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In the previous installments of this series, I discussed the idea of relevance in direct digital marketing and focused on four of the five keys to achieving a relevance-centered approach.

I discussed conceptual and organizational barriers—the silent killers of a relevance-focused approach—and shifted to more concrete, tactical keys for achieving relevance, such as practicing segmentation and adopting disciplined, incremental methodologies.

The fifth key to achieving relevance in direct digital communications is developing and maintaining a plan.

Developing a Road Map for Success

Achieving relevance requires you to define a step-by-step approach to overcoming each hurdle.

Creating a road map for success provides guidelines for implementing a relevance-centered approach. The road map must start with a solid foundation.

If organizational or technological barriers exist, resolve those issues first, as they are the foundational elements of relevance and can be the most daunting to address. The road map should detail the incremental wins and gains in operational efficiency toward the ultimate goal of communications relevance.

Next, establish the tactical elements of the road map that will yield the desired results—greater response, more revenue, and more relevance per message or impression. The tactical elements will be based on educated hypotheses that will begin the target-test-learn cycle.

For example, if the extent of your organization's audience-segmentation practice is to merely bucket noncustomers from customers, one of your first tactical plans should include testing the viability and profitability of breaking those two buckets into four.

Look for unique, relevant, and profitable messaging opportunities for long-term customers vs. new customers. The road map will serve as a guide for you to discuss situations, challenge assumptions, and execute campaigns with clear objectives in mind.

Drawing the Road Map

Creating an operational road map requires several critical components, including the following:

  • Objectives. The road map must clarify the quantitative and qualitative objectives for taking a relevance-focused approach to direct digital marketing.

    Examples of quantitative objectives include lifts in response and revenue, and operational efficiency. Examples of qualitative objectives include improvements in customer satisfaction or online reputation.
  • Long-term vision. The road map must plot an extended vision so the strategic planners understand what is on the line. The road map should include a specific timeline and the incremental steps necessary to assist with tactical execution. The tactical steps should coincide with campaign cycles.

    A good road map accounts for both the long-term vision and the incremental steps of the plan.
  • Incremental campaign optimization. It is critical to define the precise steps to create incremental improvement—campaign over campaign, message over message.

    Optimization commonly takes the form of improved targeting and relevance, or the execution of a hypothesis-test-learn cycle to improve immediate results.

    Optimization and test plans should be drawn in detail throughout the year and prioritized in order of importance to the business—but they should be attainable with current resources or processes.
  • Resources and responsibilities. The road map must account for the human and technology resources needed for analysis, hypothesis and planning, production, and execution.

    If your organization has many resources, those tasks may be spread across a team of people, or many tasks may be assigned to one resource. All steps are equally vital. A proper road map accounts for the appropriate resources put into place for proper execution.

Don't Let Planning Overshadow Doing

Regardless of where or how you start, getting the ball rolling in some direction is critical.

I noted earlier that establishing the operational culture of relevance begins with incremental learning and fluency in the basic cycles of planning, targeting, deploying, and optimizing.

Planning is one aspect of the process, but it's not necessarily the dominant aspect. Planning alone should not consume entire resources, nor should it be the sole focus of entire campaign cycles where production, testing, execution, and analysis are equally critical.

Don't be afraid to edit the road map or to alter the long-term direction or short-term incremental tactics and goals based on what you discover along the way.

Overall, achieving a relevance-focused approach to direct digital marketing requires decisive action. The existence of too many known and unknown barriers across many marketing organizations makes a passive attitude unsustainable.

Customers now hold the reins; therefore, marketers must take the steps necessary now for more relevant, efficient, and effective communications practices, making them part of their operational DNA. Otherwise, they risk being tuned out entirely by their audience.

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How to Achieve Relevance in Direct Digital Marketing: Have a Plan

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Bryce Marshall is the director of strategic services at Knotice (, a direct digital marketing solutions company. Bryce is a contributor to Knotice's blog, The Lunch Pail (, and can be reached via