December 29, 2008

Learn Anything In 2008?

What did I learn in 2008?
  • Our industry follows a script. "Buy online, pickup in stores". "Free shipping is the key to holiday success". "Mobile marketing is the next big thing". "E-Mail marketing has the best ROI". "Dell has great social media evangelists". "Multichannel customers are the best customers". "The newspaper industry is dying". "It you're not on Twitter, you're a dinosaur". "Matchbacks indicate that you must keep mailing catalogs". "Lands' End cut back on mailing catalogs in 1999, and look what happened to them", "Eight Easy Steps To Turbocharge Your Brand Via SEO", you get the picture. It is a script that is repeated over and over and over, until you believe it.
  • You don't get invited to speak at conferences if you don't follow the script.
  • The blogosphere is less likely to link to you if you don't follow the script.
  • Subscriber counts are cut in half if you don't follow the script (and that is just fine with me).
  • Analytical minds in our industry are being squelched by the script.
  • Our KPIs are designed to reward the script.
  • Following the script got us in the same -20% sales mess that everybody else is in.
  • E-Mail marketing is being completely mis-measured, in large part because of our desire to follow the script. In some cases, e-mail ROI is 10x of what our KPIs report. In other cases, e-mail ROI is zero. Neither case can be detected by open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates.
  • Paid search is being penalized, from an ROI perspective. When catalog marketing or e-mail marketing cause a customer to click on a paid search ad, the catalog marketing or e-mail marketing activity should be allocated the expense, not paid search. We do the opposite, we penalize paid search for something that traditional advertising caused to happen. More on this tomorrow.
  • Almost none of us know our Net Google Score. And here's a hint: Larger brands are being killed by a negative Net Google Score, while small brands strongly benefit from the advertising that large brands do, advertising that drives customers to Google, where Google re-directs customers to smaller brands.
  • Smaller brands who depend upon Google are going to suffer in 2009 when larger brands cut back on advertising.
  • Books. I have very mixed feelings about writing books. I'm obviously proud of the three books I've written, and they've been indispensable in the process of starting a consulting practice. Based on what you have told me, you've especially used the Multichannel Forensics text to understand how customers interact with channels. But wow, a ton of effort, and it isn't like you're going to sell 100,000 of the things. Worse, you don't have any metrics to tell you that the books are "working". And the ideas in a book need to be timeless, because the ideas can become slightly outdated in the time it takes a book to be published. Books struggle in a world dominated by Twitter-storms.
  • Blogs. Now this is a totally different thing. The effort that goes into this blog is about 2x the effort that goes into writing a book, with a ton of metrics and feedback that help you improve in real time. This medium isn't for everybody. It is perfect for evangelizing concepts that will never see the light of day (i.e. are not part of the industry script). I doubt there's ever been a better time to introduce new ideas to the world. I'm guessing that we've passed the peak on this blogging thing --- it has become very hard to gain mindshare, and the social media elite have moved away from blogging.
  • Twitter. After ten days of participating in the micro-blogging world, the best part is getting to see the bios of the individuals who decide to follow you ... something that is badly missing from blogs or writing books. You are an amazing and diverse audience of CEOs, Entrepreneurs, Online Marketers, Business Intelligence Experts, Social Media Mavens, Web Analytics Gurus, and Direct Marketers.
  • Combined, books/blog/twitter yield a unique slurry of information. Use only one channel, and you miss out on part of the story.
  • We must test free shipping promotions over the long-term ... one group of customers gets free shipping, one does not. Measure profit over the long-term, not based on a key-code or click-through. Short-term profit does not always equal long-term profit.
  • Almost none of us in the catalog and e-mail marketing industry know our organic percentage, causing us to significantly over-mail our customers and be less profitable than we could be. Hint --- you can easily measure your organic percentage via catalog and e-mail mail/holdout tests.
  • We've messed up multichannel marketing by focusing on channels and not on customers. Urban customers skew toward retail. Suburban and exurban customers skew toward e-commerce. Rural customers skew toward catalog marketing. Using catalog marketing to drive retail sales may not be right for the urban customer, or for the 28 year old customer. Seriously --- we've messed this whole thing up by viewing it as something that everybody participates in. We're better off using these channels to speak to niches of interested customers.
  • Mobile marketing is all messed up, you can't even get a cell phone to work across half the geography in the US (including my home), but we're all supposed to jump on this channel to offer coupons to the customer looking to buy something at Macys? The CEO of Sprint should try to update his Facebook account via their spiffy 3G phone thirty miles south of Moses Lake sometime. It's easy to do everything you want on a 3G phone in Times Square, it is harder to make magic happen on a 3G phone in Western Minnesota.
  • Social Media is a ponzi scheme.
  • Micro-channels matter. We'll figure out how to manage a thousand or a hundred-thousand micro-channels. Well, we'll have no choice, because we're experiencing the death of the mass audience.
  • Best Practices squelch innovation. Best Practices are really important when running a call center or distribution center, when merchandising a catalog, or when trying to figure out how to get an e-mail into an inbox. Best Practices mean almost nothing in emerging media, in the merchandising strategy of an e-mail campaign, in multichannel marketing, or in any facet of marketing requiring innovation to drive sales.
  • As mentioned earlier, traditional advertising fuels the online, social media, and e-commerce ecosystem. Multichannel Forensics clearly illustrate these trends.
  • E-commerce is wonderful, but it comprises well under ten percent of total sales. Until online marketers figure out how to create demand without the power of retail brands or traditional advertising, e-commerce will continue to be a minor channel that grows by cannibalizing sales from physical retail and traditional advertising.
  • I continue to be optimistic about 2009. We don't know where the innovation will come from, but there will be innovation, and it won't be pricing innovation or marketing innovation. I think it will be merchandising innovation --- new ways to merchandise e-mails, new ways to use social media to drive sales instead of followers, new ways to use video to create demand, new ways to use advertising to pay for the cost of a catalog mailing, new products and services that differentiate us from our competition, new online marketing leaders with new ideas for landing pages, new partnerships with non-competing brands. 2009 demands innovation, and I think we'll see it.

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:18 PM

    Keep up the good fight Kevin. There is an authenticity and nuanced approach to your writings that is completely absent from prevailing marketing groupthink. I hope more readers will catch on to the rote marketing buzz out there that has no basis on the realities of marketing in multi-channels.

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  2. Thank you, Anonymous ... we'll keep it going!

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  3. Well. I think this is now my favorite industry blog. I see I have a lot of catching up to do because you're prolific, too. Problem is, this is kinda depressing so far, which weighs against the excitement of finding somebody this articulate and, as Anonymous said, "authentic."

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  4. Chris ... nobody in our industry is holding a stopwatch to see how fast people catch up.

    You do whatever is right for you, and you'll be just fine. Reading information from a diverse set of authors is a good step!

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