Key Trends From the MeritDirect Co-op
Recently I had the pleasure of being the keynote speaker at the MeritDirect Co-op — the annual gathering of some 400 B-to-B catalog marketers in White Plains, N.Y. As usual, it was a curious and enthusiastic group. I wanted to share my take on the mood of such a group and a couple of important trends I see developing in B-to-B direct marketing today. Here’s a sampling of what I gleaned from the three-day event.
* Cost increases and the slumping economy are weighing heavily on B-to-B marketers’ minds. Their margins and profits are being squeezed.
* Most agree the job of marketing has become much more complex and so have their overall organizations. “Generalists” and a broad common understanding among their teams have been replaced by “specialists” and “silos.” As such, properly integrated multichannel direct marketing is proving difficult.
* Costs are skyrocketing. While this is primarily driven by oil and energy costs, other commodities have also risen sharply. These commodity price increases are still working their way through the supply chain. Expect more costs increases in the year to come.
* Pending “do-not-mail” legislation is worrisome. However, a positive outgrowth of this threat is a growing industry awareness that we must unite behind our industry associations.
* “Going green” is no longer an option — it’s a necessity. Mailers must provide evidence of their green activities and communicate their commitment to consumers effectively.
* There’s a negative backlash to irrelevant mailings. Customers and prospects who feel overmailed or inappropriately marketed to aren’t just ambivalent, they’re negative toward the mailer.
* E-commerce marketing has exploded as many more online media and channels have developed. There was particular notice of the increased use of customer content and video. There’s much more to marketing online, which includes significant customer acquisition, than mounting an effective shopping cart.
* There’s a growing realization that outsourcing is a viable alternative for all but the core functions of your business — i.e., the ones that deliver true competitive advantages. Many multichannel merchants believe product development and marketing are the only critical in-house functions. Everything else, including e-commerce, fulfillment, IT, human resources and call center, should be considered for outsourcing.
* Smart mailers continue to mail by finding ways to reduce costs (co-mailing, reducing trim sizes, cutting page counts, etc.). In addition, there’s plenty of testing going on with respect to what to mail an online buyer. Many B-to-B catalogers feel the full-line catalog is no longer necessary and are testing increased frequency of a lower cost mail piece.
* There’s a realization that some B-to-B mailers will fail in this current down economy, while others will grow and prosper. Business cycles are normal and healthy.
I hope you’re one of those that prosper!
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Terence Jukes is president of Ability Commerce, a 140-person firm that designs, builds and runs e-commerce and related marketing programs for catalog companies. He can be reached at TerryJ@AbilityCommerce.com.