Direct mail now a teenage rite of passage…

One thing that amazes me in the digital world is the blissful naivety of so many marketers. They assume/believe that because a new technology platform and media channels have been added to the marketing mix, all other proven media channels no longer work.

I was talking with a marketing manager for a large telco who was responsible for selling multi-million dollar telecommunications stuff to large organisations. I was showing her some webkey-in-mail technology that is used successfully around the world by hundreds of brands to generate B2B leads. She said straight-faced “wow, direct mail has never been on my radar“. (She’d only been working in marketing since 2002).

So I pressed delicately, “how do you generate leads for your salesforce?” She answered deadpan, “it’s really difficult because online doesn’t work and nobody wants to do telemarketing, so we struggle.” I looked around for the worm-hole entrance to the parallel universe into which I’d entered and finished the meeting shaking my head. All I could think of was those poor shareholders whose funds were invested in this mob. Yes!

entry into the marketing management parallel universe
entry into the marketing management parallel universe

The same thinking exists in consumer advertising. Last week Westfield announced the were pulling out of Facebook advertising because it doesn’t work. But the marketing manager appeared surprised that the most powerful channel in the retail industry is a magazine or catalogue.

Retail catalogues are over 150 years old. They have been mailed to customers by major retailers since before the word marketing was invented. Amazing – content marketing existed in the 19th century. And this content lead to virtual shopping via the postal system. Here I was thinking it was a digi-idea?

Twenty years ago, my agency established the first custom magazine for TourismNSW. It was a quarterly Bulletin, packed with information and offers for destinations around NSW. We advertised subscriptions in press and via unaddressed postcards delivered en mass into letterboxes. We built a database of hundreds of thousands of customers to whom we mailed the Bulletin.

Tourism NSW

Tourism NSW 2

Tourism NSW 3

We then undertook research to determine where consumers preferred to get information about holidaying in NSW . The Bulletin was by far the preferred media, way ahead of television and other channels (prior to the internet). Even better, it was self-funded by tourism advertisers so cost very little to get to market. The tourism operators loved the Bulletin because it gave them a highly targeted and cost-effective channel in which to advertise.

What do you think marketers do when the research doesn’t tell them what they want to hear? That is, that TV is the best channel. You cancel the magazine and throw away the database. And yet 20 years on, the first call to action on the Visit NSW website is to sign-up to their newsletter. Go figure.

Yesterday in the Sunday papers in Sydney there was a 16-page sponsored insert “Discover The North Island” promoting holidays in the North Island of New Zealand. It is effectively a magazine showcasing holidays using an editorial style, packed with information – just like the Tourism NSW Bulletin and the 19th century mail order catalogues. It was also supported by online advertising, but I’ll bet those interested in a NZ holiday have kept the magazine as a reference guide.

Interestingly we’ve also discovered the role mail is playing in adult teenagers lives. Most digi-experts will tell marketers they have to be online, in social channels, with an App, blah, blah, blah if you want to reach teenagers. And in some ways they are right. Teenagers are massive users of digital technology – though many are getting fed up with commercial messages and advertisements appearing in their social pages.

But the real way to reach an adult teenager and address them respectfully as an individual adult, is via customised direct mail. Teenagers will tell you that they feel treated as just part of the masses when marketers approach them through digital channels. But when they get a personalised mailing that talks to them as an adult – it means the brand recognises they are no longer “mummy’s boy“. Mail carries enormous cache in making teenagers feel like adults – not digi-kids.

teenager reading letter

The body language of a personalised letter from a finance company offering a credit card for example, makes a teenager feel more adult than a promotion on a social media site or in other digital channels. Unfortunately marketers are suffering digi-blindness and don’t realise the power of the established, tactile, engaging and proven channels. “Hello out there, anyone listening to their customers?”

That old adage, “what’s old is new again” comes to mind. We’re making the same mistakes we made decades ago – ignoring what works because we only want to see what suits our personal bias. This is a dangerous way to spend marketing budgets.

I have to buy some wine for a party, where’s that catalogue from the weekend paper?

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