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I recently awoke after a long weekend to learn that many of the marketing tactics I have been recommending to clients no longer work. Had I awakened in some dystopian alternative universe? Was I in an episode of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone? Or was it all just a dream?
No, it seems that I was quite awake. I was catching up on a few days’ worth of the blogs, RSS feeds and email links. While I spent the weekend off, others were busy describing and detailing the death of the main tools and techniques of marketing: traditional, direct, digital, etc. As president of one of the top direct marketing agencies in the U.S., I hoped that we had not led our clients astray.
According to the collected works of other digital authors, websites are no longer necessary; search marketing is yesterday’s news; direct mail had not been effective for a decade; everyone talks about testing but nobody does it; Facebook, Twitter and other social tools are for old people, not the smart, young, affluent buyers that many marketers are looking for; and blogs, SMS feeds and content marketing are overused and under-performing. Marketing may be customer-centric and data-driven, but for a lot of pundits, it is just not that effective anymore.
It seemed like the only bright spot was email. Improved tools for deliverability, effective personalization and relevant messaging are helping email work better than ever! Automated email programs, triggered emails and mobile-optimized emails are working great. And according to Bronto Software, while only 13-15% of e-commerce companies use abandoned cart emails, they have a 20% conversion rate.1 Successful email programs need a little research, good planning, marketing goals, individualized subject lines, copy that connects readers with writers and a strong call-to-action. And if you use email in a responsible way, it works. Can’t the same be said for most other marketing channels today?
I don’t always agree with other authors. Over the years, I have learned that there is always a little truth in ideas, even when they seem misguided. So let me try to piece together what a lot of authors are trying to communicate, although by relying on radically negative points of view to support their claims.
Should marketers stop investing in websites?
The web is changing, and accessing the web by mobile is leading the charge. Descriptive URLs (e.g., fireworks.com), SEO tricks and knowledge of your top keywords are no longer as important as prospects increase the use of mobile during their consumer buying journeys. Creating your websites using responsive design should just be a given if your users are increasing their use of mobile to access your site. You are measuring that, aren’t you?
Apps have become more important despite an incredible cost to marketers as they create versions for every phone/tablet operating system and mobile device. Marketers are learning that apps need to be created around the use case for users. So if you have created a travel app that delivers the smoothest reservations experience, you may be competing with a desktop experience that may be better. Have you thought about when travelers need to use that app the most? For example, when a user is on the road and hits bad weather, needs to change the time of a trip or the destination?
How about a marketer’s social presence? Doesn’t that make corporate websites yesterday’s news? No. A brand’s social media presence is important, but it is not a substitute for a carefully constructed website. Marketers must invest in web analytics and testing to optimize their websites. Dynamic content and landing pages that can be A/B tested to optimize customer engagement should be part of every marketer’s strategy.
Are SEM and SEO still effective?
Every day I read about the death of another favored marketing tool. SEM and SEO are no exception. Yes, Google’s latest algorithms no longer reward websites with a lot of links or that use other traditional SEO principles (e.g., repeating top keywords on a page’s metatags). Instead, Google now rewards websites that have the most recent, relevant and reliable content. Marketers can’t do paid or organic keyword queries with Google Analytics (part of Google’s Secure Search initiative). Advertisers still have access to paid keyword data within the Google AdWords dashboard and various types of organic results data in Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools and Google My Business.
To be clear, keyword research is still a fundamental building block of digital and online marketing. In Jacobs & Clevenger’s version of inbound content marketing, we sprinkle our content with our latest keywords. Using the words that prospects and customer are interested in and searching for helps make the content compelling and gain inbound traffic. And, compelling content is what Google rewards these days!
Isn’t direct mail yesterday’s channel?
Direct mail is not the cheapest channel, but it is one of the most targetable, trackable and measurable. Direct mail response rates are much higher than those in other comparable channels (e.g., email). When good direct mail creative, a compelling offer and a great database are combined, it’s hard to beat direct mail’s return on marketing investment. According to the Direct Marketing Association, one of the advantages of direct mail is that the response rate to existing customers averages 3.4% versus a 0.12% response rate for email.2
Here in the U.S., the United States Postal Service has lost money in 21 of the last 23 quarters. These losses are the result of the USPS’s need to prefund billions of dollars each quarter in retiree health benefit payments. This is a problem that requires legislative action by Congress, which is unlikely right now. But, the USPS profitability has nothing to do with mail volume. In the second quarter of 2014, shipping and package volume increased 7.7% and standard mail volume increased 0.9%.3 Yes, direct mail volume actually went up! This confounds the common wisdom.
The USPS has provided a number of products that have helped increase volume. Combined with direct mail best practices, they provide a combination made for today’s marketing. Want to reach a hyper local audience by mail (e.g., households in a certain geography or ZIP code), but don’t have names and addresses? The Postal Service’s Every Door Direct Mail tool can help with that. Want your outer envelopes to stand out? You can print indicia’s with logos, brand images or trademarks. Want to know when your direct mail efforts went through the local post office? Intelligent mail can help estimate that. Want to use direct mail to drive prospects and customers to your website? PURLs (personalized URLs) can be created for each person mailed, and personalized within a direct mail package. This allows marketers to send readers to a web page with relevant content, calls-to-action and customized reasons to convert.
There are plenty more marketing tactics and channels that others argue are dead or dying. I will try and coax out the truth about them in a future blog post. In the meantime, sign up for a personalized assessment, Multichannel Direct Marketing, to ensure you are leveraging best practices. We’ll teach you new ideas that will help increase response and drive customer action.
Topics: Direct Response Marketing