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Cover Story : The Big Qs of 2012

How you answer these questions will shape your business for the next year and beyond

January 2012 By Thorin McGee
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Is the Great Recession finally over? At the time of this writing, December holiday shopping is off to a good start and unemployment has eased a little—but it's impossible to say if that will last. What we can say—after consulting with industry leaders, marketers, consultants and analysts to determine the biggest questions marketers face in 2012—is that the recession has become a smaller question on the minds of marketers than it was last year.

"Marketers seem to be getting back into the game," says Lois Brayfield, president and chief creative officer of Mission, Kan.-based direct marketing agency J. Schmid & Assoc. "We've witnessed an unbelievable resurgence into brands spending more, trying new things and investing in their businesses. I think this bodes well for our industry."

It's not that everyone is profiting again, but companies that have survived this far have adapted to the down economy. Many have turned their attention to opportunities offered by a horde of marketing tools that emerged during the last five years, and to the perils of a world where the USPS might price direct mail out of existence and privacy lapses keep tempting Congress to put the kibosh on data collection.

It's time to look forward to the opportunities and threats emerging in 2012. If you want to be prepared for them, these are the questions to be asking your marketing team now:

1. How Do You Communicate Across Channels?
"Today's consumers are more multichannel than ever before," says Ernan Roman, president of Ernan Roman Direct Marketing in Douglas Manor, NY. Citing "Voice of the Customer" interview research his company has done on behalf of its clients, Roman says many interviewees "reported using multiple media, often at the same time, to browse and purchase. Marketers will have to get much better at being agnostic and surrounding consumers with multichannel choices."

This is an old question with new urgency, thanks to the increasing types of devices people use to interact with digital marketing. A smartphone is not a tablet is not a computer, but the same messages are being consumed on all of them, often by the same person.

Where’s the Green?

Like many of the topics covered, sustainability was discussed in very customer-centric terms during our cover story interviews.

“Green is about the customer, not about the marketer,” says Ken Lane, and his fellow J. Schmid colleague Lois Brayfield agrees. When asked “Are environmental issues impacting your clients?” she says, “Only as it relates to those consumers that no longer respond to mail for ‘green’ reasons.

“The truth of the matter is that customers do not always respond to green offers. I’ve witnessed many of these offers and messages that quite frankly do not appeal to the consumer as it pertains to their wallets; unless it means spending less money.”

How did this look in practice? “Prominent mailers, including financial services, have been under the scrutiny of non-governmental organizations for the last several years, including the annual Forest Ethics Nice ‘n Naughty list,” says Terry D. Ramakers, DMS - production manager for American Express, Inc.

“We take pride in reporting that our eco initiatives began over five years ago,” Ramakers continues, “by reducing paper weights, streamlining mail formats and finding better ways to reduce undeliverable mail. By actively using the Forest Stewardship Council logo on a large percentage of our direct mail, we want our customers to know we value sustainability. Although not actively promoting our efforts, we have recycling programs in our facilities, have successfully reduced our paper and energy consumption through several avenues, and have been recognized by Newsweek as one of the top 30 green companies in America.”

But American Express’s efforts yield production benefits as well. Ramakers says, “eco activities can also help you reduce costs and increase your ROI.”

 
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