Mass Personalization

We see it all the time, yet we don’t always do it. It’s a critical part of building relationships with customers.

I’m talking about personalization. It really makes a difference.

No, not a simple “Dear Marie” at the start of your email. I mean real personalization that creates relevance. Relevance that leads to great things — engagement, relationships, sales, upsells, etc. Some studies in retail show that as many as 77 percent of consumers report they have made additional purchases when they encountered personalized product recommendations. And there’s no arguing that a significant percentage of customers now expect to be communicated with on a personal and targeted basis, with personalized messaging based on what they’ve done, bought or told you they want.

A significant percentage of consumers not only welcome but expect…personalized experiences and product recommendations.”

Plus, we all know it’s easier and less expensive to reactivate a current customer than to acquire new ones. So why wouldn’t you leverage what you know about your customers to differentiate what you say to them? Each one of them.

To reinvigorate your email campaigns, start by either adding in a personalization element, or better yet supercharging the personalization you already use.

  • 1. Take a look at your data. What do you know about your customers, and how can you organize it to help customize your messaging to them?
  • 2. Reformat your templates to allow for simple personalization like first names in an introduction and meaningful mentions throughout the email. Make it sound genuine and not contrived, however.
  • 3. Begin to add in more relevance-based personalization like purchase history, recommendations and content. Stuff like “since you bought this item last month, you may be interested in this to complement it” or “since you clicked on this article link, you may be interested in this new content too.”

It’s easier than you think. It doesn’t take alot of time. Change your process, organize your data, and put the thought into what makes the most sense from your customer’s perspective. Then charge ahead.

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In Email, Engagement is Key

I want to think that by now, most marketers are advanced in their use of email. We all test incessantly, make everything personalized and relevant, and leverage customer data to drive strategy and messaging.

Sometimes, it gets busy though. Other problems and needs take the forefront. Your email languishes. Next thing you know, a big chuck of your email list is inactive and your metrics are lower than opinion polls on the TSA.

So I’ll get right to the point — it’s critical to segment your list and message inactive customers differently from active ones. Many times, you likely segment and message based on other things like job title, location, etc. However, engagement is arguably the most powerful metric to leverage since it signifies activity, recency, endorsement and interest. Or, as it will, non-interest. There are certainly different ways to define “engaged” today — for now, start simple and define it as someone who interacts with your email (opens, clicks).

If you’re not currently segmenting your emails using this approach, stop you’re marketing machine right now and re-do it all over again. Build in the time and capacity to do the following three things:

1. Accurately define what “unengaged” means in a way that lets you meaningfully frame and solve a problem. For example, it may mean someone who didn’t spend a dime with you in 2010, or it may mean someone who didn’t open or click on one of your emails in the last 6 months.

2. Accurately define what “reengaged” means. It has to mean something achievable and realistic. For example, if a user didn’t spend a dime with you in 2010 it may be a challenge to get him/her to spend $1,000 in 2011. You may need to define an easy entry point(s) and/or multiple levels of reactivation. For someone who hasn’t shown any level of email activity, a simple first step may be to get them to open and/or click on one of your emails again.

3. Look at what you know about each customer and leverage it to create relevance. You can customize messaging based on whatever you know: purchase history, location, profession, click behavior, age. Anything you know about them. Look at what theyve done, and suggest something that has relevance as a benchmark for reengagement. For example, one approach I used in my current role was saying stuff like “We noticed you’re a primary care physician and we havent heard from you in a while, did you know we just released a new webcast that’s really relevant to challenges in primary care? Check it out.”

I guarantee that if you start to segment by level of engagement, and then leverage customer behavior to personalize and customize messaging, your campaigns in 2011 will markedly improve.

The New Four P’s of Marketing — Part 4

So far, we’ve looked closely at Proof, Presence and Persuasion to identify why they now make up the first three parts of the New Four P’s of Marketing.

Now let’s look at the final piece of the puzzle. The final P is actually an old-school holdover from the original Four P’s: Price.

  • Price — Of course, Price is always a factor in customer decisions. If there’s no price and something is free, that’s a huge motivator, of course. If something is not free but provides good value, that’s great. Yet even if something is expensive or priced at a premium, customers will jump to get it if the perceived value is high enough or the experience is unique or the brand represents something important to customers — like prestige or value or quality. Why else do people go into five figure debt to buy certain cars, or kids save money to buy brand name jeans and sneakers?

    Because Price is always a factor in customer decisions at some level, it has to remain in the Four P’s. And your first three P’s MUST justify your Price. Why else would you bother going through all the effort and time required to establish Proof, Presence and Persuasion? When customers buy into those three things, it justifies what they have to spend on Price. When they don’t buy into your Proof or you don’t persuade them effectively, you’re going to have a problem getting them to pay your Price.

    And that’s why Price is the fourth P. It’s what you say, do and stand for that set up your Price. That create the demand for what you offer.

    Yet it’s still an aspect to work with also. Customers can buy into what you stand for yet still not be willing or able to pay your Price. So you need to be able to construct different offers and target different customers with different value propositions in order to influence individual buying decisions.

    Price is a timeless, traditional and important member of the Four P’s, yet always has contemporary meaning and relevance. That will never change.

  • Hope you enjoyed the series of posts on the New Four P’s of Marketing. Charge ahead with these new paradigms in mind.

Don’t Overlook Legal Issues

The field of marketing evolves so fast now. If you can’t process information quickly, you might as well look for another occupation.

As you take a good, long look at blogs, talk to customers, read articles and do the key things you need to do over the next 7 days and beyond, keep in mind that legal issues are one thing you shouldn’t overlook. While we do have a number of legal issues we keep abreast of as second nature — CAN-SPAM, privacy, contest laws, etc. — new issues always pop up and have immediate implications.

Case in point: check out this article on two important new potential legal issues for marketers. One issue involves marketing to kids under 18 in Maine. It raises alot of questions. Are there kids on your marketing lists, even if your products aren’t targeted to them? Do you need to age-verify your customers? Will other states follow suit? These questions and numerous others merit your time to discuss with your legal team and take steps to rectify any potential pitfalls.

The second issues concerns the deliverability of email to Yahoo inboxes. It raises a valid point about the necessity of certified deliverability services. Above all, this reinforces that you have to stay current with and build your emails based on the current best practices to best position your message to be delivered. Yet it also begs the question will we move towards an email environment where third-party approval is a must to get your message delivered? In some cases it may, and you should be ready to charge ahead and sell up that extra cost to the person who approves your budget.

The Dark Ages Persist

They’re still out there. You know who they are. They’ll all around us.

They’re people who still do it the old way. Still live in the dark ages and do it just because. Still do it because it’s too much work to change.

I ran into some of them today. They called me, on my personal iPhone no less. How they got the number I DO NOT know, and they would not tell me. They work for Fidelity Home Mortgage, some shady mortage company in California. They called me to offer some kind of home mortgage deal — the shady kind, of course (it’s a shady company, what’d you expect?). There were no questions about me or my needs or even if it’s okay if they called, they just launched right into a canned, continuous schpiel. My response to that was to ask how they got my number, in which case they didn’t answer but launched into another schpiel. I told them it was on the Do Not Call list and they should change their practices, and they launched into an apology and took my number and assured me it’d be removed.

Let’s count the offenses:
1. Buying telemarketing lists to cold call with no knowledge of the customer they’re calling, OR harvesting numbers from somewhere — one or the other (or possibly both, who knows, they’re shady)
2. Not buying DNC-scrubbed lists, OR not DNC-scrubbing their own list — one or the other
3. Not asking the customer ANY questions about their needs, just monologue-pushing their own product
4. Not offering customers a product customized for them, just some generic schpiel
5. Not even knowing if the customer wants or needs their product, just pushing their product blindly
6. Not engaging customers with knowledgable brand ambassadors — customers hear from a robotic employee reading relentlessly off of a script (not the kind of thing that endears you to anyone — read about how they explain it on their own website)

Benn through this lately? More importantly, know any marketers that still operate this way? Please tell me it’s not you.

Listen, take a good, long look at the way you work if it sounds like what you just read above. It’s a tough economy, but customers don’t settle for subpar treatment just because it’s tough. And when things get better, do you really think customers are going to go back and settle for what it was like before? Think they’re gonna come back to the same old thing?

Are you engaging customers in a dialogue? Do you target your marketing messages based on customer knowledge? Are you innovating your tactics? Are you a thought-leader in social media? Are you reading about what technology is coming next and preparing now to evolve your tactics in the future? Do you talk to customers regularly, not to sell them something but to learn about what makes them tick or keeps them up at night? Are you leveraging content?

Charge ahead and change your ways wherever the answer is “No” above.

7 Things To Do in the Next 7 Days — Part One

It’s a crazy time to be a marketer.

So much to do, so much to learn, so much to stay on top of. It’s the most dynamic time in the last 15 years. Technology evolves at a breakneck pace even in the down economy. Social media rewrites the way marketers can engage customers and build relationships. Twitter rises to a frantic level of use — and marketers become frantic overnight trying to embrace it. Expected evolution in traditional tactics like direct mail and email still continues (yes, we’ve arrived at the point where email is now a “traditional” tactic). And you have to keep an eye forward to prepare for next-generation advances in targeting and technology.

How can you do it all, AND do your day job?

Ultimately, the answer lies with you. You have to find a way to balance the skills that keep you employed today…

  • Driving sales
  • Achieving goals
  • Raising ROI
  • Motivating employees
  • Building brands

    …with the skills that will keep you employed tomorrow.

  • Utilizing the latest technology
  • Understanding shifting customer needs/wants
  • Building a strong personal brand
  • Evolving your brand positioning with the changing market
  • Driving sales, raising ROI, building brands, and all the rest — in different times, with different rules, and different strategies

    So, in the interest of helping you find that balance, I offer you a few things to do in the next seven days (if you’re not already doing them). Take a good, long look at this list, and find time to dedicate time to each task — not just this week, but for good. You’ll be better prepared to charge ahead with whatever the economy demands of marketers in the coming months.

    1. Find five blogs to read regularly.
    This is the first thing on the list, because it is a complete MUST. There are so many experts out there who write compelling things every day to help you do your job. And they don’t work for publishers, they’re not all journalists — if you read this blog, you know our future is driven by content, not journalism. They’re marketers with decades of proven experience who blog and offer ideas and insights you need to read, understand and apply.

    Seth Godin and Chris Brogan are two I read always. There’s a buzz-generating new book out called Free by Wired‘s Chris Anderson…do you know about it? You would if you read blogs. There are also people with excellent business acumen, who aren’t necessarily marketers by definition, that can help you. Mark Cuban, for example. Look at the blogroll on my homepage for more. Use Google, search in your vertical market for other experts. Ask colleagues. Whatever you need to do. The point is this — set up a My Yahoo or Google Reader page, and find at least five blogs you must read, minimally, at the start of each day. You will be smarter at the end of the week.

    2. Talk to one customer each day.
    Every day, we’re busy. We have copy to write, projects to manage, bosses to assure, and strategies to present. Yet if part of the day doesn’t involve a conversation with a customer, then all that other stuff may end up being inaccurate. How do you know if the copy you write, projects you manage, and strategies you present — all of which are targeted to your customers — will be effective with your customers if you don’t ask them? How do you know what media to use for your message — not just today, but tomorrow — if you don’t ask them? How can have a breakthrough launch or idea that differentiate you from your competitors, if you don’t ask customers what they need?

    More importantly, you can’t build a strong personal brand without a refined way to understand customer needs.

    So get a customer list and call one each day. Young marketers, especially you. Don’t just be an executer — be someone who can offer insightful input based on conversations you have with people in the market. Ask that customer each day what keeps them up at night, what media they use, what budget challenges they face, and what keeps their customers up at night. And use that feedback to guide all your decisions. You will be smarter at the end of the week.

    3. Rethink your email marketing campaign.
    I almost gagged the other day when I heard about someone in my own company who emails every person on his email list every single week. Everyone gets everything. Here’s a better idea — save the time and money, and just opt-out all your customers right now.

    There are two ways you should rethink your email campaign right now: frequency and relevance. More is not better — more relevant, however, is. So take extra time to understand your customers and your list, and craft well-timed messages that are more relevant to what keeps them up at night (which you’ll found out by talking to a customer each day…#2, see above). Some people on your team may push for more, more, more — I say go for quality over quantity. Email inboxes are full right now, in case you’re the one exception to that reality and didn’t realize it. Stop pushing messages just to be pushing — study your metrics and know what works for a particular list, know what customers need and find relevant, send messages around times/dates that are important in the metrics, and focus the message on key needs and/or pain points. Doing it this way, less will get you more.

    Oh, and if you’ve been doing the same thing, try something different. Find balance between consistency in branding and fresh messaging that generates response. If you have a brand email template, try a text-only message that’s on-brand yet delivers the message in a unique way.

    There you have it. Three things to start on right now. See you in three days for the rest of the list.

  • New Study Tells Same Old News

    I love it when a new press release or article comes out for a new study that tells you the same old things you already knew. I mean, nothing wrong with some good spin and PR, who am I to hate on that?

    But c’mon, I don’t need a new IBM study to tell me about the convergence of direct marketing and branding.

    Return-on-investment direct marketing and traditional brand advertising are converging online, according to “Beyond Advertising: Choosing a Strategic Path to the Digital Consumer,” a report released Monday by IBM Global Business Services.

    Hasn’t direct marketing, and every other form of direct-response, always converged with branding? It has for me. Probably you too. Maybe we’ve always just been on the cutting-edge. Don’t you always ensure brand messaging is consistent across channels? Don’t you have a brand style guide to ensure visuals are consistent across all media? Doesn’t customer experience begin at the moment the customer reaches a touchpoint and extend all the way through post-sale?

    So I was thinking “This is old news.” Not even worth a good, long look. Then a little Google search turns up Fox Business coverage that provides more robust perspective and analysis that came from the study (kinda disappointed in the B2B article cited above…focused on that one little snippet that was old news anyway…why?). Now this tells me something interesting:

    According to the study, today’s suppliers (agencies, content networks and distributors) are not ready to meet the demands of the digital consumer and advertiser. Eighty percent of advertising industry participants interviewed for the study expect the industry to be at least five years away from being able to deliver true cross-platform advertising (including sales, delivery, measurement and analysis).

    Surely our advertising and media delivery systems evolve on a damn-near daily basis now. It’s interesting to know that the “suppliers” recognize the shifting demands of both consumers and how to reach them, and are charging ahead with solutions to make brand messaging and measurement truly seamless.

    If success at that endeavor, according to them, is five years away, I wonder how far away it’ll be in five years? It’s not like evolving demands will cease at present day.