There’s no dearth of experts giving their opinions on marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s one with a unique perspective: JoAnne Monfradi Dunn started out in direct mail, and has brought those skills into cross-channel marketing.
Dunn is CEO and founder of Alliant, the provider of the DataHub cooperative database. DataHub gathers transactional data, reflecting behavior by 250 million U.S. consumers.
MediaPost recently interviewed Dunn on the state of the business in the wake of COVID-19.
Email Insider: What are you seeing these days?
JoAnne Monfradi Dunn: A lot of folks that did not have a great year in 2019 were trying to figure out how to make course corrections in ‘20, then we have a pandemic.
Dunn: What we’re seeing is not surprising. The grocery delivery and subscription box businesses are going gangbusters, although some are pulling back on marketing because they have fulfillment or service issues. And folks selling kid’s products that would make being in lockdown more comfortable are also doing well.
EI: What about your own company?
Dunn: We’re starting to see green shoots of recovery. Generally, it was soft in that COVID period from March through June, but it has stabilized.
I doubt that we’ll see the double-digit growth we’ve been experiencing, but there have been no layoffs or pay cuts and we continue to execute on our plans for the year. Of course, I’ve seen some clients stop everything. That causes me to lose the will to live.
EI: What are you advising people?
Dunn: We’re counseling our clients that acquisition should take second place to focusing on your existing customer base--80% of my spend would go to existing customers, and 20% to acquisition of new customers.
EI: When can companies return to more acquisition?
Dunn: I’m fond of saying the balance of a year is carved in Jell-O — we don’t really know what’s going to happen. We’re going to have a second run with this with the flu season. If and when we come out of this, we will see people do more acquisition, but the channel mix and messaging will have to be different.
EI: The conventional wisdom used to be that response went down during an election year. Is that still true?
Dunn: This is a very different year. Brands are deciding whether to market more or wait until the election happens. But they may have to wait until December.
EI: How important is email in today’s marketing mix?
Email is very important in matching in terms of the identity graph, so we’re not totally reliant on cookies as they disappear. We haven’t seen tremendous success with email for acquisition as a stand-alone channel, but it is complementary with other channels, including direct mail, social and display, and in curating the customer relationship.
EI: Which channel should go first in a direct mail-email campaign?
Dunn: I don’t think there’s one answer — it depends on the marketer and messaging. My advice is, let’s test it all and see what works best. I love testing.
EI: Does Alliant focus mostly on direct mail?
Dunn: In 2006, 85% was direct mail. This year, it’s under 30% of our product mix.
EI: What mistakes are people making?
Dunn: I’ve seen some dumb things. In a complete lockdown, once a week I’d have to escape the house and go to my office. I was getting more promotional mail there than in my consumer mailbox. Why am I getting consumer mail pieces when my New York office has been shut down legally?
EI: How do you account for that?
Dunn: These campaigns are already in play, but then six weeks later I’m still getting them. Come on — you have to be able to stop this stuff. A lot of firms were able to stop going into consumer mailboxes, but they’re still hitting business mailboxes.
EI: How is your staff holding up?
Dunn: Our company works best when we work together. Probably 50% are working from home still. We did a soft re-opening. We’re wearing masks in the office. And if we get coffee or go to a meeting, we wear a mask.
EI: What are the most important skill sets?
Dunn: The ability to work cross-channel. Robert Burns, a data scientist who retired from Reader’s Digest 20 years ago, is still working with me. He built out all our social media programs, using that direct mail brilliance.
From the training perspective, all our associates are dual majors in both direct and digital.