Feb 042005

Everyone's a Direct Marketer, Part II

Everyone’s a Direct Marketer, Part II

(If you missed the first post in this series, it’s here.)

So, all companies are now direct marketers — their web sites and email lists make it so, they can’t effectively reach their fragmented audience without it, and consumer permission demands it.  Why is this new to some companies and not others, and what lessons can companies who are new at it learn from traditional direct marketers?

First, the quick answer — it’s new because it’s being driven by the new technologies the Internet has brought us in the past 10 years.  Those technologies have opened up the possibility for 1:1 communication between any company and its customers that was previously unaffordable to many industries with low price point products.  You never received a telemarketing call for a movie, because making the call costs $3, and all you’ll spend on the movie is $10.  P&G never sent you a glossy direct mail piece for toothpaste, because they’d spend $1 at a small chance you’ll buy their $2.25 product.  But the cost of a banner ad or a given keyword or an incremental email is so low (virtually zero in some cases), that everyone can afford a direct presence today.

What lessons can companies who are new at it learn from traditional direct marketers?  There are many, but four things stand out to me that good DMers do well that are different from the skills inherent in traditional marketing/advertising:

1. Take the creative process seriously.  Just because you can dash off an important email to your staff in 30 seconds doesn’t mean your marketing people should do the same to your customers.  Put your email campaigns or templates through a rigorous development and approval process, just as you would a newspaper ad or radio spot.  There’s just no excuse for typos, bad grammar, or sloppy graphics in email or on a web site.

2.  Use live testing and feedback loops.  It’s hard to test two versions of a TV commecial without incurrent significant extra cost.  It’s impossible to test 20.  But with today’s software, you can test 10 versions of your home page, or 100 versions of your email campaign, almost instantly, and refine your message on the fly to maximize response.

3. Make transparency part of your corporate culture.  Just as you can have a 1:1 relationship with your customers, your customers expect a 1:1 relationship back.  If they want to know what data you store on them, tell them.  If they want you to stop emailing/calling/mailing them, stop.  If they want to know more about your products or policies, let them in.  Think about marketing more as a dialog with your customers, and less as you messaging them.

4. Merge content with advertising.  Old-school advertisers didn’t have to worry about this one, because their ads were always surrounded by other people’s content (TV, newspaper, radio, magazines).  But in direct marketing, your message is sometimes the only message around.  Make it interesting.  Make it entertaining.  I always think the prototypical example of this as the old J. Peterman catalog, which was trying to sell clothing and accessories by creating stories and mystique around each product.  But there are tons of other examples as well, especially around email newsletters.

Next up in the series:  What does this mean for the way companies will be structured or operate in the future?

Filed under: Email

  • http://www.neogenisys.com marion newman

    Direct marketting has certainly morphed into a totally new phenomenon over recent years. The key is to create buzz and in order to do so effectively you must be aware of your audience and their needs. My company has recently launched a campaign to generate traffic to an upcoming site (http://www.themidlandsonline.com) that targets a specific market and region. We targetted our market strictly through word of mouth and email. Our message is direct and speaks to our demographic accordingly. Matt is right on and I believe that if companies leverage direct marketting more effectively they can greatly improve the synergy of their products and/or services.

  • http://www.intelligenceagency.com Luke Haase

    As a marketing professional, it has been fun to watch online marketers slooowly come around to the tried and true lessons from the direct marketing world. I concur with each of the points made in this original post. Unfortunately, we find folks in both the online marketing and direct marketing worlds both missing the point of marketing and advertising. I am embarassed by my peers in the advertising and marketing trades, who have given our profession a bad rap among the VC and investment communities. Unfortunately, folks now think marketing means high fixed costs…when marketing should mean a plan for incremental revenue, period. Our marketing firm puts our fees at-risk against client revenue, a concept VCs and bean counters love (and our competitors hate!) (< http://www.intelligenceagency.com>)

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  • http://www.certtalk.com Ben Ice

    Reading the post from Luke Haase I just had to comment. I’ve been with my current company for four blissful years. When I started our sales were measured by hundreds of thousands, now they are measured by multiple millions. My boss never bought into the branding trap, and we saw eye to eye on leveraging products, services and assets versus cold hard cash for advertising, while demanding a high ROI for every dollar spent, whether it was bartered or cash. It has precluded us from working with many of the premium media companies in our space, but slowly they continue to come around to our way of thinking, as our growth has made them more anxious to get a piece of our marketing dollars.
    Regarding the investment communities and the black eye marketing has suffered, it was self-inflicted by those very same VC firms. The life cycle of the dot-bomb was fund a start up, bring in a Wharton grad for CEO, hire his buddies on Madison Avenue to handle advertising, then sell the load of crud to the board with the ol’ branding song and dance. I remember reading about a company (Can’t remember who) spending 4,000% of their annual revenues on branding advertising. Huh? That was the most assinine thing I’d ever heard!
    Direct marketing requires testing, control, measurement and analytics. We each have our owm ROI figures to deal with, based on our specific business model. It’s time to stop paying the idiots who win CLEO’s while losing market share for their clients and load us DM types who get RESULTS with some of that extra cash!