Ricoh’s Marketing Innovator Symposium was held in the breathtaking Boulder, Colo. | Credit: Toni McQuilken (Click on image to enlarge)

Following the success of the annual Publishing Executive Symposium, this year Ricoh decided to host the first annual Marketing Innovator Symposium, with a focus on bringing together printers, marketers and brands to discuss the ins and outs of today’s, at times challenging, marketing landscape.

The inaugural event was held at the beautiful St. Julien Hotel & Spa in Boulder, Colo., Feb. 26-28. The more than 40 attendees spanned the printing and marketing space, with representatives from commercial print shops, marketing services providers, communications specialists and brands all coming together to network and learn from one another.

The overarching theme of the entire event was the customer experience – both external and internal. Mike Herold, director of global marketing, Production Inkjet Technologies, at Ricoh, kicked things off by noting that customer experience is becoming increasingly important and can have an enormous impact on the success of a business. And print is an integral part of the way businesses communicate and share those experiences.

Ricoh Marketing Innovator Symposium: Carla Johnson, chief experience officer at Type A Communications, discussed how marketing has changed through the years.

Carla Johnson, chief experience officer at Type A Communications, discussed how marketing has changed through the years.

With that in mind – and after attendees each got a chance to introduce themselves and tell the group a bit about their businesses and the challenges they are facing – Carla Johnson, chief experience officer at Type A Communications, took the stage. She began by noting that people, in general, don’t want to spend even 30 seconds with a brand if they feel it is interrupting them. However, she stated, they will easily spend 30 minutes with an experience they feel they are getting something out of.

In the past, Johnson said, marketing was all about price, place, promotion and product. Over time, companies realized they could market a brand and not just the product itself, which then evolved into early relationship management techniques. Which brings us to today’s pivot to experiences. “Experiences are the cumulative combination of digital and physical interactions that create value for customers and instill an emotional connection with the brand,” she pointed out.

Johnson went on to note that there are 5 steps that a brand or marketing campaign can use to create experiences that really stand out:

  1. Take a listening tour. Talk to customers and end users to learn what matters most to them. What are their challenges and struggles? Don’t defend or try to justify – just listen.
  2. Implement the 10% rule. Start documenting feedback on at least one of every 10 interactions with the brand, and allow customers to tell you what they like, rather than the brand telling them what they should like.
  3. Turn it inside out. There is no better way to truly tell the story of a company or brand than to have the employees tell it for you. Teach them how to tell the story of what sets the brand apart, and then empower them to go out and share it.
  4. Deliver goodwill. Every piece of content should not be focused on “buy something from us now.” Build trust and a connection – people care more about the experience than the product, at least at first.
  5. Finally, “give them the third degree.” The better customers are treated, the longer they will stay in an experience. And the longer they stay, the more comfortable they will feel about the brand. As they feel more comfortable, they will be more likely to start asking questions about the products and services.

The following morning, Johnson took the stage once again, this time to delve deeper into experience marketing. She noted that most companies have what she termed Brand Detachment Disorder (BDD), where other brands’ successes are discounted because it is automatically assumed what that company does is just too different to be applicable. But the reality, Johnson noted, is that companies and marketers can draw inspiration from anywhere. The key, she said, is to look at a successful campaign and break it down into its essence – what was the goal of the campaign, what techniques did they use to drive it and what elements made it successful? Then find a way to transplant those concepts into your own marketing campaigns.

Empowering Employees to Become Brand Advocates

Building on Johnson’s assertion that employees are a key element to building successful campaigns in today’s marketing environment, Jill Hollingsworth, senior director of internal and external communications at Molson Coors Brewing, gave attendees an insider look at how her brand has made empowering the employees a key cornerstone of building their brand experiences.

Hollingsworth pointed out that employees are brand advocates already, whether companies like it or not. They are sharing on social media and talking about the brand in their social circles. She believes that equipping them with the tools and messages they need to stay consistent with the overall brand messaging is critical.

Molson Coors Brewing, Hollingsworth revealed, works hard to ensure employees are consistently engaged, providing fact sheets about its products, information about brand launches and promotions, and they have even created an internal social media platform where employees can share information and ideas. Molson Coors Brewing then took it a step further and created a program where every employee gets $425 per year to “convince people to buy our beer.” They allow employees to go out, buy a beer for someone drinking a competitive brand, and then share that experience across their social channels.

Engaging Digital Print in Response to a Digital Age

Eric Fahey, research manager at Mintel Comperemedia, put all of this in perspective, noting that while there has been an explosion of digital media, print and other off-line mediums have evolved into rich, personalized messaging vehicles – and thus digital printing incorporating variable data, including output produced on high-speed production inkjet presses, plays a crucial role in an overall marketing mix.

Ricoh Marketing Innovator Symposium: Mintel Comperemedia's Eric Fahey pointed out that Millennials are mobile first - not mobile only.

Mintel Comperemedia’s Eric Fahey pointed out that Millennials are mobile first – not mobile only.

One interesting fact he pointed out is that while it is true that the younger generations are more engaged with digital platforms, Millennials actually value in-person experiences and direct mail more than Generation X. “Millennials have grown up with email, direct messaging, texting and chats,” he said. “They aren’t used to getting something in the mail so, when they do, it feels special.”

How special? Fahey noted that their research has shown that direct mail outperforms all the digital channels by 600% in terms of response rate – direct mail averages about a 3.7% response, while the digital channels only average about a 0.62% response rate. This is in part because, while consumers are inundated with marketing messages, 98% of them still check their mailboxes daily, and 77% still sort through their mail as soon as they get it. Consequently, direct mail has the ability to cut through the noise that no other channel, especially digital platforms, has managed to come close to reproducing.

Generational Divide: Baby Boomers, Millennials, iGens

Foldfactory CEO Trish Witkowski expanded on the concept of knowing what each generation is looking for in their marketing messages, and how to best communicate with them and create experiences that will matter to that specific demographic.

First, she cautioned, that while the talk has been about Millennials and today’s “iGen” generation of super-connected kids who are starting to mature, the reality is that 70% of all disposable income is still controlled by the Baby Boomer generation. Not to say brands or marketers can ignore the other generations, since they will one day be the ones with the buying power, but don’t forget to market to this still-important generational group.

Second, she pointed out that Generation Z, or the iGen, is going to force marketers to totally rethink how they approach their brand messaging, as that group begins to mature and assume some of the buying power. They have watched Millennials “live out loud” posting everything online, only to be burned by data theft and other breaches of their trust. By contrast, the iGen generation is much more private, much less willing to be tracked and wants to feel more in control of their experiences.

All that said, Witkowski gave the 10 non-negotiables when it comes to marketing today, and successfully bridging the generational gaps.

  1. Authenticity – Is the brand transparent? Does it accept responsibility for its people, products and processes? Is it consistent in its messaging? Does it care about the wider world around it?
  2. Accessibility – 70% of consumers expect a response to a question on Twitter, and 53% expect that response to come in under an hour. And the older generations want and need to have that same level of accessibility in other channels beyond social media. Think about how the brand’s primary consumers prefer to communicate, and make sure the brand is available.
  3. Human Touch – Witkowski noted that 95% of the decisions we make are based on emotions. So think about all the points of interaction a consumer has with a brand, and consider ways to form deeper connections.
  4. Consciousness – Nine out of 10 Millennials will switch brands to one that supports a cause they care about, and more than 85% correlate their purchases to companies with responsible efforts.
  5. Personalization – Witkowski noted that, on average, people receive as many as 5,000 marketing messages every day, leading the younger generations to tune them out completely and ignore anything that doesn’t add value to their lives. Personalized messages stand out.
  6. Speed – Make sure the information a consumer wants about the brand or product is easy to find and access. All generations today expect fast responses, and intuitive ways to find information.
  7. Technology Integration – With many people spending more than eight hours a day with digital devices, print becomes the “quiet” among the noise. Think about how print and digital can work together; remember: it is about print AND digital, not either/or.
  8. Social Media – Different generations prefer different social platforms, so make sure the brand understands the demographics it is targeting, and communicate on those platforms. Keep social marketing short and to the point, and refrain from blatant sales pitches. Create opportunities to share and engage with the brand.
  9. Rewards – 68% of the younger generations have said they would change where they shopped to get rewards, with a third even saying they would purchase something they don’t need just for the rewards. But, at the same time, most consumers, regardless of generation, don’t want to jump through hoops downloading multiple apps and having to go through a variety of steps to earn or redeem rewards.
  10. Ease of Use – Finally, everyone, across all generations, is looking for an easy and intuitive brand experience.

Tying it All Together

Ricoh’s CCM Solutions executive Adam Armstrong wrapped up the formal sessions by taking a closer look at how all of that data can be used to bring it back to the customer experience.

Ricoh Marketing Innovator Symposium: As consumers demand more experience-based marketing efforts, brands are adjusting their business objectives - and investments.

As consumers demand more experience-based marketing efforts, brands are adjusting their business objectives – and investments.

He noted that 86% of buyers will pay for an experience and, in the next two years, that is going to be one of the biggest differentiators between brands. Companies with a good experience to go along with their marketing messages will receive 4-8% better response rates, on average. But, he cautioned, too often when businesses hear about “improving the experience,” they default to improving the business experience. On the contrary, the focus on using that data should not be to streamline operations, to make inventory more efficient, or any other process that helps improve the business experience. Rather, he advised, it needs to be all about focusing on the customer-facing experience, and how they interact with the brands.

Having an omni-channel experience, in particular, is key. Armstrong noted that brands and marketers need to build in responses across multiple mediums, building experiences that are tailored to the ideal customers, no matter what platform they choose to engage with the brand. He cautioned everyone in the room to ask, “How can you make it easier for customers – not easier for you?”

Armstrong ended by reminding attendees that printers need to be part of the conversation, and should not just relegate themselves to the role of print provider. “Have you expanded your printed content to integrate with a digital channel,” Armstrong asked. “Do you use print effectively with digital to communicate your message? Is your company a digital innovator, or just along for the ride? If experience is going to be the biggest differentiator, do you want to be the one driving it, or the guy sitting in the corner naysaying?”