It’s Time to Play Taps for Direct Mail

Customer Marketing


The marketing industry has a problem on its hands and I’m concerned that most folks in our business aren’t even aware that it exists.

It’s 2015 and we can now calibrate and fine-tune messages that customers will find useful. But all too often, we instead still act as if it’s still 1995 and put our faith in blasting out volume mailings that are little more than fishing expeditions.

I was reminded of this recently when I returned from vacation and found both my house’s mailbox and computer’s inbox clogged with meaningless applications and come-ons. The companies knew next to nothing about me. I was just another name in their database.

When speaking to CMOs, so many of them are super-busy and can’t even think that far down the road, let alone how to even tackle this issue. They rely on the metrics that are known and are available to them today. Some are satisfied with those metrics as-is but I think it’s finally time to play taps on a practice that’s outlived its usefulness. The marketing industry can help itself by recognizing the reality that the direct mail era is over and that it’s not going to return.

Unfortunately, it’s a part of our DNA that’s proving hard to delete.

Historically, the dialogue around both display and email have traditionally been all about volume. That is, how many emails are you sending? What are your conversion rates? For as long as we can recall, it’s been a complete numbers game. But here’s the problem. The moment that your “relationship building” gets reduced to a numbers game, it immediately signals to your customers that all of your interactions are purely transactional and that you don’t care that much about getting to know them or understand them.

There’s an inverse proportional relationship at work here: The quantity of marketing messages or emails you send means that you’re not interested in a relationship as your ultimate outcome. But whenever I speak to marketers, they immediately want to know how many clicks did your campaign generate or how many emails got opened?

Unfortunately, we rarely talk about lifetime value, customer loyalty or new revenue generated. And those are the real signs that you have built a lasting relationship with a customer. That’s why these are the signals that the way we’re marketing is broken.

Now to be clear—there’s a place for display advertising. Display is great for generating high-level awareness, which will always be valuable to B2B and B2C companies alike. This is the equivalent of that unforgettable TV commercial or a long-running branding campaign like Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign or Chevy’s “Like a Rock” campaign. In those situations, impressions and views are only important because there is a compelling storyline beneath those slogans.

Quantity over quality

The implication for marketers is that many of the metrics by which they’ve been judging their program effectiveness are wrong. If the metrics by which you’re judging yourself are wrong, then you lose credibility.

While a portion of the CMO’s budget is devoted to awareness, they ought to focus on other metrics such as new revenue generated or increased customer lifetime value—and other sub-metrics (if you will) that feed into those two larger goals. But there needs to be a connection to the two.

The irony is that many CMOs are opening up to tools like programmatic buying, which encourages volume. Quantity over quality is the ongoing risk here. As a CMO, you should want your marketing team to tie everything back to the basic, solid marketing fundamentals.

All these new tools and technologies are creating silos and we need the marketing teams to function as a single unit that talks to each other and takes every channel into account to have a better idea of what a customer is doing across engagements and channels.

I get the fact that there is a fear of taking on new risks by these more traditional CMOs. Embracing a new way of measuring success scares people. What’s more, martech tools and adtech tools often are separated by organizational divides and a massive chasm.

Traditional advertising and marketing channels are like the shopping strip malls of the retail world. All across America you see people shifting away from malls and buying online. Change is here and it’s been coming for a while.

It also may mean that the metrics that made someone a great CMO yesterday makes them a terrible CMO today.

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