Interactive Technology Alters Rules of DM, Branding

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If you need proof that interactive technology is changing how consumers interact with marketers, look no further than this week's DM News Outlook 2006 supplement.


This annual sector-by-sector issue is replete with expert opinion. Contributors include executives from Avenue A/Razorfish, LookSmart, Wunderman, R.R. Donnelley, 1-800-Flowers.com, Merkle, Grizzard Communications, ValueClick Media, Libey Inc., Draft Inc., Direct Media and 21st Century Marketing.


Analysts at Nielsen//NetRatings, Forrester Research and JupiterResearch offer a bird's-eye view. And the chiefs of Shop.org and the Electronic Retail Association also prepare readers for the year in direct and interactive marketing.


These columnists generally agree that interactive technologies are affecting marketing, content, media and commerce in dramatic ways. We also recently asked a Chicago roundtable of DM experts to comment on a critical question: Is the line between branding and direct marketing blurring?


The roundtable participants were Michelle R. Blechman, senior manager of consumer marketing and business intelligence at Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, IL; Brian Dames, vice president of database solutions at Experian, Schaumburg, IL; Michael Becker, vice president of national sales for Mackay Envelope Co., Northbrook, IL; Mitchell Lieber, president of call center services consultancy Lieber & Associates, Chicago; Bill Gorski, executive vice president and director of direct marketing at Draft Chicago; and Joe DeCosmo, 2005-06 president of the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing and senior principal for analytic solutions at The Allant Group, Naperville, IL. DM News' Mickey Alam Khan interviewed.


This roundtable discussion, held at Draft Inc.'s worldwide headquarters in Chicago in December, was edited for space. More material will be posted at a later date on blog.dmnews.com, but here's what each said about branding and DM intersecting:


Gorski: Absolutely. Every opportunity to interact with the customer is an opportunity to create a positive or negative brand impression. So it tends to be the purview of the general advertising agency types who established the overall brand guidelines, the overall look and feel. How that gets interpreted through each particular channel is, I think, what really makes the difference in terms of creating public opinion and generating transactions.


Dames: We see exactly the same thing. Traditional mass channels of communication are turning into more direct channels. If you think of addressable media, whereas you would just buy day-part for a television commercial, you can now begin via cable to target specifically a household based on the demographics of that particular household and assemble commercials to the exact household and what you think the interests of that household are.


So not only is there a blurring in the objectives of a traditional brand campaign or traditional direct marketing campaign, but technology is enabling a sort of convergence of those channels as well.


Gorski: One of our clients is DeVry University. They're introducing a game simulation curriculum. If you think about the audience they're going after -- the 18- to 19-year-old kid where gaming is a key part of their life -- doing television advertising from a college with a bland message doesn't necessarily resonate that well in some markets. It just didn't feel like the way to go.


We created a national game event where kids could sign up online, participate in the game remotely through an online connection or actually go to a location that happens to be a DeVry campus. It was set up to be this big national contest. And it was amazing, the impression that that had on these kids. To this date, there's follow-up activity, and we've stimulated lead generation using this kind of gaming idea. We've used different messaging to varied mediums to try to get through to these people. It's the highest-responding, lowest-cost-per-lead marketing that we've done for them.


Blechman: We track our media effectiveness in a couple ways. But in terms of pure direct marketing types of metrics, we use those measures for all our channels, including mass advertising if there is a direct component to the content. In kind of developing this, we use traditional mass advertising measurement techniques -- awareness, for example -- for all of our channels, including our direct mail, including our online. So we're looking at all of our channels from both perspectives, which we know that they're adding value in both ways, some more than others.


Lieber: We're just beginning to see this in the past year. A couple clients started to raise the issue of the customer experience on the telephone. Clients are starting to understand that what occurs on the telephone -- your inbound customer service or order or sale or outbound -- is part of your brand.


DeCosmo: It's all converging again. It's driven by meaning to take this holistic view of marketing activities and customer experience, making sure that it's consistent and integrating across all your channels and then you're looking at whatever segments or behaviors that may exist and you're trying to optimize that experience for each of the customer segments that you may have.


Becker: From the perspective of my customers, especially in the case of a significant national retailer, there's no question the answer to your question is yes. What's driving the way this customer is making decisions is just about this, that the medium is the message now. In my earlier life you had 15 million of one version. [Now] it's 5 million in 78 different versions of a message that you're trying to communicate.


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