When it comes to making direct marketing stand out from the crowd, the appearance and personalisation of each mail piece is critical according to Patrick Headley of GI Direct, who asserts that trigger-based marketing via multiple channels may now be a vital key to customer engagement.
It is generally accepted that the colour, shape and size of a direct mail piece play important roles in determining the amount of attention received, particularly when combined with the right offer. But the company's research in 2009 found that more than 70% of UK adults are between and 5 and 10 times more likely to respond to well-personalised marketing offers than they are to non-personalised or badly personalised offers.
Timing is also a crucial element of the personalisation process that can make a significant impact on the recipient. For example, the majority of British consumers (66%) said they are more likely to respond to direct marketing that reaches them at the right time.
Of course, knowing when the best time is to send a marketing communication involves knowing evey customer well. Many businesses already hold significant amounts of data about their customers, often gathered as a result of transactions made or loyalty card memberships. And the more data they hold, the greater the marketer's opportunity to communicate at just the right time.
According to Headley, today's smart marketers are using all available customer data to identify marketing triggers. Some simple examples include:
- A birthday: The customer is contacted with a birthday message and a special offer, making them feel valued as a customer;
- Moving house: When a change of address is identified, an insurance company might send special offers for household insurance, or a DIY store might send offers for decorating and gardening materials;
- Specific product purchases: When a customer buys an outdoor barbecue, it may be the right time to send special offers for new garden furniture;
- An anniversary: When a customer has been shopping with a retailer for a whole year, they can be contacted with exclusive special offers to celebrate the milestone.
Communications timed at this level can make a great impact on customers and give them a 'feel good' factor that provides an incentive to spend more with the same company. GI Direct's surveys show that consumers really do take note of well-timed trigger mailings, with nearly 60% of consumers recalling receiving event-triggered marketing offers during the previous 12 months.
At the same time, marketers can also use transactional analysis techniques to monitor each customer's spending and to establish triggers related to spending thresholds. For example, a hypothetical retailer sets a spending threshold of 200 a month and, when a customer reaches that threshold they are invited to become a 'Gold Standard' customer, which provides triggered offers and incentives aimed at encouraging them to continue spending 200 or more each month. The retailer might also establish a higher threshold ('Platinum', for example) for those who then reach a monthly spending threshold of 300, resulting in additional triggered benefits and privileges.
Data practices have become very refined and digital print allows for variable data to appear on every piece of marketing. Almost any company collecting even basic customer data has the capability to carry out trigger campaigns. Trigger campaigns communicate with customers at a time when they have indicated an increased likelihood of making a purchase. Customer behaviour is analysed to identify changes that may suggest the need for a new product or service. An offer is then sent to encourage uptake of this new product or service at a time when they are more likely to do so.
Developing the capability to produce trigger mailings seems essential, although marketers always have to consider the balance between timing and cost. If sophisticated systems are in place then rather than mailing 1 million customers every quarter - regardless of whether or not it is the right time - perhaps only 70,000 will need to be contacted every week in a more timely fashion.
Timeliness on a weekly level makes much more of an impression on the recipient. So what are the essential steps for marketers to think about when implementing trigger mailings or campaigns? According to Headley, the steps are actually quite simple:
- Make sure that all customer information can be gathered into a single system, even if it is coming from many different parts of the organisation;
- Capture information about customers and their spending patterns - for example via a loyalty scheme;
- Analyse those spending patterns to identify key event-driven opportunities;
- Test different levels of timeliness to observe the effect on response and sales;
- Use this intelligence to put an event-triggered campaign cycle in place that helps to raise response rates without costing a fortune;
- Identify a direct marketing services provider that can support your event-triggered needs as well as your high-volume campaigns;
- Research your customers' communication preferences so that they get your offers through the channel they are most likely to respond to;
- Consider coordinating mailings with other activities to maximise media exposure and campaign return on investment.
Consumers were also asked whether, in the past year, they had noticed at least one or two companies who had sent marketing offers in response to a specific trigger such as a birthday, a particular product purchase, moving house, monthly spend passing a threshold, or something similar. Overall, 58% of respondents said they had received such trigger mailings, suggesting that more and more marketers are making use of the customer data they hold and using it to target people when they are most likely to make a purchase.
The study also found that younger consumers are more likely to notice the creative element of a piece of direct marketing, rather than paying attention to the actual offer itself, while older people tend to be more concerned with the information that is being conveyed. Furthermore, older consumers are more likely to have a long-standing relationship with a brand or supplier, and the business has a better chance of understand their needs and desires.
It is also important, however, to understand that trigger-based marketing offers are in no way limited to direct mail, and that they can arrive with the customer via any channel or touch point - and knowing which channel the customer prefers to use can give the marketer the edge they need to effectively reach the customer.
Direct mail remains an important customer communication channel and is often used as a means of driving customers online in the first place, but many of the best campaigns use multiple channels. A report from Pitney Bowes found that 60% of UK consumers find personalised direct mail and direct response advertising the most effective advertising technique to encourage them to visit a company's web site for the first time and seriously consider a purchase.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that combining email marketing with direct mail produces conversion-to-sale rates that are 7 to 10 times higher than when email is used on its own. This suggests that, while email and email+direct mail campaigns produce similar levels of ROI, critical sales volumes tend to be more easily achieved when the two are used together.
There has been a gradual technological evolution within direct mail production and service providers that supports the ongoing move toward event-triggered campaigns and, while there will always be a requirement for marketers to balance their activities between timeliness and production costs, weekly triggered output is now affordably within reach for most marketing departments, and software is already available that allows printers to plan and manage multichannel campaigns involving print as well as email and personalised web sites (PURLs).
The study concluded that, while trigger-based marketing campaigns are being carried out by a growing number of companies, more effort still needs to be made with younger consumers, and marketers must work harder to establish relationships with (and gather data about) these important customers.