Consumers find themselves tangled in a web of more than 3,000 marketing and advertising messages every day. In the jungle of products, prices and promotions, individuals and businesses desperately need to find ways to see the forest through the trees. Successful direct marketing is a big machete slashing through the marketplace clutter to clear a path to potential customers.
Now, with nearly $1.4 trillion in sales revenues attributed to direct marketing, the jungle is growing thicker and harder to cut through — particularly in the hi-tech industry, where direct marketing is hotter than ever. This year, direct sales are expected to account for at least one-third of the 37.1 million PCs sold in the United States, according to Matt Sargent, an analyst at ZD Market Intelligence.
To succeed in the long run, direct marketers need to find new ways to attract and retain customers. But with technology products changing almost daily, keeping up with customers' needs is challenging. The key is to deliver what customers want: value. According to a recent IDC survey, technology buyers are “more interested in value than price or performance.”
Power of a Brand: Managing Reputation. In the highly competitive, cluttered jungle of marketing commodity products, companies must increase their focus on their reputation and brand image to retain their competitive edge and leadership position. According to management guru Peter Drucker, companies today aren’t just selling products or services, they’re selling their reputations and their brands.
Never underestimate the power of a company's reputation, particularly in direct marketing. In a retail environment, customers can see, touch or test a product. Whereas customers who buy directly have to rely solely on a company's reputation and perceived value — the equity of the company's brand. Proof of this is that in 19 of 22 consumer categories, the top brand in 1925 still was on top in 1985, according to Pipeline Marketing. As marketer Stephen King of WPP Group said, “A product can be quickly outdated, a successful brand is timeless.”
While reputation management is absolutely key, a company's ability to manage its reputation and build brand equity are entirely dependent on the company's success in managing relationships.
Going One-on-One: Relationship Marketing. The key to relationship-building is identifying your audience. However, there’s no such thing as mass marketing or a mass audience anymore. Today's target audience is an audience of one. With the explosion of the Internet and other technological advances, establishing enduring, one-on-one relationships between a company and its customers means repeat business. And that can have a big impact on a company's bottom line. But Web sites, catalogs and direct mail pieces alone can’t achieve developed relationships or create brand loyalty. Only a personal approach to direct sales can.
With more business being conducted online, these personal relationships can be difficult to establish and maintain. Business-to-business e-commerce is predicted to skyrocket from $16 billion in 1998 to $268 billion by 2002, according to eMarketers, a research group that monitors business on the Web. Its report says the consumer segment will likewise increase 13-fold to $26 billion by 2002.
The key to building and maintaining successful customer relationships in a wired world is to use e-commerce strategies to augment and enhance the customer's buying experience and to not let the Internet become a substitute for personal interaction. It's easy for customers to surf away to a competitor's Web site or to use your site for research and buy elsewhere.
Need for Speed: Real-Time Delivery. Every day, real-time technologies like e-commerce are bringing customers and companies closer together. It's a good thing. But these technologies also are raising the bar. Customers are expecting faster, more efficient service than ever. It only took them three minutes to order it, so why should it take you three to five days to deliver it?
To meet customers' need for speed, successful companies need to focus on automating their warehousing, fulfillment and delivery processes. In today's fast-paced, increasingly competitive wired world, establishing a reputation for value, building long-term customer relationships and working in real time are the three keys to successful direct marketing of hi-tech products.
With these three key elements solidly in place, companies will be able to navigate the thicket of the direct marketing jungle.
Joe Kremer is vice president of marketing at CDW Computer Centers Inc., Vernon Hills, IL. His e-mail address is [email protected]