Convergence of e-mail and direct mail marketing

When interactive marketing was in its infancy, many experienced, knowledgeable and intimidated direct marketers stood back and let elite teams of techies and dot-com cowboys direct their forays into the rapidly evolving world of transactional Web sites, e-mail campaign management, and search engine optimization.

These experts, by default, became responsible for marketing strategy along with technology and operations.

Most organizations realized soon enough that the strategic aspects of marketing had been misplaced in the hands of the technologists.

As interactive media matured, marketing organizations began to shift interactive marketing ownership back to true marketers whose skills were much more appropriate for directing creative development, solving Web site usability issues, implementing data capture techniques, and measuring, interpreting, and acting on email response behavior.

Control of interactive marketing gradually returned to the marketing sphere, albeit to specialists who have a high level understanding of technology as well as deep expertise in direct marketing.

Complementing channels, not competing

Today, interactive marketing has taken its rightful place as a member of the direct marketing family, where it is viewed as the darling bouncing baby of channels, achieving double digit growth, quarter over quarter, year over year with seemingly little effort. Its more established siblings û catalog and retail û have to work much harder for less.

However, despite its remarkable development, interactive marketing is often not reaching its full potential. Far too frequently interactive and direct mail channels compete against each other, resulting in an almost unseen dysfunction that stunts both short term revenue and long-term customer value.

The answer? A truly holistic approach to multichannel marketing that capitalizes on the powerful convergence of email and direct mail. By coordinating these promotional channels and working together towards a common goal, the marketing organization can result in greater revenue and return on investment for the entire organization.

In order to create a unified approach, marketers must recognize that while each channel has its strengths and that differences do exist, a core set of direct marketing principals govern both. The key metrics for direct mail and email are the same: delivery rates, response rates, revenue, lifetime value, cost-per-promotion, incremental lift and ROI. The importance of testing offers, creative and timing stands. The need to close the loop and collect meaningful data, analyze customer behavior and create marketing insight in order to adjust future campaigns is essential for moving forward.

Acknowledge differences for strengths

The differences between the channels are probably best expressed in terms of the timing and the granularity of the data available for analysis.

E-mail campaigns are direct mail campaigns on steroids. With e-mail campaigns, the timing from concept to deployment is often days, not months. Response can be seen almost immediately and the time period for measuring campaign results is similarly truncated, enabling e-mail marketers to change direction midstream and redeploy for better results.

In addition, sophisticated e-mail deployment systems provide marketers with a real-time dashboard view of their customers’ behavior as they receive promotions, click through, browse a Web site, purchase, pass along or delete an e-mail communication.

While direct mail managers can only imagine how many of their catalogs or packages end up on the trash heap unread, e-mail managers have precise measurements of this behavior. The copious amounts of data produced as a result can be daunting but savvy marketers have learned to glean the important metrics and use them to their advantage.

E pluribus unum

Once marketers understand that there are more similarities between the channels than differences, they are poised to reap the benefits of the power of their synergy.

The first step to implementing a unified approach is to effectively consolidate the direct marketing team, including all channel-focused groups, under a single leader, with a common set of marketing objectives and P&L reporting structure.

This reorganization is absolutely critical to a brand’s ability to speak to its customers in one voice and eliminate the wasteful and redundant expenditure that occurs when channels contend for the same marketing dollar.

This structure helps avoid the mistake of creating channel-specific offers that confuse and frustrate the consumer into inaction or drive them into the arms of more flexible competitors.

Consumers have demonstrated again and again their desire for choice in how to purchase, how to pay and how to be communicated with. If granted this freedom, consumers will always purchase more.

The exception to this freedom of choice rule is when you are encouraging targeted groups of single-channel buyers to try a new channel in order to turn them into higher-value multichannel buyers.

In addition, this structure supports a marketer’s ability to create a global contact strategy that is both effective and efficient.

Too many marketing dollars are squandered on over-promoting the most valued customers to the point of annoyance while under communicating to groups with lower current value but high potential for the future.

A coordinated, synchronized contact strategy involving both e-mail and direct mail gets better results by reiterating and reinforcing the marketing message. Many mail production houses now offer a service that precisely tracks the arrival of a direct mail campaign in home, enabling marketers to send a corresponding e-mail communication before, after or on the day of arrival.

Given the busy lives of today’s consumers, these double-hit messages have been proven to drive incremental response, especially for catalogers.

All tools in kit?

Now that the marketing team has been consolidated, they must be armed with the best tools to be successful.

To create a true understanding of the impact of multichannel communications (e-mail, direct mail, space advertising, television) on an array of transactional channels (Web, retail, call center), the right tools are needed.

It is essential to create a comprehensive marketing database and employ a marketing automation system that manages campaigns and matches back results accurately to the promotional event that drove the response.

The e-mail campaign deployment solution should be linked to this consolidated database in order to carry all the essential information needed to make the right contact strategy decisions.

The best of the campaign management tools allow marketers to create virtual campaigns that measure results across multiple promotional events, channels and time frames.

These systems use multiple matchback methodologies to identify the source of an order, including tried-and-true source code tracking, as well as matching by name and address elements, and other proprietary techniques.

As if blinders have been removed, these tools enable marketers to discern, for example, whether an e-mail communication influenced a customer to purchase in the store or through an 800 number, not just on the company’s Web site.

These tools empower marketers to better measure the value of their channels and implement and expand programs that are beneficial to the entire organization, not just their channel of focus.

Marketers should always be aware, however, that no matchback system is perfect and 100 percent accuracy will never be achieved.

Be prepared to implement business rules to allocate unmatched orders and understand the impact these unmatched orders have on your key P&L metrics. Revisit them on a regular basis as the marketplace is ever changing and new business rules may be called for.

The e-mail marketing channel no longer intimidates direct marketers, but there is still much to learn. They realize that, like children with individual personalities, quirks and talents, each channel has its strengths and weaknesses.

By combining the high impact and staying power of direct mail with the immediacy and low cost of e-mail, marketers can optimize marketing programs for the greater success of the entire organization.

Sari Tamilio is vice president of interactive services at MBS, a division of World Marketing, a Central Islip, NY, marketing services provider. Reach her at [email protected].

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