Wednesday, September 29, 2010

If You Haven’t Tested Personalization, Why Not?

This morning, Target Marketing reported on Archive Director Paul Bobnak’s latest analysis of the expansive Who’s Mailing What archives.

Of significant interest to direct marketers is Bobnak’s finding that -- in the first six months of 2010 -- personalization of direct mail increased 19 percent over all of 2009. “Used in 35 percent of direct mail, it's more important than ever to help make mail relevant for the prospect,” Target noted.

I knew that. And you knew that. And my guess is that in the second half of 2010 even more direct marketers will confirm that. So what’s the hold up?

The first of Bobnak’s findings about direct mail trends in the first half of 2010 explains why personalization percentages aren’t even more dramatic: to wit, the finding that “Repeat mail, or controls, are up 12 percent in 2010 and now represent a full quarter of all direct mail. Reasons stretch from mailers being budget-conscious to staying with efforts that are clearly working.”

In other words, nervous mailers are entrenched in “what works” to the point they’re afraid to even test personalization. They’ve heard it works – they even believe it works – but, in this milieu of overworked staff and financially freaked CFO’s, personalized direct mail is an easy “test” to avoid.

Among the figures Bobnak uncovered, though, I'd wager that, among the 35% of “personalized” proponents you’ll find the direct marketers with the most successful results.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Joaquin Phoenix and the Nature Of Truth in 2010

I saw “I’m Still Here” last weekend and came away convinced it was not a “hoax.” When I learned this morning that this film is total fabrication, I couldn’t believe it. I had gone into the theatre with an open mind and came away convinced that I had actually observed a human being having a mental breakdown. How stupid could I have been?

But here it is. Casey Affleck, director and documentarian (apparently mockumentarian) of Joaquin Phoenix’s breakdown told Roger Ebert the “real story.” It was all an acting job.

How is this possible? Does it matter? Who cares?

It is possible, it matters a great deal, and anybody in the “communication” biz had better care because this is what can happen – and maybe does far more than we imagine -- when the media, the consumers of media, and the creators of media gather.

I mean what IS real? If somebody like Joaquin Phoenix or Sacha Baron Cohen can “go into character” for long periods of time and fool everybody who’s not in on the joke – including self-promoter extraordinaire, Sean “Puff Daddy Diddy” Combs – what the heck does reality have to do with anything anymore?

If you’re in the marketing business – or if you live on Planet Earth – here are the troubling questions that Joaquin has thrown at us:

  1. Is reality TV really real, or are these folks all “acting”?
  2. Do people who star on reality TV become real (in other words, do they soon begin to believe their own nonsense?)
  3. How are politicians of the day any different from method actors, drenched in their roles? Has Sarah Palin become who she wasn’t, but now is? What does that say about a leader “we can believe in”?
  4. If the media, too, can be fooled, can we believe anything that we see or hear, or read in the media?
  5. If the media has become the distributor of stories, games, and propaganda, what do we need it for? Do we care?
  6. Does “success” merely lie in the ability to deceive for a purpose?
  7. Do consumers any longer care whether or not an event is true or if any person is really what they are representing?

There’s a lot to think about here and if this story doesn’t get our communal brain into high gear, we are indeed fiddling.

-- scrubbed by MarketingBrillo

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Advice for Cross Media: Just Because We Can, Doesn’t Mean We Should.

I received an annoying email from HarryandDavid this morning. This was definitely not an accident. I didn’t like it and here’s why.

The HarryandDavid Harvest 2010 catalog showed up in my mailbox yesterday, complete with Intelligent Mail Barcode and a note to the Postmaster to deliver in the proscribed two-day window.

When the IMB data alerted the mailer that the catalog had been delivered, the email dropped. This morning’s email, clearly, was a “follow-up” to the catalog mailing. Cross-media at it’s best.

So what’s the problem? No problem at all with the system. In fact, it’s brilliant and a good reason for direct marketers to adopt the IMB now, even though its use isn’t required until May 2011.

The problem was with the creative in the email. H&D has information about me and they just couldn’t wait to let me – or anybody strolling by my computer -- see it.

The subject line was good. A message about your Harry and David account … Show me somebody who doesn’t at least look at email about their “account,” and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t have email. So, yes, I took a look.

The message told me that my “Personal Giftlist is now online” and offered me two quick links so I could “review and update” the list. The email explained that the links would lead to my “private, secure listing.” I had no intention of doing H&D’s record keeping for them, so I ignored the invite and was about to close out. But then, a bit further down, I saw my son’s name in big capital letters, along with a short description of a gift I sent him and his family four years ago.

If this was a private, secure listing, how come the meat of the data showed up in the body of the email! H&D explained they were listing names of “up to five people” to whom I had previously gifted H&D products. They were doing this for me, you see, because they didn’t want me to ever again forget to send a gift. Excuse me!?

That’s too much information. Imagine where this little email might take somebody who happened to see it, by accident or otherwise.

So, yes, direct marketing technology – especially cross media – totally rocks. But, as always, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Emails are no place for a recitation of your customer’s relationships. Before we flex our digital muscles, let’s consider “how much information is too much information” and leave the online personal stuff to Facebook.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Don’t Ask A p-URL How Much She Costs. Just Buy Dinner and See What Happens.

A lively discussion about personalized URLs (p-URLs) unfolded on LinkedIn’s Direct Mail group this week. Actually, p-URLs surfaced in conjunction with a more general posting about cross-media. Things heated up when somebody asked how much other group members were charging clients “per p-URL.”

Despite some feisty back and forth, the group generally agreed that -- like the envelope, the digital printing, the mailing and postage, and the response vehicle – p-URLS are most appropriately costed as part of an entire direct marketing campaign, rather than expensed “per p-URL.” That makes a lot of sense. Exotic as they still seem to many direct marketers, p-URLS really are “just another response vehicle” to be considered.

It's no more important to know the “cost per p-URL” than it is to know the cost per email response, or the cost per incoming phone order, or even the cost per business reply card?

This number won’t inform your campaign planning or give you any particular insight. If you want to find out whether p-URLs can boost results, do a test! That way you’ll have some real information for your next campaign.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How the Heck Did Dingus Become News Anyway?

Once upon a day – back when men were men and so were editors – the patriarch of the newspaper decided whether an event or happening was worthy news. He selected, based in part, on whether or not his readers “needed to know.”

Sure, it was a somewhat subjective call, but that was the basic tenet -- the “need to know,” as defined by the editor. Not the desire to know, not the itch to know… the need to know.

Remember when your parents refused to tell you something because they said you didn’t “need to know that”? Same principle. Oh sure, newspapers carried opinion and entertainment stuff, too – right on the op-ed page and across from the comics page so everybody could differentiate entertainment from news. Not so today.

In the new century, stuff gets into the newspaper only if – and always when -- it will get repeated by some other paper or reap some broader attention. It doesn’t matter whether we, the readers, need to know it or not. We’re just the lab rats for “information.”

The Dingus case in point:

I mean, seriously…. "Does any reader NEED to know that some Dingus in Florida with 50 other Dingi in attendance is going to torch a certain book? Does anybody need to know that? Not unless they live next door [or dangerously close] to the Dingus in question. Seriously, folks.

And yet … over the past so-many weeks, what “news” organizations have been asking if their readers/listeners need to know this? En Oh En Ee. NONE. Every media voice – TV, radio, newspaper, online news, bloggers, etc. – jumped in to ride this Dingle Baby for all it was worth.

And what was it worth? The construction of faux catastrophe, with a possibility of widespsread mayhem , death, and increasing violence.

That’s the idea, of course, since today “news” isn’t about news at all. It’s about getting “eyeballs,” about pumping up readership, about not being “left out” of the spin, and, most of all, about pandering for money, pure and simple.

Not that I’m blaming editors, mind you. Geneva Overholser puts it well in her piece on the State of the American Newspaper. “Most of the foregoing litany boils down to money. America became obsessed with business, and newspapers did, too. John Carroll, editor of Baltimore's Sun, sees the larger changes when he looks back, past his 35-year newspaper career, to his alma mater, Haverford College. ‘Business is ascendant in this society to a degree it has not been in my lifetime,’ he says. ‘The best and the brightest from my college are all becoming investment bankers. When I went there, I'd never heard the term 'investment banker.' People all wanted to be journalists or doctors or college professors. But now--a lot of publishers and CEOs want an editor who talks about leveraging assets.’”

And that is how and why the Dingus became an international celebrity.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The “Old [Direct] Way” Retains Its Appeal for Everybody

Epsilon research released yesterday “…shows the preferential attitudes about the trustworthiness of mail strengthened for consumer respondents of all age groups from 2008 to 2010."

Translation: People trust direct mail more than other marketing channels.

The survey was conducted by ICOM, a division of Epsilon Targeting. Research focused on attitudes of 18 to 34 year-olds in the U.S. and Canada. Results indicated that even this digital, Facebook-addicted demographic prefers to receive marketing messages by mail and newspapers.

What’s the appeal of direct mail?

Direct mail is perceived to be more private than either email or online sources.

Direct mail is more trusted than online information.

More significantly, trust is growing, with 20 percent of U.S. respondents in 2010 saying saying they trust information by mail, compared to only 12 percent who loved mail in 2008. Canadians had similar attitudes.

ICOM Vice President Warren Storey said, “A key takeaway from this research is that marketers targeting coveted 18-34 year olds who are tempted to invest solely in social media could be missing a significant portion of their audience.”

Actually, the message is bigger than that. In this era of eJunk, a letter or postcard to home – especially one that nails the recipient’s interest through the use of research and targeted lists – gets noticed.

--scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Are "Free Content" Consumers Our Lab Rats?

In my Internet wanderings I came across a blog written by an anonymous guy who calls himself MrHeretic. Considering the stuff he’s posting, it’s no wonder he’s afraid to be identified. In a poignant post titled “You Killed Market Research,” MrHeretic condemns a series of practices that he thinks have written the obituary for market research.

I’m wondering how much of this heretical finger-pointing should be applied to marketing generally and, more specifically, to so-called “content marketing” within the direct marketing industry. Here’s what I mean.

Direct marketers are now buried in the Malthusian multiplication of online “content.” Increasingly, the “information” we’re fed may not be “information” at all, but rather a poorly disguised grab for our information. That might be okay, except much of what we get in return is awful offal.

You already know how the shill works. Whether it’s a whitepaper, webinar, webcast, video, podcast or simply access to an article, you must register to see it. Some would argue that’s a fair exchange. Amid the demand for open, transparent communication I, personally, would disagree, but willing trade or not, many of MrHeretic’s principles seem to apply to the development, dissemination, and data gathering tactics driving this “content” giveaway.

Obviously, service providers who openly share industry information deserve our thanks. Direct marketing has become increasingly complicated by integrated and multi-channel efforts and we all want to know what is working for others. What do “best practices” look like? What have we tried that didn’t work? How can we adapt to so much change? What does the future hold? Who can help us? The search for answers to these questions has made participation on LinkedIn’s direct marketing-related groups explode. We need each other and, if you know “something about something,” I will love your blog, appreciate your knowledge, and maybe even decide to work with you.

Meanwhile, a different response to our thirst for guidance has launched an avalanche of “bastardized information,” the primary purpose of which is to both beguile us and get our data. Are your in-boxes stuffed with this junk info, too? Here’s one example.

A respected industry resource uses its reader email list to push out content that vendors have paid them to distribute to us. So what’s wrong with that? Some might say it’s no different than receiving a piece of direct mail from an insurance company simply because we subscribe to The Wall Street Journal. What can I say? It feels different. Wait, darn it! It is different.

What comes to my inbox from a respected information resource suggests to me that any information they deliver has been vetted for value, right? Not so when money alone will get that information delivered to me. Not so, when the distributor isn’t telling me the “information” is “advertorial” or “product placement.”

Bottomline: I trusted you and you sold me out. Or, to edit MrHeretic a wee bit, “You killed [the value of your content] when you treated respondents like lab rats.”

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Holy Hoarders, Batman. Is Reality TV Really Real?

Big numbers on the reality TV show, “Hoarders,” over Labor Day. A&E publicized its third season like crazy, with images of possums in the kitchen and counter tops covered in inhuman filth.

The publicity campaign worked, as millions tuned in for an all-day marathon peek at piles of … well, anything you can imagine (and lots you don’t want to). Yesterday – the day after the show aired -- “Hoarders” was a popular topic on Twitter.

What’s wrong with this picture? Quite simply, it’s getting awfully real. “Hoarders” and every other examination of mental illness cast as human aberration is vastly more disturbing -- and frighteningly more common -- than it is entertaining.

For example, now that “Hoarders” has come out of the closet onto TV, media reports of the mental illness are growing. In Schaumburg, IL, a 79 year-old woman was found dead amid rubbish. Her 54 year-old daughter – whom social workers didn’t know existed -- lived there, too.

Why doesn’t somebody “do” something? Schaumburg officials say various laws make intervention nearly impossible unless the person cooperates. Hoarding expert Christiana Bratiotis of Boston University, says “The front door can be a nearly insurmountable obstacle, literally and figuratively … A true hoarder would never ever, ever let you in."

I started checking around and it turns out that everybody I asked knows two or three people who hoard. If you get into people-who-know-other-people-who-hoard, you’re swelling into double digits. A&E says 3 million Americans are hoarders. If you look at the number of American households, we’re talking 2.5 percent of our neighbors, easy.

While all hoarders pile up junk, the stuff of the illness apparently varies. Paper, other people’s discards, knickknacks, clothing, and even food are the downfall of many. Meanwhile, “animal hoarding” is exploding, say experts.

In his review of the Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate, journalist Aditya Chakrabortty observes that “The Godfather” and other popular stories about the Mafia have influenced the way Mafioso view themselves. No longer mere “gangsters,” these guys now believe they are “legitimate businessmen” whose practices of violence and intimidation can be practiced and perfected.

If “godfather syndrome” holds true for folks with too much “stuff,” we can expect mirroring to produce new levels of, and tweaks to, hoarding. After a marathon viewing of A&E compulsion, for example, maybe our own 750 bags from Target piled in the bedroom, or those boxes of mail dated back to 1998, won’t seem so bizarre.

Since, a lot of us are already detached from the broken lives and mental problems other people are suffering, maybe it’s not a giant leap to our own personal indifference about the possums, cockroaches, and dead cats, Maybe familiarity will breed more indifference than contempt.

If that seems laughably impossible, please consider whether, in 2010, it seems nearly normal that four wealthy women from New Jersey will put on fancy cocktail dresses, then go on national TV to yell and spit at their neighbors? Predictable, right? But, as observers, how did we get immune to that?

And how long before we also get accustomed to seeing three-year olds with lipstick, fake teeth, and tiaras? Driven to desperation, will it become commonplace to try to “treat” our loved one’s mental illness by staging our own “interventions”?

Possibly, like the hoarders – and without any catastrophic Wall Street collapse or terrorist intervention -- society will rot from the inside out, while it all seems “normal.”

Helping us accept the unacceptable will be reality TV – a joke we thought was on other people, but which may mirror more than we want to see.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo