The Power of Perfectly Timed Communications

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What if a company could put in place a marketing program that responded to its customers' actions or life events within 72 hours? What if it could know that a customer was buying a new home or moving to a new town before any of its competitors, then put in place immediate offerings tailored to that location? What if a company could take its customer knowledge and test it nightly or weekly to pinpoint the perfect customer offering?


This kind of timely, one-to-one marketing nirvana is widely discussed but rarely achieved. However, there are companies engaging in programs that yield as much as a 400 percent improvement in customer response rates thanks to new, highly scalable, trigger-based approaches that eliminate traditional barriers to flexible, just-in-time direct marketing. But how do these companies marry triggers, which can be anything from customer behavior to marketplace events, with existing data, product information and internal creative processes to achieve these results without spending millions of dollars or completely re-engineering their technology infrastructures?


Identifying the triggers. To answer these questions, we need to begin by defining "triggers." Triggers represent specific moments in time that offer a unique marketing and sales opportunity that holds added relevance for the customer because of other events or issues happening in tandem. They generally fall into four categories:


· External triggers, such as product development cycles, mergers and acquisitions, changes in market conditions and competitive actions.


· Customer life triggers, such as birthdays, a baby, a home move (the average person moves 12 times in his/her lifetime) and changes in marital status.


· Behavioral triggers, such as a customer opening a new account, changes in purchasing patterns and changes in spending levels or account values.


· Communication triggers, when a company needs to reach out to the customer at various points, whether it be a welcome packet or change in service notice or opening a new opportunity to educate and cross-sell.


Eliminating the barriers and connecting the dots automatically. Though virtually all marketers agree that more timely and relevant offers hold the key to improved customer response and satisfaction, existing operations processes as well as cumbersome development and execution methods have always stood in the way.


A recent poll by Click Tactics and the American Marketing Association asked more than 200 AMA members what they perceived as the biggest barriers to implementing triggers. Most cited their own internal structure as the No. 1 barrier. Marketers see the enormous potential of time-driven marketing yet continue to struggle with execution. But new, automated, trigger-based marketing solutions offer an alternative.


With these new Web-based solutions, sets of relevant, time-sensitive criteria (or triggers) are used to initiate a marketing program automatically. A set of business rules is put in place to act on that criteria and push along the development of a piece of mail, e-mail or telesales call - all without human intervention.


The business rules can be further applied to automate all aspects of development through execution, delivery, tracking and measurement, drastically reducing the points of human touch that inevitably lead to delays and higher cost. The beauty of this solution is that it turns existing customer data and profiles into actual business rules that systematically drive your program through execution at greatly reduced campaign cycle times and with much more desirable outcomes.


Better ROI, better prospecting, better customer retention. The benefits of automated, trigger-based direct marketing have proven significant, even jaw-dropping at times. The biggest gains are often found in four areas:


· Improved marketing ROI. ROI is bolstered by increases in DM response rates and cross-sell efforts due to better targeting, while administrative costs are reduced through improved automation. Companies are getting more from their CRM investment by putting their data to work to generate sales.


· More efficient and effective prospecting. These automated processes provide an engine that continuously gathers data, tests it and refines it for increasingly accurate customer mining.


· Strengthened customer relationships. By providing better orchestrated communication streams that offer unlimited options for personalization at the most opportune times, companies can stay in step with customers, increasing satisfaction and loyalty.


· Empowering organizational units. Trigger-based programs that leverage the Web offer the best of both the centralized and distributed worlds. They give distributed business units, branch offices and field agents the tools to communicate effectively with customers without forcing the corporate team to relinquish central quality control.


Words to the wise. In implementing trigger-based programs, remember some critical success factors. First, keep it simple. Start by using some of your current creative and go with known business rules so that you are not recreating the wheel. Don't try to reconfigure your current systems or drastically change internal processes. That's a sure path to nowhere.


Your trigger-based solution should conform more to your internal culture and processes than you to it. Start with a heavy emphasis on measuring results. You'll be able to learn and test on the fly, so layer in new business rules and continue to hone messages and offers to ensure you are getting the most from your newfound flexibility and speed. And test, test, test - because with more automated trigger-based marketing approaches, now you can.


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