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Relearn the Rules of Direct Marketing

In 1997, Lester Wunderman published “Being Direct.” The first four pages, which fell just in front of the table of contents, were worth the price of entry. There, Wunderman listed the “Nineteen Things All Successful Direct Marketing Companies Know.” It’s the closest thing we have to a bible on how direct marketing should work.

At least half of the points in Wunderman’s list are routinely ignored by many DM agencies. This isn’t a case of knowing the rules and choosing to break them. It’s more a case of never learning the rules in the first place. Others have just forgotten the rules and could use a refresher course.

Two of Wunderman’s points deal specifically with ways to make your direct marketing communications stand apart from your competitors’ by talking to your customers in a truly targeted manner.

Communicate with each customer or prospect as an audience of one. What happened to those of us in direct marketing? Just a few years ago, wasn’t the buzz about communicating with customers one to one? A sure sign that we have dropped the ball appeared in a recent interview with permission marketing guru Seth Godin. When queried as to who was getting one to one right these days, he mentioned just one company: Amazon.com. It’s the same answer he would have given five years ago.

Many big direct marketing agencies have become extensions of their general agencies and forgotten their core competency: creating and delivering communications that get people to respond or, in the case of loyalty programs, reward and recognize them for doing so. One main tool in engaging key customers is personalization, or tailoring communications to the specific wants and needs of each individual customer.

Getting the data you need to personalize your communications is easier than you might think. You just need to do a little digging. Your first stop should be your data and analytic people or, if you don’t have this function at your company, the data and analytic folks at your client’s company.

You will discover that most major companies have warehouses full of data on their customers just waiting to be put to use. And you’ll often find the data and analytic people have excellent ideas on how this data can be used. They’re just waiting for someone, anyone, to engage them.

Encourage interactive dialogue. To this point, Wunderman advises to “listen to consumers rather than talk to them … and convert one-way advertising to two-way information sharing.” It’s a theory the best loyalty marketing theorists began preaching a decade ago.

In any relationship, people prefer dialogue to monologue. When you begin a dialogue with customers, you begin to learn their wants and needs. As the conversation continues over time, and if there is a sufficient value proposition to encourage customer participation, either in the form of reward or recognition, then you can start to build a relationship with them. As that relationship grows, you gain their trust – which leads to higher retention and greater incremental sales.

Personalize your communications by using the customer’s preferred vehicle, whether that’s print, telephone, fax or the Web. It’s also a way for you to deliver information your customers actually want, including cross-sell and upsell information on products and services customers have told you that they’re interested in.

Is dialogue a necessary part of developing a long-term customer-client relationship? Absolutely. Will it strengthen that relationship? Positively. If you’re not convinced, run a test. Develop a dialogue with a segment of your best customers. You’ll find that not only will these customers stay engaged with you longer than those not involved in dialogue, but that, if the value exchange is rich enough, you’ll gain additional incremental sales and profit from this group.

Communicating with customers as an audience of one and encouraging customer dialogue are just two ways to reinvigorate direct marketing. If you’re looking for additional ideas, pick up Wunderman’s book. Or reread Godin’s “Permission Marketing.” Or simply go back to the person who taught you the ropes in DM and get a quick refresher course.

Whatever you do, do something. Let’s get back to doing the things that make direct marketing work.

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