Are You REALLY a Direct Marketer? Should You Be and Don’t Know it?

By Brent Kuhn in Direct Marketing on October 30th, 2012

Let me start by asking a question:  Is there such thing as a digital media agency that is not a direct marketer? Answer:  No…absolutely not.   In years past there was a relatively simple and widely accepted definition of direct marketing.  Not many people who were not direct marketers even knew the definition, but it really didn’t matter because they didn’t pretend to be direct marketers.  They were brand or various other types of marketers but definitely not direct marketers…and they knew it.  But in the small world of direct marketing there was a general agreement about the definition of direct marketing. Today, there is a lot of debate about what direct marketing is…even among direct marketers!  The world has gotten more complex with the advent of the digital age.  I understand the validity of this debate, but this new world is spawning a lot of not only questionable direct marketing but downright wrong thinking.  I have a number of horror stories about people and agencies costing clients a lot of money because they “think” they are direct marketers and are passing themselves off as direct marketers, but in reality they know very little about direct marketing.  But here is what’s worse…agencies that claim to be digital agencies or television agencies that don’t understand that the core of their business is generating response and that there is a huge body of knowledge (called direct marketing) that has been proven over the years to enhance response in any medium…digital too! I am going to get to the definition of direct marketing, but bear with me a few minutes. The following is a real life story that ended up costing a client a lot of money. BKV split the digital SEM business of a large entertainment account with another digital agency that had a lot of digital experience, but they but they didn’t understand direct marketing.  But wait…weren’t they working with data?  Didn’t they run advertising that was designed to generate response?  Didn’t they track the results; provide cost per lead, sales and ROAS reports to their clients?   Didn’t they adjust their buys based upon various times of day that worked better, etc.?  Of course they did. All of the above surely made this agency a direct marketer!  Didn’t it?  Well, they may have thought so, the client who hired them probably thought so…but they weren’t.  Not really.  Yes, they were doing direct marketing just as many people in general or branding agencies often do a little direct marketing now and then.  But this agency and specifically the people working on the account didn’t do it well because they had never taken the time to learn about what direct marketing really is. Perhaps, and I am only guessing here, they never saw the need since they identified themselves as a digital agency.  What a mistake! BKV crushed their results because they made the simplest direct marketing errors that could have been avoided with just a little education.  Perhaps this was an agency that defined itself as a digital agency.  Perhaps it was an agency that thought they knew direct marketing because they were asking for results.  It doesn’t really matter… either way they violated fundamental rules that cost their clients big money. We run across this kind of thinking all the time when we compete against most (not all) pure play digital agencies.  Wow, are they easy to beat!  They are easy to beat because they think they are something that they are not.  They think they are direct marketers and so they make no effort to understand what direct marketing really is.  Or worse, they have no clue that the fundamentals of direct marketing are what truly drive results when they are asking for a response.  It doesn’t matter if the response a client is seeking is a sale, a lead, or another specific action.  This is a shame, because like I mentioned above, it would not be hard for them to understand direct marketing with the proper education. I maintain that you are not really a direct marketer if you haven’t availed yourself of the vast body of knowledge that exists…the proven facts that can lift your results. In today’s world advertisers are looking more and more for quantitative results.  Virtually all agencies are now talking this game, but few are delivering.  It is easy to deliver if you just take the time to educate yourselves a bit and then put your new knowledge into practice.  That is the point of this blog…that if you choose to become a successful direct marketer, you can.  You can make more money for your clients and your clients will be appreciative and your accounts will stay with you longer and grow bigger. Let me give you the definition of direct marketing and a few examples of direct marketing knowledge to whet your appetite. A simple definition of direct marketing that I like is: “Using any medium to produce a response NOW”. All advertising asks for a response…just not now. Cheerios brand advertising asks for a response. The action they are looking for is that you be aware of their product and have a positive attitude toward the product. Most retailers who are buying boatloads of GRPs over a short time frame called a sale are not asking you to drop what you are doing and race out to the store. A direct marketer is saying…”STOP. Act now. Call this number. Go to this website. Return this postpaid reply card”. The key is now. (Note: There is much more to direct marketing than acquisition of a new customer. There is conversion of leads to sales, retention of customers, up-selling to maximize customer lifetime value, etc…I am just focusing on basic acquisition in this blog to make my point about the need for education.) Most of you have heard of Jeff Foxworthy and his redneck jokes.  You know you are a redneck if… In that spirit, let me tell you that you are not a direct marketer if… 1. You have never read one of the great direct marketing text books. There are a number to choose from.  Old classics that are just as true today as well as recent books that apply DR thinking to the digital world.  You can even take a course in direct marketing fundamentals.  The DMA offers a lot of informational ones. 2. You have ever run a paid search campaign and not copy tested your paid search ads extensively.  Remember the large digital agency BKV crushed, no annihilated…they had no concept of proper copy testing!  This was a big agency with big clients manned by adults… adults who hadn’t taken the time to learn their business or even understand the business they were in. Whether they knew it or not they were not just in the business of producing results, they were in the business of maximizing results.  And results will never be maximized without a thorough understanding of Direct Marketing. 3. You haven’t offer-tested your landing pages.  Or, even worse don’t understand the difference between offer and creative. 4. You don’t know that there is a difference between direct mail and direct marketing. 5. You don't know and use the key action words that have worked for years in direct mail and that have been proven to work equally as well in digital media. 6. You don’t know that a DRTV commercial is not just an image commercial with a phone number and website address tacked on. I could go on and on, but you get my point. One last thing… don’t say “well I am only a digital marketer, or I do direct mail and don’t need to know something about TV”.  Work towards having a good foundation across the board - it will most certainly help you in whatever specialty you have at the moment and open new horizons in the future. In closing, I’d like to give you an analogy.  I am a pool player; I have taken time to not just play the game, but to learn the game.  I have read books and have had lessons with top name pros. I am far from being a pro, but I am the best pool player that I can be.   I play chess too, but I have never taken the time to read a book, get advice or a lesson.  I am a pool player…I am not a chess player, I just play at chess. Don’t just play at direct marketing.  Besides, it is fun and profitable to learn.  If you haven’t done so already, it is not too late!  Start learning today!