Archive for the ‘Marketing Insight’ Category

Audience with Rory Sutherland

Friday, February 18th, 2011

I’d been looking forward to this week’s Institute of Direct Marketing Members’ Evening, An Audience with Rory Sutherland since it came up on the event schedule. I last saw Rory in full flow at a previous IDM event, their 2008 Business-to-Business Marketing Conference and enjoyed his combination of levity and original thinking. We weren’t disappointed this time-round, as Rory was allowed to run-over his time slot with a steady barrage of witticisms and insight.

Among them were an observation regarding the importance of behavioural data in determining consumer preferences. Rory pointed out that relying on what consumers tell us in terms of their preferences and requirements can often be unreliable. Instead, paying attention to behaviour, and increasingly this means online, can enable unstated interests to be revealed that might otherwise remain out of sight. Putting it into metaphorical terms Rory said, “the conscious mind is not like the Oval Office,” suggesting it’s in charge, but that many actual decisions are made unconsciously. This makes it pretty hard to ask someone what they intend to do!

I was also struck by Rory’s comments regarding the perceived value of TV or other traditional media compared to digital. Everyone knows that TV airtime is expensive, not to mention the cost of creating the advertising, so a certain value is attached to it. Even direct mail, perhaps given its tangible form, is viewed in a similar way. In comparison, digital media, with its much lower cost of production, doesn’t have quite the same cache, Rory posited. This isn’t to say it isn’t effective, but perhaps the tendency for brands to reallocate spend from traditional to digital media, rather than simply adding resources to new media, may be a mistake.

His parting thought though was that “there’s more than one way to do everything”, which seems like good advice.

Institute of Direct Marketing Business-to-Business Marketing Conference 2010

Friday, May 21st, 2010

This week’s Institute of Direct Marketing B2B Marketing Conference threw up a few thoughts and anecdotes, as usual. In answering the questions “Why bother with marketing”, Professor Paul Fifield from the University of Southampton suggested that seeking-out and identifying customer value through a number of approaches is they key. One of these approaches includes ensuring the organisation achieves alignment with the market by generating insight and reacting rapidly to it.

The theme of rapid reaction, and what I like to call agility, came up again in the session from Vodafone’s Head of Devices, Online and Campaigns, Deane McIntyre. Referring to the recent ash-cloud crisis, he described the campaign he and his team were able to rapidly put together and execute, thanks to their marketing automation platform and flexible processes. This ability to react is very much what I have in mind when I talk about creating a marketing environment that enables and encourages innovation, rather than leaving Marketing wondering how they’re going to get the job done.

I was also amused by Deane’s comment regarding inserting a degree of opacity around the Marketing process as far as Sales are concerned. “Don’t show Sales the engine,” he said, referring to the processes and systems used by Marketing to run campaigns and generate leads. Whilst transparency is generally the best approach, I’m always saying that, for instance, it’s best not to send Sales all the leads so they don’t get the opportunity to crititise the poor ones. A certain obfuscation never goes amiss… I was less impressed though with his admission that he tended to undertake limited measurement of marketing activity, in favour of “just doing it”. And this from a former accountant!

Matthew Palmer from Deloitte was less sanguine about measurement (as you might expect from a big consultancy), with advice for Marketing on engaging with Finance. This included ensuring budgets are actively agreed together to encourage buy-in and developing easy metrics to demonstrate success. He also suggested explaining why budget is being spent a certain way and linking outcomes to corporate targets – which after all, should be the point of Marketing, right?! In addition, some advice regarding making cuts in spending were he offered, including the avoidance of simply reducing all line items by the same percentage. Instead, examine what really can be done-without and what needs to be retained at full strength, he suggested.

A good day as always and well worth the investment in time.

Percassity Perspectives

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Latest edition of my company newsletter.

Issue 2, January 2010 Includes articles on the growing primacy of customer intelligence specialists, the emergence of the chief customer officer, more Google news, and the final installment of How to kick off your CRM system project. We also add a new “Vacancies” section.

Virgin on the ridiculous

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Couldn’t resist sharing a hoary old customer relationship management horror story, at the expense of Virgin Atlantic, which is of passing relevance to this blog.

Having secured a piece of work which required me to travel to New York, I decided to eschew my decade-old allegiance to British Airways and give Virgin a try. Some people rave about Virgin and I’ve heard less glowing reports too, but I guess there’s no substitute to trying it for yourself.

On buying the flight, I naturally signed up for their “air miles” loyalty scheme, “Virgin Flying Club”, in order to start accruing my meagre rewards. (I’m not flying up front or traveling that often!) A few weeks later, a mailer arrived in the post (very nicely done, I will say), encouraging me to sign-up to Flying Club in exchange for instant Silver status (the next level after Red, the starting grade.) My first thought, of course, was the slight breakdown in customer data management that had occurred, allowing an already-signed up customer to be sent such a mailer, giving away additional benefits.

Nonetheless, instant Silver status seemed worth having (just) so I visited the campaign microsite to sign-up, with a strong feeling that somewhere along the line Virgin would realise their mistake. Sure, enough, having submitted my details, the process rejected my application with a (rather cryptic) message along the lines “you’re already registered”. No doubt I could have obfuscated my details sufficiently to fool the system, but at this point I was loosing interest. Instead I fired an email to Virgin Customer Services, identifying myself and complaining that I wasn’t able to complete the application.

Back came a response (over ten days later) asking me to identify the email I had received with the offer. Well, the offer came by post of course, so I replied to this effect and queried why they didn’t appear to know what they had sent me? In the next reply (another ten days after mine), I was asked to identify the mailer, with no acknowledgement to my point about joined up marketing. By this time I had mislaid the mailer, so I offered a short description and again made the point that somebody at Virgin must be able to establish what I had been sent.

At this point, I was informed in the next reply (this time a little more promptly), that my enquiry was “referred to the relevant team”, who noted the applicable offer was both mailed and emailed. Regardless, I would now be upgraded to Silver and a new membership card despatched. Splendid, I thought, since the up-rated status came with free upgrades to First Class on the Heathrow Express, my favoured method of transfer to the airport. I’ll use that next week when I go back over to New York…

So, a few days before my most recent flight, I thought I’d take a look at how to claim my free upgrade. Logging into my Flying Club account I hunted for a link to booking a ticket – to no avail. So, off went another email to customer services, enquiring as to how I obtained my complimentary upgrade. The reply (received overnight, they’re getting better!) advised me to use the upgrade vouchers in my membership pack. “Um, what membership pack?” I thought, and emailed back along those lines, adding that I would be traveling in the following week. Predictably I received no reply, so I resorted to calling to see if there was some way of expediting the fabled vouchers. This was now the day of travel, so I held out little hope, and sure enough there was nothing that could be done. And my mischievous efforts to secure a flight upgrade in lieu of a train one also didn’t work!

The key lesson here, of course, is to ensure that customer mailings always utilise the most up to date information possible. There will always be a delay between list extract and mailing, especially/particularly with postal direct mail, but there’s no excuse for these being more than a few days. Don’t let your mailing house tell you they need a week to prepare the data once they receive it (especially in a recurring fulfillment process). The gap between my original Flying Club registration and the mailer I received was well in excess of this, probably by weeks, so it was more than possible that I might have registered in the meantime.

The other comment I would make, specifically in relation to Virgin, is that the childish tone of voice in their marketing communications, website etc is completely at odds with their apparent desire to be taken seriously as a business airline. When I receive breathless emails enquiring as to my level of excitement at my forthcoming flight, my actual reaction is to begin mental preparations for spending another seven hours in an economy class seat! And fulfillment processes that work on a monthly schedule (as it turns out is the case with Flying Club membership packs) is again futile for customers with a more frequent purchase history.

Processes, as well as messages, need to be tailored to the intended audience. I think my next flight will be with BA…

Engagement Marketing And Lead Management

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Spent a very interesting morning at the Silverpop B2B Masterclass in London yesterday. Hitting just the right balance of education and solution selling, there were some interesting presentations and good ideas. I thought it would be worth picking out a few in particular from the opening presentation by  Silverpop VP Will Schnabel. You can view the complete slideset on Slideshare, but here are some highlights.

  • Marketing extends further into the pipeline – in the past, potential customers would pick up the phone and ask for a sales rep to come round to explain your products. Now, the savvy purchaser reviews your products online, reads whitepapers and case studies, seeks references and gains an understanding of your product sector. These are all areas where Marketing is now required to deliver, so that by the time Sales are called in, the prospect is in a much more advanced stage of the purchase cycle. As such, Marketing must rise to this challenge and fulfill an education and sales preparation role, ahead of an actual buying conversation. Crucially, this also means “plugging the leaky funnel”, where prospects fall out before they get to the point of Sales engagement due to poor materials and general lead management.
  • Data capture – take web visitors through a sequence of data gathering steps rather than a one-off capture of everything you can think to ask. Responders will be turned off by very long forms with lots of questions, so ask for additional information at every interaction to build up a picture. It was suggested in the session that there probably isn’t a magic number of fields or forms to optimise this process – it may be unique to your business – so some experimentation may be required. And on the subject of data capture, don’t allow yourself to be locked into backend data processing requirements (such as field layouts), if it doesn’t suit the information you actually need. Also, consider utilising data capture techniques, the likes of which I’ve written about previously.
  • Lead scoring – this is a key element of lead qualification, using various criteria to determine the value of a lead and the appropriate next steps. These criteria can be grouped into three areas: demographic (contact role, type of organisation etc), “BANT” or the actual position of a prospect to buy, and activity (website downloads, event attendees, information requests). These techniques should be built into an overall lead scoring mechanism appropriate for your business to judge what is passed to Sales, and what remains within Marketing for ongoing nurturing.
  • Lead maturity model – a useful way to assess your own lead management sophistication, this four stage model suggests the areas that should be addressed for best practice lead management. Incorporating both demand generation activity itself, together with lead handling, it’s a valuable benchmark for your own activities. (Take a look at the slides for more details.)

In all, a worthwhile morning aimed at helping marketing secure one outcome in particular – “revenue velocity”, or increasing the rate at which an initial lead is converted to a sale, which must rank as a top priority for all marketers.

Discipline and touch control

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

A point raised at the IDM Emerging Digital Trends seminar the week before last, a recent conversation and an article in the April issue of Database Marketing magazine all highlighted an issue I thought worth recounting here.

Presenting on the use of web analytics, David Walmsley, Head of Web Selling at John Lewis talked about customer segmentation and tailoring communications based on behaviour and purchase history. He made the observation that by creating such segments, messaging content and frequency could be tailored appropriately to recipients, increasing relevance and effectiveness.

Separately, I was speaking to the former head of database marketing at a US Mid-Western publishing company. He recounted the tale of having finally made inroads with his marketing campaigns colleagues in persuading them to adopt a segmentation strategy. This was aimed at helping to reduce the over-touch problems they were facing, where some individuals were receiving as many as one email per day, such was their volume of activity. This of course lead to drastically falling response rates, as the blizzard of email simply went ignored. (Interestingly, even opt-out rates weren’t that high, such was the level of disengagement among recipients). “We need to improve targeting and reduce touch volume”, said my exasperated contact.
“No problem,” came the response, “we’ll just stop emailing the bottom, least valuable segment – that should cut volume by 10%!” The observation that this would make no difference to the top segment (those receiving an email a day), went unheeded…

In his piece in Database Marketing, Warwick Beresford-Jones wrote about “optimisation”, making the point that a given individual can be contacted only so many times before they become unresponsive, and that those touches should be used wisely to achieve best value. “Without optimisation, your best customers are generally over-contacted and you second and third best customers are under-contacted,” states Beresford-Jones. “There is a point in the year when you actually start to annoy your best customers and this impacts directly on campaign profitability.”

Back at the IDM seminar, David Walmsley highlighted this temptation of sending “one extra” email to the top segment when the weekly sales numbers aren’t quite reaching target. I asked him how this temptation should be avoided. “It takes discipline,” suggested Walmsley, adding that taking a short term approach ultimately leads to lost value within your customer base. How should this discipline be engendered though, and in particular how can pressure from senior management in tough trading conditions be resisted?

The answer, as Beresford-Jones amply illustrates in his article, is to have the numbers to hand to support your case. This means being able to demonstrate the return from a given piece of activity and ideally the campaign cost savings made by reducing segment sizes whilst maintaining targeting focus. Point to falling response rates (and opt-out rates where appropriate) as evidence that contact fatigue has set in.

The ease of executing online communications is such that over-touching, even with the best of intentions, is all too easy. Even the pushiest retail sales person would be unlikely to follow you around the store asking every few steps whether you wanted to buy something (certainly not at John Lewis!). Yet that’s what our customers’ inboxes can feel like at times. A little discipline never did anyone any harm and this is no exception.

Dimensions of data quality

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

I mentioned recently that I had signed up to the International Association for Information and Data Quality (IAIDQ), who run webinars from time to time as part of the membership package. One such session took place yesterday, in the form of an “Ask-the-Expert” presentation by Danette McGilvray of US based information quality consultants Granite Falls Consulting. Danette outlined 12 Dimensions of Data Quality, including considerations such as integrity, accuracy and coverage. Although all crucial to attaining high quality data, I particularly liked no 12 “Transactability”, defined as “A measure of the degree to which data will produce the desired business transaction or outcome.”

In some regards this is a “softer” dimension than more quantitative ones like validity, but is at the same time what all data quality should really be about. DQ shouldn’t be seen as something that’s just good to do, but something with an ultimate goal, namely allowing us to do business the way we need to.

Neither one thing nor the other

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I was recently introduced to a networking group that is worthy of note. The brainchild of brothers Bede and Tim Feltham (the latter of whom bears an uncanny resemblance to Sir Richard Branson) and calling itself the Marketing Hybrids Network, the group aims to bring together any “individual equally at home in the worlds of marketing and technology”. The term is derived from the 1990 book Database Marketing by Robert Shaw and Merlin Stone, which described the then emerging group of marketers able to bridge the gap between these two seemingly disparate worlds.

Marketing Hybrids meetings take place every quarter and are very informal gatherings of like minded people taking the opportunity to catch up and chat. Bede and Tim appear very adept at securing sponsors, who put a few quid behind the bar of whichever location happens to have been chosen in exchange for a little logo exposure. Apart from that, there are no presentations and no hard sell, so I would very much recommend signing up to anyone working in this space. And you never know who you’re going to meet – maybe even a Knight of the Realm!

Institute of Direct Marketing Business-to-Business Marketing Conference 2008

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

A few observations on the recent Institute of Direct Marketing Business-to-Business Marketing Conference. The theme of the day very much revolved around the merits of social media and Web 2.0 in a business marketing context. Don Peppers, of Peppers and Rogers Group, suggested three trends for business marketing, including the growth of social media, involving customers and staff; the key opportunity being to leverage advocacy, providing tools, such as presentations or white papers, to make it easier for supporters of your product or brand to spread the word. Other trends, he said, include the increasing prevalence of products as services, making them harder for competitors to copy and the growing importance of content, and its development and management, in marketing messages.

His comments on lead nurturing also struck home with me, suggesting that prospects be treated like customers and highlighting the importance of creating a relationship building engine with a long term vision. Resist the boardroom call for short term results and build for the long term, we were implored! I very much agree that ongoing, regular communications with customers and prospects alike is crucial to attaining and maintaining “share of mind”, building awareness and building a profile of your recipients through data collection.

Although the story of the JCB diesel land speed record attempt was a little heavy on corporate self-congratulation (and didn’t contain much on social media), I did take away one key message: play to your strengths. JCB wanted to highligh their core competency of engineering prowess, which they demonstrated by smashing the previous record for the fastest diesel powered vehicle. What are your organisation’s unique strengths and how can you demonstrate them to your target market?

Whilst not making explicit reference to social media, London Business School’s Brett Cunningham did in essence highlight the importance of creating an environment for the exchange of ideas and co-operation. LBS have coined the term hotspot (in the non wi-fi sense) to describe the buzz of energy and innovation that is created when the right people come together to solve a problem. How better than a Web 2.0 approach to making this possible?

The panel debate was all about social media, and its relative merits when compared with pay per click advertising. The motion that social media will become as important as PPC was carried, although I think the overall concensus of the delegates was that PPC would still be important, but simply another string in the bow of marketers. Arising from the debate were suggestions that social media may have wider scope for lead generation than PPC, but it’s difficult to target and measure; PPC is good at traffic generation, but is not very discriminating and offers little brand experience. “Consumers will continue to search,” Don Peppers had earlier told us, but don’t overlook the importance of social to the up-and-coming ranks of business buyers and marketers. It’s going to be second nature to them.

Beamed in from the West Coast USA, Laura Ramos of Forrester Research shared her thoughts on social media and experimentation in business to business marketing. Her key takeaway was that knowing your buyer’s social media behaviour profile helps set a successful social media strategy. Whilst many traditional tactics underperform against expectations and are failing to engage decision makers, the importance of one to one contact in generating demand is being recognised. Forrester have developed a Social Technographics methodology for use before setting strategy, based on understanding the buyer’s behaviour and that impact of Web 2.0 on their purchasing process. Take a look at

The day was closed out by the ever entertaining Rory Sutherland, archetypal chief creative at OgilvyOne, who controversially put forward the idea that an obsession with measurement might be holding back innovation. Even I can agree with the sentiment, but at the end of the day, Marketing has to be able to demonstrate return on investment if it’s to be taken seriously. The “medium is the message” he said and the delivery mechanism determines success. Make sure you’re talking to people in the right way, appears to be his point, otherwise it doesn’t matter what you say.

As always with events like this, a few nuggets of thinking and ideas were thrown up during the day to take back to our offices and put into practise, making it a day well spent. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention, you can catch my own contribution (and the rest of the day) during another panel discussion. Enjoy!

Change on the cards

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

Well I’m going to be moving on again shortly, somewhat to my surprise, but having been made an offer I couldn’t refuse. So, to end the year on a lighter note, here’s a tip I’ve picked for up the next time you exchange business cards.

Having been fortunate enough to be invited to my new employer’s worldwide Sales kick-off event in Miami, I was able to enjoy the proceedings hosted by a well regarded business coach. Along with advice on how long to prolong a hand shake (“two shakes then release!”), he also recommended a more Jananese-esque approach to accepting a business card. Rather than simply taking the card and slipping it into a pocket, we were advised, study it for a few moments and try and find something notable on which to comment.

So, should we ever meet and exchange business cards, and I remark on the fact that your phone number has a seven in it, don’t blame me. It’s the training!

Merry Christmas and all the best for 2008.