Feb 4 2005

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?