Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Just as with other channels of direct marketing, e-mail marketing needs to be orchestrated across all divisions of your company. Said differently, whatever message that you are sending to your valuable customers needs to be consistent no matter who in your company is sending it. Further, if you aren't sending consistent messages to your customers and prospects, you are only creating confusion -- not loyalty or converted sales.
Recently, Jupiter Research and Strong Mail have conducted a study amongst executives that looked at how centralized e-mail marketing campaigns occurred within their companies. The results weren't that astounding -- simply because we've seen this time and again with many companies. As the study found, most e-mail and other direct marketing efforts were not centralized within one division of a company, and in fact, most of the time, many different divisions were responsible for sending out multiple messages to customers (sound familiar?). In fact, in the case of e-mail marketing campaigns, the study reported that 24% of the time, six or more departments were responsible for sending out emails to customers. We can all imagine the repercussions of this. Not good.
While it is important to keep messages consistent for all of channels, it is really important when it comes to e-mail messages. And the answer is pretty obvious -- as as the study states, "E-mail is an embattled communication medium because its dependability and trustworthiness are challenged every day by spam." So, as e-mail becomes a more heavily utilized channel in our direct marketing toolbox, we've got to ensure that the messages that we deliver to our customers are consistent and relevant -- or these campaigns will never deliver the response and conversion rates that we desire.
If you'd like to take a look at the full white paper from this study, just comment here with your email address or send us an email at email@example.com , and we'll send it over to you.
Meanwhile, have a Happy Halloween!
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Following on the heels of a recent Radiohead promotion where they marketed and sold their new album directly to consumers, AND (this is the key thing here) let the fans pay whatever they wanted for the music, is this article from DM News:
"Paste magazine kicked off a new subscription offer this week, allowing consumers to name their own price for a one-year subscription to the music and entertainment glossy."
I loved the concept for Radiohead. But, I'm not sure it will work for a printed magazine. In the case of music downloads there are no significant fixed production costs. Some initial software/website development costs were incurred, of course, but Radiohead didn't have to spit out and ship something to the fans who ordered the new album.
If I'm reading the article correctly, Paste magazine will be shipping out 11 glossy magazines plus a CD, and subscribers can receive all this for a price-point as low as $1. Significant costs...No ensured revenues.
Of course, if Paste is as successful as Radiohead, (the rumor is that their promotion made them $6 to $8 million), then this is a great gamble. And, Paste magazine seems to be aware of the risks.
"Even if the promotion fails to bring in revenue, the added subscribers will be a boon to the ad-supported magazine. Advertisers and other magazine execs seem intrigued by the name-your-price model, said Jackson (Paste editor-in-chief)."
I'll be watching this promotion closely. And, I'll be looking out for other innovative pricing strategies from other industries. The price could definitely be getting 'righter', at least for us consumers!
Monday, October 29, 2007
If you've been reading our blog for long, you know that we've written much about how this "new" economy is impacting direct marketers. Obviously, the economy effects all of business -- and in times of economic downturn, we seem to discuss it's impact much more than when things are more rosy.
Today, there is more evidence that the slowing economy has really taken a toll on us -- particularly in the area of financial services, and more specifically, mortgage and student lending. The fact that there are increasing amounts of people that are losing their homes to foreclosure due to financing with subprime mortgage lenders has become the leading story in all of our newspapers. Plus, there is now further scrutiny by our political leaders on student loan providers (for more on this, please see our post from last week).
In today's DM News, author Eleanor Trickett reports that now "the Federal Trade Commission and a couple of Attorneys General have pointed the finger at fraudulent mortgage marketers." And further, due to this, "there’s no question that market forces have caused many direct marketers and their agency and supplier partners to reconsider how they are marketing products in such a volatile environment."
We all know of stories where people bought homes that they could not afford due to the creative financing that was available to them -- and as we watched the run-up on housing prices, we all knew from history that there would be an eventual . . . and certain . . . pullback.
At any rate, due to this focus on the mortgage industry, direct marketers have had to come up with new ways to more effectively serve the market today in order to help their companies sell more loans. As Trickett reports, "Many financial services marketers have told me that they have significantly retooled their mortgage marketing programs, from straightforward acquisition tactics to a strategy based more on education and informed decisions. What effect this will end up having on conversion rates has yet to be seen, but it will be interesting to learn how mortgage marketers are trying to maintain ROI for their DM efforts."
From our perspective, this is just another example of how we have to be continually prepared to rise to the challenges that the economy brings us. As direct marketers, we have to come up with better and more effective ways to increase response and conversion rates -- and positively impact ROI . . . even when the economy is not being particularly helpful.
We've all heard the saying "Hindsight is 20/20." We can all think of the conversations that we were having one and two years ago predicting this eventual outcome in the mortgage market. The problem was that we were all in the midst of riding the highs of that market, and striving to take advantage of those profitable times. Well, in hindsight, we did all see the downturn coming. As we continue to see the impact of the economy on mortgage lenders, we'll bet that those companies who planned for the downturn and began to plan their strategy accordingly are most likely the companies that will continue to prevail in this new economy. As we continue to track this, those companies will reveal themselves and establish (or maintain) their leadership position in the mortgage industry. We predict that the lessons learned from this difficult time will be the subject of business school case studies for years to come.
Yikes! Is it Monday or what? Have a good week! : )
Friday, October 26, 2007
We talk a ton about data security and never fail to report on data breaches. Data security is a top concern for businesses today. And, since RRW Consulting (our business) relies heavily on customer data availability, that means data security has the potential to keep me up at night.
That's why I was pleased to see this set of actionable best practices published by Ironport Systems, a Cisco business unit and a leading provider of enterprise spam, virus and spyware protection.
From the Ironport press release: "Data Loss Prevention (DLP) is a serious issue for companies; the number of incidents (and associated costs) continues to increase. Whether it's a malicious attempt, or an inadvertent mistake, data loss can diminish a company's brand, reduce shareholder value, and damage the company's goodwill and reputation."
So, what are these best practices? I'll summarize below.
Best Practice #1: Take Time to Define DLP (Data Loss Prevention) Needs. They advocate thorough documentation of the sensitive data that exists within an organization, and recommend developing policies to control and enforce how that data can be shared.
Best Practice #2: Prioritize the DLP Focus. Start with the areas where you may see the biggest problems, where you are most at risk, and those that represent the greatest potential loss.
Best Practice #3: Ensure Effective, Comprehensive Coverage. Make sure that you have the technology in place to detect attempted policy violations. This includes things like e-mail attachment analysis, automatic enforcement of corporate encryption policies and the ability to block or quarantine certain messages.
Best Practice #4: Make the Solution Unobtrusive. They recommend using technology that makes data security invisible to the users. It just happens, and users don't have to concern themselves with it.
Best Practice #5: Look for Work Flow, Administration and Reporting. Make sure that people in your organization responsible for data security have the ability to receive reports outlining detected violations and providing in-depth information to enable them to take action.
Best Practice #6: Combine Best-of-Breed Solutions. I think that this is a true for any complex technology solution, by the way. Make sure that whatever data security technology you invest in can be integrated with other solutions. This will make sure that you can keep up with changes in security technology (both from the bad guys and the good guys) in the future.
So, while data security is not the most fun thing to chat about on a Friday morning, I do think it's important. Hopefully, these guidelines will get you thinking about what your organization does to protect one of your most valuable assets, your customers.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Those of us involved in telemarketing as our main channel of direct marketing are extremely familiar with the FTC's Do-Not-Call Database (DNC). It was talked about forever, and seemed to take forever to build . . . well, guess what? It's been almost five years since it's inception and the 70% of Americans who originally signed up on the DNC List, are about to face expiration! Yikes! That is, they may have to re-register their number for it to stay active on the Registry.
At first blush, the FTC thought it may be a good idea to purge the database every five years -- to get rid of disconnected numbers and the like. However, according to today's article in DM News, "the registry also uses a scrubbing program that purges disconnected or reassigned numbers on a monthly basis — leading some policymakers to call the 5-year purge unnecessary." Now, several of our political representatives are introducing bills to get rid of the 5-year purge rule -- and there are even bills that talk about never purging the database, making all registrations permanent.
Let's reflect for a moment on how opinions about this Do-Not-Call Registry have changed over the past five years. Back in 2003, our clients were simply flipping out over the aspect of not getting as many "phones" back to fuel their telemarketing efforts. However, from what we've seen, the 30% of Americans who haven't registered their phones are actually open to a telemarketing call. See, it gets back to the idea of putting the customer in the driver's seat -- the major point behind Customer Experience Management.
The point of focus here is that the 30% of Americans who would rather hear from us via their telephone have stated their preference (well, some of them are just lazy and haven't figured out how to sign up on the DNC registry . . . but still). And, that preference is that they'd like to be contacted via the phone to hear about products and services that they may be interested in purchasing now or in the future. That's good news for those of us who are calling them, right?
As a direct marketer who is consistently trying to find creative ways to increase response and conversion rates, this is music to my ears! I'd much rather contact someone over the phone who wants to hear from me than someone who doesn't.
The whole point of today's post is to remind us that we'll sell more if we listen to our customers. The beauty of direct marketing is that, today more than ever, we have multiple channels in which to reach out to our customers. We need to, whenever possible, give them the ability to tell us how they wish to be communicated with -- then follow those wishes and communicate with them in that fashion.
Again, this is the key driver in the definition of Customer Experience Management. When you let the customer drive your marketing efforts, they become an advocate for your business without even knowing it. As a business, you can learn from these preferences, model from them, and find other customers who may wish to buy from you.
So, go ahead and leave those consumers on the DNC Registry forever. They don't want to talk to us anyway! But, they may like to receive an email . . . or direct mail piece . . . or order from your website . . . or comment on your blog. It's all good!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I've been grappling with how to integrate social media (and Facebook in particular) into my bag of direct marketing tricks. I've gotten my arms around why some companies (including my own) need to embrace blogging (to start a dialogue with their customers/prospects and to build credibility). But, I'm still having a hard time understanding how to use other social media to do what marketers are supposed to do. That is: sell more things, make more money.
This article, from "Brandweek", made it a tad clearer: Poke Me, It's Real: Facebook, Interaction Benefits and the Future of Marketing
The author, Maria Popova, provides comprehensive detail about the demos of Facebook (projected to be used by over 60 million people in 2008, with 45% of users being over age 35) and discusses the rich targeting opportunities enabled by Facebook's data collection efforts. She also highlights one of the reasons behind widespread usage, and that is peoples' need to 'show-off'--show the world just how smart/cool/intelligent they are (important to remember when developing social marketing programs).
But, the main thrust of the article was this very important point: People using Facebook are constantly looking for what works for them. It's all about the user, their custom experience, their needs and their wishes. Some quotes from the article:
"Facebook, you see, is the quintessential tool in the age of “opinionation”: I like this, not that, need this, dump that, want this. Now."
"When it comes to marketing, Facebook is a peculiar hybrid of evolution (oh, the possibilities to connect) and devolution, stripping marketing to its bare bones to reveal the all-important "What's in it for me?" backbone."
"And, as far as brands go, it seems like the bottom line is quite simple. As Facebook grows, so will the immediacy of the demand it places on marketers: to do what many have shied away from or outright avoided doing: focus not just on product benefits, but on "interaction benefits"—if I choose to engage with your message (be it a Facebook widget or a product integration or a viral video), what's in it for me?"
So, at the end of the day, succeeding on Facebook is pretty similar to succeeding elsewhere in marketing (and, I guess, in Life). When developing an application, or a program, remember the needs of your prospect/customer. Make sure that it appeals to their need to show their community how great they are. Make sure that it brings them benefits, makes their lives easier or more fun. Make sure that it enables connections, that it helps 'start' conversations.
Oh yeah, and remember that as a marketer, it has to benefit you, your company and your product, too.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
At times, direct marketing is a tough gig! When bad press comes out, it really affects the work that all of us do on a daily basis. It's the whole story about the "one bad apple that spoils the whole barrel" thing (a few of you almost broke out in song there, didn't you?). The point is, it is imperative for us to market ethically -- otherwise, we lose the trust of our current and potential customers. We can be creative -- however, we must be truthful. Otherwise, consumers and businesses have no reason to trust what we say -- or what we sell. We strongly believe in creating trust through direct marketing -- and that by doing this, you build more profitable customer relationships.
Apparently, New York State attorney general Andrew Cuomo agrees with us. Last week, Cuomo called the direct marketing industry out when he announced he was expanding his investigation into the student loan industry to include direct marketers. In the article from DM News, Cuomo's office issued a statement that "described misleading marketing practices through direct mail, teleservices, television, radio, and online channels." The article further stated that Cuomo's office cited examples that "included some companies who are accused of mailing commercial offers designed to look like official letters from the US Department of Education that warn students to protect their rights by calling the lender." Other inquiries went out from the attorney general's office that asked about other practices such as offering gift cards for applying for student loans and utilizing sweepstakes that encouraged students to take out loans.
Additionally, Cuomo is looking into how companies market themselves through their slogans. For example, "LendingTree.com is being targeted because it promotes itself with the slogan 'When banks compete, you win,' but, according to Cuomo’s office, LendingTree.com 'had an exclusive agreement with EduCap and essentially offered only its [own] student loans.' " This seems to us simple folks like not a lot of competing was going on there. Geez!
The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) came out quickly in support of this investigation saying that "illegal marketing activities erode trust for the entire industry." In fact, Jerry Cerasale, SVP of government affairs for the DMA, went further: "If these actions violate the law, then they should be stopped. Legitimate marketers need to have trust in the marketplace, and violating the law undercuts that trust. This is not retail, where you can walk in and touch a product and buy it. With direct marketing, you don’t hold the product until after you’ve bought it, so trust is essential.”
Like other areas in business, there are some gray areas in direct marketing. I think the simplest way to look at it is with your "truthful lenses" on. If you are representing something other than what you are actually selling, you're not telling the truth. It's as simple as that! And, you're making it worse for the rest of us that do practice truthful direct marketing. Let's face it, we're all consumers of many different products and services. And, as such, we've run into offers that are "too good to be true." So, we've become skeptical for good reason.
We don't want our industry to be over-regulated by any form of government, however, someone has to step in when those in our industry make the decision to cross the line. We agree with the DMA -- trust is essential in direct marketing. We applaud Cuomo for his efforts to protect students!
Monday, October 22, 2007
It has always annoyed me that politicians are exempt from following the Federal No Not Call legislation. Along with fund-raisers, political organizations are not required to scrub their lists against the Do Not Call Registry.
So, I guess it's okay for a politician to call you at dinnertime, while other legitimate business concerns can't... I don't know about you, but both types of calls are annoying and quite honestly, a call soliciting my vote REALLY rubs me the wrong way.
Direct Magazine published a piece about a former political telemarketer, turned database marketer, Shaun Dakin, who has instituted a registry of people who do not wish to receive political phone calls.
"The registry (www.stoppoliticalcalls.org) launched in late September. As of early October, it contained 460 names." Their goal is to reach 1 million names by March.
"Dakin's registry is a first step at ameliorating the arrogance of politicians who pass restrictive marketing laws they don't intend to follow themselves. Is it a perfect step? Probably not. But it gets the debate started."
My take on this--I'm for it. I believe in giving consumers as many options as we can. Further, I've never believed that politicians should be given preferential treatment. They should have to work within the same privacy legislation and marketing guidelines that any other marketers must comply with.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Don't pretend like you don't know what I'm talking about! You know -- think back to the holidays last year when your Aunt Rachel came up to you and said, "Now what is it you're doing these days, dear? Are you still responsible for all of that (insert proper expletive) junk mail in my mailbox?"
Uh-huh. That's what us Direct Marketing types get all of the time. Well, a new study has just been done by Commtouch (as reported by DM News). And guess what . . . this holiday season you'll be blamed for Junk e-mail. Yep, Commtouch's study reports that spam has now reached a whopping 95% of all email sent . . . 95%! The article reports that Commtouch's "report, entitled 'Email Threats Trend Report for the third quarter of 2007,' found that as image spam declined, new kinds of attachment spam such as PDF and Excel spam increased. Pharmaceuticals and sexual enhancers were the most popular spam topics, at 30% and 23%, respectively."
Good grief! And, that's not all. Not only are we getting these annoying emails, but the other types of spam use"zombie botnets," which is a consumer’s unknowing home computer that has been infected, to send the spam.
No wonder e-mail marketing still has such a bad name. It's not right. Here's the deal: When you use e-mail effectively, this is one of the best and cost-efficient channels available in our multi-channel toolboxes. E-mail marketing can be used to supplement direct mail or telemarketing campaigns or it can be used on its own. Either way, we've seen this channel respond beautifully when deployed correctly.
So, as direct marketers how do we compete against the 95% of messages that are Spam? We think that there are definitely some best practices to follow when considering an e-mail marketing campaign:
- Templates: As you design your creative, the use of templates is key. This creates familiarity and emphasizes your colors and branding. You need to keep your messages fresh, however.
- Personalization: This is a proven best practice. Using personalization can increase response rates 4-6%. People tend to read the message when it looks as though it was created specifically for them.
- Drive traffic to your website: By utilizing your website, the customer can learn more about your offerings. However, ensure that they end up on a landing page that is relevant to the message.
- Unsubscribe button: Follow the tenets of CAN SPAM to allow those who do not wish to hear from you to unsubscribe easily. This is not only important -- it's the law.
And, as the holidays approach, start planning your elevator speech for your family. It'll make it much easier to deal with post-holiday-dinner decongestion.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
It's official. Sprint definitely has customer service issues. Remember the brouhaha in July when Sprint publicly 'fired' some of its high-maintenance customers? Well, we find Sprint in the news again trying to stem their higher-than-industry-average churn rate.
From CRM Buyer: Sprint to Bandage Bleeding Customer Lists by Adding Service Reps
"Sprint Nextel's churn rate -- the rate of customers who jump ship and sign on to rival networks -- has shrunk over the last quarter, but it's still nearly twice as bad as Verizon's. It's a problem that contributed to the recent ouster of CEO Gary Forsee. To cut churn and keep more customers onboard, Sprint plans to hire 150 additional customer service reps."
It will be interesting to see if throwing more bodies at the problem will be effective. While it certainly won't hurt to cut the hold time when customers call into customer service, I'm hoping that Sprint Nextel is looking at their retention issue more holistically.
Are they asking themselves key questions such as:
- What are my competitors (namely Verizon Wireless whose churn rate is 1/2 that of Sprints') doing that I'm not?
- Is it our network?
- How do price-plans compare?
- What about our phones--are they as 'cool', or innovative as our competition?
- How did the negative press generated from the recent customer firing incident impact churn?
Gosh, I bet the folks from the old Nextel who survived that merger are wondering what happened to the good old days when their churn rate was significantly lower than the industry and their Average Revenue per Unit (ARPU) was significantly higher. Perhaps the best question Sprint should be asking is: How do we get back to THOSE 'glory' days?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I promise, this is the LAST post with DMA conference news. You won't hear about the annual direct marketing conference from us until next year.
The Direct Marketing Association this week announced their marketer of the year. Yep, it's Microsoft.
DMA Names Microsoft-MSN 2007 Marketer of the Year
The main reason for MSN's win--their work on the Live Earth concert event (which we also blogged about in July). From the article:
"What made Live Earth so special on July 7, 2007, wasn’t just that MSN provided great content to consumers in a relevant, timely, and informative manner. Live Earth was the largest concert event ever produced — bringing together live music events in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Turkey, the UK, and the US. Live Earth was also the most watched live entertainment event in Internet history. But what really sets it apart is that MSN completed its mission of keeping the public engaged on the network by providing avenues for them to act on that information.
Greco pointed out that, in addition to demonstrating marketing leadership, innovation, and responsibility, DMA Marketer of the Year nominees also needed to display a pattern of consistent contribution to the multichannel marketing profession, as well a high level of competence in one or more disciplines, such as product development, research, marketing, management, education, sales, administration, or technological innovation."
Past winners of this award have included more traditional direct mailers such as Columbia House, Readers Digest, LL Bean and Fingerhut. I tend to applaud the DMA for attempting to expand their definition of DM to include interactive and other multi-channel marketing.
Another win of note, announced just yesterday: Draftfcb's win of the Diamond Echo Award (the highest honor for direct response advertising). They won it on behalf of their non-profit work performed for the Eagle Idaho Volunteer Fire Department. The campaign was titled "Have a Ball or Two" and advertised a charity event benefiting the fire department, the Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed. Enough said...
Overall, the DMA was exhausting, fun and productive for RRW. It was great to connect with clients, business associates and meet some new folks. With that said, it sure is good to be home. Believe me, it will take a full year to recover from Chicago and get ready for next years' show, to be held in Las Vegas.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Too much DMA madness! Too many parties, too many free drinks, too many people that you haven't seen for years that you need to catch up with. But, as always, there's a lesson to be learned :)
And, that is--make every dollar count.
So far this conference, we've had the pleasure of attending many parties thrown by the small and the large firms that we do business with. The common themes: generous open bars, nice settings, gracious people trying to facilitate business discussions or thank their customers/partners for business enjoyed throughout the year.
And, then we attended the party to end all parties! Hosted by Direct Group, they threw a shindig I'll never forget! We were greeted outside of the W Hotel lobby by gorgeous hosts and hostesses dressed in full evening get-up. It truly felt like red-carpet treatment. We were handed a martini immediately and personally escorted to the elevator and up to the penthouse ballroom where the party was held.
Once inside, the first person we saw (gasp) was Jerry Rice (you know -- the greatest wide-receiver ever)! He was there to sign autographs, dance a little, and generally be a cool guy to hang with. We had many pictures taken with this Super Bowl stud and we were promised an autographed football to be sent to us along with our photos. We then see the glittery dance floor, filled with silvery-dressed Dancing with the Stars types.
There was an awesome dessert buffet and a great bar. The Direct Group team went out of their way to greet and mingle with guests. Attention was paid to the detail, such as their logo burning in candles in the sand at the beach on the lake across the street from the W.
OK, so why am I gushing about this party. First off--JERRY RICE! No, seriously. This party stood out because they went the extra mile. Not just with expenses--all of those parties cost a pretty penny. It's just the attention to detail that they paid and the focus that was placed on each of the attendees to ensure that they had a fabulous time. All of this causes me to believe that this type of attention is also paid to each of their customer relationships. The perfect message for a DMA party.
Lesson learned: As you are setting your marketing budgets for 2008, keep an eye on how those important dollars are allocated. You can get a bigger bang out of each marketing dollar by focusing on the details of your marketing goals. By paying attention to the details, you will more than likely reach -- if not exceed -- your goals. This will make you look like a Superbowl Hero within your own company!
Kudos to Direct Group for providing us with the wonderful party -- and the valuable lesson!
Also, a shout out to our fellow blogging friend, Ron Shevlin, who invited us to his lovely party at Epsilon, too. Ron is just as witty and intelligent in person as he is on his Marketing ROI blog. Thanks Ron!
Monday, October 15, 2007
Well, we made it here to Chicago. And, yes, it IS kinda windy, but nice weather overall. The town is full of direct marketers here to attend the annual DMA conference.
We started the conference on Sunday night with a night of party-hopping. Our mission was to ask other attendees why they decided to attend the conference--what they were hoping to get out of the show. And while it's still early, here are the initial themes of what we learned:
- What are the newest direct marketing data sources and technologies available to us? As the year comes to a close, many are looking at their budgets for next year and trying to determine the best ways to spend them. Since profitability goals have only increased (no shock there, right?), those dollars need to be spent on what will help increase the ROI of each campaign. Many are looking at ways to increase the efficiency of their marketing databases, as well. This conference will showcase all of the latest and greatest out there-- that's for certain!
- Who can I network with that I can learn from? We ran into a zillion direct marketers who were seeking others in their same position so that they could learn from them. There were some great conversations going on in the parties we attended -- people were sharing what was working -- and what wasn't -- in their businesses. This is a great place to get new ideas to make your business more successful.
- People LOVE the parties! Well, I guess that sort of goes without saying, right?
Friday, October 12, 2007
Recently, we've seen a trend occurring within our client companies. It seems that Direct Marketing staffs are very lean and mean -- and that the few are taking on the jobs of many. Sound familiar?
Well, in a recent study by Bernhart Associates, the reason for this becomes a bit clearer. Since the beginning of 2006, Jerry Bernhart, President of Berhhart Associates Executive Search firm, reports that there has definitely been a slowing trend in jobs for Direct Marketers. Bernhart states, “The numbers are showing little change compared with summer. At the same time, the new hire percentage continues to show a slow and steady decline, which began about a year and a half ago.”
Here are some more stats from the survey, which was recently taken (sent out the week of October 1st), in which 116 companies responded:
- 60 percent of companies responding said they plan to add to staff by the end of the year, down slightly from 61 percent during the summer quarter:
- In April 2006, when the new hire percentage reached its recent peak, the new hire percentage stood at 72 percent.
- The record high for the index occurred in the fall of 2005, when it reached 80 percent.
- 9 percent plan to reduce staff in the coming three months, up from 7 percent during the summer.
- 29 percent expect no change in hiring plans during the coming three months.
- 85 percent of those surveyed said they are having either a “very difficult” time or a “somewhat difficult” time finding qualified applicants for open positions.
- Only 15 percent said they are having little or no difficulty.
For those of us in the consulting business, this situation presents both challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, our clients are totally overwhelmed with the amount of work that they are now responsible for, so it's tougher to get on their already-overbooked schedules. They simply don't have the bandwidth to sit down for a meeting. As a result, things like campaign analysis and reporting are not getting the focus they need and deserve (Hel-loooo -- we need to measure how effective our data is performing, people!). This is really unfortunate because this is the time of year where more focus tends to be spent on analyzing marketing budgets and staffs. So, for us -- while we struggle to steal the time for this, we are adamant about it! (Call us pests . . . we don't care).
At the opportunities-end, we are certainly needed more. As the staff-size decreases and our clients are balancing multiple roles, they need someone to come in who can be flexible, open-minded, and supportive with marketing planning and strategy. The other need is to simply off-load certain responsibilities -- or at least help them manage to their new responsibilities. Of course, we do all of this happily!
From our perspective, this is both the good news and the bad news of these types of economic times. The best news is that top-performing direct marketing professionals are very sought after in this slowing economy. This is good for all of us!
Therefore, this is an excellent time to sit down and focus on measuring and reporting out on your effectiveness. The reason is two-fold: 1) Your Leadership Team is consistently aware of your performance and how you are responsible for increasing corporate profitability, and (2) As planning for the new year is well under way, as a result of your success you may have the opportunity to win a bigger marketing budget and, hopefully, more money in your paycheck!
TGIF!! And we hope to see lots of our Blog-Reading Friends at DMA in Chicago. If you're going to be there, please let us know so that we can meet you there in person!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Today's topic: Data Ownership.
I came across two very different articles about two very different situations today, both from "Technology News".
Article 1: Discussion about ownership of prospect and customer data, especially as it relates to business-to-business sales and direct marketing. From the article titled: Who Really Owns Customer Data: "Ask CRM (customer relationship management) administrators about who owns the data populating their CRM systems, and you will likely get one of two emphatic answers: "my company" or "me." The article goes on to state that in this age where so much company info is available on the Internet, the data really isn't owned anymore by the company (or the database) or even by the sales rep anymore. A thick Rolodex really is no longer considered a competitive advantage.
Article 2: Virgin Mobile and the Case of the Nicked Pix (love that title, by the way!). This one reports on how a Dallas teens' photo posted to Flikr ended up appearing in an Australian ad for Virgin Mobile. The teenager is suing Virgin for the use of her image without her permission, or knowledge.
Two totally different discussions, but at the crux of both is this--data ownership. I think that they bring up a lot of questions that we direct marketers need to carefully consider:
- Does the ultimate ownership of data belong to the individual?
- If we compile and store data, do we figure out a way for individuals and/or businesses to change their information (as credit reporting agencies have to)?
- What about the photo-sharing sites and other similar Web 2.0 services? Who is responsible for monitoring data access and use?
- How do we ensure data privacy (especially for some of the new b2b Web 2.0 services that allow for group collaboration on business projects, all via a web service)?
These types of questions need to be addressed and as we move towards more and more data being readily available to consumers and businesses alike, we need to keep our eyes opened to possibilities of data theft and other 'bad' uses of data.
Interesting times, indeed!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
It's been awhile since we've featured our favorite frog . . . and today, we're glad to bring him back. Today, more than ever, there's increasing evidence that Direct Marketers and Consumers are paying a whole lot more attention to environmental issues. It is impacting how we market, and it's impacting how our customers spend their dollars.
In two recent articles from DM News, increasing awareness of being environmentally conscious is highlighted. In the first article, it is reported that "Cooler, a provider of commerce solutions that address global warming, has launched a new program to help manufacturers and retailers of consumer products and services address the global warming impact of what they sell."
Cooler takes a unique approach wherein it "provides an emissions assessment, a roadmap for emission reductions and high-quality offsets from renewable energy and pollution prevention projects. It also includes a marketing kit to help clients communicate the actions they are taking to address global warming." Then, they went a step further by launching a website where consumers can choose from over 400 internet retailers who support environmentally conscious ways of doing business (i.e., reduce emissions, use renewable energy as part of their business, etc.). As the holiday shopping season approaches, we'll keep our eyes on how Cooler does with this effort.
In a second article, DM News reports that UPS has recently "asserted its commitment to environmentalism by ordering 167 compressed natural gas delivery trucks and 139 new propane delivery trucks. These additions make the delivery service company the largest private alternative fuel fleet owner, with a total fleet of 1,629 vehicles." These are pretty impressive statistics. As one of the leading direct mailers, UPS has definitely set the benchmark for its competitors.
These recent articles point to the fact that consumers and businesses are not only becoming more concerned about the state of our environment, but that this awareness does not look like a passing fad. It will be interesting to see how this evolves over time. When it comes right down to it, we vote with our dollars. As time goes on, we'll see how corporate revenue is impacted by those like Cooler and UPS who are blazing the trail in environmental responsibility in direct marketing. On the flip side, it will also be interesting to see how those who are not changing their strategy to reflect the shifting attitudes of public opinion will fare revenue-wise.
Kermit has always said (or sang) "It's not easy being green." We think that while it may not be easy, it may be imperative to your direct marketing efforts.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
"Direct Magazine" reports on online shoe merchant, Zappos.com's focus on the customer and their unique belief that a fun, eclectic culture will promote and drive great customer service.
From the article: “Co-workers will burst into song and dance at random intervals throughout the day,” writes human resources staffer Christa F. “Upon request, the CFO will groom your hair.”
She adds: “Parades. Why, you may ask? Why not!”
But, it's not all fun and games at Zappos.com. They also have the right attitude about enabling their customer service reps. "Zappos' call center reps are not scripted and have the power to do most anything they want to make sure the customer leaves the call happy.
“There's really nothing a manager can do that the rep himself or herself can't do,” Hsieh (Tony Hseih, CEO) says. “A customer should never have to be transferred for any reason, because the rep can pretty much take care of everything.”
Reps are even encouraged to recommend competitors' Web sites when Zappos doesn't have what shoppers are looking for. The reason: Next time these people are in the market for a new pair of shoes, they'll think of Zappos first."
And guess what, this fun, crazy, empowered environment is delivering success. "The company is on track to do $800 million in sales this year, up from $597 million in 2006. That's a good chunk of the total online footwear market for 2006, which totaled $2.9 billion last year, according to Forrester Research."
In my opinion, there are two key lessons to be gained from this case study:
- Empowerment drives customer service. Let reps do the right thing for the customer and that company's earned a customer for life.
- Make the corporate atmosphere FUN. Happy employees make for a better company, they really do. If someone has fun going to work (and, I personally think that a mid-day parade would be a great thing), they're going to be more productive. Heck, at Zappos, they even work for a lower wage!
Monday, October 8, 2007
I hate to admit if for all of cyberspace to know but . . . I guess we are kind of geeky. And, now, we have reason to be proud of our geekiness!
There have been countless studies on how few companies really have a handle on how their marketing campaigns truly perform. And, in the frenetic pace of life that exists within most companies today, marketers simply move on to the next campaign without fully understanding what occurred in the last one. This is pure craziness . . . and definitely where that geekiness comes into play.
Vtrenz has recently written a whitepaper on this very subject and some of the statistics noted within it are astounding. For example, "38% of marketers say that new marketing campaigns are rushed to market based on the limited intuition of a few people." What??!?!?! The paper goes on to talk about the fact that the very nature of many marketers is that they are more drawn towards the sexy, creative, right-brained part of marketing, rather than the "boring" left-brained analytical part of it. As strange as it may sound, this boring stuff is the very thing we live for! Let's face it, without the power of analytics, how are you ever going to know -- beyond a gut feeling -- how your marketing campaigns are actually performing? You can't know unless you close the loop and measure each campaign's performance.
Vtrenz also tells us that most companies are struggling with measuring the financial impact of marketing campaigns, and, in fact "42% of them say that their company's ability to measure financial returns from marketing programs is a long way from where it could be."
We're not saying that it's easy to put measurement systems into place, however, it really isn't that hard and it doesn't have to be expensive.
Vtrenz cites five first steps of getting this measurement system in place:
- Define marketing ROI and obtain agreement from the Leadership Team
- Create a closed-loop process through your marketing systems
- Draft marketing ROI plan and include sales in the thought process
- Monitor implementation for areas of improvement
- Incorporate ROI findings into the planning process
It is incumbent upon all of us direct marketers to take a scientific approach to what we do on a daily basis to increase profitability. If you are struggling with putting a measurement system into place, take a look at this whitepaper (you'll have to comment and ask for it from us or look on Vtrenz's website for it). It will give you the insight you need to get started on this process and at least provide an outline that you can share with your Leadership to get them to buy-in. We predict that you'll come out smelling like roses.
Just tell your boss that the geeks from RRW think it's a good idea!
Friday, October 5, 2007
I came across this list of The Top 50 Mailers, as compiled by "Target Marketing."
The top 50 direct mailers were designated by projected mail volume. "Target Marketing" used pretty sophisticated methodology to estimate this, as mail volumes are definitely proprietary info.
I really wasn't too surprised by the list. The heavy hitting direct marketers are all there. Some key findings:
- Financial Services firms account for 14% of the Top 50
- Publishing/Media comprise 38%
- Fundraising consists of 34% of the Top 50
Fundraisers included American Cancer Society, AARP, American Heart Association and UNICEF (among others).
What's also interesting is to think about the types of companies NOT on the list. There was not one high-tech firm (not even Dell). No packaged goods companies (unless Gevalia Kaffe counts). And, surprisingly only one telecom firm made the list (Sprint/Nextel).
It's funny, but I remember when I was a young sales rep (selling consumer data and processing services to large mailers). I used to use lists like this as my prospecting goldmine. If I could sell my stuff to these high-volume mailers, I'd be sure of a good year; I'd make lots of commission.
Now, I look at these types of lists with a different perspective. I wonder how (or if) they are using other channels. How are they managing channel conflict? Are they thinking about social marketing? How are they using interactive? How many trees are they killing with all this mail? Why are their mailing volumes so high--could they cut out some of the volume through more sophisticated targeting and segmentation?
So, today's question--is it a good thing or a bad thing to appear on this list of high-volume direct mailers?
P.S. If you have a hard time finding the download for the list on the link I supplied, just let me know and I'll e-mail you the PDF.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Nonprofit organizations are very savvy and creative about how they spend their marketing dollars. Simply put, they have to be due to the nature of their business. In a recent DM News article, it is reported that these organizations are relying on the internet as another direct marketing channel to get the word out, and embracing social media is an excellent way to do this. When you think about it, nonprofits have a unique ability to touch people's hearts and build a community. And that's what Social Marketing is all about.
As the article reports, YouTube has jumped into the nonprofit space by offering them a free YouTube Channel to spread the word about the good work that they do. “This really validates how critical the Internet has become for all nonprofits,” said Fred Waugh, VP of marketing for nonprofit software provider Convio Inc, Austin, TX."
Waugh adds that "in the past year, his company’s clients have grown their e-mail files by 50 percent. In addition, these organizations are increasingly interested in leveraging Web sites like YouTube and FaceBook to reach out to new constituents, according to Waugh." What an excellent way to reach folks who may want to become involved in your organization -- either by volunteering or donating dollars.
The article explains, "The new program from YouTube, San Bruno, CA, will enable nonprofits to upload footage of their work, public service announcements, calls to action and more on a premium channel that will have enhanced branding features and increased upload capacity. The channel can serve as the nonprofit’s hub for their uploaded videos while also providing a way for people to connect with the organization."Way to go YouTube! Not only does this channel give nonprofits an opportunity to demonstrate what they do (a picture's worth a thousand words, right?), but it really helps to establish the organization's brand and philosophy to a larger audience. According to Barbara Shimaitis, senior vice president of Interactive Services at The Advertising Council, New York,“It's a great distribution channel for non-profits, and at no cost. Users can have alerts sent to them for new PSAs. If you, the user, are passionate about an issue, you can embed the video on your persona pages. Marketers and brands are interacting more and more with the user, this is another example.”
In addition, visitors to the YouTube channel who wish to make donations to the organization can do so via Google Checkout for Non-Profits. "Concurrent with last week’s announcement, Google Inc., Mountain View, CA, which owns YouTube, also announced that it has expanded its online payment method Google Checkout to include nonprofits."
From our perspective, nonprofits should jump on YouTube to extend their reach. Using Social Marketing as yet another tool in their direct marketing toolbox can not only reach those who may not be as likely to respond to traditional DM methods, but it can also illustrate -- via video -- the important work in which the nonprofit organization is engaged. Finally, it builds an organization's community and really helps to establish -- or re-establish -- the brand.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
I am so intrigued when I see true out-of-the-box thinking. When a company (or in this case a band) turns conventional sales and marketing on its ear and decides to go their own way.
This time it comes from Radiohead. From Yahoo News: Pay what you want for new Radiohead.
"On Monday, Radiohead sent shockwaves through the music biz with the announcement that its new album, "In Rainbows," will be released for download from www.radiohead.com on Oct. 10. The price? Whatever you choose. You elect how much to pay, be it one cent, $15 or $100. (A special edition box set with a vinyl version and other items is also available for approximately $81.)"
It's a great concept. And, talk about "Direct" Marketing! Radiohead is thinking of their fans. But, they're also thinking of themselves. Apparently, conventional music sales only garner musicians something like 10%. By going direct, and putting the power to the music buyers, they're almost certain to profit by more than 10%. And, then there's the side benefit of building fan relationships, and collecting customer data for future projects.
And, guess what? It appears that the concept is right on target. This Wired blog post quotes band spokesperson Murray Chalmers: "Although the idea is that you can decide what you want to pay, most people are deciding on a normal retail price with very few trying to buy it for a penny."
I think this is an idea whose time has come. I tip my hat to Radiohead and vow to do my best today to rethink the conventional ways that I do business.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
This is the time of the year when we all start looking at our revenue performance and begin to set our strategy for 2008. Over the past several months, we've reported some wonderful results for the direct marketing industry on this blog. We've reported how data sales are increasing, direct mail numbers are up, higher results from using e-mail marketing, and so forth. While we've been talking about the strength of our industry, the US Economy has been going through some definite shifts. With the flailing about of the mortgage market and the tightening of credit, some economic analysts consider this the start of a recession, while others state that we are firmly ensconced in one already. Whatever you believe to be the actual case, this bears some looking into as we plan for next year . . . or the next few years.
In the midst of all of this, DM News has reported that Silver Lake and Value Act's acquisition bid of data compiler and database giant, Acxiom, has fallen through. According to Bruce Biegel of Winterberry Group, “This deal was announced back in May, with Silver Lake jumping in with ValueAct Capital, but the credit markets have changed since then. Consider this pricing issue with the fact that Acxiom has a substandard quarter and the risk of a second one doesn’t create a comfort level for investors.”
The article goes on to state that Biegel does remains confident in the potential for growth in the data sector. However, he points out what we already know (at least those of us who have clients within the financial services sector) -- "that the bad credit market is not helpful to Acxiom, many of whose clients are credit card companies and financial services firms suffering from the current economic slump and subprime issues. In addition, he acknowledged challenges to the postal increase earlier this year and the expected increase next year."
However, as you'd expect, Acxiom's retiring CEO, Charles Morgan, remains confident about the strength of his company, and promises to work harder than ever to show value to Acxiom's various stakeholders.
What all of this proves to us is that during the peaks and valleys of our economy, the playing field is strangely leveled. It doesn't matter what size firm you are . . . it seems that everyone is impacted in some way or another.
The other takeaway from this experience is that though you are working hard in the present to assist your clients, you must do so with an eye towards the future. If you can effectively diversify your client base or product offering, you simply have more staying power as the economic factors shift.
Obviously, Acxiom is going to be A-OK -- and then some. They are a giant in the industry and it sounds like they are already planning their next critical steps. As Morgan puts it, “Acxiom has been an industry leader for over three decades. We will continue to execute on our long-term strategy to remain the market leader in database marketing, services and data products.” And, the beauty of the economy is that it tends to be cyclical. Those of us who have been around for awhile remember when this sort of economic pullback happened in the 90s . . . and the 80s . . . and so on.
So, as 2007 enters its final quarter, we advise you to start planning exciting new things for 2008. One of the best places to start your planning is to take a hard look at your overall marketing strategy. We've written some Holiday Tips that may help to spark some good ideas as you begin this planning process. They were written at the end of last year but now is the time to take them out, dust them off, and re-look at them to get some ideas flowing for your 2008 Marketing Strategy. After all, the Annual DMA Conference is right around the corner. By putting these plans into place now, you'll be armed with some great ideas so that you can do some solid research at the conference and come home with your 2008 strategy well on it's way to being completed.
You'll be so far ahead of the game that you'll look like a hero to your CMO. It's like having all of your Holiday Shopping done by the day after Thanksgiving! That's always a great feeling!
Monday, October 1, 2007
I think all marketers have had a similar experience: You're meeting with a client/superior/colleague discussing an upcoming campaign. Your client is absolutely sure that one offer/creative will outperform another. You, on the other hand, just KNOW that the alternative offer/creative is the winning package. You argue about the benefits of one over the other. Voices are raised; you're passionate; YOUR idea is the best. What happens at the end? Typically, the debater with the most clout (i.e.: the client or the boss) wins. Their idea ends up getting implemented...
What's the better resolution to this dilemma (and the answer that direct marketers are typically first to suggest)? It's simple--test both concepts and let results decide the winning idea. Unfortunately, however, rigorous testing just isn't done often enough.
This article from Advertising Age, Randomized Testing Is Fast and Cheap, but Few Seem Interested made me think about testing in a new way.
It's all about real-time testing and the author cites an insightful case study of how an author let clicks from a Google ad determine the title of his soon-to-be-published book. The author was certain that he had the right title. His editor was certain that another title would be more interesting. Well, the editor was right, based on responses to the Google ad.
The article cites other testing examples and also discusses how the Internet has enabled real-time testing.
It may be time to evaluate your testing strategy. RRW has written a white paper on this subject. If you'd like a copy of that white paper, just comment on this blog and we'll send it your way. We've also discussed testing on this blog a couple of months ago. Testing is always a good idea.