As a list veteran I am amazed to see the direct marketing industry evolve from the postal world into the virtual world. While I embrace the coming of the new millennium with great excitement, I think it's essential that we remember the basic premise upon which this industry was built: Without the end user, there would be no need for list owners, list brokers, list managers and service bureaus. Still, it's the mailer that is the driving force behind this rapidly changing world of direct marketing.
As a list professional, I have a growing sense of frustration with today's approach to servicing a client's needs. At times I want to stand up and shout “What about the mailer?” Instead of being the mailer's advocate, it seems that some of today's players are becoming the mailer's adversary. Here are some of the games being played today, where the big loser is the mailer.
Hide-and-seek. With the advances in technology, it's becoming all-at-once easier and more difficult to communicate with other direct marketing professionals. Voice mail, e-mail and faxes are all effective means of communication. However, where have the real players gone? Days can pass playing phone tag. When you have a crisis, can any of this technology solve the problem? It is not possible for a computer or voice mail to intelligently discuss the mailer's needs. There needs to be a balance between technology and interpersonal relationships. When personal contact is no longer needed, at what cost will it be? And, we need to ask “What about the mailer?”
Truth or dare. With the lack of new large mailing lists being brought to the marketplace, it has become necessary to refocus and use compiled data. Mailers are now using compiled data from various sources as part of their mail plans. Because of this strategy, new databases are released frequently. A problem occurs when the data is repackaged from a variety of sources released blindly under a unique file name. The inexperienced broker would not know enough to ask the list manager to reveal the sources of the data. While each player puts a different spin on the data, this repackaging of data without revealing the original list source causes confusion and a potential high rate of duplication. In the end, all involved parties lose. When some reputable managers purposely conceal their data source, it appears that the desire for list revenue and the need to make a sale overshadow the client's best interest. While we are all concerned with the bottom line, we need to ask “What about the mailer?”
My place or yours. Over the years, meetings at conferences have moved from randomly located tables to expensive hotel suites. The day of four people attending a meeting have long passed. Now, it's necessary to meet in a more quiet, comfortable and private area. However, it's becoming a power struggle when deciding who will host a meeting. The focus of the meeting should be the potential business that can be done between two companies. All parties concerned need to be sensitive to the end-user. It's a waste of precious time for the client to run from suite to suite. While no one wants to travel from room to room like a gypsy, we need to ask, “What about the mailer?”
You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Because of the mailer's rising costs, it's more important than ever to be sensitive to overall pricing. While in a perfect world we would like all things created equal, not all direct marketers are. Just keep in mind who it is you are working for, and don't demand better pricing without cause.
It is frustrating for all parties concerned when Mailer A can mail millions of names and Mailer B cannot get out of the starting gate. A mailer may be paying less to mail your file than you are for theirs. Maybe they are taking more quantity than you, maybe it's less or maybe response isn't as strong. It's important to negotiate the best pricing on your mailer's behalf. But know when to fold. Know the downside of negotiating. Remember that demanding reciprocity in some cases could be the first step to damaging a relationship. While holding steadfast to your position may be the right thing to do, we need to ask, “What about the mailer?”
Unfortunately, shrinking profit margins are forcing us to be more bottom-line oriented. However, we need to remember the driving force behind the business is the mailer.
Service is essential to winning the name game. If service is not up to par and the mailer's needs are not met, then it is time for all of us to reevaluate our business practices or retire from the game.
Adrea J. Rubin is CEO of Adrea Rubin Marketing Inc., New York. Her e-mail address is [email protected].