The essence of direct marketing these days isn't necessarily a personalized mail piece or timely offer (although it can include those). What's happening more and more are subtle but persistent efforts to understand each customer as an individual and leverage data so that each touch creates more value than the previous one.
“Only then can you create a system of engagement where marketing is so good it feels like a service,” said Katharyn White, VP-marketing, global business services at IBM Corp., speaking last week at the Business Marketing Association, New York Chapter's “Go and Grow” conference in Manhattan.
At the BMA event, marketers expressed their views on a variety of marketing topics, most of which delved into the future of direct marketing as an ongoing, personalized campaign.
“As b2b marketers, we have something to learn from the b-to-c side,” said Sandra Zoratti, VP-marketing, executive briefings and education at electronics company Ricoh Co. “When you look at Starbucks, American Express or Best Buy, these companies are creating 'ecosystems' of customers and partners, and having conversations that help design products and brands.”
Zoratti urged b2b marketers to create similar environments that are “small, high-touch and that build social conversations, asking customers to design your solutions.”
The key, she said, is examining small, important chunks of data.
“Big Data is a challenge, so to extract insights, start with small pieces of data that you can understand and control,” she said. “Drag these insights out by using partners in side-by-side tests. The first thing to do is use small steps to overcome the fear about data.”
Tim Suther, chief marketing and strategy officer at direct marketing database company Acxiom Corp., also urged marketers to focus on customers, citing a “shift in power” to the folks with the checkbooks and decision-making power.
DISCOVERING VALUABLE RELATIONSHIPS
“All major brand metrics are in decline because what people see about your product is freely available online,” Suther said. “The answer is discovering your most valuable relationships and how to impact those customers' own profitability.”
But Suther also warned against being overly enamored of customer care and approval to the detriment of other considerations.
“Focusing on 'customer love' isn't always consistent with making money,” Suther said. “Sometimes you might offer the cheapest price, or be everywhere or offer the best mousetrap. Organizations can run into trouble if they're not making sure they go to market in a consistent way.”
Eduardo Conrado, senior VP-CMO with Motorola Solutions, said one key to this is reimagining the role of the venerable “Four Ps,” first formulated by marketing academic and author E. Jerome McCarthy in 1960: product, place, price and promotion.
For Conrado, product now equals customer solutions; promotion is customer education; price is delivering value; and the notion of place is providing access to this information wherever the customer or prospect might be.
“Access means creating a new formulation, combining a portion of IT with marketing into a single team,” Conrado said. “As we change how we tell stories to educate the market and customers, we have to architect the IT department. It's an area [where] marketers have never been before.”
“Going forward, marketers will have a big voice in how portals are structured and will influence how people view content,” he said.
Conrado said these steps will enable marketers to finally “have a seat at the executive table.”
“What role does marketing have? One is the cultural piece,” he said. “Marketing has some of the best tools to be a culture igniter. Marketing can move the enterprise forward with a set of tools that help drive change. Often, marketing is the first group that puts these in place.
“When that happens, marketers can become the smartest people in the room,” he said.