Q&A with Lynne Dundas
Media Service Group’s Tim Baskerville interviews Lynne Dundas of
Dundas Direct. The topic: Internet marketing and creating customer value. Here is an excerpt from that interview.
Q: (Baskerville): Which consulting services do clients most often ask for when they come to Dundas Direct?
A: (Dundas) I’m frequently asked by new clients to quote on a specific marketing tactic or website redesign project. In these situations, I often start with an audit of the client’s current marketing strategies and look for low-hanging fruit, which I define as low cost opportunities that can be brought to market fairly quickly. The strategy the client starts the conversation with may not ultimately be the direction I recommend pursuing. There may be weaknesses in their website, for example, which may not support the lead generation or other marketing activity that we want to push. In these instances, it may be more cost-effective in the long run to strengthen the website before pushing out new marketing campaigns.
Q: What do you consider to be the elements of a strong website?
A: Well certainly the website should be the hub where all your marketing and content can be found, where visitors can find information, resources and thought leadership, and purchase products and services. It should be content-rich and well optimized for search. It should position the brand in a compelling way and prompt action – to sign-up, purchase, inquire, download or demo your product. The stronger the website at converting visitors to buyers, the more likely marketing campaigns that drive people there will work.
Q: That sounds good, but what if there is no time to build this and you just have to get the campaign out the door?
A: Well sure, that’s sometimes the situation. You don’t always have the luxury of time or resources to get the website exactly where you’d like it to be. Let me give you an example.
Q: Please do!
A: A non-profit client wanted to conduct a year-end appeal that would reach a new audience and drive traffic and donations to their website. We had very little time to get this done. Redoing the website was simply not an option. So, we wrote a campaign and developed a supporting landing page, which made it easy for donors to contribute and provided basic information about the organization’s mission, leadership and history. The promotion surpassed its goal and the organization adopted the landing page as its new homepage. One compelling stat was the length of time visitors stayed on the site – an average of 03:44 minutes compared to 00:52 minutes on the prior homepage.
Q: What stats should clients use to judge the effectiveness of their websites?
A: It’s absolutely critical to identify which performance indicators are most influential in guiding decisions for your business and chart progress against goals. That said, it is also important to be far-sighted when it comes to delivering value and building a strong brand. The big growth area in marketing in recent years has been direct response – google ads, email campaigns, coupon codes, and such – that can be measured instantly in clicks and percentage points. But the temptation can be to focus on short-term wins at the expense of lifetime value. For example, an E-tailer who had approached me after years of declining market share, was heavily dependent on discount tactics to drive sales to their shopping cart. On the front end, the individual campaigns appeared to hit their targets. In the long-term, however, the E-tailer was merely training customers with each promotion to wait for a better deal. The customers who responded to deep discounts bought less and were less brand loyal than customers who were motivated by product and selection over price. Over time, the brand became associated with low price, but the economics of the business could not support this strategy indefinitely. The lesson was that by focusing exclusively on near-term hits and top-line growth, the brand had hopped off the value train. They might have reversed their course earlier if they had been more attentive to customer lifetime value.
Q: How do you know where to draw the line between incentivizing customers to buy and holding the line on discounts?
A: It needs to be balanced. The brand should offer true value outside of price and availability. Your product or service should be the answer to something your customer cares about. If you stay true to the brand promise and create distinction and relevancy in the marketplace, then the brand promise is the beacon that will help keep your marketing strategy on course. There’s nothing wrong with using incentives as a way to attract prospects and convert them to buyers, but the unique selling proposition for most businesses should go beyond price.
Q: Is that the “sweet spot” I hear you refer to?
A: Yes, the unique value proposition that makes you stand out from your competitors, the common ground between your desires and those of your customers.
Media Service Group’s Tim Baskerville interviews Lynne Dundas of
Dundas Direct. The topic: where email strategy confronts the challenges of email execution. Here is an excerpt from that interview.
Q: (Baskerville): For several years you’ve been a big advocate of using email as a delivery mechanism for serving up relevant content, delivering value and nurturing customer relationships. Could you give an example of a program that did this successfully and delivered ROI while swimming upstream against the river of spam?
A: (Dundas) Well, we ran a classic e-newsletter program at JupiterKagan, using some content as a free teaser to sell expensive paid content. I was fortunate enough to work with a team that was eager to put new programs in place to attract and cultivate prospects and leads. In this case the marketplace had changed and demand for many of their product lines was declining. The solution was multi-pronged. It included changes to product mix, pricing structures, brand positioning, and marketing strategy. The e-newsletter was a new product designed to reinvigorate the brand and deliver fresh, qualified leads to the sales team.
Q: What were the hurdles to execution?
A: The start-up process was time-intensive because the infrastructure for creating and delivering the e-newsletter had to be created from scratch. We developed messaging for all points of contact with the customer, from opt-in to landing page to customer-service inquiry and so forth.
Q: What metrics did you use to gauge success?
A: In this case we monitored key performance indicators such as deliverability, opens and clicks through our email service provider, M4 Internet. To measure conversion and ROI we matched back the e-news subscriber list against new product sales by date, and tracked shopping cart activity coming from the emails using Google analytics.
Q: So, were the results mostly in brand-building, or could you trace actual dollars in the bank to this channel?
A: We tracked actual dollars coming through this channel to calculate return on investment and acquisition cost per customer. We also found these prospects to be productive leads for the inside sales team, who cultivated them for continuous information products and site license services.
Q: I’ve heard you can get significant ROI bumps from this kind of program? What’s your experience?
A: Absolutely. One key is to calibrate the allowable level of investment to acquire a new customer in relation to the expected lifetime value for that customer. By offering a wide array of renewable products at various step-up price points, we might spend $10-30 to acquire a lead that could yield anywhere from $150 to $37,700 in lifetime revenue. And since the product offerings were mostly digital, the incremental cost of fulfillment was generally insignificant. With those economics, you can cast a pretty wide net and maintain a strong ROI. As much as anything, the challenge was to come up with enough new products to monetize the high-value leads we could generate. Once we got the initial paid conversion, we of course wanted to continue to sell them new stuff.
Q: So, I gather that in this case the e-newsletter format was chosen because you were selling content, and a content-based “teaser” product proved to be a good alignment?
A: Yes, that’s definitely a key. Match the bait technique – in this case free commentary on the same topics covered by the paid services – with the research and analysis that was the end point of the conversion funnel. This is an important lesson for those starting out: You can’t just take a recipe that has proven successful in one setting and apply it indiscriminately. Always assess the unique demands of the client and tailor a solution to that environment.
Q: In terms of budget?
A: No, I mean the whole range of issues unique to that client: creative, alignment with the brand, game-planning every future category of customer touchpoint, making adjustments to handle the campaign in the back end–the whole program. Obviously we have to hit the budget target, but that’s only one vector among many in achieving success.
Q: That’s a good example of success in a B2B environment with very high lifetime value. How do you deal with these issues in a B2C setting?
A: There are more similarities than you might think. We had one client with a customer lifetime value of under $200. The good news was that there was a very large universe of potential prospects—millions—and they had a strong affinity with the offering. The challenge is that there were a lot of low-priced competitors. We used SEO (which was relatively cheap in this case) to harvest lots of names, and an elaborate array of landing pages offering sample content through a downloadable PDF on specific hot buttons of interest. We could track which hot buttons resonated with which segment, and build follow-up email campaigns targeting those areas. And we’d supplement that inexpensive approach by mailing print catalogs to those prospects who ranked high on the recency-frequency-monetary scale.
Q: Sounds like a complicated program. Did it pay for itself?
A: No question about it. We kept refining the prospecting recipe and tailoring follow-up messages until we got the right balance between quantity of leads generated and ROI. It was profitable from the get-go, but it’s always possible to tweak and improve.
Q: So, what’s the key takeaway for organizations looking to explore in this more sophisticated era of email marketing?
A: Use the proven techniques, but tailor them to each specific marketing environment. And realize no matter how well you do in launching the program, you can always improve it by follow-on testing. The launch is only phase one.