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November 2008

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 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

Three Key Tips to Minimize Email-List Churn

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It's a fact of list life: You're always going to lose a chunk of your email list to bounces, unsubscribes, and spam complaints. In the past, you might have just shrugged off this loss—typically 30 percent or more annually—because you were able to acquire new subscribers at a much higher rate than what you lost. But your ability to do so might be getting tougher now.

With consumers getting pickier about whom they want to receive email from, along with the growing constraint caused by consumer and business spending cutbacks and the prospect of tightened marketing budgets, it's more important than ever to focus on retaining your subscribers and customers.

These three strategies can help you reduce list churn and, subsequently, boost list performance.

1. Keep subscribers active and engaged

Get subscribers engaged right at the beginning of the relationship, when they are likely to make quick decisions about their email relationship with your company. These two tactics will help:

  • Manage expectations before the subscriber relationship commences. Be explicit about what kinds of email you will send and how often. Show a sample email and clearly convey the value proposition.
  • Launch a welcome program immediately after confirmation. This is a timed, personalized series of emails in which you greet new subscribers, review their subscription details, invite them back to your Web site to fill out profiles or set preferences, offer special new-member promotions, etc. Use recognizable sender and subject lines to make your message stand out in the inbox.

2. Reach out to inactive subscribers

Maybe your email messages don't measure up anymore to subscribers' expectations. Or, they signed up with you to get an incentive and now regularly delete your emails unopened. Or, your messages always go to their junk folders, which they never check and automatically empty after 30 days.

For these and other reasons, a big chunk of your list is "emotionally unsubscribed." Their addresses are valid, but their attention is elsewhere. They either never clicked or clicked in the past but don't click now. Moving away from one-size-fits-all broadcast emails toward targeted and behavior-based messages will make your email more relevant and more attractive for opening.

First, segment your list to find out how inactive it is. Don't rely just on open rates, because they are notoriously inaccurate. Instead, decide how you want to define inactivity—no clicks in 12 or 18 months, for example—and create segments that fit your definitions.

Use different strategies to reach different categories of inactivity:

A. Work to reactivate the emotionally unsubscribed. Invite them to create or update a preference page, to opt in again or to opt out.

Example: Send subscribers an email suggesting that they update their email preferences to improve the value of the content and the offers they receive. Ideally, you can merge their settings into the email so they can quickly see which information or options they may want to update or change. These can also include the frequency of emails, other emails or newsletters you offer, email format, and interests and preferences (such as mountain-biking versus road-biking, or red wines versus white wines). It is important that when the subscriber clicks through to the preference page it be pre-populated with existing preferences, thus enabling quick and easy changes.

B. Survey your barely breathing segment. Find out what content they want, and consider creating personalized programs based on those preferences.

Example: Invite subscribers to complete a survey so that you can improve the value of your emails and content. The goal of the survey is to not only gather broad insight to improve your overall program but also to gain insights from individual respondents that you can use for segmentation and personalization. For example, if you believe that many subscribers are fading away from too many emails, pose questions around choosing different frequency options such as weekly, biweekly, and monthly. You can then use your findings to both modify your overall program and send emails based on subscribers' frequency preferences. These options then become part of your standard opt-in form and preference pages. To increase responses, you might consider some form of incentive that also supports your value proposition, and that may help re-engage subscribers with your email and brand.

C. Send your occasional clickers a personalized email offer. Ideally, it would be dynamic, based either on previous messages they responded to or on purchase history.

Example: A book retailer might create segments of subscribers who have clicked on certain category links (Business, Kids, Biographies, Mystery, History, etc.). Subscribers would then receive a series of emails personalized to their category of interest that would potentially include discounts or other incentives to increase purchase rates.

3. Optimize the unsubscribe process

Subscribers are more likely to unsubscribe or click the spam button when you send irrelevant email, when they don't recognize you as the sender, and when you send more email than they expected or wanted.

Your unsubscribe procedure should be easy and obvious so that people who want to leave don't think they have to resort to clicking the spam button or just deleting your messages unopened.

However, you can add functions to your unsubscribe procedure to help you retain more subscribers without making them jump through hoops, which CAN-SPAM—the US law regulating commercial email—prohibits anyway.

Not everyone who clicks the unsubscribe link wants to leave. Some want to change an email address or update preferences for content, format, and frequency.

Others do want to stop getting email but not break off all contact with your company. Give them the option to receive messages from you via other channels that you offer, such as RSS feeds, SMS, or catalogs.

Finally, for those who truly do want out, making your unsubscribe procedure easy and obvious will help them remove themselves and thus reduce both your spam-complaint and your inactivity rates.

Summing Up

Reducing list churn takes more than just increasing the amount of fresh blood you have to pump into your list to keep your email program active. If you follow these tactics, you'll make yourself more valuable to your subscribers, reduce bounces and spam complaints, and clear out the deadwood that could be dragging down your list's performance.

By Loren McDonald

4 Ideas for E-mail Segmentation

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If you're planning spray-and-pray e-mail campaigns to boost sales during this holiday season, consider a more strategic approach that could provide better ROI and keep your opt-out rate from skyrocketing.

In a fall webinar hosted by Target Marketing, titled 60 Minutes to Accelerate Holiday Sales, Huw Griffiths, marketing director at Campaigner, an e-mail marketing services firm in Montreal, offered the following proven segmentation tactics designed to supercharge your e-mail marketing efforts in the fourth quarter and beyond.

Interests—Consider targeting your message according to categories in which customers have made purchases or by collecting a little data that also provides for a targeted message. For example, House of Magnets asked its contacts for their cities and football team preferences to demonstrate how its magnet products could be customized; timing the campaign launch to coincide with the start of training camp gave the effort urgency while providing a big enough window to maximize sales.

Location—If your business operates in the retail channel, ask for e-mail registrants' ZIP codes (or code e-mail sign-up forms handed out in stores to collect this data element). Send these customers and prospects special offers and event invites related to the nearest store location (or locations, in case more than one might be applicable). For example, West49 invites registrants to store grand openings.

Gender—If your product or services line can be segmented according to gender, you could try more targeted promotions where the offer and/or incentive should appeal more to one group than the other. Of course, you need to be comfortable segmenting your e-mail file, too.

Spend Level—This approach can be leveraged to either keep offerings in line with customers' past purchase levels or to promote deals that help increase the average order value, such as percent-off discounts and free shipping on orders that exceed a specified amount.

By Hallie Mummert, editor-in-chief, Target Marketing

Going Green: Moving Printed Newsletters, Statements, and Promotions to Email

Going Green: Moving Printed Newsletters, Statements, and Promotions to Email

In this day and age, one could say "Green is the new Black." More than ever, consumers are engaged in environmentally sound practices. And companies can easily leverage this "Green" trend to not only show their customers their concern with the global environment but also reduce the continually increasing cost of the direct mail process.

There will always be a place for direct mail. However, if you look closely at the type and frequency of your printed pieces that you are sending, organizations can easily identify those items that would be a good fit in the email realm.

Many large travel, banking, and other service providers were the first to jump on the email bandwagon for regularly scheduled statements, newsletters, and other already-existing direct mail advertisements.

Properly executed, consumers find many advantages in receiving these types of communications via email.

Advantages for Consumers

  • Review, retrieve, and save electronic pieces for easy reference and reduced clutter.
  • Immediately respond to offers or call-to-actions with clicks, not postage.
  • Share information electronically by forwarding to a friend.

Advantages for Advertisers

  • Reduce cost associated with direct mail pieces.
  • Shorten the amount of time and reduce the resources needed from "concept to distribution."
  • Customize electronic pieces with more personalized content to increase relevancy for each recipient.
  • Decrease the amount of time to provide customers with information that they have requested by using "triggered" or "recurring" messages to send electronic collateral or links.
  • Track success of email campaigns through electronic reporting within minutes/hours, not days/weeks.
  • Collect other customer information that can be used to tailor unique and customized campaigns based on subscription-collection pages as well as by tracking user activity via visited links.

Identifying the Opportunities and Making the Move

But moving direct mail pieces to an electronic format doesn't happen overnight. Also, not all direct mail pieces are a perfect fit for the email world.

Email-design constraints, along with best practices, need to be fully fleshed out to ensure that you are providing a message that is visually pleasing and relevant, and renders properly in the email inbox.

Steps and Considerations for Print-to-Email Shift

One of the biggest obstacles when moving from a printed direct mail piece to email is not having an email address, or having an email address that is not opted-in to receive your messages.

Direct mail itself has an integral role in converting direct mail customers to email customers:

  • Include a subscription link/address for individuals who are receiving printed pieces via your direct mail campaigns.
  • Provide a review of the benefits of "Going Green" as it relates to the environment, direct costs back to the consumer, as well as other perceived advantages for your customer.
  • If you plan to phase out a particular printed piece, be sure to clearly call out any dates that the customer will need to "enroll by" to ensure that they don't miss future communications.
  • Offer incentive for the customer to start receiving your message electronically: a discount on a future purchase, points or miles in a loyalty program, enhanced area for VIP access within your Web site, early announcement of discounts, or special or unique offers tailored exclusively for you email-recipient customers.
  • If enrollment incentives are non-transferable (unique to those whom you are specifically collecting email addresses for), create your registration page to require your customer to provide his/her "Customer ID" or "Membership ID." Additional database work on your end is needed to ensure that those you have intended to receive the offer are the ones who qualify.
  • Collect email information the correct way: Use two email fields that require the customer to enter his/her email address, and verify that both fields entered match. Use a double-opt-in email communication plan that will generate a message confirming the email subscription selections to further ensure a correct email address.
  • Ensure that your Web site has an "Sign Up Today" link on every page to capture new customers
  • If you require a "Customer ID" or other type of "Membership ID" to access your Web site, create reminders that ask for their email and subscription authorization.
  • Promote your "Green Initiative" on your Web site as well as your current printed direct mail materials.

Taking the steps today to create a road map to a "greener" marketing program can result in significant cost savings in the direct mail channel; doing so will also show your customers that you are a responsible marketer, playing in an ever-growing field with businesses that are trying to make the world just a little better.

The ability to track ROI and campaign success with email can also help drive sales and provide for a more unique and customized user experience that will help strengthen your brand.

by Chris Lovejoy

Search Engine Marketing: Landing Pages That Land Business

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When customers see your ad on the search engine page and click on it, where will they go?

Bringing them to the front page of your Web site is a waste of that valuable click. Send them instead to a landing page: a page especially created to follow through on the promise of your ad.

For every search ad or group of related ads, known as a campaign, you should create or designate at least one landing page. Keep this page as simple, clean, and pointed as you can. Think of the landing page as an expanded form of your ad. You have one goal: to make sure the visitor does whatever it was your ad promised them. If your search ad related to the keywords "bumper puller," your landing page should have all the info they need to convince themselves that they just must buy this bumper puller right now.

Your landing page might be something as straightforward as an order form, or it might provide more information on the product or service you advertised. As with any ad, you should explain the product's features and benefits, and provide a call to action, such as "click to buy now." It's a good idea, if possible, to include the sales department telephone number for customers who prefer dealing with a live person. Your goal is to help the customer convert with as few clicks as possible.

Make sure to test every landing page to make sure it works correctly. See if you can actually place an order, and be sure the order process isn't so long and tedious that potential customers don't abandon it. Have several other people try the form, as well, to make sure you haven't been too kind to yourself.

Search advertising is a form of direct marketing, and it's as testable as other forms. You can test multiple versions of your landing pages to see which performs better. Remember that keyword ads set up expectations with only a few words of text, so those clicking might have surprising ideas of what they think the ad is offering. Trying out variations in the landing page can unmask such disconnections.

The major search advertising providers offer free tools to help you analyze which keywords and ads are performing best; there are also other analytics services that are especially useful when you begin to manage large numbers of keywords.

Writing effect copy for search ads and landing pages are aspects of direct marketing that benefit from some expertise. If your advertising budget is larger, you might consider hiring a search engine marketing company to manage your campaigns.

By Mac McCarthy