We recently received the mailing below from our bank and it looked old and tired because it’s effectively the same format that’s been used for the last 20 years. I first saw this format of DM in finance when I was working with Lloyd’s bank in 1998 – back then we copied an American bank (MBNA) in using this format. It begged the big question; ‘Where’s direct going to?’
I’ve worked in and around the direct marketing (DM) industry for more than 25 years and have over recent years been watching where it was going with interest. I was interested in whether the fundamentals of DM were changing, or whether they remained as relevant as ever whilst the delivery channels were undergoing transformational revolution.
In its heyday DM attracted huge attention (and budgets) because it could, rightly, claim to be:
- Targeted – you could use what you knew about your customer to narrow down the audience you talked to;
- Interactive – you encouraged (and often rewarded) a response from the customer direct to you to buy or obtain more information, so you were sort of establishing a relationship; and
- Accountable – you knew pretty much how much it had cost to communicate and how many sales had resulted, so the ROI was obvious – you could dial up or down activity as required.
What’s Wrong with DM?
However, the two big flaws of DM have always been its waste and its intrusiveness – flaws the industry has always struggled to overcome.
Take direct mail, If I write to 100 people and I get a response from 2 of them, I’m happy. But the fact is my targeting just is not good enough, neither is my ability to predict when a customer will be in the market. All that print straight into the bin! And what about the effect on people perceptions. Nowadays many people bemoan the curse of ‘junk mail’. The consumer has been made cynical and more difficult to engage over time. By the same token how many people get turned off (or turn over) when confronted by a 4 minute direct response TV spot for acne treatment (forgive the pun) or ‘abswings’, compared to people that actually buy. These campaigns are designed to drip low volumes of leads through a call centre using low cost TV time, but again their tendency to cast a wide net for a small catch can alienate and infuriate consumers.
So is that it, is the game up for DM?
Not at all, the future is bright. The good news is the principles of good DM haven’t changed , just the channels. Direct marketers need to take the next brave step, think outside the envelope, they need to take the solid principles of interaction, targeting and accountability and go on-line.
The real strengths of on-line are that it:
- does not rely upon print – cost effective and avoids waste
- Attracts consumers who use and engage willingly on a daily basis – because it is on their terms – timely and relevant
- Creates social networks that facilitate word of mouth and even subtle product placement – one of the most powerful ways to reach an audience – truly interactive
- Rewards consumers with content and encourages them to opt-in to interest areas and register likes and dislikes – permission and targetable
- Allows you to run tests of copy, creative and product and reflect results by making changes in an instant – accountable
In essence on-line is the ultimate direct marketing channel. When fused effectively with the principles of DM, on-line offers clients of all sizes in all markets an exciting channel of connection with their customers.
We work with many clients advising them on the best ways to take their brand to market. If you’d like to discuss ways in which we can enhance you direct marketing communications, give us a call.
Client Services Director and DM go-to guy