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Granular Data Makes It Highly Personal at US Direct Marketing Expo

Delivering the right message to the right group of highly targetted consumers via their favoured channels was the declared mission of almost every exhibitor attending at &THEN, the US Direct Marketing Association's annual expo and conference.

Photo: More than 15,000 direct-marketing evangelists attended the 2016 &THEN event.
More than 15,000 direct-marketing evangelists attended the 2016 &THEN event.
Photo: More than 15,000 direct-marketing evangelists attended the 2016 &THEN event.
More than 15,000 direct-marketing evangelists attended the 2016 &THEN event.

Ever greater personalisation was the prime focus of the Direct Marketing Association's &THEN event, with finding and delivering marketing messages perfectly in tune with individual customers' needs and preferences clearly the priority for many of the assembled advertising and media folk.

Perhaps more surprisingly, despite the rise and rise of digital communication, many at the show were keen to emphasise the enduring appeal of old-fashioned ink-on-paper direct communication, as well as the advantages of a multi-touch point approach, which combines the best of old and new media.

In terms of personalisation, many were keen to highlight the benefits of 'granular' marketing messages – communications that align with the target consumer's interests and preferences as precisely as possible. Overall, this was thought not only to improve sales, but also to drive loyalty.

Emphasising the importance of this targetted approach, Wendy Word, Head of Client Development for Maryland-based DirectMail.com, said: "You have to know as much about your member, your donor or your prospect as you possibly can. When they receive something in the mail, it has to be relevant as they are forever flooded with a huge variety of things.

"You have to have something that makes it rise to the top and something that resonates with your target organisation. The key focus, then, has to be more segmentation and more personal one-on-one communication."

Personalising large-scale direct communications clearly presents certain challenges, especially in the case of postal campaigns with particularly long print runs. Paul Padratzik, a Commercial Printing and Direct Mail Specialist with the Minnesota-based Jap-Olson Company, though, was keen to highlight just how efficient personalised mail-pieces have become.

He said: "We work closely with our clients to figure out just how they are going to use the data and we then design a program around their requirements. In the case of colour variable pieces, we change the four-colour process based on customer affinity, thus you can have the option of images related to families, singles and so on.

"In the case of Compassion, a child-sponsorship charity, what it used to do was send you a Polaroid of your sponsored child stuck to your mailing. Nowadays, it sends you an electronic photo, so one particular Compassion piece can require the use of up to 200,000 individual images."

Despite the rise of electronic communications, many attendees at the event remained convinced that good-old-fashioned direct mail still had a role to play, especially when targetting certain demographics. Championing this much-maligned sector, Stephen Kimball, a Utah-based direct-marketing copywriter, said: "A lot of what I do relates to seniors – collectable coins, vitamin supplements, investments opportunities, things like back braces. In short, anything that helps them live better. These Baby Boomers represent a huge market right now. They have money to spend and a lot of my clients are only too happy to help them spend it.

"They still like their mail. They still like to go to their mailbox everyday, reach their hand in, grab it out and read it."

Far from entirely abandoning direct mail in favour of electronic direct communication, some at the event championed the cause of a more multi-media approach, the process of targetting individual customers with multiple communications through different channels. Clearly an advocate, Word said: "Direct mail is not going away, but we've been able to do add an additional few touch points to it.

"Just recently, we have started to integrate Facebook – that is, combining Facebook advertising with direct mail. This means, when someone receives a direct mail piece, we are also targetting them with a Facebook ad. In the past, when we've sent an email, then a mail piece, then a follow up email, we've seen around a 30% increase in response."

Clearly, though, targetting the right customer with the right message is vital, irrespective of how that message is delivered, and the key to the success of any campaign is using the right data in the right way. One company with a particular focus on data management is Digital Target, an Indiana-based digital direct marketing agency.

According to Andrew J Thomashow, the company's Senior Sales Director, although he was attending the show partly to attract new customers, he was equally keen to find good-quality new data sources, a process he saw as very hit and miss. He said: "We always test. We take everyone at face value, we listen to their spiel about their data and, if it sounds like a match for something we are looking for, we test. If it works, great, we are friends. If it doesn't work, we're still friends, but we just don't use the data."

Ways in which clients and agencies could make best use of their data was another recurrent theme at the event. Optimove, a data-handling software specialist with offices in London, New York and Tel Aviv, sees its role as helping clients to better understand their customers, ultimately allowing them to predict future buying behaviour.

Photo: Direct appeal: Seminars in session.
Direct appeal: Seminars in session.
Photo: Direct appeal: Seminars in session.
Direct appeal: Seminars in session.
Photo: Blowing its own trumpets: The Epson stand.
Blowing its own trumpets: The Epson stand.
Photo: Blowing its own trumpets: The Epson stand.
Blowing its own trumpets: The Epson stand.

Explaining its approach, Yoav Susz, the company's Director of New Business, said: "One of the biggest problems in marketing is that people are measuring relatively meaningless indices, such as click through and open rates. What we look to do is help them understand the revenue impact of these things. The bottom line is – if you run a campaign, is it generating additional revenue?

"We evaluate this through the use of test and control groups. We might, for example, compare a group of people with exactly the same characteristics who haven't received any messages with a group that did. We then try to establish what's working and what isn't and then make recommendations as to how to get more granular."

The company has recently opened offices in New York in a bid to move beyond its established base of gaming clients and target a variety of e-commerce businesses across the US. Highlighting the company's heritage, Susz said: "The people who seem to understand CRM best are those in the world of gaming. The importance of bringing people back again and again is fundamental to gaming. Overall, people in this sector need to be able to predict who their best customers are going to be in a year's time.

"Currently, we have a number of clients in the e-commerce field, including such companies as HappySocks.com, Nelly.com, eBags and Adore Me. The results we've got for them have been astounding. When you are able to communicate with somebody in a way that they care about, talk to them through a channel they care about and deliver a message that resonates with them, you can see increases in lifetime value of more than 100%.

"We have done a lot of research that shows that people want you to understand them. It's now something we tend to expect from companies. It's very much: 'Don't show me products that I don't care about and don't talk to me in ways that I don't like.'"

Although established media – notably direct mail and email marketing – dominated the event, certain emerging trends in the use of video were also widely in evidence. For Thomashow, streaming was currently one of the more interesting channels on offer.

He said: "Streaming really is the best way to reach younger consumers and it works particularly well with millennials. While anyone can use it, the millennials are most open to it.

Washington DC-based Tagzu, however, has quite a different approach when it comes to utilising streamed video. Explaining its rather novel take on the channel, Samira Sabulis, the company's Chief Executive, said: "We're able to add interactive clickable hotspots to streaming video. These can either be still within the video or move in line with designated objects.

"The viewer then has the option of clicking on them, allowing them to see more information about a particular product. They can also click to buy or click to see another video, maybe even a PDF file or pretty much anything really. You can even embed surveys in a video.

"It also features a video analytics system. This allows you to get a better understanding of your target consumer's behaviour, giving you the option of further refining your message."

Clearly bullish about the impact the approach can have on response rates, she said: "If you want to include surveys, it increases engagement by 65%, which is quite substantial. When you have engagement within the video, in the form of interactivity, the click through increases between 14% and 16%, another huge gain.

"Overall, people really enjoy being engaged via video, far more so than when they have to sit through a commercial. In those cases, they frequently just opt out."

Photo: Expo attendees head off in search of inspiration.
Expo attendees head off in search of inspiration.
Photo: Expo attendees head off in search of inspiration.
Expo attendees head off in search of inspiration.

The 2016 Direct Marketing Association &THEN event was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center from 16-18 October. Some 400 exhibitors attended the event, providing more than 150 hours of talks, seminars and workshops.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, Los Angeles

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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