:

  • Partner with non-competitive companies and organizations to connect with new prospects. Selective partnerships help grow your company’s prospect list exponentially. Allies from corporate and non-profit worlds can introduce your business to new people that are highly targeted. In turn, your participation provides reciprocal information or financial support.
  • Customize emails to buying behavior. There are three very good reasons to invest time and effort into modeling emails around buying behavior. They are response, revenue and retention. Carefully crafting individually customized emails improves results. You don’t have to have the analytics chops of a large company to do this well. Even small changes can make a difference.
  • Analyze email customers differently. People who choose to receive your emails are different from other customers. They order more often and spend more money when they buy, but this doesn’t automatically translate into more profitability. If subscribers are primarily buying at discounted prices, they generate higher revenue and lower profits.
  • Use reminders to help customers. Your customers are busy people. They don’t always remember that cars need servicing or they are about to run out of consumable goods. People tend to take the path of least resistance. When your company makes it easy for them to take care of maintenance and replacement issues, they seldom look elsewhere. Pricing is less of an issue because purchasing from your company becomes a habit they don’t want to break.
  • Send people to the right place. The Internet is a wonderland filled with rabbit holes that take people away from your marketing messages. Your customers and prospects will become distracted and venture off to other activities if they do not have a clear path to follow. The emails they receive from your company are the starting point of a map to the final objective. Anything that isn’t easily recognized as the next step or requires the traveler to stop and think is a diversion that needs to be eliminated.

For more, check out the full e-book “31 Ways to Supercharge Your Email Marketing.” The e-book shows how to make simple changes that improve email marketing results with examples of what works and doesn’t.

Don’t Get Trashed — Is Recycling Discarded Mail Profitable? — Part II

In our previous post of “Marketing Sustainably,” we introduced an expert discussion on whether or not recycling collection of discarded mail, catalogs, printed communications and paper packaging is profitable, and why this matters is an important business consideration for the direct marketing field. In this post, we continue and conclude the discussion with our two experts, Monica Garvey, director of sustainability, Verso Paper, and Meta Brophy, director of procurement operations, Consumer Reports.

In our previous post of “Marketing Sustainably,we introduced an expert discussion on whether or not recycling collection of discarded mail, catalogs, printed communications and paper packaging is profitable, and why this matters is an important business consideration for the direct marketing field.

In this post, we continue and conclude the discussion with our two experts, Monica Garvey, director of sustainability, Verso Paper, and Meta Brophy, director of procurement operations, Consumer Reports. The conversation is based on a Town Square presentation that took place at the Direct Marketing Association’s recent DMA2012 annual conference.

Chet Dalzell: If much of the recovered fiber goes overseas, what’s the benefit to my company or organization in supporting recycling in North America?

Monica Garvey: The benefit—companies can promote that they support the use of recycled paper because they believe that recovered fiber is a valuable resource that can supplement virgin fiber. Recycling extends the life of a valuable natural resource, and contributes to a company’s socially responsible positioning. While it’s true that the less fiber supply there is locally, the higher the cost for the products made from that recovered fiber domestically, it’s still important to encourage recycling collection. Because recovered fiber is a global commodity, it is subject to demand-and-supply price fluctuations. If demand should drop overseas, and prices moderate, there may be greater supply at more moderate prices here at home, helping North American manufacturers; however, this is very unlikely. RISI, the leading information provider for the global forest products industry, projects that over the next five years, world recovered paper demand will continue to grow aggressively from fiber-poor regions such as China and India. Demand will run up against limited supply of recovered paper in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world and create a growing shortage of recovered paper worldwide.

CD: Is there a way to guarantee that recovered fiber stays at home (in the United States, for example)?

Meta Brophy: Yes! Special partnerships and programs exist that collect paper at local facilities and use the fiber domestically, allocating the recovered paper for specific use. ReMag, for example, is a private firm that places kiosks at local collection points—retailers, supermarket chains—where consumers can drop their catalogs, magazines and other papers and receive discounts, coupons and retailer promotions in exchange. These collections ensure a quality supply of recovered fiber for specific manufacturing uses. It’s a win-win for all stakeholders involved.

I recommend mailers use the DMA “Recycle Please” logo and participate in programs such as ReMag to encourage more consumers to recycle, and to increase the convenience and ease of recycling.

CD: What’s the harm of landfilling discarded paper—there’s plenty of landfill space out there, right?

MG: Landfill costs vary significantly around the country—depending on hauling distances, and the costs involved in operating landfills. In addition, there are also environmental costs. By diverting usable fiber from landfills, we not only extend the useful life of a valuable raw material, but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions (methane) that result when landfilled paper products degrade over time. There are also greenhouse gases that are released from hauling post-consumer waste. While carbon emissions may not yet be assessed, taxed or regulated in the United States, many national and global brands already participate in strategies to calculate and reduce their carbon emissions, and their corporate owners may participate in carbon trading regimes.

CD: You’ve brought up regulation, Monica. I’ve heard of “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) legislation. Does EPR extend to direct marketers in any way?

MG: EPR refers to policy intended to shift responsibility for the end-of-life of products and/or packaging from the municipality to the manufacturer/brand owner. It can be expressed at a state level via specific product legislation, framework legislation, governor’s directive, or a solid waste management plan. EPR has begun to appear in proposals at the state level in the United States. EPR, for better or worse, recognizes that there are costs associated with waste management on all levels—not just landfilling, but waste-to-energy, recycling collection and even reuse.

These waste management costs currently are paid for in our taxes, but governments are looking to divert such costs so that they are paid for by those who actually make and use scrutinized products. Thus EPR can result in increased costs, were states to enact such regulation on particular products such as paper, packaging and electronic and computer equipment. Greatest pressure to enact EPR most likely focuses on products where end-of-life disposition involves hazardous materials where recycling and return programs may make only a negligible difference. Many will state that the natural fibers in paper along with the extremely high recovery rate of 67 percent makes paper a poor choice for inclusion in any state EPR legislation. That is also why the more we support the efficiency and effectiveness of existing recycling collection programs, the less pressure there may be to enact EPR regulations directly. It will likely vary state to state where specific concerns and challenges may exist.

CD: Does the public really care if this material gets recycled? Do they participate in recycling programs?

MB: Yes, they do. Even a public that’s skeptical of “greenwashing”—environmental claims that are suspect, unsubstantiated or less than credible—participates in recycling collection in greater numbers. Both EPA and American Forest & Paper Association data tell us the amount of paper collected is now well more than half of total paper produced, and still growing—despite the recent recession and continued economic uncertainty. Recycling collection programs at the hometown level are politically popular, too—people like to take actions that they believe can make a difference. And as long as the costs of landfilling exceed the costs or possible revenue gain of recycling, it’s good for the taxpayer, too.

CD: At the end of the day, what’s in recycling for my brand, and the direct marketing business overall?

MB: I see at least three direct benefits—and nearly no downside. First, a brand’s image benefits when it embraces social responsibility as an objective. Second, being a responsible steward of natural resources, and promoting environmental performance in a way that avoids running afoul of the Federal Trade Commission’s new Green Guides environmental claims—positions a brand well in practice and public perception. And, third, and I see this firsthand in my own organization, both the employee base and the supply chain are more deeply engaged and motivated as a result, too. Certainly, in the direct marketing business overall, there are similar gains—and I’m excited that the DMA has embraced this goal for our marketing discipline.

6 Insider Secrets to a Winning Affiliate Marketing Program

Affiliate marketing has been a viable way to help build ancillary revenues by having someone else market your products. It’s generally cost effective and could involve little work. You can go about this through affiliate networks, such as Commission Junction or LinkShare, or simply start an affiliate program on your website and track sales and commissions with affiliate software, such as DirectTrack. Software costs could range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars … depending on how robust you’d like your features.

Affiliate marketing has been a viable way to help build ancillary revenues by having someone else market your products. It’s generally cost effective and could involve little work.

You can go about this through affiliate networks, such as Commission Junction or LinkShare, or simply start an affiliate program on your website and track sales and commissions with affiliate software, such as DirectTrack. Software costs could range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars … depending on how robust you’d like your features.

But before you start, make sure you know the critical elements to help grow your affiliate program:

1. Promotion. This is where you’re promoting your actual program on targeted locations, as well as recruiting affiliates to market your program. You’ll want to make sure you list your program on all the top affiliate directories, networks, forums, associations, bulletin boards, websites, listings and blogs (and, by the way, many of these sites are free!). You’ll also want to leverage free classified sites such as Craig’s List, as well as social marketing sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. And, of course, don’t forget to create powerful online press releases (free or paid) promoting the program’s launch and any other noteworthy milestones. Some of my favorite paid and free distribution services are free-press-release.com, PRlog.org, PRWeb.com and PRBuzz.com. You can also distribute these press releases through social marketing and bookmarking sites, including the aforementioned as well as Digg and StumbleUpon. There are many more cost effective ways to promote your program. Just be a strategically creative thinker and the sky’s the limit!

2. Site Awareness. It will be hard to promote your program to a site that doesn’t have a decent Web traffic rank or Web traffic (visits). If your site has poor traffic, a professional affiliate marketer will look at it as a lost opportunity. It will only make his job harder. So make sure to deploy SEO/SEM tactics to improve your site’s presence and traffic before you launch your affiliate program.

3. Online Store. Make sure you know which are your best-selling and most universally appealing products. Those are the ones you’d want to have in your affiliate program. You should also have varied price points. You don’t want to pick prices too low as, after the affiliate split, there won’t be anything left for your own profit. And you don’t want to pick prices too high, as most of these leads are cold, it will be a harder sell. A good range is generally $69 to $300, depending on the product and benefits.

4. Affiliate Rewards. Decide if you’re going to pay out per lead (CPL) or per sale. Decide if you’re going to have a flat commission rate or a tiered system. Do your competitive research and see what other, similar affiliate programs are paying out. You want to be competitive, as that, besides brand recognition, will be your two strongest areas of appeal to a potential affiliate. Some of the best performing programs on the Web are offering a commission of 25 percent of the product price. So do your due diligence for commission rates.

5. Analytics. Make sure you have a robust reporting system. You’ll want the ability to track underperformers and super affiliates, and reward OR incent accordingly. You’ll also want to know which creatives are performing the best and worst and, of course, how many sales and leads are coming in, as well as how long the lead is staying on the file and their lifetime value (sales).

6. Keeping In Touch. Top affiliate programs often have a newsletter or ongoing communication to keep their affiliates engaged … up-to-date on latest products being offered, special sales incentives, updates to program terms, and other newsworthy notes.

Affiliate marketing can help with most all of your online marketing objectives … lead gen, sales conversions, Web traffic, branding and buzz. Not having one could be detrimental to your business.

Gearing Up for the Holidays: Make Your Email Marketing Deliver Long Tail Results

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Planning for your email campaign should have started weeks ago. If not, this is the time to jump in and get ready. This holiday season is positioned to be extremely competitive. The election advertising bombarding people today will be replaced with promotions trying to squeeze every dollar out of a tough economy. The holiday season provides two opportunities for enterprising marketers.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Planning for your email campaign should have started weeks ago. If not, this is the time to jump in and get ready. This holiday season is positioned to be extremely competitive. The election advertising bombarding people today will be replaced with promotions trying to squeeze every dollar out of a tough economy.

The holiday season provides two opportunities for enterprising marketers. The first, and most obvious, is the opportunity to increase sales. Bargain hunters everywhere will be snatching up the best deals across all channels. The company with the lowest prices will win their attention—and possibly their business—until a lower price appears at the next store. This opportunity works best for companies with killer price negotiators and heavy volume.

Creating and solidifying relationships between customer and company is the second opportunity. Connections can begin with deep discounts but there has to be a strategy in place to move customers from discount shoppers to loyal buyers. The process starts with understanding how people become loyal to your company. What path do they follow from first purchase to long time customers?

The answer to that question is most likely, “it depends,” because the path is dependent on the customer type and what motivated the first purchase. Discount promotions attract bargain hunters, hit and run shoppers, and active customers. Bargain hunters tend to watch for discounts before buying again while hit and run shoppers buy once and disappear. Active customers stay around during the off-sale season and build lifetime value. Only a small percentage of customers acquired during high promotion periods will become active customers without intervention.

Email is an excellent tool for converting bargain hunters and hit-and-run shoppers into active customers. It is inexpensive and effective when used to strategically move people into the buying cycle. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Review newly acquired customer data from the last three to five holiday seasons to identify bargain hunters, hit-and-run shoppers, and active customers. Bargain hunters rarely buy full price items. Hit and run shoppers buy once or twice, usually within a thirty day period, and disappear. Active customers are the ones who predictably buy throughout the year.
  • Define the path from original source to last purchase. This is where you’ll start seeing some patterns. For example, hit-and-run shoppers typically originate as online shoppers that found your site using search engines or social networks. Identifying them early and adapting your strategy accordingly reduces the resources that will be invested in additional marketing unlikely to generate a return.
  • What paths do the active customers follow from first purchase to their current buying activity? How do they differ from the bargain hunters and hit and runners? Did the people who became active customers receive different marketing promotions? The answers to these questions will help design new campaigns to keep new customers coming back.
  • Create test campaigns that personalize the shopping experience. Holiday time is hectic for some, crazy for others. The easier you make it for your customers, the more likely they will return. Use transactional emails to keep people informed every step of the way. Instead of the perfunctory “your order number 123 shipped today and will arrive in 3-5 business days,” try using more friendly language. Your copywriters can make transactional emails informative, engaging, and entertaining.
  • Follow up after the sale. If the products or services aren’t used, there will never be a second order. Personalized emails that ask about the items and service are a rarity. They will stand out in a sea of incoming messages. In addition to establishing successful relationships, you’ll learn about problems that need resolution.