Has Your Marketing Adjusted for the Current E-commerce Surge?

Pandemic lockdowns across the nation have turbocharged e-commerce, with online sales growing by triple-digits since social distancing went into effect. Many predict a longer-term change in buying habits that will continue after the crisis has passed. The new environment is pushing some AccuList’s clients, especially retailers, to up their online game. Is your marketing ready? Most marketers are not, according to a recent Profitero and Kantar survey of 200 brand executives, which found that only 17% believe their organizations are leading competitors in e-commerce.

E-commerce Marketers Need to Prioritize Key Strategies 

E-commerce marketers need to quickly prioritize key strategies, advises a recent post by Forbes magazine’s CMO Network contributor Sarah Hofstetter. A problem identified by the Profitero and Kantar survey, for example, was that only 11% of organizations have functional-level e-commerce goals in place. Hofstetter urges organizations to make e-commerce a part of everyone’s job, from building e-commerce KPIs into bonuses to accountability for quality content on retailing websites to cross-functional e-commerce goals to overcome internal silos. Next, marketers should recognize that, because online consumers are likely to shift among brands in a time of limited inventory, delay and hyper-competition, they need to boost online profiles and product discovery efforts. That includes targeted SEO and SEM, strong ratings and reviews, engaging targeted content, and aligned multichannel outreach. Third, e-commerce’s new hyper-competition requires a shift from offline to speedier online tactics, such as algorithmic matching of competitor price changes and real-time tailoring of product assortments and promotional strategies by audience. Fourth, organizations can beat competitors by boosting online agility. Note that 63% of brands do not test and optimize their content to improve sales impact (Profitero and Kanta survey), and 61% do not use digital shelf analytics or shopper panel data to test, measure and improve digital execution. So brands that digitally test new products, new traffic-generating variables and new marketing messages can get ahead of the curve.

Messaging and Media Mix Can Adapt to New Realities

Janet Balis, a principal of Ernst & Young LLP, recently penned a Harvard Business Journal article offering broader advice for marketers as they lean into today’s new buyer realities. The nuances of creative messaging and brand voice have become more delicate, she notes, warning that commercially exploitative brands will not fare well. An example of smart messaging comes from Guinness, which shifted its usual St. Patrick’s Day focus from celebrations to longevity and well-being. Plus, organizations that promote doing good, from food bank donations to repurposed manufacturing for PPEs, enhance brand image for the longer term, as long as contributions are perceived as material and not solely for commercial benefit. Next, since the mix of consumer-preferred media platforms has changed during the crisis, marketers may want to modify their media mix, for example with more ad-supported premium video streaming to take advantage of spiking digital entertainment, or advertising around peaking news consumption (broadcast or digital). Finally, marketers will want to put a greater emphasis on behavior trends and response tracking to better adapt messaging and targeting. Closely observing trends on social-media platforms and e-commerce product pages can help more quickly spot opportunities and looming problems.

Even Small Retailers Can Use Google Tools to Boost Agility

Google is the lead search engine for e-commerce players, and it recently offered advice for using its tools to improve results during the pandemic and beyond. Even smaller, less sophisticated retailers can take advantage. For example, the online agility advised by Forbes and Harvard Business Journal articles requires staying informed of market and customer changes. Tools such as Google Trends and Google Alerts help users stay up-to-date on local conditions and customer mindsets, while retail-category metrics for Google Search and Shopping campaigns help spot shifts in product category demand. In the overcrowded e-commerce space, transparency and accuracy also loom large in capturing fickle visitors and buyers, so Google advises not only updating the customer-facing website but also the Buyer Profile on Google Maps and Search, for example to show changes in hours, extra safety precautions, shipping timelines, delivery or pickup options, etc. Finally, online customers now expect companies to rapidly adjust. So, within Google Ads, e-commerce efforts should update campaigns for any product or policy changes, and retailers should also enable automatic item updates in the Google Merchant Center to keep inventory and product data current, especially for price and availability.

Amid Virus Disruption, Direct Mail Has ‘Optichannel’ Advantages

As the majority of American adults hunker down at home, with all but essential businesses closed or working remotely because of the COVID-19 crisis, AccuList reminds marketers of the unique advantages of targeted direct mail, which takes promotions right into homes, has the highest response rate of any channel, and has the ability via print technology to connect with digital, too.

Direct Mail Can Rise Above the Current Digital Noise

Direct-response agency SeQuel Response notes that since the majority of American have responded to state lockdowns and virus fears by increasing their online shopping, many direct marketers have flooded the digital zone with new e-commerce sites, digital advertising, social media promotions, and e-mail. With online channels increasingly overcrowded, direct mail offers an alternative way to reach consumers in their homes and an opportunity to rise above the noise. The agency provides some good tips for direct mail in the time of COVID: 1) Ensure creative elements and messaging align with consumer sentiments and promote social responsibility and even national pride for positive brand awareness; 2) reconsider mail frequency and timing if warranted for a particular product/service, but make sure not to lose touch with the audience; 3) solidify existing customer relations, with increased focus on retention and brand awareness to help survive on the other side of the crisis; 4) integrate direct mail with digital marketing, a proven way to boost campaign performance and reduce CPA, including print technology, such as QR, AR and VR; and, finally 5) plan for the post-crisis world, recognizing that a campaign takes six weeks from list development to creative production to mail drop, and make sure messaging and brand positioning can evolve post-crisis.

Leverage Mail Strengths With Modeling, Digital Alignment

Given the coronavirus disruption of buying processes, “optichannel” campaigning, meaning supporting a prospect’s or customer’s shopping and buying process using the channel that is best for them, becomes essential for ROI. Direct mail adds special advantages to an optichannel mix, especially when combined with modeling and digital integration, argues a recent Target Marketing magazine article. Among the article’s examples is Galileo Learning, which operates 75 children’s summer camps across parts of California and Illinois. The company used tight response-lift customer modeling to identify higher-response prospects on external lists and then used the resulting savings to create even better creative. As a result, response surpassed expectations by bringing in 155 new campers and $66,000 in new revenue. Another Target Marketing case study is especially relevant for nonprofit fundraisers trying to help the most vulnerable in the current COVID-19 crisis. It comes from Meals on Wheels in the Diablo region of California, whose mailed holiday donor appeal garnered $230,000 in donations and 43% new donors. The charity attributes the 75,000-piece mail campaign’s success to, first, defining more-responsive list segments for existing donors, lapsed donors and prospects via demographics and customer-look-alike modeling, and, second, adding targeted digital advertising (e-mail, social and online display). The added digital effort not only delivered a 600% increase in campaign impressions over the mail-only control, the donors acquired by the “optichannel” campaign gave an average of 169% more than mail-only donors.

COVID-19 Crisis Alters Tactics for Fundraising Success

In a previous post, AccuList joined other experts to stress the importance of nonprofit clients staying the course on fundraising despite the coronavirus crisis altering the social and economic landscape. But fundraising tactics will need to alter to navigate that landscape, of course. Recent fundraising pro articles highlight some smart ways to approach existing and potential donors during the crisis.

Adapt by Expanding Digital Communications & Events

In a recent NonProfit PRO post, for example, C.J. Orr, vice president, and Katie Nichols, senior associate director, of the Orr Group fundraising agency, put together some quick tactic shifts for fundraisers, especially those that had been counting on events to tap donors. First of all, don’t panic and cancel events, they advise, but reschedule or repurpose. If an event can be postponed, a nonprofit may be able to transfer tickets/table buyers to the future event instead of giving or issuing a refund, and can add touchpoints with donors and prospects along the way. Or, the fundraiser can switch to a digital event, perhaps with livestreaming. Indeed, this is an opportunity to go digital in multiple targeted ways, they suggest, starting with more social media ads, paid search ads and SEO efforts aimed at the target audience. For example, now is a good time for a digital forum, such as a virtual “fireside-chat” with a subject matter expert discussing COVID-19 and its impact on the mission and incorporating a fundraising ask. Or the nonprofit can tap top-of-mind concerns and promote itself as a thought leader with an article on the COVID-19 impact posted on social media as well as e-mailed to donors and prospects. Plus, remember that over 80% use smart phones, so that mobile-optimized promotion is essential. And don’t forget old-school, nondigital communications, such as direct mail and phone calls. The authors suggest building out a phone-call list of top funders, with strategic talking points, for example.

Seize the Opportunity to Increase & Improve Social Media Efforts

Michael Wasserman, CEO of the stream fundraising platform Tiltify, used another NonProfit PRO post to stress how the current crisis should push fundraisers to boost use of social media as people naturally turn to social platforms to replace the lack of in-person interaction. The potential audience is huge: almost 80% of the population uses social media, with Facebook and YouTube having over 2 billion users per platform. Even newer sites like TikTok boast 500 million, Discord gets 250 million, and Twitch attracts 15 million daily visitors. Note that the Facebook Fundraisers tool has already raised over $2 billion, Wasserman points out, while even newcomer Twitch has raised over $115 million for various charities. So charities that still use elementary fundraising pages with a simple donate button, some text and an image are missing big opportunities to compete for attention in a space that the crisis is making even more crowded. He urges nonprofits to focus more on enticing content, such as video, which can leverage YouTube, the No. 2 search engine in the world with 2 billion registered users. Nonprofits should also consider using social livestreaming events for fundraising. An effort of a few hours can generate more than a campaign of months, he notes, citing the example of a group that raised in a week the amount it costs to run St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a day, which is about $2.7 million. As an example of how to gin up donations, he imagines livestreaming a music celebrity connecting and interacting with fans online, perhaps asking people to donate in order to choose songs or get signed merchandise giveaways.

Social Distancing Doesn’t Stop Creative Outreach to Major Donors

What about the impact of “social distancing” on the traditionally face-to-face connections that engage major donors? Suzanne Hilser-Wiles, president of philanthropic consulting firm Grenzebach, Glier and Associates, offers some tips in a recent piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Start by showing you care and reach out quickly to ask how the donor is faring and discuss how the nonprofit is responding to the crisis. Enlist top executives to communicate with major donors about plans for moving forward, with consideration for the appropriate communication channel; for example, e-mail can quickly provide a direct but formal assurance, while social-media platforms offer a more human touch. Ad hoc “investor calls” may be appropriate for smaller groups of donors. For major donors and prospects, consider developing a specific message with a more in-depth perspective and request for their input. Highlight the nonprofit’s expertise and how gifts support efforts relevant to the COVID-19 crisis. A museum might share national media interviews with staff members, or an academic medical center might point to resources on the university’s coronavirus webpage, for example. And don’t abandon events; get creative with virtual format substitutes, such as a conference call or webinar to let donors stuck at home see a presentation about a gift opportunity. For example, instead of a brunch with a scholarship recipient, donors can have a phone or video call with the student, she points out.

 

How Nonprofit Fundraising Can Weather Pandemic Impacts

AccuList’s nonprofit fundraising clients are facing a novel crisis as the novel coronavirus pandemic shuts down business-as-usual across America and threatens recession. Humanitarian causes such as food banks, homeless shelters and senior-care services are feeling the pinch as food donations from panic-buying-hit grocery stores and dollars from corporations drop, and self-quarantines eliminate volunteers. At the same time, rising numbers of people, especially the old and the poor, are becoming food and shelter insecure. Meanwhile, nonprofits that rely on events for fundraising are especially hard-hit.

Stay the Course on Fundraising Efforts

Based on fundraising experience in previous crises, such as 9/11 and the 2008 recession, AccuList joins other experts in urging nonprofits not to cut back on fundraising efforts during this critical period.  Indeed, since event fundraising is likely to be cancelled or postponed, now may be the time to shift resources into high-response workhorses like direct mail. And for some causes directly impacted by pandemic issues (food banks, homeless shelters, elder care, emergency health and medical supplies), fundraising messages may be especially resonant and effective now. Yes, philanthropy has trended at 1.5% to 2.5% of GDP annually since 1978, and it’s pretty clear GDP (and thus fundraising) is going to take a hit in 2020. But as a NonProfit Pro magazine article by Craig Depole, president of direct-response fundraising agency Newport ONE, warns, organizations that pulled back and stopped soliciting after 9/11 and the 2008 recession took years to recover from their losses, “while organizations that continued to solicit their donors with messages of need and impact emerged stronger and healthier.”

Take Steps That Will Bolster Fundraising Appeals

Depole’s NonProfitPro article goes on to outline a number of steps to make fundraising outreach more successful during a national crisis: 1) Double-down on stewardship of donors (more thank-you phone calls, impact reporting, staff engagement); 2) Keep talking with donors and share compelling stories, with humanitarian charities especially able to cite the transformational impact of donations; 3) Acknowledge the fears of donors who are watching stock portfolios decline and engage with them as partners rather than ATMs; 4) Review messaging for relevance, clarity and appropriate tone; and 5) Have alternative plans ready to go, say in case your mail shop or creative team is quarantined, or you need to substitute for promotional supplies from China.

Focus Retention & Prospecting on Weathering the Crisis

As a Network for Good blog post by Kimberly O’Donnell stresses, “In uncertain times, one thing is certain with fundraising—the more you plan, the better off you will be.  Successful fundraising during a recession is two-pronged: 1) Focus hard on donor engagement and retention, and 2) Use intelligent prospecting techniques to recruit new followers and supporters…. When you work to retain your donors while broadening your reach, you hit the nirvana needed to withstand hard times.” A poll of fundraising agencies by The Nonprofit Alliance similarly offers two cogent responses to how agencies are preparing nonprofit clients for the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. One respondent advises, “As this unfolds, my advice will likely be the same as to every other major disruption, including 9/11: 1) Acknowledge the crisis and state how the organization is helping solve it; 2) Stay the course, (and) don’t cut back on acquisition and renewal efforts.” Another adds, “Election fundraising, along with a huge drop in retirement savings, will create a terrible environment for suggesting a donor should consider an upgraded level of giving this year.  Focus on mission, and focus on renewing their support at any level.  You need to fear 2020 donor attrition like never before and prevent it to the best of your abilities.  Focus on how many active donors you will have to begin calendar 2021.”

Personalization, Omnichannel Strategies Drive 2020 Direct Mail

AccuList’s direct mail marketing and mailing list clients embrace a channel that, despite perennial death notices, continues to outperform in terms of response, but mailers must also rely on evolving strategies for success in 2020.

2020 Success Depends on Data-Driven Personalization

Research consistently shows that personalization bumps up response. Most recently, in a 2019 NAPCO Research report on direct mail personalization, 44% of respondents saw personalized print marketing campaigns increase response by 16% on average, while Canon Solutions research found that adding a person’s name and other personalized database information (along with using full color) can increase the response rate of direct mail campaigns by up to 500%! So it’s no wonder that the recent Printing Impressions article by senior editor Toni McQuilken cites a number of leading marketing and print industry leaders stressing that data-driven personalization is the route to 2020 direct mail success. For example, Maureen Powers, president, Direct Marketing Group at RR Donnelley, asserts, “Personalization is more important than ever before, including with direct mail…We are using the direct mail channel to drive the customer experience through communications such as coupons and personalized offers. We’re also changing how we help our clients message their clients based on individual customer preferences and their point in the customer journey.” Likewise, Jim Andersen, executive chairman of IWCO Direct, stresses the shift toward variable data printing of smaller runs of targeted, personalized direct mail with digital tie-ins: “Today’s direct mail is more effective, relevant, and timely thanks to more sophisticated audience selection and segmentation. This technology uses digital print to personalize every component of a mail piece, including letters, inserts, cards, and call-to-action reply devices that connect the physical mail to an online, digital marketing experience.” 

Customer-Demanded Omnichannel Campaigns Mate Mail With Digital

For Andersen, mail personalization must be part of the omnichannel approach that customers demand today: “One of the biggest opportunities in the direct mail space is providing effective and efficient solutions to consumer demand for personalized, relevant messaging integrated across all channels. Insightful use of data, combined with the flexibility of digital print production, allows marketers to seamlessly integrate tactile marketing in their omnichannel campaigns.” Summer Gould, of Target Marketing magazine, has cited three already-proven ways to combine mail and digital:  1) online display ads that match direct mail data files to an IP address to target specific people by displaying cookie-free banner ads on web pages; 2) Facebook ads that match direct mail data with Facebook data to send targeted ads (see our Facebook Match services); and 3) e-mail matched with direct mail audience targeting to keep offers fresh, deliver response reminders and make added special offers (see our Digital2Direct services). The mail-digital mating can be taken even further to a union of programmatic automation with mail. Printing Impressions cites the example of Brodnax 21C Printers in Dallas, where Jim Singer, managing partner, describes their innovative program: “We take raw XML data to drive intricate, complex direct mail campaigns, including ongoing on-demand digital printing campaigns for local store marketing applications. Every night at midnight we get a massive amount of data, and the automated workflow we built for this programmatic offering” kicks in to generate direct mail campaigns and send them to production.

Data Quality Has Never Been More Paramount

These trends to more personalization and omnichannel integration rely on marketing data for segmentation and targeting, of course. Plus marketers must adjust for growing regulation of data security and privacy. All make data quality a top direct marketing priority in 2020. Yet too many marketers feel overwhelmed by the torrent of omnichannel “big data.” A Forrester Consulting 2019 survey revealed that, while 82% of companies place a high priority on refining data quality, more than a quarter of all marketing campaigns were hurt by substandard data in the last 12 months. Clicktale 2019 surveys of marketing and customer-experience professionals found almost a third of marketers don’t feel they’re effective at utilizing their web and mobile data, over half (54%) said they “don’t believe they have a strong understanding of their customers’ behavior across digital channels,” and 20% reported feeling like “they will never truly understand why their customers buy.” Check out this 10-step data-quality strategy from VisionEdge Marketing if you are looking for a place to start.

 

 

 

 

 

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Election Year Is Double-Edged Sword for Nonprofit Fundraisers

AccuList’s nonprofit fundraising clients are entering a presidential election year, arguably one that is more contentious and partisan than usual. Will that be good or bad for fundraising? What strategies will help navigate the political crosscurrents to reap donations?

Political Ferment Can Churn Up Donations for Some

Research by online fundraising platform Classy has found that an “election effect” can drive an “unprecedented increase” in recurring donations for some nonprofits aligned with politically charged issues. For example, Classy reports that, after the 2016 presidential election, nonprofits directly opposed to President Trump’s policies, actions, or ideology saw a “surge in donations.” As another example, research by the Lily Family School of Philanthropy found donations increased significantly for “charities associated with progressive or liberal causes mentioned during the election” in the week after the 2016 election. Per 2019 Classy research, 46% of respondents said their political beliefs dictate the organizations or causes that will receive their donations. Classy suggests some basic strategies to use political winds to propel efforts to bump up new donors and recurring donations: 1) go back through donor data from the 2016 election to see how donations were affected before and after election day, taking into account political party as well as demographics and the timing of spikes; 2) pay attention to news about political issues that my relate to your cause for timely and targeted positioning of appeals; 3) reach out to existing donors and ask how the 2020 election is impacting plans to donate in order to decide how and when it’s best to ask for a donation; and 4) embrace flexibility in strategy so that you can adjust efforts to shifts in the national conversation.

Other Fundraising Efforts Can Be Pushed Offstage

Not all nonprofit causes can be linked to political issues. In a Forbes magazine post, Gloria Horsley, founder of Open to Hope Foundation, acknowledges the positive “election effect” for fundraisers that align with political agendas but notes a potentially negative impact on other nonprofits when more politically charged sectors noisily take center stage and siphon donor attention. She urges nonprofits that can’t find a way to make a connection to a political issue to reemphasize why the mission is just as critical despite the election noise. One approach is to illustrate how helping the nonprofit can produce tangible results, in contrast to the less certain outcomes of political efforts. People like to know they are making a difference and to have an emotional connection to a cause. Donors with an emotional connection to an organization will dig deeper and stay longer—even in an election year. That’s where good storytelling content makes a difference. In a post for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), fundraising consultant Linda Wise McNay cites storytelling as one of the top eight 2020 trends that nonprofits should embrace. She urges messaging to provide donors and prospects with a compelling case for support by collecting intimate, personal stories about beneficiaries of the nonprofit’s work, and then sharing those stories in print, online, on the phone and in person.

Taking Sides Can Result in Donor Losses, Too

Of course, McNay of AFP also lists the election as a major trend affecting nonprofits in 2020, but she sounds a note of caution: “Our conversations public and private are filled with comments and opinions on candidates and issues. Be wary of saying anything too controversial to your constituents that may be considered taking a position on one side or the other. Double up your efforts to fulfill the mission and goals of your organization, being careful not to take any political stance that might offend your donors and prospects and thwart your fundraising efforts. Your goal is to be still operating after the election, no matter which side wins the election in November.” One way to stay on the right side of your audience is to know them and target appropriately, and that means leveraging another key 2020 trend cited by McNay: access to, and analysis of, high-quality data on existing donors and prospects. AccuList will be happy to help with that data!

 

 

 

Mobile, AI Highlight E-mail Marketing Trends for 2020

AccuList’s e-mail list and data services clients can expect to ride some positive trends into 2020, according to e-mail marketing pros. While continuing to top other channels in terms of ROI, e-mail marketing worldwide in 2019 also showed improved delivery rates, rising open rates and increasing click-through-rates, per data from UK-based Data and Marketing Association. Digital marketing platform Smart Insights recently surveyed experts to find ways to further leverage the positives this year.

Mobile-Optimize E-mail to Target Lead Source of Opens

The impact of mobile usage on e-mail can’t be underestimated. In 2019, mobile browsing (53% of traffic) surpassed desktop/tablet browsing (47% of traffic), notes Smart Insights. And while mobile still lags in terms of purchase revenue (32%) versus desktop/tablet (68%), it’s growing fast, with a 23% year-over-year increase that has helped accelerate mobile optimization across digital channels. Data from Litmus shows that mobile devices also led in e-mail opens (41.9%) compared with desktop opens (18.2%) by Q1 of 2019. Clearly, mobile optimization is a priority for e-mail marketers. Coding for a mobile-viewing format is only the beginning. Changes to copy, images and overall layout can boost click-through by streamlining presentation to place the focus on quick engagement and links to landing pages, product pages, blogs, etc., note experts. Concise copy with enough white space for easy reading is a first goal. Other tips include using image dimensions that are small enough to render well and placing images on the “first fold” to encourage scrolling. Using e-mail design with short copy not only leads to quick scanning but also allows the call-to-action (CTA) to be seen early and avoids excess scrolling that loses click-throughs. Remember that the surge in wearable technologies is limiting even more of the space marketers have for messaging. Finally, make sure that e-mails are rendering correctly across all types of devices, a testing option offered by most e-mail service providers.

Watch for AI to Expand Potential Use in E-mail Marketing

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is coming of age in marketing, including e-mail campaigns. Worldwide, 30% of companies will be using AI in at least one sales process in 2020, Gartner predicts, and 87% of current AI users say they are planning on using it for sales forecasting and e-mail campaign enhancement, per Statista. Connext Digital foresees seven ways that AI will begin to influence e-mail marketing: 1) applying algorithms and data insights for predictive personalization; 2) analyzing demographics, purchasing patterns and online behavior for smarter segmentation; 3) automating workflow for e-mail triggering, tailored messaging and lead nurturing; 4) using natural language technology to find the best words for response optimization of subject lines and CTAs; 5) improving e-mail timing and frequency by specific recipient;6)  A/B and multivariate testing to quickly identify trends and develop predictive results; and 7) developing data to enhance broader analyses, for example to predict potential churn.

Facing Privacy Laws, E-mail Marketers Focus on Building Trust

Cold e-mailing, spamming and phishing have tainted e-mail’s reputation among consumers (and marketers), but recent privacy regulations, including the European Union’s GDPR and California’s CCPA, have spurred the e-mail marketing world to go beyond CAN SPAM to focus on privacy, compliance and subscriber trust. E-mail definitely continues as a strong communications channel despite past abuses. A 2019 Drift study found that e-mail is the leading communications channel for B2C, far above websites, social media, and even face-to-face meetings, with 65% of respondents saying that they used e-mail to communicate with organizations in the past 12 months. Compare that with 55% communicating via telephone and 42% via websites, the next most popular channels. So with the majority of recipients only receiving e-mails to which they have opted-in from particular senders, smart marketers will want to focus on building on recipients’ trust and providing value in 2020.

Read more detail from Smart Insights.

Personalization and Privacy Trends Highlight Need for Data Strategy

As data brokers, the AccuList team keeps a close eye on the many issues affecting the data strategies of our direct marketing clients. Data privacy is going to be one of those issues. While many of our U.S. clients are not affected directly by the European Union’s General Data Protection Act (GDPR), U.S.-based consumer-data privacy efforts have now resulted in the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), with other states likely following that model and federal legislation on the horizon. Regulation is only one of the data complications facing marketers now that omnichannel data personalization has become essential for targeted response and ROI. So what strategies will help prepare for data market changes in 2020?

Data Privacy Demands Customer Focus Across Silos and Sources

Companies face complicated decisions when combining first-party data collection, user-level data from the big digital platforms (Google, Facebook and Amazon) as well as second- and third-party data in ways that balance consumer privacy with smart (and customer-demanded) personalization. A post in AdExchanger by Briggs Davidson, a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting, outlined some key steps for coping with a marketing data landscape that now includes regulation like CCPA. He advises starting with a focus on the customer in collecting, organizing, storing, and activating data across all silos that may need to meet data-privacy compliance, such as marketing and IT. Then when it comes to first-party data, prepare to shift marketing strategies to ensure consumers have a reason to share their data, delivering value to build trust. Davidson predicts creation of data clean rooms, or a separate analysis space for combining first-party data with platform-level customer data under strict privacy controls before usage. Marketers also will need an even closer embrace of media analytics to support a unified customer view, and use of new tools, such as Google’s Ads Data Hub. Finally, marketers will need multidisciplinary teams—for example Google’s upcoming restrictions on DoubleClick ID will boost the need for tech pros for unified customer views within Google—as well as partner collaboration in collecting and storing customer data.

Personalization Power Is Driving Marketing Data Trends in 2020

Hyper-personalizaton is expected to drive data marketing in 2020, according to a useful infographic put together by European digital platform firm Qualifio, which found that 83% of marketers say creating personalized content is one of their biggest challenges. Why? Because personalization now requires: 1) new tools to collect and analyze first-party data for compliance with data privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA; 2) an omnichannel purchasing journey and analytics for a single customer view; 3) incorporation of new technologies such as voice search (50% of Google searches are expected to be voice searches in 2020); and 4) meeting rising customer standards for personalized promotion and service. In fact, 70% of the customers surveyed want an immediate response to their questions or complaints, which is fueling artificial intelligence  (AI) and machine learning (ML) initiatives. Marketers surveyed are already moving to meet personalization challenges, with 78% of European companies completing a GDPR compliance assessment and 65% using omnichannel efforts to personalize customer journeys, per Qualifio’s data. For those U.S. marketers still hesitating to commit to personalization, check out these statistics on improved response, ROI and brand loyalty for e-mail, mobile, e-commerce and digital ads. Direct mail personalization, from name-only to variable images and text, has a proven track record of success, too; in fact, a 2019 survey by NAPCO Research found 44% of responding marketers said personalized direct mail increased response, on average, by 16%.  

Data Quality Key to Privacy, Personalization, New Tech Initiatives

Data quality will be even more key to data strategy in 2020. It is paramount in meeting consumer data privacy regulations, for example, where validated contact data is required to avoid consequences ranging from compliance penalties to brand damage. Effective omnichannel, targeted marketing also requires data quality. A Forrester Consulting July 2019 report revealed that while 82% of companies place a high priority on refining data quality, more than a quarter of all marketing campaigns were hurt by substandard data in the last 12 months. Plus, the high-tech analytics and artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML) that marketers count on to boost personalized customer interaction also depend on data quality. A majority of enterprises engaged in AI/ML initiatives (78%) say these projects have stalled—with data quality as one of the culprits for 96%—according to a new study from Dimensional Research. That’s why CMO Kristin Hambelton, of Marketing Evolution, urges marketers in a recent Forbes magazine post to take these basic steps for improved 2020 data quality: 1) prioritize data quality and create a comprehensive initiative that includes not only processes and technology but defined positions responsible for data verification, collection and cleansing policies; 2) define and verify high-quality data in terms timeliness, completeness, consistency, relevance, transparency, accuracy, and representativeness; 3) organize disparate data sources with unified marketing measurement, breaking down silos to develop a holistic customer view across sources and channels, and to form actionable insights. 

 

 

Direct Marketing Challenged by 2020’s Record Political Spend

AccuList’s direct marketing clients need to plan for competition for consumer attention across all media as political campaigns’ ad spending is forecast to hit record heights in 2020. Kantar’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) predicts that political media campaigns will spend a record $6 billion on advertising in 2020, a 14.3% increase over the $5.25 billion spent in the 2018 midterm elections, and a 37.9% increase over the last Presidential campaign year in 2016, with the biggest gains going to digital media, which will nearly double to $1.2 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, ad media giant GroupM forecasts that political ad spending could reach a record $9.8 billion or more in 2020, again driven by digital ad growth.

Political Digital Competition Will Squeeze Inventory, Drive Up CPM

Nonpolitical marketers will face a considerable challenge, especially if they are advertising in politically divided markets, warns Kantar. For example, in the last three weeks of the 2016 campaign season, political advertising totaled 32% of local TV ad time within the battleground markets studied, an increase of 26% from the beginning of the season, while nonpolitical advertisers watched their share of the market plummet from 77% to 51%. Meanwhile, because digital is a big growth area for politicos in 2020, with a preference for programmatic advertising, marketing agency Hiebing warns that a scramble for digital inventory will significantly drive up CPMs for nonpolitical campaigns. Advertisers should develop a game plan early, either shifting campaign flights out of the election window or diversifying channels and tactics, Hiebing advises. Marketers should also consider Private Marketplaces, or PMPs, which are invitation-only marketplaces where selected programmatic media buyers make deals with publishers. These can offer access to more premium inventory, and better control over brand safety, than open exchanges crowded by 2020 political buyers.

Direct Mail Needs Careful Scheduling, Targeting, Stand-out Tactics

For direct mailers, it’s important to recognize that mailbox crowding will be especially bad around certain key events, such as the weeks before an election date, as well as early voting starts and the delivery of absentee/mail ballots. Marketing-mail drop dates need to be adjusted accordingly. Since bulk mail delivery is slowed, taking a back seat to first-class political promotions, mailers need to build in extra delivery time to the in-home date. Plus, in 2020, you will need to pay attention to the Super Tuesday primaries on March 3 because those primaries will see more impact (and more political mail) than usual as two of the nation’s most populous states, Texas and California, are among the 14-state total; indeed, Super Tuesday this year affects a whopping one third of the U.S. population. Bottom line: Careful planning of mail schedules will be required to get promotions in the hands of target audiences at the right time! Even with good timing, mailboxes are busier and response can be impacted, so marketers also need to make an effort to stand out creatively, perhaps changing up outer envelopes in size and color, and to avoid costly waste with more targeted messaging, via segmentation and personalization.

Leverage 2020 Trends With Direct Mail Push

For direct marketers hesitating over direct mail campaign investments, 2020 is the year to strike while the iron is hot—with a good economy, high response rates and flat costs. That’s especially true because the 2021 road may be a bit bumpier.

Economy, Response and Costs Give 2020 Mail Green Signals

The U.S. consumer is confident, the economy is projected to continue growing in 2020, and mailing cost inflation is minimal. Per the December 2019 Federal Open Market Committee, U.S. GDP growth is forecast to average 2%, lower than 2019’s 2.2% but far from recession. Meanwhile, consumer buying power should remain strong with an average unemployment rate of 3.5% in 2020 and a core inflation rate (stripping out volatile fuel and food prices) projected to average just 1.9% in 2020, while the Federal Reserve’s eased interest rates continue to buoy growth. So it’s no surprise that consumers are entering 2020 with positive outlooks: The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment for the U.S. was 99.3 for December of 2019, the highest reading since May of last year. And direct mail offers unique advantages for reaching those consumers, starting with high response rates. The last ANA/DMA data pegged average direct mail response at historic highs of 4.9% for prospect lists and 9% for house lists, way ahead of the 1% response rates of e-mail, social media and paid search. Meanwhile, low projected increases in key costs are clearing the way for ROI on mail investment as well.  For example, 2020 coated paper prices are projected to be held down by reduced demand, caused by a continued growth of electronic media use by advertising and publication printing, coupled with oversupply from new production capacity, especially in Asia. A strong U.S. dollar adds to downward price pressure. Meanwhile, postal rates for marketing mail in 2020 are expected to remain close to the average as enhanced carrier route letters go up less than average, with five-digit automation letter rates, entered at the SCF, projected to increase by 2.2%, and the high-density walk sequence carrier route letter rate, entered at the SCF, increasing only 1.1%.

After 2020, Mail Faces Rougher Economic Seas

Those who fail to take advantage of 2020’s positive direct-mail climate may soon regret the missed opportunity if costs rise and the aging economic growth cycle slips into recession. Potential postal rate increases are an especially dark cloud. In December, the Postal Rate Commission (PRC) proposed new rules for USPS rate-making that, if implemented for all classes of mail would increase rates by a massive 30%-50% over the following five years. Mailers and their organizations will want to join The Nonprofit Alliance and the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers in fighting such huge increases. At the same time, the economy, even if it stays out of recession, is projected to slow. The Federal Open Market Committee forecasts U.S. GDP growth to slow to 1.9% in 2021 and 1.8% in 2022, as a side effect of trade-war drags. Meanwhile, new data security and privacy legislation could pose significant challenges for data-driven marketing.

Data-Driven Efforts Face Privacy Legislation Challenges

The shift to more targeted, personalized and timely direct-mail campaigns is one reason that direct mail continues to turn in high responses at acceptable ROI. But using digital print technology, coupled with audience selection and segmentation, to personalize and target every component of a mail piece relies on data, and privacy laws are coming in to regulate the previously wide-open data market. Of course, there is the GDPR (EU General Data Protection Regulation), but most marketers are going to be more affected by new U.S. state and federal privacy law pushes. For example, California’s CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) went into effect January 1 of this year. It applies to for-profit businesses operating in California and collecting personal data if they have annual gross revenues over $25 million; annually buy, receive, sell, or share personal information of over 50,000 California consumers, households, or devices; and derive at least 50% of annual revenue from selling California consumers’ personal information. The regulation offers consumers the right to access information (including categories of data collected, shared or sold; categories of sources from which this personal information was collected, with whom it was shared, and to whom it was sold; specific pieces of personal information collected; and why the personal information was collected). Consumers also gain a right to deletion (the ability to request that a company delete personal information collected) and a right to opt out (the ability to direct a company to not sell personal information to third parties). Now The Nonprofit Alliance is alerting mailers that new data privacy and financial disclosure bills are in the offing. California, for one, isn’t done legislating in this area, and other states (such as Virginia) are following in California’s footsteps. Plus, the Senate is continuing an effort to draft a bipartisan national privacy statute led by the “Gang of Six”—Republicans Roger Wicker (MS), John Thune (SD), and Jerry Moran (KS); and Democrats Maria Cantwell (WA), Richard Blumenthal (CT), and Brian Schatz (HI)—and most Republican Senators appear to support legislation which would preempt state privacy statutes with a uniform national standard. For marketers, the hope must be that a national “rules of the road” for data privacy will be less onerous than a patchwork of state laws.

All these potential challenges ahead are making 2020 look like a good year to profit from direct mail and targeted lists! For more inspiring direct mail statistics, see this compilation from mail automation provider Inkit.