Smart Brands Get Social

brand designers, eDirect

Illustration by the talented Martina Flor

Just Because your Brand’s On-line –
Doesn’t Mean it’s On-target

With 130 billion spam mails hitting in-boxes every day, it’s no wonder consumer outcry about mis-targeted marketing has grown from a murmur to a roar. Across the globe those screams attract the regulator and put businesses at risk as well as damaging the reputation of the brands who are getting it so wrong. This used to be a problem of the snail mail industry but it is exponentially worse since the advent of eDirect and email marketing. Each day my savior the spam filter weeds out a pile of these brand communications that are sent to me blindly in the name of eDirect. Here are just three from my in-box yesterday.

For those of you who’ve never met me, let me assure you, I do not own a large wardrobe of over-sized ladies clothes with dubious fashion credential, I harbor absolutely no desire to become a nurse – much to the relief of our public and private health systems, and whilst I may have had close relationships with a couple of vending machines over the years I have never had any interest in owning one. When it comes to targeted marketing, much of what they call eDirect marketing appears to be as indirect and indiscriminate as is humanly possible.

As a direct marketer with 20 years plus experience in the industry I spend a lot of time talking with our clients about where direct is going, and these reminders of poor targeting that constantly clutter my email in-box reminded me of a test that was put to me many years back to demonstrate that direct mail was no more inaccurate at targeting relevant customers than the newspaper.

Here’s How the Test works
Next time you buy the multi-sectioned monster that is the weekend edition of your newspaper.

(1)   Read it from cover to cover

(2)   As you progress tear out all the ads (or sections of ads)

(3)   Put those that are of interest to you as a consumer in one pile and those that aren’t in another

I’d be prepared to bet my Sunday lunch (and my newly acquired vending machine) that  you will have a substantial pile of paper in the ‘not of interest’ pile and a much smaller number of ads that appeal to you as a consumer. Which begs the million-dollar question; If this is the case why do we feel so differently about the newspaper than we do about direct marketing? The difference is of course that you choose to buy your newspaper, based on its content and broad appeal to you. If the newspaper has got it right it represents the views and interests of a broad group of which you are part. The ads are aimed at that group (or groups within that group), even if they don’t appeal to all of the people all of the time.

So what can DM learn from this?
Rather than obsessing with only online mail boxes (much like they used to our letterboxes) the next generation of smart direct marketers will embrace a broader range of opportunities the web offers to engage with customers. Social networks, blogs and other thriving online communities survive and thrive because communities of people actively interact with them. These on-line channels are rich in data and customers choose to be involved. Look at the ads and brands competing for my attention on Facebook and Foursquare.

The chances of me being interested in a smart phone, a new car or a digital SLR are high. Call it good guess-work, call it smarter targeting, but I currently own all three – Dumb eDirect 0 / Smart eDirect 3.

Whether you reach out to customers through existing on-line communities or create you own interactive communities through which to build your customer relationships,  you need to be smart about it. To avoid looking like a wedding-crasher with your eDirect you need to build a foundation of trust and relevance.

• Make sure you have a right to be a member of the community you wish to communicate with. If you build your own on-line community through a blog or other social channels, your relevance comes ‘baked-in’ as you automatically earn the right to be the tribal leader. If you are communicating to an existing on-line community you should ideally be a positive participant first and an advertiser only after you have been accepted. The third approach is to build channel partnerships with the blog owners in order to create offers that add to the community experience, especially if those offers uniquely reward the community for their membership.

• Your brand must align with the values and needs of the group you wish to engage with. This cuts to the heart of the way on-line communities differ to consumers of other media channels. We feel we have no right to a say in who advertises in newspapers, magazines or on TV as long as they stay within the social codes of acceptable practice. On-line communities are something else. We take our on-line communities very seriously, and all feel a strong sense of ownership and kin-ship, which means we respond far more negatively to an ‘outsider’ who trespasses without good reason.

• Your brand voice must resonate with the community. Most brands give scant regard to their tone of voice. Other than advertising headlines (if they advertise at all) few brands understand the extent to which the way they speak positions them with their audiences. Brochure copy, web site copy, DM copy is all written with just the communication objective in-mind, not the voice of the brand. As a result, most brands, even those who’ve engaged a professional copywriter, end-up speaking with an almost identical voice devoid of any brand personality. We wrote about the power and importance for brands to speak with personality a few months back. When we communicate on-line, brand voice plays a lead role – especially in establishing our credentials of relevance. In on-line communities where the members of those communities speak in their own, natural voices – neutral brand speak, or worse, fake brand speak jar with the audience. Brands need to understand and define their voice and speak with that voice always to establish an authentic sense of who they are.

The growth of the web has provided DM with the perfect opportunity to engage with customers in a far more targeted way than ever before. The easiness and economy of this new channel to market means many brands are abusing the opportunity through laziness and ignorance. Creating eDirect campaigns that leverage the advantages of on-line is no simple task, if anything, the multitude of variables make the task of direct more difficult than ever. As an agency we’re committed to providing our clients with best advice around how to align their brand and core message with their customers whether in the off-line world, or the on-line world.

If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help your brand get direct with your customers just give us a call.

Malcolm Harvey
Client Experience Director and DM go-to guy


  1. Great article Mal about what brands need to do if they’re to be successful marketing on-line. You’re right – so many brands are jumping into the medium and doing everything wrong.

  2. Thanks David – we used to obsess in the offline mediums over whether DM was enhancing or damaging our brands – I just think that eDirect has brought all of those concerns more sharply into focus – its never been more important to have defined what your brand voice is and to ensure that you speak with that voice in forums where your brand is seen as a welcome participant not as an opportunist interloper.

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