Printers Find Success in Omnichannel Marketing Campaigns

By: Patrick Henry

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Some printers may find the notion of “omnichannel marketing” unfamiliar and off-putting. They shouldn’t. They’re already taking part in it — or could be, as the PSPs profiled here are doing with impressive results.

If printers feel the chill of alienation instead of the warmth of recognition when they confront the concept of “omnichannel marketing,” they’re failing to appreciate their own stake in it.

What printers do is integral to the success of omnichannel marketing campaigns — it can be indispensable, in fact, to getting them off the ground in the first place. In the eclectic business of omnichannel outreach, moreover, there are no false distinctions between “old” and “new” media. All that matters is making sure they join hands as guides in the all-important “customer journey:” the marketing industry’s term for the endless map of media-facilitated touch points leading to brand loyalty and lasting relationships.

Print’s place in all of this increases in importance the more “omni” the ingredients of omnichannel marketing become. Debora M. Haskel, VP of marketing and corporate communications for Chanhassen, Minn.-based IWCO Direct, recalls the “aha moment” that occurred when a customer wanted to see what would happen if direct mail were left out of the promotional mix. Response rates plunged, reminding everyone concerned why “direct mail is still the backbone of our business.”

Demand for Print Is Up 'Exponentially'

It’s ironic, says Rick Sands, president and co-owner of The Fenway Group in Boston, “that since we stopped selling print in 2008, the demand for print has risen exponentially.” That was the recession-darkened year when he decided to reposition the company as a provider of integrated marketing solutions consisting of both print and non-print channels. Sands says that this strategy got the company out of the commodity trap and into a “holistic pricing structure” where the print portion essentially takes care of itself.

The success of the omnichannel marketing campaigns executed by SG360° “makes it easier and easier to integrate print into the entire conversation,” according to Julie Rinard, the Wheeling, Ill.-based company’s senior VP for marketing and product management. These campaigns aim to “expand the print experience into the digital realm” by using print at the touch points where it can add the most momentum along the consumer’s path to purchase.

Alin Mihalcea, director of national programming and development at DATA Communications Management (DATA) in Brampton, Ontario, says the company prides itself on being able to modify its omnichannel presentations “within a fraction of a second” as it gathers fresh information about the consumers it is reaching. But, there’s still a need for the permanency of hard copy in this split-second environment: “Depending on the audience, a physical copy of something could be worth more than a digital one, because it’s tactile,” Mihalcea says.

About More Than the Toolkit

It’s easy to think of “omnichannel marketing” simply as the collection of tools and resources that today’s marketers use: direct mail, email, PURLs and landing pages, SMS, social and mobile media, and so on. But, looking at it this way misses the point.

Most organizations, Rinard contends, have more marketing channels than they can use — or at least use in a coordinated and an effective way. To find out what omnichannel marketing means in practice, SG360° supported research by the Winterberry Group into the omnichannel strategies of about 100 thought-leading marketing professionals.

Winterberry’s report, published in November 2016, stated that the essence of omnichannel marketing is recognition: consistently and correctly identifying individual audience members at all relevant touch points, and taking full advantage of the data that the touch-point interactions generate. Most respondents felt that they could be doing a better job of recognizing their audiences across multiple channels and integrating the marketing technologies used to reach them.

What’s Next? What’s Best?

The key to accomplishing that, according to Rinard, is making certain that everything that happens at the touch points is behavior based: triggered by what the ongoing dialog with the consumer is saying, and always pointing to the “next best action” that will deepen the engagement and keep the journey on track. “Integrating the moving parts” of its campaigns in this way is what makes SG360° successful at orchestrating complex customer journeys with many touch points, Rinard adds.

Integration, according to Alan J. Sherman, VP of strategy at IWCO Direct, applies as much to the data a campaign generates as to the content it deploys. Any marketer, he says, can run a “siloed” multichannel campaign that never turns the sum of the parts into something truly result-getting.

A well-executed omnichannel campaign, on the other hand, connects from a targeted direct mail file via “matching tools” such as IP addresses, social IDs, email addresses, cookies and telephone numbers to hit its targets simultaneously across all channels being employed. Then, explains Sherman, data mining and predictive analytics are applied to the original mail file, which is then leveraged across channels. In this way, marketers can improve the outcome with a “multiplier effect” of better targeted, more frequent messaging that reaches people wherever they happen to be in the omnichannel universe.

Print service providers that grasp the fundamentals of omnichannel marketing find that they can do a brisk business with them. Sources interviewed for this article declined to say what share of their overall revenues they owe to omnichannel campaigns, but all agreed that the percentage will go up as customers learn the value that integrated cross-media marketing offers them.

Customers of The Fenway Group have been struck by what can happen when they target their audiences “with more than one arrow in the quiver,” according to Sands. He notes that a campaign for a local public radio station combining direct mail, email and personalized landing pages “blew their minds” with the results, which included a 12-13% increase in response rates over direct mail alone. “That’s the best part of it — they see that it actually works,” he says.

“It has become obvious that omnichannel marketing will become the standard going forward” for customers of DATA, Mihalcea points out. They’re seeing that as audience members absorb repeated impressions in carefully structured campaigns, “the brain has that sense of familiarity” that prompts the kind of responses marketers hope for.

Customers Are Catching on Quickly

The discipline of omnichannel marketing is still relatively new — none of the sources has been practicing it for longer than five years. But, they’ve made believers of consumer products companies, financial institutions, insurers, retailers, automotive clients, and those in the educational, healthcare and not-for-profit sectors. The success stories speak for themselves.

In an IWCO Direct campaign for a property-casualty insurance company that matched prospect names to digital channels in combination with an outreach by direct mail, the conversion rate increased by 26% as the cost of acquisition dropped by 12%. The Fenway Group has persuaded alumni groups to donate more to their alma maters by personalizing the appeal across multiple channels.

DATA helped an automobile roadside assistance club build membership by dynamically generating content when visitors responded to PURLs they’d been sent in personalized direct mail pieces. What the landing pages displayed was tailored to the individual attributes of the visitors. This was followed by six months of increasingly specific membership offers. At the end of the campaign, says Mihalcea, “there were smiles on the faces” of club officials.

SG360° provided the print and fulfillment in an omnichannel campaign to help a consumer packaged goods company get a better handle on the content and the timing of its messaging and the impact of the incentives it was using to captivate its audience. Customer data from a variety of sources built profiles that generated personalized direct mail and emails addressing recipients’ preferences, behaviors and other personal information. The results were a 125% increase in new customer engagement, better data and efficiencies gained through process automation.

Underneath the Hood

The campaigns are alike in their mastery of data at every stage, from design and execution to measurement and reporting. Software — commercially provided, self-developed or a combination of the two — gives omnichannel marketing the agility and realtime responsiveness that are the sources of its power.

“Everything we do is responsive design,” Mihalcea notes of the architecture of DATA’s campaigns. This includes being able to instantly reformat a message for optimal presentation on whatever device — smart phone, tablet or laptop — the recipient is viewing it on. DATA, according to Mihalcea, manages all campaign functions from a unified platform built upon Microsoft SQL Server, Quadient applications for mailing and CCM (customer communications management), and Xerox’s XMPie for personalization.

PlanetPress software from Objectif Lune is The Fenway Group’s choice for automating and personalizing its printed and digital communications. SG360° relies on proprietary software, as well as solutions provided by Kitewheel, the creator of Kitewheel Hub, which Rinard describes as “a centralized rules engine” that monitors activity in the channels and points to the next best action to take in the customer journey. IWCO Direct’s omnichannel software solutions are mostly the proprietary products of a sophisticated internal content development group as well as key partnerships with certain digital providers.

As significant as the data management part of the task may be, print isn’t at risk of being overlooked in omnichannel marketing scenarios.

The Winterberry study pointed out that marketers are increasingly casting aside “old misconceptions about the value of digital and traditional media” as they seek to combine them in the most appropriate ways. This is very good news for print, with 79.2% of survey respondents stating that they used direct mail and 66% endorsing print advertising in magazines and newspapers. Direct mail was selected by 50-69% of respondents as well qualified for acquiring specific, uniquely qualified customers — ahead of email, online social advertising and search.

None of this comes as any surprise to print service providers that have built their own omnichannel marketing capabilities. Sherman contends that because direct mail has a tactile element and a “trust level” that isn’t present in other media, it’s an ideal starting point for other campaign elements to align with. Millennials and other “digital natives” like print, and even “pure play digital companies” are learning what it can do to help them attract new customers.

Where to Go from Here

If it’s true, as the Winterberry report says, that marketers want to work with supply chain partners that can help them use all channels at their disposal in unified, well-coordinated campaigns, it’s advisable for printers that aren’t equipped for omnichannel to take some first steps in that direction.

Sands advises that the process should begin by identifying “a champion within the organization:” someone who can evangelize the concept to customers and co-workers by showing them omnichannel opportunities they didn’t know they had. Always look for ways to create value that customers are willing to pay for: “otherwise, it’s a click charge,” Sands admonishes.

Rinard advises against trying to tackle the entire omnichannel ecosystem at once. It’s better to look for smaller problems to solve in individual channels, learn from the experience, and expand from there.

“First, find great people; second, find great partners,” Haskel says. When printers ally with experts in digital strategy and execution, they can focus on accuracy, quality, deadline fidelity and other “basics” of print production that are just as essential for success in the omnichannel world.

Author: Patrick Henry

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