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The Harte Hanks Blog

Marketing Technology: Where’s My ROI?


The modern customer journey is consumer driven and often fractured. Unlike the linear, vendor-led customer journeys of the past, the buyer is now in full control. With endless options – and a bevvy of information about each product or service readily available for consumers – marketers must devise new ways to attract customers and secure brand awareness and loyalty. A slew of new marketing technology, including CRM, marketing automation and inbound marketing platforms, have risen up to solve the new customer journey riddle. But despite the effectiveness of these platforms, too many B2B companies are reporting negative ROI for marketing technology investments. There are a number of reasons why.

Failure to Launch

The B2B sales cycle is a complex process. Unlike B2C products, there is no such thing as an “impulse purchase.” Buyers typically spend weeks, months and sometimes even years researching and deliberating before deciding on a purchase – particularly where big-ticket items are concerned. Marketing technology can help significantly simplify this process, but it isn’t a magic bullet. Marketing platforms aren’t plug and play; they are a set of interconnected tools for marketers to utilize as part of an overall strategy. Too often, B2B companies purchase marketing technology, but fail to allocate the resources necessary to realize their benefits. Marketing systems are a great delivery system, but engaging and strategic content that guides prospects along the customer journey must be created first. You can buy a car, but if you don’t fill it with gas and get behind the wheel, it isn’t going to move.

Scratching the Surface

Most of the marketing technology platforms available today come equipped with an array of features that justify their cost – intelligent analytics, A/B testing, easy integration, etc. Companies who fail to realize ROI on these products are often utilizing only a fraction of the features available to them. These features can significantly enhance the power of the platform and should be utilized whenever possible.

Stove Piping

With so many different types of technology available, B2B companies often have more than one system for sales and marketing. Failure to integrate these systems – particularly marketing automation platforms and CRM software – creates a confusing environment where systems are not communicating with each other and often duplicating efforts. In order to get the most out of marketing software and a favorable ROI, marketing platforms and CRM software should always be integrated.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Too many B2B companies dive head first into marketing technology – purchasing platforms without a full understanding of the system or a plan to implement it. B2B marketers often find themselves tasked with becoming technology experts trying to implement and integrate systems they know little, if anything, about. Additionally, systems are often purchased before a strategy has been developed to utilize them.

Boost Your ROI

To fully realize the benefits of marketing technology platforms, B2B marketers must view these platforms as an important tool, but as only part of the process. Creative campaigns, strategic plans and actual customer conversations are all an integral part of the modern customer journey as well. Before purchasing a new marketing technology platform, B2B companies should perform due diligence on the products they wish to purchase and have a plan in place on how they will be utilized.

And if you need help boosting the ROI of your marketing investment, Harte Hanks has extensive experience integrating marketing technology with marketing strategy. We’re here to help!

Harte Hanks Puts Inaugural Transport Award for “Carrier of the Quarter” into Motion

Recognition Program Awards Top 5 Truckload Carriers; $1000 Grand Prize Awarded at Year’s End

Shipping fulfillment postIn today’s digital world, direct mail is often overlooked. Yet as one of the most effective marketing tools around, direct mail is a key cornerstone of many successful campaigns. With a response rate of approximately four percent, direct mail far surpasses other channels like email marketing and paid search, with response rates for each clocking in around 0.1 percent.

At Harte Hanks we understand the importance of direct mail. Harte Hanks completes over three million shipments of time-sensitive materials annually, making it one of the largest providers of third-party logistics in the United States. We also understand that it all wouldn’t be possible without our Truckload carriers.

For the first time in the company’s history, Harte Hanks is implementing a Carrier of the Quarter Program. As the name suggests, each quarter, Harte Hanks will identify the top 5 Truckload carriers, who provided superior customer service to Harte Hanks’ clients.

Truckload Carrier of the Quarter are based on the following criteria:

  1. Number of loads transported
  2. On-time pickup and delivery performance
  3. No unresolved or delinquent claims
  4. Maintaining a Department of Transportation Satisfactory or Unrated Safety Rating.
  5. No adverse comments on Carrier Watch (CSA’s)

Out of 1300 carriers, the five winners for Truckload Carriers are:

  • Larrabee Trucking LLC, Coatesville PA
  • Lama Express Inc, Rosemont IL
  • Beltrans Ltd, Pottstown PA
  • Bear Transportation, Yorba Linda CA
  • Perfect Transportation LLC, Indianapolis IN

At the end of the year, Harte Hanks Logistics will select one winner from each quarter to receive the inaugural “Carrier of the Year.” The grand prize will be $1000.

Direct mail shipments are an integral part of Harte Hanks’ and our clients’ success, and it is through the strong partnership with our Truckload carriers that we can ensure on-time delivery at highly competitive pricing.

Selfies with the Postmaster General and the Future of Direct Mail

future of direct mail
My selfie with the Postmaster General, Megan Brennan, at the National Postal Forum

Of the myriad of industries affected by the shift to digital, the postal service may have been amongst the hardest hit. With the introduction of email and texts in the early 2000s, hand-written letters became increasingly antiquated and the decline of traditional mail began. It continues today as short digital communications – IMs, Snapchats, tweets and Vines – become the preferred method of interaction amongst younger, and increasingly older, demographics. It’s becoming more and more apparent that today’s generation sees personal mail as a thing of the past, right up there with newspapers, fax machines and VHS recorders.

The United States Postal Service (USPS), however, is optimistic about the future for two reasons: e-commerce and direct mail. Harte Hanks had the pleasure of meeting with the 74th Postmaster General, Megan Brennan, at the National Postal Forum a few weeks back. We had many interesting discussions about the future of the postal service, why direct mail is still relevant and what innovations are coming down the pipeline for the postal industry.

It’s About Personalization, Not Volume

The key takeaway is this: direct mail in 2015 and beyond is going to be all about personalization, not volume. Gone are the days of blasting out millions of identical flyers to every region and human being you have an address for in your database. Fortunately, this is where Harte Hanks exceeds—cleansing data, analyzing it and translating that into smarter, more personal customer interactions.

With today’s sophisticated data analytics and insights, we can actually geo-target and create customized materials for our customers. For example, perhaps Bed, Bath & Beyond wants to target all females 45 years of age or older who are married with kids, who actively post on their Pinterest “Party & Gatherings” type board – and who live in a certain postal region. The conversion rate – and the potential revenue produced – for Bed Bath & Beyond’s direct mail flyer for discounts on family party supplies for the summer is going to skyrocket when it reaches the right mailboxes. Getting the right message, to the right customer, at the right time is our legacy at Harte Hanks.

The Future of Direct Mail

When used correctly, direct mail continues to be an extremely relevant and cost efficient channel. And it’s a win-win-win for USPS, brands and consumers. Consumers want to receive personalized and relevant direct mail pieces, which also drives business for USPS. Furthermore, economies of scale apply in terms of efficiencies and discounts for both brands and USPS, especially for direct mail flyers delivered in the same postal routes. For this to all be possible, someone like Harte Hanks needs to be behind the scenes delivering the magic of actionable insights that match preferences and behaviors with real people and addresses.

There will always be a demand for postal services, and with the continued rise of e-commerce and relevant direct mail that consumers find useful, this trend will continue. The Postmaster General and USPS are clearly thinking about the future of postage and how they can deliver the best experiences to senders and recipients. The conversation we had was a useful glimpse into the future of how we can continue to innovate and personalize the experience for smart customer interactions – an area that Harte Hanks knows all about.

So how did we thank the Postmaster General for meeting with us and posing for this selfie?

Why, a hand-written thank you note, of course.

USPS Network Rationalization: The Facts According to Each Side

USPS mailbox network rationalization
Credit: Teresa Boardman

Fifty senators, mostly democrats, recently signed a letter requesting that Phase 2 of the USPS Network Rationalization plan, due to occur in January of 2015, be delayed for one year. This facility consolidation effort consists of the closure of 82 mail-processing facilities across the United States and was already postponed a year, originally scheduled for January 2014. The USPS, as well as many colleagues of these senators, however, remain in strong opposition to this proposed moratorium.

Let’s take a look at what both sides have to say.

The Letter Senders

A recent article from the Wall Street Journal quotes the aforementioned letter as saying: “…it has been more difficult for the American public and small businesses to receive mail in a timely manner,” in reference to the conditions that followed a change in USPS service standards over 2 years ago.

The general sentiment of the letter articulates a concern for the loss of 15,000 “good-paying postal service jobs,” a direct impact on 37 U.S. states and damage to local communities, mail service efficiency and the overall economy.  They feel that since the first phase of network rationalization, closing 141 facilities, service standards have suffered, and the additional closures will only lead to continued failure.

“This one-year moratorium will give Congress the time it needs to enact the comprehensive postal reforms that are necessary for the postal sService to function effectively into the future,” they conclude.

Furthermore, slowed mail arrival time resulting from plant consolidation has led some to express mail-carrier safety concerns. One Government Executive article indicates that nighttime deliveries have become more common in one region, citing “mail not arriving to its penultimate locations on time” from “the consolidation of two distribution centers into one” as the root cause.

The Other Side

In contrast to the pleas of many senators to suspend the intended consolidation, many others are in favor of the upcoming facility closures. Possibly the most compelling argument promoting the closing of these reportedly underused post offices appears in an article from the Washington Examiner providing data that states: “…office visits are down 19 percent since 2004 and millions of customers now only access USPS online.”

Additionally, the USPS makes a similar point arguing that “the changes are necessary as it adjusts its business model to compete with the Internet.” With increasing financial troubles in recent years, they are concerned that “a moratorium could threaten the progress it has made in regaining stability,” and are asking that legislation “allow it more financial flexibility.”

From the mouth of the USPS

When asked to comment on the senators’ appeal, the Postal Service provided this written statement:

“In 2012 and 2013 the Postal Service consolidated 141 mail processing facilities. This rationalization of our network was highly successful, resulted in negligible service impact, required no employee layoffs, and generates annual cost savings of approximately $865 million. The Postal Service expects the completion of network rationalization will generate an additional $750 million in annual savings.”

What’s next?

With both houses of Congress on recess through early September, there has been no conclusion as of yet.  However, with so much riding on both ends, it will be interesting to see how this dilemma plays out.

For more information on the current state of postal affairs along with relevant news and issues, check out our most recent Postology Report.


Postal Reform: USPS Reactivates Facility Consolidation

USPS mail bins: postal reformSeveral months ago the USPS announced that they were putting their facility consolidation process on hold due to Congressional activity around potential postal reform. Part of the proposed Senate bill required facility levels as of October 1, 2013.

Well, it doesn’t look like there will be postal reform this year, and the USPS still needs to “right-size” the organization to the current level of mail volumes. In other words, they need to get costs in line with their revenue.

Moving Postal Reform Forward

According to a recent announcement by the USPS, the Postal Service consolidated 141 mail processing facilities in 2012 and 2013. This network rationalization appeared to be highly successful for the USPS, resulting in negligible service impact, generating annualized cost savings of $865 million and requiring no employee layoffs.

The Postal Service expects the completion of Phase II of network rationalization will generate an additional $750 million in annual savings: “We believe strongly that this phase of network rationalization will establish the low-cost, technology-centric delivery platform necessary to serve the mailing and shipping industry for decades to come.”

Sounding Alarm?

Much alarm has been expressed recently in regard to the restart of the consolidation effort. These 82 sites were part of the original network rationalization effort and were simply placed on hold to see if the Senate bill gained any real traction in Congress. Even if it had, the USPS would have still pushed for the finalization of the consolidation effort in order to get costs more in line with revenues. So, the surprise seems out of place.

The 82 facilities to be consolidated in 2015 consist of two from Phase I and 80 from Phase II. Generally speaking, for Harte Hanks, the 2012 and 2013 consolidations were a “non-event.” We were able to prepare drop ship entry planning well in advance and manage any issues that arose. There were seven issues, and they did not affect the mail we entered for our clients. We realize that the 82 facilities yet to be consolidated may have a bigger impact, as they will involve the movement of more processing equipment. Still, we know which postal facilities are to be consolidated, and we will be well prepared.

Some mailers were more affected by Phase I than others, and I suppose that is where their concerns stem from. We feel rather confident that the USPS will complete Phase II without undue stress on their delivery performance.

Stay in the Know

For a deeper look into Phase II of the USPS network rationalization effort, as well as additional information on current postal news and issues, please visit our latest Postology Report.

The Sin of Assumption: Alternatives to the Restoration Hardware Failure

Tweet about RH direct mail failureOne of the biggest sins in the marketing world is to assume that you absolutely know your customers. That your customers will never change and that you are assured a successful campaign working from your old ideas of what the customer wants and needs. Restoration Hardware recently released a direct mail campaign that delivered 17lbs worth of catalogs to each customer’s door–an assumption about consumers’ wants that cost them dearly.

Unexpected (?) Reaction

Instead of receiving this gift of information, customers began unsubscribing from Restoration Hardware’s mailing list and raising alarms calling the campaign a crime against environmental awareness. Here are some reactions to the campaign on Twitter:

Obviously, we can call this a bit of a stumble on Restoration Hardware’s part. Even though the company took steps to play down the environmental panic by releasing a website called Our Source Book Sustainability Initiative, the damage was done.

At some point, Restoration Hardware disconnected from their customers, not to mention the world itself. Today, companies are taking pro-environmental stances and organizing green initiatives, not sending out 3,000-plus-page catalogs en masse.

Alternatives: Add Some Direct Mail Technology

Don’t get me wrong–direct mail campaigns still have their place in the marketing world, and Restoration Hardware had the right idea. There is something definite about holding a piece of correspondence that you pull out of your mailbox rather than reading something from your email inbox. But there are many ways the decor company could have exposed customers to the same content without the huge paper waste.

Custom QR Code

For example, the company could have sent out just one catalog, or even a single postcard, with a custom QR code leading to a personalized URL with ongoing offers. Because of the associated data collection, these offers could change each time the consumer interacts with the mail piece, maximizing engagement. If they wanted to go a step further, they could print the QR code on a re-positionable sticker that the customer could stick right on her fridge or next to her computer for easy, repeat access.

Augmented Reality

Another option? Get creative with augmented reality. Send a brief catalog that encourages readers to scan any item they’re interested in to see complementary items and accessories. Say you scan a sofa. The site would pull up matching throw pillows, blankets, artwork, end tables…you get the picture. There are plenty of technological solutions available that allow you to not only expose your mail recipient to LOTS of information, but also carefully target that information and encourage engagement.

Less is More

Restoration Hardware may have been a bit overzealous with this latest direct mail campaign, and they have paid for it through negative feedback and criticism. There is a lesson to be learned through this debacle: customers do not want to be bombarded with mail when a smaller piece could do the job. Integrating digital elements to the direct mail campaign would get the job done–and encourage repeat engagement–without pounds of paper and showing up at your door.

Next time, the company ought to push aside their assumptions, take a quick pulse of the market, and consider all the ways in which technology has enabled BETTER direct mail without all the waste.

Mail is BACK: Direct Mail Trends and Marketing Innovations

Woman getting direct mail out of mailbox

By: Charley Howard

With over thirty years in the direct mail and postal industries, I’ve had the privilege of watching trends rise and fall, marketing innovations come and go. One of the most interesting turns of the tide has been that of direct mail.

For years now, digital communication channels—email, social media, mobile apps, etc.—have earned far more marketing attention than traditional channels. With the rise of fast, catchy and inexpensive digital communications, paper mail– with its comparatively long lead times and high costs– seemed to fall out of fashion almost overnight. This rise in digital communications also contributed to the creation of an entire generation of young people that has never used direct mail and has little interest in receiving it. Finally, a rise in postal rates coincided with a drop in the economy, which could have been the final nail in the direct mail coffin.

Digital Consumer Burnout

But the tide has turned again. All of the excitement around email marketing has created an overload of emails and consumer burnout. You would never send a prospect three direct mail pieces every day or drop a postcard in her lap while she’s having lunch, but such overly zealous attempts at email marketing have pushed many consumers over the saturation point, leading them to tune out and unsubscribe.

Case in point: a friend of mine described to me how one national retail chain used GPS to track subscribers’ smart phones and ping customers with an email offer when they walked into a store. While this may have seemed like clever plan that promotes engagement, many loyal customers got fed up, saying they received far too many communications while they were trying to shop.

Direct Mail 2.0

Considering that direct mail still offers nearly 20 to 40 times the response rates of email marketing, savvy marketers have started looking more seriously at direct mail again, searching for ways to make it more compelling and effective. Through a fresh outlook and new ideas, I believe these marketers are bringing direct mail back. This new version of “direct mail 2.0” will be smaller than the heyday of mass mailings and saturation mail, but it will be more powerful—taking lessons learned from the hard times and becoming smarter, more focused and more targeted.

This resurgence in direct mail will also be built to drive conversions both offline and online. The most innovative and effective programs will combine print mail with digital marketing in new and novel ways that play to the strengths of each, grabbing attention and creating high-touch campaigns.

Creating Offline/Online Synergy

How do you combine direct mail with high-engagement digital marketing? Let’s start by taking a look at the typical direct mail offer. You send out a coupon, you get a good response. But if you start sending coupons regularly, you eventually start seeing that customers only come in when they get a coupon. By adding technology into the mix, you can raise the interest level for your consumers and keep them coming back, independent of your mail cycle. Instead of barraging prospects with emails or encouraging bargain-seeking with a standalone mail piece, you can use a strategic combination of the two to create an interactive, technology-driven experience for your prospects.

For example, you can send a mailer with a peel-off QR code that links to a personalized URL. When your prospect scans the QR code, he is brought to a page customized just for him. He sticks the peel-off on his fridge for future use, and every time he interacts with the QR code, you can offer him new messaging based on his previous interactions. That’s true dynamic, relevant messaging! If your now-loyal customer feels like coming in to the store, he can scan the peel-off for a discount rather than waiting for a coupon. The peel-off is a physical reminder of your offer, and the QR code adds a high-tech, high-touch element to the program that enhances the experience and drives traffic to your website—and your retail store, if you have one.

You can even bring in a social element by adding perks for sharing on social media or sending the offer to a friend. As you interact with the same consumer over time, you can get to know his habits and preferences to further fine-tune offers for even higher engagement.

CoverGirl’s Example

CoverGirl demonstrated an innovative approach to mail at the Postal Vision 20/20 4.0 conference. The company sent out a mailing encouraging prospects to use their smart phones to match make-up to their individual skin tones. This mailing was a fabulous use of augmented reality. The user would scan the mailing to be brought to the website. She would then take a photo of her face and the app would bring up an entire list of products that matched her skin tone. That’s no technology gimmick; that’s using the combination of mail and technology as an effective tool to drive sales.

Use it Wisely

Direct mail has come a long way. The examples above are just a few of the ways that adding digital marketing tools to paper mail can enhance your marketing efforts. But just like email marketing, you still have to use it wisely. For example:

  • It has to be a good experience. If you use direct mail to drive your customers to your website, make sure your sites are user friendly, engaging and offer real value. If not, it’s a wasted effort.
  • Be relevant, focused and use it sparingly. Just like email, you can send too much direct mail. If prospects feel they’re getting too much, they start thinking about all the trees you killed.
  • Use targeting and segmentation. The more refined you get in your targeting, the more relevant the mail will be for the recipient. Consider dynamic digital printing; it allows you to be fully variable from one piece to the next, while still taking advantage of postal discounts, delivery performance, etc.
  • Plan ahead. Giving yourself more lead time allows you take advantage of more advanced direct mail techniques that deliver better response rates.
  • Make small changes. If you’re not ready for a complete overhaul, tweak your current direct mail efforts by simply adding a QR code that goes to a dedicated landing page. Then expand your efforts from there.
  • Track your results. Be sure to capture who did respond along with who didn’t to help you further refine your efforts.

Smaller but Better

I don’t see mail booming like the old days—after all, it is a digital world. But mail still works. It has always worked, and it has one of the best returns on investment out there. Direct mail ROI is only going to improve as more marketers learn to mix tried and true direct mail techniques with the best of digital marketing, creating a combination that is more sophisticated and attuned to the needs and desires of our customers.

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