3-Part Pre-Production Content Marketing Checklist

Here’s a three-part pre-production checklist of the questions your content needs to answer in order for it to succeed. Last time around, we talked about how long the content on your website pages should be if your goal is to attract, engage, and retain your audience through content marketing.

Last time around, we talked about how long the content on your website pages should be if your goal is to attract, engage, and retain your audience through content marketing.

This month, let’s look at a checklist of what your articles need, regardless of length, in order to succeed as content marketing. We’ve found that the best way to build a checklist that works for you is to identify the questions you must answer before you put pencil to paper — or fingertips to tapping.

Who Am I Trying to Reach?

Your first checklist item should focus on who you are trying to reach. You may be pro or con when it comes to the value of creating prospect personae, but they are an excellent way to draw a clear picture of who your target audience is. If you have another approach you prefer, that’s fine. Just as long as your profile includes data points on your prospects’ professional lives, as well as demographic information. Here are a few examples. The data points that are relevant to your marketing will vary.

Professional Profile

  • Title
  • Role
  • Department
  • Company size
  • Location

Demographic Profile

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Level of education

What Is My Prospect’s Motivation?

Once you have a picture of who your prospect is, you need to understand what is driving them to seek the change that you could potentially provide. In other words, what are their pain points around this problem?

The key here is to dive into their pain points as deeply as possible. Your goal should be to not only know what their pain points are, but to understand why they are pain points, in the first place.

In most cases, that will require calculating what the value of solving the problem is to the prospect and his or her organization. That can help you determine your pricing and their sense of urgency.

As critically, you’ll want to identify what the costs will be of doing nothing. (That is often your biggest competitor, rather than another solution provider.)

As you identify the most critical benefits to your prospect, you may find your content beginning to take shape. Those benefits — or language alluding to them — are often best used as sub-headings in your article.

What Is My Goal for This Page?

Your goal is always the same: Get the prospect to take action.

What that action is will depend on all of the data we covered above, as well as where in the buying cycle your prospect is. That last piece will likely determine the nature of your offer: Asking someone who is just beginning their research to agree to an in-person meeting is likely a non-starter, while a prospect who is putting together her short list will be much more open to the idea.

What’s Next?

Regardless of the action you seek, be sure you are thinking a few moves ahead, as a good chess players does. Once they’ve taken this action, what action would you like them to take next? What content can help you move your prospects in that direction?

With luck, your pre-writing checklist can help you not only with the content piece in front of you, but with fitting what you create into a broader content library and content marketing strategy.

Helping Your Website Bridge the Sales and Marketing Divide

If you think about sales and marketing as separate activities, you’re probably not thinking about the customer experience from the prospect’s perspective. That’s a potentially fatal mistake that can sap the strength of your marketing efforts and your sales team.

If you think about sales and marketing as separate activities, you’re probably not thinking about the customer experience from the prospect’s perspective. That’s a potentially fatal mistake that can sap the strength of your marketing efforts and your sales team.

There is a (probably) long path that your prospects follow from having never heard of you to deciding you’re the answer to their needs. The path differs slightly for different audience segments or industries and, of course, some prospects step off before they’ve made it to “the end.”

But all have this in common: They don’t care if or when they’ve graduated from prospect to lead to marketing-qualified lead to sales-qualified lead. Only you care about that. Any breaks in continuity you create based on those classifications are entirely artificial to your prospects. And those breaks can derail any momentum you may have gained with your prospects.

sales and marketing
Credit: Pixabay by Anemone123

Sales/Marketing Coordination

Perhaps the most critical hand-off point is the one between your marketing and sales teams. Making that hand-off seamless from the prospect’s perspective requires tight coordination between the two teams. Your website can help facilitate that cooperation.

Start by involving both the sales and marketing team in the development of your website. Neither team needs to get involved with the technical details, but both should have a say in the following:

  • How the site is organized
  • What content hubs are created around key client issues
  • Where lead magnets are offered
  • How leads are nurtured
  • When prospects are provided to the sales team

Who Else Can Help

Ideally, other departments or roles within your organization will provide input on these critical marketing questions, as well. Customer support and product teams will have entirely different perspectives on client motivation, and their knowledge should be leveraged.

Sales and Marketing Cooperation and Digital Marketing

Sales and marketing departments should both be involved in the ongoing maintenance of the information and materials being presented to prospects, not just on your website, but on social media, via email and in any thought leadership efforts you’ve undertaken.

And just as your website can’t effectively shoulder the load on its own, neither side of the sales and marketing equation is going to be as effective as it could be without the support of the other. If you can get your team leaders pointed in the same direction, your digital marketing will be much more effective.

CX Isn’t Hard, It’s Common Sense

I continue to urge companies to differentiate on the basis of customer experience — the bar is so low, it’s doesn’t take a lot of effort or money to impress. Just some common sense.

I just returned a pair of shoes to New Balance that didn’t fit. New Balance sent them back to me because it didn’t have the cheap insoles that came with them. I bought a pair of $45 insoles to go with the shoes and threw the cheap ones away. Luckily, I had already bought replacement shoes and had not thrown those insoles out, so UPS is getting revenue from two unnecessary shipments.

Obviously, New Balance has a policy about what constitutes “like new condition.” “Missing insoles” renders the shoes to be deemed “not in like new condition,” regardless of what else the customer ordered — $45 insoles, $70 pants and another pair of $80 shoes — enough to earn “silver” status in its myNBrewards program.

I was in the process of changing from Asics to New Balance, because my workout routine has changed. But New Balance has made a less than positive impression. While the company has mapped the customer journey, it didn’t get to the point where it considered returns.

In the future, I’ll deal with Zappos. The business makes it simpler and easier for me to buy and return shoes.

What’s the first impression your company, product or service makes on a prospective customer? Are your parking lots/garages clean? Are your entries/exits clean? Are your bathrooms clean? Do you offer free, easy to access, Wi-Fi? Is your website secure, easy to navigate and purchase from?

These are basic considerations for any business, whether B2B or B2C. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will ultimately help improve the customer experience, but you will still need people to help you make a positive first impression. A first impression is critical if you’re going to turn a prospect into a customer for which you can provide an experience.

I continue to urge companies to differentiate on the basis of customer experience — the bar is so low, it’s doesn’t take a lot of effort or money to impress. Just some common sense.

Direct Mail: Data Structure Really Matters

Many times, one key aspect of direct mail marketing is overlooked and that is the structure of your database. What information you put in each field can really make a difference when you process data through CASS, DPV and NCOA. The postal service has a set of expected fields for each type of processing and when your data does not match that structure, you will have issues with correct output from the software.

Many times, one key aspect of direct mail marketing is overlooked and that is the structure of your database. What information you put in each field can really make a difference when you process data through CASS, DPV and NCOA. The postal service has a set of expected fields for each type of processing and when your data does not match that structure, you will have issues with correct output from the software.

First and foremost, your data should be consistent within each field. If your data field is “company name,” then the only data found in the field is “company name.” Likewise for all other fields. If the information is not consistent, the coding programs cannot find the proper information which can cause them to code the record as invalid. This means it will cost you more money to mail it, as it will not be able to mail at automation postage rates. You can, of course, choose not to mail bad addresses, but it could have been a good address if the information were where it should be in the record. There is no reason to lose out on contacting a prospect or customer just because of your data structure.

You are welcome to have as much information in your database as you need. We always recommend keeping purchase history and any other information you collect to be used to target people to the right offers. You will just add that information into additional fields. Never add extra information to fields required by the USPS, it will be stripped off in the CASS/DPV process or it can cause the address to be found invalid. Create new fields to hold extra information.

So what does the post office require for processing with CASS and DPV?

  • Address
  • City
  • State
  • ZIP code

If you want the process to add information for full-service barcoding your mail service provider will need to add required blank fields to your data, they will be populated by the process. Once complete, your file will contain information on which addresses were found and which were coded as bad addresses. You may choose how you wish to deal with the bad ones.

What does the post office require for NCOA?

  • Name
  • Company
  • Address
  • City
  • State
  • ZIP code

You must have either a company name or a person’s name in order for NCOA to match. The verification process looks to see if that person or company is at that address. You can expect your processed data to come back to you with fields that code records as good, moved or moved, no address on file. You are then able to use the new addresses for the people who moved, as well as remove the bad ones.

So what other pitfalls are there in data structure? Many times, it is unrecognized characters that get pulled in by exporting lists from CRM software. The most common one are hard returns in fields, those need to be removed before data can be processed. There are others that crop up too, such as foreign characters. Each filed needs to consist of only letters or numbers. Commas and periods are okay, as well, but keep in mind the post office prefers no punctuation. The cleaner your data file is, the better results you will get when processing them for mailing. If you are at all concerned about your data structure, contact your mail service provider, they can help guide you.

Fueling the Little Engine That Could

In our compulsion to always be in the fast lane, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time, direct mail was our principal medium of marketing communications and not incidentally, made some of its best practitioners millionaires.

direct mail
“Mailboxes in ivy,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ryan McFarland

Summer Gould’s recent useful article, “How Direct Mail Is Your Little Engine That Could,” is a helpful reminder for those of us who like to believe we are always at the leading edge of technology-driven marketing. In our compulsion to always be in the fast lane, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time, direct mail was our principal medium of marketing communications and not incidentally, made some of its best practitioners millionaires.

That said, it is also worth recognizing that while the little engine can chug along and “snail mail” gives us the opportunity to put varied and interesting messages into the hands of potential consumers, that little engine needs a good deal of fuel and that fuel is increasingly expensive. According to Ms. Gould: “The average prospect needs to see your mail piece seven to 10 times before buying from you. So a well-planned direct mail program includes multiple drops with various mailers and postcards.”

That’s an expensive statement and raises the question: How much fuel do we need to get the little engine up and over the hill to bring us an order? Perhaps Gould is being too pessimistic. Seven to 10 mailings to get a purchase is almost certain to be wildly expensive and not economic unless your product is very, very expensive.

One way of looking at this is to calculate the cost-per-order (CPO) at different response rates and numbers of mailings to reach the desired response. In this case, 44 sales. Using Bizo and Epsilon data, the DMA’s benchmark says that “direct mail achieves a 4.4 percent response rate.” While that is a higher average return than is informed by my experience, let’s go with it, anyway.

Rosenwald chart
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

As we can see, direct mail at a 4.4 percent response rate, for every thousand mailed at a total cost of $1,000 per thousand, the marketer would have 44 orders on a single mailing, each costing $22.73. Assuming he could afford to spend 25 percent of his revenue for marketing, he would need at least a $91 or higher product price to justify just a single mailing. Each one thousand mailing would cost the marketer about $1,000. Whether we like it or not, that’s the cost of the little engine’s fuel. And if he had to mail the prospect three times to get the same 44 orders, his order cost would rise to $68.18 which would suggest that his product selling price would have to exceed $250.

On a CPM basis, as we know, email is likely to be only approximately 1/10 as expensive. Email costs are so varied that it is difficult to establish meaningful comparisons, but $10 per thousand emails sent is as good a rule of thumb as any. Using as our baseline industry average open and “clickthrough” rates, we see that to achieve that same 44 sales, converting clickthroughs to sales at 70 percent, it would be necessary to email 10 times. Even so, the total bottom-line cost would be only just under $100.

In this head-to-head comparison, on the basis of pure cost and response, the little engine would have been overwhelmingly beaten by email. The risk:reward ratios certainly favor email.

As we all know, CPO is only one variable. Of high importance is the comparative ease and speed of email, the ability to test quickly and accurately with small quantities and best of all, the ready availability of comprehensive data permitting large quantities to be analyzed and segmented quickly and easily. But as the figures demonstrate, just opting for email because it is much “cheaper per thousand” doesn’t address the key marketing economic issue: How much do we have to pay for an order and can we afford it? Looking at the entire smorgasbord of media from this perspective is essential.

While marketing costs per thousand and response percentages follow more or less predictable patterns, how much any product or service, single sale, continuing sale or subscription can afford to acquire a new customer depends totally on its own economics; how much the marketer is prepared to risk and how soon he expects to get his investment back.

Direct mail may well be the little engine of choice for many good reasons. But before taking a ride on it, it would be prudent to compare its costs and risks to other media.

How Direct Mail Is Your Little Engine That Could

Because direct mail is the little engine that could for your marketing funnel, it can sustain you through troubled times. Direct mail is most powerful when used in a long-term, multi-touch plan. The average prospect needs to see your mail piece seven to 10 times before buying from you.

direct mail
“Mailboxes in ivy,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ryan McFarland

Because direct mail is the little engine that could for your marketing funnel, it can sustain you through troubled times. Direct mail is most powerful when used in a long-term, multi-touch plan. The average prospect needs to see your mail piece seven to 10 times before buying from you. So a well-planned direct mail program includes multiple drops with various mailers and postcards. Then once the prospect makes a purchase from you, you move the consumer into your customer retention mail program. These types of programs are extremely effective and can be counted on to consistently generate sales.

Are you taking advantage of direct mail programs throughout the year? Do you mail consistently? Do you have a plan? Depending on what you are selling and who your customer base is, it will determine what your direct mail plan should be. The more data you are capturing on your customers, the better you will be able to target them with direct mail.

So what should a basic prospect direct mail plan look like?

  • List — Purchase a multi-use list of prospects based on what you know about your customers such as demographics, psychographics and more.
  • Message — Prospects need to learn who you are, what you do and see testimonials from current customers. You are trying to convert them to customers.
  • Offer — You need to create offers that will resonate with your prospects. What is in it for them?
  • Format — To be most effective, alternate formats for each mailing so that each prospect will get a letter, postcard and self-mailer over the course of your program. You can use formats more than once, but always make sure to add something fresh and new to each mailing. Sending the same thing over and over again does not get you the results you need.
  • Schedule — This will really vary depending on what you are selling, more expensive purchases are made less frequently vs. some items that need to be purchased all the time. The general rule of thumb is once a month to once every other month for high-ticket items and twice a month for more frequent purchases.

So what should a basic customer direct mail plan look like?

  • List Pull as much information as you have on each customer. You can use their purchase history to get your direct mail highly targeted.
  • Message — Customers should get messaging that is applicable to them and what they buy. You can suggest add-ons that complement what they have already bought or items that other people like them have purchased.
  • Offer — Customers love coupons on items that they buy. You can also give them special offers on new items they have not previously purchased from you but are likely to buy.
  • Formats — Just like prospects you should vary the formats of direct mail you are sending to customers.
  • Schedule — Customers should have a more scaled-back schedule than prospects. They know who you are and how to buy from you so send to them less frequently. We recommend at most once a month.

Are you ready to get started planning your ongoing direct mail campaigns? By constantly feeding your pipeline with your direct mail prospects and customers, your marketing funnel will always be generating sales. Get excited about your direct mail programs and create some really fun direct mail pieces. When you get creative you stand out more and get remembered. Make you direct mail campaigns real profit-drivers. Have you had a very successful long-term campaign? We would love to hear about it.

Why Direct Mail Control Packages Fatigue

Almost every direct mail control package will fatigue at some point. The question is simply this: why? Today, I offer my insight and perspective about why winning packages slowly fatigue, and how you can get ahead of the inevitable downward curve.

Almost every direct mail control package will fatigue at some point. The question is simply this: why? Today, I offer my insight and perspective about why winning packages slowly fatigue, and how you can get ahead of the inevitable downward curve.

To understand why a direct mail control — that package you’ve invested time and money that’s now tested and wins above all others — fatigues, it’s first helpful to understand why it worked in the first place. There are a number of reasons, but there are a couple that rise above others:

  • Using the right list, you nailed the emotional hot button of why prospects respond in mass, together at this season in their lives.
  • Using the right offer, you identified the unique selling proposition that sells at this season in their lives.

Key words in the bullets above are, I believe, “at this season in their lives.” Why? Because often, as marketers we’re not always sure the buyer’s mind frame, worldview, or where they are in the season in their lives.

You’ve surely heard the cliché marketers use that says how it’s important to meet buyers where they are. Cliché or not, it’s true.

Your prospect’s state of awareness of their problem, and your solution, along with where you meet them with your copy and offer, dictates your success.

In other words, people are at some point on a continuum of knowledge about their problem and solution. Imagine a scale of 1 to 7 where a 1 represents that your prospect is completely unaware of any aspect of your product or service. Conversely, a 7 means your prospect is completely aware.

To create a winning message — whether direct mail and any other channel — your headline and lead should match the awareness on the 1 to 7 scale to be effective.

If your prospect is, say, at a 2, but your copy is at a 5, you’ll lose them because the prospect didn’t understand what you were trying to sell.

After testing various messaging approaches in your copy to “meet your prospect where they are,” let’s say you finally hit a winner: most of your prospects on the 1 to 7 scale have an awareness of 4, and your sales message aligns with that spot. You’re achieving your objectives. Time to roll out!

So you do, mailing over and over the same direct mail package, or using this message in digital channels. But in time, your prospect has seen your promotion … or they’ve caught a story on social media or TV on the topic … or they’ve read something somewhere that makes them a bit more educated and moves them up the knowledge scale.

In today’s lightning fast news cycle, in a short time — perhaps a few months — but maybe only days or hours — your market’s awareness has risen from, say, 2 to 4, or maybe even quickly from a 2 to a 7. But if you haven’t been testing different copy and creative in anticipation of this increase in awareness, you risk your message no longer being aligned with your market. If you don’t stay on top of this changing awareness and understanding, your direct mail control package or messaging in other channels fatigues, and you’ll wonder why.

In a future blog post I’ll dive into various degrees of awareness, and how you can better determine where your customers are, and where you should be. But in the meantime, here’s what you should be doing:

  1. Assess your prospect’s awareness of the problem your product or service solves.
  2. Write several different headlines and leads, with each aligning at a different level on an awareness scale.
  3. Start testing them against one another to find the sweet spot — in this moment.

Remember: if your successful headline today is a 2, you need to be testing at levels 3, 4 and higher. If you do that and find that a test is “over the heads” of your market today, tuck it away in the wings and consider testing it again when the time is right.

If you don’t identify your future “sweet spot” today, then someday, when you least expect it, your prospects will have moved higher up their awareness scale, and you’ll be resting on your laurels, thinking you’re spending money on a direct mail control winner that’s gradually slipping away.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

The Big Problem With Sales Email Templates  

Spending time doing cold email outreach to new prospects? Trying to reignite smoldering discussions with existing customers? Then you’re probably using voicemail (the phone), LinkedIn’s InMail and email. Sales email templates are a big part of day-to-day life. The problem is they don’t work.

Nothing screams “impersonal” more than a templated email. Yet most sellers use templates.

EmailSpending time doing cold email outreach to new prospects? Trying to reignite smoldering discussions with existing customers? Then you’re probably using voicemail (the phone), LinkedIn’s InMail and email. Sales email templates are a big part of day-to-day life. The problem is they don’t work.

Nothing screams “impersonal” more than a templated email. Yet most sellers use templates.

Stop Using Templates, Now

Templates don’t work. Now, I know you know this. But you still use ’em. So allow me to issue you permission to stop. Right now — today.

Think about the last templated message you received. How quickly did you delete it? More importantly, how easy was it for you to spot?

Was it the subject line — the one that told you precisely what was inside the message? (A.K.A. a terrible pitch.)

Or did the subject line trick you into opening it — only to earn your immediate deletion because the first line was offensive?

After years of helping folks write sales email letters, I can tell you why this happens. The reason sales email templates rarely work is simple: Most use the same, “telling” communications format.

Are Your Emails Asking Questions?

One common reason potential buyers delete cold email templates is because they start with a question that causes them to roll their eyes: the kind that signals “terrible pitch ahead.” Most sales email templates rely on a lazy, transparent formula. They sabotage you.

Providing that these kinds of emails do get opened, the contents usually:

  • Ask a question known to be on the buyers’ mind.
  • Take longer than 30 seconds to read.
  • Present a solution, rather than provoking the buyer to hit reply and talk about their problem.

These are just a few characteristics. There are a half-dozen more. Today, I want to focus on the root cause of your cold email being deleted:

That silly question you are asking.

The one you are asking to try to appear relevant. Trouble is it’s a dead give-away. It’s lazy, and off the same cookie sheet as 95 percent of competitor emails pouring into your buyers’ inbox.

For example, one of my students was using, “Did you know that printing is typically the third highest office expense behind payroll and rent?” He sells managed print services to CEOs, COOs and IT managers at small and mid-sized businesses.

Opening with a question is always dangerous. If it is perceived as a “leading question”, you’re deleted. Because if your question feels like a setup to a sales pitch the message will fail to provoke response.

The prospect will think, “I know why you’re asking … ” — then roll his eyes and hit delete. You will have signaled the “sales pitch ahead” alarm, sabotaging your provocation.

If the only obvious answer to your question is “yes” or “no”, it may risk insulting the buyers’ intelligence.

“Did you know printing is expensive?” is an obvious yes.

This approach is risky as compared to a question that forces the buyer to introspect on a more complicated issue.

Segments vs. Personas

Personalization may mean different things to marketers, but we may break it down to, one, reacting to what you specifically know about the target and, two, proactively personalizing messages and offers based on both explicit and implicit data.

Tina ThrillseekerPersonalization may mean different things to marketers, but we may break it down to, one, reacting to what you specifically know about the target and, two, proactively personalizing messages and offers based on both explicit and implicit data.

The first one is more like “OK, the target prospect is clicking a whole a lot in the hiking gear section, so show him more related products right now.” This type of activity requires technical know-how regarding Web and mobile display techniques, and there are lots of big and small companies that specialize in that arena. Simply put, what good is all this talk about data and analytics, if one doesn’t know how to display personalized messages to the target customer? If you “know” that the customer is looking for hiking gear, by any means, usher him to the proper section. There are plenty of commercial versions of “product-to-product” matching algorithms available, too. We can dissect the data trail that the consumer left behind later.

All those transaction data trails become integral parts of the “Customer-360” (yet another buzzword of the day). Once that type of customer-centric view (a must for proper personalization) becomes a reality, however, marketers often realize “Oh jeez, we really do not know everything about everyone.” That is when the analytics must get into a higher gear, as we need to project what is known to us to the unknown territory, effectively filling in the gaps in the data. I’d say that is the single most important function of statistical modeling in the age of abundant, but never complete data — a state of omnipotence that we will never reach.

Then the next natural question is how we are going to fill in such gaps? In such situations, many marketers jump into an autopilot mode to use what we have been calling “segmentation” since the ’70s and ’80s (depending on how advanced one was back then). But is it still a desirable behavior in this day and age?

As “data-driven” personalization goes, no, using a segmentation technique is not a bad thing at all. It is heck of a lot more effective than using raw data for customized messaging. As a consumer, we all laugh at some ridiculous product suggestions, even by so-called reputable merchants, and that happens because they often enter raw SKU-level data into some commercial personalization engines.

If we get to have access to segments called “rich and comfortable retirees” or “young and upcoming professionals,” why not make the most of them? We can certainly use such information to personalize our offers and messages. It is just that we can do a lot better than that now.

The traditional segmentation technique has its limitations, as it tends to pin the target into one segment at a time. Surely, we all somewhat look like our neighbors, but are we so predictably uniform? Why should anyone be pigeonholed into one segment, and be labeled along with millions of others in that group? Even for rich and prestigious-sounding segments, it may be insulting to treat every member equally, as if they all enjoy the same type of luxury travel and put their money into the same investment vehicles. Simply put, in the real world, they do not.

Every individual possesses multiple dominant characteristics. For that reason alone, it is much more prudent to develop multiple personas and line them around the target consumer. The idea is the opposite of “group them first, and label them later”-type segmentation. It is more like “Build separate personas for all relevant behaviors, then find dominant characteristics for one person at a time.” With modeling techniques and modern computing power, we can certainly do that. There already are retailers who routinely use more than 100 personas for personalized campaigns and treatments.

The following chart compares traditional clustering/segmentation techniques to model-based personas:

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 11.16.08 AM

This segment vs. persona question comes up every time I talk about analytics-based personalization. It is understandable, as segmentation is an age-old technique with long mileage. Marketers feel comfortable around the concept, as segments have been the common language among creative types, IT folks and geeky analytical kinds. But I must point out that the segments are primarily designed for “general” message groups, not for individual-level personalization with wider varieties.

Plus, as I described in the chart, personas are more updatable, as they are much more agile than a clunky segmentation tool. I’ve seen segmentation tools that boast of more than 70 to 90 segments. But the more specific they become, the harder it is to update all of those with any consistency.

Conversely, personas are built for one behavior/propensity at a time, so it is much easier to update and maintain them. If the model scores seem to be drifting away from the original validation, just update the problematic ones, not the whole menu.

In the end, the personalization game is about which message and product offer resonates with the customers better. Without even talking about technical details, we know that more agile and flexible tools would have advantages in that game. And as I mentioned many times in this series, matching the right product and offer to the right person is a job anyone can do without a degree in mathematics. Just bring your common sense and let your imagination fly. After all, that is how copywriters imagine their target; by looking at the segment descriptions. That part isn’t any different from looking at the descriptions of personas instead; you will just have more flexibility in that matchmaking business.

5 Data-Driven Marketing Catalysts for 2016 Growth

The new year tends to bring renewal, the promise of doing something new, better and smarter. I get a lot of calls looking for ideas and strategies to help improve the focus and performance of marketers’ plans and businesses. What most organizations are looking for is one or more actionable catalysts in their business.

The new year tends to bring renewal and the promise of doing something new, better and smarter. I get a lot of calls looking for ideas and strategies to help improve the focus and performance of marketers’ plans and businesses. What most organizations are looking for is one or more actionable marketing catalysts in their business.

To help you accelerate your thinking, here is a list of those catalysts that have something for everyone, some of which can be great food for thought as you tighten up plans. This year, you will do well if you resolve to do the following five things:

  • Build a Scalable Prospect Database Program. Achieving scale in your business is perhaps the greatest challenge we face as marketers. Those who achieve scale on their watch are the most sought-after marketing pros in their industries — because customer acquisition is far from cheap and competition grows more fiercely as the customer grows more demanding and promiscuous. A scientifically designed “Prospect Database Program” is one of the most effective ways great direct marketers can achieve scale — though not all prospecting databases and solutions are created equally.

A great prospecting database program requires creating a statistical advantage in targeting individuals who don’t already know your brand, or don’t already buy your brand. That advantage is critical if the program is to become cost-effective. Marketers who have engaged in structured prospecting know how challenging it is.

A prospect database program uses data about your very best existing customers: What they bought, when, how much and at what frequency. And it connects that transaction data to oceans of other data about those individuals. That data is then used to test which variables are, in fact, more predictive. They will come back in three categories: Those you might have “guessed” or “known,” those you guessed but proved less predictive than you might have thought, and those that are simply not predictive for your customer.

Repeated culling of that target is done through various statistical methods. What we’re left with is a target where we can begin to predict what the range of response looks like before we start. As the marketer, you can be more aggressive or conservative in the final target definition and have a good sense as to how well it will convert prospects in the target to new customers. This has a powerful effect on your ability to intelligently invest in customer acquisition, and is very effective — when done well — at achieving scale.

  • Methodically ID Your VIPs — and VVIPs to Distinguish Your ‘Gold’ Customers. It doesn’t matter what business you are in. Every business has “Gold” Customers — a surprisingly small percentage of customers that generate up to 80 percent of your revenue and profit.

With a smarter marketing database, you can easily identify these customers who are so crucial to your business. Once you have them, you can develop programs to retain and delight them. Here’s the “trick” though — don’t just personalize the website and emails to them. Don’t give them a nominally better offer. Instead, invest resources that you simply cannot afford to spend on all of your customers. When the level of investment in this special group begins to raise an eyebrow, you know for certain you are distinguishing that group, and wedding them to your brand.

Higher profits come from leveraging this target to retain the best customers, and motivating higher potential customers who aren’t “Gold” Customers yet to move up to higher “status” levels. A smart marketing database can make this actionable. One strategy we use is not only IDing the VIPs, but the VVIP’s (very, very important customers). Think about it, how would you feel being told you’re a “VVIP” by a brand that matters to you? You are now special to the brand — and customers who feel special tend not to shop with many other brands — a phenomenon also known as loyalty. So if you’d like more revenues from more loyal customers, resolve to use your data to ID which customers are worth investing in a more loyal relationship.

  • Target Customers Based on Their Next Most Likely Purchase. What if you knew when your customer was most likely to buy again? To determine the next most likely purchase, an analytics-optimized database is used to determine when customers in each segment usually buy and how often.

Once we have that purchase pattern calculated, we can ID customers who are not buying when the others who have acted (bought) similarly are buying. It is worth noting, there is a more strategic opportunity here to focus on these customers; as when they “miss” a purchase, this is usually because they are spending with a competitor. “Next Most Likely Purchase” models help you to target that spending before it’s “too late.”

The approach requires building a model that is statistically validated and then tested. Once that’s done, we have a capability that is consistently very powerful.

  • Target Customers Based on Their Next Most Likely Product or Category. We can determine the product a customer is most likely to buy “next.” An analytics-ready marketing database (not the same as a CRM or IT warehouse/database) is used to zero-in on the customers who bought a specific product or, more often, in a specific category or subcategory, by segment.

Similar to the “Next Most Likely Purchase” models, these models are used to find “gaps” in what was bought, as like-consumers tend to behave similarly when viewed in large enough numbers. When there is one of these gaps, it’s often because they bought the product from a competitor, or found an acceptable substitute — trading either up or down. When you target based upon what they are likely to buy at the right time, you can materially increase conversion across all consumers in your database.

  • Develop or Improve Your Customer Segmentation. Smart direct marketing database software is required to store all of the information and be able to support queries and actions that it will take to improve segmentation.

This is an important point, as databases tend to be purpose-specific. That is, a CRM database might be well-suited for individual communications and maintaining notes and histories about individual customers, but it’s probably not designed to perform the kind of queries required, or structure your data to do statistical target definition that is needed in effectively acquiring large numbers of new customers.

Successful segmentation must be done in a manner that helps you both understand your existing customers and their behaviors, lifestyles and most basic make up — and be able to help you acquire net-new customers, at scale. Success, of course, comes from creating useful segments, and developing customer marketing strategies for each segment.