Direct Marketing — The More Things Change…

When Julius the cat wants my attention, he jumps on my desk, situates himself between me and the screen, looks at me earnestly, and taps my face with his paw. It’s annoying and endearing at the same time. When his cohort, CC, wants my attention, he prefers to scratch at my leg. Annoying, yes. Endearing, no. While both of these direct communication approaches are effective at getting my attention, one is more likely to get the desired (food-related) result than the other. It’s the same with direct marketing.

While any number of approaches can get your audience’s attention, getting results hinges on finding the approach that appeals rather than repels.

Consider some options:

  • Direct mail is the granddaddy of direct marketing. In my previous job, 10 to 15 years ago, we did a ton of direct mail in the form of conference flyers, event invitations, new product announcements, newsletters, and general product marketing. We also did “3-D” mailers, where we’d target a certain group to receive a nicely packaged gift or gadget, cleverly tied to a product or service we were marketing. Considering printing, postage, mailing list purchases, any packaging and gifts, direct mail can get very expensive, and my clients use it less and less.
  • eMarketing became the next big thing, as people complained about being inundated with paper mail (that they mostly just threw away without reading). So came the slew of e-mail — some more sophisticated than others — and the rise of spam and spam filters. While still popular, eMarketing has its own challenge to reach the right audience, cut through the clutter, and avoid ending up in the trash.
  • Web 2.0 is the term coined for “next generation” uses of the Web to facilitate social interaction and communication, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs. These tools have opened up a new avenue for businesses to market to potential customers, and the trail is still being blazed. Have you been asked to “Friend” a business? Has your company started a blog or do you follow another company’s blog? Have you Tweeted about your company or followed a link in another business’s Tweet? Are you marketing yourself on LinkedIn?

What’s interesting is that as direct marketing evolves, the basic tenets remain the same:

  • Address your audience in a personal way, which means knowing enough about them to gauge their interests and what messages may resonate with them. The more you know about the people you market to, the greater your chance of success.
  • Push benefits.  Don’t tell me about your product or service, tell me what it will do for me and why I can’t live without it.
  • Measure your effectiveness, make adjustments, and measure again. What response did your direct mail letter generate? How many responded to the e-mail version? (You did both, right?) How many hits on your Web site or blog? How does that change if you vary something in your approach — doing a mailer instead of a letter, adding a coupon or other offer, Tweeting about it? Throwing something out there and hoping it works has never been the recipe for successful direct marketing. Make “test and tune” your mantra.
  • Be realistic about response rates. I remember being shocked when I first learned about typical direct marketing response rates — 1 percent, 3 percent, fractions of a percent. That low? Yes, that low. Know your break-even point so you can decide whether a particular direct marketing avenue is even worth the cost.

And of course,

  • Be endearing, not annoying. I can point to the most endearing direct mail solicitation out of the hundreds I’ve received. It was nearly 20 years ago, promoting a literary magazine I had never heard of. But it was so well written, so targeted to capture a young writer’s (and avid reader’s) imagination and dreams of glory, I just had to subscribe. (Turns out, the magazine was way too erudite for me, but I still liked the idea of subscribing to it.)

This piece lives on in my head as the hallmark of effective direct marketing, in stark contrast to the endless (annoying) solicitations for mega-cable/ mega-phone plans that clog my mailbox (and soon my recycling bin) or the spam that slips through my filter.

Can you point to a particularly effective direct marketing solicitation you received? (Maybe the earnest young student telemarketing for your alma mater. Or that preview of a new magazine you couldn’t resist. Or the e-mail pushing an industry conference that was just what you needed.)

Think about why it worked for you, then incorporate some of those qualities into your own marketing efforts. And remember…research your audience, talk up benefits, test and tune, be realistic about results and, above all, aim for an endearing tap on the face rather than an annoying scratch on the leg.

# # #

Make it simple. Make it memorable.
Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.
~ Leo Burnett


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