How to leverage B2B direct marketing creative to increase lifetime customer value, Pt. 1

This is part one of a two-part article on B2B direct mail creative and how you can leverage it to increase lifetime customer value.

To view part 2, go here.

Your B2B direct marketing creative to customers carries power.

Your B2B direct marketing creative message to customers (business-to-business customers) is more than just wrapping around your offer. It’s also an essential part of the conversation with customers and can either hurt or help how long you hold onto them, because no customer contact is ever neutral.

No matter what media you may be using to keep in contact with existing B2B customers, there are fundamentals that are worth knowing and putting to use. Changing or adding tactics might let you leverage messaging that you’ve already invested in. Communicating three important messages to customers at critical times can help you deepen engagement with your customers and lead to more sales down the line. And using multiple touches to reinforce your message can help you qualify, cross-sell, and upsell customers.

Here’s what I’m sharing:

  • Three fundamental things to know ahead of developing creative
  • What to put into customer relationship creative content
  • 3 things your creative conversation should include to keep customers longer
  • Using creative messages to identify, qualify cross and upsell
  • 4 ½ creative techniques people forget, ignore,
    or never learned

Here’s what I won’t dwell on:

  • Creative samples – viewing the end products out of context provides very little value in learning how to apply creative principles to your marketing needs.
  • Some patented or trademarked super-secret method for marketing. Every year, it seems someone creates an acronym-filled ‘new’ marketing method, and in the end, most are built on marketing fundamental concepts.
  • A collection of statistics and numbers. Just like showing only end-creative, if you get numbers out of context, you don’t have the whole picture. But all concepts I’m shareing have worked consistently over and over again, and are based on fundamentals you’ll find if you read classic marketing and direct marketing texts.


Setting up your creative: Three must-have fundamentals

Not a week goes by that I’m not handed a creative brief that lacks critical information that would help the creative team develop stronger creative. So if you are not providing the following information to your creative team, you are going to be falling short of the mark on creating the most effective creative.

Establish and share your customer’s lifetime value

Your creative team is creating a conversation, and they need to know who they are talking to, beyond demographics.

Share what ALL the communications are that reach customers, how often, and who owns the communication in your organization

I usually try to ask what other departments or company divisions might be talking with our customers. Then I ask to see the work and learn how often and in what form it’s being sent out.   This bears repeating: There is no neutral customer interaction. They are either positive or negative in nature.

Study and share what your customer relationship is based on, and what customer lifespan looks like

Is it currently what you want? What do you want to change about it, and how can your creative interactions help affect that change? Learn by tapping the data collected by your sales force, operations and other departments, and let your creative team know about this. By knowing what the overall goals are, you and your creative team can work together to tailor creative tactics to support those strategic goals for customer lifespan.

Use the opportunity: Mastering Customer lifecycle takes the right message at the right time

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
C.G. Jung

It’s happened to all of us at one time or another: You are at a party, and as you are talking with someone, they go off on a tangent about something you really don’t care about? At some point, you disengage, and instead of listening, you are thinking about ways to get yourself out of this boring conversation and hit the hors d’oeuvres or see what’s at the bar. The same happens even faster with your communications with clients. The social contract they have with you is based on what’s in it for them, and as soon as your message is irrelevant, it is deleted, shredded, and gone. As marketers, this is a fact of life, so we need to make every moment of attention we have be worthwhile for a customer.

Making customer creative relevant: Does your creative team understand your customer relationship?

Creative teams need to know:

  • Are purchases arms-length and somewhat commoditized, or more a collaboration, as in consulting
  • Is the decision process customers use slow-moving, or fast and furious?
  • Are purchases considered or made as just in time/as needed?
  • Do customers view business with you as occasional, time instances, or part of a regular recurring purchases?
  • Is what you sell perceived as a commodity, or a specialized service?

V = Cost + Convenience + Quality

  • Your customers decide on doing business with you or someone else by considering a balance of three factors, and every customer has a different recipe/mix of what’s important to them.
  • Your best customers have similar mixes, and learning what they are will help you attract more customers like them.

Making customer creative relevant: Does your creative team understand your customers’ current lifetime value?

Developing messages are like adding bricks to a wall. Without being able to check plumb and level, you get a poorly built wall, and without getting the big picture, creative falls flat. Knowing how much a client usually is worth to your business helps establish things like the depth of conversation, information and consideration that is involved when your customers buy from you.

Provide these answers to your creative team:

  • What’s the dollar figure, and number of transactions?
  • What are customers’ various buying patterns and paths? You probably have more than one customer profile.
  • What differentiates customer profiles?
  • Why do you think they behave differently? What drives the behavior?
  • How long are the customer lifecycles? How many interactions are typical?

What other messages is your organization sending to customers?

Your creative never works in a vacuum. I’ve seen great customer retention campaigns undermined by operational emails or communications, poorly worded statement messages, and more, simply because departments in a company weren’t talking with one another. The result was usually a hot mess: customers getting mixed messages that at best were confusing, and at worst, downright angering enough to make them take business elsewhere.

What other communications are going to customers? Find out, review and share the following before you get your creative team started:

  • Electronic or printed statements
  • Operational emails or SMS messages
  • Invoices or follow-up confirmation messages
  • Websites
  • Apps, alerts and push messages.

What happens when an effort isn’t in line with larger goals?

Sometimes, you’ll find that what you are trying to do for the short term needs rethinking or can be improved. It provides the opportunity to challenge and ask, “How does this support our bigger goals?” Start by learning what number of interactions usually occur before a customer stops doing business with you. Then provide answers to ‘why’ a customer lifecycle ends. Several factors can lead to end of customer cycle beyond dissatisfaction. Sometimes needs and product offerings change and a customer evolves to a new base of needs. Some things may be out of your control, but if your creative team knows about the environment, they can work with the knowledge of what your company would like to change in terms of extending the relationship and lifecycle.

What makes for successful B2B marketing creative?

Successful creative starts with

  • Good intelligence
  • A great, focused brief
  • Clear direction
  • Realistic expectation

Ends with

  • Creative execution with a message no competitor can say
  • Call-to-action that is clear, easy and simple
  • Measurable goals and objectives
  • Accountability and an honest, accurate debrief

Has no room for GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) in the process

  • Input is frank, warts and all, with clear direction and attainable goals
  • Execution follows the brief, is focused on the audience of one, and not trying to say too much

3 things your company needs to say early and sincerely to customers, and one thing you should not say.

Good manners are nothing new. Your mom or dad or someone who raised you taught you to be respectful, and that it was good to say “please”, “thanks” and “I’m sorry.” In your business dealings, you probably do the same naturally. And in the case of offering an apology, a temporary loss may turn around the relationship and allow you to not just recover ground, but establish a better connection with your customers by letting them know you aren’t just out to make a buck off them, but care about their business goals.

On your marketing communications, ask for the sale, but do it with class by using “Please” and “Thank You”. Regardless of your demographic, you are talking to people with their business hats on, and they want (and deserve) to be treated with that level of respect. But look through your email and direct mail and see how few people forget or ignore good manners. Manners don’t mean you are old fashioned. It means you have class. And class is what can differentiate your company if you are trying to get above competing on price.

So using opportunities to make contact via email or mail, or telemarketing follow up can yield surprisingly good lift and results. Why do I mention it in a conversation about creative and B2B customer experience? Because many times there is not follow up after a sale, or worse yet, a problem, a cold and clinical email or notice is mailed out by the communication comes from operations or accounting, and hasn’t been well-reviewed with a thought towards the customer’s feelings.

Right after a customer has received delivery, or after a problem is resolved, is a golden opportunity to use low-cost creative to reiterate how important that customer is to your company. An email, a brief letter, and someone to call if there’s still a problem or questions, are very inexpensive, can make a good impression, and possibly save a relationship long enough to get one more chance at the business, or get someone to reorder if they were please with their last transaction.

It’s about timing, so don’t fall into a ‘once a month’ frequency cycle. I’ve set up programs that sent out such letters much sooner, and resulted in increases in reorder or retention when compared to control groups that did not receive follow-up communications.

When and how to send Thank You messages

  • Send right after an interaction
  • And during idle phases between purchases
  • Include an offer to
    • Inform and teach about other products, but only lightly cross-sell
    • Make reorder automatic or send reminders
    • Or get more intelligence via short survey
  • Reward at every opportunity
  • If you mess up, fess up
  • Also must be quickly done
  • Creative must be believable
  • Must include ability to contact you

When and how to send I’m sorry communications

If you’re not willing to do this, reevaluate relationship value, and more importantly, your business standards. If you can’t walk the talk, you need to change what you’re saying.

We really remember and like you (between purchases)

  • Show your appreciation (love letters)
  • Love letters are best sent with something sweet
    • Gifts with no strings attached
    • Helpful reminders to make their jobs (and buying from you again) easier
  • Share useful information
    • Helps them
    • Establishes your credentials as thought-leader

The one thing your marketing creative should never say to customers.

Don’t make insincere promises or offers that aren’t really special. It’s as bad as re-gifting at Christmas, and at some point, you’ll be found out.

  • Don’t communicate a thank you that is riddled with selling.
  • Don’t use the wrong media for your message
  • Don’t broadcast a great deal to new customers that you aren’t offering your best customers.

This is part one of a two-part article on B2B direct mail creative and how you can leverage it to increase lifetime customer value.

To view part 2, go here.

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B2B Direct Marketing Creative

I’m a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.


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  1. […] This is part two of a two-part article on B2B direct mail creative and how you can leverage it to increase lifetime customer value. to view part 1, go here. […]