Every day we hear about new social media and digital and mobile apps, but any new type of social product transactions still rely on the steady backbone of the fulfillment industry. In 2010, 350 million rebates were fulfilled, while prepaid rebate gift cards gave rebate checks a run for their money. Add to that premiums, sweepstakes and offline loyalty programs, and the often-overlooked business of fulfillment seems more essential to marketers than ever. Hal Stinchfield, a strategic consultant for Promotional Marketing Insights, knows: “Fulfillment is not fulfillment is not fulfillment.” In his more than 25 years working on the corporate side of marketing services, Stinchfield has managed over 50,000 campaigns for clients ranging from PepsiCo and Unilever to PayPal. No matter the vehicle, efficiency, effectiveness, ROI, predictability and customer satisfaction top his concerns. But so, too, do the trends shaping the future of the fulfillment business. The three primary categories of fulfillment – Consumer Promotional, B2B, and Direct Marketing, which includes e-Commerce – each require different areas of expertise, and each has seen changes in the last five years. “With the explosion of social media, there’s been an explosion of ‘new age’ agencies, which makes things confusing,” Stinchfield says. Russ Kerr, Vice President of Sales for Budco, agrees. “What we’re seeing more of on the trade and e-commerce side of things is a combining of traditional fulfillment and e-fulfillment,” Kerr observes. “Anytime we can fulfill something via the Web, or something we can generate via Print-on-Demand, we are trying to do so.” The challenge for marketers, then, becomes twofold. First, marketers must adapt their strategies, and second, marketers need to streamline the way they think about fulfillment.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like adaptability lends itself to success, not just in terms of fulfillment, but also across the board. In business, keeping up and keeping focus is always fulfilling.
The biggest shift in the fulfillment industry in the last five years has been the move to online deployment and virtual rewards. “There’s been a rather significant shift in rebate vehicles, i.e. a check or a coupon,” Stinchfield says, noting the shift away from rebate checks to rebate cards or prepaid cards. There’s also been a shift in the sectors utilizing rebates. Where five years ago, the largest sectors using rebates were office supply and consumer electronics, now Stinchfield has seen resurgence in rebates in the hardware and home supply categories, wine and spirits, and sporting goods. Kerr, meanwhile, has seen a shift toward e-fulfillment and print-on-demand items, both of which increase a marketer’s overall productivity, but don’t come without challenges. Despite marketers essentially “clamoring” for online fulfillment vehicles, he says it’s tough to get them to consolidate, both in terms of their thinking and their relationships with various fulfillment houses. Yet, consolidation offers brands tremendous leverage and rewards. Stinchfield concedes: “The whole world isn’t going from offline to on, or from desktop to mobile, but as consumers evolve away from the desktop, marketers need to adapt their sales strategy and promotion strategy.”
As we evolve weekly with new and exciting electronic communications, it is the behind-the-scenes fulfillment work that brings contentment to the masses.