Ep. 49 - Building Relationships Through Direct Response: The Strategy to Drive Customer Demand and Engagement - with Anita John

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How do you win customers and keep them coming back?

Driving growth, for any business, requires a solid customer acquisition focus and retention plan. However, many struggle to determine the right retention and acquisition strategies to employ and the most effective way to execute them.

So, what’s the best way to deal with the ever-changing buyer’s journey, limited marketing budgets, and the need to keep up with both the latest technologies and your competitors?

Anita John has spent years helping brands break through these very obstacles. She’s the Founder of ARJ Consulting, a marketing consultancy that provides expertise in igniting demand and creating true customer engagement at every touchpoint so that businesses are efficiently maximizing revenue and customer loyalty. Anita brings more than 20 years’ experience working in direct response roles for companies including Intuit, StubHub, and Time-Life.

In this episode, she shares her advice on how to build and execute campaigns that effectively build relationships, retain customers, and realize business objectives.

Learning to Prioritize People – in Business and Her Career

Anita’s experiences in work and her personal life taught her the importance of building relationships, optimizing through testing-and-learning, and the need for balance to determine what matters most.

Her early days were spent in direct marketing roles, in various industries, where she developed her foundation around what it really took to do targeted, personalized communications. It was all about understanding the customer and how the products and services you were providing fit into their life.

“You're taking the messages to help people in ways they desire that they may not know yet. We're helping them understand it, so that the revenue comes. And the only way to do that is to also test to figure out what's the right way to do it.”

She also received valuable leadership and work advice from a beloved mentor who helped her reframe what it meant to put the customer first throughout their lifecycle with a product or service.

And she learned from this mentor the importance of empowering the people responsible for the work and enabling them to understand their level of importance and purpose in helping an organization.

“He actually was the one person that showed me how, when you empower people and you give them the feeling that they are important, in the pursuit of higher revenue and so forth, they will continue to contribute for you. And so, while you're thinking about that, you're also thinking about, ‘Well, how do I do that for the customer?’”

This advice along with experience helped Anita realize how important it was to also prioritize both her own fulfillment and the customers’ wants and needs over revenue in any campaign.

Breaking Through Professional Inertia To Realize Career Transformation

When professional inertia hit, Anita came across a chance opportunity to make a complete life change that led her to a new city, new company, and a new industry. She knew that by trying something new, it was her way of testing and learning to see what could work better.

Anita then spent 13 years working in the Bay area, progressing from big blue-chip companies like Morgan Stanley Online and Intuit to progressive startups, including StubHub and Xero. What she learned and refined, in all her experiences, was how to truly carry out that customer-centric way of marketing, regardless of the medium, channel, or even industry.

And working in the world of technology required her to be adept and adjust to the rapid changes that were and still are constantly occurring, teaching her to act with agility every step of the way.

“And I think that really keeps you on your toes to figure out how to be the jack of all trades in everything and be perfect in everything that you do. So, you can't just be good at strategy, you can't just be good at execution, and you can't be just good at reporting. You need to be able to do all really well, and be able to tell that story of how to manage all of those together.”

Ultimately, Anita found she felt most satisfied when she could maximize the business impact by not only creating the marketing strategies but also helping to and implement them, too. So she left the corporate and startup world to launch her own consultancy and take a more hands-on approach in the campaigns she worked on. Now she helps companies in multiple industries realize their acquisition and retention marketing goals.

Effectively Testing-and-Learning to Optimize Campaign Elements, Drive Demand, and Build Relationships

Anita’s test-and-learn mindset – coupled with a need to put the customer first, deliver value and build a personal relationship from strategy to execution – is core to how she approaches acquiring and retaining customers for her clients.

Yet, many companies still struggle when it comes to driving demand or customer engagement through their marketing campaign efforts.

They haven’t spent the time to fully understand their audience in a way that helps them create messages that resonate. What you have to do is have a conversation, and that has to speak to their needs because it's not a one-and-done.

Further, their lack of clarity around testing objectives and rigor around their testing plans results in the right variables not being evaluated. This domino effect results in efforts falling flat.

Fundamentally, a successful acquisition or retention campaign requires understanding all the pieces of the puzzle – from establishing hypotheses and testing parameters to identifying the right potential measures of success, as well as having that methodical, logical, and critical evaluation of the campaign from start to finish. And all of that needs to start with the customer first.

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Anita’s Career Advice

  • “Take every opportunity. Just because you're comfortable in something, don't hold back in taking at a job interview. You never know what could come from that.”

  • “If you're going to leave a company, you make sure that you're going to leave and not look backwards, always look forwards.”

  • “Don't look backwards, always forwards, and live a life that is complete. Not just about work, and not just about having fun, but you need to actually live a life full of both.”

  • “Don't try and overwork yourself because, sometimes, that doesn't actually amount to a positive for your own well-being. So, you have to figure out balance. Balance is very, very important.”

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Key Takeaways:

  • View your marketing efforts as a relationship. They are essentially conversations with the customer, which are never a one-and-done. Think through how your messages come through so that you can tell an ongoing story.

  • Focus on understanding the full lifecycle of a customer ,from beginning to end, through testing and learning. Don’t generate specific metrics from just one part of the funnel.

  • A true test is not “trying out LinkedIn and seeing if it works.” A test involves a scientific process of evaluation and measurement set against established metric goals.

  • Use testing to validate all the important factors of your campaigns that could have an impact against your defined goals and objectives, such as revenue and response rate.  

    • Start with employing small tests on a sample population and use those results to help you extrapolate how to effectively roll out a campaign to an expanded audience.

  • Go into any testing scenario with a hypothesis – even an informal or gut-based one. Without that, there isn’t a clear purpose and you can’t accurately evaluate its success.

  • Understand the levers in your campaign that can impact the results because each of those factors carry a different weight.

    • In the direct response world, results come down to the 40/40/20 rule: 40% of your response is driven from your list, 40% is your offer, and 20% is the creative. This should help you determine if you move those levers on that will help drive the response.

    • In digital, it is a 30/30/20/10 rule: 30% from your offer, 30%, your list, 20% your creative, and 10% from timing.

  • For an A/B test to truly be valid, you need to set up an environment where the evaluation is done on an apples to apples basis – i.e. evaluating results of different ad versions on social media vs. the web doesn’t tell you which ad version is better; it’ll simply tell you how the different channels work.

  • Testing and learning needs to be part of the overall strategic planning approach of your campaign, not an afterthought.

    • During planning, you have to build out a test matrix. “What does that forecast look like? What's the value of it? And then, you build that into your action steps.”

  • Think of building and implementing your campaigns like building a product using an agile development approach. Consider your beta and look at all variables that affect the outcome, and experiment with how you optimize them. (Of course, be sure you’ve clearly defined your outcome.)

  • Never forget your fundamentals. This even applies to terms that are used to define acquisition and retention marketing. When you think of it as “lead generation” and refer to each person as a “lead” in a certain lifecycle stage, you forget the human element. Thinking of it as “acquisition” helps you see the end-to-end in a certain segment of your population to figure things out.

  • If it takes you too long to execute a test, you're probably not going to do it because, resource-wise, it doesn't make sense for you. So consider whether you have the right marketing operations team in place, who can figure out how to optimize your efforts in order to build that momentum you need.

  • Relying on software and tools to propel your marketing efforts is not going to be effective in driving customer response, if they’re not purchased and used in alignment with the overall strategy. Demand generation tools are great, “but if you don't know how to use it properly, and you don't have the infrastructure to support it, you don't actually execute on your strategy.”

  • Understand the interconnectivity and the integration of 1) people/resources, 2) the process in which you're going to go strategically plan and implement a campaign, and 3) the product or the tools in order to get to the outcome that you're looking for. Because these all need to fit together to work correctly.

  • Every element that goes into any kind of demand generation or lead generation effort needs to be specific to tracking customer activity and creating that one-to-one kind of relationship through the marketing that you're doing.


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