Direct marketing's unprecedented influence on the success or failure for a company is redefining the requirements for successful direct marketing executives.
In recent searches, Spencer Stuart has found that companies want direct marketing leaders who are business strategists rather than tacticians. Organizations are seeking multifunctional leaders with broad business skills, who understand and embrace technology, offer creativity and innovation, can create and manage productive change and whose direct marketing experience provides a well-rounded view of the direct marketing model.
Fundamental business management skills are the No. 1 prerequisite for executive leadership in direct marketing. While DM executives must understand direct marketing and its metrics, they also need to operate in wider management.
“Direct marketing executives need a broader skill set,” said Rick Black, president of Reliable Office Products. “They must be able to adapt narrowly defined direct marketing activities to support the overall marketing strategy.”
Scott Howard, who helped establish L.L. Bean's global operations and manages its distribution, fulfillment, manufacturing and teleservices, said being great at one segment of direct marketing isn't enough.
“Direct marketing leaders have to understand, manage and be able to innovate through multiple channels, multiple markets, multiple media and multiple technologies,” he said.
With technology driving much of direct marketing's revolution, DM leaders must understand and embrace technology as never before. In fact, recognizing and harnessing technology's potential may be the single most important success factor for direct marketing executives. This is especially true when considering direct marketing over the Internet.
The Internet provides a truly powerful channel for establishing and maintaining real-time, interactive relationships with customers. It also poses unique challenges for direct marketing leaders: increased competition for consumers' attention, shorter cycle time for developing an offer and measuring its effectiveness and demands for a completely different creative strategy.
In addition, the ability to manage highly skilled knowledge and new media workers is critical.
“You can't possibly succeed if the computer isn't your best friend. You must understand technology for two reasons: first, because it's an essential tool, and, second, to understand the consumer and sell your products,” said Joe Ward, whose 25-year career in direct marketing includes serving as president of publishing company Bertelsmann AG, president of Meredith Book Group and senior vice president of Time-Life Books.
As more companies turn to direct marketing, consumers are going to be even more inundated with offers. Thus, direct marketing leaders need to develop innovative, on-target strategies and multifaceted programs that combine creativity and technology to compel consumers to spend scarce time and money.
For example, a number of more sophisticated companies employ advanced customer profiling techniques to develop finely targeted, relevant offers for very specific audiences. The challenge is to constantly create fresh approaches that appeal to offer-weary consumers.
With constant change within the business world, direct marketing executives must become “change agents” within their organizations. In many cases, leading change will require re-engineering the corporate infrastructure to support customer-focused marketing.
Historically, most companies have designed and organized their systems to manage and measure products, not customer relationships.
“Any good direct marketing executive knows that his job is to focus on and manage customer relationships, but he's stuck with an infrastructure that doesn't work,” said John Knight, formerly of Pepsico and Disney and most recently, senior vice president and marketing director at Bronner Slosberg & Humphrey. “True success will require a change agent to initiate a corporate transformation process that retools the company's systems to become customer-centric.”
With competition intensifying, companies will continue to seek closer and more enduring relationships with customers, and reliance on direct marketing will expand. This and expanded use of the Internet will create heavy demand for the new breed of direct marketing leader. As direct marketing assumes a more important, strategic role, companies will increasingly turn to this new executive to influence — and even determine — their success or failure.
Christopher Nadherny is senior director at Spencer Stuart, a global executive search firm with 40 offices worldwide. He is based in Chicago.