Stay Ahead of the Marketing Curve with Dynamic Communications
Businesses across the world are stuck in the past with paper-based communication. But it isn’t working. This form of outreach is bad for the planet and it’s bad for business. When it comes to customer communication management, paper is the least efficient and least effective instrument in a marketer’s toolbox.
Think of a typical utility bill. A customer tears open the envelope, keeps the section with the amount owing on it, and throws out the rest. No one looks at the fine print, and most people will ignore any informational content or upsell opportunities you present to them.
Also, in most traditional print scenarios, there is little or no customer segmentation. Each customer gets the same content. Everyone loses because tons of unread material goes straight to recycling, or worse, to the landfill. And for marketers, they’ve missed out on a valuable opportunity.
From One-Size-Fits-All to Dynamic Communications
This old-school, one-size-fits-all approach is the marketing status quo for many companies, but it’s a losing strategy. On the other side of the spectrum, dynamic communications allow you to narrow the focus of your marketing materials and create interactive experiences focused on your customers’ specific needs. Something like an electricity bill can become a life-changing instrument in the hands of a good marketer.
Imagine a customer looking at their electricity bill in the middle of winter or after an extended summer heat wave. Chances are, it’s higher than usual, and the subscriber may look for ways to save money. What if they put solar panels on their roof? That could save them 50% or more on their bill. But if you pitched the idea on a traditional paper invoice, it wouldn’t be very enticing. You’d have facts, figures, a diagram or two, but little incentive for the customer to follow up.
Sure, you could add some customization to a printed document. You might target customers in cities and towns that get a lot of sunshine. Depending on your print shop and your marketing platform, you could drill down further, by neighborhood, and even by household—but your content will be static. To take the next step, your customer has to pick up the phone or go to your website, and this is where your upsell opportunity derails.
An online invoice on your customer portal, or an electronic one delivered as an HTML email, removes this barrier. Your customer can follow through on your call to action by clicking through to your offer. In this case, you can set up an interactive component that allows your customer to calculate the number of panels they can put on their roof after they enter its square footage. Better yet, you can integrate Google Earth and do this calculation for them.
There are several reasons organizations stay in static paper ruts. Many businesses worry about their older customers: They believe seniors won’t follow them online. Some of their concerns are warranted, as older consumers are often resistant to new technology.
Some seniors have physical disabilities that make it difficult to use computers, tablets, and smartphones. Others lack the technical know-how and confidence needed to understand and use these devices and online services. Many have to ask younger friends, colleagues, and family members for help to set up and use their devices.
But once they are connected, older adults are highly engaged. Plenty of them use online services and social media on a daily basis. After they’ve figured out their devices and the web, they are more likely to switch from paper to electronic invoices and communications.
For other organizations, there are internal obstacles—like legacy systems and decentralized data—that keep companies from adopting dynamic communication strategies. These challenges can be easily overcome. Data can be cleaned, consolidated, and moved to a central, cloud-based repository. Legacy systems can be replaced with newer combinations of hardware and software. Should this prove impossible, they can be moved to virtual machines, and then integrated with present-day platforms.
But the final, and sometimes biggest, roadblock is the perceived expense of switching to dynamic communications. This is the easiest objection to counter. Few, if any, marketing documents are entirely handcrafted any more. Most extract blocks of text and other information from various databases, spreadsheets, or other documents. If you have enough information to generate a PDF or InDesign file to ship to your print shop, you have all the data required to generate dynamic content.
Once you have the infrastructure in place, you won’t be spending more to create dynamic communications; you’ll simply be adapting your content and your data to better target your customers.
Embrace Dynamic Communications
Countless companies and government entities, especially those that deal primarily with older adults and traditional industries, have been slow to embrace digital and dynamic communications. A few have undergone partial transformations. They have put up portals for their clients—they send out email invoices, promotions, and informational documents—but their content is static.
At some point, they’ll have to go all the way, but truly embracing dynamic communications isn’t simply a matter of moving beyond static content. It’s about taking your content to your customers. It’s about knowing where your customers are and pushing communications to the platforms and devices of their choice.
Most customers, especially the younger ones, prefer electronic content that is available on—or delivered to—their desktop and mobile devices. This means email, text messages, web portals, and, increasingly, apps. But some folks still want paper coming through their mail slot.
With the right platform, you can reach any or all of these channels, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the foundation of your winning formula. Whether you’re sending out static or dynamic content, you still need to know your data, and you still need to understand your customers and their needs.
Dynamic Communications with Quadient
Over the last five years, I’ve helped various companies build dynamic customer communication and customer experience management solutions. I’ve aided in their transition from traditional to digital media and empowered them to create customer engagement strategies that combine print, direct mail, online, and mobile assets. My platform of choice has become because it is the one offering that allows me to cover the entire spectrum of the dynamic communications process, from data quality to delivery.
Quadient’s DataHub and DataCleaner help create high quality, clean customer data, which is crucial to the success of dynamic communication campaigns. DataHub consolidates data from multiple sources into a single record for every customer. DataCleaner is a dashboard-based application that allows you to transform, consolidate, and segment your data in the many ways required by today’s data-driven marketing and communications projects.
When it comes to content creation, devising and laying out dynamic communications assets in Quadient is as simple as editing a PDF or authoring a PowerPoint presentation. It’s drag-and-drop. You can’t get any more user-friendly than that. If your data is clean and complete, you can quickly and easily assemble a multi- or omni-channel campaign without having to call in your IT or design teams.
You can see what your content looks like on different devices, and you can format it for different channels. When you think about it, your dynamic communications materials share some common DNA. You’re using the same data, visual elements, and text to create content for various channels. You also use a lot of the same code.
For example, you may choose to deliver your dynamic content via email or you may have your customers interact with it on your portal. In both of these cases, you are dealing with an HTML file. If you’re sending your document by email, you embed everything in that file, but if it resides on your portal, it pulls information from other files on the server. The ability to create both without additional coding—or having to ask your IT department for assistance—is crucial.
Changing the Channel
Quadient makes it easy to build compelling and dynamic customer experiences across multiple traditional and digital channels. It enables you to engage your customers on their terms, and to deliver information in a meaningful way. In some cases, you can even change the channel entirely and redefine the way customers interact with you.
An example I’ve built in the past is a pension calculator. I used Quadient to build an online tool that helps seniors visually calculate their retirement income according to different scenarios. Instead of using complex tables and charts, they use a series of sliders to calculate their retirement earnings based on what they’re making now, and when they plan to stop working.
This easy-to-use online tool serves a double purpose. On the one hand, it helps seniors better understand their retirement options. On the other, it helps older people make the transition from paper to digital communications. By keeping things simple, we’re helping them understand that getting their information online is as simple as getting it mailed to their home.
The Future of Communication
In the coming years, we’ll see more businesses, and other organizations that serve older adults, switch to dynamic communications. After all, seniors are the biggest and fastest growing segment of the population.
The other major shift will be to apps, away from email, text messages, and portals. Customers—especially younger ones—already communicate with you on their mobile devices. You can push information, invoices, and offers to customers within your custom app, and they can respond without having to switch apps or platforms.
By consolidating your dynamic communications into single touchpoint, you can improve your customer service, get to know them better, and remove the barriers to truly interactive and authentic customer experiences. There are no distractions. Your customers can talk to you, and order your goods and services without leaving your app.
This is the future of dynamic communications. If you don’t start adapting to it now, you’ll be left behind. Let’s finally ditch the paper and embrace the dynamic.