Deborah Holland has seen the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol surprise sweepstakes winners countless times. But after more than 30 years with the company, Holland, the EVP of creative strategy, communications and consumer affairs, finds the emotional exchange no less compelling today than when she first walked through the doors of PCH's Port Washington, N.Y. headquarters in 1979.
From AOL's mass-mailed diskettes and CD-ROMs to JetBlue's customer-retention efforts, most well-known US and international corporations have used direct marketing, e-commerce and digital efforts to engrain themselves in American popular culture.
When Zappos.com entered the online retail landscape a decade ago, there were still many people who thought you couldn't sell shoes online because consumers generally want to try them on first. This didn't deter founder Nick Swinmurn.
Founded in 1962, Wal-Mart discount store had the same tagline for 19 of the last 30 years. Its "always low prices" mantra and iconic starred blue-and-white logo took a prominent position on millions of local circulars, direct mail pieces and, in later years, e-mail and search ads.
Formed in 2000 by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, Verizon is a relative babe compared to most other brands in direct marketing. While its name was created to combine the Latin word for certainty - veritas - and "horizon," its direct marketing efforts are synonymous with aggressiveness.
The Toys "R" Us brand was different from its onset, when founder Charles Lazarus made the decision in 1957 to turn the "R" in its name backwards. It also held a distinct market position as a retailer of children's products, beginning with baby furniture and eventually finding the sweet spot in toys.
Long considered a pioneer in direct marketing, Time-Life was founded in 1961. The media company gained worldwide popularity in the pre-Amazon.com days as a publisher and direct mail marketer of multiple how-to book series.
The Sears brand began in the 1880s, and was built by sending catalogs to rural communities. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the brand was already well established as a mass-market, convenient mail order and bricks-and-mortar giant.
With 50 editions in more than 60 countries and 21 languages, Reader's Digest is the world's most widely read magazine. Founded in 1922, the brand has always had the goal of educating, entertaining and inspiring its audience, says Amy Radin, SVP and CMO of Reader's Digest Association.
It's hard to imagine a commercial break without an ad for a pharmaceutical product, but there was a time before they were ubiquitous. Leading the way was the pharma giant Pfizer. A Newsweek article from 1985, titled "A new way to push drugs," describes the new strategy as a commercial taking place in "a wood-paneled doctor's office, where a middle-aged woman is complaining about her arthritis.
Publishers Clearing House spent the first 30 years of its existence with magazines as its bread and butter. By 1980, it was America's largest seller of magazine subscriptions. Over the next 30 years the brand would expand in numerous ways.
How does a fly fishing company transition to an e-commerce world? Such is the story of Orvis, which was founded before the Civil War as a fishing tackle business. Today, the company is regarded the oldest US retailer.
Joseph Segel was already an established direct marketer in 1986. His previous company, the Franklin Mint, had been selling collectibles through the mail for 20 years. But it was in 1986 that Segel launched QVC — Quality, Value, Convenience — which rose to be one of the two most prominent brands in 24-hour direct response television.
A relative newcomer to the direct marketing scene, Netflix began in 1997 as a DVD distributor and launched its DVD-by-mail subscription model in 1999. The company's philosophy has always been to change the way consumers rent movies by offering convenience, selection and value.
In the 1980s, customer service emerged as an important catalog issue once consumers started shopping multiple books and realizing the experience could vary greatly. This was good news for LL Bean, however, which had long made customer service one of its guiding principals.
JetBlue has shown its ability to distinguish itself in a competitive and commoditized industry. A central tenet is its laser focus on the customer, whether in its simple customer bill of rights, its aptly-named TrueBlue frequent flyer program, or its e-mail strategy, which includes customer surveys and other opportunities for customer dialogue.
IBM, a company that has been in the technology business since 1911, has shifted its business model to focus on business technology and IT services. In the 1980s, IBM focused on selling PCs and business computers to various industrial markets.
The first of the major 24-hour home shopping channels, Home Shopping Network launched in 1982 with Roy Speer and Lowell Paxson providing financial backing. Originally broadcast only in Pinellas County, FL, by 1985, it appeared on cable systems nationwide, airing new content from 8 am to midnight daily.
The Home Depot boasts on its corporate Web site that it is "the fastest growing retailer in US history" since it was founded in 1978. One way it has built that growth was through its Hispanic marketing efforts targeting Hispanic customers.
Hilton Worldwide has become an iconic brand in the hospitality industry not just domestically, but around the world. Hilton owns more than 3,400 hotels in 79 countries and encompasses 10 distinct brands, ranging from the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Hotels to the more budget-friendly Hampton Hotels.
The approach of Harrah's Entertainment to CRM is so sophisticated that the company has a so-called customer valuation patent. US Patent No. 6,993,494, granted in 2006, enables Harrah's to create customer segments based on the value of their purchases in its gaming, retail and dining properties.
While Fingerhut was a powerhouse in the catalog space throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the current decade has seen the business face many difficulties. The company was one of the first to invest in business intelligence capabilities. This enabled it to build sophisticated consumer models.
Despite a rocky beginning that saw it struggling to pay bills and find funding, Federal Express was delivering 65,000 packages per day by the early 1980s. One key to Federal Express' success was a crafty use of multi-channel marketing and IT before most other marketers had recognized their strategic advantage.
EBay placed a winning bid on consumers' appetites for buying and selling goods to each other. The online auctioneering Web site and brand has also always made the most of its real-time transactional data to inform marketing decisions.
Founded by Michael Dell as a computer manufacturer, Dell was in the business of selling PCs direct to consumers by 1990. Today the brand is one of the largest online retailers. Dell began selling to consumers through catalogs, but got into e-commerce by 1996.
Coca-Cola was invented in 1886 and sold for five cents a glass. In the decades that followed, its marketing pushes had both brand and direct elements, starting with coupons for free tastes of the soda and giveaways of Coca-Cola branded clocks, scales and other equipment for shop owners.
Since it was founded in 1988 as a credit card issuer, Capital One has become one of the 10 largest consumer banks in the US, with 45 million customer accounts. Its marketing efforts established the brand as a household name.
Few brands have been impacted more by the digital revolution than the Book-of-the-Month Club. Yet the brand's survival after 83 years is a testament to its ability to adapt to both competition and new media.
Once known as America Online, AOL long ago was locked in a race with competitors Prodigy and Compuserve to become the most widespread Internet service provider in the US, and became as well-known for its marketing strategy as its products.
Any brand still thriving after more than a century and a half of existence has likely balanced reinvention with a consistent, stable brand message. Such is the case of American Express, founded in 1850 as a secure, faster alternative to the US Postal Service in an era of westward American expansion.
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