Late last year, NIH's National Center for Biotechnology Information featured an article to help marketers deal with the multiple wants, needs and interests of today's sophisticated — and picky — health care consumers. The researchers talked about the value in customizing health messages, as well as two ways to do that:
- Message targeting aimed at population subgroups who share characteristics (for example, recent college graduates in emerging careers in small cities or physically active retirees living in the suburbs).
- Message tailoring aimed at individuals with very personal characteristics, such as personality factors like coping styles or preferences for thinking extensively about choices.
The report reflects the growing confidence among experienced direct marketers that today's personalized messages get a better response than traditional shotgun marketing. As to the relative benefits of customizing a message to shared or individual characteristics — well, that still "depends."
Marketers eager to find out what message tailoring can accomplish, should consider the following three fresh options for evolving messages from segment appeals to highly individualized appeals.
1. Variable Imaging
This contemporary way to get somebody's attention reaches far beyond using photos with which the person can identify. With variable imaging, the person's name — or address or any data touch point — is IN the image. Because the variables are applied in Photoshop at the time each piece is printed, a particular personalized image is associated only with the precise piece earmarked for a particular individual.
(Note: SkyMall Catalog sells this exact concept — framed personalized images — to individuals for up to $129 per print. It's in demand! Variable images are powerful and they DO boost response rates.)
2. Trigger-based Marketing
Nothing is more individual than a marketing message that appreciates what an individual has just done. For example, today's sophisticated trigger-based marketing systems will automatically deliver a message, depending on how somebody responds to a marketing appeal.
Did the person say yes, no, maybe, that depends, tell me more? Did they respond by direct mail, email, a personalized URL, a phone call? Your answer back can incorporate a variety of variables. "Dear John. Thanks for your email of July 1. We're shipping your shoes today."
Even if a response never arrived, the auto trigger can act. "Dear John. We missed hearing from you in reply to our postcard sent on July 1. This email has the path to your very own personalized website. Click here."
Trigger-based marketing also works in tandem with events in the marketplace, such as a change in mortgage rates; or goes into action when the customer returns an item or inquires about a product upgrade or service; or suggests a related product when the customer buys, etc.
3. Data Modeling
A retail client selling products online and through catalogs asked for EU Services' help in planning and executing a sophisticated variable campaign. The strategy was to showcase related products to customers in a tailored cross-sell promotional effort. To compile data, the client worked with an agency that specializes in developing complex business-logic rules modeled on one customer's buying habits measured against another customer's buying habits.
The result was a tailored postcard that featured both a past purchase and a suggestion for future purchases with a coupon based on similar customers' buying behavior. Response rates went through the roof. By mailing two to three times per month to between 900 and 1,500 people, over time this tailored upsell has earned a 300 percent ROI.
As the authors of the article aimed at health care marketers noted, "The choice to use targeting or tailoring depends on a number of factors, including the available resources of a campaign, the size of the target audience, and whether the behavior is simple, such as a small one-time purchase, or more complex, involving a lifestyle change."
It's also true that tailoring messages to the characteristics of an individual is usually associated with an increase in costs, but hopefully an increase in responses as well. Fortunately, testing is every direct marketer's winning strategy for dealing with that uncertainty.
Crystal Uppercue is the marketing manager for EU Services, a 330-employee direct marketing production facility based in Rockville, MD. Download EU's free white paper, "A Marketing Manager's Guide to VDP Project Management," at www.euservices.com.