Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Always Profitable Wager

I suggest that anyone in direct marketing -- or anyone responsible for marketing dollars -- should appreciate making the DM creative process a friendly and highly competitive "wagering" experience. If it feels too "personal," I'd say you're on the right track to more accountable and successful DM.

But way too often, I don't find many agencies willing to participate in that healthy combination of self-confidence and willingness to lose for the client's gain.

Here's an example from my past (with an energy company). Our agency of record was doing all of the brand/image/broadcast work, but I was producing all of the DM (doing my own writing and working with a freelance designer). I needed to run a sample offer for FREE CFL lightbulbs to get an initial indication of market response for a new program -- a good opportunity to let the agency do a small DM project while bidding on a contract for a much larger energy-efficiency campaign being launced.So I asked them to submit creative for a self mailer, and I received a concept that had nothing more than a combination ice-cream cone/CFL lightbulb graphic on the outer cover, with no branding, and no copy. The creative team insisted that this provocative treatment could not be resisted, and the reader would open the mailer.

My reaction: "Okay. We'll run that against the control."
Agency: "Control? What control?"
My response: "The straight message that I'm producing internally, with copy that simply offers two CFLs for returning the attached BRC, and showing an image of two bulbs."
Agency: Not happy.

The agency pulled the ice-cream-cone concept, and submitted another concept of copy asking if the prospect is interested in reducing their energy bill. Result? It was fairly close, but my execution (at a small fraction of the agency cost) out-pulled the agency execution by 4%, with an overall average of about 34% response.

My point? There should be different opinions in DM creative execution. And the people with those different opinions should be enthusiastically competitive and open to saying, I think mine will work better. More specifically, I suggest that internal folks (on client side), should always put together a vanilla package to run against the agency package. It's good for internal moral, and I think it's a good test of an agency; if they're not open to it ... why not?

Additionally, I like to encourage all campaign participants (agency and client) to make friendly bets about the outcome of a DM campaign. For example, what will the response rate be? Everybody should take a guess, and put something fun on the line. (I had a former boss who really got into the wagering, and offered a free vacation day to the closest guess on response rate.) Know what happens as a result? Talk. Study. Discussion. Learning. And then what? Improvement. That's what DM is all about, isn't  it? Accountability and improvement in the spending of marketing dollars?

Friday, February 5, 2010

B2B -- Adding Social?

In B2B lead generation for health insurance, my current go-to formula is a first touch with a #10 envelope package (usually letter, buck slip and a reply card either attached or detached from letter), followed by either a postcard or e-mail (depending on whether or not we have an e-mail address). The offer has traditionally been a "special report" of some type, which can be downloaded at a microsite. All three response channels -- microsite, 800 phone number and BRC -- feature the opportunity to receive a quote on health plans. Therefore, it's a two-touch campaign with three response channels featuring a primary offer of a report, and a secondary offer of a free quote. To balance the "coldness" of the special report responses, all leads are telequalified and scored before forwarding the qualified leads to sales.

Over the past year, a few dramatic changes to response have lead to modifications: B2B response by BRC has nearly gone to zero, just like that, primarily as a result of using microsites as response channels; and the use of PURLs (personalized URLs, such as further increases primary response through the microsite and diminished response by phone as well as BRC. As a result, in my current campaigns, I have dropped the BRC altogether, and am including PURLs in all campaigns. Will let you know of the resulting changes in costs per lead and conversion.

Other changes to make this year will include integration of other internet-based media into the campaigns. Webcasts and website banners are expected to give strong lift and provide new sources of prospects, and we want to add social media, but the fairly immature state of business-social has us at the research stage of the game. Certainly, LinkedIn may be a good opportunity, through which we should be able to identify prospects by geo, industry type and position/responsibility, and provide them an opt-in offer that is more direct in nature (i.e., consultating with a broker). Other than that, we're left with the interesting task of finding out how people are beginning (or not) to congregate through other social forums in professional segments -- by job type, by industry, or by particular social aspects of business, such as woman-owned or minority-owned businesses?

As quickly as the reply card went from primary response channel to virtually zero (if microsite is being used) for B2B, I'm confident that we'll see equally strong shift in DM strategy resulting from business-social media growth and campaign integration. Is the #10 package next to go? Or the follow-up postcard? What's most exciting to me at the moment, is that I can't currently see much more than that. The fun is in the exploration and testing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Glorious GeekFest in Colorado

I'm heading to Colorado Springs tomorrow, joining my Integrated Direct Marketing colleagues and our Data/Analytics support team, to define how we will track and measure our DM efforts this year.

I couldn't be happier ... professionally ... unless I'm dropping mail and waiting for results. (soon)

Personally, I like to design my tracking spreadsheets chronologically, from left to right: campaign; date; qty; cost; leads; cost per lead; cost per lead per list source; conversions; cost per conversion, etc.  And I like to hear a room of analysts thinking about it. Always, always, always a new idea that generates a new perspective, that generates a new measure, that generates improvement in results.

Until then, more important things. I get to show my kids, Elizabeth (4) and Liam (2) where I'm going on a map. And I feel bad for leaving as my wife, Jen, is catching a cold.

Back soon.

Truth in Advertising

We hear stories about the low points in people's lives, during which they learned what was important and then began living. My low point was in my "agency years." (Before and after my agency years were, and are, my corporate years.) I had moved away from my home town of Louisville to leave public relations and take a copy writing position in Bloomington Indiana, where I knew no one. No matter; as the only copy writer in a new, small agency, I filled my life with work, and most of the social life was shared with others in the agency. Our work was very effective for our top, Brooklyn client, we continued working long hours, I began drinking myself to sleep at night, gaining many pounds from late night binging, and altogether spiraling downward to the point of chest pains, paranoia and depression over the course of a year (at the ripe age of 30).

Yet, something else was happening that year. I was seeing how much we struggled and faught, argued and whined in the process of creating our campaigns. What word, phrase or image was right in speaking to the target audience. That was it; deciding who was right, and who was wrong, every day, all day. So, partially out of dedication to our clients, and perhaps mostly to substantiate our ideas, we began thoroughly researching our trade (advertising and direct marketing just at the advent of Websites) and our audience (Brooklyn Medicare beneficiaries). We studied gerontology, Brooklyn, David Ogilvy, telemarketing, Website development and new direct marketers ... anything that would give us an edge in gaing stronger market response to our campaigns. Within a year, our Brooklyn client gained majority market share, and we had our heads full of being good and right.

It all came together in an amazing convergence of different influences, which I can only credit as being the hand of God reaching down and pulling me up by my collar. We came out of a long dark winter, the Olympics were on, my brother sent me his copy of All the King's Men, I wandered back into church, and I suddenly began thinking about my undergraduate learnings on the topic universal truth. The world united around the common celebration of human achievement, I was captivated by Robert Penn Warren's ability to write from a universal human perspective, the Gospel reached out to me with the message of loving each other, and nothing was ever more clear in my life ... that we're put on earth to connect with, and appreciate, as much of humanity as we can. That's when I began looking at marketing from the perspective of universal "truth" being synonymous with universal experience. (It's also when I found my way back to the gym, got in shape, and began smiling again.) Therefore, the agency life was the bottom and top for me, in my personal and professional development. I'll never forget it.

So what. Profit, that's what. (Where did you think I was going? I'm a direct marketer.)  From that point on, I realized what I was attempting to do, with every campaign, with every headline and every call to action. I had to think about the life experience of that target audience, think about their experience with my client/product, and state the truth about the product -- shared experience/belief/attributes -- to the audience. But further, I had to tell this truth in a way that makes a promise to be kept, in order to fulfill my own need to connect with the audience and know that I'm part of something they will appreciate. And, funny thing, I have found that indeed the high road is the profitable road. Genuine tone, and realistic writing from a personal perspective, gets the results ... and the money. Love the audience. Try putting the fine print in the headline. You'll see --  truth works in advertising because advertising at its best is the practice of creating truth ... a mutually appreciated experience.

Well, that's long for a first blog entry, but it brings me to another topic  -- length of copy: Less is not more. Less is less, more is more, but you have to know when enough is enough. Maybe next time.