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2009: The Year of More

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For direct marketers, 2009 is likely to be a year of reckoning. In the last year, we’ve seen several important direct marketing production technologies reach critical mass: variable data personalization, web-to-print, cross-media marketing, personalized URLs (PURLs), micro-websites and automated trigger response, to cite the most obvious.

Today, these are the essentials of any solid direct marketing program. In short, you can’t (or shouldn’t) do business without them.

So what else is cooking? Well, believe it or not, direct marketers are in for an even more complex marketing stew than any yet brewed. Direct marketing suppliers have given customers a lot of choices, and they love it. They’re sure to demand even more.

Yes, there is a lot to know. Here’s what direct marketing managers need to do right now to stay ahead of the curve.

First, deliver more sophisticated mailing know-how. For any high-volume mailer who wants an automation discount, the new Intelligent Mail Barcode from the U.S. Postal Service goes into effect in May 2009. Every direct mailer will need to be on board with Intelligent Mail, but you can bet “smart” mailers are going to turn this into marketing magic. Not only can marketers now communicate very personally with current and prospective customers, they know exactly when they’ve received the offers.

There’s more. The postal service’s rigorous new “move update” requirements, in effect beginning in late November of this year, are certain to change the way a lot of mailers do business, which is to say, very carefully and more profitably.

Finally, look to the co-horts: co-palletization and commingling. These twins ensure that you’re getting the best potal rates possible. Make sure your mailer is approved for both services.

In addition to high-tech personalization options and save-every-penny mailings, direct marketers will have to wrestle with several new technologies that may lead their marketing programs in new directions.

  • Mobile Phone Marketing. It’s tricky and it’s targeted, but if you know what you’re doing, it can work. Last summer, Coca-Cola received a 5.2% response rate to a mobile marketing campaign it did with ChaCha, a new Google-like cell phone search service. Even if you don’t offer mobile marketing yet, get familiar with it. By 2010, your clients will be demanding it.
  • Next, know that print isn’t dead by any means. It’s not even sick, but it will become thinner and greener, and that means fewer but far more personal pieces. If you haven’t put variable data printing into your direct mail program, you’re behind. Yes, it’s costly, but the reward can be a dramatically improved ROI. A major publisher we work with boosted return rates on a direct mail package by 40%. Variable data printing was a big part of the improvement.
  • PURLs. Earlier this year, researcher and consultant Lee Gallagher posted to Marketingprofs.com that gloval giant International Data Corporation was reporting a 28% adoption rate to personalized URLs. “I believe that the early adopters of personalized URLs will end out ahead of the gang if they start now,” he said. I agree. Get with a PURL production partner who can tell you what to do and start harvesting.
  • While 2009 is all about new forms of marketing, automated responses will be the foundation. The best campaigns anticipate, embrace and predict possibilities, then seamlessly direct the results into appropriate channels. Did your member or prospect request more information? It’s ready to go out the door. Did a registration or product order come in? You send a thank-you note, of course, but you also are prepared with a cross-sell or up-sell. At the Direct Marketing Association’s Bridge Conference in July, Wendy Hurwitz, senior director of database marketing at Gannett Co. Inc., described a mind-blowing system where retention marketing for a vast network of subscribers to more than 70 regional publications is largely managed through automated response. Don’t expect it to be easy, though, Hurwitz cautions. Issues abound. For instance, how much contact management is too much? How do you integrate fax and e-mail? “You can’t get caught up in what technology enables you to do, versus what you can really manage,” she said.
  • Digital publications. The catalog industry made lemonade out of bitter postage-rate hikes when they made digital catalogs part of the new mix. These fully searchable, link-heavy, page-turner PDFs are popping up everywhere. Don’t give up on print but do figure out how to exploit an expanded digital choice without burning the paper it’s written on.
  • Video as a direct marketing tool. Whether they are short videos posted on your website, YouTube viral videos, instructional videos to accompany product sales, or something none of us has thought of yet, video is here. Try to let go of assumptions about what works. For example, webinars heated up in the last quarter of 2008, but have you ever sat through a webinar - I mean all the way through? This technology is still finding its sea legs. Stay tuned and keep thinking!

In short, when direct mail was our only option, direct marketers could confine their creativity to the mail package itself. Far more is required today.

It’s our job now to think about direct marketing as a huge toolbox for building customers. And it’s a toolbox full of some old tools and a lot of new ones. How threatened should direct marketers be by all this? Not at all.

The fact that you’re reading this article puts you ahead of many less informed colleagues. As with all challenges, there’s tremendous opportunity in change. Smart marketers will find a way to make the new tools produce - and we’ll measure the result - just like we did with our old friend direct mail.

By: Crystal Uppercue

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