Archive for the UK Category

Email marketing: Two steps forward, one step back?

Posted in B2B, B2C, Email marketing, UK on 29/12/2009 by Richard Gibson

The findings of the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) National Client Survey, released 19th November 2009, have made for interesting – and at times surprising – reading. While many of the facts, figures and opinions that rise up out of the study promise great hope for the channel, there are a number of more disquieting revelations that indicate email marketers have much more behind the scenes work to do to ensure that email can fulfil its potential.

The most positive message to come from the report is that email marketing is showing great resilience in the first major economic recession the sector has experienced. Seven in ten marketers polled stated that they expect expenditure on email marketing to increase during 2010. Unfortunately, this is not a sign that marketing budgets are set to rise across the board; 50 per cent of marketers believe that the increased spend on email marketing will be at the cost of other direct channels. Email’s inexorable rise, however, does not mean that it is set to replace other channels. Email is shown to be particularly effective when it is partnered with offline channels, with direct mail proving to be the most successful method tried.

However, pulling up the floorboards we can see a few cracks in the foundations on which email marketing’s success has thus far been built. As progress in the discipline has been at break-neck speed, it would seem that application of best practice is inconsistent and often overlooked.

This eschewing of best practice is perhaps most clearly reflected in the fact that under half of marketers surveyed said they have a strategy in place concerning maximum consumer contact frequency. Furthermore, 12 per cent stated they did not know how many emails should be sent to individual addresses over the course of a month. Failing to follow best practice is particularly troubling in these difficult economic times as marketers are increasing contact frequency to stretch the value of email. Without the correct best practice and evaluation measures in place, these companies risk alienating customers by over-mailing.

Following best practice is also crucially important for ensuring deliverability to consumers’ inboxes, which marketers in the survey ranked as their chief concern, rating it higher than conversion rates and return on investment. Their concern is well justified, with a number of recent studies showing that 20 per cent of all commercial emails are blocked. However, there seems to be a general lack of understanding of the crucial factors in determining deliverability. Just 36 per cent of marketers identified sender reputation as being important to deliverability. This is an alarmingly low percentage given that reputation is the fundamental factor in determining deliverability.
Sender reputation is similar to a credit rating, and is assigned to every email sender to help internet service providers (ISP) differentiate between reputable senders and spammers. Sender reputation is based on a number of factors, such as the percentage of customers marking a sender’s emails as spam and making a complaint; list quality used by the sender; whether or not a sender has the infrastructure that enables ISPs to recognise their emails as coming from them, rather than from an unknown source; and whether or not the sender consistently sends out the same volume of emails from the same internet protocol address.

If marketers are truly concerned about deliverability, as they should be, then they should be concerned about following best practice when conducting email marketing campaigns. Managing your sender reputation really is nothing more than following best practice. Currently, the DMA’s Email Marketing Guidelines lead the way in setting out best practice for the sector. These guidelines, published in 2007, are currently under review and a revised set will be published in 2010 to ensure they keep up with the latest developments in email marketing. Following best practice will not only keep consumers happy and engaged with the emails they receive; it will also ensure that the email messages actually reach them and continue to reach them. Once these basic issues are resolved, then we can expect email to realise its potential.

Note, a variation of this article originally appeared in Technology Weekly/ (publisher: Centaur Communications) in November 2009.


UK economic situation and what it means for direct marketers

Posted in Direct Marketing, International Marketing, UK on 05/03/2009 by Richard Gibson

Before writing this column I looked back at an article I’d written for this magazine [Direct Marketing International] back in July of last year, some six months ago. Like this column its focus is the UK economy and what it may mean for direct marketers.

In the middle of last year inflation was rising and despite the slowing of the credit markets consumer sales were still buoyant. However as I write this in mid January 2009 most of the readers will be aware of the increasing signs of economic woe. The second half of 2008 was peppered with negative signs. Indeed the government’s own statistical department announced what many had already feared but may not acknowledged that the economy’s GDP shrank by 0.6% in Q3 and 1.5% in Q4 (source: Office for National Statistics) and that by doing so met the definition of a recession i.e. two negative quarters of growth. With the economic contraction comes rising unemployment and with that decreased spending. It is no wonder then that a poll by ICM/The Guardian newspaper of UK consumers in December found 86% of those surveyed plan to make cutbacks on their spending, with only 13% thinking that they would spend as much in 2009 as they did in 2008 (source:  ICM/The Guardian).

Decreasing levels of inflation, a small cut in VAT (sales tax) and significant drops in The Bank of England base rate, currently at 1.5% (down from 5.0% for most of 2008 and 5.75% at a high for some of the later part of 2007) all designed to ease fears have seemingly done little to curb the growing economic position to: negative.

I believe that there are two camps about how the recession may play out in the UK at least for direct marketers. There are those that are bullish about the industry and those that are slightly more bearish. The bulls tend to be those that believe that because of the measurability the direct marketing industry is well placed to ride out the economic situation in this country. The bears tend to be more cautionary (as is their nature) principally because the last time the UK economy was truly in a recession (early 1990’s) the internet, and by this I include email marketing, as an advertising channel did not exist. The truth is perhaps somewhere in between.

The IPA’s (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) respected Bellwether Report for Q4 2008, released in mid January suggests further reduction in spending and offers some supporting arguments to both the bulls and the bears. The reports author Chris Williamson does indeed show the largest reduction for media, with direct marketing also showing a reduction, indeed even Internet search shows a reduction in spending, albeit significantly less than direct marketing and media.

For 2009 marketers, direct or interactive have a challenge on their hands as the UK consumer adjusts spending habits accordingly. The battle ever more is around increasing effectiveness, most probably with static or likely declining budgets whilst at the same time trying to recruit new customers.

For the suppliers the challenge for some will be around staying competitive and fighting to keep their products in front of potential buyers and users. For others it can be about growth. A recession, whilst painful for all concerned tends to shake out weaker companies and survival and maintenance of a strong position potentially leads to far stronger prospects once growth occurs. Whilst I had previously written in this column about evidence from Prof. Patrick Barwise around strategies based on his research from the last recession, principally that those brands that do best post-recession tend to be those that invest during the recession. Anecdotal evidence, for example the latest Bellwether Report appears to suggest that very few brands are in a position to take this advice on board.

If further evidence was needed about direct mail volumes being squeezed, research from Billets (a media monitoring agency) reported via DM Bulletin show a decrease of close to 40% (Source: DM Bulletin) from November 2007 to November 2008 in terms of total volume. That said, separating customer and prospect mailings is as always a thorny issue.

Note: a slightly shorter version of this post appears as an article in the print and digital edition of the January/February 2009 issue of Direct Marketing International magazine.

References used in this post:

Barwise, Patrick (1999) Advertising in a Recession: The Benefits of Investing for the Long Term.

DM Bulletin

ICM/The Guardian

IPA (Institute of Practioners in Advertising) Bellwether report, accessed 01/03/09.

Personalisation in direct mail, two recent examples

Posted in B2B, B2C, Database, Direct Marketing, Not for profit, UK on 22/01/2009 by Richard Gibson

Arriving amongst two other seminar invitations today was this one. Obviously it stuck out, massively in fact. It is well designed and rife with personalisation. On the outer alone I count seven uses of data driven personalisation including most frequently my name, company, job title and once on the addressing my academic award. I thought I’d share it as it is an effective use of data elements that most B2B brands will have access to.

Upon opening it up there are plenty more data driven elements mostly similar to the outer and using the creative treatment of the newspaper to show me a quote from myself on what I can get out of data [the event].

IDM Data Council Summit, Front 1 of 2 - 22-01-09

You can see the reverse of this piece, with further personalisation here.

After receiving the IDM piece I was reminded of a similar piece I had recently received from Cancer Research UK. This was as a direct result of a small donation I had made in the form of sponsoring someone.

Cancer Research UK, outside 1 of 2 - 2008

Although I am posting it in January 2009 I did actually make the donation and receive the piece last year, with the sponsorship in the summer and the mail piece arriving in around November 2008. The reverse of the addressing immediately caught my attention. Upon receipt I could not recall what I did on 17th July 2008. It turns out Cancer Research UK remembered what I did.
Cancer Research UK, inside 2 of 2 - 2008

Again, a great use of data driven personalisation. Because the captured the data, they have used the information to maximum effect. Upon opening the above tells me the name of the person I sponsored, the amount, the event that person participated in and how much the event raised for Cancer Research UK.

The piece goes on to request further donations to support the work of Cancer Research UK and makes a good enough case for doing so. The data elements were collected through the Just Giving web platform, at which point there is a consent question where the brand ask permission to contact the donor in the future.

The key data elements are potentially more hard hitting in the second piece, there are more of them and it is within the not for profit sector but in fairness to both brands they are using the data that they both have to exceptionally good effect.