A recent Wall Street Journal article examines the global rise of mobile chat apps and their appeal as a potential platform for online marketing and commerce (WSJ – The Future of Mobile Chatting: Commerce). Messaging apps like Apple’s iMessage and Google’s Gchat are familiar to users here in the US. But from a usage perspective, they are well behind global leaders like WhatsApp and WeChat, a service provided by a Chinese firm Tencent
Mobile and internet service providers continue to look for new ways to monetize their platforms through advertising and marketing. This means more messages going out to consumers through more channels. Consumers, especially millennials, adjust their online profile and usage habits based on what’s “cool” (Facebook vs. Instagram; Instagram vs. Snapchat, etc.). This creates a continual game a of catch-up for direct marketers trying to reach their audience… only to find the audience has moved on.
Like showing up at a party just as it’s breaking up, marketers are challenged to react quickly to a mercurial marketplace whose allegiance to any one online platform is tenuous. This is especially true for users at the lower end of the coveted 18-35 demographic. In a New York Times article (NYT: App Makers Reach Out to the Teenager on Mobile), a focus group conducted by Wishbone – a social networking application – surfaced this unsurprising insight: “(Teenagers) do not like advertisements but also do not like to pay for things” If Facebook becomes uncool or has too many ads, teens (and many adults) shift their attention to apps that let them communicate directly with their friends and family without the intrusion of marketing.
So what does this have to do with direct mail?
Nothing. Except that it underscores out what we have been saying all along. As marketing and media channels proliferate along with the demographic segments these channels are designed to reach, it becomes harder and harder to gain critical mass through online marketing methods that have a lasting effect. Direct mail remains unique in its ability to reach every consumer household, and reach those consumers in a comparatively unobtrusive way. To make a lasting impression, the marketer’s challenge is how to leverage the direct mail channel to support and reinforce the messaging that is delivered through mail’s more ephemeral online counterparts.
It’s all direct marketing and it’s all good.
“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” -Mark Twain
Every few months, I see an article or blog post inquiring about the health of Direct Mail and whether or not it is or is not actually dead. The attention grabbing headline is none too subtle either:
“Forget the Hype: Direct Mail Is Not Dead”
“Direct Mail is Not Dead: How to Excel at it For Your Business”
“If Direct Mail Is Dying, It’s Sure Taking Its Time About It …”
“Direct Mail: Is It Dead?”
“7 Reasons Why Direct Mail Marketing is Not Dead”
And on and on. Given all the ink (or pixels) devoted to depositing direct mail into an early grave, this is not a surprise. I’ve been hearing about the demise of traditional direct mail marketing for over 20 years since Al Gore invented the internet. Needless to say, these reports were also greatly exaggerated. Direct mail – like all robust innovations – has evolved along with changes in technology and consumer preferences. It is more targeted, more personalized, and more efficient than it ever has been… assuming, of course, that the direct marketer is availing themselves of the targeting, personalization, and efficiency that is at their fingertips. Not all marketers do, which may explain why some in the media continue to point to mail as an outdated marketing method.
The best-in-class marketers know better, and have integrated direct mail as an important component of their marketing mix. Short-sighted marketers treat the marketing mix as a zero-sum game: in order for one channel to thrive (email, social media, print), the others must wither. In our experience, the best and most effective marketing campaigns coordinate the messaging across marketing methods, in what has become the new marketing buzzword of the day: omnichannel. Whatever you call it, picking the right tool for the right job will always make sense.
Just make sure you have a full toolbox.
This will be the first in a (hopefully) ongoing series of posts of thoughts, observations, links to even better observations, and other random ideas. In some way, they will all relate back to the direct marketing space in general, and NAC’s role in that space in specific. To paraphrase the well-worn close of many a sales pitch, thanks in advance for your consideration.
I recently came across Bill Gate’s blog gatesnotes (http://www.gatesnotes.com). Lots of interesting thinking from a true titan of industry. Surprisingly, a lot of it on topics you wouldn’t expect. Check it out. Anyway, his recent post directs us to Berkshire Hathaway’s annual letter to its investors. He characterized this year’s version as Warren Buffett’s “best annual letter ever”. Here’s the link: http://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Warren-Buffett-Just-Wrote-His-Best-Annual-Letter-Ever.
I’ll take Bill Gates at his word that it’s the best ever. It’s really great and worth the read.
In his post, Mr. Gates points out something that resonated with me:
“The Berkshire system maximizes having very experienced people run their businesses, giving them autonomy, and letting them do it for decades at a time. Even if they make a few mistakes, they know that Warren will stick with them. That’s how he has put together a mind-blowingly good set of business managers.”
A very simple and elegant formula for long-term business success. Hire great talent, give them space, and get out of the way. It’s something that we have done here at NAC – wittingly or unwittingly – for decades. NAC’s people are simply the best at what they do. Why? Because they HAVE made mistakes and learned from them and accumulated a wealth of knowledge about direct marketing over years and years. We have dozens of associates that have been at NAC for 15-20-25, even 30 years. In every capacity… Managers, CSR’s and Programmers, Quality Assurance, R&D, Engineers, Human Resources, and so on.
It’s a cliché that “people make the business”. It’s a cliché because it’s true. And nowhere is that more true….and for longer…than at NAC.