DM News Essential Guide to Lists and Databases: Source and Media Objectivity

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There has never been a more intriguing time to be in direct marketing.

Legislation. The Internet. Multichannel marketing. Artificial-intelligence modeling. I'll take all of it. Despite the challenges, there has never been a better time to quiet the noise and listen to what consumers and businesses are saying to us, the marketers. They want relevance, transparency and candor, for sure, but they're in charge: They own the dialogue and the transaction and decide where, when and how they're going to buy.

And with all of the choices, media professionals get the chance to make sense out of it. This means there's a critical need to understand all of the sources and how they interact with each other. The tools and analytics need to get inside this transaction to understand the nuances of what motivates people to respond and buy, donate, subscribe, etc.

And because acquisition sources have shifted so drastically from siloed and single media like direct mail and insert media to an integrated world of these same channels along with e-mail, search, shopping portals, affiliate marketing, offline media partnerships and others, clear interpretation requires being agnostic and objective.

Otherwise, perspective and insight are downright slippery slopes, and judgment gets cloudy. In making decisions, more than ever, we need clarity as much as possible. When it's missing, we know it. Marketers do, too.

The biggest change in marketing, though, is that customers' expectations are much higher. They assume all channels know what the others are doing. Consider, for example, a cataloger who operates in direct mail, the Web and has a store. On the surface, this is business as usual, but dig deeper and we see that the catalog is pushing 70 percent of the Web orders, catalog orders are down 25 percent and store sales are up 5 percent. Which source is driving the business? Aren't all driving all, as they always have? But if 70 percent of Web orders are driven by the catalog, where did the other 30 percent come from if only marginal online marketing is being done?

Marketers need to understand the dynamics and what's underneath and inside the sources so they can market proactively. Obviously, performance data hold some of the answers, but insight comes as much from asking the right questions: What offer and promotion did the customer respond to initially? What was the subsequent promotion and who got promoted? Where did the online traffic come from? What is its quality? If SKU-level data are available to understand retail customers, what are the trends? Are certain product categories overrepresented in one channel versus the others?

Like financial analysts dig for what's not known nor obvious, questions like these get below the superficial and help marketers squeeze out the most return from their budgets. Transactions grow more complex daily, and they need understanding.

Consider the shopper who gets a catalog and falls in love with a stylish, beaded Pashmina, goes online and opens up a shopping cart to buy it, but realizes she has to travel, so she cancels the purchase and buys it in the retailer's store in California, doesn't try it on, brings it home to Virginia, looks at herself in the mirror and can't stand the color and sends it back to the cataloger? I'd call that a sheep in wolf's clothes or, better, a future with a ton of potential.

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