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Direct marketing embraces analytics, digital services

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Traditional direct marketing companies, long wedded to such channels as mailed pieces and unschooled email blasts, are aggressively expanding their services to leverage digital capabilities and market analysis to stay relevant in a changing world. A dramatic example is venerable mailstream company Pitney Bowes. “Transpromotional” ads—placing commercial messages in the white spaces of customers' bills and statements—aren't new to the company. Yet with its new MarketSpace platform, Pitney Bowes has introduced a service that automatically matches third-party advertisers with high-volume transactional mailers, analyzes the document recipient, matches the recipient to the advertiser's target segment and—if the mailer agrees to the deal—automatically places the appropriate message in any available white space. For the MarketSpace launch this month, Pitney Bowes partnered with agency Media Horizons on behalf of its clients; but the service is available to any agency or advertiser, the company told Straightline Direct. Later this year, Pitney Bowes is expected to introduce its new Volly service, which will allow mail recipients to receive, view, organize and manage digitized versions of bills, statements, direct marketing, catalogs, coupons and other content they might normally send and receive via paper mail. Pitney Bowes' roots remain in direct mail, but to stay relevant it's now branding itself as a “customer communications management company.” Pitney Bowes isn't alone among traditional direct marketing companies in remodeling itself along digital and analytical lines. KBM Group, a Wunderman company, recently rolled out its Digital Neighborhoods 2.0 Segmentation Suite, which segments audiences by their engagement with various digital devices. “Our clients need more specific audience data about, not only device usage, but also buyers' technological sophistication and aspirations, cross-referenced with their demographic profiles,” said Dennis Kooker, KBM president-COO, about the new solution. Driven by analytics, even traditional response lists aren't immune. A recent prominent example is list management company MeritDirect, which last year took over management of the Penton Media subscriber list of more than 3 million contacts for rental to marketers. In July, MeritDirect and Penton introduced a service that bundles email campaigns and actionable leads gleaned from Penton email list buys. The companies' Email & Lead Advantage Program includes a test and retest phase, and intelligence into what segments perform for a campaign, leading to direct contact with those who have demonstrated interest in a product or service. One reason the traditional list business is being augmented with new services is that raw response lists are increasingly becoming inexpensive commodities. According to list management company Worldata, which reports on the average price of database lists, prices continue to fall in key b-to-b areas. The company's “Summer 2011 List Price Index” reported that the average price of subscriber lists from controlled-circulation business magazines averaged $141 per thousand names in the second quarter of the year, versus $146 for the year-earlier period. Also continuing a decline in price were paid-circulation business magazine lists, and both business and consumer permission-based email lists. As an increasing reliance of traditional direct marketing services on analytics continues, Pitney Bowes may continue to be the most striking example. Just one of its newer services, for example, is pbSmart Connections, which allows marketers to create email campaigns in support of events, augmented via social media channels. “These new channels carry great potential to complement traditional customer communications,” said Neil Rader, Pitney Bowes' VP-general manager, small and medium business. Investing in these channels, Rader said, “reflects our long-term commitment to this growing new space.”
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