Traditional Marketing Gets Charged Up

In 2010 United States citizens spent an average of 22 minutes a day in nonvoice pursuits, such as texts and apps, on their cell phones. By 2012 this increased nearly fourfold to 82 minutes, according to research firm eMarketer Inc. Much has been made of people’s breathless adoption of new media channels, but rarely is it mentioned that traditional channels are hardly suffering as a consequence. During the same two-year period measured by eMarketer, daily TV viewing increased from 264 to 278 minutes.

Digital marketing explorations are de rigueur in an era when new media forms seem to appear as if by mitosis, but marketers in many mature industries find that they’re best launched from a base in traditional media. “Companies were used to building an audience through mass marketing: TV, direct mail, catalogs. Now each consumer is his or her own form of media,” says Jeff Rohrs, VP of marketing research and education at ExactTarget, a provider of digital marketing solutions recently acquired by Salesforce.com Inc. “Those audiences have an energy and propulsion all their own, and they connect to all of these other followers.”

Still, Rohrs says, many big brands fail to extend the reach of their big, traditional media investments by linking to burgeoning digital media forms. He bemoans the fact that, during the last Super Bowl, the world’s megafest of push marketing, only two advertisers used their multimillion dollar spots to drive traffic to other channels. “Axe bodyspray had a contest to send a person into space and Oreo sent the tweet when the field lights went out that got retweeted thousands of times. Still, I entered the Axe contest and never received any follow-up,” Rohrs says. “Meanwhile, Papa John’s ran local and national ads at lower rates and sponsored the coin flip. Viewers could go online and vote heads or tails to win a free pizza. Papa John’s engaged a huge audience right at the beginning of the game because people had something riding on the flip.”

Rohrs’ point is that traditional mass marketing campaigns are hardly irrelevant in the digital age. On the contrary, they can serve as engagement machines for marketers who link them to digital channels and collect customer data that they cultivate there. “Are you tracking all this stuff? Where does your data live and what’re you doing with it? This is a good starting point for moving into new channels,” says Drew Burns, senior product manager for Adobe‘s digital marketing business unit. “Every conversation I’ve had with enterprise customers this year revolved around, ‘How do I take my customer data and put that into a persistent program to use in my marketing?’”

Burns says that marketers need not feel overwhelmed as they tread into the digital space. He advises marketers to do what they’ve always done best with traditional options: Understand the brand’s value proposition, analyze the data for the best-performing segments, and focus on those segments. Test different calls to action and track what traffic they build. Invest in some tools and provide visualizations for staff that details which segments are reacting better to which types of experiences. Hire a few knowledgeable people.

Print and circumstance

Many college marketers ply a binary strategy of traditional and digital media. High schoolers trawl for college information on social media, their parents peruse and save direct mail pieces, and both do research on websites. The adolescent and adult components of universities’ target market both weigh heavily in the decision-making process, but mom and dad are often paying the bills, so traditional media figures greatly in schools’ media budgets.

“I’m one who thinks print will never die,” says Hallie Sammartino, VP of marketing and communications at St. John’s University. “We do a lot of direct mail: viewbooks, postcards, save-the-dates. We’ve streamlined print, but we’ll never completely get rid of it. Print is still in style with parents.”

The multichannel path is a serpentine one for Sammartino, and often starts on search and social media with students fishing for schools, continues with high-content and high-image direct mail, and follows up with email and website engagement. Sammartino, who arrived a little over a year ago on St. John’s New York campus after working in marketing at Boston College, is installing a new CRM system for undergrad marketing to make appeals more personalized. The goal of both email and direct mail is to increase engagement on the website.

“Eighty percent of college decision making happens on the website,” she says. “If you get them engaged there and can get them to visit the campus, that’s the deal maker or breaker.”

Justin G. Roy, VP of communications and marketing for William Peace University, follows a similar multichannel approach that includes social media, radio, community newspapers, online display ads, and retargeting, bus ads in the school’s home base of Raleigh, NC, and, naturally, direct mail. “Nothing beats the postcards,” Roy says.

A precise choreography must direct such a wide-ranging approach, says Roy, who is attempting to draw more students from Mid-Atlantic states. “If you have a mail piece out or a newspaper ad running, you have to make sure the online messaging is working with the offline. If you’re saying two different things, it’s ineffective,” he says. “If [prospects] touched something you’ve done offline and go online to research, you have to follow with a call-to-action that takes them to the next level of communication.”

Back in the 1980s Datamark, a company that serves as the de facto marketing department for several for-profit universities, was primarily a direct mail operation. In the 1990s the company branched out into the Internet and direct response TV (DRTV). As the century turned, pay-per-click campaigns became colleges’ favored recruitment technique, and Datamark SVP of Business Intelligence and Research Rick Bentz expects a big move into mobile in the coming years.

“A significant number of the larger schools switched from DRTV and back into direct mail and search,” Bentz says. “It’s a world in which we’ve had to quickly shift gears.”

In college marketing, print appears to be forever. Upon her arrival at St. John’s, Sammartino commissioned a study that found the school’s brand perception was weak among prospective students, as well as faculty at other universities. The primary vehicle for the rebranding campaign Sammartino kicked off this spring: print ads in The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The HealthNow diet: traditional + digital

HealthNow New York Inc. is about as traditional as they come. The Buffalo-based health insurance company is the licensed BlueCross BlueShield carrier for Western New York. To reach prospective customers for its Medicare Advantage product, it had long relied on a steady diet of TV, radio, and direct mail—and it still does, but now with an added digital kick supplied by Alessandro Renzi, director of digital experience, who the company hired in 2011.

“To say that all people are moving into digital is correct. To say that digital [is] the only media they look at is not correct. People still consume a lot of TV and radio,” says Renzi, who ran his own digital marketing agency before joining HealthNow. “You get the most from your money when you take traditional and digital and put them together.”

One might not think that Medicare enrollees in their 60s and 70s would be tuned into digital media, but one would be wrong. That’s one of the key learnings HealthNow executives took away from Renzi’s revamp of the marketing program behind the insurer’s Medicare Advantage supplemental coverage. He didn’t change the traditional media mix for the brand, but he made sure that all the TV commercials, direct mail pieces, and radio spots included URLs that led prospects back to the brand’s website.

“Direct mail is still an important medium for this segment. They love paper and they love to read things,” Renzi says. “They love to read things on the Web, too. During the enrollment period for Medicare, the level of traffic that came into our site was tremendous. Using analytics, we found that [visitors] were not leaving after entering the first page, but were going three and four levels deep.”

HealthNow marketers also learned that members of this customer segment were spending time on the website at 3 a.m., since many have trouble sleeping through the night. This is not a daypart choice the company would likely make for its TV or radio schedule, but the digital connection revealed its relevance.

Renzi agrees with Adobe’s Burns that creating integrated offline-online strategies needn’t take a lot of time. When he first arrived on the scene, he immediately sought out partners in the communications and IT departments. (“Without their cooperation, you can’t be successful,” he says.) He took three months to set up a foundation for multichannel marketing—looking for tools to analyze customer data and add functionality to the company websites. After some two months of shopping around, he invested in an Adobe CQ5 program and Google Analytics to swiftly build websites and pages and track social media. HealthNow’s beefed-up analytics quickly illustrated that social media is not the sole realm of millennials. The company learned that it had a heavy social media following among women ages 44 to 55.

“An integrated program allowed the Medicare subscriber—or the younger adult shopping for their parent—to really get down into the details of what they should be looking for,” Renzi says.

If you can make it there…

Since entering the U.S. market with the acquisition of 300 office buildings and workplaces in 2004, Europe-based “virtual office” company Regus has been on an upward learning curve, building its knowledge on segments and channels as it’s grown its U.S. locations to 800. Its first major media play was in a traditional channel—broadcast TV. It aired spots on 25 different channels before narrowing its buy to four (Bloomberg TV, CNN, ESPN, and Fox News Network,) that homed in on the business customers who rent its temporary offices and meeting spaces. Next came radio, such as ESPN’s Mike & Mike show, where customer testimonial ads helped to nearly double marketing-led inquiries.

One of the quickest ways to gain multichannel mastery is to hire it, and that’s what Regus did in bringing on current VP of Marketing Rebecca Tann from competitor Oakwood Worldwide in 2008. Tann had a solid grounding in digital methods, having also served as marketing director of FedEx’s Kinko’s unit, now FedEx Office. Her aggressive expansion into multichannel marketing at Regus had its roots in a campaign that accompanied the company’s entry into the New York market in 2009.

“We had a huge flagship location at 747 Third Avenue and seven other new centers, and we were lacking in occupancy,” Tann recalls. “We ended up increasing occupancy 25% in two months with an integrated campaign that targeted key verticals in the Tri-State area, as well as lost and last customers.”

Regus’s New York campaign left no touchpoint, it seemed, unpressed. It included TV, radio, out-of-home, taxi TV, direct mail, and email. The company used alliances with GoDaddy.com and Delta Airlines Inc. to announce its arrival to business travelers, small business owners, and sole proprietors in the market. It staged events at locations and a PR campaign that featured a survey it conducted with New Yorkers about their workplace pain points.

Regus’s multichannel invasion of New York continues to inform its marketing strategies to the present day. “It brought everyone in the organization together to create a multitiered campaign,” Tann says. “We took away some great learnings.”

One of them was that there are ways to control traditional brand messaging in the wild and woolly world of social media. Over the past year Tann and her staff have gotten serious about improving the company’s activities there. Worried about not being able to control the brand message, Regus had established a policy that no employees could tweet about the company. Tann and the marketing team saw that policy as unrealistic and embarked on a program to open up the tweet-gates and turn employees into Regus’s positive social media force. They hired social media managers who trained 500 handpicked employees, including salespeople, members of the operations team, executives, and receptionists at Regus office center locations.

“We said, ‘Let’s give them the tools and make them our advocates,’” Tann says. “The mind-set on the executive team changed to, ‘OK, let’s do this right or else we’re going to miss out on a great opportunity.”

Tann’s advice to marketers looking to expand their horizons into digital harks back to traditional business wisdom: Don’t be afraid to take a risk. “Of course it’s a challenge and a risk. You have to be cognizant of that,” she says, “Provide your people with the tools and the training they need, but allow them to bring their personal fl air to the party. Employees have to own and believe in what they’re doing.”

She also echoes a common warning of experienced digital marketers: The winning formula is that there is no winning formula. It’s an ever-changing landscape requiring constant monitoring and tweaking.

“In the past five years we’ve had three different websites. We’re still learning what we need to do to increase conversions. Our marketing automation is still in the hands of marketing and hasn’t been integrated into the sales effort as yet. Enterprise companies are starting to use us, but we haven’t targeted them properly,” Tann observes. “It’s an ongoing science project.”

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