The Dazzling New Generation of Direct Marketers

I have been in direct marketing for more than 50 years. During that period, I have participated in dozens of marketing conferences all over the world and been a presenter at many of them. In early June 2014, I went to New York’s Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street for Integrated Marketing Week 2014. At the entrance to the exhibit hall, I picked up a Show Guide and went to the Target Marketing Booth to decide which sessions to attend.

I have been in direct marketing for more than 50 years.

During that period, I have participated in dozens of marketing conferences all over the world and been a presenter at many of them.

In early June 2014, I went to New York’s Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street for Integrated Marketing Week 2014. At the entrance to the exhibit hall, I picked up a Show Guide and went to the Target Marketing Booth to decide which sessions to attend.

Reading through the descriptions of the various presentations, it became evident the new technology has left me in the starting gate.

I am no longer relevant.

These new marketers know so much more than I ever knew; I have no way of ever catching up.

Two samples from the session descriptions:

Hear from a senior level Farmer’s Insurance marketing executive about their journey, significantly lifting web and local office traffic, while improving engagement and conversion, through an integrated digital marketing approach centered in strong audience understanding and content strategy guiding execution of organic and local search, social and content marketing. Learn how a mix of internal teams and agency partnerships help the firm innovate to maximize brand awareness and grow the customer base.

Meet the Affinity LoopTMa foundation for journey-based experience design. In this session, we’ll share the findings of the first annual CXM Study, designed to diagnose the points of pain, influence and apathy in the intersecting path to purchase and ownership lifecycle that comprise the customer journey. We’ll examine how journeys are similar and vary across industries, and reveal some quantified opportunities for customer-focused brands to elicit the emotional loyalty and irrational brand preference that result from a more connected and meaningful experience in the moments that matter most.

I dropped in on a number sessions. As an old-time junk mailer with off-the-page copywriting and design experience, here is what hit me:

  • The PowerPoint presentations on many screens were covered with flow charts and graphs in mouse-type so small I could not read it, even though I sat up front.
  • Occasionally a presenter would helpfully recite what was on the screen.
  • I guessed others in the audience knew all these images and data cold and they were up there simply as decoration or as reminders.
  • My sad, simplistic 20th century experience is useless in this 21st century era of whiz-bang data-driven marketing.
  • The fast-talking young marketers delivered messages with great enthusiasm, intensity and content. Unfortunately I do not have any advanced academic degrees. All the presentations went way over my head, making as much sense to me as Sid Caesar and Durwood Fincher.
  • Nobody talked about old, boring stuff that no longer matters: “offers,” “lists,” “orders,” “guarantee,” “price testing,” “customer satisfaction,” “direct mail,” “profit margins” or “allowable order cost.”
  • Rather, this was two days of amazing discoveries in the worlds of Big Data and social media. For example:

When it comes to data’s role in the creative process, we tend to prefer Merlin to Mathmen and Mathwomen. While it may not be the “new creative,” data, and the scientists who mine it can uncover big ideas and continually assist in the building of the creative story for deeper relevance and bigger business results. The fear that numbers will be used to kill a creative idea is alleviated by the dynamism of today’s continuous and multidimensional data that offers insights to inspire and evolve creative innovations. More importantly, this data gives objective decision support that presents a truer reflection of the consumer’s journey and potential response. The future of our industry will depend on the synergy of data analytics and creative, and the fact that numbers and great creative can not only coexist, but also co-create.

What stuck in my brain was a PowerPoint slide with photograph of a CEO.

Underneath the portrait was the text of his overarching corporate philosophy, which the presenter reverentially read in a voice reminiscent of The Sermon on the Mount:

While some may see e-commerce as a straightforward vending machine-like experience, we believe it is a living process where both retailers and consumers can communicate, discover, and curate to make the experience more entertaining.

Integrated Marketing Week 2014 was produced by The Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

Be sure to click on the image in the media player at right to see the DMA house ad on page 3 of the Show Guide.

Clearly the headline applies to me.

A Geezer’s Takeaways for New Marketers to Reject

  • “Your job is to sell, not entertain.” —Jack Maxson
  • “I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information.” —David Ogilvy
  • “I don’t want a relationship with the guy who sells me aspirin. I just want my headache cured.” —Emily Soell
  • “Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” —Edward Tufte
  • Obey the 10-20-30 rule of PowerPoint presentations:
    —No more than 10 slides
    —No longer than 20 minutes
    —No type smaller than 30 point
  • Even my 20th century English no longer applies. For example, I once learned “datum” is one and “data” are more than one.
  • It was not a lot of fun discovering I am vestigial.

Denny Hatch‘s new book is “Write Everything Right!” Drayton Bird writes, “Full of good, often unexpected stuff—like how to launch a book; Obama’s press releases; why not to use asterisks; when to write a headline; the difference between “think” and “thought”; six Wall Street Journal headlines (and why they are lousy); how to detect copyright infringement.Click here to download (opens as a PDF) and read the first three chapters FREE. The title is also available on Kindle. Reach him at dennyhatch@yahoo.com.

Author: Denny Hatch

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

15 thoughts on “The Dazzling New Generation of Direct Marketers”

  1. I do share your agony (as well as your age) Denny.

    It is not that we are old schooled and they are either new or non-schooled. It is that these youngsters probably have never had to meet a payroll or had enough time away from Facebook and Twitter to quietly and thoughtfully consider what they are or should be doing.

    If they knew this old bit of data on the reality of the business process, they might be better focussed on reality and not jargon:

    There has to be more money coming in than is going out.
    If there is more money going out than coming in, you have two choices:
    Increase the amount of money coming in so it exceeds the amount going out or,
    Decrease the amount going out so it is exceeded by the amount coming in.

    Everything else is bullshit no matter how many high tech words it is wrapped in.

    Perhaps this ought to be the mission for the next conference, especially one sponsored by the DMA.

  2. If I may say so, I too, feel part of the "lost generation" of direct marketing buffs having spent 50 years in the business and now feeling like a fish out of water. Denny, you have often mentioned in your columns that human nature doesn’t change and the same tricks that worked in 1964 will work just as well in 2014. The medium has changed and become more flexible and interesting but we’re all still eating, sleeping, drinking, shagging and buying products! These techies shouldn’t forget that it’s still the attention grabbing headline and the ‘only a lunatic would say no’ offer that will bring in the cash. I wouldn’t trust any of the characters you describe at this event to come up with a really insightful sales proposition. Playing around with social media doesn’t require the genius that Gene Schwartz or Joseph Sugarman put into their businesses. In fact, it would be fun to challenge one of these cyber techies to a dual. Set up an ecommerce website ‘our way’ and ‘their way’ and see who wins. I know where my money would be.
    Yours,
    Anthony

  3. Brian Kurtz says it best: direct mail marketers know tons more than new age marketers, because direct mail costs money, and money is the best teacher — the campaign must work or you lose your shirt and maybe your job….not so with social.

  4. Denny,

    Do not be depressed for too long. Why you may ask? Because at the end of the day, without a "List", they will have no one to send their communications to, with out an "Offer" there is no opportunity for conversion, and without "Profit Margins" they will be out of business soon. (remember the "dot com" bubble – happened about the time most of the presenters were probably in Kindergarten…)

    Having analyzed both datum and data… I can tell you that "Old School" is not old and this it is still highly relevant – but often ignored. It works across the offline and online world.

    The part of the equation that is forgotten far too often is that we are still communicating with PEOPLE (humans…) and the basic rules still apply. How they consume the message is changing, but Maslow’s hierarchy is alive and well…..

    So, Denny, I would love to have you on my team. We would absolutely crush it.

  5. Denny,

    I take it that your tongue was lodged firmly in your cheek when you wrote this piece. The minute I see the word "curate" applied to anything other than a museum featuring dead creatures and dead artists, my radar warning lights begin flashing furiously. And I know for sure that the speaker, or writer, has something to hide when he spews out prose like the italicized stuff you quoted, for example, "The fear that numbers will be used to kill a creative idea is alleviated by the dynamism of today’s continuous and multidimensional data that offers insights to inspire and evolve creative innovations. More importantly, this data gives objective decision support that presents a truer reflection of the consumer’s journey and potential response. The future of our industry will depend on the synergy of data analytics and creative, and the fact that numbers and great creative can not only coexist, but also co-create."

    Usually obfuscatory language is a smokescreen to disguise a situation that Gertrude Stein described as, "There is no there there." Of course, if the presenter had simply said, "Sometimes numbers help copywriters understand consumer behavior and write accordingly," the new technology doesn’t sound so new. Or so impressive.

    Bah!

  6. The real issue is that the "New" direct marketers never learned the basics. Their programs just completely miss the objective. Dick Benson and Bob Stone are stunned at what has happened. Offers, lists, new products are extremely important. Data and datum are just numbers for reference. Very sad to see all this happen.

  7. Feel old Denny? Wait until you’re presence is requested in a strategy session because you bring a "historical DM perspective".

    – a 30 year veteran DMer

  8. The two session descriptions were obviuosly written by someone other than a copywriter. What a bunch of highfalutin, self-impressive-sounding gobbledygook.

  9. To modify a classic: If you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle them with buzzwords.

    As a copywriter I certainly use data to "co-create" but marketers often lose sight of good, basic direct marketing common sense because they are dazzled with the latest predictive analytics tech. I worked on a project for a client who had invested in a custom model. Definitely a good tactic as part of their strategy. They wanted me to write copy that addressed all of the behavioral characteristics that the model suggested about the consumers. While I was sympathetic to their desire to use all of this data in the creative, it simply didn’t make sense for a lot of the characteristics. I wrote the copy and let them know the reasons why I didn’t include everything (mainly because it either distracted from the main benefits or appeared ridiculous). They rewrote the copy to include these other data points, apparently to get the most out of their analytics investment. Never did find out how the campaign performed. So much for the future of direct marketing to have data and creative "co-create."

  10. Denny,Peggy,

    I thank you for your articulate description of IMW that i too was wowed.

    I gave good speech on the next wave outlining in short… what do we the brand really stand for into the future. .

    This said, please do not dismiss the fact that although the tools have changed, the art of Brand and Direct coming together to build brand and demand is most real.

    What you are seeing..feeling is the new tools. As one 35 year old said to me last year,"we may know how to spin the tools", you know the" why."
    Lets go deeper as we move into this decade for the true value add and please, do not be intimidated by the" what" Your magazine gets this if but only you alter your voice and messaging platform.
    Thank you so much for staying current.
    Your colleague,

    Richard Rosen

  11. All those "highfalutin" words, put into action by highfalutin individuals. I’m willing to bet they still don’t have a way to directly gauge it’s worth or effectiveness.

    Human beings are inherently traders. It has been this way since the dawn of human time. Business transactions, relationships, marriages – best effort for best effort – value for value. MasterCard, PayPal, electronic check are merely tools to gauge each effort. Everything else is fluff. Some useful – some not.

    I gain more from a chapter of Write Everything Right (Thank You Denny) within the luxury of my own four walls.

  12. I too am a geezer who started out in … ahem … mail order. But I have been fortunate over the past decade to work with a new generation of online direct marketers very different than the ones you describe. These are men and women who relentlessly optimize every step of the conversion process so as not to lose a single order. They test strategic copy platforms and small copy lines, major design changes and small tweaks to colors and layout. Optimize, optimize, optimize. These direct marketers are harder-core and more tenacious than almost anyone I ever worked with at the big mail-driven direct marketing companies and agencies during the first three-quarters of my career. They may not be giving presentations at conventions but — trust me, Den — they are out there in the back-biting trenches, and their abilities are formidable.

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