FEATURE 

For crying out loud!

Sara Howers has worked in international marketing for a variety of major publishers over the years, but she never ceases to be amazed at the inconsistencies, missed opportunities, anomalies and downright absurdities that international marketers face day in, day out. And all this in our supposedly globalised world!

By Sara Howers

Two big questions have been troubling me –

1. Is the thirst for news, information and maybe even some diversion from the world’s events at its height when things are at their worst?

2. And, why are international mailing lists in such a mess?

Oh, and there’s a third one, what the hell is an “OOT”?

Dire international lists

Have you rented an international mailing list recently? First off, you’ll find that some of the old faithfulls aren’t on the market anymore; publications have gone to the wall, and some are still travelling in that general direction – “Wall-Wards” – so why don’t people think to at least sell their lists and try and make some good rise from the ashes? And then there’s those lists which haven’t really been mailed very much for a while (budget cuts), so what you’re paying for is the luxury of collecting and collating their gone-aways for them – and yes, you’ve guessed it – you’re paying to clean their lists for them – thanks pal! And why are some of the counts you’re given miles away from what you actually receive when your order then goes in? Please can some of the US brokers in particular pull their socks up. It’s enough to put you off using some of their international names at all – especially when the count comes back, the third time of asking, just ten records shy of their minimum, so they assume you’ll not want the data anyway and so didn’t process the order by the very clearly enunciated deadline you gave them three weeks ago! And what do you mean, you can’t separate the ‘actives’ from ‘lapsed’ and supply them as two files?? It’s 2009 for crying out loud! How can they continue with minimum order levels when there’s so little mailing happening – don’t they want the revenue?

By the way - if anyone needs a handy list of which countries are actually in EMEA, just drop me an email – it comes in very handy when dealing with the more “geographically challenged” suppliers.

Gone-away levels

I reckon that 3–5% gone-aways is a fact of life (although I have had three postal redirects set up simultaneously once, so it is possible to make sure that your mail follows you wherever you have moved onto), a cost of doing business as it were, but when you see the percentage start to climb up to 15–17% then things really are in dire straits – and this is before we start to see B2B lists suffer some higher than average churn over the next few months / years because of the predicted forthcoming job losses around the world. And then there’s the compiled lists – time and time again, I tell myself that maybe, just maybe, the quality might have improved – why, oh why am I such an optimist? They used to have the reputation of being collected from graveyards; nowadays I guess it’s more likely that it’s from data found on an Indian rubbish tip somewhere just outside of Mumbai.

Email lists

It’s such a shame, because email lists are still that much more expensive, and yes, nice as it is to get those results “funnelling” into your inbox so quickly, sometimes I still think that a good old fashioned mailing pack with a letter and a brochure is the space that’s required to really get across the product’s offering, benefits and your winning proposition to that new customer. And like all trends, it’s often whatever is exceptional that really gets their attention. I reckon I must receive at least 100–150 emails a day at work, and around 20–35 at home – and with spam filters and phishing warnings in place on both systems, there’s still some unwanted solicitations that find their way through. I receive very few really compelling emails – and I actually open them and take a look – I can’t help myself, but I do open all my direct mail as well.

In these days of the advance of digital marketing, I do think that it’s a fabulous thing, but it’s still just a part of an ever increasing “mix” of the overall media options that abound. The key driver to shift the greater percentage of your budget into the online side of things seems to be more driven by costs than by real opportunities. Which is daft, as we all know that a recession is always a good time to push the envelope, to be inspired, and to try new things, and to stand out from the crowd, but how much of that is simply because the rest of the crowd act like scared rabbits and shrinking violets?

Anyway, don’t get too depressed; there are still some good lists out there, some clean lists, some responsive lists, and some excellent brokers and some very good and responsive email lists out there – and it’s just as well, as like everyone else, it’s seeing the orders coming in that makes me happy!

Are we really one world?

Dear Old Postie!

Why do some postal carriers still make it so difficult for us to open mailing accounts? It’s years since I worked at Ziff Davis when they launched in the UK (early 90s) and we were faced with having to open up an escrow account (with a substantial deposit for those times) just because we were “Not a UK Limited company”, but although over a decade has passed, good old Royal Mail still seem have some very familiar problems facilitating a non UK registered company to get its own account opened, quickly, if at all. In these times of tough competition, and all round economic recession, you’d think that they really want us to do more mail. Please try and get ‘international’..., before we just put all our marketing into email and online and say “Post be dammed!”.

Are we really truly one Europe?

Maybe I just gave up surfing the web too easily for these answers, but if the EU really wants to do something useful to help pan European trade, there’s a number of things that they could address for us all immediately:

* Postal. Why do you still need separate addresses for different countries, if you want someone to be able to write a reply address on an envelope? Thank God for lasering – I for one, can’t afford 8 black plate changes.

* Telecoms. Why can’t you have one pan European freephone number, instead of multiple numbers and multiple accounts and bills? And when will we be able to dial a freephone number from a mobile without being reminded to drop the zero?

* Banking. And why do different European countries’ Giro forms all have different formats? Mind you, we still have trouble with the Alliance & Leicester account numbers.

* More Postal! And why does it cost so much more to send mail into some European countries?

* VAT. Just for some light relief, phone up a friend and explain to them the different VAT rates in different European countries and the different rules as to whether it’s B2B or B2C and whether you collect the VAT number, have the company details, and is it “goods” or a “service”, so therefore how much do you have to attribute to each element, and then only apply the prevailing rate to that product... and just listen to yourself whilst you do it – then remind yourself that you swore at school that you didn’t want to become an accountant... guess what!

* Money. I love the Euro, although I don’t like the exchange rate much at present. When I’m travelling across Europe, gone are those tiresome days of having to keep changing currency or having to carry four different ones, but of course we still have the different currencies in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, the UK, Poland, Cyprus, etc etc....

Happy as we are to bash the Americas and to fly the European flag, we still have little infrastructure in place across our industry to help us process and handle response from such a wide range of countries, whilst all pretending to huddle under one blue and yellow starred flag.

What is an OOT?

I love to learn new things, and to understand new processes and in January this year it was my pleasure to get to grips with supplying banners and URLs to our head office in New Jersey, and getting jump pages set up, and redirects to our customer services site, and also the setting up of OOT’s..... These are the _XXX codes at the very end of the URLs which enable my traffic to be tracked on the global site. So I guess they stand for Online Order Tracking Codes.

It matters not really what they stand for, but more what they do. I find myself asking the same old question and feeling like the proverbial cracked record: “and when you know that piece of information, what will you be able to do with it?”. Is it nice to know, or is it need to know? And what will you do once you know the answer? And can you actually change anything?

My next project

My next project is to get to grips with MVT. No, it’s not the Music Channel spelt wrongly, it’s multi variant testing – it sounds like a fabulous thing, and I’m sure will be faster and cheaper than testing through DM (although can you take what you learn through online MVT and use it for say brochure redesign, or page ads?) but I’m still mired in too many in-house systems issues to be able to work out where it sits in the customer experience – somewhere between the global site, the services site, the fulfilment system, and the new coffee machine no doubt.