Today’s one-to-one marketing is driven by a business environment that is fast and furious, which means the only term is the near-term. This has resulted in a planning cycle that has been shrinking from annual to quarterly, even monthly. Which in turn dictates that an increasing amount of direct marketing is becoming ‘quick and dirty’.

This undercurrent of change is also being driven by the consumer. The ‘new mainstream’ consumers aged under 35 expect marketers to be collaborative and flexible, even reactive to their needs, which further drives our need for a focus on shorter-term planning. They increasingly expect that engagement tactics will be as clever as the experiences in Second Life, as personal as iTunes, as entertaining as YouTube and as honest as a genuine blog.

Direct marketing is a very simple left brain concept, but the irony is our day-to-day world is so complex. So much process. So many channels. So little measurement. Yet what we do actually breaks down into a single, simple truth.

You may feel you want to fight the next bit; actually you need to fight it, to challenge it in your own minds – but it will remain a truth.

The truth is direct marketing has three strategic levers, each of which contributes to revenue growth:

  • acquire new customers
  • increase the frequency of purchase of your product by existing customers, and
  • increase the value of each transaction with existing customers.

If you can get your head around this, it is liberating, as the strategy is not up for review. You can knuckle down and pick the appropriate permutation of the three levers and then get inventive, even have some fun with your tactics.

I’ve been looking at the communications tactics deployed by direct marketers in 45 countries around the world in my capacity as Caples Awards country chair for Australia. This year’s winners were announced last March. Tactics that in each case delivered good short-term results.

A finger in the air
The first that caught my eye was a campaign from 5FM, South Africa’s leading youth radio station, which needed to lift its stagnant ratings. The question was how to reach a media sceptical audience with an ‘underground’ campaign? It created a three-month unbranded campaign telling the story of a sad and lonely finger on a quest to find friends. The finger character was promoted via email, ambient media, viral, TV and a website that asks you to photograph your own finger character, complete with face and clothes and email the image of your finger as a potential friend for the lonely finger. After three months the campaign was revealed as from 5FM with the strap line “Life’s better with 5”. The site had 110,000 unique visitors and received 26,000 finger image emails. Importantly 14 different ‘finger’ blogs were set up by consumers to discuss, support and add to the concept. These consumer generated blogs were organic and spontaneous, which is a lesson to us all – if you want to tap into blogging as a marketer, don’t be a commercially set-up ‘flog’ – the cynical and clumsy use of blogs to sell stuff. If you have an insightful and engaging master campaign, the blogs will follow without your overt interference.

A lesson from Cyriel
One of the challenges with channel planning is that we tend to think about what we are going to buy from a menu of existing channels rather than what we can create with some lateral thinking. A great illustration of this point comes from Belgium-based-B2B publisher DeTijd. It had a superannuation book to sell, the product being aimed at employees, but purchased by HR managers. The intent of the book was to help employees get their super contributions sorted to avoid being forced to work into their old age. Previous marketing efforts had focused on direct mail to HR manager cold data. DeTijd thought laterally about how to target this group and started to reply to job ads posted on- and offline by companies it wanted to target. It created a fictional character – Cyriel, aged 85, who applied for the jobs – because, as his application explained, he had not planned properly for his retirement. An accompanying leaflet sold the idea of the HR manager buying the book for all employees. The result was a 24 percent increase in sales of the book to HR managers. This is true and creative channel planning.

Makes you think
On a sober note, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) in Malaysia had to highlight the problem of psychological and emotional abuse. The problem that had to be illustrated was that threats, insults and put-downs can be as damaging as physical abuse and can scar a victim for life. The organisation created a large-scale mailing to get recipients to sign a petition against such abuse. Before you open the envelope you are invited to write the most abusive thing you have ever said to someone in a panel on the envelope. Then when you open the piece, carbon paper has replicated your words as scars across the face of a woman. This program led to a 23 percent response rate – double the previous efforts and led to the Malaysian Government giving WAO a grant for the first time.

A warm and fuzzy feeling
British banking customers divorce more readily than they switch banks – this is the problem facing First Direct Bank in the UK, which, being a newish bank, relies on ‘switchers’. In order to give cold prospects a ‘warm fuzzy feeling’ First Direct sent its own version of the children’s toy, Fuzzy Felt and asked the question, “Does your bank give you that warm fuzzy feeling?” The pack contained a brochure, a new account application form and a reply envelope. This tactic delivered a response rate 350 percent more than the control pack and at a lower cost per customer despite the high production costs of the mail piece.

There was a time that tactical thinking was frowned upon in marketing circles. The fact is that the world in which we operate will increasingly focus on the short-term and the long-term plan as we know it will cease to exist. So now is the time to build a planning environment that delivers response even when your tactics are quick and dirty.