Poof! You’re in Direct Marketing (Sort Of)

publishers-clearing-house-edmcmahonBy Guy Mastrion

The core tenets of direct marketing are Audience, Offer, and Message – in that order, always. The idea is to first define your core target audience, and then develop a relevant offer. For instance, use the product and your smokers teeth will be whiter than ever. Or, buy this knife and get two more free. This would then be followed by the deeper brand message.

Why do direct marketers use this approach? It is used because, first and foremost, direct marketing is about soliciting a response. Be it a direct sale, a request for more information, or to enroll in a program or sign up for service. In short, it is about closing the sale. And the most direct and expedient way to sell is to hit your target with a strong and relevant offer. If it is a strong brand, the offer is all the more meaningful.

Creating a meaningful offer may require fairly in-depth knowledge of your customers: their likes/dislikes, buying habits, hobbies, their consumption of magazines, TV shows, Web sites, and of course demographic and other psychographic indicators. It is simple. The more you know about your customers the easier it is to sell them something.

Traditional advertising seeks to drive consumers into shops and showrooms by connecting a brand promise to a consumer insight that holds the potential to drives sales through smart and clever creative.

So you say, “I know all this already, no big deal.

The age of digital media has brought traditional awareness advertising to direct marketing and direct marketing into awareness advertising. Poof! Now you’re a direct marketer. Here’s why: direct marketing is about efficiency. Its about driving the lowest CPL (cost per lead) and the best advertising to sales ratio and the greatest ROI possible. And its done through precise targeting, creative testing and revising. A great direct marketing campaign and, I’ll now say, (in this age of digital media) advertising campaign is a living organism that never stops learning and reshaping itself (based on the success and failures it experiences in the market). It is a continuous (closed) loop of feedback between marketer and consumer. Direct marketers have always known this. Digital media mavens and new technology marketers know that it is no longer enough to create your campaign, put it to market, and wait 6 or 9 months to see how sales are tracking. Media and technology have changed, consumers have adapted, and we need to adapt as well.

I think the real challenge ahead is not the denial of the realities before us, but rather the needed skill sets, experience, and patience needed to build big, robust, dynamic, living, brand campaigns. This type of multi-engagement branding is more akin to weaving and knitting than shouting. It is more akin to direct marketing and relationship marketing than pure awareness advertising. There are a lot of seminars and workshops dedicated to new media, with lots of folks extolling various approaches. And certainly, there is much to be learned about how we can use these new media channels and technologies. But we must also learn from the past.

Digital media gives us the target-ability and immediate response and tracking mechanisms of direct marketing with the reach of awareness advertising, at a lower cost. Frequency, the other key driver of advertising media, takes on an entire new set of rules in the digital realm. In the era of push and interruptive advertising, frequency was built in to the media buy and, in large measure, depended on the quality of the TV programs and editorial content that marketers were buying into. The hope was the content was so good that consumer involvement would be high and exposure to their brand message frequent.

Today, we can make the same statement if we’re buying space within someone else’s digital media. But what happens when a potential customer clicks through to your content or goes directly to your Web site through a search? Here is the moment of truth. Will their engagement with your brand be entertaining, informative, helpful, relevant, and interactive? Will it be a resource that drives deep engagement with your brand? Will they return frequently to the site? Or will the engagement leave them cold, confused, and maybe even disappointed? Engagement is about content: smart, relevant, entertaining, and informative –you pick your path. The most important thing to realize is that we are now also in the business of media creation. Film and video, editorial, illustration, photography, voiceovers, animation, all mixed with the needed insight, passion and emotion that will keep all those eyeballs coming back. And just as important, open and receptive to messages delivered in TV, print, and radio. Remember radio?

Few things in life are more emotional for us than our health, especially when it takes a turn for the worse. Why then, I ask, are so many Pharma and Healthcare digital engagements so dreadfully dull and emotionally flat? There seems to be a sort of “ickiness in the healthcare space, as if we are afraid that being engaging in an entertaining way (I’m not implying everything is a comedy skit) is counter to being effective. This feels like a legacy trait dragged over from decades of mostly really bad advertising and promotion from the time when Healthcare promotion was a fairly isolated, insular field dominated by direct selling through sales reps. To be sure, many conditions that our brands serve are sober to say the least, but that does not mean our customers have stopped feeling.

Today, digital media, direct-to-consumer (doctor and patient) advertising and promotion lives in the age of deep engagement. To call it traditional awareness-driven marketing or even direct marketing is no longer enough and to default to old ways of doing things in this new place and time is the equivalent of standing still.

Perhaps then, Engagement Advertising is the new mantra and new filter through which all ideas and executions should be judged. Of course there is still a role for traditional media — print, TV, radio, collateral, direct mail, and even banner ads, but to be successful we must recognize that now, more than ever, their primary role is as ambassadors to deeper engagement.

To this end, the Pharma and Healthcare universe has much to learn from looking at how more traditional consumer brands are creating their stories and weaving their messages and brand promise into these engagements. This is why we work so hard to build our teams and capabilities from a strong, experienced, cross-functional, multi-disciplined talent pool. The core brand idea must be strong, and simple, and then executed with great skill, by experts in each area of media. This is the profile of the new agency model, of the new client marketing team model. Does your team fit this profile? Does your brand? Are you ready to take the leap?

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