The Running Commentary


We are not all the same, that’s why direct marketing exists!

If everyone were the same, direct marketing – or any other marketing for that matter – would be easy. Boring, but easy. Simply slap a price on a product that somebody is already predisposed to and away you go. No product differentiation, innovation or marketing required at all,.

Fortunately for us in the marketing arena, not everyone is the same.

Above-the-line marketing typically focuses on uniformity of message. Its single aim is to make an impact. It requires explosions, cars jumping through hoops and talking dogs to grab attention. The “above-the-line” focus is on dazzling the audience, making them laugh and/or cry. It also often employs the age-old “for only R 9,99 you get this…but wait there’s more” approach.

Direct Marketing requires intelligent thought and great creative in order to succeed. (Okay, so now I have all of the above-the-line guys jumping and baying for my blood). I am not saying that above-the-line does not require intellect, but nobody can argue that great creative often supersedes the intellect as far as these campaigns go. The end result may be fantastic awards but with very little return on investment.

Obviously I think that above-the-line advertising is amazing. The world of television, movies and other entertainment channels are often rendered more interesting as a result of great above-the-line campaigns. This article, though, is directed – excuse the pun – at the direct marketers out there.

Fundamentally, direct marketers have a huge advantage over their “above-the-line” counterparts in that they use data as a basis for which to approach their jobs more scientifically. This data should, at a minimum, include client details as well as their behavioural patterns. Any other demographic details available which could serve to enhance an offer, should be used.

Armed with this information it should – theoretically anyway – be impossible to fail.  Yet many campaigns supposedly sent to market under this guise, do.  Why should this be? Think about it. By the time direct marketers take their offer to market, they should have refined it to such an extent that each client simply snaps up the offer and cannot refuse it.

These campaigns fail because, in spite of the availability of this data, direct marketers still operate within the one-size-fits all approach. Even when data reveals that client X will not consume product Y, they still craft campaigns forcing product Y onto consumer X; and miss the essence of crafting the message or offer around the data.

Typically the questions and problems I face when talking to clients are:

  • Our data is not up to date. We cannot use it.
    • I say fix it. If you don’t, you will come unstuck!
  • How much does it cost to send out emails per 1000?
    • I say buy widgets from the shop!
  • How much to print per 1000?
    • See above!
  • It’s too expensive to post a mail piece.
    • I say that you need only post to those people who want a mail piece. If you have done your homework, you should know the potential and its worth.
  • We’ve tried that approach. It does not work.
    • I say show me what you did.

You’ve heard that saying: “You have to spend money to make it”. When it comes to above-the-line, the budgets are phenomenal, yet when it comes to direct marketing, companies start counting the cost. Why?

I believe the answer lies in the fact that direct marketers have, as individuals, been abused by other “direct marketers”. They have had product forced on them through “exclusive offers” and, as a result, this discipline has been relegated to a second-tier focus. They don’t want their clients to have to face this. Yet, by not investing they are, in fact, perpetuating the cycle.

Direct marketers know and believe – in theory anyway – that a correctly targeted campaign will deliver results. They are not willing though, to invest seriously in perfecting their approach. It is precisely this poor investment strategy that has given rise to the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). Consumers (including direct marketers) are tired of being served up somebody else’s junk.

The challenge has become a little more difficult now, thanks to the CPA. Difficult, but not impossible. As mentioned in previous pieces, I think that direct marketers have the potential to drive behaviour through intelligent and creative thought, coupled with brilliant data analysis.

We need to be able to show our clients how to correctly target their consumers and how to gain their trust. We need to teach them to dialogue with their customers and turn them into brand advocates. Most importantly though, we need to convert them from measuring campaigns in terms of cost per 1000 contacts and move them into measuring them based on revenue achieved per contact.

Direct MarketingMarketingmarketing messageMarketing Strategy

Mike • June 7, 2010

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