IMPOSSIBLY FAST. DANGEROUSLY ACCURATE.
Meet the marketer who’s driving growth for Road Scholar.
Steve August has spent his career delivering record-breaking numbers for big brands — and he’s usually been ahead of the curve.
Some marketers are known for pushing the limits of the status quo, in ways that pay off. Steve August is one of them.
Years back, he built Staple’s first modeling segmentation engine — from scratch.
Later he brought Brookstone into the age of digital marketing, he launched the first Amazon store run by a mail-order company, and he was one of the first to ditch rented customer lists in favor of single-source (which caused a bit of a stir across the industry).
He also exploded Brookstone’s catalog circulation by revealing exactly how much retail activity the catalogs were driving.
The key to his success? Testing.
“The thing I love about direct marketing is the measurability,” says Steve, who’s now vice president of marketing for Road Scholar, the largest not-for-profit provider of worldwide educational travel to adults over 50.
“I love the ability to test and see what works and what doesn’t work, and to just constantly be able to refine what we do,” says Steve. “That’s really the thing that has always fired me up, and continues to fire me up.”
It’s Steve’s knack for finding increasingly accurate ways to test and refine that’s made him so successful.
He needed a tool that could keep pace with his strategies.
For years, Steve was building his own complex predictive models. (He started his career building forecasts for the U.S. economy at the Bureau of Economic Analysis.)
But, eventually, it became clear that he could accomplish even more if he could build those models faster and even more accurately.
At that point he’d already helped Road Scholar nearly double the organization’s demand, from $220 million to $400 million, but, with thousands of programs running every year, in nearly 100 countries and throughout the U.S., the sheer volume of marketing materials threatened to drain resources and overwhelm program participants.
“We’re a nonprofit,” says Steve, “so we’re stewards of the budget given to us. We want to put a lot of thought into who receives what.”
So he and the Road Scholar team began the search for a solution.
Finding a partner that could deliver
With his background in modeling, Steve’s expectations were high. But after a few interviews with the Clario team, he was impressed.
“There aren’t a lot of companies out there that have their level of sophistication,” says Steve.
Soon Road Scholar was working with Clario’s coaches and their Automated Audience Builder to drive results. They focused on three key strategies: fractional allocation, predictive modeling, and contact optimization.
“Clario helps us refine our marketing and make it more efficient.”
— Steve August
Fractional allocation: Crediting the right marketing
Steve has always insisted just because someone responds to a campaign it doesn’t mean that campaign is what moved them to purchase. (And it almost certainly wasn’t the only thing.)
In the past, he’d built his own fractional allocation models to assign the appropriate amount of credit to various marketing tactics and he experimented with a number of other external providers. Now he uses Clario.
“Clario is able to identify when a contact was made, when the order was made, what the timeframe was from the time they received the impression to the time they converted, and all of that then rolls up to be able to fractionally allocate that activity among those different channels,” says Steve.
“And then when you pull it all out, you can say, ‘Okay, I spent a million dollars on direct marketing. I spent $100,000 on search, and I spent $50,000 on connected TV,’ —and you’re able to assess whether or not that investment had a payback, and whether the payback was positive.”
He adds, “Clearly, that’s where the rubber meets the road. Right?”
“You’re able to assess whether or not that investment had a payback, and whether the payback was positive.”
— Steve August
Predictive modeling: Targeting the right people
“We really rely on Clario’s predictive response modeling to find out who’s interested in a specific campaign that we might have going out,” says Steve.
“For example,” he says, “we might have a birding campaign, so Clario might develop a birding model to identify all the people who’ve shown interest in birding as well as the people who would be most likely to respond to that type of campaign. It’s been very effective for us.”
“We need to get as much return as possible for every dollar that’s been given to us. Clario is what allows us to make sure we’re most efficiently making use of that spend.”
— Steve August
Contact optimization: Sending the right campaigns
Finding the balance between too much and too little marketing for all of Road Scholar’s programs requires some complex modeling. Clario has been key to uncovering insights about who to target, and when.
For example, through Clario, Steve’s team learned people who regularly browse programs on the Road Scholar website aren’t as impacted by a direct mail piece as those who rarely visit the site.
“We’ve been able to incorporate this data into our contact strategy to make sure people aren’t receiving pieces that aren’t going to be very influential,” says Steve. “That then allows you to reduce your marketing spend — so maybe someone’s only receiving one or two or three pieces a year versus a dozen or 25 pieces a year.”
Leading the industry
Steve’s expertise in target marketing is impacting brands well beyond Road Scholar. In his role as president of the board of NEMOA, the National Etailing and Marketing Organization of America, he generously provides guidance to thousands of marketers and hundreds of today’s biggest brands.
As for Road Scholar, he plans to continue enhancing the organization’s reach.
“My goal is to make sure that as many people as possible in our target audience know who Road Scholar is and become familiar with our offering,” says Steve. “Our mission is to facilitate lifelong learning for older adults — whether that’ online, or whether that’s in destinations around the world — and my goal is to grow that awareness.”
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