What sets your creative work apart? What makes the work you or your team cranks out any different or any better than the work of 101 other direct marketing professionals?
Chances are the answer is very little. Because as good as you can make your creative work from an aesthetic standpoint, “good” creative is a highly subjective matter. Unless you can make your communications smarter, you are probably offering the same parity product that your clients can get elsewhere.
Why is there so little creative differentiation in the marketplace? In the direct and loyalty marketing fields, we too often talk to customers as market segments, not as individuals (just like the general agencies do). In this age of personalization and one-to-one marketing, you need to do better.
To make your communications smarter, you need to work on getting the most out of the two Ds: data collection and dialogue. They represent the two key ways you can learn about customers' wants and needs and truly personalize your communications to them — enabling your communications to achieve higher response rates, change customer behavior and increase sales.
First, the missing D: Dialogue. If you have attended a direct marketing conference, chances are you heard someone preach the merits of having a dialogue with customers. Yet, with rare exception, dialogue is still not practiced today.
Dialogue is all about the give-and-take of information between customers and a company. Mailing a piece of communications or persuading customers to visit a Web site does not constitute a dialogue. It must be a two-way flow of information, one in which you receive information customers have given you and respond with value-added information.
The aim of dialogue is simple — by having an ongoing conversation with customers, you can build a relationship with them. As that relationship grows over time, you gain customers' trust. With that trust comes higher retention and greater incremental sales.
For virtually every piece of business you work on, you can begin a dialogue with customers the next time you talk to them. Start by asking them to complete a short survey. Keep it short and motivate people to complete the survey by offering some type of incentive. Among the basic questions you might ask:
· Do you prefer to receive communications via e-mail or regular mail?
· What are your (insert product/service here) preferences?
· Would you be interested in receiving information on other products/services from our company?
· Would you like to receive updates on new products/services?
As soon as customers reply, you are ready to begin a dialogue.
Because once you know about customers' personal preferences, it gives you the opportunity to deliver relevant, tailored messages via opt-in e-mails – or lasered copy in snail mail. Yes, snail mail. While much has been made about personalization in e-mail, you can offer the same kind of compelling messaging in laser-printed letters and inserts.
Your follow-up communications can include detailed information on specific products or services your customers are interested in, cross-sell messaging, news updates like upcoming sales on preferred items, even coupons. Just make sure that the information you give back is relevant and shows that you have paid attention to what the customers have said.
The underutilized D: Data. Dialogue can only take you so far. As much as you would like to engage customers in an ongoing conversation, some customers will not want to spend the time or have the inclination to engage with you. And some clients will not want to pay the incremental costs to collect the necessary data.
But you may know a lot about your customers from data you already have. While you must always respect your members' privacy, this information allows you to personalize your communications in ways that are unobtrusive and “invisible” to customers.
By leveraging this data, you can create communications that are compelling and personally relevant to your customers and their needs. Here are just a few of the things you can do with the data you may already have:
· Identify customers by name, business or geographic region.
· Recognize customers based on past buying behavior, enabling you to promote the products and services they want and need.
· Identify high-value best customers — and offer them special benefits and treatment.
Not sure where to find the relevant data? Do a little digging. Sit down for coffee and a chat with the data or analysis people in your company or agency. You might discover that these usually very friendly folks have more information about your customer base than you ever imagined.
The next step: Making it real. You can begin offering customers more relevant, more compelling, more effective communications today. Because no matter what the account is, no matter where customers may be in the product life cycle, you can begin this two-way conversation — and start developing a stronger company-customer relationship — immediately.
Start by looking at each new assignment, each new project, each new business opportunity as the chance to begin a dialogue with customers, and also as a chance to leverage the data you may already have access to inhouse.
You not only will lift response rates, change customer behavior and increase the profitability of your client's brands — you also will be offering a smarter, more unique creative product that truly sets you apart from your competitors.