Put the Customer Center Stage in Fulfillment and Distribution

SurveyWhat happens when you put four experienced leaders of a marketing services industry on a stage, leave them in care of a provocative moderator, and give them a forum to present how marketers and publishers can optimize customer experience through fulfillment and distribution?

You get the Fulfillment Management Association’s annual President’s Luncheon panel (held this year on March 20th in New York City), and led by the irrepressible Joe Furgiuele, founder and President of FCI.

“If you don’t like change – oh, how you will hate irrelevance,” Joe said, as he set the general tone and opened the panel discussion by inviting each speaker to discuss the various forces that shape our modern, data-driven fulfillment, circulation and audience development practices.  Each of the panelists — Rory Burke, EVP/COO, Palm Coast Data, Michael Jordan, COO/Principal, ESP Computer Services, Malcolm Netburn, Chairman & CEO, CDS Global and Tony Pytlak, President/COO, Strategic Fulfillment Group (SFG) – gave examples of how their own firms are stepping up to provide publishers and marketers with an expanded suite of services to address the evolving ways that consumers and subscribers interact with brands.

“Magazine fulfillment companies must embrace our newly expanded role by referring to ourselves as what we truly are: business process partners,” said Malcolm Netburn of CDS Global.

In fact, Malcolm doesn’t like the word “fulfillment” and is trying to cease using it. He offered a free iPad mini to anyone who submits a winning alternative  – an offer I assume still stands if you want to submit an idea in the comments section below!

Joe reviewed the results of the 2013 FMA member survey, where 43.3% of respondents feel business is doing better overall than last year (50% feel it’s about the same as last year).  Despite that semi-rosy outlook, challenges remain in running  a successful fulfillment management service.  Respondents feel the most pain around:

  • The sheer logistics of it all (61.1.%)
  • No consolidated view of the customer (61.1%)
  • Inadequate reporting (72.2%)
  • AAM/BPA conformity (33.3%)
  • All of the above (33.3%)

All the President panelists addressed the theme that growth is dependent on innovation.  “In order to ensure our survival, the business process partners of tomorrow must possess five key traits,” said Malcolm of CDS Global.  These are:

  1. Be a partner in brand management;
  2. Deliver expansive business intelligence;
  3. Maintain a focus on the customer experience;
  4. Employ creative workers;
  5. Understand that social media is a form of publishing – a vehicle for extending our brands.

A career fulfillment management service provider, Rory Burke of Palm Coast Data suggested that while some things are new again (like the digital edition and great customer service), “The key to a successful future is gathering the holistic view of the subscriber – be it offline, on digital newsstands or in email,” he said.  “Fulfillment houses have the ability to not just execute on a plan – although we have to continue to do that well – but also to help publishers understand their business better and bring back readers and advertisers.

“When all that data is managed in one place,” he said, “You can take advantage and better promote the brand as well as the content experience.  We need to think about non-contiguous content as a way to build the relationship all month long using things like time-based advertising, lifestyle-based targeting and custom content.”

Owning the database is not necessary in those scenarios, countered Michael Jordan of ESP Computer Services.  “Much of that data is already housed in the publisher or marketer’s CMS or CRM systems, and there is a lot that is not a natural fit for the fulfillment team to own,” he said.  “However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it – as data can be conjoined.”

Malcolm of CDS Global agreed.  “We are at the end of big,  slow-to-change organizations,” he said.  “The companies who will succeed are those that think small.  Some things are in your natural domain – but we all operate in a loosely defined ecosystem to support each other, and work off the same data sets.”

The direct marketing nirvana has always been to gain that 360-degree view of the customer.  Today, we want to be able to respond, react and engage in (near) real time, too.  The database is the center of that ecosystem, and all various suppliers who touch customers are both consumers and sources to it.

Michael of ESP did a good job of explaining APIs (Application Programming Interface), and how they connect disparate data sets, bringing data together if/when needed to advance the customer experience. “Authenticating digital editions is a good example of how data held by the fulfillment partner is used to validate the member ID and approve the transaction,” he said.  “This gives the consumer instant access to web-based properties, according to business rules set up by the publisher.”

Empowering customers is even more possible today with the use of big data, or “technology that can evaluate all the data you have,” said Tony Pytlak of SFG.  “As business models evolve, what data we own can help us make more intelligent decisions,” he said.  We have to “assemble the customer mosaic” from all the different data sources.

“Data is just bits and bytes, but information is when you transform it into something else,” agreed Michael of ESP.  “The success of our business depends on our ability to tap into the systems and solutions that our customers are already using and investing in.”

Malcolm adds, “While it may appear easier to rely on subscriber data alone, publishers must look beyond their current customer base to the entire database of U.S. residential consumers. As publishers roll out new products and travel uncharted territory, garnering as much information as possible beforehand will help ensure the success of these ambitious endeavors.”

To gain that intelligence, you need to start with a unified view of the customer, said Tony of SFG.  “Our process map is called SIPOC (adapted from GE’s quality training processes) – where we assign every supplier and piece of data into a map that helps understand the customer.”

At SFG, “SIPOC” stands for:

  • SUPPLIER –  Who has the information?
  • INFORMATION –  What data/information do you want?
  • PROCESS –  How is the information collected/stored?
  • OUTPUT – How will you get the information?
  • CUSTOMER –  Who will receive the output?

“It sounds complicated, but we’ve turned it into a logical methodology where it becomes a powerful management process,” Tony said.

Across the direct marketing industry, innovation is key.  As evidenced by the comments from all the panelists, there are already many new ideas in play from these leading companies.  Many thanks to the panelists and Joe, and to the FMA for a very informative and thought provoking presentation!

 

 

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