From trend watching to new thinking

It’s safe to says that changes in the economy, technology, business demands and customer needs during the past two years have created a new world for direct marketers.

Traditional trend watching relies on historical context, current events and new, relevant patterns of behavior. But trend watching in today’s ever-changing world has less real impact on today’s businesses.

Instead, we need more significant ways to effect change — new thinking. The concept of new thinking is not just the trend to be watched or monitored — it shapes our reality and can guide us as marketers to better ways to compete and be successful.

Let’s explore five areas of new thinking as they relate to direct marketing and circulation planning. These concepts outline ways savvy merchants may be plying their trade in the future.

  1. MODELING THE FUTURE

    Technology and information have greatly influenced and enhanced the tools available to today’s marketer. The ability to add external information — across a wide array of data sources and data types — changes the way we look at our customers.

    Access to enhanced demographic and psychographic information — in some cases, down to the household level — greatly changes the perspective and understanding of your customers. With this knowledge, you can more effectively develop messaging, offers and use of media channels in more relevant and meaningful ways.

    Applications for the use of this intelligence range from catalog cover testing to multioffer versioning to timing and contact frequency.

    A better understanding of high-value customers allows us to be much more targeted and efficient in our marketing efforts. Why mail to 50,000 customers when you know that 5,000 are your high-value group and deserve more of your attention and resources?

    What’s more, a thorough and detailed understanding of your customers allows you to create actionable profiles or models of who they are, enabling you to identify others like them who are not yet customers. The same level of external demographic and psychographic data makes looking at prospective customers equally valuable, allowing acquisition efforts to be more targeted and efficient.

  2. FULLY HARNESSING THE INQUIRY

    The visual image of the “raised hand” of a potential customer is a powerful one. In this image lies the full value of an inquiry.

    Some put the value of a raised hand at four-times to eight-times the value or importance of a general prospect. New thinking suggests that multiple marketing channels create more opportunities to create and acquire an inquiry.

    It also suggests that the inquiry is just the beginning. It’s the first and most basic connection in what should be a chain of cognitive and physical behaviors.

    Inquiries should now be perceived as unique and individual events. Each one is special and relevant and should be fostered to stimulate interaction or engagement.

    To do this, you must have a keen perspective on the full array of touch-points whereby prospects may be exposed (intentionally or not) to your product, service or brand. Develop a detailed circulation or contact plan with this in mind and include the full range of marketing channels — from catalogs to direct mail to trigger e-mails. As demand for external prospect lists has shrunk and their costs have risen, an ability to take advantage of inquiries (raised hands) has a huge economic benefit. And that’s just from the prospecting or acquisition side of the equation.

    In terms of sales and revenue, the concept of converting multichannel inquiries into multichannel buyers has tremendous value. Logic would tell us that those customers who engage in multiple channels of inquiry are more likely to purchase across multiple channels.

  3. SOCIAL MARKETING: FROM “HIP” TO “HAPPENING”

    Social media and the marketing potential that comes with it have been the rage and buzz in recent years. What has changed in this short time span is the ability for marketers to truly leverage this phenomenon in ways that make sense.

    It starts with an ability to monitor, identify and measure social commentary regarding a specific product, service, company or even merchandise category. This capability lets you see what is going on out there, giving you both quantitative and qualitative findings that you can then act on.

    In addition, marketers have an increased ability to use social forums to proactively “push” messaging to social media. The most basic and most visible example of this is the appearance of FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn icons placed on many catalog pages and e-mails today.

    Beyond this, the convergence of smart phones and other handheld devices, the Internet, plus new smart solutions like bit.ly (which allows marketers to easily shorten, share and track URLs) has given us the ability to guide or stimulate social commentary in ways that engage prospects and push them to a marketing channel. Look for more of this to come.

    A friendly word of caution is in order here. Marketers will be challenged in how to leverage social media without upsetting the unique spirit and intent of this space. So tread cautiously. You don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of your brand or promote an “opt-out” mentality.

  4. BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

    The evolution from analog to digital has a significant and lasting impact on culture and commerce. It has spawned new media, new technology and new ways to engage customers. Mobile devices and the “app” explosion are creating targeted and effective marketing mechanisms.

    For most marketers, digital technologies have dramatically changed the production and printing of direct mail, catalogs and all forms of printed materials. The result has been higher quality materials, faster turnaround times and new opportunities in design, customization, variable messaging and more.

    Another benefit of this digital world is the immense volume of digital data from an abundance of sources. New and more digital points have resulted in a digital information overload.

    New thinking calls for innovative ways and means to allow marketers to track, measure and then optimize the vast array of marketing channels and assorted touch-points and engagement events. Dashboard systems are one way to accomplish this.

    And while these systems have been around for some time, they have historically been reserved for large companies. There are more affordable systems available today that allow varying degrees of customization and built-in analytic capability.

    Access to more data, along with the idea of storing this data over time to create a historical context, is allowing marketers to effectively establish performance benchmarks and standards. This ability transcends digital media-driven data. It touches each and every channel or form of media.

  5. BACK TO BASICS

    There are a few ideas grounded in the concept of getting back to basics. The first is perhaps less about new thinking and more about a historical tenet of direct marketing — good old-fashioned testing.

    It’s always been at the forefront of direct marketing, but economics has caused us to minimize “risk” and decrease overall costs through less or smaller scale testing. This is a reasonable action, but potentially a big mistake.

    The sheer volume of multichannel choices, as well as more precise understanding of customers and new engagement techniques, creates a strong argument for more testing — not less. From copy to offer testing, this “old world” concept has a new-thinking spin that places great value and reward onto a calculated risk.

    New thinking in behavioral economics is suggesting other ways to get back to basics. One is a great need to simplify messages and simplify offers. In some respects this may be contradictory to the idea of a multichannel world. But multichannels also mean more noise and more demands on an already time-starved customer. Simplification forces marketers to be focused just on what needs to be said — in the most direct and relevant way possible.

    New thinking for direct marketing goes beyond trends and incremental steps — and is more about breaking out of the norm. It may feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but it can be greatly rewarding.

Chad Giddings (chadg@jschmid.com) is executive vice president, marketing and planning for consultancy J. Schmid & Associates.

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