3 Steps to Complete a Competitive Content Marketing Review

You’ve got to know what’s out there if you’re going to attract the audience you want. So it’s worthwhile to evaluate your content marketing in relation to what’s already out there.

You’ve got to know what’s out there if you’re going to attract the audience you want. The best content in the world won’t gain any traction if someone else said the same thing 15 minutes ago. So it’s worthwhile to evaluate your content marketing in relation to what’s already out there. Here are three steps to completing a competitive content marketing review:

Step 1. It’s Not About Your Competitors’ Content (Yet)

You may be tempted to fire up your browser, do some searches for the terms you want to rank for, and see who and what pops up. That would be a mistake that can lead you down a rabbit hole and far, far away from your own goals.

Begin first by examining your own content and your analytics data to see what content you’ve created that has performed best. This will give you a baseline against which to evaluate the results you find on competitive sites.

Your goal during this content marketing review isn’t to beat everyone in everything – even if that was possible. Your goal is to beat all competitors in the niches you identify as most important to your target audience and in which you have significant expertise or perspective.

Step 2. Review Your Marketing Goals

Next, review your sales, marketing, and product goals to make sure the content you have out in the world is working toward the goals you have today. It’s not uncommon for older content, aimed at other goals, to continue to garner a strong audience. Of course, being off target, these content elements don’t help your bottom line. (Which is another great reason to perform a content marketing review at least annually and prune or edit content that isn’t aligned with your marketing message.)

Step 3. Review Competitors’ Content Marketing

With all of that information in hand, now it’s time to fire up your browser and see what content you are competing with in your chosen niche. Be sure your review includes long-tail keyword phrases as well as broader queries. This should help you get a solid picture of your content strengths and weaknesses from the top of your funnel to the bottom.

You’ll also want to check the products/services that are being marketed by the content you find. It may be that some keyword phrases are more commonly used in other industries or in other ways than you intend. Performing well against those keywords may drive traffic, but it’s unlikely to generate conversions.

To summarize all of the above, your content marketing review should focus on evaluating:

  • Targeting — are you speaking to the right audience?
  • Content — are you addressing your prospects’ primary concerns?
  • Distribution — are you getting content in front of your target audience?

Tailoring Your Marketing Messages to Gen Y and Gen Z Consumers

Generation Y has been the apple of every marketer’s eye with 73 million strong, and spend a collective of $600 billion annually in the U.S. Now this group has another generation at their heels, Generation Z. And it is crucial for marketers to hone their strategy for communication with both of these generations.

Generation Y, or better known as Millennials, has been the apple of every marketer’s eye with 73 million strong, and spend a collective of $600 billion annually in the U.S. Now this group who is 24 to 39 years in age and a formidable force across all consumer markets, has another generation at their heels, Generation Z. And it is crucial for marketers to hone their strategy for communication with both Gen Y and Gen Z consumers.

As marketers continue developing and refining their Millennial-targeting strategies, they are now shifting their focus to Gen Z. This group of anyone 23 and younger is now coming to financial maturity, and consists of a massive and influential cohort made up of 65 million individuals. According to Gen Z Insights, as of 2020, this generation makes up 40% of all consumers in the U.S.

This youngest generation will soon outnumber the Millennials, and graduate from allowance-based buying power, bringing their own likes, dislikes, and opinions with them. But if there’s one thing that marketers should know about both Gen Y and Gen Z, it’s this: Don’t assume these are just huge, homogeneous groups who will respond to generic marketing messages.

The Millennial who turns 40 next year, for example, will have decidedly different media consumption and buying habits than, say, a 25-year-old who is just beginning to sort out life’s intricacies. Geography, gender, education level, income, and other individual attributes all have to be factored into the equation when targeting these broad, generational segments. Skip this step and you could find yourself wasting money, time, and energy chasing down way too large of a potential customer segment.

Apple, Xerox, and Nike have all found innovative ways to carve out specific niches within the larger context of both Gen Y and Gen Z. According to YPulse’s latest “youth brand tracker,” for example, YouTube, Nike, and Snapchat are the top three “top cool brands” for Gen Z, while Nike, Netflix, and Savage x Fenty claim the top spots for Gen Y.

Let’s dive into exploring generational segments, identifying some incorrect assumptions marketers make when tailoring their messages to Gen Y and Z, and highlighting some of the most effective platforms for getting messaging across to the nation’s two youngest generations.

Effective Platforms for Messaging Gen Y and Gen Z

Here are the main platforms that marketers use to deliver very targeted messages to Gen Y and Gen Z:

Connected TVs and Devices. This includes any TV or device that’s connected to the Internet and allows users to access content beyond what’s being shown on screen at the time. Connected advertising is an extension of the traditional TV buy that complements a brand’s existing presence on a specific platform. The connected nature of this medium allows companies to measure their reach and frequency across all devices, drill down into specific audience segments (i.e., iPhone users between a certain age range) and gain insights across the full customer journey.

Instagram. Not limited to celebrities who upload their well-posed vacation photos to the platform, Instagram’s photo-and video-sharing social network is actively used by nearly three-quarters (73%) of Gen Z adults (ages 18 to 23 years old). This presents a major opportunity for marketers who want to get their products in front of these young consumers, and who start forming bonds and creating brand awareness with these young adults early in their lives.

TikTok. A social media app where Gen Z vies for 15 seconds of fame on the small screen, TikTok is the fastest-growing social media app, with about 500 million regular users. Users post 15-second videos on the app, which is estimated to have been downloaded more than a billion times on app stores. Marketers can use TikTok to create a channel for their brands and then use it to upload relevant, engaging videos. They can also tap into the platform’s large “influencer” base and leverage it to expose their content to a broad, yet well-targeted, audience of Gen Z consumers.

YouTube. This well-established video-sharing platform has 2 billion users who log in on a monthly basis, including the 81% of American 15 to 25 years old. Among 18 to 34 year-olds, the platform is the second most-preferred platform for watching video on TV screens. With people uploading 500 hours of video every minute, the platform is pretty cluttered. Standing out and growing a YouTube channel requires a targeted approach that includes a unique channel name, a good viewing experience across all devices, calls to action (i.e., to subscribe, share videos, etc.), and incorporating the channel into emails, blog posts, and other social media posts to improve its ability to be discovered.

SnapChat. With 51% of Gen Zers viewing their generation as more creative than any of its predecessors, social apps like SnapChat give them the space they need to be creative in the digital world. They use it to create videos, share images, communicate with friends, and share moments throughout their days. Marketers can harness this platform to post their stories, push out user-generated content, and connect with influencers. For example, Taco Bell was an early SnapChat user that leveraged the platform’s storytelling capabilities to spread the word about new products.

Additional Social Media Channels. As a whole, social media has opened the doors for marketers who can creatively use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to connect with their audiences, build their brands, drive website traffic, and grow their sales. Because each platform has its own mission, goals, and user base, the companies experiencing the most success on social media are the ones that take the time to segment their audiences and use very specific targeting strategies for those consumers.

The Power of TV and Mail

In the rush to select platforms that they think Gen Y and Z naturally gravitate toward, marketers often overlook the power of TV, direct mail, and other mainstays. They wrongly assume that these channels don’t work with younger audiences, but they shouldn’t be overlooked.

In a world where Nielsen says U.S. consumers spend nearly 12 hours daily across TV, TV-connected devices, radio, computers, smartphones, and tablets, the opportunity to engage the younger generations from different angles definitely exists.

Americans aged 18 to 34 watch a daily average of just under two hours of traditional TV and spend an additional hour per day using apps and the web. Consumers aged 12 to 17 watch about an hour and a half of TV daily. Craving personalized, non-digital experiences, younger generations spend about 9.7 minutes reading mail daily (versus about 8 minutes for both Gen X baby boomers).

These numbers translate into real opportunities for marketers that take the time to segment their audiences versus just lumping them into different generational groups. Where you still need a presence on mass platforms like TikTok and Instagram, for example, the messaging itself must be customized, targeted, and experiential.

Not Just Another Number

Marketers who overlook traditional platforms just because they assume Gen Z or Gen Y can only be reached on pure digital platforms are setting themselves up for failure. That’s because both generations are obviously still digesting video content, movies, and TV series via cable, a connected TV device, or on a platform like YouTube.

Target your audience properly, customize it for that consumer group, sell that group an experience (not the product itself), and you’ll come out a winner.

Regardless of which platforms you’re using, remember that Gen Z and Gen Y aren’t cohesive, homogeneous groups. As you use geotargeting and other strategies to segment your audience, be sure to personalize your messages in a way that makes your customer feel like a VIP — and not just another number.

 

 

 

 

What Are Customers Really Worth? Turning the ‘Customer Data’ Concept Into Something Meaningful

What’s the value of customer data? What is its value to our political aspirants, a value measured by many different and often conflicting metrics, not least of which is the power of the elected to change society for better or worse? And often, sadly, as we increasingly see around us, for personal economic gain?

The headline, “Legislation Would Force Google, Facebook to Report Value of Customer Data to SEC,” in the Media Daily News got this maverick marketer wondering just what kind of a gargantuan task it would be to try and determine the value of customer data.

Imagine what you would do if some legislation or only your boss asked you to put a rational price tag on the data in your company’s possession? The easy way, if you are a direct-to-consumer marketer, might be to add to your total year’s profit, a factor for the likely future profit contribution driven by your knowledge or assumption of the lifetime value of your customer base. Or you could offload the task to your bean counters and let them have a field day playing with the numbers, instead of doing something more useful.”

Searching for what the British call a “bargain,” or the price at which a willing buyer buys and a willing seller sells, can be said to establish real value. The traditional way of determining a bargain for the acquisition of a data-driven marketing business is to pay a negotiated multiple of the number of customers, times the best guess of discounted future revenue from these customers. From there on, it’s horse trading. The fact is, we all may have ideas (usually over-optimistic) about data value, but few if any of us know for sure what it is. And today’s “bargain” may not seem so attractive a couple of years down the road.

That’s why you have to wonder if the financing of our political election system has gone completely off the rails. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Political Ad Spending Will Approach $10 Billion in 2020.” That’s an increase of almost 14% over the last time, which is far greater than the population increase during the same period.

Political ad spending will total $9.9 billion in 2020, according to the latest U.S. advertising forecast from WPP PLC’s ad-buying unit GroupM. That would be up from $8.7 billion in 2018, when midterm congressional elections were held, and from $6.3 billion in 2016, when President Trump was elected.

The growth between presidential campaign years is accelerating. Political ad spending rose by $2 billion between 2012 and 2016, according to GroupM, and by $1.1 billion between 2008 and 2012.

If we look at this against the number of likely voters, we can estimate the spend for each one. The Census Bureau estimated that there were 245.5 million Americans ages 18 and older in November 2016, about 157.6 million of whom reported being registered to vote. Historically, about 60% of those eligible to vote actually show up to do their democratic duty in a presidential election. This means that the actual number expected to be voting is 94.5 million.

If the political marketers were able to target only those 60%, the cost per voter would be $38.07. Because that kind of tight targeting of marketing spend is almost certainly impossible, and we spread the total spend against all the 157.6 million registered voters, the cost per voter is only $27.86.

A maverick marketer’s fantasy view is that it might be more cost-effective to use the $27.86 just to buy those voters not already committed to one party or candidate or the other, just as long as you could determine who they were.

Only $27.86 or $38.07 per prospect? That’s more than consumer goods and services advertisers spend in a year, a lot more. Proctor & Gamble, one of the largest FMCG companies spent $4.39 billion last year ($13.43 for each member of the population) or less than half the estimated cost per voter, and AT&T spent $3.52 billion.

What does this tell us about the value of customer data? (Or, in this case, potential voter data?) What is its value to our political aspirants, a value measured by many different and often conflicting metrics, not least of which is the power of the elected to change society for better or worse? And often, sadly, as we increasingly see aound us, for personal economic gain?

One thing it certainly does tell us is that in our society, where more than three-quarters of the total wealth is owned by the top 10% of earners and the lowest 50% own only 1.2%, valuing each cohort is extremely difficult. Ironically, at least in theory, every vote — whether from the 10% or the other 90% of the voting population — has equal value.

That’s a big difference from the relative value of segmented cohorts of buyers and prospects who make up the Google and Facebook universe, buyers who can be valued based on past performance and prospects, whose value can be guesstimated — based on other characteristics.

Ask yourself, “How much am I worth? And please comment below on how you determined the amount. It should be fun to share the different answers.

How B2B Marketing Can Make B2B Sales Easy

My headline isn’t going to win any friends across the aisle in the land of sales teams, and I’ll admit there’s a bit of attention-seeking there. But, even though I won’t suggest that sales is by definition easier than marketing, I do feel that strong marketing can have an outsize impact on sales results and sales efficiency.

My headline isn’t going to win any friends across the aisle in the land of sales teams, and I’ll admit there’s a bit of attention-seeking there. But, even though I won’t suggest that sales is by definition easier than marketing, I do feel that strong marketing can have an outsize impact on sales results and sales efficiency.

Marketing can only have that impact on sales when there is a progression of thoughtful activity from a firm’s earliest contact with a prospect to converting the sale, and beyond.

So the real headline should perhaps be, “Sales Is Easier When Marketing Is Done Well,” but that’s a mouthful. Let’s take a closer look at how marketing can make sales easier, if not truly easy.

B2B marketing

Who Really Wants a Super Bowl Ad?

Most of us in B2B sales and marketing are not seeking the mass audiences of, say, a Super Bowl ad. Our prospects can be much more tightly defined and more pointedly targeted. Rather than wading through a stadium full of people to find those few who might be interested in what we’re offering, we want to talk to the few hundred — maybe even few dozen — without all the additional noise. We want to connect with those who are likely to be a good fit for what we’re offering.

If our marketing can target our prospects tightly, we make the sales process more efficient; we don’t need to put 1,000 salespeople in the field, because we don’t have a stadium full of “prospects” to follow up with. A smaller team can communicate with the more select group who marketing has identified as qualified candidates.

Of course, if those candidates aren’t truly qualified — ever the sales team’s lament — the process breaks down. Which is why we need a strong marketing team to support the more focused sales team.

What Does Marketing Need to Do

Marketing then, needs to focus on content and other tools that appeal to the target audience and that are able to get a brand-relevant and useful message in front of them. When that happens, sales is a much more efficient task — less wasted time, fewer never-really-interested prospects, and a higher close rate. In other words, sales is easier because marketing is strong. (Thought, I’ll admit, sales is never easy, my headline notwithstanding.)

What About Branding?

It’s worth applying this concept to branding, as well, because the same things we can say about sales in relationship to marketing can be said about marketing in relationship to branding. Good branding makes marketing much, much more effective. Easier, even.

So now our headline should read: “Sales Is Easier When Marketing Is Done Well (And Marketing Is Easier When Branding Is Done Well)” Which is even more of a mouthful …

Of course, all of this well-planned activity will be for nothing if you don’t have a fantastic product to sell. And “fantastic” doesn’t have to mean a groundbreaking technological advancement. (Though clearly, the product has to provide a strong benefit to the client.) “Fantastic” means a product that is conceived and positioned to be better than any other available option for a particular audience segment.

So there is a bit of a circle here with product leading to positioning/branding, branding leading to marketing, and marketing leading to sales. There’s also a two-way connection between strategic thinking and tactical implementation that have to feed on one another. (Virtuously, we hope.)

All of this means that while sales isn’t really easier than marketing, when you do more of the hard work in the earlier steps, the later steps get easier. And because this is all quite circular, everything gets easier when you focus on strategy before tactics and seek ways to improve incrementally with each prospect interaction.

How to Save Money on Postage

When done correctly, direct mail can be a very cost-effective way to reach targeted prospects and customers. Your return on investment typically exceeds most other forms of marketing. However, inefficient list targeting and poor mail piece design can cost you a lot of money. Because postage rates are rising every year, it is very important to keep your postage rates as low as possible. So now, let’s help you maximize your ROI in your direct mail marketing.

This JFK Forever stampWhen done correctly, direct mail can be a very cost-effective way to reach targeted prospects and customers. Your return on investment typically exceeds most other forms of marketing. However, inefficient list targeting and poor mail piece design can cost you a lot of money. Because postage rates are rising every year, it is very important to keep your postage rates as low as possible. So now, let’s help you maximize your ROI in your direct mail marketing.

Lists: Save Postage With Good Lists

  • People: Sending to the right people really matters! Target your lists to reach only the people most likely to be interested in your product or service. There are many tools available to help you to better target people. You can profile your mailing lists utilizing the amazing amount of information accessible today on households and businesses. This will give you valuable information to know exactly who your best customers are and find prospects just like them.
  • Clean: How old is your data file? You can reduce your undeliverable mail by updating your lists at least every three months. There are many data hygiene resources available to keep your list up-to-date, such as Delivery Point Validation to eliminate invalid or incomplete addresses, National Change of Address (NCOA) to get updated addresses for people who move, “Do not mail” purging to eliminate those who prefer not to receive mail, Deceased recipient purging and many others. You can control mailing waste, save on postage and printing. Continue to reach customers even after they move so you do not lose out on sales.

Postage is not the same for everyone. Some people pay more than others. USPS offers significant postage discounts to mail pieces that are designed and addressed correctly for processing on automated equipment. The following tips will help you to insure your mail qualifies for the lowest postage rates.

Design: The Wrong Design Can Cost You a Fortune

  • Size: For lower postage rates, keep your mail piece at letter size, which is a minimum of 3 ½” high by 5” long and a maximum 6” high by 10½” long. Larger mail pieces fall into the flat category. Flats can cost more than twice as much per piece as letters. The maximum allowed size is 12” high by 15” long.
  • Aspect Ratio: Letter size automation mail must be rectangular. The aspect ratio (length divided by height) has to be from 1.3 to 2.5. Mail pieces that fall outside those ratios could cost twice as much in postage.
  • Address: Make sure your address and barcode block on letter size mail fits into the USPS OCR read area. If it doesn’t fit, you pay for it with additional postage. Your mail service provider can give you a template to guide you.
  • Panels: Tri-folded self-mailers must be addressed on the center panel to qualify for discounted automation postage.
  • Folds: On all folded self-mailers, the final fold must be either below or to the right of the mailing address. Any other fold configuration will result in additional postage.
  • Weight: Whenever possible, keep the weight of a folded self-mailer under 1 ounce. You can use minimum 70# text paper and 1 inch tab closures. When your mailer is over 1 ounce you must use minimum 80# text paper and larger tabs. Mailers over 3 ounces must go in an envelope.
  • Thickness: Mail pieces that are too thin will cost more postage, so keep your piece at least 0.009” thick and you can save 25 cents or more per piece. The maximum thickness for letter size mail is ¼” and for flat size is ¾”.

There are many more methods, but these are the most common ways for you to save on postage. Keep your direct mail at the lowest postage rates possible in order to maximize your ROI. If you are unsure of a new design, consult with your mail service provider before you print it. Many times, the only way to get a poorly designed mail piece to be accepted by the post office is to put it into an envelope. This is a waste of a pretty mailer, as well as a waste of money. Start saving on your postage now.

How Your Data Can Make or Break Your Direct Mail Marketing

In this digital world, marketers have access to more data than ever before; which could be great or disastrous. Which has it been for you? We will take a look at some common data problems and ways to avoid them, as well as the great things data can do for your direct mail.

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

In this digital world, marketers have access to more data than ever before; which could be great or disastrous. Which has it been for you? We will take a look at some common data problems and ways to avoid them, as well as the great things data can do for your direct mail.

Data issues:

  • Compiled: Sometimes when data is compiled from multiple sources, it can become corrupted or just flat-out wrong. For instance, when compiling data where multiple adults live in the same household, there can be crossover between people. This can come from one person’s buying habits combined with another’s, or one person fills out a survey for another. It is easy to crisscross. How can you mitigate this? Make sure to verify your data sources before you combine them with your in house data. Use only the most well-vetted files.
  • Duplication: Depending on how you wish to dedupe records, you may end up with only one person in the house to send to — who is not the best contact. You want to reach the person most likely to respond to your mail piece. How can you avoid sending to the wrong one? First, run a dedupe — one per person — that way, no one gets two. Then, if you have purchase information or other information that shows you who your targets are, make sure to include that information in a report to look at dupes-per-address. Pulling per address will grab all people in that home in your data. You can then look to the information field to see which records have the key targeting words and keep them while dropping the others.
  • Wrong Address: When people move, they fill out a form with the post office to notify them. Whenever you are sending a mailing, you are required by the USPS to run a form of move update on your file. There are several acceptable ways to do this. One problem that happens is when only one person in a residence moves and the others stay, you can get a false match that others moved, too. Then you end up sending your mail piece to the wrong address. This is frustrating for the person getting the wrong mail piece, as well as to you. The best way to check moves is to verify it with your customers. There are many creative ways to do it.

Are you ready for some data greats?

  • Targeting: Good solid data gives you the opportunity to get very targeted with your direct mail messages. When you know who someone is, what the person likes and what the consumer can’t resist, you have the ability to create a powerful mail piece with a very impressive response rate.
  • Specials: You can use your data to create specials for birthdays or other occasions throughout the year based on information you have collected. The more specific you can get, the more likely you are to get a response.
  • Information: The best part about your data is that it can give you clues about who your best customers are. You can then use that information to find more people like them to send your direct mail to. When you are able to reach the right prospects, your response rates will be much higher.

As you can see, your data can help enhance your direct mail or thwart it — depending on how good it is. You must guard your data from cyber threats, as well as using the three tips above. Your data is your lifeblood in marketing. The more accurate the data you have, the better off you are. So who do you have in charge of your data?

How to Reach Your Customers at Home or at Work

Have you ever wished you knew more about your customers’ consumption habits? I have just learned about a new service from the San Antonio-based database marketing company, Stirista, that offers a way to link an individual’s consumer record with your corresponding business record.

unity-1763669_640Have you ever wished you knew more about your customers’ consumption habits? I have just learned about a new service from the San Antonio-based database marketing company, Stirista, that offers a way to link an individual’s consumer record with your corresponding business record. With StiristaLINK, you can enhance your business contacts with a personal email address, social media handles, home address, phone number, demographics and personal interests, vastly enhancing your understanding of your business contacts.

On the flip side, consumer marketers can use this capability to broaden the profile of their targets by providing additional insight — where they work, their titles, schools attended, past employers, their LinkedIn URL and perhaps even their work email address.

StiristaLINK’s files are pretty sizable: 20 million B-to-B profiles are enhanced with consumer information, while 55 million consumer emails are linked to a B-to-B profile.

I’ve been thinking about some of the things a marketer could do with this new capability. The use cases seem endless:

  • Enrich business and consumer profiles for better targeting and segmentation.
  • More touchpoints: Target consumers during business hours. Reach business people at home.
  • Access hard-to-reach segments (e.g.: Say you’re selling graduate business education and want to find 20-somethings who still don’t have an MBA).
  • Expand your universe of display and social media advertising targets.
  • Offer business people consumer products based on their work status. For example: Insurance companies can offer health insurance to workers in companies that are known to have decided to issue vouchers to their employees.

I asked Stirista’s CEO Ajay Gupta about the technology behind the links. He explained that Stirista already had a massive database of B-to-B and consumer records. To create the linkage, they took two innovative approaches. First, they matched the Twitter handles in the business record to those in the consumer database. To validate the match, they conducted research into a sample of the linked records, and found a 97 percent accuracy rate.

Next, Stirista engineers developed a creative approach to inferring current employment among consumer records that happen to have unusual names, geo-coding them by home address and matching that to the same unusual name in a nearby company.

As an example, let’s look at the case of Ajay Gupta himself. While there are scores of Ajay Guptas in the New York region, there happens to be only one in San Antonio. So the engineers could reasonably conclude that the Ajay Gupta working for Stirista is the same as the consumer Ajay Gupta who lives in San Antonio.

Of course, the technique does not work for the John Smiths, but it did add another layer of names to the file.

An early adopter of StiristaLINK was Weight Watchers, which was looking to improve its marketing to HR directors. Despite high brand awareness, selling Weight Watchers group packages had become increasingly difficult. The service is offered as a free benefit to companies, and employees receive a discounted rate when they join through their firms. But with more competition for their attention, HR directors were less and less motivated to pick up the deal and offer it to their employees.

The breakthrough came with the application of StiristaLINK to identify HR professionals and senior managers in the target companies whose consumer profiles indicated a personal interest in fitness and health. Stirista used a menu of about 20 keywords — cycling, exercise and softball, among others — to identify likely prospects and email them with a message about the importance of weight as a part of employee health and productivity. And the response rate boomed.

For B-to-B marketers, the most immediate benefit of this capability is reaching larger custom audiences. Most Twitter, Facebook and Google AdWords custom ad selection is based on the personal email address that was collected on sign up. By adding consumer data to your audience build, you’ll improve your reach dramatically.

There’s seemingly no end to the new data-driven marketing innovations these days.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Personalized Marketing: Past, Present and Future

Today, you can think of your printed materials the same as your digital materials (emails, digital ads, landing pages, etc.). That means you can personalize EVERY aspect of a printed piece, just as you do on a computer screen. Not just text, but also visuals, colors, layouts — every element on the printed page. Each piece coming off the press can be entirely different from the piece before it.

Personal.jpgIn 1996, I had this really cool idea to produce an invitation for WDMI (Women in Direct Marketing International) using 4-color variable data printing (VDP).

This was new printing technology that acted like a color copier on steroids. There wasn’t really any software to drive it, and few people knew what it was — but I was lucky. I’d always watched for new tech, and Cheryl Kahanec (who happened to be my cousin) had one of the presses producing 4-color VDP. Still, computing power was nothing like today, so we had to figure out how to create the design I’d come up with.

The concept was driven by the limited data we had for the club — their names, company and address. Next to the address was the line: “If this is your idea of personalization … ” which was followed by a headline on the inside that said: “Then you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Below the headline was the recipient’s name in many different fonts, sizes and colors with the name overlapping and running off the page.

Ok, I’m still healing the scars from that project. We were way ahead of the curve. It took over seven days to rip the file (running the data into the file to create a printable file). It then took another seven days to print the 5,000 pieces. That’s right: over 14 days of ripping and printing.

It performed very well, even winning attention from a couple trade publications (it also gave my cousin and me many gray hairs).

Fast Forward…

Today, you can think of your printed materials the same as your digital materials (emails, digital ads, landing pages, etc.). That means you can personalize EVERY aspect of a printed piece, just as you do on a computer screen. Not just text, but also visuals, colors, layouts — every element on the printed page. Each piece coming off the press can be entirely different from the piece before it.

St. Joseph’s College wanted to encourage applicants who had been accepted to the college to commit to attend. So accepted applicants were invited to a special event at the college. To encourage their attendance, each applicant would receive an iTunes gift card when they clicked on the personal URL (pURL) to say they would attend, with a chance to win an iPad at the event.

Every image and text blurb on the piece was changed based on the degree program the applicant had indicated on the application. Their name was used throughout the piece, along with their pURL. This is the most dramatic element: The covers would feature a current student in their program of choice. A testimonial and photo of another student currently in the program was highlighted on the inside, with copy and photos regarding the program.

Each piece off the press was a one of a kind — exactly how your emails and digital marketing piece are on your recipient’s computer.

St. Joes VDPWhat’s in the Future

There’s no way to know the amazing tech the future will bring, but a more challenging element of the future is breaking down silos.

“Over the last 20+ years, variable data software and printing has come a long way. You can easily drive images and text complex business logic and embedded variables from multiple databases. Email, video and online variable data capabilities have become equally sophisticated. The challenge: They typically don’t work together. Adding to this struggle, many brands have agency’s that are digital- or print- only.

For multichannel/omnichannel and trigger programs to allow brands to have a conversation with their customers, all mediums must work together. There can no longer be silos.”

—Cheryl Kahanec, President, EarthColor, Marketing Solutions Group

As Cheryl describes above, the future will blend all communications, leaving no silos. Whether we read our screens, mail or any other marketing material, the blending of data and its capabilities is the future of marketing and communications. Who will get there first? Who’s on their way?

The Power of Purchase List Targeting

It’s important to have a trusted purchase list source. You should be informed of where the company gets its data, how often the data is updated and its policies on bad data. Once you have a good source, you need to take on the challenge of choosing your list options.

targetaudSince your response rate is directly related to who you are sending mail to, purchasing a mailing list can be a real challenge. There are so many options to choose from that it can be overwhelming. But first, it’s important to have a trusted purchase list source. You should be informed of where it gets the data, how often the data is updated and its policies on bad data. A couple of big purchase list players are Experian and Acxiom — you can check them out, as well as many other reputable list brokers. Once you have a good source, you need to take on the challenge of choosing your list options.

Top industry list option examples include:

  • Nonprofit: Income, net worth, age, children, causes donated to in the past, organization membership, fundraising engagement, location
  • Retail: Number of children, income, age, gender, apparel purchase habits, brands, online shopping habits, location
  • Political: Children, homeownership, voting propensity, location, age, political party affiliation
  • Entertainment: Age, income, children, hobbies, purchase history, location, marital status
  • Healthcare: Age, income, number of children, location, gender, homeownership
  • Education: Age, income, gender, highest level of education, location, interests

You may pick from demographics as well as psychographics. There are so many options, make sure to give yourself time to look over what will target your best potential customers. You want to get the right offer to the right people — the more targeted your list, the better response you are going to get. Marketing personas are fictional representations of your ideal customers, so if you have mapped personas beforehand, it will be easier to make your selections.

You can pre-map customer personas by taking a look at your best customers: Who are they? The more details you have, the more accurate the persona will be. Look for trends in how your customers find you and what they buy. Make sure you are capturing important information about customers in your data so that you can use it to build your personas. You should also interview customers to obtain key answers directly from the source. Too many assumptions can cause you to create an inaccurate persona.

Once you know the personas you are looking for, choosing the right selections for your list becomes easier. Select the options that best represent your customers. The more characteristics you pick, the better targeted your list will be. But keep in mind that more selections often result in a higher-priced purchase list. So make sure you only use the options that really reach your target.

Your list is now ready! Your final ingredients for successful direct mail are your creativity and your offer. Don’t spend all your time on the list and forget these other two components — without all three working together, your direct mail will not generate the response you are looking for. Make your offer clear and concise. Make your creative design catching, but not overwhelming. Give people a reason to read your direct mail.

A Night With the Olympics Advertisers

The Olympics are the marketing event of the moment. I’ve certainly watched my share of the sporting events, but I hadn’t yet sat down and focused just on the ads going on in the show. So last night, I decided to focus on the most interesting part of these games: the commercials!

The Olympics are the marketing event of the moment. I’ve certainly watched my share of the sporting events, but I hadn’t yet sat down and focused just on the ads going on in the show. So last night, with Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps swimming for medals (including one of Phelps’s biggest races), and the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics going for the team gold, I decided to focus on the most interesting part of these games: the Olympics commercials!

One thing that really jumped out to me was how much the commercials continued the themes of the Olympics: Inspiration, hard work, preparation, precision, performance, rewards. Especially inspiration.

And at the same time, I was surprised by what I didn’t see: Couch potatoes.

I’m a sports fan. I watch a lot of sports in general — and I basically list football as my religious affiliation. I’m used to my sports coming with a heavy dose of junk food, beer and soda commercials, many of them playing to my urge to relax, stuff my face and watch the game.

ChesterCheetahThere was nary a Cheeto to be seen during the Olympics! Hershey is a named sponsor, but there were no candy bars being munched between the events. Even the Reese’s Cup ad was active and inspiring.

In fact, these commercials made me feel downright lazy (even though I was working on this blog post throughout it).

Coming into the games, NBC Olympics CMO John Miller was criticized for saying, “The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey.”

While the criticism is justified in the broader context, watching the commercials sheds some light on where he was coming from from the point of view of marketing the Olympics.

These commercials clearly weren’t targeting sports fans. They were targeting people who tuned in to be inspired. And I think a lot of them hit the mark.

A quick word on calls to action: I expected to look for these, but as the commercials rolled out, I found I wasn’t catching many of them. Many of the car commercials ended with strong CTAs, especially BMW’s, but for the most part the commercials pushed a hashtag, or didn’t even attempt a next-step push. Given the inspirational tone, I think that makes sense. This night was more about branding and relationship building.

Here’s what I saw last night.

Lead-In Olympics Commercials

  1. BMW Olympic sponsorship
  2. Polo by Ralph Lauren Olympic athletes spot: Olympians identifying themselves, talking about overcoming obstacles.
  3. GMC precision commercial: “The Precision of Professional Grade.”
  4. Hillary Clinton Campaign Ad: “How do we make the economy work for everyone?” Emphasized charging companies that move overseas an exit tax. (A little ironic for the iconic international games, perhaps.)
  5. Toyota Corolla: Middle age couple, wife sees girls “dancing” in the next car and asks why he never takes her dancing anymore. Turns out the girls were freaking out over a bee. (Mental note: Corolla not bee proof!)

Thoughts: Cars, premium clothes and the front runner for president. Wealthy, white and, if I may say it, female-leaning ads.

The Olympic coverage starts with intros, context and story set-up. The kind of thing Miller was talking about.

Olympics Commercial Break 1

  1. Chobani: #NoBadStuff. US Women’s soccer commercial with the message, “Don’t listen to them [your naysayers], listen to you.”
  2. Tylenol PM: “We give you a better night, give you a better you.”
  3. Coca Cola: Soft cover of Queen’s “Under Pressure” with an Olympics/people-are-awesome type of theme.
  4. Bridgestone Tires: Gymnasts moving along the road in 2×2 formation as a metaphor for tires. Puncture-proof tires. Worldwide Olympic partner.
  5. Pop Tarts: Elect the candidates “Crazy Good” commercial.
  6. BMW i3 smartcar: Aimed at hip, city dwellers. “Once the fun starts, it never stops.”

I didn’t time them, but the commercials seemed really short: Flash a few images, say the catch phrase, move on.

First Sport: Gymnastics – GOAT?

https://twitter.com/alex_abads/status/763000344339161088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

More Gymnastics. Introducing the team, Brent Musberger calls Simone Biles The Greatest of All Time. He does it as an after thought, like it’s been said so much it’s boring. Like they say it about Muhammad Ali.

I’ve never heard that during an Olympics for a first time Olympian. I’m not disagreeing at all, but it’s weird from a sports broadcasting point of view. In years, announcers were reluctant to anoint someone the greatest ever. No one would say it until some time had past and it was clearly unassailable.

Again, I don’t disagree (as you’ll see), but it feels odd hearing it said as she’s going through her first Olympics. Feels like part of the marketing message, not the reporting.

Olympics Commercials Break 2

  1. Visa commercial showing athletes going to Rio and highlighting all their payment products.
  2. The Voice TV show preview.
  3. Apple iPad Pro: “What else can it do?” I didn’t know it was Apple until the reveal at the end.
  4. NBC Network “Watch the RIO Olympics … starting August 5” commercial. Running on August 9. Kinda weird, almost certainly an ad spot they weren’t able to sell. Olympic rap in it was pretty sweet.

More Gymnastics

Olympics Commercial Break 3

Chevrolet presents a closer look at Rio, spotlighting the Taijuka rainforest in Rio. Very short, commercial length, but providing interesting content nonetheless.

  1. Chevy KBB awards commercial follows that story. (It’s been in heavy rotation for a while.)
  2. Hellman’s Mayonnaise commercial showing how to cook a “strange” sandwich. Tagline: “What’s Your #Strangewich?” Successfully made me want that sandwich! Focus was on the making, not the eating, though. Like the “Tasty” viral recipe videos.
  3. Nike: Chris Mosier 1st transgender “duathlete” to make the men’s national team. Totally about him going for it, even though he never knew it was going to work out. Barely mentions Nike, but he’s wearing Nike gear. Classic Nike ad.
  4. Reese’s Cups: Lindsy Von “Do summer like a winter Olympian” by eating a Reese’s Cup. Brilliant. Now I want a sandwich and a Reese’s Cup!
  5. New Movie: “Arrival.” Amy Adams sci fi movie. Looks right up my alley; I want to see it. Neither my wife or I had ever heard of it before, and we do follow those pop culture channels.

Gymnastics.

Olympics Commercial Break 4

  1. NBC Sports Olympic Gold map showing kids how to find their path to the gold today. Interesting. I’ve never seen that before. Definitely aimed at parents and kids watching the Olympics.
  2. Disney’s Pete’s Dragon movie commercial. Fandango plug in it.
  3. “The Good Place” TV Show commercial.
  4. Repeat of the Toyota Corolla ad.
  5. BB&T branding commercial: Trust-focused. Welcomes clients of National Penn.
  6. BMW X1 commercial with sports fans going to a game. Most typical sports commercial I’ve seen yet.

The commercials have definitely gotten longer. Maybe the time is cheaper now, but I think they’re also taking into account that people are settled in and watching. You can take your time a bit more, they’re paying attention to the message.

More Gymnastics

Olympics Commercial Break 5

  1. Samsung Galaxy Note 7 commercial w/ Christoff Waltz: About how Americans multitask, work super hard, “Do more before 8 AM than the rest of the world does all day.” (We don’t, but still.) At the end, he realizes the hard work pays off and moves into a big house in the American Dream.
  2. Dodge Ram “Guts Glory Ram” commercial: Good poem, “Idols are all around in the unseen corners of the world. No monuments are built in their honor, or mountains adorned with their face, because heroes aren’t driven by fame. They’re carved from courage.”
  3. Commercial for upcoming NBC TV show “This Is Us.”

More Gymnastics. Simone Biles is carrying more muscle mass than I’ve ever seen on a gymnast. Aside from her shorter stature, she’s like the Serena Williams of gymnastics: Bigger, stronger, worked harder, better. Looks like she could jump out of the gym if she wanted to. Still feels weird for someone to be the GOAT during their first Olympics, but I can see it. Or maybe a princess?

Olympics Commercial Break 6

  1. Exxon Mobile ad talking about how a non-car company works so hard to make cars better. Good branding.
  2. “Timeless” TV show commercial coming this fall. Been seeing that one a lot.
  3. Dunkin Donuts Cold Brew coffee commercial. First fast food commercial I’ve seen, and it’s a fast food commercial about being on the run. Definitely targeting go-getters tonight.
  4. Repeat of the Polo commercial.
  5. Inspira Health Network commercial. One call, one person, 1-800-InSpira. Longer commercial again, really laid out the whole idea (which is important since Inspira has to convey the concept of a “healthcare concierge”).
  6. Dunkin Donuts commercial. Theme is working hard, long days and late nights toward athletic success. Olympics themed, “America Runs on Duncan.”
  7. DICK’S Sporting Goods, official sporting goods sponsor of Team USA. Another commercial with a good “poem,” of sorts:  “There are trace amounts of gold in every human body.” “The highest concentration is in the heart.” “Only some of us have the strength to dig it out.” I’m moved.

Olympics now sponsored by Nationwide.

More Gymnastics.