1:1 Lessons from Multi-channel Marketing

I just picked up the most recent copy of a multi-channel marketing magazine. Within minutes, my head was spinning with the applications relevant to the 1:1 printing marketplace. In this month’s column, I’d like to walk through some of the lessons I drew from its pages.

1. Multi-channel. The first lesson is the word “multi-channel.” Too many printers still think about 1:1 printing in isolation, as if it can do the marketing job all by itself. If printers do think about multiple channels, they often think only about personalized URLs, which take advantage of printing and the Web.

In reality, personalized URL applications are a single channel (print or e-mail) with a Web-based response mechanism. The response mechanism is just that—a response mechanism. You could make an argument that it is a channel, too, but not in the sense that I’m talking about.

When we talk about “multi-channel marketing,” we’re talking about using multiple touch points to contact and communicate with a customer. This might be a direct mail piece with an e-mail or text messaging (SMS) follow-up. It might be a QR code printed on a poster that sends the viewer a coupon by SMS. It might be a personalized URL that shows up in an e-mail that ultimately leads to the prospect signing up for a personalized newsletter.

Multi-channel marketing is about creating a relationship with the customer that spans across multiple media, communicating in the ways (and through the channels) with which each person is most comfortable. Outside the printing industry, marketers understand this. Within it, 1:1 printers and marketing services providers are just starting to get their heads around it.

2. “Cutting back” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In her introductory note, the magazine’s editor mentioned how catalogers have been cutting back on volumes in today’s tough economic climate, but perhaps now is the time to start ramping back up again.

As I read this, the thought that came to mind was that cutting back isn’t necessarily a bad thing, regardless of the state of the economy. It really just depends on your rationale and strategy for doing it.

Especially as it comes to 1:1 printing, marketers really shouldn’t be mailing to their entire databases each time anyway, unless there is a compelling reason to do so. By selecting 10 or 25 percent of the database most appropriate to each offer, then using personalization to increase the relevance of the messaging to each recipient, you can get a better return while spending less. In other words, mailing less doesn’t have to mean that you’re getting less in return. This is just part of the move to more relevant marketing.

3. It’s time to reactivate dormant buyers. One of the reasons given for catalogers to start mailing again is the need to reactivate buyers who used to be regular customers but who, for one reason or another, stopped making regular purchases. This is a great point. In the 1:1 world, we’re often so focused on current customers that we forget the power of reactivation. Why not mail to the bottom 25 percent of your list occasionally, with an incentive to get them active again? “Paul, we’ve missed you! Here’s a coupon for 25 percent off your next purchase of [whatever Paul used to buy].”

One of the best practices for 1:1 print is to understand the different segments of your customer base and what motivates each one. Don’t get stuck in the rut of always mailing to the same segments and marketing the same way. Take a fresh approach—including mailing to a fresh part of your list—and you might find an overlooked gold mine.

Time Period Average Number of Monthly Calls* Average Number of Monthly Text Messages*
Qtr 1, 2006 198 65
Qtr 2, 2006 216 79
Qtr 3, 2006 221 85
Qtr 4, 2006 213 108
Qtr 1, 2007 208 129
Qtr 2, 2007 228 172
Qtr 3, 2007 226 193
Qtr 4, 2007 213 218
Qtr 1, 2008 207 288
Qtr 2, 2008 204 357
Source: The Nielsen Co. (Jan. 1, 2006 to June 30, 2008)

4. The Web is great, but print interrupts. Again, I thought this was a particularly good point. The printing industry is always fighting the power of e-mail and Internet marketing. The interruptive power of print is a terrific point that we need to remember to point out when presenting the value of print to our clients.

Positive Disruptions

At some point in the day, most people stop what they are doing, go to their mailboxes, and flip through their mail. Yes, they scan their e-mail, too, but there is something different about “snail mail.” It’s physical. It’s tangible. There is always the possibility of a great reward—a personal letter or card or (however remote) notification that you’ve won a sweepstakes that might be more legitimate than the e-mails from Nigeria.

Snail mail provides a fundamental disruption to your day. It interrupts your thinking in a way that Internet applications do not. For well-crafted campaigns, that can make a split second difference between catching your customer’s attention and having them gloss right over your campaign.

This doesn’t make print better than its e-counterparts. It just gives it a different place in the marketing toolbox. That’s why knowing how and when to use a print strategy is part of being a marketing partner and not just a 1:1 print output provider.

All of this is why I like the conclusion written by Melissa Dowling, editor-in-chief of Multi-Channel Merchant, in her Editor’s Note (November 2009). It drives home the point for printers: “Make sure you understand how your channels work together and how your customers prefer to shop and be contacted—Don’t be afraid to interrupt them.”

Heidi Tolliver-Nigro is an industry writer, an analyst specializing in digital workflow and technologies. Her e-mail address is htollvr@aol.com.