Smooth execution, responsiveness and efficiency are critical to the success of any marketing campaign. When those three elements are combined in an integrated way, the possibilities for success will increase dramatically, as will the cost and efficiency of the campaign itself.
The trend among businesses of all sizes to align their offerings and go-to-market strategies according to industry is creating a need for customised, industry-specific marketing activities that many organizations are ill-equipped to support. The need to address new audiences across a variety of industries with language, imagery and information that will resonate comes at a time when many marketing organizations are downsizing or moving to shared-services models that favour consolidation rather than the further fragmentation of activities. At the same time, financial and time-to-market pressures on the business units
who fund the marketing organization have made them increasingly reluctant to accept the low response rates typical of today’s direct marketing campaigns. And these same business units require faster and deeper insight on the progress and efficiency of the campaigns they are sponsoring than today’s marketing
infrastructures can typically provide.
Individually, none of these challenges is insurmountable. Marketing thinking and technology have evolved significantly in the early years of the 21st century. Open acknowledgement of the limitations of CRM databases has led to the development of more accurate targeting techniques. Marketing literature — borne out by common sense — speaks glowingly of the superiority of messages and offers that are customised to the needs and interests of target audiences. Digital print technologies have made it economic to replace a single mass mailing with multiple very-short print runs of highly customised one-toone type messages to different audiences. And webbased reporting dashboards providing real-time visibility on campaign results allow business managers to monitor campaign progress with great precision and assess at an early stage how successful a campaign is likely to be, and whether changes are required.
What has been missing to date, however, is a marketing architecture to enable the deployment of these tools in an seamless, integrated way, in a fashion that allows the full cost-efficiency and time-saving benefits of each to be fully realized. This is the challenge that HP’s Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA) division decided to address through a number of pilot campaigns that ran through 2003 and 2004 with great success. This article describes one such marketing architecture and how it was built.
The promise of the new architecture
The team’s hypothesis was that a direct mail campaign designed to optimise four key variables — targeting, personalisation, customization and reporting — would deliver response rates far in excess of the 1 to 3 percent industry average routinely produced by today’s campaigns. If this hypothesis proved true — and sustainable — it would not only significantly increase the efficiency of HP’s marketing spend, but quite possibly take the relationship between the marketing organization and its bankrollers in the business units to a new level.
It went without saying that the architecture or framework should offer an ultra-low-cost way to reach customers. Practical concerns dictated that it should allow campaigns to be quickly constructed and executed by a very small central team, minimizing the workload on field-based marketers. This would allow the marketers to focus their energies on working with the sales organization to follow through on leads rather than on campaign administrative tasks.
If the hypothesis was borne out we would naturally want to use the architecture to design other campaigns. It was decided therefore, that campaign assets or collaterals would be built on a number of standardised, modular templates that could be reused indefinitely, thus eliminating the need for the creation of new assets for any follow-on campaigns that we might decide to build.
It was decided to test the hypothesis on a campaign to raise awareness and generate leads for one of HP’s technical computing solutions, data centre management, that allows customers to drive greater efficiencies from their IT systems. Although highly effective, the deployment of these solutions requires careful planning. The messaging for the campaign was complex and required a high degree of customisation for each market segment we planned to target.
The target audience was segmented into 6 groups, the IT Managers and Chief Information Officers in the manufacturing, financial and telecom industries.
It was decided to address these audiences using a multi-wave direct marketing campaign, which, in turn, used a mixture of on-line and off-line tools. Waves would be spaced three weeks apart, each one promoting different benefits of the data-centre management solution. We would use a combination of letters, emails, post cards and brochure format ‘success stories’ to invite our audiences to visit unique, personal URLs — mini web sites created in their own names — and download offers including white papers and a cost-benefit calculator.
The team turned to a California-based agency to help plan and execute the campaign, and to provide a web-based dashboard that would provide real-time insight at a very granular level on campaign progress.
The first of the four key variables — improved targeting — required that we engage the sales teams to establish which HP customers should be included in the campaign, and which should not. Lists of apparently suitable customers were drawn from Siebel and then verified with sales management in each country. This proved to be a time consuming but disproportionately worthwhile exercise. After filtering potential candidates on a one-by-one basis through the sales team, we were left with a target list of just several thousand strong rather than the tens-ofthousands that we had expected. Events would prove, however, that the quality of this list was very high.
At the same time, HP industry marketing experts began defining messages and offers optimised for each segment.
The collected data — names, addresses, salutations and a suite of industry specific messages including copy, images and offers — were submitted to the agency, along with a set of business rules that would direct every step of the campaign, from the look, feel and content of marketing collaterals to the way in which responses would be communicated back to HP and dealt with.
Our multi-wave campaign structure meant that each person would be contacted up to three times. A response by any customer — say, by visiting their personal URL and downloading an offer — would immediately alert a HP call-centre agent to make contact with him or her, automatically removing his or her name from our master list and causing the suppression of any follow-on waves to that person. For data privacy reasons, these web sites would be hosted by the agency and the identities of visitors would only be revealed to HP with the consent of the customer. In the event of a customer response, alerts would be sent to the account managers, informing them that their customer had responded to the campaign. And every evening the agency prepared a batch file on campaign progress for HP’s CRM team, enabling it to update its customer records in Siebel.
Customisation was the second key variable in the campaign. Customisation of campaign assets was regarded as critical because the case studies and proof points cited in the campaign would be meaningless if they did not speak directly to the decision makers and influencers that the campaign targeted.
Personalisation was the third key variable. Rather than direct customers to a generic web page, we created a unique personal web site for each member of our target audience — in the name of that individual — which hosted offers and information. And as a final touch, all letters and mail would be signed off in the name of that customer’s account manager — using his or her digitized signature — rather than the more normal industry practice of blanket-signing all such pieces in the name of the country sales manager.
We had decided that the campaign should have a high profile internally and included business rules to ensure that the management team as well as account managers received email based count-down reminders at critical stages in the campaign. Of course, each account manager received copies of the collateral we were targeting at their customers. While these internal communications positioned the local marketing managers as the drivers of the program, there was, in fact, little for them to do other than help define the business rules for their country and then stand back and watch as the campaign was rolled-out.
The program was executed in several countries and the results greatly exceeded our expectations. Interesting patterns were revealed both by country and industry and even our worst-performing country yielded response rates of 7 percent — a huge improvement on the 1-3 percent industry average.
This success can be attributed to the thoroughness of the targeting process and the campaign architecture, which allowed us to target each customer with messages and offers designed to address known pain points in his or her industry.
Not only did the results far exceed expectations, but the campaign itself was perceived by the sales force as having been run exceptionally smoothly and with a minimum of intervention — a ‘light touch, heavy impact’ activity that demanded very little from the field organization. This perception was appreciated if not quite shared by the small central team who had patiently defined business rules to automate and direct every aspect of the campaign. The rather modest length of our target list was compensated for many times over by its quality; the selection process ensured that only high-potential customers at the right stage of their buying cycles were targeted. That same high quality kept inadvertent spamming to an absolute minimum. The web-based dashboard provided HP management with real-time visibility of the number and identities of respondents. This was regarded as a major breakthrough. Business leaders more accustomed to receiving weekly updates now found themselves able to click on their mouse and drill down to a very granular level to see how their customers were responding.
The exercise was not without its glitches. Aligning multiple countries with a single launch date — allowing us to collate the data just once rather than in separate exercises for each country — was a major driver of cost efficiencies. But this meant that late-breaking changes — such as a request from sales to add (or remove) customer names to the target list – after the data collation would not be possible. At a more mundane level, our tight timeline had not taken into account the number of national holidays in various countries. And the different addressing conventions of European countries proved to be an unexpected stumbling block because the agency’s American software simply didn’t allow for the fact that some countries stipulate that post codes be used before the city names and others after.
Overall, however, the pilot bore out the original thesis that a campaign architecture bringing together improved targeting techniques with customised, highly personalised messages and offers would deliver response rates far in excess of those typically generated by orthodox direct campaigns.
This same architecture has since been used to produce other successful campaigns. Because of their modular design the original templates were used and reused to promote different solutions many times over at almost zero incremental cost.
More importantly, perhaps, it was quickly seen that this new architecture offered the potential to scale and calibrate marketing investments in ways that could not previously have been managed. This led to its integration into other parts of HP’s marketing engine in EMEA. Its appeal extended beyond the direct marketing community that had created it. For example, events managers, used to casting a wide net of invitations to ensure the attendance of at least some ready-to-buy customers at their events, could now cast their nets equally widely but at lower cost — using email and white papers — to first determine which customers represented the most likely prospects. These customers could then be invited to smaller, more specialised boutique-style events and workshops better able to meet their needs and more likely to result in firm deals. Ultimately, the methodologies tested in this pilot were adopted on a wide scale. And as they continue to evolve, their impact increases and improves across the organization.