How OCM Used Personalization to Drive Repeat Sales

Lisa Johnston
Editor-in-Chief, CGT
Lisa Johnston profile picture

Shower flip-flops and egg crates take on a whole new priority when it’s your first time living away from home.

A university fixture for more than 40 years, On Campus Marketing (OCM) is an e-commerce and direct-mail seller that partners with 900-plus university campuses to sell bedding, dorm décor, bath sets and care packages to students and their families. The company shares a portion of its sales with its college partners, which they then allocate toward nonprofits, campus organizations or student support.

After decades of operating solely via direct mail, the company has spent the last five years shifting efforts toward e-commerce and digital operations. It began working with marketing tech provider Listrak last year, and in February became one of the first to test its Growth Xcelerator Platform (GXP) in order to increase the OCM subscriber base.

Marcelle Parrish, CMO at OCM, shared details with RIS on the ins, outs and benefits of the process.

RIS:What were the drivers that prompted OCM to partner with Listrak? What were the goals?

Parrish: One of our main priorities is growing our subscriber list and, as we rely heavily on direct mail, driving consumers to the website is critical. Secondly, conversion optimization and trigger campaigns are crucial. We have a condensed sales cycle with our shoppers: We target freshman going to college for the first time, so July and August make up the true “holiday” season for us.

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As soon as we drive a shopper to our site, we need to be able to quickly identify them to help personalize and improve their experience on the website. If they do not immediately make a purchase during their visit, trigger campaigns like shopping cart abandonment emails help us to re-engage to drive sales. 

RIS: How was technology leveraged in this project?

Parrish: GXP integrates identity resolution capabilities within Listrak’s suite of cross-channel marketing tools to deeply personalize customer communications. Leveraging self-identification, as well as through a robust proprietary identity graph, GXP reaches once-anonymous users with hyper-personalized, intent-based marketing messages across email and SMS.

We’re excited to ramp up our SMS efforts in the near future. Using GXP, OCM shoppers are getting an individualized experience no matter which channel they prefer.

RIS: How have business processes changed as a result of this project?

Parrish: Generally, about 40% of our sales originate from digital channels. Believe it or not, we still have a steady stream of shoppers physically calling in to place orders and sending in mail orders. Because orders are processed either online or via our customer support team, the majority of transactions are digital.

OCM sells university-approved bedding, dorm décor, bath sets and care packages to students and their families.

Integrating GXP into our order processing helps to source product recommendations for individual shoppers in our marketing messages, as well as customize the offers we send via email and in website popups.

RIS: What are the benefits? What are some of the challenges you encountered during this change initiative?

Parrish: I’m sure many marketers can appreciate this one. We have a very lean team at OCM, so having a full-service product like GXP was invaluable. We have been able to effectively use our resources to drive incremental dollars.

Additionally, the cost was far better than quotes we received from competitors. Given that we have a cross-channel marketing strategy, it was important to partner with a technology company that could cover all of our channels — not just email or SMS or behavioral. Because GXP was so simple and intuitive to use, our biggest challenge was figuring out which creative to roll out in our next marketing copy!

RIS: How did you measure success?

Parrish: As we start interacting with incoming freshmen over the summer, that’s where our customer journey begins. We first meet these students when they prepare for their first dorm room, and cultivate long-lasting relationships through the lease signing of their first apartment.

Now that GXP is up and running, we’re aiming for a significant increase in list size. We’re also expecting to increase our conversion rate for email and site engagement by roughly 15-20%.

These are aggressive goals; however, I am confident that we can reach them.

RIS: What best practices can you offer to retailers looking to amplify their digital marketing efforts during this challenging time?

Parrish: I have two pieces of advice. First, go back to your roots and your mission. We’re all aware that these are tough times for our intended audiences. At OCM, we’re engaging with students who are eager to hopefully, but may not, head to their new campuses this fall.

For us, it’s really about supporting students as much as possible. We have a student ambassador program that helps us to do just that. Upperclassmen are able to pass on their knowledge and support to incoming students who may not yet have been able to visit the campus. We’re leaning on these insights from our student network to help create impactful social campaigns right now.

Second, pay close attention to the tone of your marketing messages. Right now it’s especially important that brands are empathic in their marketing tone. We need to acknowledge the current situation.

We want students and our partners to know that we care and are in this with them. That means focusing less on product and direct sales right now, and shifting our marketing channels to focus more on inspiring and uplifting content for our community.

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