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A Discussion of Direct Marketing Trends with the AMA Southern Connecticut

Alan Sherman

I recently participated in a virtual panel for American Marketing Association’s southern Connecticut chapter on direct marketing trends titled “An Industry Reset: The Resurgence of Integrated Marketing and Direct Mail.” There were some 60 marketers from the greater New York area in attendance who had great questions for me and the other two direct and digital marketers on the panel. Here are a few of those questions and a summary of some of my responses:

What direct marketing trends have you seen in terms of spend and budgets due to COVID-19?

Initially, we saw a cancellation of many marketing campaigns across industries in March, April, and May. This was most obvious in the financial sector, where the use of credit data is key to calculating risk and financial decision making. As millions of people lost their jobs, credit bureau data could not keep up, and marketing offers, and the associated spend, tailed off. Other industries, such as travel and retail, were badly hurt as well, and have yet to recover.

Health insurers have been forced to consider the costs of treating COVID-19, as well as how they interact with potential members. For example, direct mail cannot be used to drive Medicare Advantage prospects to informational enrollment meetings, as there will be no in-person meetings during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period; these are moving online. Insurers are promoting virtual benefit events and have touted updated portals and enrollment platforms. Healthcare providers have had to rapidly pivot to provide more virtual and telehealth resources and coverage. This has forced a budget reallocation to address these changed member needs.

However, not all industries retrenched, and some saw and acted upon opportunities. For example, according to Mintel Comperemedia, Charter Communications, a major player in the cable/internet industry, announced in its Q2 earnings report that it had added a net 102,000 video subscribers for Q2. While competitors like AT&T and Dish showed a downward trend in video bundle mailed offers, Charter was steady in its direct mail volume. They took advantage of the fact that there was less competition and “noise” in the mailbox, as well as an increased demand for video streaming and benefitted from this. Another content provider, Comcast, has used a variety of offers to tempt its internet subscribers to upgrade or augment their service—all at no immediate additional cost.

How are travel and other impacted marketers keeping loyal customers primed for when travel comes back? How should brands speak to their customers these days?

For travel marketers, as for all marketers, there is a danger to brand equity in going totally dark. While cutting short-term marketing costs might seem like an appealing option, long-term success may be contingent on staying in front of customers during this time. You can drive brand awareness and perception with long-term benefits that may very well outweigh the temporary impact to metrics like cost per acquisition and return on ad spend. I’ve noticed a recent direct marketing trend with hotel brands focusing on safety—how they clean rooms and make their premises safe for guests. On their properties, they stress the requirement to use masks, which is a form of reassurance to nervous guests.

Brands should act with authenticity based on their positioning, principles, and tone of voice. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep it simple. Be clear on what you are trying to say.
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait to let your customer ask you what you’re doing during the pandemic crisis. Communicate what you are doing. This can be a time to connect with customers, demonstrate your appreciation, and evolve your products and marketing to meet their needs, rather than focusing on short-term ROI.
  • Be nimble with creative and messaging. Be ready to suddenly change as necessary as content must reflect what is happening now. Closely monitor your message and make sure it is appropriate. Do copy and imagery address what you are doing with your customers’ safety in mind? Take the right tone, so that consumers trust you—messaging should be around comfort and trust. Messaging like “Find some time just for you” or “Buy a family meal—give a family meal” can resonate in a time of high stress for everyone.

How does work from home impact the effectiveness of direct mail?

From my perspective, the rise in work from home increases the value and impact of direct mail. Workers who commuted to an office and were only home in the evenings and on weekends are now home all the time. They may have more flexibility with their schedules. This also means they have more time to spend with their mail. Unlike an online display or social media ad, there are few distractions when reading direct mail. Since your message isn’t being read on line, there are no videos playing above or below, or political ads demanding donations. This can only be good for direct mail response rates, which have been higher than digital channels.

As a B2B marketer, one of my concerns is that we can’t reach too many prospects at work anymore by telephone or direct mail. How can we address this issue with digital and physical direct mail?

We have B2B data that allows us to make the connection between B2B and consumer—we can more often than not reach an executive at their home address. And there are a huge number of small businesses that were already based at home that we mail to all the time. B2B direct mail postal addresses can also be matched to the digital universe, where we can reach people through an integrated direct mail/digital campaign via B2B advertising outlets, such as LinkedIn.

But it is difficult to connect with B2B decision-makers working from home. Their attention is on their immediate businesses, helping them survive during the pandemic. A hard sell can be a turn off. Offering understanding, solutions, and deals while being consultative may not bring in sales in the short term, but is a solid marketing strategy that can pay off in the longer term to build and maintain relationships. For example, focus on helpful, educational content with guides and webinars. This builds engagement that pays off in the longer term.

In Summary

While it’s important to acknowledge our changed world and the financial burdens that many face, it’s also important to recognize that marketing doesn’t always have to be COVID-related. As we head into the fall of a very difficult year, people are badly missing normalcy. Familiar marketing, as long as appropriate, is likely appreciated. Wondering how to reset your marketing and direct mail for the fall? Contact me here to talk about your resurgence plans.

link https://www.iwco.com/blog/2020/09/16/direct-marketing-trends-with-ama-southern-connecticut/
Alan Sherman

Author

Alan Sherman

Vice President, Marketing Strategy. Boston University alum with an MBA from City University of New York. Brings more than two decades of direct and digital marketing strategy, testing, and project management expertise to make customers extraordinarily successful. Husband and father who splits his loyalties between the NY Giants, Boston Red Sox, and Boston Celtics. Fan of concerts, traveling, non-profit volunteer marketing, and walking the dog even though it was just out.

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