Building and Leveraging Customer Insights in a Digital Age
How can you keep up with the needs of your customers when their preferences can change in the blink of an eye—or the flash of a screen? The key lies in maintaining cutting-edge data.
It’s no secret that shoppers in today’s digital world have many options when making buying decisions, and that a well-timed and appropriately targeted message can make all the difference in gaining new
customers and keeping them. However, simply sending them welcome notes and standardized solicitations at regular intervals is not enough anymore; each customer requires different communications through different channels at different times.
Building customer intelligence is the key to developing deeper, more profitable relationships with your buyers, and it all begins with the right data.
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
The digital world presents businesses and customers alike with new choices and options every day. Tools like Google AdWords help marketers target customers with ads based on the websites they’ve visited, and shoppers can easily conduct comparisons of products and prices online.
Thankfully, tracking customer behavior is easier than ever, with the availability of details like:
- How customers find you
- What information they seek from you
- How long they spend on your site before making a purchase
- Whether they purchase items for others
- How often they log in, and what they do when they log in
- Whether they open your emails and if they click through
Furthermore, this information can be combined with other data – such as when customers come into a specific store or call a business – to get a more complete behavioral picture.
- Does a customer regularly buy one product online, but prefer to come into the store for other products?
- How do you use that information to tailor that customer’s experience?
- If a customer has decreased their engagement with your business, can you proactively offer them a new product or solution before they turn elsewhere to fulfill their needs?
Tracking your customers’ behaviors will enable you to consistently answer questions like these, and determine when, why, and how to contact each individual buyer — and better show that you understand their ever-changing needs.
In addition to basic behavioral data, businesses can also leverage descriptive customer data. Information from trusted third-party data providers such as InfoUSA and Experian can provide an overview of characteristics such as age, income range, ethnicity, occupation, and shopping preferences, for example. But such data must be used wisely: It’s important not to cross the line between “relevant” and “relentless.” For instance, don’t harass frequent and satisfied customers with new-product suggestions daily.
COLLECT AND USE DATA RIGHT FROM THE START
In order to keep customer “churn” to manageable levels and hold down acquisition costs, companies should begin a nurturing and relationship-deepening program right from the start with a communications-based “onboarding” program for new customers.
Starting the relationship off on the right foot with targeted communications that demonstrate you understand – and care – about your customer’s individual needs is critical. Whatever the medium, whether online or in person, reflecting back to customers that you’ve understood what they’ve told you about themselves and their needs is the key to engaging them in an ongoing, one-to-one dialogue that earns long-term loyalty and creates value.
THREE STEPS TO LEVERAGING USABLE CUSTOMER DATA
How can you get started right away and begin leveraging data assets to build customer insights you can use? Break the process down into three steps:
1. Make sure you are aware of (and keep track of) all available customer behavioral and descriptive data. If you
use Google to deliver online ads, that’s a great place to start; if you are communicating with your customers through email, your email service provider can supply data on bounce, open, and click-through rates, and other critical response information.
2. Begin using that data to generate insights. Which customers are buying what products and services? Which are more responsive to emails, which to online ads? Are certain customers responsible for a larger share of sales and profits than other customers?
3. Use those insights to drive customer-centric actions. Implement an onboarding program to target new customers with relevant information that will cement your relationship for years to come. Offer your best customers your best deals; create different email messages for different segments depending on their buying behaviors and descriptive characteristics.
These are all ways to create deeper, more mutually valuable customer relationships based on data-driven insights. What matters most is simply getting started, and keeping your eye on the most important asset your business has – your customer.
Tony Coretto is the co-founder and co-CEO of PNT Marketing Services, Inc., an award-winning database marketing consultancy and four-time member of the Inc5000 list of the fastest-growing companies in America. For more information on Tony and PNT, visit the company website at www.pntmarketingservices.com. Reach him
28th Annual ‘Silver Apples’ Recognizes Industry’s Best
As everyone on Broadway knows, in New York, the show must go on! Hurricane Sandy may have forced the move of the 2012 Silver Apple Gala to the evening of January 24, 2013, but the show went on—as a sell-out.
The stage lights were shining bright and warm inside the Edison Ballroom, where a packed house of more than 250 extended their congratulations to this year’s Silver Apple recipients – Scott Fenwick, Jim Fosina, Don Hinman, Harvey Markovitz, Pegg Nadler, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, as well as corporate Silver Apple recipient McVicker & Higginbotham, and Golden Apple honoree Leon Henry.
The Silver Apples honor practitioners in our field – individuals and a corporate contributor who have given 25 years to the betterment of measurable, accountable direct and interactive marketing, all the while showing leadership, vision, passion and commitment. The Special Golden Apple recognizes a half century of service. As Direct Marketing Club of New York president Cyndi Lee stated, “These are inspirational leaders who motivate others to embrace great marketing ideas and lead their teams toward success.”
Since the first Silver Apples were named in 1985, approximately 225 Silver Apple honors have been bestowed by DMCNY.
It’s perhaps this very inspiration that also gave the festive evening a somber undertone, in that a longtime leader in our field – the Silver Apple and Golden Apple recipient Lee Epstein – passed away just one day before the gala. James Prendergast, in the evening’s invocation, dedicated the evening to Lee, and quoted Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
“Lee was an ambassador, an educator and a friend – a gentle giant whose door was never closed,” Prendergast said. Throughout the evening, several recipients invoked a personal and professional testament to Lee, crediting his mentorship and contributions to our marketing discipline, and to his friendship and philanthropy. [The Epstein family has established The Lee and Rose Lansman Epstein Scholarship at The City College Fund, 160 Convent Avenue, Shepard Hall, Room 166, New York, NY 10031; www.citycollegefund.org/donate.]
The event being held at the Great White Way, it was also fitting that Co-MCs Joseph Furgiuele (a past honoree) and Pamela Haas kicked the award-giving off with their own Frank Sinatra-like renditions of My Way and New York, New York – with lyrics politely rewritten to toast the Silver Apples.
The party was on! Ralph Stevens, a Golden Apple recipient himself in 2011, took the podium to present Leon Henry a Golden Apple for his more than 50 years of service. In his acceptance remarks, Leon noted that when he began in package inserts, there were hardly any competitors. Today, there are more than 2,000 insert distributors, Leon said. Talk about innovating your way into a niche, and helping to give birth to an entire marketing channel. Leon also had received a Silver Apple in 1992, and his firm Leon Henry Inc., where he is chairman, received the corporate honor in 2006.
And speaking of entrepreneurs, Pam presented the evening’s first Silver Apple to Jim Fosina, founder and chief executive officer of Fosina Marketing Group. Jim acknowledged Lee Epstein as an “icon and innovator” but also thanked Leon Henry, Arthur Blumenfield and – from Jim’s days at Grolier Enterprises – Dante Cirilli, whom he singled out for showing him how to pick a winning team. “I love accountability. I love the way we stay ahead of the wave of consumer purchase behavior,” said Jim, who also credited his family. “My parents taught me to change my way of believing and doing from ‘I think I can’ to ‘I know I can… and I will’.”
Martha Rogers, Ph.D., accepted the Silver Apple on behalf of herself and Don Peppers, founding partners of Peppers & Rogers Group, and authors of nine books that have sold more than 1 million copies. What people may not know is that their 20+-year collaboration began with a 90-second conversation, and that Don had been educated as an aeronautical engineer. Martha also noted the date they first met – January 21, 1990, or “one-two-one” 1990. [Yes, that was Dick Cavett in the room – he is Martha’s husband.]
Silver Apples honoree Pegg Nadler, president, Pegg Nadler Associates, Inc., did her best to blame everyone else for her being named a recipient this year: her husband, Michael; the past presidents of the DMCNY (who name the Silver Apples recipients each and every year, led by Reggie Brady); past employers Abrams Books, Hadassah, and Metromail among others; the Direct Marketing Association (full-time work at volunteer pay); and past recipients Reggie Brady and Ruth Stevens. Yet the biggest cheer came when the self-proclaimed “database princess” credited the “database queen” Bernice Grossman as her chief source for learning. For the Silver Apple honor, Pegg says she now forgives them all.
It would take a column twice this long for the list of thank you’s from Professor Harvey Markovitz, clinical associate professor of marketing, Pace University, who noted his professional years at JC Penney, Columbia House and Broadcast Marketing Corp. He thanked most fervently Lee Epstein and William Denhard for their support in helping to launch the Interactive & Direct Marketing Lab, a student-run integrated marketing agency, first at Baruch College and later at Pace. Harvey’s students over the years have garnered more than 100 Collegiate ECHO Awards from the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation.
Honoree Donald Hinman, Ph.D., senior vice president, data strategy, Epsilon Targeting – widely known in our business as “Dr. Data” – was “Big Data before there was Big Data,” noted Joe Furgiuele, Don having worked at Allant Professional Services, Acxiom Corporation, National Demographics & Lifestyles, Inc., as well as the Arbitron Ratings Corporation. “I’m a numbers guy,” Don said, “I’ve been to every DMA Annual for the past 29 years, and of the 225 Silver Apples recipients, I know 75 of them.” Don also credited Tim Prunk, Phillip Dresden (a Silver Apple honoree from 2000), and former Chief Marketer columnist Richard Levey (now editorial director at Aimia), all of whom were present for the occasion.
Scott Fenwick, vice president – sales training and development, ValueClick Media, served as MC at the 2011 Silver Apples, and this year it was his turn to receive the honor. His expertise in presenting, negotiating, networking and closing the deal were on display as he shared a coaching technique from another past honoree Andrea Nierenberg: “Everyone, stand up and reach above your heads with both hands as high as you can.” Then he asked everyone, “Now, reach two inches higher.” Scott thanked Lee Epstein for leading him to B’nai B’rith and for Scott’s subsequent involvement with DMCNY, the Direct Marketing Association of Long Island, the Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association and as an adjunct professor at New York University. Scott also noted that it was his mother who introduced him to direct marketing – she was a catalog mail order director!
The loudest cheering section of the evening came from employees and associates of the corporate honoree, McVicker & Higginbotham, the direct-response services agency behind some of New York City’s most important non-profit institutions: the American Museum of Natural History, Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Metropolitan Opera and North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital, among others. Perhaps that’s because Tim Kennon leads the McVicker team as the “cheerleader” who said of his staff: “THEY MAKE ME LOOK SO GOOD!!”
Among the past Silver Apple honorees at the gala were Stu Boysen, Kathy Duggans-Joseph, JoAnne Manfredi Dunn, Jonah Gitlitz, Richard Goldsmith, Joseph Gomez, Henry “Hank” Hoke, Karen Isenberg (who served as the Silver Apples Gala co-chair this year with Sharon Mahoney), Marjorie Kalter, Liz Kislik, John Papalia, Brian Wolfe, Jerry Messer, Walter Neff, Chris Paradysz, Adrea Rubin, Ron Sichler and John Von Achen. Past honorees who had passed away this past year include Lee Epstein, Elliot Abrams, Arline Feigen, Neil Keating, Jon Lambert and Milt Pierce.
For full biographies of the 2012 Silver Apple honorees, visit the DMCNY Web site: http://www.dmcny.org/2012silverapple-bios.
Turn Your “Follower” Relationships into Business and Profit
Branding and dialogue are excellent first steps – but they don’t pay the rent.
To me, customer acquisition is getting somebody to buy from you for the very first time. Customer retention is getting a person who was bought from you at least one time to buy from you again.
Branding is getting your product or service to be a part of the decision set when members of your targeted market segment want to purchase the product or service you sell.
Today, with an emphasis placed on gaining social media "followers," or being "liked," or in some other way engaging with your online suspects, prospects and customers, we need to understand that these efforts cost money and must be measured in terms of revenue and renewability.
Consider the amount of thought and effort put into understanding how you can improve your results from a direct mail campaign by just one or two tenths of a percent. You test offers, formats, headlines, and so many others variables in a structured fashion where you can measure and attribute results to tested variables. Consider how you test different mailing lists, and segments of lists to maximize your results.
It is important to put the same effort and pay attention to the same details when engaging with your followers and other "fan-based" constituents.
Closed mouths don’t get fed
Many businesses today are handling their "followers" with kid gloves. They seem to be hesitant to use time-tested techniques to commercialize relationships.
It is important to recognize that your "followers" chose to initiate a relationship with your business. So you can consider them real prospects, and many of them may already be your customers. You have the opportunity to grow your relationship with them.
Ask for the order
A good place to begin is by segmenting your "followers." First, find your customers by matching transactional data. For everyone you can’t identify, ask them how they perceive of their relationship. You can do this directly with a poll, or a survey, or using more subtle tactics.
Some marketers will express concern about alienating people in the delicate world of social media. To me, the reality is people will either want to solidify their relationship with you or they won’t. History dictates some of these people will never buy from you. The ones who truly have an interest in your company, products and services will respond to your efforts. This will empower you with knowledge you can use.
Now you should be on familiar ground. Now that your “followers” are organized by segment, develop strategies for each segment and work your magic.
Cultivating your “followers” has significant advantages
Your cost to develop new customers from these prospects will be lower than a traditional acquisition effort since the names are essentially free, and there is already some basic bonding between you and them, which bodes well for anticipated response rates.
For retention, or getting your “following” current customers to buy again, social media represents another touch point where you can make an offer, with the added advantage of enhance customer insight from your interactive dialogue. This makes me wonder: Should we create a new model called XRFM, where a person’s “expressed interest” might prove more predictive than RFM alone?
Once you recognize the value of commercializing relationships with your “followers;” once you realize that a good number of them will be responsive to your efforts; and once you accept the fact that many “followers” are going to never become customers; then you will be able to test the value of marketing to the “follower” segments and calculate whether your branding efforts to attract and engage “followers” are significant to your business.
Myron Gould is a Professor of Marketing and Management at New York University, and consults on business planning and strategy development. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @nyuprof or @bplanwritercom.
Thinking Outside the Box with Content Marketing
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool direct marketer, so this is going to sound like heresy. I propose to champion an indirect method of marketing and selling, namely content marketing. You’re probably thinking, “What, no call to action?” or “Where’s the ROI for indirect marketing?”
But let’s take a close look at content marketing. To an email marketer, content marketing actually makes a lot of sense. In fact, compelling and engaging content and content-based offers are methods that are very effective in convincing your audience to act.
So, what is content marketing?
Content marketing is the technique of creating, curating and distributing relevant and valuable information to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and well-understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
If I haven’t grabbed you yet, notice that the definition is all about targeted marketing to drive profitable actions. That’s not so far afield of direct marketing!
I’ll address content creation in a moment, but let me first explain content curation. This aspect of content marketing allows a company to cull ideas available from a myriad of sources, decide on the most important resources, and package the information with the company’s point of view in mind. As an example, if I wanted to position my company as an expert in direct marketing, I’d research credible sources, select authoritative information and then put my own spin on why direct marketing is valuable. I would also be careful to credit my sources.
Why should you care about content marketing?
Content marketing allows you to reach your target audiences in new and different ways, among them:
• Content marketing helps you attract additional audiences, by building trust and credibility. Lots of people don’t want to be hit over the head with a heavy hammer these days. Traditional marketing communications may not work with this kind of prospect.
• You’ll drive more traffic to your website. Search engines are increasingly tweaking their algorithms to give sites credit for credible content.
• Content marketing addresses your sales funnel in engaging ways, by providing the right message to the right people at the right time.
How to become an effective content marketer
Every company has content. You probably have as blog posts, videos, presentations, photos, webinars, marketing collateral, press releases, industry articles and white papers already in hand.
Here are the top ten content marketing vehicles. I’ll bet you are already using at least half of these already. Consider testing even more.
1. Social media—a great way to get your content shared and to get your audience engaged.
2. E-newsletters—a perfect vehicle to build and deepen relationships with those who want to hear from you.
3. Articles on your website. Well-written articles let you address issues, trends and topics of interest to targeted audiences.
4. Press releases and clips. Today, your audience of influencers is no longer just journalists. You need to be cultivating anyone online who accesses search engines, RSS feeds or social media for information on a topic of interest.
5. Blog posts. A blog offers an easy way to present short chunks of frequently refreshed web content.
6. Videos. Video is hot! Possibly the most powerful vehicle for engaging customers and prospects.
7. Print magazines and catalogs. Direct marketers have been in the business of providing content for years.
8. Infographics—which present complex information quickly and clearly. A perfect opportunity for content curation.
9. White papers. Used primarily by B-to-B marketers, white papers deliver thought leadership on a topic of interest. They can also present research, provide product usage tips, or highlight a particular product or service.
10. Webinars, webcasts and podcasts—which give marketers the opportunity to capture attention and present products and services. When archived, their influence grows with time.
I am going to assume you do have content already available in your company. Now it’s time to re-purpose or re-package your content for a minimum of three marketing channels. Content marketing is about leveraging information so that your audience may find you on social media, on your site, from search engines or via links from external sites. So take up the challenge. This stuff is really direct marketing!
A Case for Analog in a Digital World
True, the world has gone digital. But that doesn’t mean customers no longer want to hold a catalog in their hands! Here’s another compelling argument for integration; specifically, keeping print, and tried-and-true DM techniques, a part of your marketing mix.
I believe that most direct marketers will find the following to be a reasonable modern definition of our profession: Direct marketing is “the monetization of data in a privacy- compliant manner.” My argument for the continued use of analog direct marketing techniques follows from this premise. (It’s still the data, stupid!)
I grew up in an analog world. I remember shared telephone “party lines” and black-and-white TV. As a direct marketer, I remember an era before PCs, when a mail order was really an order placed though the mail.
Today, most of the articles in print and online are about the importance of having a “social media strategy.” That is the world of direct marketing in the 2nd decade of the 21st century.
But I will argue that direct marketers who ignore print and the tried-and-true techniques like recency, frequency, monetary (RFM) analyses are leaving money on the table. Consumers who buy direct have shifted how they buy (more online and less by phone or mail), but not what they buy. And they still want to have a trusted relationship with companies and buy products and services that are relevant to their own unique lives.
Print and RFM still work
Direct marketing has always been about monetizing data by targeting customer preferences. RFM still works – digitally and in print. Case in point: I mailed a small catalog, with an equally small circulation (30,000) this past fall. The response rate was off the charts. And the results were as predicted by our RFM analysis: The most dollars came in from the most recent buyers, followed by the multi-buyers and finally customers with the largest prior purchases. The catalog, with fully loaded costs, generated a
handsome profit. True, more customers ordered online than in the prior year, but I am certain that, without ensuring those customers had a catalog in-hand, the total profit would have been less.
Why? The slim-jim sized book, with a compelling cover, got the attention of a ready buyer increasingly deluged with online offers. The catalog stood out from the crowd as something concrete the customer could hold in his or her hand.
For that reason, I am of the opinion that adding mail offers to your marketing mix can actually get your products or services more attention these days.
Should you add print to your mix? Test it and see.
Should every direct marketer be in print today? Probably not; however, I would argue that most should – and you will never know whether you should mail until you simply test it.
And that doesn’t have to cost you too much. Printers are creating more ways to make ink-on-paper competitive with other ways to reach customers. Co-mailing alone has made it possible to put more catalogs in the mail profitably.
Finally, here’s a strong argument for testing a print run: Even Amazon and Google – who are no-doubt the most successful of the pure-play digital marketers – are testing print.
Multi-channel becomes omnichannel
The most successful direct marketers understand that you must meet your current and prospective customers where they are. And there are customers who still prefer to view products and services in print, even if their preferred ordering vehicle is online. There are buyers who would prefer to speak with a live, knowledgeable customer service representative before placing an order, and finally, there are still people who will send in a mail order. We must not ignore these individual preferences!
I am a big champion of social media, and agree that direct marketers who ignore that important vehicle do so at their peril. However, I’m also convinced that ignoring traditional direct marketing practices will result in lost profits.
Consider expanding your multichannel marketing to embrace some tried-and-true direct mail practices. The results could surprise you – in a very good way.
Bob Allen is President/CEO of the WindhamFoundation (www.windham-foundation.org),based in Grafton, Vermont. The foundation has two operating businesses: The Grafton Inn and The Grafton Village Cheese Company. Bob retired in 2005 after 25 years at The Vermont Country Store. In 2010, he served as Interim CEO of the Direct Marketing Association in New York. Reach him at email@example.com.