Crazy things we do in the name of marketing

Bill LaPierre, Datamann USA
By Bill LaPierre, Datamann USA

Readers, you are some of the most intelligent, brilliant marketers on earth. But, sometimes you just do really crazy things. How many of these apply to your company?

Don’t Give Up An Ounce of Paper: Orders and sales are down for most of you this season. Way down in some cases. But many of you will not trim your plans for 2023 because you’re afraid of giving up the paper which your printer has already secured. Some of you have told me that you won’t cut back in Spring from what you had previously budgeted because you’re worried you’ll never be able to get the higher paper quantities again.

And You Thought No One Did This: A reader recently shared with me that his CEO chose a particular vendor not because of price, reputation, technological edge, or even past experience with the vendor. The CEO simply decided to go with a vendor because they were the biggest in that market, and “that’s who everyone else goes with”. Stop for a minute, and consider the biggest vendors in this industry over the years, and think about where they are now. Many of them have long since disappeared.

But more importantly, the biggest vendor almost always comes with a higher cost. They also come with a lot of unfulfilled promises (but they often have a great PR firm). Is it worth it to pay the extra price to work with them just because everyone else does?

But They Built A Model!: Let’s set the scene for this one. The Covid bubble of online ordering is now almost two years behind us. Catalogue buyer counts have returned to their pre-pandemic downward trend, which is only exacerbated by the current economic conditions. In short, response is down, especially in prospecting. Yet, most of you still expect that the co-ops will continue performing at least at the same response rates as previously. With I-Behavior dropping out of use this year, that has squeezed more use of names from the remaining co-ops. But no one ever factors down the response of the co-ops due to fatigue and overuse. “Hey, they’re building me a new model and my sales rep told me the model takes all this fatigue into account.”

Not the Last Mile, The Last Foot: The savings that co-mailing generates is one of the few things allowing many of you to keep mailing. But as more printing consolidates to fewer printers, the corresponding co-mail pools get bigger, resulting in scenarios where you might get 14 catalogues in one day, with an empty mailbox the other six days of the week – which is the common pattern at my house. You can’t ignore the savings provided by co-mailings. But many of you are ignoring the impact of your catalogue being in a pile with 13 others. You spend so much time planning the perfect Holiday catalogue, anticipating how your customer will love it the minute it arrives in-home. But do you take into consideration that because of co-mailing, your catalogue is buried in a pile of other catalogues in the customer’s mailbox? Worse, even though you have no mention on your cover of your free shipping offer, you believe that customers will be so entranced by the barren landscape photo you chose for your Holiday cover (looks like North Dakota in January) you expect every customer will gravitate towards your catalogue. Dream on…

Avoiding Holdout Tests: Most of you have done at least one holdout test at some time in the past. Very few of you continue to do them on EVERY mailing. The reasons vary widely as to why you don’t do this, but mostly it’s because you believe that once is enough to determine your organic demand. In my opinion, with consumer behavior constantly changing, you must keep a pulse on the incremental value that your mailings are driving. Datamann has a few clients for whom we have hold-out segments on every mailing, allowing them to monitor the evolving response of their customers and plan accordingly.

The New Money Pit: Years ago, a client commented to me that they were spending a small fortune shipping free products to “bloggers”, that were purportedly writing glowing reviews of the products in their blogs. But they had no way of determining if the effort was driving any sales. Fast forward to 2022, and many of you are doing the same thing, but instead of sending free products to bloggers, you are hiring “influencers”, and probably shipping free products too. These initiatives are not being driven by the direct marketers on staff, but the eCommerce folks who are accustomed to having Google Analytics attribute all online orders and sales to at least one of their many programs, even if no way exists to verify those responses. Hiring influencers is one of those things that CEOs love because they can point to these influencers and say “Yes, she’s got 22,000 followers and mentions our shoes at least once a month”. But, are they really driving sales?

It’s Not The Same Direct World: For the past ten years, I have advocated in this space the need to create smaller books. This advice previously encountered strong headwinds from the “but the postage is free” crowd that advocated mailing more pages, since the incremental printing cost was low, and there was no additional postage cost. Fortunately, the paper shortage put an end to those incessant cries of “Bill’s an idiot for recommending fewer pages – doesn’t he know the postage is free?” Moreover, many of you are mailing smaller books to drive traffic to your website. But, you are NOT testing. You know you cannot just shrink your 64-page catalogue down to 16 pages. The small book format requires different design skills to drive a response and to motivate the buyer to visit your website. And you won’t get it right the first time. Or probably the second time either. So, test multiple formats/designs and messages of the small catalogue format. What resonates with your customer may be something you have never done before.

Realtime: Starting back in 856 AD, French monks began using rolling six-month increments of buyers to segment their mailings. Historians believe that hallucinogenic mushrooms led to the monks favouring the rolling six-month segmentation (6 months, 7 – 12 months, etc.) instead of referring to the actual time period a segment represents, such as July – September 2022. The value of using actual time for segmentation (which Datamann uses for our clients) is that you can track the performance of specific names as they age through your database updates. A perfect example is the names acquired in the first three months of the pandemic (April to June 2020). If you rely on a rolling six-month segmentation, you must mentally calculate the new location of these buyers as they age through the database.

Please, don’t flood me with arguments as to why you prefer using a rolling six-month segmentation. I’ve heard them all before and you will never sway me because I’ve used the actual dates method for 35 years. Just like you have used your method and you probably can’t be swayed either. But that is what makes direct marketing crazy sometimes.


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