Digital and traditional channels must meet

While direct marketing is often divided into two camps — traditional offline channels against nontraditional digital channels — smart marketers know that is not an us–versus–them story. In fact, marketers are finding that the best direct marketing programs are those that marry the best of both worlds with a multichannel integrated approach.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) predicts that direct marketing driven sales will grow 4.7% in 2012. Having a multi-touch program is no longer considered a luxury; it’s imperative for successful marketing. Brands can no longer afford to think about channels as competing against each other; instead, they must figure out how to integrate them.

“When properly sequenced, one channel will perform better when combined with another channel especially in the case of older traditional direct marketing channels in conjunction with digital media,” says Gary Skidmore, president of direct marketing at Harte-Hanks.

Unlike direct mail, digital channels like social media and email are cheap and often quick to execute. However, because email and social volumes are up, it’s often difficult to cut through the clutter and be heard in the noisy digital space, and a well-designed direct mail piece can often stand out.

But working together, email and social can complement a direct mail piece and vice versa. For example, some marketers are sending emails to let customers know to expect an exclusive direct mail offer, or companies are tweeting about a catalog that is about to drop to help build buzz.

“Digital is less expensive and faster to execute, so you often see digital used to preempt mail,” says Shar Van-Boskirk, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “For example, Coach used Facebook to tell fans that its look book was coming out. Print allows for high quality photos and Facebook helps warm up the audience and get them excited about it.”

The Girl Scouts of Arizona Cactus-Pine Council tweets when its branded magazine is going to be sent.

“The mail piece is a good way to let our CEO speak to the donors directly and to show what the troops are doing, in a way that can’t be done as well in social media,” says Sam Sanchez, public relations and communications coordinator at Girl Scouts of Arizona Cactus-Pine. Yet the organization uses social media and email to promote the mailing since many of their recipients are young and respond better to digital channels.

Marketers are also using direct mail to trigger online and mobile campaigns with a personalized direct mail piece. The mailer will include a call-to-action to visit a personalized website (PURL) where the recipient can further interact with the brand, or a quick response (QR) code which can be scanned by a mobile phone for more information or a transaction.

“In all likelihood, you need multiple touchpoints with customers before they are likely to respond,” says Dave Goodman, senior director of digital marketing at Barclaycard US. “It’s not like one online ad is going to get people to convert, but a rich online experience driven by a direct mail piece with a consistent message will get a customer’s attention.”

Traditional direct marketers know that telemarketing is nothing new, as mobile marketing has its roots in telemarketing. Click-to-call capabilities triggered by mobile searches are breathing new life into call centers.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of California started doing click-to-call for mobile searches because it didn’t have a mobile website,” says VanBoskirk. “Now call center volume has gone up and it satisfies the customer’s immediate gratification that goes in hand with mobile.”

For Barclaycard US, integrating traditional direct marketing channels helps drive engagement in digital channels and vice versa. The credit card company has added QR codes to statements to help promote their mobile banking app. The company’s mobile app, which includes banking functionality, lets users purchase songs directly through iTunes, as well as connect with Apple’s customer service call center.

The financial company has also executed a number of campaigns with partners including the NFL and US Airways, which involved sending a postcard in the mail to drive traffic to a rich media site. One such effort was to promote an NFL-branded credit card. It started as a postcard that led to a landing page with video highlights, illustrating members cashing in their loyalty points on prizes like field side seats.

“Direct mail can act as an invitation to lead to an online experience that is so rich that it can’t come to life in a direct mail piece,” says Paul Wilmore, senior director at Barclaycard US.

“Five years ago, marketers had a very siloed approach. The direct mail person did their tests and the digital person did theirs. Now it is about making sure that all of our channel managers are very well integrated and that they are testing offers together,” he adds. “We have a holistic integrated approach, because you can’t have two different offers out there in the marketplace especially in such an open environment that exists today.”

To keep the various channels connected, data management is a must. Marketers should be organizing data in a central location so that the different channels can inform each other. When sending a postcard with a PURL on it, marketers should be tracking how many hits the site gets, what kinds of clicks those consumers are making, and if they are opting into an email program.

“Everything has to be tracked, that way you can tweak things in each channel. If hits are high but lead conversion is low, you can evaluate where the prospect is landing,” says Joy Gendusa, founder and CEO of PostcardMania. “Perhaps a landing page with a very specific call-to-action will get more people to leave their contact information than sending them to your homepage where they wander around before leaving with no action.”

“When you send potential customers a postcard promoting your business, 95% will go to your website before picking up a phone to see who they are doing business with first. If the website is poorly designed and hard to navigate without a clear directive for the visitor, the prospect will most likely leave the site never to return,” Gendusa says. “You also want the postcard and the website to have the same look and feel. If you give the prospect something to do when they arrive, you now have their contact information for follow-up. Email marketing is a great way to follow up. Your job as a marketer is take a lead and warm them up until they trust you and do business with you.”

Direct mail messages target idle boating enthusiasts

To encourage boating enthusiasts to renew their lapsed boat registrations, the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation created the Lapsed Boat Registration Pilot Program, a campaign that highlights the fun aspects of boating life.

Click to read full case study.

VanBoskirk recommends that marketers stop thinking of customers as mobile customers or direct mail customers and instead think of them as one customer who interacts with a brand in multiple ways.

“Organizationally align people who are responding to different channels into the same database,” she says. “Integrate a loyalty program with an outbound email program and online booking engine, for example. Instead of thinking of them as three separate groups with three separate goals going after the same customers, try to nurture the customer in a holistic way.”

Data management is important for all marketers, but is especially important for loyalty marketers, as loyal customers expect a certain level of personalization that they might forgive a brand who is trying to acquire their business for the first time.

“The expectations are much higher when you have a relationship with customers,” says Kelly Hlavinka, managing partner of Colloquy. “Loyalty marketers risk ignoring relevance at their own peril, customers will disengage without it.”

Hlavinka points to Hilton Hotels & Resorts’ HHonors program, which lets consumers decide which channels they’d like to receive messages from, as being consistent across media because of this centralized database.

“Companies aren’t doing a good enough job with communications,” says Hlavinka. “They are not paying enough attention to how they centralize the data, and show that they are listening by sending relevant offers. We see consumers disengaging when brands don’t use this data because there is so much competing for their time and attention.”

“The traditional channels established the disciplines of direct marketing,” concludes VanBoskirk. “Even though there are many new channels available, the basic principles still apply. This includes not messaging too much and using customer insights to make your message personalized and relevant.”

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