R-E-S-P-E-C-T-What Does That Mean to Us?

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Demarcation lines have faded. Direct marketers are respectable at last. Almost as respectable as general advertising executives. Certainly as respectable as sales promotion leaders. And definitely more respectable than street vendors.

Our salaries are up and soaring. Experienced direct marketers can almost name their price. And I can now go to parties where nearly everyone under 45 years of age seems to know exactly what I do and asks intelligent questions.

It all culminated when Wall Street decided we were viable acquisition targets. It’s not just business-to-business. That came lately when Quill first, then Viking, became part of mega-business retail operations Staples and Office Depot. It’s not even Genesis Direct’s successful IPO.

It started long before Nordstrom’s, too. Or Lands’ End’s growth and L.L. Bean’s continuing success. Or before the Japanese acquired Bear Creek Orchards. And while we’re growing and being acquired, our direct response agencies are being consolidated. Our growth is charted by stock values and consumer sales in the millions and billions. We’re on the exchanges, part of the funds. We’re becoming BIG. And BIG gets respect in this country. Bigger gets even more.

We’re accepted as part of American capitalistic and cultural life. That’s nothing to laugh at. (Not even when Jerry Seinfeld’s show made J. Peterman’s catalog famous. Look at it this way: Jerry quit while he was ahead; J. Peterman goes on to profit from the worldwide PR in the “Seinfeld” reruns.)

And consumers are sold on mail order for more than its stock value. I always ask my seminar groups, “Who buys by mail, telephone, fax and online?” At least a third used to say, “Not me.” Lately, it’s been 100% “I do.” We all do now.

I’m not about to say growth is bad-or good for that matter. But it can change things. Important, crucial things for direct marketers, like testing. In fact, the only thing worse than believing you’re too small to test is thinking you’re too big to do so. Multimedia campaigns, major national media schedules can always provide excuses for not testing. Everything breaks at once. So how can they wait for testing?

Progressive tools and methodologies like relationship marketing and database marketing can also zap us, believe it or not.

There’s an increasing tendency to believe that using good data and personalized direct marketing eliminates the need or destroys the ability to test. Naturally, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Bigness and respectability bring us new leaders, too: big-type CEOs who never bothered to learn all “the details” of direct marketing and what makes it work. It’s easy for them to brush aside a time-consuming and expensive thing like testing. Especially when pressed for time and money.

And who isn’t pressed for time and money in our electronic world of instant communications?

Sure, we get respect today because we’re big and getting bigger. But deep down underneath, it all started because we knew something they didn’t. We learned how to talk to prospects and customers, we learned things not to say and other things that always seemed to help us develop our relationships and make the sale. We learned to ask people (via tests) what moved them to act and to purchase from us over and over again. We listened to these people and from this came our special magic that no other form of persuasion had, not general advertising or sales promotion, nor any one medium. We had the ability to know when we were right, to measure and evaluate our advertising, to make it accountable.

Some of us may say, “Wait a minute-we still test.” But if or when something is tested, it’s usually lists or media (and sometimes the offer). New DMers particularly seem to ignore the creative testing that can turn a losing program around. Experienced creatives have often seen work that everyone absolutely loved-except the prospects, who hated it. Yet I see creative concept testing going down the drain. It’s like general advertising; if we all like it, it must be good. Right?

And, although I hear about successful customer programs using relationship marketing, I hear less and less real “listening” to customers nowadays. I don’t hear about testing such programs or how much they improved response in truly scientific terms. Instead, there’s just “much stronger than before” or “a lot better.”

Then there’s creative use of databases. This seems to stand, untested, on its own rights-the assumption that all you do is use data and you get better response, like a pinch of salt or stronger seasoning. Yet most of us would agree that we can apply a database wisely-more wisely or less wisely. The use itself doesn’t eliminate the need to test its use.

Maybe testing just appears small and insignificant compared with cyberspace and “privacy” in Washington! Maybe we’re too high and mighty-too respectable-for that silly, old-fashioned test stuff. If so, getting respect could be the worst thing that ever happened to us. And if this continues, we could become an institution in decline.

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