Sylvan Learning's Sara Costello on On-Demand Marketing Systems
As the sophistication of direct marketing programs grows, firms are compelled to ensure their marketing efforts are integrated on numerous levels. Brands that are sold via a distributor network face the additional pressure of having to coordinate such messaging and tactics across a widely disparate group of stakeholders.
Such was the case for Sylvan Learning, which provides private tutoring for children in grades pre-K through 12 via a franchise network of more than 1,000 local operators. In early 2007 the company worked with QuantumDigital, an Austin, Texas-based online provider of direct mail, on-demand printing and e-marketing services, to implement an online on-demand marketing program for franchisees. Called 1:1 Direct Mail Service Bureau, this solution offers users access to print mail templates (postcards, letter packs and flyers) and e-mail templates that are customizable to the local level. Franchisees may change up offers, headlines and pictures to give a local market feel to a nationally branded campaign, says Sara Costello, director of direct mail and conversion marketing at Sylvan Learning. In addition, the tool offers users the ability to define audiences via visual mapping technology and integrate print and e-mail campaigns for better response.
According to Jamie Klemcke, marketing director at QuantumDigital, Sylvan's portal also provides marketing support to franchisees. A marketing calendar developed by Sylvan powers automated e-mail alerts to remind franchisees when promotions are ready for execution and take some of the guesswork out the marketing process for more novice operators.
Here, Costello discusses in more detail the reasons behind Sylvan's move to an on-demand marketing solution, the benefits of it and the results witnessed so far.
Target Marketing: What are the challenges of promoting a national brand via a local marketing approach?
Sara Costello: One of our biggest challenges is that moms in our communities really want to work with people that they're comfortable with, they're familiar with ... people from their own community [that] they really trust.
And we have great advantages [due to] the size of our organization because it brings back great resources, increases our collective capabilities ... We have a lot of strong points, but a big challenge is you have to translate that brand into a local community business, and that local community business needs to be integrated with those families ... working with those families directly.
So it's one of those things that if you have advertising/marketing materials that are well-branded but not localized or personalized, they can come across as impersonal and not relevant to the local community. But yet if you have things that are all about the local business but not enough brand substance, they don't resonate with moms. You have to strike a really good balance so that you can bring about all the best assets of your brand into the local community.
TM: Why did you survey your franchisees about their marketing activities?
SC: The reason why we decided to survey our franchises is purely, selfishly we wanted to provide a solution that they would use. Because when you to try to organize a direct marketing solution for your community, but nobody ends up using it, it's not only poorly spent resource from a corporate level, but it also creates a ton of extra work on the part of the franchisees because they have to then go outside of the system and figure out how to do what they need to do.
So it was really crucial for us to understand, when it came to direct marketing ... some of the needs that they had—Where are they getting filled? Why were they using what they were using? What were they trying to achieve?—so that we could figure out the best way to deliver what they were looking for.
TM: What key findings did you take away from the survey results?
SC: I think one of our big takeaways was that we needed flexibility. That was flexibility in terms of how much time it was going to take somebody to put together [a campaign]. Did they need to be a marketing person to be able to use the system ... was it very simple and straightforward or was it something that they needed a lot of training and hand-holding with?
Just a big takeaway from what [franchisees] were telling us they were doing outside of our previous system is that they were wanting a lot of localization and personalization capabilities. In the previous solution, where we had a lot of shells printed and there was very limited modifications available with a lot of lead time required, all that was doing was stifling their usage with that system and forcing them to go elsewhere to meet their own needs. So we knew that we had to come up with something that was very customizable, very easy to use—and, from our standpoint, well-controlled from a brand perspective, but also something that made all of the proven pieces available very easily, very quickly to everybody in our network.
TM: How did these findings translate into your Web-to-print marketing solution?
SC: The needs drove a bigger thing, which was a transition from that classic, warehouse shelf-based system to an on-demand solution. That was the biggest, most simple translation of the needs into a more actionable solution.
Once we knew that were going to work within the on-demand environment and selected QuantumDigital as our partner, it helped us make sure the Web-based portal [franchisees] used to design their own direct marketing postal mail and e-mail was something that was available all the time; really easy to use; didn't require them to be a technical person or even that much of a marketing person; didn't require a ton of training but had support in place when needed. And so we translated all of those things into the kind of underpinnings of the solution that we have with QuantumDigital right now.
TM: How long have you been using the Web-to-print solution? Are all of your franchises using the system?
SC: We have been live since January 2007. Our year one versus our old program, I want to say, we had a several hundred percent increase in usage over previous program volume.
We do not have 100 percent usage across the system because it's not a required solution; we don't require [franchisees] to use direct mail. But we know based on continuously increasing usage that we are adding users every month that we're open. And we always do outreach activity to make sure that people are educated about the fact that it is there, how they should use direct marketing, and now that we've got e-marketing on-board, we've gotten even more users signed on.
TM: What benefits have you gained from implementing the Web-to-print solution?
SC: A key benefit that we have here at the home office is that this solution does not need a lot of management and oversight. So if you're looking at something that is a more traditional process that requires a lot of intervention points, this [system] is not it. We have a very light department here; there's myself and another person, Brent ... and we have to cover a lot of bases, this only being one small part of what we need to manage and direct. So moving to this type of solution has meant a tremendous relief in terms of managing pain points, managing actual runs that go through the system ...
For franchisees, they appreciate the flexibility that they get now and they appreciate the capability that they have to speak to their local markets because the materials are so customizable and available to them. I think that they've just accepted now that, "Oh, we have 25 template to choose from" ... I'm kind of making this up, but we're always going to have integrated materials. Whereas before it was, "Hmm, we have three things and they're the same three things we've had over the last 12 months." So they're just beginning to see this standard as status quo, which is a vastly improved standard. We're really excited about that.
We don't have full systems in place to be able to measure distinct conversion rates, things along those lines. But we believe, based on repeat usage and increased usage, that franchisees are seeing strong business results.
One of the benefits we've seen is that to move to this and have a positive acceptance in our system gives us even further bigger picture ideas where we can transform even more over the next 24 months, taking advantage of this on-demand capability. So we're moving in that direction as well.