Proactive Steps for Your Marketing Plans (

A serious and unprecedented pandemic calls for calm, reason, and realism. As leaders, it’s essential to remember that engaging in contingency planning and caring for our clients and employees should be our top priority. As global events continue to unfold, we felt it essential to gather our thought leaders together to guide and advise appropriate next steps in strategy and tactics for clients as they, in turn, engage their customers. Before the pandemic reached a declaration of emergency, many clients were reporting records results amid record-low unemployment. A general sense of economic optimism, however fleeting, was felt by the American consumer. Throughout many challenges over the years, there is a remarkable resiliency to the American consumer.

One testament to that resiliency is that the American consumer generally doesn’t stop shopping; they just shop differently. Roughly translated, that usually means less frequently and more strategically. In countless boardrooms around the world, company leadership is uniformly asking, “How can we hold or reduce expenses while riding out the next several weeks?” Such conversations are deeply critical in determining where to focus precious resources, to the most effective channels, while garnering maximum effect.

As we engage with clients in thoughtful discussions and proactive decision-making, a few common threads are emerging. While the current environment requires a high degree of flexibility and adaptability, especially considering your industry vertical, there are some key observations and lessons learned we’d like to share with you:

  1. Current strategies, and should they change?
    There is no “one size fits all” approach. Some industry verticals, such as hobbyists and food, are doing exceptionally well. Other industry verticals, particularly retail stores, are struggling with the best way to optimize their marketing plans, given that many are temporarily shuttering their brick and mortar locations. Depending on the sandbox in which you operate, we see the following changes with upcoming in-home catalog windows:

Strong industry verticals: right now, we are making slight adjustments to in-home windows but are not making drastic cuts in circulation strategy. Some strong industry verticals are doubling down and increasing the frequency and depth of mailings, closing aligning them to their other marketing channels such as email. Adopting such tactics could work for verticals that do well in this environment: horticulture, home hobbyist, food, and pet.

Struggling industry verticals: Home, apparel, mid-market, and luxury goods are running flat (as of today), with some struggling to comp YOY demand. There are a few strategies to consider pending flexibility with printer and paper vendors. In some cases, we are pushing back in-home windows by a matter of weeks, and in some isolated cases, even months. Depending on the client’s situation, we may do a combination of pushing back in-home windows, reducing circulation to less responsive customers/prospects, and adding a later print contact to their best buyers. As mentioned in our previous article, it’s essential to stay present with your best buyers, so an added remail may make sense.

Before you first decide to reduce print media because of the expense, please understand how each channel performs on a contribution level and not the basis of the initial expense outlay. Too often, rushed decisions fail to incorporate an understanding of channel performance, organic demand levels, and Lifetime Value. For example, while some digital channels may be less expensive on a click basis, their contribution level may be much less on an order basis compared to a seemingly more costly print channel.

Once you have decided how much you plan to spend on print, begin to incorporate advanced segmentation into your marketing plans. Always utilize advanced segmentation on customer behavior in addition to traditional Recency, Frequency, and Monetary (RFM). It’s increasingly imperative to incorporate digital indicators (point #4 below), gender, merchandise propensity, and other variables that enhance the ability to tactically target customers who are most likely to buy during a downturn.

Brands with retail stores: as the list of ever-growing temporary retail store closures mount, re-consider the depth and frequency of postal mailings driving customers online for ecommerce fulfillment opportunities. In this scenario, advanced segmentation strategies are critical to making the best decision on who and when customers receive a catalog or direct mail piece in addition to traditional digital marketing touches. Segmentation around trade area vs. non-trade area, active email/no email activity, and digital engagement indicators are critical in making the right decision around print engagement opportunities. Changing a customer’s preferred channel from store to online may mean to incentive with an offer.

Moreover, be honest and transparent with customers (see point #6 below) if and when you begin to close stores temporarily. Customers will understand and ultimately be more loyal when you do the right thing for the health and safety of your employees and are honest and frank about your supply and fulfillment disruptions.

  1. Don’t cancel your acquisition campaigns.
    In last week’s article, one key “lesson learned” is the importance of maintaining your customer acquisition programs throughout the downturn. While it’s often tempting to cut acquisition in a quick bid to bolster the bottom line, the unintended consequences of such a decision can prove catastrophic coming out of the crisis and into the following year (note: there’s always going to be an upswing). Over the years, we’ve seen well-intentioned brands sever this vital artery, which we classify as the lifeblood of any business. The cascading effect of natural customer attrition combined with no new incoming customers is devastating, leading to many brands’ ultimate demise. Hyper-optimized social and shopping campaigns coupled with postal retargeting and catalog acquisition working in tandem can capitalize on niche audiences during this period.
  2. Optimize strategies based on the 80/20 rule.
    Also known as The Pareto Principle. Investopedia describes The Pareto Principle as “an aphorism which asserts that 80% of outcomes (or outputs) result from 20% of all causes (or inputs) for any given event.” For marketing, this generally implies:

*80% of sales come from 20% of your customers. Focus squarely on your best customers across your print, email, and digital marketing channels, forgoing attempts to convert marginal customers and tire kickers. Depending on your brand’s philosophy, you might consider temporary incentives to welcome your best customers to come back.
*80% of your merchandise demand derives from 20% of your products. Assuming your top-performing products are in inventory, display them in critical hotspots on your website, displayed above the fold in sub-categories, displayed in internal site search, and featured prominently in your broadcast and triggered email campaigns. Be aggressive in biddable media, such as PLAs (Product Listing Ads), bidding for placement well above the fold, but be mindful of potential inflationary pricing that might occur. Even outside of a crisis, you would be surprised how frequently brands lose sight of products that drive the majority of their demand.
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