Why the marriage of technology, data, and creativity allows brands to foreground the consumer experience and drive greater sales results
More than most marketing strategies, direct marketing remains largely stigmatized. Mention it to most outside of the discipline, and truckloads of snail mail overfilling people's mailboxes come to mind. But direct mail and direct marketing are not the same thing.
Direct marketing is about driving business results. No matter the platform, any time brands communicate with a potential consumer — such as using an augmented reality platform targeted at Millennials to drive insurance purchases — they are actually using direct-response marketing. Today, the convergence of data, technology, and creativity are opening new direct-response avenues that, while highly successful, are still largely untapped by many brands.
After years of being the secondary or tertiary consideration, though, direct marketers need to proudly rise from the fringes and reclaim their mojo. Because if any discipline is poised to own the end-to-end customer journey, it's direct marketing.
Redefining direct marketing
A recent report from Ad Age highlights the acceleration of direct-response ad formats across social platforms. With the adoption of direct marketing ads within its Stories, Instagram is asking advertisers to set a goal for each campaign — from website visits to interactions — thereby measuring campaign execution and success via the direct actions users take with those ads. This process builds a powerful new argument for direct marketing in several ways.
First of all, using tracking pixels, these metrics can include actual sales or qualified lead creation. Often, direct response results are viewed in a linear, campaign-to-campaign fashion without being connected to broader business objectives. Across the vast majority of sectors, though, sales and revenue remain a primary metric, and now brands can tie these efforts back to those baseline dollar measurements.
Moreover, the newfound abundance of data beyond simple sales dollars allows brands to measure the overall effect that direct marketing has, especially for calls to action that are not immediately pushing a sale. Data has always been at the core of marketing, but combining it with both technology and creativity renders marketing efforts that brands can measure more effectively.
Lastly, nuanced targeting on social platforms and search networks based on user-provided preferences, interests, and demographics are becoming more sophisticated, allowing greater success for direct marketing efforts. Google's introduction of Smart display campaigns earlier this year is a good example of this evolution: The program uses brand pieces to generate thousands of personalized ads in a matter of seconds.
With driving responses being akin to driving business results, one-to-one marketing is now a requirement. While meeting sales and revenue goals requires action from consumers, it's direct marketing that inspires that action.
Harnessing the power of direct marketing
With the consumer at its heart, direct marketing uses creativity and technology solutions driven by data and cultural tensions to humanize, personalize, and connect with consumers. This helps brands achieve holistic ownership — owning the path to purchase and the path to loyalty.
By using the following three strategies, brands can organize and execute direct-response tactics that better respond to today's dynamic marketplace:
1. Intimately know your consumers
The most successful direct response efforts tie messaging to a "moment in time" — e.g., the triggers, life events, or inflection points that distinguish consumers' lives. Brands need to truly understand their customers' journeys and the problems they are trying to solve in order to gather data around these key moments.
Don't rely on a guessing game, though. Learn from consumers directly through processes like focus groups, measurable actions, or behavior analytics. Developing a clear data set around these trigger points and studying your consumers' responses closely allows you to hone your direct marketing strategy.
2. Use a combination of data, technology, and creativity
Once you understand your consumers, create a rigorous plan that harnesses this trifecta. The best direct response efforts keep all three of these facets at the forefront by finding ways to enhance creative teams' efforts with data and software.
By using data to define consumer problems, actions, and behaviors, brands can have their creative teams respond to these issues with more actionable and effective content. And once you have a strategy in place, technology can help you deliver personalized, targeted, and precisely timed messages that utilize consumer feedback to continuously revisit and adapt the consumer-brand relationship. With consumers seeking content that is topical, specific, and relevant — and that goes beyond information — it's essential that brands harness these insights to cultivate more consumer-centric messaging.
3. Design platform-specific campaigns
Consumer responses are unique to particular channels and environments. For instance, if 300,000 new ads are needed, it doesn't matter how you drive those ads so long as you inspire action with audiences in different ways while maintaining sight of your business objective. Thus, brands must customize and adapt their marketing efforts according to the platform:
- Social platforms: Be part of the conversation by thoughtfully responding to others' posts or sharing others' content so that you contribute in a relevant and contextualized way. This includes personalizing ads and weaving those ads into consumers' environments, such as creating a relevant filter or enhancing a popular game. Also, brands should allow in-platform responses through features like chatbots via the Facebook Messenger app to foster user interaction, which drives touchpoints and conversions.
- Email marketing: Spend 80 percent of your efforts on the subject line and preheater text to ensure you're disseminating the right messaging, and use dynamic content to deliver more personalized experiences. Changing out key points, headlines, and other elements drastically shifts how much time readers spend with your email. Also, move away from generic calls to action toward more personalized ones.
- Direct mail:When using direct mail, the outside envelope is critical because it needs to capture consumers’ attention enough for them to open it. To be successful, brands need to embrace the channel — real, hold-it-in-your-hands mail — by capitalizing on what's possible, from widgets to textures to sounds or smells. By treating direct mail as a touchpoint and the beginning of a customer journey, you can correlate it with your other marketing efforts and drive consumers to the next interaction — your website, search features, social platforms, call center, etc.
While the form of direct marketing may have changed over the years, the objective — to drive real business results — hasn't. By understanding consumers, fusing data with technology and creativity, and identifying platform-specific goals, brands can bolster their outreach and drive consumer engagement in a way that conventional, broad-based marketing efforts simply can't accomplish.