Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Social media has turned marketing on its head.  In every sense.

Marketing managers find themselves beleaguered by the number and complexity of media that they are expected to embrace and conquer even for what has always been the most straightforward sector – B2B.  As quickly as they understand the dynamics of one method of communication up pops another one – until the choice is both bewildering and extravagantly large.

Like children in a sweetshop, managers further up the chain, or stepped sideways from the marketing discipline, want it all.  They aren’t so worried if they are satifying a need, why just take the licorice when you can have the chocolate and the sherbert fountain, and the marshmallows and the sours, and the jelly beans…  But all this approach delivers is a stomach ache and no memory of the taste from each individual component.

Marketing for events has become a little like this.  Wanting email and direct mail and contra-deals and editorial and blogging and groups on LinkedIn…  but unless you stop to work out the strategy before you start all that happens is you have run around like a headless chicken for a few months and guess what?  You still don’t have any delegates for your event.

But this is where the smart organisations are getting their act together.  They have taken a long hard look at what email and random social marketing hasn’t got them, and they are embracing once again the old school of intelligent PR and great direct mail to form the backbone of their campaigns.  They aren’t spending as much money on these elements, but they are creating targetted shots that are really hitting home on their targets.

These same organisations are the ones who are also investing in specialist knowledge to help them build and maintain a social media campaign, managed and directed by a marketing manager who is not expected to be all things to all media.

Sounds like the way things were done 20 years ago – only better…

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Email marketing loses its edge

Envelope flying into mailbox on computer screenOnce upon a time direct mail ruled.

You bought a carefully selected list; segmented it by geography or job title; crafted appropriate letters; packed them in an envelope together with a generic piece of collateral and posted them out to your target audience, safe in the knowledge that you would, by the law of averages, get a 0.5% response rate.  It was expensive, but if you did it right you knew you would get the results which were measurable and traceable.

Then email came along and life changed beyond all recognition.  Suddenly you could send out as many messages as you liked ‘for free’, hitting your database with more and more frequency.  Open rates were 33%+ and the sales team was happy because they could tell potential clients about the ‘millions of hits’ in your advertising campaign.

But things aren’t looking quite so rosy these days.  While event organisers and marketers maintain their love affair with electronic mail, the recipients are less enamoured.  Faced with a barrage of messages on an hourly basis, potential visitors and delegates are learning to use the tools on their mail programmes to create rules that send messages from certain senders direct to their junk folder, or to flag them as spam so that they never even make it as far as the inbox at all.

Opening rates continue to fall, with an average marketing campaign now looking at figure of approximately 25%.  From these the average click through rate is somewhere in the region of 4%, which means that for a mailing of 1000 people you can expect 10 to go through to your site, a response rate of 1%.

On the face of it, this still looks better than the 0.5% we expect from traditional DM, but this is not so.  In the conference or event market the DM figure refers to actual bookings or registrations whereas the email click-through rate refers to clicks on any link in an email to any document or web-page.  If we then assume that only 1 in 10, which is still very optimistic either books or registers then the actual response rate for an email campaign is only 0.1%.

Coupled with the fact that every time a database is mailed, it encourages individuals to junk or block the sender, a campaign that is poorly targetted and irritatingly frequent can actually create a double negative of failing to deliver response while actively turning potential customers away from the event.

Does this mean that there should be a return to DM?  Not really.  But it is time to reflect on a more holistic approach to marketing.  Using social networking techniques and creating communities that are engaged rather than annoyed.

Moving on from simplex marketing

A friend sent a great email this week in response to a message they received from us.

The information we gave them prompted an internal discussion about the power of new marketing tools to create a dialogue with customers where the emphasis really was on listening to what they want and then delivering the goods.

For many organisations this concept remains an anathema.  The marketing department, guided by management and other stakeholders, creates a brand and creative concept.  They then create a customer profile based on the assumptions around which they built the branding, then the list is bought or built and the message delivered.  Then they sit and wait.  And wait. And wait.

This simplex method of marketing no longer works very well.  Not least because technology has made the customer more savvy and more time-poor.  Clients don’t have the time to listen to generic messages, nor do they have the inclination to be told what they should be doing.  They know that you have the capability to talk to them and treat them like an individual, so anything else falls short of the mark.

Seth Godin, who is arguably our favourite marketing guru, also calls this the needle and the vice principle.  For some organisations they discover exactly who their customer is and they deliver a pinpoint accurate message, not worried if the total number of people they are talking to is in the handfuls rather than the thousands.  For others they use a general ‘squeeze’ approach, surrounding their target market with a forceful argument until one or more gives in.

By contrast, the simplex approach simply misses everything because it isn’t entirely sure who it is talking to and the recipients don’t feel inclined to respond.

So where do we go from here?  A little bit of bravery is in order.  Ditch the ‘got to have a database of 1000’s’ approach and work out exactly how many key prospects you actually want to talk to then strike up an interesting conversation.