Fighting the New Overnight Success Mentality

There is a lot to be satisfied within the direct marketing arena today. Companies across a wide range of industries have embraced the tenets of accountability and measurability that are the foundation of the direct marketing discipline.

There exists a healthy exuberance for the next big thing — the magic bullet that will not only improve upon current performance, but will also shoot results into the stratosphere and beyond the reach of the competition. This appetite for reinvention and marketing innovation is exciting and energizing for all involved with such marketing programs. When combined with a respect for the power of analytics and statistically valid progression, we have a terrific environment in which to nurture significant breakthroughs.

Unfortunately, a disturbing new trend has emerged as well. The boardroom’s concentration on quarterly profits and immediate returns has been driven down to the direct marketing program level. The key discipline of “test, refine, test, and validate” is being replaced by the demand for immediate success. This is a destructive trend. It sets unrealistic expectations, fosters short cuts that ignore the principles of sound analytics and commits higher risk initiatives to a quick death.

While all marketers nod in agreement that an investment in target audience understanding — produced by profiling, modeling and other developmental analytics — is critical to sustainable success, business-to-business and consumer marketers alike are being pressured to short cut the learning process in the hope of finding the magic bullet.

It is apparent that the basic tenet of direct marketing — testing — is rapidly being eroded by an “investment in today” mentality. The management teams behind many of today’s direct marketing programs no longer seek a lift in response. Rather, they charge their marketing departments with producing results that are far greater than the client has ever experienced, with successfully launching new products and penetrating new markets in a manner that is immediately profitable. Performance improvement, new

Warren Hunter

product introduction and market expansion are worthygoals. However, immediate success and day-one profitability are not. Demanding results that are 100 percent (or more) higher within the same market using the same selection criteria or through an untried medium with no benchmark for success kills the very enthusiasm that should nurture growth . There is real danger in this thinking. It undermines the ability of direct marketing to deliver solid and sustainable success, optimizing return on investment as programs mature.

What’s a marketer to do? The first step is to recognize that this problem will not be solved overnight. Restitution starts with management buy in. All involved in the process — from the C-suite through sales and marketing to the financial office and throughout the organization — need to understand and accept (not pay lip service to) the true power of direct marketing: testing. And this means testing done right. Testing cannot be rushed. Testing requires strategic thinking, in-depth performance analytics, program refinement, retesting and validation. Done properly, testing can help marketers determine what has worked, what needs reworking, and what can be done to save time, money, and resources — for the long haul.

Before falling into the overnight success trap, marketers should carefully evaluate:

  • Overall program objectives;
  • Successes and failures, and lessons learned from previous marketing efforts; and
  • Established metrics.

The entire project team — from top down — must discuss and agree upon such critical issues as:

  • What worked and what didn’t with past efforts — and why;
  • The reasonable timeframes for meeting specific goals;
  • What the financial picture — both short- and long-term look like — for performing a methodical, planned test; and
  • The payoff and incentives for investing the needed time and adequate resources to test.

It’s been said, “If you can’t measure it, it’s not worth doing.” There is no truer statement when it comes to direct marketing. The challenge facing today’s direct marketing practitioners, then, is to preserve the value of testing. It is the job of today’s direct marketers to hold the course against the new “overnight success” mentality and to push for testing as the mission-critical way to produce ROI over the long term. This is the only magic bullet that works.

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