8 Direct Mail Enhancements, Other Than Paper, Finishing, Coating

Enhancing your direct mail through paper, finishing, and coatings are great, but there is one more category to discuss. And Part 4 in this series is about “other” direct mail enhancements.

Enhancing your direct mail through paper, finishing, and coatings are great, but there is one more category to discuss. And Part 4 in this series is about “other” direct mail enhancements.

So why use these things in your direct mail? The special effects of enhancements change the appearance, dimensions, and texture of your mail piece. They are beautiful and eye-catching, so that they draw attention to your message and increase your response rates.

So what are some options to consider in beyond paper, finishing, and coatings?

Other Types of Direct Mail Enhancements

  • Die Cuts: There are many options for die cutting, based on your design and desired effect. Make sure to consult with your mail service provider on postal regulations if you are sending a self-mailer. Create something really fun.
  • Maps: If you are trying to drive traffic to a store location or event, use personalized maps to show your prospects and customers how to get there. The easier you make it, the more likely they are to attend.
  • Informed Delivery: The post office has this program that sends emails to people who sign up every day with images of the mail pieces that they will get that day. You can include a web link with the image of your mail piece so that people can start shopping right away.
  • Personalization: Personalization of offers is an easy way to enhance the effectiveness of your mail pieces. When you send someone a special offer tailored to them, you drive response.
  • Augmented Reality: This is a really powerful and engaging enhancement for direct mail. You can make your mail pieces come to life when your prospects or customers scan the piece with their smartphone. This is only limited by your creativity and your budget. Imagine what experience you could create.
  • Video: You can include a video screen on your mail pieces to provide an enhanced way to share your message and create a little fun. Keep them no longer than 3 minutes and make sure they are not just informative but also entertaining.
  • Social Media: When you run social media ads for your mail list on Facebook or Instagram in conjunction with your mail pieces, you increase your response rates. Of course, they need to have the same offer and general design to be recognized as part of the same campaign.
  • Google Ads: Just like with social media ads, Google ads help increase response rates. You target only the people on your mail list by appending IP address information to it.

These are just some of the things you can do with your direct mail to enhance your ROI. When adding these enhancements, you increase the value of your mail piece and make a better impression. What we touch shapes what we feel, so how are you making your prospects and customers feel? Use enhancements to create a better experience.

One thing to keep in mind as you add enhancements, you increase the production time of your pieces. So make sure to add extra time into your schedule. Make the best impression with your next direct mail campaign and see your ROI increase. Are you ready to get started?

3 Effective Bottom-of-the-Funnel Marketing Tactics for Social Media

Up to 74% of social media users have been influenced to make a purchase thanks to brand exposure. It just takes a focused approach to tap into the intricacies of the channel. This begs the question: Where do action-prompting, bottom-of-the-funnel marketing tactics fit into the complex world of social selling?

At this point, every marketer knows how important social media is for building a presence and making sales. However, marketers also know that selling products or services on social media requires a vastly different approach than “spray and pray.” This is because most people simply aren’t surfing their feeds for sales pitches (although they’ve come to expect it now); they are looking for something interesting to keep them busy — away from work.

While they certainly have their place, the flashy promotions and deals need to be placed perfectly to avoid turning people off. A study by Sprout Social found that 57% of social media users get annoyed by — and consequently unfollow — brands flooding them with promotions.

That said, up to 74% of social media users have been influenced to make a purchase thanks to brand exposure. So obviously, sales are still taking place here. It just takes a focused approach to tap into the intricacies of the channel.

This begs the question: Where do action-prompting, bottom-of-the-funnel marketing tactics fit into the complex world of social selling?

Given the massive amounts of content being published every second, expanding your reach depends heavily on your ability to position content in the right place at the right time. What you need to consider is your industry, message, location, and platform. Let’s talk about how you can get your sales content on social media without getting on your followers’ nerves.

Use Influencers and Brand Partners to Promote Coupons

Coupons have been a staple in bottom-of-the-funnel sales tactics for generations. For retail or e-commerce businesses, coupon promotion is a necessary evil. While coupons have taken a number of different forms in the digital age, the effectiveness has remained constant. A report from Valassis found that coupons influence 80% of consumers to purchase from a brand.

However, there’s no hiding from the fact that social media’s educational and informative nature is not exactly the ideal environment for coupons. Thankfully, there are a number of strategies you can use to get your promo codes and deals out there without making your page resemble an obnoxious salesperson.

Perhaps the best way to promote your coupons on social media is through extensive partnerships; especially with influencers. Keep in mind, a few coupons here and there won’t annoy most social media users — at least, not to the point of unfollowing. That said, if you have a higher number of partners/accounts to spread out your coupon campaign, you are:

  1. Reaching new audiences, and
  2. Not overburdening them with promotional jargon.

Influencers and micro-influencers can be instrumental in getting your promo codes in front of a larger, more targeted, more engaged audience. Having a micro-influencer or authority in a topic recommend a relevant product or service makes the audience more receptive toward trying it out, while building trust for the brand.

SEMrush, my former employer, recently used this strategy to great effect by getting dozens of digital marketing experts to spread the word about its first-ever conference in India, using personalized coupon codes:

Credit: Twitter

When you are looking for influencers or brand partners to promote your coupons, you need to look for relevancy and content overlap. The key here is not to go overboard. For instance, let’s say you have two coupon codes you are looking to promote on social media. If you have six partners, you could have three of them promote one of the coupons and the other three do the same the following week, with a total of 12 posts over two weeks — a number that likely won’t irk followers.

Pushing coupons on social media is a task where you want to tread lightly. Using a “proxy mouth” to spread the word is a fantastic way to draw attention, without agitating users.

Use Chatbots to Move Prospects Through the Buyer’s Journey

Chatbots are one of the most interesting (and widely debated) developments to emerge in social media in the past few years. Essentially, these are AI-powered tools that can be programmed to provide instantaneous, pre-fed or learned responses to customers and prospects.

The machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) capabilities can spot the patterns in customer interactions and adjust accordingly. While many brands use these bots to handle common customer service inquiries on their Facebook pages around the clock, some use them to take and process orders.

In fact, research by HubSpot indicates that nearly 50% of consumers would buy a product from a chatbot. So, while bottom-of-the-funnel content may have a limited place on your public page, it could be extremely useful if programmed into a bot.

ManyChat is one of the of the most user-friendly Facebook Messenger chatbot tools. It requires zero coding skills and uses NLP to understand certain phrases and preferred responses. In terms of refinement, the program lets you split test certain responses to optimize your sales tactics.

Credit: ManyChat.com

Further, you could set up the bot to make upsells and cross-sells. However, creating a chatbot to do this seamlessly is no simple task. At the end of the day, robots cannot replace humans for all tasks (at least, not yet). Programming a chatbot to nurture leads and create revenue requires frequent analysis and refinement; especially when it has to be made to understand and use language. Keep in mind, this technology is still very much in the infancy stage.

Social listening and monitoring tools can be of great help here. You can use them to generate vast datasets from social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and more for market research, analyzing user sentiment, targeting segmented audiences with personalized content, and generating sales leads.

For example, NLP processing would look for terms like “hate,” “love,” “favorite,” etc. Some of the more advanced tools are designed to recognize slang terms to differentiate the meaning of certain sentences such as, “That video made me sick!” from similar-sounding ones like “That video was sick!”

Chatbots are fantastic for creating real and personalized sales experiences, without an expensive-to-maintain team. Used in conjunction with other platform-specific social media automation tools for building fan followings, content creation, scheduling, and engagement, a chatbot can potentially be your most powerful sales weapon on social media.

Use Videos as Calls-to-Action

It’s no secret that the essence of social media is shifting toward video. The major networks are slowly but surely becoming channels centered around video content. The big Facebook algorithm update in 2018 essentially proved this.

Video now holds a great deal of weight, in terms of how content is placed on people’s feeds. There are many ways you can go about maneuvering your bottom-of-the-funnel sales content to play to this concept. Creating product demonstrations to highlight the best features is one of the most effective and proven ways to go about this. For example, Blendtec runs a series of videos titled “Will it Blend?” in which they famously blended an iPhone X.

They have also blended things like marbles, rake handles, Justin Bieber’s biography, and more. All of these episodes are shown on the “Will it Blend?” Facebook page. The beauty of these videos is they promote the blender, while displaying its capabilities in a comical way. So, it never really feels promotional or bottom-of-the-funnel-esque.

The major social networks have made one thing blatantly clear: Produce video content, or be left behind.

Now, if you don’t have much experience producing video content, it might take a while to find the groove, depending on your product or service. The most important part is that each has a clear call-to-action that prompts sales. For example, at the end of the video, you can talk about special deals or time sensitive offers to get people to take an action toward purchase as soon as they finish watching the video. Or, you can bundle it up with live streaming, with subtle sales pitches built in.

Over to You

Social media, in general, is at a transitional point in its short existence. It has morphed from a tool to connect with friends and family to a powerful engine that influences people’s mindsets.

Simply put, pure sales-oriented content will not do well on social media, unless it is optimized for engagement. Further, you’ll constantly need to analyze your campaigns and the reactions of your audience. If you misread them and promote your BOFU content too hard, they’ll ditch your brand without a second thought.

A Question for Marketers: Is It Social or Is It Media?

Sasha Baron Cohen took Facebook to task last week with his speech at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calling Facebook “the greatest propaganda machine in history.” Published in full by The Guardian, the speech was shared on the social media platform, to mixed reviews.

Facebook has 2.45 billion monthly users. Given that reach, it’s hard to classify Facebook as anything other than a mass media outlet. Compare Facebook’s reach to some of the most-viewed television broadcasts:

  • 600-650 million people worldwide watched the Apollo 11 moon landing live on TV (about 20% of the world’s population in 1969)
  • 750 million watched Prince Charles and Lady Diana marry in 1981
  • 2 billion-plus people watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing (about one-third of the world’s population in 2008)

In 2017, Mark Zuckerberg told the first Facebook Community Summit, “Our full mission statement is: Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. That reflects that we can’t do this ourselves, but only by empowering people to build communities and bring people together.”

How’s that working out for us?

Sasha Baron Cohen took Facebook to task last week with his speech at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calling Facebook “the greatest propaganda machine in history.”  Published in full by The Guardian, the speech was shared on the social media platform, to mixed reviews.

Cohen states:
“Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others — they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged — stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear … On the Internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.”

My Facebook comment about the speech: “Why shouldn’t social media platforms be held to the same standards as other content publishers?”

Someone replied,

“But they’re not content publishers … they’re conduits for publishers. On FB, you and I and Joe and all kinds of media are the publishers. Think of the phone companies. They can’t be held responsible for what people say over their systems.”

My response:

“I guess that depends on whether you put the emphasis on social or media.”

And of course, most phone conversations are private (at least for now) while most Facebook posts are not.

I sent The Guardian’s publication of Cohen’s speech to my children, two of whom have given up their Facebook accounts. My daughter replied,

“Did you learn about this on Facebook? If so, irony is dead.”

Actually, I did. RIP Irony.

7 Steps to Advertising to the Emerging Gen Z Consumer

Advertising to the emerging Gen Z consumer is both as challenging and simple as it has ever been, which is an oxymoron in itself. But it perhaps explains the complexity of this 32% of the global population, which is edging out Millennials.

Generation Z, the post-Millennial group of digital natives born after 1997 who have an insatiable desire for instant gratification and personalization in all aspects of their lives, is arguably the most unique generation to come. Advertising to the emerging Gen Z consumer is both as challenging and simple as it has ever been, which is an oxymoron in itself. But it perhaps explains the complexity of this 32% of the global population, which is edging out Millennials.

Before we get into methods for marketing to Gen Z, it’s important to understand who this generation is and the qualities that make them unique. Generation Z has never lived in a world without the web. The Internet has always existed for Gen Z; though it has evolved into an entire entity in the last decade or so, life without an online presence is but a vague and distant memory to them. In this day and age, 96% of Generation Z members own a smartphone and, on average, they spend more than three hours a day perusing their devices. Social media is the beast that lies within these smartphones and has proven to be a powerful tool highly utilized by this generation.

For some, reaching Generation Z may seem difficult for this very reason — from the outside in, they are seemingly out of touch with the real world. For advertisers, however, it has made Gen Z more reachable than any preceding generation. Making a connection has a whole new meaning in advertising, due to the realm of social media and smartphones. Here are best practices on how to reach and engage with the Gen Z audience:

Reaching the Gen Z Audience

While Gen Zers have earned a reputation as arduous customers, there are various methods advertisers can tap into to successfully sell their brands/products to this tenacious bunch. As a well-informed and arguably opinionated generation, they generally respond well to brands that earn their loyalty as customers. This is unique to Gen Z, as other generations have typically chosen what they consume based on tradition. And just how can advertisers earn their loyalty? Sell the all-encompassing brand and its story to give it a sense of relatability.


When determining how to best reach this demographic, one word should be kept top of mind: authenticity. Research shows that 63% of Generation Z want marketing from “real” people, as opposed to celebrity endorsers. I put “real” in quotation marks, because this category does not stop at trusted friends and family of Gen Zers. A trusted source or friend can be found anywhere from an inner circle to their favorite social media influencers and bloggers. Influencer marketing has proven successful with this generation, because hearing about a product from an average, everyday person (with 10,000-plus social media followers, that is) resonates more deeply with Gen Z than seeing a high-profile celebrity endorse everyday items.


Influencers are more trusted by Generation Z because they don’t seem like they’re trying to persuade; rather, they’re just filling their audience in on something they enjoy. In turn, influencer marketing does not feel like corporate manipulation. Furthermore, their followers are just that: people who follow and are invested in their lives. They are already sold on the person, which makes it easy to trust their opinion.

Keep Reaching Out/Retargeting

Online retargeting is key in engaging this generation and staying top of mind. Once Gen Zers begin researching a brand, it is vital to remain relevant to them, and retargeting is one of the best ways to do so. It is an easy way to take them through the buying process, so they end up as loyal brand advocates. As a generation obsessed with fast-paced, instantaneous moments, it can be easy to forget about something if it’s not reinforced. Retargeting — by means of social media and banner and display ads — is paramount to success with Gen Zers.

With the power of online retargeting, however, it is important to put a cap on the frequency, as to not fatigue the potential buyers. If a member of this group sees an ad too frequently, it can wind up in lost interest. They may feel it is being pushed too hard on them — which is quite the opposite of feeling authentic and caring.

Authentic Reviews

Online reviews are another important factor when Generation Z considers a product. Creating a space where they can hear from people of a similar background in a written or spoken testimonial to the product can make all the difference. Reviews get customers involved and allow their voices to be heard, tying in an element of personalization. In order to receive genuinely positive and highly regarded reviews from Gen Z, it’s important a company is honest, maintains the quality it guarantees, and makes them feel special throughout the process. They don’t want to be considered another number; rather, they’d like to feel included and impactful.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Generation Z also cares deeply about brands that have a positive social or environmental impact. It is of the utmost importance for a brand to come across as one that cares — in all aspects. Though Gen Z can seem like they lack character or substance, because they spend so much time disconnected from the world around them, this group actually has a tendency to express their values online and want to vocalize those beliefs. Therefore, they appreciate when a company does the same. Voicing inclusivity, social justice, and sustainability can majorly impact a Gen Z target while they determine whether a brand is worthy of their purchase. Typically, members of this generation look at a brand from a holistic standpoint before deciding to become a customer or not. This is why a company’s social media presence is one of the most important upkeeps. Serving as a place to express oneself, it’s the prime method to communicate a brand’s the progressive values.


Ultimately, the best way to engage with Gen Z and make them purchase is to foster a connection that does not feel contrived. They love realness above all and prefer that a company is upfront with what it has to offer and what it values holistically. With technology at the tips of their fingers, Gen Z members have almost always done their research before purchasing. This is why marketing to them is more crucial than ever: the way a brand portrays itself online and the decisions it makes can make or break its profitability. Advertising geared toward Gen Z should always pique their interest and keep that interest alive until they decide it’s time to buy. The initial point of contact in getting this audience’s attention will push them to look further into a brand to ensure it’s something they’re interested in putting their money toward. As such, it is vital to a company’s success to maintain strong marketing and advertising tactics — from start to finish, throughout the buying process.

Brands: Show You Care About Gen Z

The bottom line of advertising to the Generation Z audience is that you should always sell the brand as one that cares not only about its own success, but also about the success and ultimate happiness of its customers. Maintaining happy customers, at the end of the day, is the main driving force behind the success of any Gen Z-focused company.

Media Outlook 2019: Spell Marketing with a ‘D’

The January marketing calendar in New York has included for the past decade or so a certain can’t-miss event of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. In 60 fly-by minutes, 100-plus advertising and marketing professionals hear a review of the previous year in marketing spend, a media outlook for the current year and macro-economic trends driving both.

The January marketing calendar in New York has included for the past decade or so a certain can’t-miss event of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. In 60 fly-by minutes, 100-plus advertising and marketing professionals hear a review of the previous year in marketing spend, a media outlook for the current year and macro-economic trends driving both.

Bruce Biegel, senior managing director at Winterberry Group, keeps everyone engaged, taking notes and thinking about their own experiences in the mix of statistics regarding digital, mobile, direct mail, TV and programmatic advertising.

“We will be OK if we can manage the Shutdown, Trump, China, Mueller, Congress and Brexit,” he noted, all of which weigh on business confidence.

Suffice it to say, marketing organizations and business, in general must navigate an interesting journey. Biegel reports estimated U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 2.3 percent in 2019 down from 3 percent in 2018, while total marketing spending growth in 2018 had dipped below its historic level of exceeding two times GDP growth.

In 2019, we are poised for 5.3 percent growth in advertising and marketing spending a slight gain from the 5.2 percent growth of 2018 over 2017.

Watch the Super Bowl, By All Means But Offline Dominance Is Diminishing

Look under the hood, and you see what the big drivers are. Offline spending including sponsorships, linear TV, print, radio, outdoor and direct mail will spot anemic growth, combined, of 0.1 percent in 2019. (Of these, direct mail and sponsorships will each post growth of more than 3 percent, Winterberry Group predicts.)

But online spending growth display, digital video, social, email, digital radio, digital out-of-home, and search will grow by 15.5 percent. Has offline media across all categories finally reached its zenith? Perhaps. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1.

Credit: Winterberry Group, 2019

Digital media spend achieved 50 percent of offline media spend for the first time in 2018. In 2019, it may reach 60 percent! So who should care?

We do! We are the livers and breathers of data, and data is in the driver’s seat. Biegel sees data spending growing by nearly 6 percent this year totaling $21.27 billion. Of this, $9.66 billion will be offline data spending, primarily direct mail. TV data spending (addressable, OTT) will reach $1.8 billion, digital data $7.85 billion, and email data spend $1.96 billion (see Figure 2.)

Figure 2.

Credit: Winterberry Group, 2019

Tortured CMOs: Unless She’s a Data Believer

Marketing today and tomorrow is not marketing yesterday. If marketing leadership does not recognize and understand data’s contribution to ad measurement, attribution and business objective ROI, then it’s time for a new generation to lead and succeed. Marketing today is spelled with a D: Data-Driven.

Unfortunately we don’t have all the data we need to manage Shutdown, Trump, China, Mueller, Congress and Brexit. That’s where sheer luck and gut instincts may still have a valid role. Sigh.

Vote for SOW Reform to Stop Agency ‘Manslaughter’

Even as digital marketing was born — websites, search, email — were often described, rightly so, as “direct marketing on steroids.” But Google didn’t invent analytics.

SOW reform
Credit: Clipart Panda

The 1991-92 recession was a boon to database marketing. Fed up with ad spending that wasn’t producing results, many brands — advertisers — turned to databases and data-based marketing to deepen their understanding of customers, and learn how to attract new customers who looked just like them.

The economic growth of the 1990s only solidified database marketing’s reputation, with its ability to produce and refine predictive models, enable better A/B and multivariate testing, and bolster acquisition, retention and loyalty business objectives. These were the days when direct marketing agencies, many acquired by the ad holding companies in the 1980s, were — at last — the rising stars of holding company stables.

Even as digital marketing was born — websites, search, email — were often described, rightly so, as “direct marketing on steroids.” Google didn’t invent analytics.

Yet how many of the traditional direct marketing methods of data stewardship, testing, research, response analysis and data-derived strategy were really ever adopted by the earliest digital darlings — with their appetite for speed, scale and Super Bowl ads? Living on VC riches, the first wave of dot.com e-business held some spectacular fails.

Enter social, Big Data and “walled gardens.” The second wave of digital disruption has indeed been successful as it basks in the spotlight — with scale, testing and ROI analysis discernible (or seeking to be) on each new wave of innovation (not always successful). Digital has been growing its share of marketing spend without interruption, at a quickening pace — displacing or discounting print, direct mail and broadcast. Ad tech, marketing tech and data are indeed today’s advertising stars.

But for how long?

In this brave new ecosystem, are brands performing much better in their business results, overall?

Michael Farmer, author of “Madison Avenue Manslaughter,” who spoke at a recent Marketing Idea eXchange event in New York, says they are not — and their ad agency partners, alongside CMOs, are paying a dear price for this lack of achievement. This domino effect screams “help!”:

“What’s going on with advertisers? Since 1980, advertisers have been governed by ‘increased shareholder value,’ which means executives must deliver results or find another job. CMOs jumped on the digital / social bandwagon and migrated media spend. At the same time, they significantly increased digital / social SOW workloads for their agencies, reasoning that digital / social work was either cheap or free compared to TV / print / radio. Lurking in the background, though, were the non-consuming Millennials, who became the largest demographic group; e-commerce (i.e., Amazon); and the financial melt-down of 2008. The net result: brand growth ceased, and digital / social spend did not provide a solution. CMOs lost credibility, and their job security declined to 3-4 years.”

So where do we go from here? How well do we advertise and sell to Millennials, Plurals and the diversity of America today? Well many brands have turned to consulting companies who have the C-suite relationships, hardly bastions of creative genius, but perhaps more understanding of how to make all this technology, process and content connect best to customers.

Can agencies get back to performance? Farmer believes scope of work reform is one place to start for agencies: they must say “no” to transactional tasking, and “yes” to strategic ideation — and insist on being compensated for it. Even if this means firing clients who balk at paying up. The race to the bottom has served no one.

“What’s going on with Scopes of Work? Digital / social marketing altered Scopes of Work significantly. A 1993 “traditional” SOW requiring 50 creatives contained about 400 executions – 8 per creative per year. By 2013, the count would increase to 600 executions, 12 per creative per year. By 2018, the integrated SOW could contain as many as 15,000 deliverables – involving email marketing, Facebook posts, and a variety of little social executions that would see a typical creative cranking out 300 deliverables per year, or one per day, with little strategic content. Predictably, few clients think that they need high-cost agencies to do this kind of work, so the SOWs are migrating elsewhere, particularly to in-house agencies and to low-cost countries like India. High-priced Chief Creative Officers have no obvious role in this high-volume world, so agencies may begin cutting them out.” 

Perhaps, maybe a little direct marketing discipline needs to be discovered (or rediscovered) by brand chiefs here — who learn to become unafraid of data, data insights, data testing, data quality, data stewardship, all working in tandem with creative storytellers to produce the “big idea.” Creative storytellers working alone — without data — may produce some gems, but without achieving business objectives, these ideas are simply creative but unproductive.

Accountability in ad spend should never be out of style. It’s time for agencies to regain the strategic mantle, or indeed rest in peace.

Parting tip: Do you want to see some agency and client work that is producing business outcomes. Become an International ECHO Awards judge. Currently the Data & Marketing Association has an open call to recruit agency, ad tech, consultant, and brand professionals for judging this year’s competition (online and in New York). If you love data-driven marketing and the business results that can be achieved, then the ECHO judging experience can give you a phenomenal idea store of what’s working now, and likely tomorrow. Consider the 2018 judging application here.

Data, Data Everywhere: Nary a Bargain to Find?

Stephen Yu’s recent and extremely thought-provoking piece on AI started me wondering once again about the dangers of data overload and whether we’ll ever really, really understand the purchasing decisions people make, how they make them and be able to track them accurately.

Data mining
“Big_Data_Prob,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by KamiPhuc

Stephen Yu’s recent and extremely thought-provoking piece on AI started me wondering once again about the dangers of data overload and whether we’ll ever really, really understand the purchasing decisions people make, how they make them and be able to track them accurately.

Because today’s machines gobble data and — like my dog eats anything he can get jaws around — we marketers seem to search for more and more bytes in the hope that sifting through this mega data will hold the keys to the holy grail of maximum profitability. Perhaps it will. But as a disciple of Lester Wunderman, I can’t let go of his oft-expressed prescient warning that “Data is an expense. Knowledge is a bargain.”

Admittedly, when this was first expressed, data was one hell of a lot more expensive to keep and handle than it is today and shaking knowledge out of it was very difficult. But that’s hardly the point. Our trade press is now overflowing with titles like “Planning and Measuring Social Media Campaigns” (Sysomos), the “Email Marketing Metric You May Not Know” and unnumbered guides to the customer journey. But I’m still waiting for the definitive article that leaves all of the peripheral data by the side of the road and presents a usable and believable knowledge-based metric model to measure the cost of each step in the journey from awareness through to final purchase. In today’s multi-media environment, that’s the metric model we are all waiting for. Will we ever get it? Will AI provide it? I’m not so sure.

There is historically a different focus between top management whose attention is quite sensibly on macro numbers and operational marketers who know that it is the micro numbers that spotlight big opportunities. The ROMI, the return on the total marketing investment, is the bottom line for both: How much did we earn for how much marketing money invested? Simple.

But at what milestones in the customer journey did the momentum toward purchase increase and at what others did the potential customer take a turn away from purchase and why? That’s the type of data we need if we are to optimize our practice and it will surely impact the ROMI. Sadly in many cases, we will never know.

Recently, some of my Brazilian colleagues created a very strong email campaign as the first stage in persuading well-segmented prospects to clickthrough to a website to register interest and gain a price advantage in making a major purchase. The client reported that while the website was receiving a lot of activity, only a tiny fraction came as the expected clickthrough from the emails. The client was understandably angry and it didn’t make any sense.

Every adult Brazilian has a unique CPF number, which is regularly requested and used to identify the individual in financial transactions. It’s rather like an American Social Security number. Because my colleagues were fortunate enough to have the CPFs of the prospects to whom the emails had been sent and as registration on the website also required a CPF, it was a relatively easy task to compare the two groups to determine how many of the registrants had been sent the emails, even if they hadn’t availed themselves of the clickthrough option. It turned out to be a happily large percentage.

While research has been undertaken to determine why, any measurement of the relation of emails to registrations and their cost would have been both misguided and meaningless. If the marketers had decided to stop using the emails because, as they said, ”emails didn’t generate any response,” they would have been making a critical error.

Perhaps that’s a long way around the issue of just why, with all of the enormous data and sophisticated tools at our disposal, we just can’t develop a meaningful metric model that reliably tracks the prospect along the path to becoming a customer. And it argues that while AI will certainly add valuable knowledge, getting inside the head of a prospect and truly understanding his/her actions is a long way off.

Content Testing Before Going ‘All-In’

So you’re thinking about leveraging content? Before you write your eBook or webinar slides, you’ll want to try and make sure your topic will actually resonate with your target audience.

So you’re thinking about leveraging content? Before you write your eBook or webinar slides, you’ll want to try and make sure your topic will actually resonate with your target audience.

Whether you’re content magnet is free or paid, or eBook or webinar, it’s important to test the waters before jumping in with both feet.

One of the biggest challenges I hear from clients is determining which “theme” they should choose for an eBook or webinar before investing all of the time, resources and expenses that are involved with writing, production and marketing.

Sometimes, more often than not, just because you think a topic is interesting doesn’t mean it’s something the marketplace will buy into.

Consumers are very savvy these days. There’s so much free content out there, that if you’re asking for their email address (or even more, their credit card) to download an eBook or sign up for a webinar, it better be something mind-blowing … a new perspective … something that gives them that “a-ha” moment.

Clients often feel they have their fingers on the pulse of the market. And maybe they do. But it’s the marketer who needs to help drive the content machine and do some due diligence first before going all-in.

Working in online and print publishing for the last 15-plus years, I have some proven tips and best practices to help you determine the validity of content (i.e., Topic or theme) for your next eBook or webinar.

Of course, there’s no crystal ball to help you see how something will ultimately perform with so many variables that can influence conversions, such as brand recognition, ad copy, creative design of landing page, price point, etc. Ultimately, the market will let you know if it’s interested in your topic or not. But your overall efforts can be a little easier, with some solid pre-requisites …


Look at what you’re competitors are putting out there with eBooks and webinars. You can do some simple competitive analysis to see the types of content topics they’re focusing on. Go to their website. What free reports are they using for organic traffic? Also, check out sites like ispionage.com. This site lets you type in a website URL so you can see competitor’s paid and organic keywords, landing pages, PPC spends and more. The free version is limited. To see full data, you have to subscribe. But this can give you some good ideas.

Getting Social

Sites like Social Mention let you search for keywords, show you how often they’re being used and where they are among the top social media platforms. This is as close as you can get to being a fly on the wall.

Keyword Research

Think of your topics in terms of keyword strings of what your target audience would likely search for. Use a keyword search platform, like Google’s keyword planner or Wordtracker. Look for keyword and potential topics that are not too popular (as the market is likely saturated with that content) but also not under-searched … the sweet spot.


Sites like Trends.google.com give you a general view of what’s trending on the Web. You can search by topic and see what people are interested in.

Purchase Behavior

Sites like Clickbank.com and Amazon.com (Kindle eBooks) will show you best-selling digital content. Clickbanks is a marketplace specifically for eBooks. You can search by topic, then sort by popularity and other criteria. The more popular eBooks can be a gauge of hot topics. Kindle eBooks can be searched and sorted by topics and you can see the best-selling topics in various categories from health, self-help and more.


Before going all-out with a 25-page eBook or a 30-minute webinar, test the concept with a 1-pager, quick and dirty digital download. Create a strong PPC text ad or Facebook ad and see what the initial clicks and conversions are. This is a great way to really see how the general marketplace will react to your topic and if it’s got legs. Carve out a small test budget (anywhere from $65 to $250, depending on your marketing medium) and let the ad run for one to two weeks. Keep it simple and remember this is just a test.


Some things you just see over and over again, so you have a good inkling of what gets your target audience excited. Generally speaking, there are a few things I’ve noticed that will, nine out of 10 times, get people to convert. Topics that:

  • Tie into a current event or are time sensitive
  • Are controversial or a contrarian viewpoint (a “hot button” issue)
  • Tap into an emotion (fear, greed, vanity, exclusivity)
  • Solve a problem
  • Save you time or money
  • Help you be healthier, wealthier or wiser in some way
  • Reveal something
  • A forecast or prediction (this works well in financial newsletter publishing, i.e. Top Stocks of 2018)
  • Are sensational or “forbidden” (this tactic is not for the faint of heart)
  • Include “Top” lists (such as, “Top 10 Ways to Combat Cancer”)
  • Combine two of the above

Remember, the core of direct response marketing is testing.

So view your content testing with an open mind and let the market help dictate your next move.

Being calculated and strategic will help you either hit a home run or, even if your test bombs, save you time and money in the long run.

Measuring Custom Campaigns With UTM Codes

Custom Campaigns give you the ability to add campaign parameters to the destination URLs of your blog posts, online marketing ads, social media content, etc. That way, you’re able to collect data about those campaigns and understand where the campaigns are performing the best.

Google Analytics logoWhat are Custom Campaigns?

Custom Campaigns give you the ability to add campaign parameters to the destination URLs of your blog posts, online marketing ads, social media content, etc. That way, you’re able to collect data about those campaigns and understand where the campaigns are performing the best.

In this post, I’ll walk through how to build URL parameters to measure the effectiveness of Custom Campaigns in Google Analytics.

Kia blog post main image

Best Practices for Building URLs

What are URL Parameters?

Parameters are snippets that you can add to the end of your URLs. There are five main parameters that must be paired with a value that you assign. Each parameter-value pair is what contains the information you want to track that’s related to your campaign.

The table below outlines the name and definition of each parameter you’ll find within common URL builder tools such as the Campaign URL Builder by Google.

Kia's blog post chart

How to Identify URL Parameters

For example, let’s take a recent blog post of mine, “Hacking the New Google Drive Features,” and add URL parameters to it. In order to measure the traffic to the post that comes from our branded Twitter account, we identify the following parameters:

  • utm_source: twitter
  • utm_medium: social
  • utm_campaign: branded
  • utm_term: n/a
  • utm_content: n/a

Our destination URL is now https://st-tech.blog/new-google-drive-features-2017/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=branded. You’ll notice we didn’t include utm_term or utm_content. That’s because we reserve utilizing those snippets for PPC campaigns.

Why Use URL Parameters?

These parameters will allow us to effectively measure the traffic received from the specified criteria. When a user clicks on a custom URL, the parameters are sent to Google Analytics, and the data made available in the Campaigns report under the Acquisition tab.

Kia's blog post example

This gives us tons of more freedom in terms of our analysis. We’ll be able to drill down in Google Analytics and pivot this data to tell our user’s journey to the post. This type of data is actionable and can have a significant impact on the bottom line: ROI.

When NOT to Tag URLs …

Remember, though, as tempting as it may be to try and measure everything about where your traffic comes from, remember to tag only what you need for effective analysis.

Why? Because the more parameters you add to URLs, the more complicated you can make it in the end. Google Analytics automatically tracks the majority of these parameters and spending time on tagging for the sake of tagging isn’t the point.

The goal of tagging destination URLs is to differentiate traffic with more specificity than Google Analytics already does.

Do you use Custom Campaigns in Google Analytics? How has tagging helped you measure your campaigns more effectively? If not, give the Campaign URL Builder a try and follow my tips for more detailed analysis of traffic sources to your site or blog.

Should You Really Bother With Personalization?

If you weren’t a marketing professional, you’d probably find it hard to believe that there is a debate of sorts in rather large organizations about personalization in marketing. In many cases, it’s less of a debate than an absence of one — or serious consideration, or a plan to get there.

Database & CRMIf you weren’t a marketing professional, you’d probably find it hard to believe that there is a debate of sorts in rather large organizations about personalization in marketing. In many cases, it’s less of a debate than an absence of one — or serious consideration, or a plan to get there.

You’d probably say or think something such as, “It’s common sense … why wouldn’t they do it?!”

Yes, the great “unwashed” have high expectations of the brands that wish to share in their discretionary income.

When IBM’s Watson can carry on a conversation of sorts with Bob Dylan in a TV commercial, and beat a grandmaster in chess, why can’t it send a postcard reminding you to get your oil changed?

These all sound like reasonable expectations to the “Valued Customer,” as we’re referred to by the non-personalized brands we have all engaged with. Don’t they seem reasonable?

For the longest time, Amazon stopped sending “people who bought X also bought Y” emails. Granted, Amazon’s personalization is part of it’s “all of the above” strategy — the company literally invests in everything it sees value in.

Moving Beyond the Basics

Yet most organizations have limited dollars and are fixated on “covering the basics” in their outbound communication. As a result, personalization has been limited in the vast majority of cases. The low costs and high performance of emailing have kept many brands from investing in higher-value touches with consumers — even as the CRM waves hit ever higher crests.

Why? Personalization alone doesn’t add enough value. And the reason is that personalization without relevancy doesn’t work. The basics of personalization in email marketing have been around for years. The consumer is accustomed to it and, in some cases, may expect it.

Relevancy, however, is harder to come by.

“Thank you for your purchase, Mike” works. “Mike, to get the best performance from your new time-trial bike, try using Rock N Roll Gold oil to protect your chain from rust and dirt.” works better.

In order to accomplish this level of personalization and relevancy, you’d need to know a few things. You would need the dexterity with this data to get it into your communication easily. If you know I’ve purchased a time-trial bike, then you need to know about bicycles. This could be challenging for mass/big box retailers like Amazon or Jet. But consider that Amazon is already providing “video shorts” on the categories you spend time in — and obviously, the ideas in those videos fit perfectly with their inventory.

Relevancy can also mean things that personalization isn’t often used for. More often than not, personalization still means “insert variable here.” On the other hand, relevancy can mean very important things that shape and influence a customer relationship … like recognition.

Simple and Powerfully Effective

I’ve found that a simple “thank you” message to the most valuable customers a brand has, thanking them for being loyal, and choosing them ― even without an offer ― generated incremental sales upon open and in the following several days.

Think it doesn’t pay to show the customers you know them and appreciate them? Think that’s not relevant? Think again.

Yet, when was the last time you had any brand thank you? Brands I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars with have provided not-so-much as an email’s-worth of recognition.

How about the “profitability problem” that comes with one-time buyers? Does your favorite brand thank you when you make that all-important first repeat purchase? These individuals are categorically more profitable, and materially more likely than “one-and-done” buyers to buy the brand again and again. A little recognition establishes the context of their relationship — and the fact that they even have one with the brand … goes a long way.

Personalization can be easy without being valuable to the customer. Relevancy can be more challenging, especially if you don’t have your data house in order. Relevancy requires a strategy — but relevancy works, big-time.

Putting Relevancy and Personalization Into Action

Some examples of relevancy in action …

  • Announcing a Sale in a category consumers bought in previously, when they “missed” an expected purchase
  • Social Proof — don’t just say it’s the best product, show them how many stars it was ranked and by how many people. Show them a review from someone most like them. This is more doable than many brands realize — and the “content” is simply … free.
  • Localize — Instead of promoting product, promote Gene Smith in the golfing department (to folks who bought golf equipment). Not only will the employee morale increase, your customers can be nudged into multichannel buying. Think that doesn’t make a difference? Multichannel buyers spend more and spend more often in virtually every category.
  • Product Recommendations are “old news” — but they still work. Don’t leave this out. But combine it with social proof and watch conversion climb.

Personalization is important, but not without building relevancy to an ever-greater level. Consider the simple fact that the less relevant your communications are with your customer, the less they’ll find your brand relevant … and irrelevancy is where brands go to wither and die.

The Bottom Line: Relevancy Is the Value in Personalization

The upside to personalizing can be real. While blanket, low-grade personalization may have become passé, an authentic dialog based on relevancy is an investable business strategy. This requires having your data, your strategy and your knowledge of the customer, and the numerous cohorts that undoubtedly exist in every business.

The bottom line is simple: Personalization without a workable strategy may not be a good business value, and therefore may not be warranted.

Delivering relevancy to your customer experience, however, is priceless.