DMers, Let's Get to Work

I think the speed and all-encompassing presence of the Internet has stymied direct marketers. Things that once took weeks and months to test and measure are now known concurrent with the next morning's coffee. Direct marketers have always been cautious in their methods. That element was the “success” element that allowed direct marketing to thrive.

Things have changed. Many of the new economy marketing executives are conducting themselves with the business sense of the would-be entrepreneurs of the last generation.

For those of you who have never started a business of your own, copy-writing — writing your own promotional literature — is taken for granted. I'm not talking about the dot-com startups with millions behind them. I'm thinking of the kitchen table-variety startup of a generation ago.

People would — and I assume still do — create some form of direct mail piece, go to a quick print and then rent some compiled business or consumer list depending on the offer. This list had to be the cheapest of any found from a yellow pages search. That single variable, business or consumer was the only one considered. Most of these startups sadly failed.

The list was probably wrong or, at best, too general for the offer. Concept and creative were not even a thought. The expected response, which of course wasn't going to happen, was the often quoted and totally fictional 1 percent response. When it all came together and bombed, the answer was either direct mail doesn't work or the list was garbage — which it might have been, but it certainly was the least of the problems.

For sure, it wasn't the untested, self-created creative of the entrepreneur. Besides, the deal was a sure-fire winner — just ask Ralph Kramden.

E-mail and the whole online advertising environment has elements of this kitchen table psychology embedded in it. The shame is the dot-coms have the dollars to do the job correctly. There is so much technology involved in the setting up of the messages that the marketers are forgetting that testing and analysis are critical to any successful long-range programs.

Similar to the previously mentioned would-be entrepreneurs, who mostly now work for their brothers-in-law, the current crop of e-mail and interactive marketers are, in their haste to “make numbers,” forgetting the basics.

Test your creative, test your offer, test your pricing and test your target markets. Measure your results against what you are spending. Of course, this will become the yardstick for your ROI. This all sounds so basic I'm almost sorry to be writing it. However, more and more new marketers mention to me the industry-average response on e-mail, e-mail sponsorships or banners. Never mind what item or service is being marketed or at what price. We've come full circle on the fictional 1 percent response.

Direct marketing will succeed in cyberspace if you know how to use it and employ it.

We direct marketers have sat back as a group and not taken the lead in an obvious direct marketing channel: the Internet. The dot-coms need the help from the direct marketing community and must learn what many of our catalog, magazine and marketing execs have been doing every day of their business careers.

For those of us not involved, get involved, and don't be intimidated by a new vocabulary — the words may be different but the tune is the same.

For the rest of us, let's not go through all the bumps we've been through before. They can be avoided by direct marketers taking more of a leadership role in what is simply a new channel.

To borrow a theme from a business-to-business company, let's get to work.

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