Swimming the Channels: Offering Multichannel Marketing Services
When, in 2006, Ken McNerney and his partners bought the Miamisburg, Ohio, printing company that today operates as Think Patented, they knew that the thought process behind the acquisition would have to take them beyond basic printing and mailing.
“We never believed that print was dying,” McNerney, CEO and managing partner, says. “But we realized that if all you are going to be is a printer, you would struggle.”
Acting on that insight, Think Patented charted a straight path into the realm of omnichannel and multichannel marketing: a challenging but growth-driving specialty where other printers — but not necessarily all printers — can achieve their own measures of success.
McNerney’s intuition was spot on. Today, marketers who buy printing probably won’t be content to deal with shops that have nothing to offer except printing. For print service providers with additional capabilities, on the other hand, the opportunities can be abundant.
Eight, and Counting
This is because proliferation of outreach has become one of contemporary marketing’s defining characteristics. A 2016 survey of marketers by the Clutch research group and the R2i agency found, for example, that enterprises relying on multichannel campaigns used an average of eight different marketing channels — with print and direct mail among the most heavily used.
Marketers know that adding print to the mix makes for an attractive recipe. One of the key points in a 2018 multichannel marketing report from PFL, a developer of marketing technologies, was that 40.7% of survey respondents reported using a blend of digital and non-digital marketing channels — a share not far behind the 44.7% who said they primarily used digital channels only.
Among the non-digital channels, direct mail and print advertising were rated highest for producing results. They also were key ingredients for overall impact. According to PFL, marketers who ignored non-digital marketing channels reported less than half the effectiveness compared with those who integrated non-digital channels.
How the channels are integrated and deployed creates the distinction that exists between “multichannel” and “omnichannel” marketing (see sidebar to the right). But, printers who have plunged into the mix are unambiguous about the nature and the objectives of what they do as channel service providers.
The point of using multiple forms of communication is to “create greater awareness for your customer, and improve response rates,” McNerney observes. “We’re getting deeper and wider with our clients, with more channels for them to utilize.” These include email, microsites, social media and other digital methods that work well with print.
A Definitional Distinction
Jayme Wisely, CEO of GLS/NEXT Precision Marketing, in Brooklyn Park, Minn., says the company is a market leader in “the practice that uses a combination of communication channels to distribute marketing content that achieves a desired result.” The combination includes both indirect (inbound) and direct (outbound) channels. Wisely draws a bright line of differentiation between the channels and the marketing services in which GLS/NEXT specializes (see sidebar below).
“Taking advantage of more than one channel to maximize advertising exposure” is the modus operandi at Design Distributors in Deer Park, N.Y., according to Adam Avrick, CEO. Here, digitally printed direct mail is the principal channel, supplemented by email and emerging solutions such as the U.S. Postal Service’s Informed Delivery service.
Multichannel outreaches turn into omnichannel engagements when “they work together,” Michael L. Vitch, president of Compu-Mail Inc., notes. Originally a provider of data management services, the Grand Island, N.Y.-based company pursues a 1:1 marketing strategy through high-volume direct mail, email, data analytics, online presences and fully variable print.
All four firms are doing substantial and profitable business as marketing channel service providers. Dave McNerney, VP of sales and marketing at Think Patented, says that 75% of his company’s clients use two or more of the channels it offers them. At Design Distributors, according to Avrick, 80% to 90% of its work includes a channel in addition to mailing. “A solid half” is Vitch’s estimate of the share of Compu-Mail revenues that come from multichannel projects.
In 2013, the year GLS/NEXT debuted as a multichannel marketer, the volume it derived from the activity was minimal. It had taken two years up to that point, Wisely explains, to build an appropriate multichannel strategy and develop the talent needed to execute it — a transformation that he says couldn’t have happened within a traditional print-centric environment.
“I’m a marketer at heart who understands the importance of print,” Wisely declares, noting that a business like GLS/NEXT is “dramatically different” from a printing operation that offers marketing channels (which convey content) as opposed to true marketing services (which provide content for the channels to deliver).
Goal: ‘Move an Intender to a Buyer’
In the relatively short time since GLS/NEXT embraced this model, the company has seen demand for its multichannel marketing services grow to a point where they account for better than 10% of overall volume.
Some of the work, Wisely explains, consists of content that GLS/NEXT creates and distributes on behalf of its customers — primarily manufacturing, retail, agricultural and health care clientele — to drive their revenues.
The rest revolves around content that GLS/NEXT doesn’t create itself, but “influences” by adding variability for unique, 1:1 messaging.
In either case, says Wisely, the goal is to “move an intender to a buyer” by reaching the right audience at the right time with the right content. “Most important are results for the customer,” he insists.
Customers of all kinds are eager to reap the results that messaging across multiple channels can deliver.
At Design Distributors, says Avrick, “almost everyone we do business with uses some form of multichannel marketing,” with telecommunications providers and financial services ranking as the primary users. Multichannel outreach “really transcends all verticals,” agrees Dave McNerney, who delivers it to Think Patented’s customers in the higher education, retail, health care, financial, manufacturing and nonprofit segments.
Customers sourcing multichannel services from Compu-Mail include pharmaceutical, higher ed, nonprofit, B2B, automotive and membership organizations. As a company, notes Vitch, “we eat our own dog food” by using multichannel techniques such as direct mail, email, retargeting and telemarketing to promote Compu-Mail’s credentials as a marketing services provider.
Good Touch, Bad Touch
To yield results, multichannel campaigns have to do more than just pump content through disparate media — they must coordinate and refine the messaging so that the channels complement each other for a cumulative effect upon the recipient.
Avrick says that this means taking care, for example, to “suppress responders between marketing touches.” In other words, to avoid sending redundant messages to recipients who have made a purchase or taken some other desired step. Those who still haven’t done so get subsequent touches with “sweeteners” like extra discounts to move them to action.
Helping Design Distributors to sharpen the timing of its multichannel communications is the U.S. Postal Service’s Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) technology, which enables mailers to better predict the delivery dates of envelopes and flats. Avrick also sees strong channel potential in Informed Delivery, a USPS program that lets people digitally preview soon-to-arrive mail on their tablets and smart phones.
According to Avrick, today’s young, tech-savvy consumers “need to have a reason to go to the mailbox,” and Informed Delivery furnishes it. He also likes the fact that Design Distributors can upload high-resolution images to the previews on behalf of customers for which it is running mailing campaigns. One of Informed Delivery’s best features as a channel, Avrick adds, is the fact that USPS isn’t charging for it: the previews are free for addressees in ZIP codes where the service is available.
You’ve Got Mail, and More
Informed Delivery also figures into “Connect360,” a new, integrated multichannel solution from Think Patented. In one application, says Dave McNerney, a mailing of 33,000 promotional postcards was heralded by related messages via Facebook and Instagram to the recipients of the cards (accomplished by matching mailing list data to the recipients’ profiles on the social networks). Those signed up for Informed Delivery could see preview images of the postcards coming their way.
Once delivered, the cards directed recipients to websites where Think Patented could track and report their activity. By monitoring clicks, open rates, telephone contacts and other activities throughout Connect360 engagements, Think Patented compiles dashboards that give clients a window into the effectiveness of their campaigns. Trackability and measurement are “hugely important” to users of multichannel marketing services, Ken McNerney observes.
According to Vitch, multichannel outreach has grown popular among marketers, “because it works — response is all that matters.” To drive response, he continues, multichannel service providers need a “feedback loop” that keeps them continuously informed about what recipients do, or fail to do, at each stage of a campaign so that the messaging can be adjusted accordingly.
This is what Compu-Mail seeks to accomplish through retargeting: a technique for staying in touch with recipients who take no action at landing pages direct mail has succeeded in getting them to visit. Alerted to this, Compu-Mail can present the same message at the recipient’s social media locations or re-deliver the offer in a follow-up email. In this way, explains Vitch, it’s often possible to turn a non-buy at the point of sale into a paid order overnight.
Print: A Format that Informs
The centrality of print to efforts like these is obvious. Print, as Wisely puts it, is the channel “that validates a marketing campaign — a format that informs.” He asserts that although most consumers use digital media to gather information about things they want to buy, the research doesn’t necessarily lead to purchasing decisions. “The print component drives a higher level of response,” Wisely says.
This is what gives direct mail its unique ability in campaigns where multiple channels come into play. “People are looking more at what they’re getting in the mail,” Avrick states. Direct mail, he believes, remains the best way to target people by their demographic traits because, “selected data points are most available in the direct mail world.”
There’s also what Dave McNerney calls the “staying power” of direct mail and other forms of print: the physical presence that distinguishes it from ephemeral digital media such as email. He says that while people might delete hundreds of email messages every day, with print, “you can’t instantly delete it without looking at it.” This increases the likelihood that the printed piece will be there, poised to influence the buying decision, “when the consumer is ready” to take action, McNerney observes.
Tools and Techniques for Success
A prerequisite for success in providing print-based multichannel marketing services is heavy investment in state-of-the-art
printing technology. Avrick says that Design Distributors has made a “massive expansion” of its digital color print capability by installing an HP PageWide T240 HD inkjet web press and three color digital toner devices from Ricoh. Think Patented recently added a second Versafire digital press from Heidelberg.
Vitch notes that Compu-Mail’s digital press department boasts equipment from Canon, Xerox, Xeikon, Konica Minolta and HP. With its three HP Indigo 12000 and two HP Indigo 7800 digital presses, GLS/NEXT is, according to Wisely, one of the world’s consistently highest-volume producers of printing on the HP Indigo platform.
Mastery of software for 1:1 communication and marketing automation is another trait that multichannel service providers must possess. Compu-Mail, for example, maintains its edge with an internal programming team of 12 people.
But, as Dave McNerney points out, “just having software doesn’t do anything — processes and people are more important.” Avrick even contends that “multichannel marketing is in most cases not software-concentric.” Carrying greater weight, he contends, is the planning, scheduling and data management that characterizes well-executed campaigns.
Firms that have done well as providers of multichannel marketing services agree that newcomers to the field will find success in it no easier to achieve than they did.
“You’ve got to dip your toe and go slow,” Vitch counsels. “It’s your job to figure out what your clients need, and how they make money. Don’t expect to be profitable on day one.” He says that Compu-Mail can also white-label multichannel marketing
campaigns for those printing companies that want to offer the service to their customers, but lack resources of their own. Design Distributors is also open to partnerships of this kind, according to Avrick.
Ken McNerney says that what Think Patented learned from initial mistakes with multichannel marketing is that “it doesn’t happen just because you want it to.” He adds that selling the capability can be a particular challenge.
“The traditional print person struggles with this sell, because it’s different from selling traditional ink on paper,” he explains. “It’s less of a tangible sell, with no guarantee that it works, so it’s not for the faint of heart.”
Along similar lines, Wisely says aspirants should be prepared to help their customers gain an understanding of multichannel marketing, an arena that most of them probably aren’t ready to dive straight into. He stresses that in order to do this, it’s essential to have “a marketing DNA inside your organization — this is not a manufacturing-minded strategy.”
There’s no substitute for this kind of expertise, and firms that truly wish to succeed as marketing service solution providers will spare no effort to acquire it. This was Think Patented’s objective, for example, in acquiring a large marketing and fulfillment company in the Miamisburg area five years ago.
Such is the nature of the competition awaiting newcomers. As Wisely expresses it, “you’re going to compete against people who are driving new, innovative marketing approaches. The game has changed.”