To take the pulse of the direct and database marketing industry, BtoB East Coast Bureau Chief Christopher Hosford conducted a virtual roundtable, with executives from leading direct marketing ad agencies, to talk about how marketers can gain better customer insights that give better direct marketing results. Participating in the virtual roundtable were Lauren Goldstein, VP-strategic planning, Babcock & Jenkins, Portland, Ore.; Dimitri Maex, managing director, OgilvyOne, New York; Michael McLaren, president-MRM East, New York; and Billy Mitchell, president-senior creative director, MLT Creative, Atlanta.
BtoB: Given today's digital marketing environment, what is direct marketing to you?
Billy Mitchell: It still comes back to listening first and offering well-timed suggestions and personalization. In fact, the phone is still the most valuable technology in b-to-b marketing for lead quality and generation. It all still comes down to a conversation and having great listening skills. Direct marketing is self-defining: It's the right information at the right time to the right person.
Lauren Goldstein: Back in the day, the notion of a targeted, personalized experience was called junk mail. It wasn't considered real marketing even though it was accountable. Now we've come full circle. Our clients are very aware of statistics, especially the one that says that 70% of a buyer's journey is complete before sales gets involved. So buyers are expecting personalized experiences—and that the company knows what business they're in and their challenges.
The other scientific part of this is marketing automation. It's not an option anymore. People get it. You need the right tools to accomplish the task. An example is content management systems, the backbone of the corporate website. Like marketing automation, a CMS system understands where you came from and modifies the stuff you see. When you combine this with other tools, a website experience can be highly customizable and follow you on your buyer's journey.
Dimitri Maex: With direct marketing, it's always easier to count where the money is coming from. If you send something out, you can assess whether the recipient does something or not. Of course, direct marketing is becoming more complex; the channel mix is complicated. So that raises the question of attribution, about which touch actually contributed to the overall sale. It's very important to get this right.
In b-to-b, this is especially complicated. You obviously have long sales cycles; and the longer the sale cycle, the harder it is to determine the cause and effect between sales touches and the ultimate sale. Also there's the fact that decisions aren't being made by individuals but by teams.
Michael McLaren: The word we pound into people's heads here is relevance. The battle for relevance is everything. People will engage more readily with a message that's relevant to them. The more we can identify and understand target-specific messages and offers, the level of engagement and conversion jumps dramatically. Also important is the landing page the offer drives you to. Once you land there, the more the environment reflects that you know something about me and what I'm looking for, the better. Once again, the engagement conversion levels jump off the page.
Relevance rolls off the tongue easily, but it's hard to do when sending millions of messages out to wide sets. It's an opportunity for marketers who get it right.
BtoB: What major direct marketing trends are you seeing?
McLaren: One of the key trends becoming more and more important is the ability to customize and personalize communications with different customer or prospect groups. The ability to do it was limited in the past, but today's direct marketing techniques are more sophisticated. Then there's targeting, which is a key dimension. We're starting to see some pretty interesting technology where you can identify people, locate them through geolocation and customize offers based on what we know about their history.
A lot of marketing these days is opt-in marketing, and you must be respectful of privacy concerns here. One way to do that is with a quality-value exchange. If you offer something the prospect sees as valuable, he's more likely to volunteer information about himself. It's a give-and-give situation.
Maex: A big trend is ascertaining effectiveness and ROI, which in b-to-b is not always easy. It entails really trying to understand which channels perform better. This whole focus is fueled by data, which has grown tremendously over the past few years. But it's also been driven by a demand by marketers, especially during the recession, to put this on steroids. Marketers can't afford not to know what works and what doesn't work.
BtoB: How do you see direct marketing informing revenue performance?
Mitchell: Direct marketing is more than just promotional messaging. It is about having the best database possible and creating compelling content that is not initially based on selling. But it also comes back to sales and working with the sales force. You can do emailing and direct mail, but nothing is more direct than your field representative.
Maex: While sales enablement is not a new topic, for b-to-b companies, it's the biggest opportunity. We have a specialty company, Leopard Communications, and we work closely with them to make sure that whatever we do from a marketing perspective is adopted by sales. And their statistics are pretty striking. For example, only about 10% of all marketing materials produced for salespeople are actually used; and, on average, sales-people spend 40 hours a month developing sales tools for themselves. This shows the extent of the dysfunction but also the opportunity.
BtoB: What are you advising clients about new media, such as social and mobile?
Goldstein: We look at mobile and social as just other channels, another opportunity to engage. It's not either-or, but all. The exciting thing about social is that content strategy applies to social perfectly. However, the biggest challenge with clients is that sometimes they just want to try it, and social isn't something that you just put your toe in the water for three months, like a media buy. It's something that requires sources and content. It's kind of a forever thing.
As for mobile, all the buyers our clients are selling to are reading email and consuming content on mobile devices. Sometimes when people think mobile, they think it means a text-message campaign, but that's not it. More broadly, email, a website and content are easily consumable on a mobile device. The way marketers use it will evolve. Today, at a minimum, it means optimized email and websites; but we may also find that mobile apps work well in certain sales-enablement situations. If you're using an app because it's cool. or engaging or easy, that's a metric in and of itself.
Maex: Mobile is a huge, untapped opportunity for b-to-b—in particular, in sales enablement. Because of mobile devices, salespeople are increasing their time selling in the field by about 28%. Think how a salesperson relates to the client. Here, the laptop is a barrier. The iPad is more natural and inviting. Also, sales materials can be orchestrated from a center and pushed to sales automatically, making sure sales has consistent materials.
The last piece of mobile is using it to change services and products. We've done some work with Siemens and its healthcare division, using tablets to make hospitals more efficient by putting tablets in the hands of doctors and nurses. The importance in this setting of data and information, and real-time patient information, is tremendous. At OgilvyOne, we help our clients create new products, and a lot is centered around opportunities with information and data. That's the big mobile opportunity.
Mitchell: Everyone is intrigued by e-books, the ability to put high-value customized content in print. It could be a provocative e-book written by the CMO or a scientist. And instead of giving out gifts at trade shows, you could give out this game-changing book. We also believe video is hard to beat. It offers an immediate, believable presentation of the advantages a company may have. It's hard to beat video for the “three Ps”: personality, passion and purpose.
Social media, however, is still a big frustration. It can be difficult to scale it to your audience. And companies often are too quick to start broadcasting content—and they forget to listen and follow others. Nothing is more discouraging than to see a company touting its social marketing and how many friends and followers they have, but they're not following anybody back and there's no curating of information. We encourage clients to start in social by being good listeners and providing helpful information to customers. The best direct marketing is being at the right place at the right time with a good suggestion.
McLaren: A lot of people are still just dipping their toes into social. It's at a nascent stage at making it work and ensuring that the information you're starting to put together is relevant and as important as other channels. As for mobile, hyper-local marketing is increasingly important. Also people on mobile devices are more prone to gamification than on desktop or laptop computers, so marketers can use game technology to drive engagement. Mobile is a different user experience, and the more customized you can create that experience for the user, the better. Don't ask them to work too hard.
BtoB: What are your thoughts about the future of direct marketing?
Maex: For us, it's no longer about making pretty pictures and nice copy. It's about how we can help our clients drive their business. We do have creativity as our anchor, our heritage. That's why people come to agencies. But we're thinking about that creativity in a broader way now. It's designed to help clients build platforms to allow them to engage with customers more deeply with more innovative products. Our point of view is creativity has a huge role to play in more ways that just pure-play communications.
McLaren: All these emerging direct marketing trends are about what I call relationship marketing—trying to form relationships and have interactive exchanges, improve conversations. And the more our b-to-b clients know about effective targeting, customization and personalization the better.
Mitchell: One of the best b-to-b books, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” (Business Plus, 2010), was written by a b-to-c person, Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com. He suggests never outsourcing customer service. It's about taking one of the loneliest places on earth, sitting in a cubicle talking to customers, and turning it into the biggest part of the company. Every customer-facing contact an organization has is the most powerful direct-marketing tool you could ever ask for. How you take advantage of that human contact can make or break a direct-marketing program.