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Agrimarketing : January-Febuary 2010
January/February 2010 Agri Marketing 33 DIRECT/RELATIONSHIP MARKETING DIRECT'S NEW LANDSCAPE by Patsy Comella, Rhea + Kaiser "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." --- Mark Twain These days, traditional direct mail pieces --- you know, the ones from inside the mailbox --- have a lot in common with Mark Twain circa 1897. They're not dead. In fact, according to findings from a 2009 survey conducted by Target Marketing magazine, direct mail is favored by 21% of marketers for retention, and still ranks among the top five preferred methods for cus- tomer acquisition. But, while direct mail may not be dead, most would acknowledge the patient is ailing. In that same Target Marketing survey, e-mail passed direct mail for the first time as the favored acquisition tool/ROI driver. And tools like podcasts, webcasts and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)/Search Engine Optimation (SEO) showed big gains. Overall, the magazine's editors concluded: "When taking into account projected budget increases and holds, the big winners for 2009 include e-mail, SEM/SEO, advertis- ing on external web sites and direct mail --- no longer wielding the scepter, but still in the royal court." So, for marketers seeking 1:1 engagement with their audiences, what does the current landscape look like? What's the best route forward? We believe sound strategy should drive every communica- tions decision, including with direct. We also believe in meeting the needs of the customer, vs. those of the marketer. Considering those two imperatives, it's critical, then, to maintain a balance using all the tools in the toolbox. There is no silver bullet (sorry, Kimosabe), and not every tactic will appeal to all. Doing the same thing for every individual, and every audience, will become harder to justify as data and technology enable marketers to become more sophisticated with targeting and customer intelligence. We would offer the following pointers (and questions for consider- ation) to help navigate this brave new world: 1. Know your customers. Successful direct communications lies in truly understanding audiences and segmenting intelligence in ways that will designate which marketing channels and messages appeal to one grower vs. another. For decades, customer intelligence has lived in database and CRM initiatives. Both are viable spring- boards for understanding when and how to reach growers. However, as an industry, we can get smarter about how we populate data within these databases. We owe it to ourselves to be creative in how we aggregate data compiled from a variety of sources: direct mail, social listening, e-mail marketing, events, mobile initiatives and so on. 2. Harness the power of e-mail. While traditional direct mail works for some growers, e-mail works better for more. The number of viable, opt-in e-mail addresses may be a fraction of a magazine's circulation, but that smaller number may represent who you need to reach. The trick is to structure an e-mail message to this group that draws them into your world and establishes a relationship by delivering relevant content, customized for them. 3. Use data to drive branded content and custom publishing. According to a recent report by the Custom Publishing Council, spending in this arena doubled in 2009. By using a variety of data points, high-interest content can be geographi- cally, demographically and psycho- graphically targeted to direct relevant messages to specific prospects, almost with the accuracy of a GPS (but keep your eyes on the road). 4. Make the most of events. High-value, professional events in agriculture connect customers and marketers in a more personalized context. Be sure to close the loop after events with customized information based on a grower 's experience and questions. Energize face-to-face time with activities that glean insights into the grower 's personality and content preferences. 5. Tap into social networks. While many ag events are inherently social, digital social media will become more routine as a "must-do" in the marketing toolbox. Spend 80% to 85% of your efforts planning and listening in the social space, and let grower insights help shape how you communicate with them. Listen to what customers are saying about their operations, their needs and about your brand and competitors. Then act on it. 6. Go mobile. While it may be tough to develop content for a text message function, once you tap into relevant data you may be surprised by how many growers will opt-in to receive information, multiple times per day in some cases. Not only are you providing valued content, but your brand gets delivered with each message. Mobile opens up a two-way street for communications, so make it easy for growers to respond to content via their mobile device and ensure that all web and digital content can be easily accessed and viewed via the device. Once you understand what's important to your customers and how technology is changing direct communications with them, the shape of your outreach will evolve. Grow with your customers to ensure your brand is contemporary and accessible. And enjoy the ride. AM Patsy Comella is Vice President, Media Director with Rhea + Kaiser Marketing Communications, Naperville, IL. For more information, visit www. rkconnect.com.
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