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Time to decide: Integrate or disintegrate

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Generally, we b-to-b marketers acted very sensibly during the Internet boom. We used the Web to focus on identifying, attracting and serving customers—what we do everyday anyway—using every tool available. Because of this, in comparison to the business-to-consumer set, we are ahead of the game when it comes to integrating these online approaches with the traditional, offline ones we’ve been employing for years. In fact, during that time we’ve become very experienced with integration in all its forms—across media, across sales channels, across life cycles and across the entire customer experience. The following are 10 of the best practices we’ve learned for putting together a well-planned integrated direct marketing campaign, all of which apply to the most cutting edge online efforts:

• Cross-promote. Make every marketing message do double duty. Put your URL on all communications, from stationery to sales collateral, from print ads to signage. Conversely, put your phone number on every Web page. Encourage your customers to contact you in the way that works best for them.

• Plan together. Your Web team shouldn’t be working in a corner. Just as Staples.com is being folded back into Staples Inc., integrate your Web developers and marketers organizationally with their offline counterparts.

• Think customer experience. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers, and view your communications from their perspective—which is by its nature integrated. Provide consistency across all customer touch points, whether it’s service, communications or transactions.

• Follow the money. Use objective-based budgeting versus functional. Budget against customer acquisition or lead generation, instead of against public relations or direct mail. IBM Corp., for example, works with OgilvyOne to build marketing budgets around specific product offerings and campaigns, which allow advertising, direct mail and interactive to play together.

• Let your customers shape your channel strategy. If you ask them, they will tell you how they want to buy. Honor that preference. And if it’s uneconomical to serve them the way they want to be served, seek efficiencies—or new customers.

• Apply each medium to its best use. Remember "drive-to-Web" communications? How did we ever get caught in that trap? Don’t rely on the Web to do everything, just what it does best. E-mail is great for response qualification. Dimensional direct mail is good for getting past gatekeepers. Web-based surveys gets you answers to marketing questions in record time. There are examples everywhere. But the point is to re-examine the strengths and weaknesses of each marketing element, and to make sure it pulls its weight.

• Follow the rules. The tried-and-true rules of direct marketing work in all media, including the Web. If you’re talking to the wrong audience, no offer will work. Use a strong call to action. Ask for the order. And reread every marketing book on your shelf once a year.

• Test, refine and test again. Test contact strategies from every perspective, including timing, media sequencing, cadence, offers and creative.

• Let the data drive the relationship. Segment your customer base and treat the segments differently. Lifetime value can drive strategies for account coverage, customer contact management and sales channel decisions—if you let it. Hewlett-Packard Co. is a master at this. Its largest global accounts are assigned to direct HP field sales coverage. The next level of accounts is segmented by industry, revenue and company size, and is covered by a combination of local sales teams and resellers. Resellers and the Web cover the rest of the market. Thus, the investment in the account closely matches its value.

• Watch the competition. Not only watch what products they’re offering, what bells and whistles and what prices, but also what service levels, what distribution channels and how they’re making their customers’ lives easier. These are the standards you need to match.

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches in the graduate program in direct marketing at New York University. You can reach her at ruth.stevens@att.net or www.ruthstevens.com.

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