Experienced direct mail professionals should make great internet marketers

Direct mailI went to see a good friend participate as a panelist at a local direct marketing association HVDMA business lunch today. I was a member of the association for a number of years and generally enjoyed seeing and talking with my fellow direct marketing professionals most of whom specialized or still specialize in direct mail. I was reminded that at times people use the terms direct mail and direct marketing interchangeably. Let me make it clear that for the purposes of this lost direct mail is mail. This means anything picked up, or dropped off and then mailed by the USPS or some other provider like Fedex, UPS, DHL, that might arrive in your mailbox. Everything else that constitutes direct marketing is non-mail.

Having plied my trade for more than twenty years in direct marketing (many years primarily via direct mail) I want to make this clear. I LOVE direct marketing. Yet I rarely do any work in direct mail and so far in 2015 I haven’t had the opportunity to employ direct mail for any of our client’s campaigns.

Many of the professionals I saw at the event today are longtime experts in direct mail. I find that these pros while often sporting some grey hair, have by osmosis a deep and thorough understanding of internet marketing. Yet in many cases they continue to work in direct mail since apparently it’s in that area that opportunities are most prevalent for them. It’s not that they are uninterested in search, display, content, native, and social media marketing.

The best digital marketers as I’ve said before, are the best direct marketers. If you found yourself nodding and thinking ‘well that’s obvious’ you’d be surprised how many people miss that point – both on the provider side as well as the client side. The buzzword and acronyms associated with digital marketing can be a bit intimidating. Terms such as DSP, DMP, MSP, SSP and RTB (to note just a few) can make older eyes roll back in their heads. I know how this feels. Yet to have all that talent and experience on the sidelines because of a lack of deep understanding and recent experience in new channels and techniques is such a waste.

Whether companies are in start-up mode (as most are) or around for awhile but in the process of adapting to the rapidly changing e-commerce marketing landscape, consider talking to and working with a direct marketing and even a direct mail expert. Great direct marketers are almost always at ease with math. Why? Because they, (as my partner Nader says), “measure the snot out of everything”. And he’s 100% correct.

What I’ve found in my process of focusing on digital marketing (as direct marketing), is that I regularly employ almost all of the techniques I’ve learned along my path from direct mail.

In return for receiving my endorsement of direct mail professionals, I ask that as a group the question of ‘is direct mail dead’ be dead itself. Direct mail is not coming back to what it once was ever again. Ever. I do like to think that marketing professionals will continue to employ direct mail in appropriate circumstances (I still love the smell of ink on paper as old habits die hard) particularly for B-to-B efforts as well as more expensive consumer products (and those with higher LTV’s). There will be some to point out that overall direct mail is growing year over year as did Bruce Biegel of Winterberry in his annual remarks to the DMCNY this past January. But keep in mind that postage continues to rise and there are more people in the United States every year. The days of mass mailings are long since past. Let your guide be the shrinking amount of printers, mailing houses, direct mail list and other service providers as to whether direct mail is somehow going have some sort of renaissance.

Not every business is constructed with the principles of direct marketing at its core. But with so many companies involved or becoming involved in e-commerce it makes good sense to talk with experienced professionals who have a deep understanding of direct marketing.

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Non-drivers commuting time activities have changed the game

smartphone-and-tabletStories in both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal this week focused on the time Americans take to commute to and from their jobs. In the New York City area a story in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the need for upgrading the Port Authority Bus terminal given that there are more than 6,500 buses each day now going in and out of the facility.

From an article in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal ‘

In 2003, 6,556 buses carrying 133,835 riders came through the Lincoln Tunnel on the average weekday nearly all of them heading to the terminal, according to the RPA.

More than a decade later, ridership was up about 30%, according to the RPA. In 2013, there were 6,905 buses carrying 174,396 riders over the same route on an average day.

The Port Authority expects the terminal’s rush-hour passenger traffic to grow by as much as 51% by 2040.’

More people are commuting than ever before in New York and other large American cities. There are a number of reasons for this but chiefly the reason is that housing affordability is directly correlated to the distance from the city in which you work. The further away you live the more affordable it is to rent or buy a house or apartment.

Commuting in 2015 is vastly different than it was in 2005 before the iPhone and other smartphones became ubiquitous. As recently as 1995 what you did while you were commuting by bus, train, or carpool was much like it was in 1975, or 1955. You chatted with your fellow commuters, read newspapers, magazines, books, or slept. Some people played cards. A few still do.

The top three things people do while commuting – at least as I have observed repeatedly are:

#1 Stare at their smartphone

#2 Read on their tablet

#3 Sleep and listen to music or whatever since I can’t hear it but many have earphones

I notice that fewer people than ever before read actual newspapers or books.. Trains and buses are much quieter than ever before since a majority of the people are involved with their technology often to the exclusion of what else is going on around them.

Commuting time has also become productive time (if desired as I acknowledge that some people are not interested in being productive while commuting). More significantly people today are able to do many of the same things they do at home while on the move. That’s a huge game changer. 

If these trends are not making you even more certain that location based mobile messaging and advertising are ever more relevant marketing actions then you may not have a long career in advertising. In baseball they say ‘hit ‘em where they ain’t’. When it comes to marketing and growing sales it’s ‘hit ‘em where they are’.  

Commuters might be served location-based offers on their mobile devices for things that are relevant to the lives of commuters. Offers for cultural events, restaurants, shopping and sporting events anywhere along the commuter line. After all they are ‘there’ twice a day on the commute back and forth. It makes sense to target people who already have experience in traveling to or through your location.  People will tell you they don’t want ads but everyone wants an option on a good deal.  

The bottom line is that commuting by public transportation is the least boring it’s ever been before. What do you do while you commute?

Posted in Best business practices, Living in the World Today, Location based marketing, Targeting, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Is your brand right for ABC’s Shark Tank?

episode-621Working with start-up companies is intense as the stakes are high and often the fees are low.  It’s something I and our team have a great deal of experience with and no two start-ups have ever been remotely alike in the way they operate.

One of our clients is theaquavault.com so I will take the hits if this post is seen a shameless plug.  This Friday night March 13 at 9PM AquaVault will appear on ABC’s Shark Tank.  The AquaVault founders Avin, Jonathan, and Rob, will stand up in front of Sharks Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Grenier, and Robert Herjavec. The efforts up until now have been on the B-to-B side with hotels buying AquaVault’s and then renting them to their guests.  There have been many individual website sales but the founders felt the opportunity to be on Shark Tank was too good to pass on.  Is it the right thing for AquaVault?

In truth an appearance on Shark Tank was not among the primary things we were focused on in helping AquaVauit grow their company and at the same time maintain the high brand standards we’ve all agreed upon.  Personally I find Shark Tank to be entertaining if not overly theatrical.  Which makes sense since after all it’s a television show designed to achieve the highest ratings possible.

But is it a good idea for your start-up brand? If you ascribe to the old adage any publicity is a good thing then it’s a no-brainer. Keep in mind that many companies audition for Shark Tank and very few make it onto the air.  The personalities of the pitchers become as important (if not more so) than the product.  I’ve talked with many people about it and found that viewers of Shark Tank are passionate and dedicated – meaning they watch almost every week.

We questioned if an appearance on Shark Tank for AquaVault could in any way damage the brand’s reputation with higher end hotels that rent the units to their guests.  This was a primary reason why it was not a formative strategy. Now that it is in the can and ready for airing, we could not be happier or more excited.

The way I see it is most start-ups would benefit from appearing on Shark Tank and we are thrilled that AquaVault will appear tomorrow night.

Do you have a product that could benefit from being on Shark Tank?  Under what other conditions might such an appearance be detrimental?  Are there any?

Posted in Advertising, Brand Advertising, Innovation, Marketing stuff, Reality Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t think millennials watch TV commercials? Think again

tv-and-textingAre millennials watching television commercials?  My informal survey of millennials (a small sample of less than 10) provided a takeaway that millennials DO watch television commercials.  Sort of.  As we know millennials are the ultimate mult-taskers.  Texting, tweeting, and many other social networking platforms are engaged during the commercials and from what I was able to determine, millennials actually welcomed the interruption as an opportunity to catch up on being thoroughly interconnected.

For so many brands television advertising still delivers broad reach and (mostly formerly) the ability to time the deployment of marketing messages at specific times. I note formerly since with DVR’s and subscription channels so many viewers can choose to watch what they want when they want.  And as we know, viewers can fast forward through many of the commercials (although C3 and C7 agreements have resulted in fast forward being disabled during the seven day period after the broadcast).  Not to mention that viewers can often watch shows without commercials at all.

In the context of how millennials behave I came to the following very surprising conclusion:

When viewing movies or programs that they had seen before, or were only mildly interested in, television commercials made for a lower-key, less intensive viewing experience. In fact since we are talking mostly about re-runs, television commercials offer content that millennial viewers may not have seen before.  I.e. commercials can actually get more attention than the program itself. 

Should it really be so surprising?  No, certainly not on behalf of the generation that grew up with Hey Arnold, Rugrats, and Power Rangers. They’ve been watching television and television commercials their entire lives.  Perhaps Generation Z (beginning born five years either before or after 2000 as there’s no agreement on this) will fit the profile of serial (or cereal) television commercial avoiders.  But from what I am learning apparently not millennials. 

Most television viewers will probably tell you that they’d prefer not to watch commercials at all.  That does not mean they aren’t willing to watch commercials in lieu of paying to watch a particular program.  We all have our price.  It just depends on the individual.

So what about millennials?  Millennials can be anywhere from early 1980’s to the early 2000’s). With their mastery of viewing technology alternatives, if you are like me you think ‘who’s better at avoiding the watching of commercials?’  There’s a mound of statistical evidence to support the concept.  Or is there?  An article from Statista.com noted that millennials who watch television either online or on a television 55% watch 4 or more hours per day, 32% watch up to four hours per day, and only 13% watch no television on a television per day.  So millennials are watching television after all.  But an article from the New York Times from November posited that millennials don’t necessarily desire what we consider traditional televisions.

Think about that as you consider how to reach this highly desirable demographic group.  Millennials are watching.

Posted in Advertising, Advertising to Millenials, Consumer Behavior, Television advertising | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NY Health Insurer Oscar wants to get in your shorts

oscaroscar_flash1-e1418082788438I don’t live in New York State and as such am not able to consider Oscar as our health insurance company, but I’ve watched the development of this interesting web-based insurance company.  An article in Fortune Magazine this past December offered some interesting background on the company as well as the way it conducts its business.

Without a doubt when it comes to marketing Oscar is cheeky to say the least.  There have been ads for Oscar on the NYC subway promising “Health insurance that won’t make your head explode.” …. and if it does, you’re covered.  Ha-ha.  But to me from the start the concept behind Oscar – simple, straightforward, focusing on wellness, less expensive, was reason to be interested.  But as they say in the NFL – ‘After further review’ …I’ve become less enthused.

Perhaps it was the radio spot I heard today (I had not seen this offer earlier) that Oscar is giving members $1 for each day they walk a targeted number of steps, as measured by a free wearable fitness tracking device made by Misfit Wearables. Oscar will pay the rewards in the form of a $20 Amazon gift card.  Sounds good right?

Wait a second.  Let’s make sure we know what’s going on here. For $20/month, (which is somehow less than the aforementioned $1/day – unless Oscar months are only 20 days which would be an explanation why prices might be lower if you only covered 20 days out of the month. I’m kidding of course), Oscar will track your movements to ascertain your discount-worthiness.  Even if you are ok with that concept since it is supposedly designed to motivate you to be more ambulatory and active, just exactly what might happen to your data?

Let’s say you then agree with the concept. At $20/month are you selling your data too cheaply?  What are the risks?  We all know data is super-protected right?  Especially when it comes to medical data (just ask Anthem Health). Oscar would surely never sell your data to a third party and that would be covered with terms and conditions.

But what if for some reason, criminal or not, the government decided to subpoena your Oscar data for some reason (that may or may not be disclosed)?  Think about it do you really own that data?  The point that Oscar might use the data to refute a medical insurance claim is mentioned in an article from Gigaom per Oscar CEO Mario Scholsser who noted ‘We are very careful to never use [Misfit health tracking] information internally in any process around determining clinical necessity for certain procedures or authorizing procedures..”  Feel more comfortable now?  I’m glad that Oscar will be careful. That’s far from a guarantee.  Quite far actually.

I’m all for innovation and a champion of doing new things and things differently.  I thought Oscar was on that track but the more I look at it they appear to be a careless healthcare provider.  What do you think?

Posted in Data collection, Healthcare Advertising, Living in the World Today | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Super Bowl XLIX ads that weren’t shown

doritos11q-1-webThe reviews are in regarding the TV spots aired during this past Sunday’s Super Bowl. My partner Nader did a great job reviewing the ads on his blog earlier this week. Before the Super Bowl we marketing people like to preview the ads. I saw nearly all of the ads shown during the telecast before they aired. However not every ad that was previewed actually did air and for a couple of the brands it was a good thing and for one of the brands I wished we had seen them all.

Biggest loser ad that did not run: GEICO ‘Swag’ spot. . Actually created as a NFL playoff spot (one that I never saw and I watched a LOT of NFL playoff football but I guess I just missed it – or ignored it). GEICO has done some terrific advertising over the years and is to be applauded for much of what the company has created in the past. Not this time. I understand that it’s Super Bowl ads are supposed to be original, fun and offbeat, but it’s none of those, simply insulting, and I daresay even racist. The only good thing I can say about it is that GEICO decided to not run it during the Super Bowl.

Second biggest loser ad that did not run – GoDaddy.com.   A parody of the too much-loved Budweiser Puppy and Clydesdale spots (one last year and one this year), GoDaddy is expected to push the environs of bad taste and this spot is no different. Again that it did not run is the best thing GoDaddy could have done. It’s arresting and surprising (many people saw it online before the Super Bowl as there was much discussion in ad circles regarding it), but it also was in very bad taste. Selling puppies to puppy mills is not funny in any way. I was shocked, and then disgusted. That’s the GoDaddy way.

Biggest winner spot that did not air. Doritos. There were actually a number of ads created by non-advertising agencies as part of the ‘Crash The Super Bowl’ contest. I loved the ‘When Pigs Fly’ ad as well as this one that did not air. The best thing about the ads is that they combine fun, irreverence and they put the brand at the center. They all hit the target audience perfectly.

Exciting game, Katy Perry did a good job at halftime for the most part (I like her), and for marketers it was a great day to highlight what can be done both good and bad.

Finally – the whole Roman numeral thing has come full circle as apparently there will not be Super Bowl L next year. It will be Super Bowl 50 so it’s possible that we are done with the Roman numerals at last. By the way this year it could have been Super Bowl IL. But that did not work so they came up with XLIX since the former would look like the Super Bowl was not feeling well. At least that’s the way I see it.


Posted in Advertising, Advertising to Millenials, Brand Advertising, Sports Marketing, Super Bowl Advertising, Television advertising | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Marketing Chinese companies in the U.S. is DOA – dud on arrival


China Internet-ImgBack in 2009 the concept of our assisting Chinese companies that wish to gain customers and brand awareness for their products in the United States marketplace sounded both interesting and possibly fruitful. Longtime readers of this blog may have noticed that I am not posting about our having worked with newer companies since we worked with Alibaba.com and a couple of other lesser known Chinese companies over the past three years.

I have continued my intense study and following of the marketplace in China as well as the entrance of Chinese companies into the United States market. Needless to point out is that the activity that is inbound to China from U.S. and other western countries, is dramatically higher than Chinese companies entrance into the U.S.

I attended an interesting session yesterday presented by the SUNY Manhattan Confucius Institute. The program was moderated by Michael Zakkour of Tompkins International and co-author of the book China’s Super Consumers: What 1 Billion Customers Want and How to Sell it to Them. The featured speaker was Frank Lavin former Undersecretary of International Trade and current CEO and founder of ExportNow.com.   The program was great and interesting. But it was an answer to a question that I asked after the session ended that really opened my eyes.

I asked Mr. Lavin’s associate Jonathan Dillon (in attendance) – Founder and CEO of ad2china – about whether or not he had any experience with or feeling on Chinese companies and helping them market their products in the US. He answered that his company tries to stay away from that entirely. To paraphrase, he felt that Chinese companies are too cheap to invest marketing dollars in the United States when there’s so much opportunity in China itself.

While I had come to the same basic conclusion over the past year or so (having worked on this for about 5 years), it never occurred to me that the idea itself simply might not be a good one – now or possibly for a long time. So now what?   I’ve developed great relationships with people, companies and partners in China. Are we ready to help U.S. based companies make inroads into the incredibly vibrant Chinese marketplace? The marketplace that has 650 million Chinese online which represents only HALF the market? The answer is yes but only because it’s taken almost six years to develop the network to where I feel we truly have competent and trusted partners with boots on the ground in China.

Eventually as Chinese companies mature in their marketing approaches within China, they will in the process become more aware of the marketing investment necessary to make inroads into new markets such as the United States. In the meantime I will do my own ‘pivot’ to Asia and help companies here in the United States explore their opportunities in the Middle Kingdom.

It’s not as farfetched an idea as you might be thinking. Ask me about it. You might be surprised!


























































































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