Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dancing with the Girl What Brung You! A Valentine's Day Reminder

For most marketers—and that includes B2B, B2C, B2G and fundraising professionals, and probably you—their First Love was Direct Mail. After all, DM was easy to understand. Write a great package, wrap it in a great design, choose a great list, put it in the mail, then watch the responses pour in.

Like most First Loves, DM is a wonderfully magical mix of mysterious qualities that could turn anyone’s head. DM, after all, combines the best of both art (concise but compelling copy with great graphics) and science (choosing the right list, the right theme and the right time, with statistically provable results).

But unlike many First Loves, DM is understandable…logical…statistically predictable…reliable. And maybe those stolid qualities are DM’s greatest failing, too.

Many people think solid qualities and dependable performance are booooring. They prefer a little spice in their cupcake. That’s why so many women fall for Bad Boys…and why so many men fall for tramps, trollops and floozies.

It may also be why so many marketers are opting to use emails and social media instead of good old reliable DM. The new media are, frankly, glitzier. Solid old DM can’t compete with Flash programming.

The new media are hip; DM is establishment. The new media are funky, fun and often fabulous; DM is, well, dependable.

New media can launch faster, but don’t have the longevity of DM. An email or Tweet can simply go pfft with a single keystroke. It’s gone, vanished. Never remembered, never missed. But DM can stick around for weeks.

Recipients often don’t see the new media. When you are deluged with emails everyday, you have to make snap decisions to keep the inbox clear. “Delete” is a no-regrets decision that you probably make hundreds of times a day. You are not alone.

On the other hand, recipients of DM can’t miss it. It arrives at their preferred address and they have to hold it in their hands before the fateful “keep or toss” decision. DM gives the sender several more critical milliseconds of attention and the value of physical contact—something that new media can never provide.

New media may be faster and cheaper, but it is fraught with peril. There is one company that emails me every day. And every day something is misspelled. It speaks of sloppiness, and inattention to detail. I delete with prejudice.

When was the last time you saw a misspelling in a DM package? Never? Me, too. Because the DM launch process is slower, it is more methodical, more careful. And more people proof it.

Notwithstanding, in this time of economic belt tightening, many marketers have been cutting their budgets. Because new media is cheaper (no postage, right?), DM gets whacked. This past year DM got whacked hard.

The USPS reports that US consumers received 5.2 billion pieces of “junk” (aka unsolicited) mail in the third quarter of 2009—a steep 27% decline from one year earlier when those same consumers received 7.1 billion pieces of “junk” (aka your direct mail catalogs and appeals) mail.

But just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean it’s a better deal.

Yes, new media is cheaper. Postage is a big nut, no doubt about it. But relying solely on new media is proving to be less effective than savvy marketers had hoped it would be. Many have discovered that their post-DM sales are down. Way down. So they are reintroducing DM into their marketing mix and reviving their numbers again.

The trend is so widespread that the venerable Wall Street Journal wrote an article on January 12th about marketers who are going back to DM—because it produces the results that the new media can’t.

Unlike days of old when postage was cheap and marketers could shotgun messages all over the place, this new, more cautious breed of marketer is using a laser beam focus. They are mailing their own client base. They are mailing a small list of pre-qualified prospects. They are using creative, personalized packages. And they are getting results.

The USPS numbers may never see the return of their glory days, but if marketers can get the results they need by marketing—and mailing—more strategically, then it’s a win.

Having spurned their First Love in favor of the flashier new media, these marketing pros are going back to their solid, reliable First Love to produce the solid, reliable, dependable results they need.

It proves the old adage once again: Dance with the Girl What Brung You.

Please save the last dance for me.

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