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Outlook 2005: The Future of Direct: Spoil the Consumer

Predicting can be precarious. As Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be!”

Lucky us.

Direct and interactive marketing spending is expected to reach an all-time high this year as global marketers continue to shift more of their budgets our way. New technologies will give us unprecedented reach. Increasingly sophisticated consumers are drawn to the one-to-one relationships we can deliver. Even Yogi wouldn’t find much wrong with this playing field.

So as an industry, what should we do with this opportunity? Some would have us push our brand brethren to left field and throw consumers every pitch in our direct arsenal. That may give us nice short-term gains, but at what cost in the long term?

Let’s make a resolution to take our lead from consumers. Quit complaining that they are a bunch of recalcitrant mopes who can’t be reached or aren’t interested in what we have to say. Chide those who insist on discussing consumer habits and behaviors in incredulous tones. Quit thinking of consumers as spoiled children who won’t listen.

I would argue it is our job to spoil consumers even more. Indulge them with our proven ability to build relationships that matter to them. Surround them with relevant messages about the right brand at the right time. Let’s challenge ourselves not just to meet but to exceed the highest standards of creativity, connectivity and integration. As we do, marketers will see their investment in direct marketing continue to pay off, which will fuel long-term growth for our industry.

Last year I was lucky enough to chair the International Advertising Festival’s Cannes Lions Direct jury, which gave me a bird’s-eye view of the best work from around the world. Our creative product is growing in style and effectiveness. We consistently see more direct work that entertains and educates while it persuades consumers. But we can do better.

As an industry, we must push ourselves to invest as heavily in front-end segmentation modeling and consumer insight tools as we did on the back-end analytics that are the foundation of our industry. Though the latest emerging media option may capture consumers’ attention, a creative and relevant message is what will activate them.

Perhaps our greatest opportunity in 2005 is to better communicate marketing to multicultural audiences. Reaching these consumers, who until now have been poorly targeted, is a business imperative. Though strategy should trump borders and cultures, creative execution should not. We have seen adaptations successfully deployed in diverse markets nationwide by marketers like Bank of America, State Farm and Verizon. Now it is time to do it more consistently, across categories and countries.

We need the best creative our industry can produce to get the results that clients demand. Think about our creative output from the consumer’s view. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that the average consumer receives 3,000 messages daily – putting all of us in a near-constant state of communications overload.

Consumers must cut through clutter that includes guerilla marketing in bars, restaurants and on street corners. Countless e-mails and pop-up ads. Stores with shopping-cart videos, plasma screens and ads from floor to ceiling. And the industry’s latest “it” medium: product placements. According to The Wall Street Journal, product placement has so captured the fancy of advertisers and programmers that it is being compared with the dot-com explosion of the late 1990s.

Our ability to put consumers in control of their brand relationships will set the pace for direct marketing’s escalating status. So how can we best connect with consumers in a non-intrusive way? I predict that in five to 10 years, the two media dominating marketing will be the Internet and direct mail.

Working together, these two channels create the most effective opportunity for consumers to control when and how to absorb a marketing message. If you understand the consumer and provide a relevant and targeted communication, the mail (in a tactile way) and the Internet (in an immediate and informational way) are two of your best clutter-busting tools.

Combined with emerging media, these two tools not only will help build brands but also will drive consumers into the retail space. Talk about true integration. I remember when direct marketing was used to sell a product and avoid the retail space. Now we drive consumers into the retail outlet and build loyalty leading to their quick return.

An example of this shifting dynamic is the dramatic increase in holiday shopping on the Internet the day after Thanksgiving. Many retailers, including Amazon and Circuit City, moved a brick-and-mortar tactic – early bird specials – to the Web. Coupled with what is now known as “Black Monday” – the Monday after Thanksgiving and one of the busiest online holiday shopping days of the year – Internet retailers racked up a 30 percent rise in sales last year over same-day sales figures in 2003.

Marketers want and need innovative solutions that cross disciplines. They look to us to help break down barriers among agency partners so their brands and bottom lines benefit from the power of seamless solutions. They see enormous opportunity in combining traditional and emerging media to reach the customer in the most appropriate (read: non-intrusive) ways.

An illustration of this is Draft’s recent work for the Milk Processors Education Program. Based on knowledge linking weight loss with drinking 24 ounces of milk every 24 hours, we worked with fellow Interpublic Group of Companies Inc. partners Lowe and Weber Shandwick to deliver an integrated combination of promotion, public relations, point-of-sale, database, Web site and brand advertising – with each partner bringing unique insights to the table.

The seamless effort persuaded moms to drink milk themselves instead of buying it only for their children, and what some may consider an unexciting commodity product got a fresh look from retailers and consumers alike.

Direct Marketing’s Game to Win

Technology has brought our world closer. It has made consumers more sophisticated, marketplaces smaller and marketers – especially DMers – smarter. We have become more targeted in our approach and more selective in our messages.

We evaluate the media we choose more carefully and the effectiveness of our programs and efforts more closely. Our creativity is advancing. The power of one-to-one communication is taking center stage. We are experiencing newfound respect. We have earned our spot in the starting lineup, and we are ready to hit more home runs.

Howard Draft is chairman/CEO of Draft Inc., Chicago, a direct, interactive and sales promotion marketing agency. E-mail him at [email protected]

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