We all see consumer behavior changing rapidly as hyper-connectivity reshapes long-standing habits and the born-digital members of the Millennial and GenZ generations take their place as many brands' primary targets. Direct marketers must adapt their craft, which dates back to the era of postal mail and saw a big wave of evolution in the era of desktop email. But where are these marketers to turn for advice in this latest era of smartphones and social media?
- Two billion internet users now use social networks and spend up to 6.5 hours per month engaging on top platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
- Marketers now appropriate 20.9 percent of their marketing budgets towards social media in the next five years, up from only 5.6 percent in 2009.
- eMarketer projects that by 2017, ad spend will grow by 20 percent to reach $36 billion, 16 percent of all digital ad spend globally.
These figures provide striking testimony towards the intangible benefits that marketers believe social brings. According to Perry Simpson at Direct Marketing News, "As a function of the anatomy of modern commerce, social media continues to fortify its role as the connective tissue that binds brands and marketers together with consumers in the age of the ephemeral internet." He goes on to say, "As a democratizing agent, social media puts customer directly in touch with the companies and causes they care about -- or care to discuss."
All to say that direct marketers could do a lot worse than looking at social marketers to see how this new game is played. By boosting their listening skills, heightening consumer emotions, and exploring new types of engagement metrics -- all tried-and-true tactics of social marketing -- direct marketers can significantly improve their ability to build loyal, long-term relationships with consumers.
Sharpen your ears
Social provides completely unfettered transparency into consumers at any given moment in time. From expressing discontent about an excruciatingly painful airline experience to showing fervent support behind a contentious political issue, brands have 24/7 access to consumers' thoughts and emotions. Every minute, 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, 347,222 tweets are posted, and users send an average of 31.25 million messages on Facebook!
Direct marketers can hugely benefit from strategically collaborating with their social market peers who are experts in listening. In breaking down the walls between these traditionally siloed marketing functions, direct marketers stand to gain a more nuanced understanding of consumers' affinities, fears, interests, and other emotional triggers that can help inform campaign development and optimization.
Together, these two channels can create an even more powerful multi-tiered campaign. For example, a brand can tie an email campaign to social media or use social media to create anticipation for an upcoming direct marketing offer. This can prove especially beneficial for brands with the younger generations that are entrenched in these channels.
In general, what's important here is that all listening is valuable and vital to consumer-focused marketing: paying attention to what consumers want more broadly is the key.
Direct marketers can also pull pages from social marketers' playbook when it comes to engaging consumers. In 2013, Forrester reported that while 50 percent of every buying decision can be traced back to emotion, disappointingly 89 percent of respondents felt no personal connection to the brands they buy.
Social has drastically changed dynamics between advertisers and their consumers by enabling brands to respond with lightning efficiency to praises, complaints, and general inquiries across multiple platforms and devices. As a result, social marketers have become incredibly skillful and clever at exploring different formats such as video and speaking in authentic and entertaining voices that fluidly engage in bite-sized packets. Look no further than award-winning social campaigns by Airbnb, Disney, and other major brands as testament to the power of rapid-fire, engaging conversations.
Direct marketers should similarly get nimbler when it comes to engaging consumers. For example, they can adopt a more human tone in emails, create more entertaining calls-to-action, or embed quick video tips in promotional offers. By doing so, consumers now feel they are part of a more interesting conversation with an empathetic peer rather than with someone from a brand's ivory towers.
Embrace new engagement metrics
Direct marketers' traditional metrics of impressions, clicks, and conversions haven't kept pace with consumers' evolving behaviors and the availability of more sophisticated marketing measurement tools.
On the other hand, social marketers such as Ekaterina Dobrokhotova, head of customer engagement at L'Oréal Paris Canada, have shifted their thinking about measurement. According to Dobrokhotova, "'…we're no longer saying, 'Let's acquire fans.' We're saying, 'Let's get engagement.'" As a result, social marketers have gone beyond followers and likes to adopting new types of consumer engagement metrics such as time spent with content. By focusing on how consumers interact with brands' messages and offers rather than surface level behaviors such as clicks, direct marketers can also apply these deeper consumer engagement insights to create more robust campaign strategies.
It's time for direct marketers to get more comfortable with the language that today's customers use to communicate, and that includes some best practices from social media. We're not talking about a wholesale shift in your direct marketing practice, but a subtle update to your style, cadence and tone. The key to overall success will be creating harmony with a brands' other channels to ensure exposure through the funnel aligns with consumers' purchasing mindset.