Tag Archives: direct mail

Social Distancing: Marketing’s New Strategic Mandate

beatles-abbey-road-social-distancingLong before the fear of contracting COVID-19 entered our collective consciousness, and thanks to modern society’s reliance on electronic devices, many people were already practicing a form of social distancing. Without leaving our own homes, we text or play video games with friends. Many of us no longer call family members as often.

I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has simply accelerated social distancing, and that it will normalize self-imposed isolation long after it’s over. We may all be in this together, but social distancing has also changed the meaning of what “together” really means. This will likely have a lasting impact on our global society, on how people communicate with each other and on how marketers will reach and influence people in the future.

If these predictions are correct, and people continue to reduce their interpersonal contact, here are some tactical suggestions involving three major categories of marketing activity.

Direct Communication

Many companies have abused email to such a great extent — bombarding clients, prospects and referral sources with email blasts, self-serving newsletters and other useless information — that it’s now extremely difficult to get noticed or gain meaningful traction. But marketers who know how to craft an enticing subject line, and who can write effective copy, can break through the clutter. Include the person’s or company’s name in the subject line to distinguish it from spam, for instance. More importantly, remember that long, rambling messages rarely get read. Less is more, if it’s well written.

I also recommend practicing the art of the physical letter. In terms of visceral impact, I believe there’s still no substitute for ink on letterhead that’s hand-signed and delivered in an envelope featuring an attractive commemorative stamp. Snail mail, which for decades was blocked by executive gatekeepers, is now such a rare occurrence that personal letters often receive immediate attention. I’ve found that letters also make it far more likely that the recipient will remember the communication and take a follow-up phone call from the sender.

Online Visibility

With the exception of sophisticated e-commerce businesses, I’ve noticed that most companies maintain a “brochureware” website that’s rarely refreshed. Many have blogs featuring content that most visitors neither read nor comment on. Very few companies seem to monitor website analytics, and even fewer understand the complex world of SEO. A significant number of companies also maintain a presence on social media platforms and publish posts for a relatively small group of followers, many of whom are not their target audience.

Although most company CEOs or owners would never consider operating without a website — which serves as the modern-day storefront — many of them over the years have confessed to me that they see no tangible connection between their website or social media and tangible business outcomes, such as lead generation, increased sales or new accounts.

As social distancing drives even greater reliance on information that’s gained through online search, marketers will likely need to establish a much higher bar for themselves in terms of the ROI for the content they produce. Repurposing third-party information with (or without) your firm’s introductory comments, or posting online versions of sales collateral — under the guise of thought leadership — is simply noise.

Earned media has the highest value on the credibility scale. Rather than posting a self-serving white paper, work with a vertical trade or professional publication to produce an objective bylined article on the topic. Then, promote that content, which is far more likely to be read and to deliver higher online visibility and sustained Google search ranking compared to any blog or social media post.

Industry Events

The practical business benefits of participation in large conferences, symposiums and seminars have always been difficult to measure. The sales team rationalizes the significant investment of time and expense for these events by claiming the company “would be conspicuous by its absence,” or that they are a cost-effective way to meet face to face with many of the best clients. The veracity of those claims notwithstanding, the COVID-19 pandemic will likely reduce the attendance levels and ROI of large industry events for at least the next few years.

Marketers have always used targeted, efficient means of reaching and influencing large groups of current and potential customers — most often through webinars and other online forums that leverage technology. With the reduced availability and impact of live industry events, I believe marketers will need to step up their game in terms of how they create, promote, manage and leverage online group forums.

With few exceptions, the standard webinar protocol is to create an agenda that (directly or indirectly) highlights the company’s capabilities, and engage a webinar technology firm for logistics. You then promote the event through blast emails and social media and throw any attendee leads over to the sales team for follow-up. If the process yields any new customers, the event is considered a success.

But as the number of online events greatly increases to compensate for fewer industry events, you’ll need to squeeze much more juice out of this tactic. Squarely address and promote the “What’s in this for me?” factor in your webinar content. Make sure your agenda is 100% educational and devoid of self-serving slide presentations. Allow attendees to draw their own conclusions regarding your company’s value proposition, based solely on the quality of the intellectual capital that’s displayed during the discussion. For many marketers, it may be a major hurdle to persuade senior management to make this cultural change.

If your webinar content is truly educational, then you can repurpose it — perhaps as a bylined article or long-form LinkedIn post — for people who didn’t attend the online event.

Beyond adjusting your tactics, consider how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect personal values. In this new world, I believe authenticity, empathy and courtesy will be key factors in decision making, and they should be reflected in everything the company communicates internally and externally.

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B2B Marketing Needs One Giant Step…Backwards

Vest Pocket BrochuresIn the dark ages of B2B marketing communications, circa 1980, the goal was to get your snail-mailed communications past the office gatekeepers (a/k/a “executive assistants”), and onto the desks of your targeted decision-makers.

Most often, however, the sheer volume of first-class mail processed every morning by office gatekeepers made it more likely that your personalized pitch letter and costly sales brochure would end up, unopened, in the garbage can. Dead on arrival.

But starting in the mid-1990s, corporate adoption of email communication changed the dynamics of direct marketing.  First-class mail volume dropped from a peak of 59 billion pieces in 1996, to 23 billion pieces in 2013 — a 61 percent decline.

So in theory…this significant reduction in snail mail volume meant that the bar for getting materials past the office gatekeepers was lower; making it far easier to get your marketing materials into the hands of intended targets.

But that’s not what’s happened.

Instead, in lemming-like fashion, B2B marketers largely abandoned snail mail as a viable marketing communication channel, and adopted email as their “direct” medium of choice.

Now, 20 years later:

  • The sheer volume of email, even with clever Subject lines, makes it nearly impossible to gain the attention of targeted decision-makers; and
  • Misguided “eco friendly” practices (notably, failure to appreciate the paper industry’s stellar record of sustainable forest management) have fostered a generation of lifeless marketing collateral that’s either viewed onscreen, or downloaded and printed in PDF format on office printers.

As a result, today’s B2B marketers are failing to capture opportunities to connect with prospects through physical materials, in a business environment where the arrival of personalized, first-class mail is often a unique event; prompting most gatekeepers to ensure that it’s delivered to the intended target.

In addition to capturing this marcom window of opportunity, marketers would be well-served to take an additional giant step BACKWARDS…by developing “Ink on Paper” collateral materials that build brand stature.

What marketers will gain by recapturing the lost art of Ink on Paper includes:

Visceral Impact – Pixels on a screen have no weight, no dimension, no texture, no smell. Ink on Paper places something physical into a person’s hands. They open the cover and turn its pages. It’s a sensory experience that communicates on human terms, and that cannot be replicated by a flimsy PDF reprint created on a laser copier.

Personality – The range of creative expression using pixels is limited by the fixed dimensions of a flat glass screen. Ink on Paper lives on a canvas of unlimited graphic possibilities, in terms of size, shape, color and physical features. It provides an opportunity to stand out from the crowd, to express yourself more effectively, and to make an impression that’s likely to be remembered.

Permanence – People scroll through computer screens at hyper-speed. The volume of information is unlimited, and no intellectual commitment is required of viewers. Ink on Paper moves in slow motion, forcing readers to pay closer attention to its content.

Whether they sit on a desk or in a vest pocket, high quality printed materials suggest that the people and company who produced them actually exist, have nothing to hide and can be trusted.

Practitioners in most disciplines are often quick to embrace new tools and methods that enhance their results and professional satisfaction. But a much smaller number of those professionals understand the importance of sticking with, or adapting, existing tactics that work well. They do not fear appearing out-of-touch or old fashioned.

Seasoned marketers who have thrown the baby out with the bathwater in their wholesale adoption of digital communications, as well as more recent arrivals to the marketing profession who have always lived in a paperless world, would be well-served to reconsider Ink on Paper as a medium.

No marketing communications program is truly integrated without high quality print collateral.

Try using those materials as the basis for a snail mail campaign with clients or prospects, and see what happens. Ideally, do it before your competitors discover the opportunity.

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