What’s Hot in Multichannel Ops: What to Know and What to Do About It

What’s Your Telemarketing Game Plan for Sept. 1?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last year adopted an amended Telemarketer Sales Rule (TSR) citing consumer protection against unwanted marketing communications. As of Dec. 1, 2008, prerecorded sales calls must provide an easy opt-out feature.

More significant, beginning Sept. 1, 2009, automated sales communications can be delivered only to those recipients who have provided their “express written consent” to receive them. Having an existing business relationship will no longer suffice as sufficient approval for organizations to try to sell goods or services via an automated, prerecorded message.

The FTC Telemarketing amendment is a unique opportunity for organizations because it combines both critical and strategic issues: the urgency of a time deadline (i.e. they must obtain permission by Sept. 1) and a strategic opportunity that can affect long-term success by enabling more targeted, effective marketing.

For certain the amended TSR rule is a game changer. Organizations must act quickly to maximize the percentage of consumers that they will be able to cost-effectively market to via automated calls.

Customer communications and brand loyalty

Companies establish a brand impression with their customers – the better and stronger the brand impression, generally the more profitable the relationship for the organization. Customer communications plays a major role in forming that brand impression. Yet how many organizations really know how their customers prefer to be communicated with? And under what circumstances?

For example, if you are running a special sale on an item a given customer might be interested in purchasing – would he or she prefer to find out via an e-mail? Voice message? Text message? Direct mail? Some combination? What if you wanted to make a special offer to members of your loyalty/reward program – how would your customers want to hear about this offer?

Each consumer has his or her own communication preferences. Some want to receive emails, others voice messages, others text messages, and others would prefer to be called on their cell phones.

And many would prefer to receive communications through a combination of channels. You have to ask consumers directly how they want to be communicated with so that you can develop a communication strategy that encompasses their preferences.

Communications are all about getting consumers to act. And here’s the point: if you know in advance what their preferences are, you will be in a much better position to have your communications “breakthrough” and be acted upon. This will mean more market share, more revenue, more profit.

As an organization determines the individual communication preferences of its consumers, it can then secure express written consent from these consumers. As a result, these marketers will be well positioned to deliver relevant information to consumers who have expressed an interest in their products or services.

The opportunity is now

Seize this opportunity and create a formal consumer communication preference and opt-in program. The requirement to gain permission by Sept. 1, creates an urgency to do so. The value of understanding consumer preferences should create a strategic drive to do so.

Here are some questions to consider:

–Do you have contact information for your customers and prospects?
–Is this contact information complete and updated – for mobile phones? E-mails? Landlines?
–How do you keep contact information updated?
–Do you understand your consumers’ communications preferences? Text messages? E-mail? Voice messages? Direct mail? Live agents?
–Do your consumers’ communications preferences vary by the situation? Service reminder vs. special sale offering vs. loyalty program update vs. fraud notification?
–How do you track and update your consumers’ evolving communications preferences?
–Can your entire organization access your consumers’ communications preferences?
–What’s your company’s plan to handle the Sept. 1 telemarketing rule changes?

Those that act swiftly and with purpose in creating a formal customer communication preference and opt-in program will have a head start in building a targeted, qualified list of customers who want to hear from you and will welcome your communications. After all, it’s all about customer choice, so aim to deliver your communications to those who want to receive them, how they want to receive them.

Mark Friedman (mfriedman@soundbite.com) is chief marketing and business development officer for SoundBiteCommunications.

What’s In Store for Black Friday

Are you ready for Black Friday? How about “Cyber Monday?” A survey conducted last weekend by Deloitte sheds some light on what you can expect this from shoppers this year.

For one, Cyber Monday, which falls on Dec. 1 this year, apparently still exists, as 30% of respondents to Deloitte’s 2008 Holiday Survey expect to shop online for gifts on Cyber Monday. That’s up from 19% who said they shopped on Cyber Monday in 2006.

And this should come as no surprise, but holiday shoppers are more focused on promotions and sales this year. Sixty-two percent of the study participants say that all or most of the gifts they’ve bought so far have been on sale.

What’s more, store traffic on Black Friday may be a little lighter: Nearly half (45%) of the consumers surveyed say they plan to shop later in the season, to get better sales/deals. And 21% expect to shop after Dec. 25 for gifts.

It’s already been widely reported that gift cards are falling out of favor with shoppers: Deloitte finds that 23% will buy fewer gift cards as gifts this holiday season.

Of these, 29% say it’s because they’re concerned the store might go out of business. More than half (53%) say it’s because they’re spending less overall, and 10% think they can get a better deal buying a “real” gift vs. a gift card.

What’s New in Portable Terminals and Scanners

Portable terminals and scanners have been used in the warehouse in some form since the 1970s. Each year we see improvements in the technology in the areas of size, performance, and battery life. Radio-frequency (RF) technology has finally matured to the point where it is both economical and highly reliable. And now, in addition to terminals and scanners, voice technology has come into the mainstream. Let’s look at some of the newer developments occurring in the area of portable terminals and scanners for distribution.

Windows- and Web-based terminals
With the introduction of Windows CE and Windows Mobile operating systems, more and more vendors are changing over to and standardizing on these operating systems. The benefit of having a standard operating system is that, for the first time, you get to choose the vendor that you prefer, based on price, features, service, and reliability. If for some reason you want to change vendors, the conversion is a much less risky and time-consuming task.

Aside from the Windows family of products, some vendors are now developing software applications that can operate on any Web-enabled device. This means that you are no longer restricted even to the Microsoft-based products. The freedom of choice caused by the introduction of open platforms is driving fierce competition, lowering prices, and increasing features and performance for everyone.

Back-of-hand scanners
The scanner that no longer needs to be gripped in a person’s hand isn’t new per se. These scanners are integrated into a glove or a similar device. By moving the scanner to the back of the hand, the operator has increased dexterity and is able to grab items using both hands. Eliminating the grabbing of the scanner in the material transaction also saves a bit of time.

What is new is that Bluetooth technology has eliminated the need to connect the scanner to a larger transmitter, often worn on the hip. In some cases the transmitter is built right into the wrist unit. The removal of the wire means fewer equipment failures and better mobility.

Light-driven portable displays
Another innovation that has been around for some time, portable light-driven displays can direct work such as order selection or replenishment. Usually the displays are sold by pick-to-light vendors, mounted on carts, and controlled by RF communication. The displays direct picks out of storage as well as the puts to specific order locations on a cart. In some cases, a portable terminal is used to display the next item of work and the lights are used to show the placement of the item to an order.

Voice headsets replacing screens and keyboards
Voice headsets go the back-of-hand scanners one better: They eliminate the need to point and shoot by replacing the scan with a “check digit” read by the operator. At the same time the earpiece of the headset directs the operator to the next item of work rather than requiring the operator focus on and read a display. The combination of “hearing” the next transaction and the voicing of the confirmation “check digit” can shave seconds off many warehouse tasks. What’s more, the hands-free/eyes-free environment can improve safety, accuracy, and performance.

Sam Flanders is president of Durham, NH-based Warehouse Management Consultants (www.2wmc.com).

Previous articles by Sam Flanders:

Building Your Battle Plan

The Skinny on Put-to-Light

Identifying Challenges and Opportunities

The Ins and Outs of World-Class Order Selection

Customize Dashboards for Individual Needs

Slashing DC Costs

What’s New in List Marketing?

“What’s new in list marketing?” is probably the question I’m most often asked these days. And the answer is one that, as a list broker, I’m only too happy to give: “Plenty.”

Whether we’re talking about advances in list segmentation, merge/purge strategies, modeling, demographics, or other opportunities, there are many more possibilities available now than there have been in a long time.

Then there’s the other second most-often-asked question: “How can I make some of these new avenues a part of my ongoing circulation and marketing plans?” While not quite as simple as my answer to the first question, the answer is still an extremely optimistic one: “By planning.”

The best way to take full advantage of these new options is to approach them as you should every other aspect of your business, and that is by putting together a plan for
each of them. This means:

  • Setting a series of overall objectives
  • Designing a series of action steps for each objective
  • Defining measures of success for each objective.

Let’s start with using improved segmentation, modeling, and other techniques to make large, previously unusable lists work for your business. Here’s how you would start:

  • Identify 10-15 lists with at least 500,000 12-month names
  • Establish a testing budget, timeframes, and expected outcomes for the program
  • Set a performance objective.

Next, construct a testing plan for each list. This plan should include:

  • When to mail each list
  • How many times to mail each one
  • Specific performance targets for each. These targets may or may not be the same as those for your “rollout” lists.

Finally, you’ll need to devise a segmentation plan for each list. This could include:

  • Better recency/frequency/monetary value (RFM) selections
  • Product selections
  • Seasonality
  • Demographic enhancements
  • List modeling
  • Custom selects from the list owner and manager.

The most important part of the process is to be patient. It may take a number of tries before you find the selection plan that works best for each list in your business. But the rewards can be significant. If you can get just 50,000 names to work on each of five lists, you’ve unearthed 250,000 new names. And if you can mail each of these segments four times a year, you now have access to 1 million prospect names that you didn’t have before.

The same planning methods can be used to open up other universes, such as compiled lists and out-of-category lists. The point is, especially with all of the new opportunities out there, the importance of planning has never been greater.

Steve Tamke is senior vice president of Hackensack, NJ-based list services firm Mokrynskidirect. He may be reached at stamke@mokrynski.com

What’s the Frequency, Matchback?

By now we all know the value of matchbacks—determining the source of sales for which you didn’t capture a source code. But how frequently do you need to conduct matchbacks?

The answer, says Jim Harkins, principal of Bronxville, NY-based consultancy Jim Harkins & Partners, depends on your planning cycles.

If, for example, you plan catalog circulation in six-month increments, there really is no need to run matchbacks more frequently than twice a year, he says: “More-frequent matchback exercises will consume time and resources but not materially impact planning.” Multichannel merchants with a large retail component, however, may need more-frequent matchback processing for purposes of updating their retail buyers’ mail responsiveness.

When trying to allocate sources to purchases, Harkins adds, take a closer look at online orders in which customers used the quick-order function to enter the full item number of a product as it was printed in the catalog. For most catalogers, this SKU number includes an alphanumeric component that tells the order entry system what catalog the item is from, providing you with the information you need to track back a source even if you haven’t captured a source code.

Harkins also suggests including all your affiliate orders when running matchbacks, so that you can double-check the effectiveness of your affiliates. “In working with one cataloger with an ever-growing affiliate network, I noticed that affiliate sales tended to spike at the same time catalog sales did – immediately after a catalog drop,” he explains. “A matchback of the affiliate sales showed that more than 80% of affiliate sales were the direct result of catalog circulation. The affiliates were buying the cataloger’s URL as a paid search term, corralling the traffic, and selling it back to the mailer at a premium. Virtually no sales were lost upon termination of the affiliate program, while a very significant commission savings resulted.”

As for the 10%-30% of Web orders that will likely remain without a source even after the matchback process is complete, Harkins advises allocating them based on the percentage of sourced orders received that same day. In other words, if 30% of that day’s orders for which you have a source were driven by a particular catalog mailing, allocate 30% of the unsourced orders to that mailing; if search engines drove 25% of the sourced orders, allocate 25% of the unsourced orders to them. “It’s not a perfect solution,” Harkins concedes, “but it’s better than leaving them out of your circulation analysis entirely.”

What’s New: Cloudveil Mountain Works

The soft-shell outdoor apparel manufactured by Jackson Hole, WY-based Cloudveil Mountain Works for the past seven years have developed a following among skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts. And with the April launch of the Cloudveil Mountain Works catalog, enthusiasts can buy directly from the source, rather than from the more that 200 distributors throughout the country.

“The catalog isn’t so much a revenue source as way to get our message in front of a larger group of consumers,” says direct sales manager Jeff Wogoman. Although the company has a great relationship with the retailers who sell its products, it is not the same as communicating on a one-to-one basis with consumers, he continues: “We feel that we can present our story better than anyone else.”

The 32-page book mailed to fewer than 250,000 prospects, inquirers, and customers. Rented names from outdoor-enthusiast magazines and noncompetitive companies accounted for 80% of the names. The 90 products in the catalog range in price from $15 for T-shirts to $250 for outerwear; the average order size is $150.

Without sharing specifics, Wogoman says that the book was not quite as successful as the company had hoped for. He is quick to add, though, that the war in Iraq “started the same time we dropped the catalog, and it was dropped later than you would traditionally drop a spring catalog, and outdoor companies are fairly cyclical.”

The second edition of the catalog, scheduled to mailed next month, will include editorial pages detailing the advantages of Cloudveil’s soft-shell fabric. The page count will increase to 48, and the circulation will double.