3 predictions for the future of direct marketing

direct response billboardThere was a time not so long ago when direct marketing was the red-headed stepchild of the business world.

I remember just 15 or so years ago working for ad agencies who were just “discovering” direct marketing, calling it “interactive” marketing and lumping it in with Web site design, CD-ROMs, and other technology stuff. Direct response advertising was considered separate from all the “real” advertising, such as glitzy TV spots and splashy print ads.

Today, direct marketing is mainstream. People have finally realized the advantages of accountable advertising and the effectiveness of integrating direct marketing methods into the standard business model.

This is due in large part to the rapid growth of the Internet, which is well-suited to direct techniques. People have figured out how to both brand and sell on the Internet, and there is finally a realization that there doesn’t have to be a wall between these strategies. They can and should be integrated.

But what does the future hold? With all this change happening so rapidly, what will the marketing world look like 10 or 20 years from now? I have a few thoughts on that. Read more

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$#!* Happens – A dirty story about ad testing

It was about 11:00 a.m. when we started up the mountain outside of San Pedro Sula in the northwest corner of Honduras. The humid air lay heavy and still in the valley below, causing the fields of sugar cane to shimmer in the hot sun.

We were videotaping b-roll for a few TV spots one of my fundraising clients wanted to test. Our task that day was the same as it had been every day that week: to capture images of the devastating poverty these people suffer.

The camera crew donned their battery belts, cables, and assorted gear and we followed the narrow dirt path toward the shacks above. As we ascended a steep rise and veered to the right, we came across a young boy toting an armload of dry firewood. One of our videographers wanted to shoot this and positioned himself in the middle of the path.

That’s when it happened. And to understand what happened, you must understand the term “wrap-and-throw.”

Many of the people my client helps are so poor they live in makeshift shacks, some of mud or wood, others little more than plastic or cardboard nailed to sticks. These places often have no sanitary facilities. So the residents have developed a practical way to deal with their waste: They wrap it in a small bag and throw it.

Thus, we were walking in a “wrap-and-throw” community. And while the videographer set himself to shoot the kid with the wood, one of our guides trotted ahead to ask the child’s permission. The boy agreed, and the guide came running back toward the cameraman.

A wrap-and-throw lay silently in the path, aged and ripe. A group of unsuspecting, sunblock-smeared gringos stood stupidly smiling three feet away, anticipating nothing but the beautiful picture they were about to record. Our guide’s foot came down hard at ground zero … and the principles of ballistics did the rest.

It gave new meaning to the term “$#!* happens.” Read more

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How much choice do consumers want?

It’s standard practice to give consumers plenty of choice. Choice of products. Choice of offers. Choice of configurations, options, avenues of response, and more.

But in a world where everyone is offering so many choices, could fewer choices give you a competitive edge?

In a recent article about consumer choice, eMarketer asks analysts whether consumers want more or less choice. The answers come in many flavors, but the takeaway seems to be that choice comes with a cost.

In my direct marketing experience, less choice often works better than more choice. The fewer decisions you ask people to make, the more likely they are to actually make a decision. And I can tell you from personal experience that I don’t like too many choices when making buying decisions. Whether it’s picking out a box of cereal at the local mega food mart, selecting software, or buying clothes, less choice is better. Otherwise analysis paralysis can set it.

On the other hand, I like lots of choices for finding these and other items. I like the fact that there are hundreds or thousands of companies and products competing for my business because that increases the chances that I’ll find what I want. But when I come to the moment of truth, I like the choices to narrow dramatically so that I have what appears to be one clear choice.

What do you think about this? Is more choice or less choice better? Does it depend on the circumstances? How does this apply to direct marketing and advertising? Share your thoughts on this.

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Reports of the death of advertising as we know it are greatly exaggerated

In a recent report from eMarketer, Geoff Ramsey says there is a fundamental change taking place in the advertising industry.

Read what he says, then I’ll give you my take.

For decades, the ad industry was built on the interruption-disruption model. Consumers understood that if they wanted to experience free content—in the form of television shows, music on the radio and magazine articles—they would have to put up with ads, most of which were perceived as irrelevant, boring, annoying or all three. In this standard construct, ads were seen as a “necessary evil” to support the content consumers really wanted to see.

But the interruption-disruption model is dying out, thanks to shifting consumer trends. Consumers are increasingly in control of their media content and can easily eradicate ads they don’t want to see. They also have less trust in advertisers and their messages. Further, consumers are creating their own content with the help of blogs, social networks, wikis and other digital-communication platforms.

As a result, advertisers and their agencies who want to engage with today’s consumers will have to start turning their ads into content. Ultimately, they will need to be able to produce content that is so compelling, relevant and entertaining that consumers will seek it out and want to share it with others. The new ad model is about creating great content and finding clever ways to embed it in the fabric of communities and content platforms where consumers are hanging out and actively participating.

Okay, now my take.

I don’t believe for a minute that there will ever be a time when consumers are totally in control of the ads they are exposed to or that advertisers aren’t interrupting and disrupting.

I understand that consumers are gaining more control through opt-out and opt-in programs or technologies such as TiVo. And I know it will continue. But only to a point.

Will magazines and newspapers stop printing ads? Will television embed all ads into content? Will direct mailers sit on their hands waiting for prospects to ask for their ads? No.

Mr. Ramsey has it wrong when he says the “interruption-disruption” model is decades old. It is thousands of years old. The ancient Greeks shouted in the streets about the sale of cattle. Romans pasted signs announcing gladiatorial games. In the Middle Ages, street barkers drew passers by into shops.

Advertising has changed little over the ages. It has always been about reaching out and capturing people’s attention. The technology changes. The laws modify techniques. And those with new ad services to sell are always predicting doomsday for old ad services. But it never happens and it never will.

If history doesn’t convince you, then human psychology or common sense should. People are lazy and they simply won’t spend lots of time seeking out new products. And even if lots of advertisers were foolish enough to stop being interruptive, then smart advertisers would simply have an easier time growing market share.

My prediction? People love and respond to advertising far more than they’ll ever admit. And the interruption-disruption model may be tinkered with and modified, but it will never die. Ever. Because no matter what you call it, selling means pushing products. And if you aren’t pushing, you aren’t selling. And if you aren’t selling, you’re out of business.

Read a related post about the future of advertising intrusiveness.

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Ram rumps and direct marketing success

Celebrating the New Year is an ancient tradition. Like people today, our ancestors marked the New Year by watching parades, making resolutions, and drinking themselves into a stupor.

That should warm the cockles of any direct marketer’s heart because it’s further proof that people don’t change much over time.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is the desire to find ways to improve business in the coming New Year. One ancient method was beheading a ram and rubbing the rump of the poor beast against the temple walls.

Now I can’t say whether ram rump rubbing worked or not. But if you’re thinking about your direct marketing business, I would suggest trying a few ideas that are a bit more pragmatic, none of which involve farm animals or their rumps:

This is based on an article I wrote several years ago titled “Ram Rumps and New Year’s Resolutions.” I suggest you read the entire article.

By the way. You’ve noticed that I don’t use illustrations much in this blog. This is mostly because I’m lazy and finding great photos takes time. But I’ll bet you’re particularly relieved that I didn’t try to illustrate this post, eh?

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Who is the greatest marketer in history?

Henry Ford? Montgomery Ward? Bill Gates?

I have another person in mind. You know him. You love him. His name is … Santa Claus. And he operates the oldest and most successful toy and gift manufacturing and distribution business in the world.

How has he done it? I can’t reveal all his secrets, but I’ll tell you a few.

Santa’s Secrets of Marketing Success


And yes. That’s me on Santa’s knee. I’m one of his best customers.

Merry Christmas.

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Visit the Direct Marketing Article Archive

I’ve been adding lots of articles to my article archive. They cover various topics on direct marketing, direct mail, copywriting, and design.

It’s a bit jumbled right now, since I’m randomly pulling items going back 15 years or so. But once I get most of them posted, I’ll organize them into topics.

Here are a few you might enjoy. Please Digg, Stumble, and otherwise bookmark and share these with people you know.

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Do your research to stop dropping turkeys!

Is research important in direct marketing? Yes.

Will your direct response advertising fall flat if you make assumptions instead of doing research? Yes.

Can watching a clip from the classic WKRP In Cincinnati illustrate this point? Yes.

Am I making a flimsy connection between a marketing tip and an old sitcom just to have an excuse to post a funny video. Yes.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Coupon myths and the importance of marketing research

I’ve said it a thousand times. In marketing, you don’t know anything until you do testing or have research results. And here’s an article from BtoB Magazine that proves it.

Top 10 myths about coupons debunked shows that apparently commonsense ideas, such as short-term expiration for offers (which work well in other contexts), may not make so much sense after all. This report details findings of a study based on 20 years of store coupon data.

Be careful with how you apply this information. This study is about the redemption of retail coupons only. The rule for most direct marketing offers still stands: Short deadlines tend to spur action better than long deadlines.

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A hodgepodge of marketing ideas from the Web

Do people like advertising? Many would have you believe the answer is “no.” But I think differently. And I keep seeing statistics that prove me right. Like this report showing DRTV spots being watched on TiVo. It basically says that direct response spots are the least fast forwarded. Maybe because they’re interesting rather than merely entertaining like so many other TV spots?

Words that give your legal department a headache is an interesting article that hits home with me. Some of my large, corporate clients give me headaches. I think corporate lawyers worry way too much about low probability lawsuits and too often get in the way of good selling copy. And I do NOT believe that lawyers should have the last word on what is acceptable in marketing. Input, yes.

Message Believability – Does Tiger Woods Really Drive A Buick? I doubt it. And those commercials always make me laugh. Not that there’s anything wrong with Buicks. But somehow I can’t see Tiger driving one. But even though he was dropped, according to this article, I just saw a spot last night with Tiger being amazed that OnStar would unlock his car. I guess they need time to line up another spokesman. Maybe Donald Trump? Yeah, that’s believable.

No matter the market, people are at different levels of knowledge about problems and products. The Blogger’s Guide to Indirect Selling is aimed at bloggers, but the principles of reader awareness apply to any sort of copywriting or selling.

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