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How to make your direct marketing greener

How to make your direct marketing greener

By Guy Westlake(pictured), Senior Product Marketing Manager EMEA, Vignette.

In this age of increased environmental awareness, the expectation for businesses to be more environmentally friendly has never been greater.  Nevertheless, many are still using and wasting a huge amount of paper when it comes to direct mail.

Direct marketing material is estimated to account for approximately 550,000 tonnes of household waste, according to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  While, according to the Worldwatch Institute, the paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy with paper accounting for 40% of waste worldwide.

For direct marketing campaigns, getting a 1-3 per cent response rate is considered an acceptable result.  Consequently, a high percentage of mail is discarded.  Even if targeting improves dramatically, there will always be waste – it is just the very nature of direct mail.

So, with this in mind it is now time for socially responsible organisations to consider transferring their current direct mailing investments to their online channel in order to execute ‘green’ campaigns with far greater ROI. How does this impact upon a business’ carbon footprint?  Well, it eliminates the need for blanket-bombing customers with indiscriminate and ineffective direct marketing campaigns.

Greater investment in online marketing and employing the latest recommendations technology can enable organisations to target their customers with highly personalised and far more effective marketing. 

The impact of Web 2.0

The next-generation of Web technologies, or Web 2.0, refers fundamentally to delivering a personalised and interactive experience to users.  By embracing Web 2.0 technologies and leveraging user-generated content, businesses can now automate the marketing of their products and services online much more effectively.

The community of users on a specific site and their implied interest in specific content can actually determine search results that recommend the most relevant content to the user.  Not only does this facilitate content discovery (by delivering search results, products or services that were of most benefit and relevance to the wider user community), but it means that similar high-value products and services can be effectively marketed, optimising cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. 

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the retail, telco and media sectors where there is a huge growth in social networking applications (including rating and tagging content and posting reviews) being employed on externally facing websites to further engage with the user community.

This approach is likely to permeate across other vertical sectors too.  Other industries are likely to follow the recent lead set by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) with the principle of ‘Treating Customers Fairly’.

The use of recommendations technology can assist this as intelligence can be built up from users search and site behaviour with recommendations being drawn from the wider group of users rather than the financial organisations themselves.  This means that users can make much more of an informed choice and not just rely on potentially biased overselling from the vendor.

Word of mouth, continues to be the best method of selling and marketing – recommendations technology is just bringing this to the online world. Ultimately, if customers are provided with products and services that perform, as they have been led to expect, they are much more likely to continue to engage with that organisation in the future.

Avoiding the spam trap

To the general public the term ‘online marketing’ can often have negative connotations as people think of spam email and pop-up advertising.  To a certain extent they are correct, as with direct mail in the offline world, too much inappropriate marketing information will turn people off.

In addition, organisations have got to be careful not to abuse their use of user-generated content.  A few years ago, admitted that it had doctored some of its product recommendations for its clothing store, which were supposedly compiled by objective software, comparing each customer’s purchasing history with the histories of others who made similar purchases.

The company at the time couldn’t make recommendations at its clothing store because it hadn’t been operational long enough to compile a database of customer preferences, so in fact had to make recommendations up.

While this was a relatively minor case, it shows that organisations need correctly implemented technologies and governance policies, in order to maintain an appropriate level of marketing and to be transparent with their users. 

Recommendations in the future

The most advanced recommendations technologies now go a step further and take into account the user’s current persona at a particular moment in time, providing marketers with new opportunities to deliver even more targeted and personalised content based upon accurate contextual information.

Alongside this, as mobile broadband services take off there is going to be a huge growth in consumers wanting to access content on the move, irrespective of their mobile device. The ability of organisations to deliver targeted marketing to these users will be key in the future.

Encouraging greater brand loyalty through the delivery of relevant and personalised content is the Holy Grail for marketing managers.

The online tools are emerging to make this a reality, so the days of arriving at home only to be greeted by a pile of junk mail could soon be a thing of the past – and the world will be a better place for it!

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