Learn When Is the Right Time to Market

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Though online marketing is benefiting from the national do-not-call registry, companies should be careful to understand the profound shifts in the marketing landscape that drive the initiative and not simply jump to other "interrupt-driven" forms of marketing.


The DNC list is but one sign of a consumer trend. Technology advances have created powerful new communication channels for marketers, including banner ads, e-mail and SMS. But ineffective use or abuse of those channels by some has created a customer backlash rapidly manifesting itself in reduced response rates, government privacy regulations and new technologies designed to impede marketing's use of many channels.


Consumers are sending a clear signal about their privacy preferences and the way they wish to communicate. This represents an opportunity for brand differentiation for those who choose to make marketing more "service-like."


Because inbound online channels by nature are customer-driven contacts, not interrupt-driven, they provide a unique chance to engage customers at the right time: while they are listening.


To excel in this dynamic marketplace, marketers should move toward a more customer-centric, right-time approach and take advantage of the opportunities customers already provide. In addition to ensuring compliance with emerging privacy requirements, companies should consider these points as they adapt to the changing marketing landscape:


Determine your strategy for this new environment. How companies respond to consumers' desire for increased control and privacy can be a brand differentiator and represents new opportunities to increase customer loyalty and share of wallet, but this requires strategic emphasis.


Elizabeth Roche, vice president of technology research services at META Group, advises companies to respond by "increasing their efforts to engage customers and prospects when they are most receptive to receiving messages - when they contact the company for information or make requests for products or services. During the next three years, customer- and context-specific inbound marketing communications will assume an increasing importance in the marketing toolkit."


Rationalize disparate product, division, online and brand marketing efforts into a holistic customer-centric strategy. Companies must bring disparate channels and marketing groups together. Customers don't distinguish between the Web and bricks-and-mortar stores or among different divisions of a company.


Customers see companies as one entity and expect them to behave that way. Marketers need to shift their approach from asking questions such as, "I have an offer/product, who will be interested?" and "How many impressions can I get on this banner ad?" to questions such as:


• "Which products or services will be of most interest to this customer?"


• "When is the right time to make this offer?"


• "How should this customer/customers in the segment be serviced?"


Examples of right-time marketing include:


• An online banking site shows a special offer on a six-month CD the day after a customer deposits a sizable bonus.


• A hotel sends an e-mail reservation confirmation with an offer for discounted high-speed Internet connectivity to a busy business traveler.


• An online retailer immediately offers to a high-valued customer who just logged a complaint a no-hassle return and discount on his or her next purchase.


Inventory your customer touch points and leverage technologies to deliver right-time messages. All channels, but especially online, should be re-evaluated. Are online and offline messages delivered in a coordinated, consistent way? Is every customer touch treated as a chance to upsell, cross-sell or improve customer satisfaction and retention?


Often, simple processes can be implemented quickly that will generate significant ROI. Technologies should be leveraged to deliver actionable customer intelligence in real time and optimize the effectiveness of each customer touch.


Trade value for marketing permission. Customers will continue to exchange their information, trust and time for valued products and services. Communications from companies with which individuals have a relationship yield higher response rates than non-relationship-based marketing.


Forrester Research surveys show that two-thirds of permission-based marketing e-mails are opened. This increases the value of quickly establishing a relationship with the customer.


Marketers should evaluate content and tools they can offer that may be valuable to customers and consider innovative techniques to acquire new relationships. Product trials, free information services and free quotes can form the foundation of a more profitable relationship as well as drive online registrations that simplify the process of capturing customer interaction data.


Make your processes repeatable. Along with the need to standardize processes for adhering to privacy regulations and customer preferences, marketers should evaluate the effects of an expanding number of campaigns on their current processes.


As deeper personalization becomes the norm, marketing will be stressed to create more offers in a shorter time with the same resources. Managers will need tools to manage the creative approval process as well as instant visibility into activities across the organization to achieve alignment, manage resources better and measure effectiveness. This transition requires tools and processes to capture best practices, train new marketing personnel and reduce time to market.


With right-time marketing, companies will be poised to take greater advantage of existing customer relationships, which - if managed correctly - will enable a virtual "protected channel" through which marketers can communicate with customers, unaffected by the new privacy laws and the "hands-off-my-information" attitude.


All marketers, but especially DMers who rely on mass outbound communications to acquire new customers, must be prepared to move to right-time. They need to develop effective means to engage customers when they are most receptive. Right-time marketing is the most effective way to meet this challenge, creating new avenues for revenue generation and success.


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