Is Quality, Sustainable Marketing the Key, or Is Bigger Better?

We are certainly increasingly “digitally distracted.” How can we not be, with a smartphone in hand, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the toxic Twitter — binging and buzzing with notifications of everything from “the boss wants you in his office right now” to Aunt Mary reminding you of her birthday?

Is bigger better?

That’s a question being asked a lot lately; not only by marketers, but in almost every sphere of our existence.

“In a digitally distracted mediascape of fragmented attention — engagement is the name of the game for publishers now. Whether it is deepening direct connections to consumers, delivering real impact for advertisers, or building trust in your brand — quality matters now more than quantity.” Or so proclaims MediaPost.

There is a plentiful cornucopia for thought in that well-crafted come-on.

We are certainly increasingly “digitally distracted.” How can we not be, with a smartphone in hand, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the toxic Twitter — binging and buzzing with notifications of everything from “the boss wants you in his office right now” to Aunt Mary reminding you of her birthday? There are endless and equally compelling “bits and bobs,” all demanding attention, preferably immediately or ASAP.

There certainly ought to be an app — there probably is one or more that I don’t know about — which sorts through all that incoming traffic, assigns each a priority — based on some measure of quality — and only passes on the ones that matter. The app would pass on the ones which make my digital distraction worthwhile, the ones that truly engage. It may seem simplistic, but perhaps there is a good reason people get engaged before they get married.

But could an app be clever enough to identify quality, or even define it? Quality definitely has something magical about it, the same ephemeral, but indescribable quality which inspired Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s memorable definition of hardcore pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

Some years ago, at a ceremony thanking an American Ambassador for her support of a local NGO, she was presented with “a small gift.” Looking at the little blue box, the Ambassador smiled, thanked the giver and exclaimed: “You men really don’t understand. There is no such thing as a small gift from Tiffany.” She was instinctively crafting what could have been a great slogan for the store: It’s not the size, it’s the Tiffany that counts.

Since forever, commerce has been driven more by growth than quality. How few have been the examples of CEOs’ quarterly statements praising the company’s reducing revenue, even when accompanied by increased profits. It certainly goes against our capitalist cultural mainstream. “But will it scale,” ask the moneybags in evaluating whether the newest idea will become a unicorn? Perhaps something really is changing which will deliver the ability to “engage” to the forefront, rather than simply being able to “attract.” Then the unicorns of tomorrow may no longer be measured just by size.

We all know that almost any amount of attraction is for sale at so-much-per-thousand. Simply by spending more and more on marketing, we can even become household names. If there has ever been a particularly obscene example of this, one need look no further than the mega billions being spent on the 2020 U.S. election campaigns. In an age of “fake” news, will all of this expensive attraction be the best investment politicians can make in suspending voter disbelief and establishing a meaningful engagement with voters? How much of that spend will promote the truth and how much believed? Will the engagement be strong enough to be sure the prospect will vote the “right” way, whichever way that is?

Like what is in the Tiffany box, one of the rarest of gems existent today is the truth.

In a thoughtful column here a week or so ago, provocatively headlined: ‘The Truth Is, There Is No Truth — Let Alone in Advertising,’ Jeanette McMurtry wrote:

One thing we marketers need to also face is the how the “truth” we are putting out there is being received …

If anything has come out of the “fake” news movement, it’s that we are learning not to believe hype and claims that can’t be substantiated …

Marketers can overcome this jaded vision of the world and brands in business today by addressing truth firsthand. You can do this by creating more interaction between your brand and consumers online and in the real world. Let customers experience what you are all about — your products, your persona, your values — more than reading your carefully crafted statements.

Despite existing technology that lets us truly interact one-to-one from great distances, something still seems to be missing. It’s the magic piece of the puzzle that moves us from attraction to engagement, that wants us to comfortably spend time together. That “something” may be the “quality” of truth, in its broadest sense.

If quality and truth are not synonymous, they are at least comfortable bedfellows. As Jeanette says, the truth about “your products, your persona, your values” is much more likely, in these changing times, to lead to the kind of engagement which will generate better (although perhaps not bigger) profits.

If we look around us, sprouting like spring flowers are small, specialized retailers and e-tailers, none of which is ever likely to rival Amazon or Walmart in size. But they’re much more likely to establish that magic sense of engagement, which comes not only from being able to parse all the data out there; but, far more importantly, to fashion enduring customer relationships grounded on a firm foundation of truth.

Why C-Suites Are Agonizing Over the Death of Email

The higher on the corporate totem pole the executive who leaped to a premature conclusion of email’s demise, the less likely he or she is to have the time and patience to carefully drill down into the data.

There is no question that many of the fat cats inhabiting C-suites today are nervously scratching their heads and trying to conjure up strategies to protect their empires against the possibility of an economic downturn. The barbarians are not yet at the elevators; but with all the changes happening in the marketplace and Cassandra predictions that the happy days of the strong economy are coming to an end, probably sooner rather than later, the day of reckoning may not be too far off.

It is probably a good time to start worrying — if not a bit late. While the macro data and quarterly earnings calls — which always seem to be the focus of our corporate leaders — are clearly important, they often reflect superficial understanding of what’s really going on. Or the micro profit dynamics that fuel their businesses.

“I´m afraid that email is already a dead platform” complained a senior executive, having seen her company’s latest dashboard — showing a pronounced decrease in the number of responses, compared to the previous years. The conclusion: “Nobody reads emails anymore.”

That’s what we used to call, in less politically correct times, “mother-in-law research.” Suffice it to say that, on the basis of available information, the paraphrase of Mark Twain’s classic remark when he read his own obituary in the newspaper is appropriate here:

“The reports of my death (or in this case, the death of email) are greatly exaggerated.” That doesn’t mean it’s as healthy as it might be, but it may be a little early to call the undertaker.

Rodrigo Mesquita, of Return Path, a company that has an admitted preference for email as a medium, likes to quote the initial paragraph of his company’s useful study, “The State of Email”:

“Studies show that a vast majority of consumers prefer email for brand communications, and current projections indicate that by 2021, there will be more than 4.1 billion email users, worldwide.”

The trouble is that the higher on the corporate totem pole the executive who leaped to a premature conclusion of email’s demise, the less likely he or she is to have the time and patience to carefully drill down into the data and discover such critical factors as its overuse, its increasingly dirty data, or sub-optimal delivery rates — to say nothing of the creative quality of the communications.

What is more likely is an edict issued from on high, cutting the very resources that could make the email regain its place as the least expensive medium per thousand with the greatest reach and the ability for personalization, known to be a critically important element of today’s marketing and the medium with the highest ROMI (the M is for “Marketing) and the least up-front cash investment. But that’s a level of detail that seldom makes it up the last flight of steps to the C-suite. It’s too micro for management attention.

Haven’t we all seen it happen dozens of times?

Who is easier to blame for the figures that don’t come up to budget than the marketing team?

It is well-known that as public corporations look toward the end of any given calendar quarter and the estimated profit figure looks below forecast, the easiest way of instantly cutting significant expense is to cancel a large chunk of the current marketing budget. As costs come instantly down, the other end of this seesaw, profits, rise magically up. And does it really matter to the company’s success in the long run? There have been lots of learned MBA thesis on this subject, but no one is certain.

What is certain is the tendency of many companies to still view marketing as an “overhead.” The useful publication, Digiday, recently headlined an intriguing piece: “ ‘Overhead’: Why marketing is still seen as a cost-center,” which looks at some of the reasons why marketing often gets the blame when things go wrong.

Despite chief marketing officers making the case for how important marketing is to an overall business, marketing’s reputation as a “cost center,” versus one that actually drives profits, is hard to shake off …

Reducing marketing overhead became the standard approach for troubled brands following the 2008 recession. Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and General Mills, among others, cut their marketing spend, slashed their agency rosters and gave procurement departments much more power putting cost above all else. [My bolding.] That approach hasn’t always proved successful — look at what cost-cutting has done to Sears or Kraft-Heinz — but it hasn’t dissuaded the C-suite from slicing and dicing marketing.

Are companies going to be any smarter the next time? Your guess is as good as mine.


Until the C-suite executives stop “putting cost above all else and do the work of truly understanding how, in today’s increasingly B2C environment, marketing is the only bridge between the business and its customer, they are often falling into the water. Bean counters in the procurement departments are trained to buy as cheaply as possible. Not understanding the economic process that is data-driven marketing, their knee-jerk reaction is to cut expenses. Those cuts are often counter-productive. Procurement can always save a bundle getting the order to the customer in a week rather than the same day. And what’s all this wasted expense for CRM actions?

“Overhead” need not be a dirty word; especially when the majority of what is often labelled “overhead” is often the cost of the fuel which powers the total sales process.

Simplistic as it may sound; the bottom line should always be “the bottom line.” Before discarding an effective medium like email or decimating an effective marketing program by mislabeling it “overhead,” C-suite executives might do well to look carefully at the micro issues — what actually happens with each customer — instead of only at the big numbers.

It might be worth knowing that according to the Wall Street Journal, “Average Tenure of CMO Slips to 43 Months.”


If you crave success and justified adulation, glory may be waiting for you at

As data and AI increasingly drive our industry and there is increased focus on the bottom line, I’ve developed a special respect for the International ECHO Awards. They were born in the United States 80 years ago and are now also present in Latin America and Brazil.

We all know there are many advertising awards, wonderful for our egos and our CVs when we win one. The best known is the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Cannes celebrates creativity, while paying lip service to strategy and measurable results. That’s great, as far as it goes.

But as you know, our targeted business has other dimensions that deserve to be acknowledged and rewarded. That’s the purpose of the International ECHO Awards, the only ones that consistently rate campaigns on the three pillars of Strategy, Creative and Res,ults, giving equal weight to each of these components. The type of results ECHO measures are business results, the bottom line.

Entries are open through Aug. 27. Get all of the details at

What Are Customers Really Worth? Turning the ‘Customer Data’ Concept Into Something Meaningful

What’s the value of customer data? What is its value to our political aspirants, a value measured by many different and often conflicting metrics, not least of which is the power of the elected to change society for better or worse? And often, sadly, as we increasingly see around us, for personal economic gain?

The headline, “Legislation Would Force Google, Facebook to Report Value of Customer Data to SEC,” in the Media Daily News got this maverick marketer wondering just what kind of a gargantuan task it would be to try and determine the value of customer data.

Imagine what you would do if some legislation or only your boss asked you to put a rational price tag on the data in your company’s possession? The easy way, if you are a direct-to-consumer marketer, might be to add to your total year’s profit, a factor for the likely future profit contribution driven by your knowledge or assumption of the lifetime value of your customer base. Or you could offload the task to your bean counters and let them have a field day playing with the numbers, instead of doing something more useful.”

Searching for what the British call a “bargain,” or the price at which a willing buyer buys and a willing seller sells, can be said to establish real value. The traditional way of determining a bargain for the acquisition of a data-driven marketing business is to pay a negotiated multiple of the number of customers, times the best guess of discounted future revenue from these customers. From there on, it’s horse trading. The fact is, we all may have ideas (usually over-optimistic) about data value, but few if any of us know for sure what it is. And today’s “bargain” may not seem so attractive a couple of years down the road.

That’s why you have to wonder if the financing of our political election system has gone completely off the rails. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Political Ad Spending Will Approach $10 Billion in 2020.” That’s an increase of almost 14% over the last time, which is far greater than the population increase during the same period.

Political ad spending will total $9.9 billion in 2020, according to the latest U.S. advertising forecast from WPP PLC’s ad-buying unit GroupM. That would be up from $8.7 billion in 2018, when midterm congressional elections were held, and from $6.3 billion in 2016, when President Trump was elected.

The growth between presidential campaign years is accelerating. Political ad spending rose by $2 billion between 2012 and 2016, according to GroupM, and by $1.1 billion between 2008 and 2012.

If we look at this against the number of likely voters, we can estimate the spend for each one. The Census Bureau estimated that there were 245.5 million Americans ages 18 and older in November 2016, about 157.6 million of whom reported being registered to vote. Historically, about 60% of those eligible to vote actually show up to do their democratic duty in a presidential election. This means that the actual number expected to be voting is 94.5 million.

If the political marketers were able to target only those 60%, the cost per voter would be $38.07. Because that kind of tight targeting of marketing spend is almost certainly impossible, and we spread the total spend against all the 157.6 million registered voters, the cost per voter is only $27.86.

A maverick marketer’s fantasy view is that it might be more cost-effective to use the $27.86 just to buy those voters not already committed to one party or candidate or the other, just as long as you could determine who they were.

Only $27.86 or $38.07 per prospect? That’s more than consumer goods and services advertisers spend in a year, a lot more. Proctor & Gamble, one of the largest FMCG companies spent $4.39 billion last year ($13.43 for each member of the population) or less than half the estimated cost per voter, and AT&T spent $3.52 billion.

What does this tell us about the value of customer data? (Or, in this case, potential voter data?) What is its value to our political aspirants, a value measured by many different and often conflicting metrics, not least of which is the power of the elected to change society for better or worse? And often, sadly, as we increasingly see aound us, for personal economic gain?

One thing it certainly does tell us is that in our society, where more than three-quarters of the total wealth is owned by the top 10% of earners and the lowest 50% own only 1.2%, valuing each cohort is extremely difficult. Ironically, at least in theory, every vote — whether from the 10% or the other 90% of the voting population — has equal value.

That’s a big difference from the relative value of segmented cohorts of buyers and prospects who make up the Google and Facebook universe, buyers who can be valued based on past performance and prospects, whose value can be guesstimated — based on other characteristics.

Ask yourself, “How much am I worth? And please comment below on how you determined the amount. It should be fun to share the different answers.

Political Marketing That’s Fooling Some of the People, Some (or All) of the Time

Increasingly unable to escape the deluge of hysterical ill-directed political marketing that is overflowing my inbox, I’ve jealously started wondering what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are guiding these communications consultants to justify their million-dollar fees.

Increasingly unable to escape the deluge of hysterical ill-directed political marketing that is overflowing my inbox, I’ve jealously started wondering what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are guiding these communications consultants to justify their million-dollar fees.

Are their efforts fooling all of the people all of the time? Or just some of the people some of the time?

In product marketing initiatives, there can be lots of bottom-line winners — all of the brands whose clickthrough numbers exceed the company’s KPI targets and show the kinds of bottom-line sales results that bring smiles to shareholders’ faces and money to their pockets. But political marketing is a zero-sum game.

The ultimate KPI is winning or losing, becoming Senator, Governor or even White House occupant. Along the way, political marketers, like all fundraisers, especially those seeking campaign funding contributions, are no doubt watching to see all the obvious KPI metrics. They’re looking for percentages contributing, range of contribution amounts and average contributions, first-time or multiple “givers.” One can’t help but wonder: In the last analysis, do they really want to see more than the KPI which says “WIN” or “LOSE”?

I don’t know about you (and given our growing desires for privacy, I’m not sure I have any right to know about you) but I’ll bet my inbox gets more political fundraising and petition-gathering mail than yours does. Every day, mine displays a stunning collection that sorely tempts me to invoke the Spam solution.

But I hesitate, because I guess I’m a political junkie. Otherwise, I’d figure out a way never to hear any word that rhymes with “rump” again. (All readers’ entries will be gratefully considered, published and/or deleted.) You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Way back in early 2017, I wrote a column here venting my frustration with the tsunami of inviting, pleading, and threatening emails I was receiving daily from the Democratic party’s octopus of units, the DCCC, the Democratic National Committee, Maggie for NH, National Democratic Training Committee (the worst and most outrageous), Progressive Turnout Project and the imperious commands from House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi: “Not Asking for Money“ (which always end up asking for money) and the order, “READ NOW” “(don’t delete)”.  Here are some others:

  • URGENT — 20K SIGNATURES NEEDED: Women’s reproductive rights on the line
  • Add your name to hold Big Pharma accountable
  • Fwd: ? NOT asking for money
  • Sign this petition re: Trump’s golf course
  • Need Peter’s signature to STOP TRUMP
  • You have been selected to represent voters in your area

It appears that fooling the prospect into believing he/she is one of a very select group and asking for the target to complete a survey or a petition is this year’s most effective political marketing and, dare I say it, fundraising tool. I guess we all want to feel special; even if deep-down, we know that everyone has been “selected.”

Can I be the only person offended when assaulted by a subject line: “Peter is committed to vote for Donald Trump!?” Only after having voiced a few favorite expletives do I notice that “?”. But by then, I’m hooked on the rest of the message.

If the KPIs must first, be the number of surveys or petitions completed and the number abandoned and second, the contribution generation from the pitch at the end of the survey, I must be screwing up the political marketers’ dashboards. Given the number of headline changes, you’d think that either nothing works or everything does.

Can the almost daily surveys do anything more than fool a certain number of people into believing their voices reach the ears of anyone? Especially anyone who really cares what they think, more than whether they will pony up some money?

The hardly impartial rhetorical questions: “Donald Trump recently lied by claiming millions of voters cast their ballots illegally this year. Do you think he will use this lie to try to further suppress minority voters in future elections?” are always quite reasonably followed by, “Will you make a $3 contribution right now to help us advance our data-driven strategies to help Democrats win?”

What Data-Driven Marketing 101 teaches must be true, or they wouldn’t keep using the technique. And as pointed out recently in Forbes:

The amount of money invested will be in the billions of dollars — all spent within roughly a calendar year. The degree of sophistication, customization, micro-targeting, and proliferation across media channels is unprecedented. The goal is to create a lot of content that is both pushed to people — who then share it with others — and made available so that people find it on their own. What this means is that the authority of TV ads has diminished. At POOLHOUSE [an agency serving the Republican Party] we have to approach getting a candidate’s message out to voters in a much more complex manner, and that makes political marketing more challenging. But more interesting, as well.

The old way of marketing political candidates no longer works, as the exponential increase in information leads to higher consumer/voter intelligence.

How to develop KPIs to follow the complexity and drive strategic changes depends to a great extent on political judgement calls as much as traditional brand marketing experience, and may actually justify those sky-high consultant fees.

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical and should signal that at least some surveys have a grander purpose. Sky Croeser, writing in The Conversation opined:

Online petitions are often seen as a form of “slacktivism” — small acts that don’t require much commitment and are more about helping us feel good than effective activism. But the impacts of online petitions can stretch beyond immediate results.

Whether they work to create legislative change, or just raise awareness of an issue, there’s some merit to signing them. Even if nothing happens immediately, petitions are one of many ways we can help build long-term change.

The possibility of building “long-term” change is not without its merits; although, building the KPIs to measure the change is a daunting task.

Now imagine if that change means that political and general marketers could no longer fool all or even some of the people, all or even some of the time. But hold on a sec. Then we need to consider how many of us might have to change our ways or be out of the game.

Do Marketers Understand Privacy? Is That Why It’s Disappearing Before Our Eyes?

We should ask: What’s the nature of the “violation” or “privacy”? How much do we really want it and at what price (money or benefits or both) are we prepared to make believe that the violation didn’t really matter so much in the first place?

For many people, privacy is about being able to close and lock the bathroom door.

It is about documents or events which are meant to be “Private and Confidential,” but seldom stay that way. A wise friend, the CEO of a large and successful company, joked that the only way to keep something truly private was to tell no one, not even his wife, and to post it on the office bulletin board under an instruction:


“It’d be cool to talk about how marketers can create relevant marketing in a way where you don’t feel violated?” wrote a Target Marketing reader.

Or, put somewhat differently, we should ask what’s the nature of the “violation” or “privacy”; how much do we really want it and at what price (money or benefits or both) are we prepared to make believe that the violation didn’t really matter so much in the first place?

Like it or not, as marketers, part of our job, the bottom line of the plethora of articles headed “9 Ways to Penetrate the Inbox” is to discover the best ways — nine or 29 of them — to get past the privacy filter we think we have erected around ourselves. “But then how would I know about that great 24-hour deal on the camera I’ve always wanted?” asks the shutter bug, oblivious to having been tracked to the mall and bombarded with seductive cell phone messages, just as he was approaching the camera store.

How many of us give more than a passing thought to the degree to which our targeted marketing initiatives may represent a violation of the privacy of our prospects? Perhaps we should think of it as one of those unquantifiable #MeToo questions captured by the song:

“You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by”

Dooley Wilson

Are we as marketers aware and sensitive to the “fundamental things” and have we any measure of how much each of our prospects values privacy? We should know that no two prospects are really alike no matter how we read the tea leaves of our statistical analysis. And one of the critical differences is in their unique perceptions of what does and does not constitute an invasion of their privacy.

One would have imagined that all the negative noise about Facebook’s violation of its subscriber’s privacy and the $30 to $50 billion fine they are going to have to pay to the Federal Trade Commission would focus their attention on this issue. But that’s yesterday, not today.

Even if the fine, described by Kara Swisher in the New York Times as “a parking ticket. Not a speeding ticket. Not a DUI — or a DUI(P), data under the influence of Putin. A parking ticket. … That’s why its stock rose significantly after the news … In other words, the privacy concerns raised loudly by politicians and the media have not hurt Facebook’s growth … they’re going to need a bigger fine if they actually want to stop Facebook from violating its users’ privacy.”

Today, I wouldn’t bet that this would make all that much difference. The website Popular Info asked: “ … what is the point of the Facebook policies if they are not enforced in advance of publication?”

Facebook is rightly getting blasted for failing to prevent Trump 2020 ads and others from white supremacists, anti-Muslim false news and anti-LGBT content that would surely have reached their target audiences at least once before being taken down and forced to replace the offensive content. And that involves money, something Facebook has shown little eagerness to give up.

There are only two things which might make platforms conform to playing by the rules:

  1. Platforms such as Facebook demanding of advertisers that each campaign or ad buy (even electronic) carry a certification from the advertiser that the content does not violate the platforms’ published rules with a significant financial penalty to the advertiser for non-compliance and a prohibition from using the platform for say, three months for the first violation, six for the second, etc. This would awaken advertisers to the cost of breaking the rules and cost the platforms considerably more than a parking ticket in lost advertising revenue, certainly enough to make them take notice.
  2. The only other thing that might change the current acceptance of privacy violation will be a noisy revolution from consumers, not impossible to imagine, but hardly already to be seen marching toward our doorsteps.

Penalizing the advertiser and the platform for usage violations would almost certainly work. As Deep Throat advised in “All the President’s Men,” “follow the money.”

Turning the rising tide of privacy issues is more problematic. A recent study published by Iterable reported:

  • 48% of shoppers will share data for more personalized service (Deloitte)
  • 11 hours a day is spent by Americans engaging with electronic media (Nielson)
  • 84% of marketers use customer data to inform their marketing (eMarketer)
  • 76% of marketers are prioritizing customer loyalty over customer acquisition in 2018 (IDG)

This research answers our reader’s question, how can marketers create relevant marketing in a way where the customer doesn’t feel violated, a difficult conundrum. Put simply: If today’s 11-hour electronic media addicts want all the promised goodies waiting for them out there in the digital universe, and they don’t rate more than “bathroom door privacy” as high on their priority lists — 48% don’t seem to care — we are going to have to face this reality: For those who want to live in the digital world, our privacy is disappearing before our eyes. Should we be up in arms? Probably? But in fact, we are not. And there is very little we seem to want to do about it. Whether it could rightly be called a “violation” is a question more of perception than substance.

The rest of us, those to whom privacy is important, will just have to bow to the majority, do without privacy and take solace in this perceptive limerick penned by a late biomedical electrical engineer who worked at that by day and who wrote science fiction (and limericks) by night:

Was there no Life before there was Twitter?
Was it stodgy, lackluster or bitter?
I find Life too fleeting
To spend time in Tweeting,
I’m a face-to-face kind of a critter!

Here’s a Modest Proposal for Batch-and-Blast Email Marketers and Robocallers

The increased volume of data-driven marketing initiatives have taken digital marketing to the top spot in the media universe. There, it’s likely to be king of the mountain until the next fashionable tsunami comes along. Enter, batch-and-blast email marketers and robocallers.

Unnumbered terabytes have been squandered recently as the increased volume of data-driven marketing initiatives have taken digital marketing to the top spot in the media universe. There, it’s likely to be king of the mountain until the next fashionable tsunami comes along. Enter, batch-and-blast email marketers and robocallers.

Consumers who formerly complained about getting too much mail are increasingly (and rightly) up in arms about the intrusiveness of unsolicited emails, ads jumping onto their Internet pages — visually blocking desired content, just when they want to see it — location-driven cell phone promotions advising them of the goodies inside the retail shop they are passing (remember them) or receiving endless robocalls.

Anything is possible! In today’s world of almost endless permutations and combinations of digital sales messages, what faster than a speeding bullet Superthing can stop them before they plunge irretrievably into some black hole, never to be seen again?

Would you believe that the answer is neither a superman nor woman? No: It’s not even a humanoid. It is quite simply that elusive substance that is said to make the world go ’round: money.

The useful website AlterNet recently carried what could be the game-changing story for our industry. Why stop with the industry? It could be a game-changer for our society and sanity. Consumers may not complain as much about emails and push ads as they do about robocalls, but you can bet they get nearly as angry about their privacy being invaded. Wrote Matthew Chapman:

Americans are being bombarded with robocalls. It’s an epidemic, and it’s getting worse. By a recent estimate, 71 million of these scam calls are being placed per hour, [my highlighting] often completely illegally.

Robocalls make up the top source of complaints to both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC); both of which, in theory, have power to police robocalls. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to get rid of them.

Almost; but not impossible. As Shakespeare wrote:

“If money go before, all ways do lie open.” —Ford, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Act 2, Scene 2

Chapman reported that Roger Meiners, a professor of law and economics at the University of Texas at Arlington, has a brilliant proposal for how to defeat robocallers, once and for all. It has exquisite simplicity and can, by extension, apply to almost all of our batch-and-blast outrages. Professor Mainers’ proposal, which deserves nothing less than a Nobel economics nomination:

Levy a 1-cent tax on every outgoing phone call.

If codified into the law of the land, it would be collected automatically and digitally. Individuals and small businesses would hardly notice it. We’d all pay the tax but even for a heavy individual user who made 50 calls per day; his tab would be only $15.00 per month.

In the Wall Street Journal, Meiners explained how it would work:

Most taxes aren’t popular, but this one will be. Call it the Penny for Sanity Tax: a 1-cent tax on every call made. Fifty billion robocalls would cost $500 million — a powerful incentive to stop.

Because the tax would apply to all calls, it would avoid litigation about what can be legally disfavored. It would be impossible to evade by sneaking around classifications of calls. And it would not necessitate hiring more bureaucrats to enforce a complicated rule.

What a huge effect it would have if put into practice. The amount could be easily raised if it didn’t act as a sufficient inhibitor of batch-and-blast. The whole idea might also inform an app where the consumer could choose to get paid to look at ads. As the Bar proclaimed “ … all ways do lie open,” if there is coin to pay the piper. And imagine how even a little of this money might be used for the environment, the public good or worthy charities.

Now let’s stretch and imagine the application of the Meiners’ formula to email. The Radicati Group estimates the worldwide number of consumer and business emails sent per day in 2018 at more than 281 billion. If these were taxed at 1 cent each, (same as the calls, but harder to collect), the cost would be $2.8 billion per day. You get the idea.

Where technologies have run well ahead of the business models they support, not a lot of thought has been given to the actual costs of emails and robocalls. “Let’s mail another million. It isn’t costing anything. And then we can go to lunch” has an all-too-familiar ring to it, even if it happens to be more apocryphal than true. There is, as the saying goes, no such thing as a free email or robocall or lunch.

Because very few marketers have done the math to determine the real comparative bottom-line effect of over-promoting or looked at the medium- and long-term commercial and societal damage it causes, they might as well go off and enjoy lunch. Their C-Suite days are numbered.

Soon, they are likely to be replaced by a tribe of literate data nerds, a species currently in short supply. Their recruitment is driving up costs like international soccer stars. They are just what giant consulting firms, such as Accenture, need to support their acquisition of “creative” shops with funny names and casual dress and time-keeping habits certain to annoy the hell out of the senior partners, who are mostly former three-piece, dark-suited accountants who daily commute from the suburbs and arrive at the office with Swiss punctuality.

Imagine the culture clash. And imagine how in this radically changed game, our vision of response rates and costs — in fact, almost everything in our marketing sphere — would change for the better.

Best of all, when the telephone rings, we wouldn’t have to worry we were about to be propositioned or otherwise engaged in a time-wasting conversation with a robot.

Subscription Marketing Is Popular With Consumers, So Stop Thinking It’s a Dirty Word

The issue of whether to offer subscriptions, or some other verbal usage, won’t go away. However prosaic the argument for subscription marketing, it has tremendous implications for all brands eager to deliver the optimum ROMI from their marketing efforts.

The issue of whether to offer subscriptions, or some other verbal usage, won’t go away. However prosaic the argument for subscription marketing, it has tremendous implications for all brands eager to deliver the optimum ROMI from their marketing efforts.

And if subscription selling were a marginal marketing activity not so long ago, as the relationship between consumers and sellers have dramatically changed in this digital age, subscription selling (or whatever we end up calling it) has moved to center stage.

Over a year ago, I wrote that in a data-driven marketing seminar I was giving for some Brazilian Microsoft executives, I asked how many of the more than 40 participants “have a subscription”?

Less than 10 hands were raised.

Then I asked, “How many of you have Netflix?” Nearly all of their hands went up, and you could see on their faces the growing wave of recognition. While they hadn’t thought of their Netflix access as a subscription, they realized that they had “subscribed” to services to be paid for on a periodic basis, with or without a time commitment. (That’s not a bad definition of a subscription.) They also realized that not only were their insurance policies, cell phone contracts and utility connections all subscriptions, but Microsoft’s move to a cloud business model was a classic example of subscription marketing. Why should their software customers have to be sold new versions when they can receive them automatically, without any new investment, as part of their monthly, yearly, subscription? And that was just the beginning. Look how at how it has grown.

Starting at $22/month for 24 months, the subscription program comes with an Xbox One S console, two years of Xbox Live Gold service, and two years of Xbox Game Pass access. There’s a second, more expensive tier, as well; which comes with the aforementioned $500 Xbox One X console, two years of Xbox Live Gold service, and two years of Xbox Game Pass Access — priced at $35/month for 24 months. You own the console outright at the end of the 24-month term.

By now, far more consumers understand that whether they were aware of it or not, they are subscribers to a range of services, such as utilities and products that include cable and/or streamed entertainment. And they like it.

Even the fact that the word “subscription” has the negative connotation of “commitment,” and research shows that Gen X and Millennials tend to put off commitments longer than previous generations, if you have 20-somethings still living at home, you know what I mean. “Subscription” is not a dirty word to them. Surprisingly, so far I’ve seen no hard data that proves that alternative words such as “accept,” “agree,” “support” or “sign up” are more effective than the good old suggestion to “subscribe.” Perhaps it’s because marketers are slow to change what works, or that subscriptions (despite those Microsoft executives a few years back) have a familiarity that overcomes any negative perception of undesirable commitment.

Getting the Message Right: You’re Selling ‘Access’ to Your Brand

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt points out that the economist and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers calls what’s going on the “de-massification” of the economy.

Developers aren’t building as many malls and stores, because goods now go straight from warehouses to homes. Offices don’t need as much storage space. Cellphones have replaced not just desktop computers but also cameras, stereos, books and more. Many young people have decided they’re happy living in small apartments, without cars.

This important change from owning to using is further supported by a recent communication to its authors from publisher Cengage — justifiably bragging that in just seven months, it had acquired 1 million subscribers to its Cengage Unlimited program. That’s no small achievement, when the price tag is $179.99 per year. (Disclaimer: Cengage published my book, “Accountable Marketing.”)

The offer to college students is compelling:

“The industry’s first-of-its-kind subscription for college textbooks and course materials, Cengage Unlimited offers complete access to more than 22,000 products, including eBooks, online homework access codes and study guides.”

Based on statistics that show college students spending $500 per year for these materials, Cengage understandably boasts that college students have already saved $60 million.

Cengage research reports that three out of four students express a preference for “having access to textbooks and course materials” and that this “is more important than owning them.” That illustrates an important trend. What students do today will certainly influence what they will do tomorrow. Media critic, Daniel Miessler, writing in Wired, put it succinctly:

In the future, we’ll all just have a collection of subscriptions. Instead of being judged by what you own, you’ll be judged by what tier you have of a given access type.

When you think about it, owning is a committed burden, access, an uncommitted opportunity. Subscribing or signing up, or whatever it’s called, should let someone else solve the ownership problems, while you enjoy usage.

If all of this is true, then our existing data-driven marketing paradigm may be too narrow to encompass all of the exciting opportunities in full bloom out there ready to be harvested. Companies that are just now focusing on the importance of data should also be headhunting experienced marketers with sterling track records of understanding the dynamics of subscriptions and making them work.

It’s Decision Time for Data Privacy (or Will Be Soon)

Chet Dalzell’s recent thoughtful piece on “Our Digital Selves” came along at the same time I (and probably a gazillion others) were pondering the increasingly pressing question of data privacy in the digital age.

Chet Dalzell’s recent thoughtful piece on “Our Digital Selves” came along at the same time I (and probably a gazillion others) were pondering the increasingly pressing question of data privacy in the digital age.

It’s a much bigger question than what data can be used to target potential customers for the latest widget or widget club or to stop you in your tracks at the supermarket in front of the pet food shelves to tell you that Fido, your beloved Fido, seen in the picture on your cell phone, absolutely must have the new, nutritious and tasty Dogbit,s or he may bite your fingers off if you try to give him anything else.

The data question goes to the heart of how we see ourselves in the digital world. And how we see ourselves is in no way clear — even to ourselves.

“Bottom line: If Facebook’s users in the United States are similar to most Americans (and studies suggest they are), large majorities don’t want personalized ads — and when they learn how companies find out information about them, even greater percentages don’t want them.”

That’s what Joseph Turow, a professor of communications and Chris Jay Hoofnagle, an adjunct professor of law, say in The New York Times using various research to support their thesis. The problem is what people tell researchers is not always what they do. Facebook’s quarterly earnings statement showed these enlightening KPIs.

  • Monthly active users (MAUs) — MAUs were 2.32 billion as of Dec. 31, 2018, an increase of 9%, year-over-year.
  • We estimate that around 2.7 billion people now use Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger (our “Family” of services) each month, and more than 2 billion people use at least one of our Family of services every day, on average.

It has been said over and over again that everything has its price. Assuming that this is largely true, how much value or benefit should the consumer expect in return for how much and which data? As I wrote in a comment to Chet’s article, this is sure to be the data-use question we’ll all be turning in our minds as the algorithms get smarter and the temptations greater.

Imagine that you could put a value on each element of your personal, demographic, psychographic and behavioral data, and anyone wanting to use that data would have to pay your price, whether or not you ended up making a purchase or taking a desired action? Imagine further that a data user wanted to use $20 worth of your data to try to sell you a product you wanted, priced at $100? It would be an easy transaction, if the seller were willing to offer you a 20% or even a greater discount for the specific permission to use the data. You would have the product, the seller would have the sale and everyone would be happy.

However fanciful that scenario, it is not nearly as crazy as it sounds. In fact, in one form or another, that is exactly what is happening in the real marketplace; although without your specific permission. As a marketer, I have to spend money to acquire your data and, by making an attractive offer (say a 20% discount), I am offering to compensate you for your data, which allows me to talk to you.

Of course, I have over-simplified the argument. As stated earlier: How much value or benefit should the consumer expect in return for how much and which data?

I think we would all agree that this determination is much too complicated, so we let the “invisible hand of the market” do its magic. Which reduces the decision to a very simple one: Do we perceive that we get enough value from having our data out there in the marketplace to be manipulated however the marketers wish to and simply lie back and enjoy all the offers and benefits? Or should we bite the bullet, give our cell phones to a needy child, do without Waze and get lost again and again, be prepared to stand in the endless line at the bank, throw the “delete everything” switch and effectively remove ourselves from the digital economy? It is getting near decision time for all of us.

I remember many years ago in London, as “one of those Americans,” being lectured over lunch by a very traditional British publisher about the horrors of books being sold by mail order and direct mail and assuring me that the British wouldn’t have anything to do with book clubs or the like. Just when the bill had been paid and we were preparing to depart, she reached into her handbag and pulled out an all singing and all dancing mailing piece from the Readers Digest, offering a very handsome discount on their superb motorist bible, the “Book of the Road.”

She was going to order it right away.


Remembering Lester Wunderman, Direct Marketing Pioneer

Lester Wunderman, who passed away at 98 last week, was a quiet giant among visionary innovators. And if the marketing universe looks almost totally different today than it did in the “Mad Men” age of the 1960s, Lester deserves the lion’s share of the credit.

Lester Wunderman, who passed away at 98 last week, was a quiet giant among visionary innovators. And if the marketing universe looks almost totally different today than it did in the “Mad Men” age of the 1960s, Lester deserves the lion’s share of the credit. That he recently saw the legendary J. Walter Thompson merged into Wunderman must have given him no small pleasure.

When in 1958 with his brother and two other partners, he opened the mail order and direct mail agency Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, in modest Union Square premises, relatively few companies were using the mail order channel and those who were, such as “The Book of The Month Club,” were doing their own marketing. Columbia House, the club division of Columbia Records, was one of the first and for many years, the leading client.

Eras are measured and defined by the magnitude of change that takes place within them and the visionary drivers of that change, whose innovations give the landscape a whole new look. Now, after years as secondary citizens in the marketing community, direct and data-driven marketing have taken “pride of place.” Lester always said it was just a matter of time.

Quoting Publicis Groupe Chief Growth Officer, Rishad Tobaccowala on the reason, MediaPost wrote:

“… conventional brand-building media models aren’t working as well as they used to. It’s because big brands are realizing that the only way to have a relationship with and understand their consumers, is to cut out the middlemen and have a relationship with them directly.”

The essence of marketing has now come full circle from the door-to-door peddler and personal selling to mass marketing and back again to the personal selling Wunderman always championed; albeit, with technologies never dreamed about in the 1950s. In a 1967 speech at MIT, Lester insisted on giving the industry a proper name, and “direct marketing” replaced direct mail, mail order and a host of others. Invited to give a keynote speech to the then U.S. Direct Mail Marketing Association, Lester accepted — but on the condition that the association change its name to the Direct Marketing Association. It was noisy fight but Wunderman won. That he would then become the “Father of Direct Marketing” was obvious.

For over the last half century, Lester was my closest friend and my guru. His humanity went hand-in-hand with his vision. “There is nothing that will not change,” he would say to anyone lucky enough to hear him. “Nudge that change in the right direction, take chances and measure, always measure your success or failure.” Having spent considerable time with his beloved Dogon tribe in Mali, even earning the honor of becoming a tribal Chief, Lester never lost touch with what he saw as real, a primitive understanding of human behavior and a profound respect for human values.

He knew instinctively (and proved over and over again) that a one-to-one relationship between people, be they partners, friends, acquaintances, customers or prospects, had to be more enriching than any distant relationship. His endless curiosity demanded that he know as much as possible about them and as the computer gradually replaced the mechanical card systems, the possibilities to capture data and use it to better serve customers and clients exploded. As increased streams of data became accessible, clients might scream about the cost of keeping and managing it, but that didn‘t deter Lester, who coined one of his best and most lasting perceptions: “Data is an expense” he said. “Knowledge is a bargain.”

Increased knowledge became an endless quest for Lester, and it was a gospel he shared domestically and internationally. Born one summer evening over a bottle of very good wine in my London garden, Wunderman Worldwide was designed to make this knowledge and its marketing uses available to young, ambitious, like-minded marketers — first in the U.K., France and Germany and, if successful, in any countries where it might be wanted. There are now 175 Wunderman offices in 60 countries.

The road to this success was hardly a smooth one. The acquisition by Young & Rubicam in 1973 was more a marriage of convenience than of love: Y&R needed to be seen to have the direct marketing skills it lacked, even if it had a very limited passion for the discipline. WRK wanted access to blue chip clients who were beginning to seriously examine direct marketing.

For reasons never made clear to Wunderman or the industry and breaking every classic rule of branding, Y&R management created a new brand, Impiric, and folded all its non-traditional businesses under this rubric. Overnight, the Wunderman brand was erased from the door. Lester was both personally heartbroken and professionally angry seeing years of brand-building disappear on what seemed little more than a whim.

Fortunately, just a few years later when Sir Martin Sorrel’s WPP acquired Y&R, he searched for the Wunderman company and found it buried under Impiric. As confused by Impiric as everyone else, he telephoned Lester, invited him to meet and, over lunch, both proudly restored the Wunderman brand and appointed Lester Chairman Emeritus of the company for life.

In an Ad Age interview in 2010, newly anointed by WPP, Lester said:

“For me, who started one little office with my brother and myself down on Union Square, to be the chairman of a company that is global, and practicing a high state of art all over the world, I can’t tell you what a revelation, in my lifetime, [it is] to see us go from kind of the horse-and-buggy form of advertising to the Internet. It’s just miraculous. The things we know about people, our ability to make messages more relevant and timely — advertising is just more efficient than it used to be.”

Lester’s creativity and his inventions are legendary. Eager never to leave a client or prospect without something new and unexpected, many of Wunderman’s greatest breakthroughs were brilliant adrenalin-driven responses to momentary problems. With a furious Columbia House client in the WRK conference room throwing on the table “take ones” millions of which had been printed and few “taken,” Lester, coolly walked over to the conference room magazine rack, picked up a copy of TV Guide, put one of the take ones in the center (where it almost fit) and announced that at that very moment the media department was booking this position exclusively for Columbia and all the take ones would be used. That position became one of the most productive DM media buys of its generation.

The Wunderman credo never changed, whether the means of accomplishing it was consumer loyalty programs, subscription club models, newspaper inserts supported by TV spots and toll-free 1-800 customer service numbers. Get as close to the customer as possible, listen to his voice and establish a one-to-one relationship. At an industry conference when others were droning on about postal regulations, out of nowhere, Lester proposed the idea of an intelligent mailbox for each consumer, a mailbox that knew what was wanted and only permitted those special messages access. Today we call it our “inbox.”

An avid tennis player, Lester never let work get totally in the way of play and, until recently, he found time weekly to play singles with the pro from his tennis club. On winter business trips abroad, he could almost certainly be found on weekends skiing in St. Moritz or Davos and in the summer at his beautiful house in Mogins, France. About 43 years ago, when he was courting his wife Suzanne who became both his companion and muse, he interrupted an otherwise important business meeting to carefully write down the recipe for a special dressing he wanted to prepare for the dinner’s arugula salad. The important things for Lester always took priority.

Lester Wunderman was a unique gentleman in an industry not over-populated with them. Read his books, “Being Direct” and “Frontiers of Direct Marketing,” or look deeply at his photographs of the Dogon tribe — his brothers, (in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan) and talk to those direct marketing practitioners who have worked for or with him. You cannot miss his special magical quality.

We have lost a great guru and friend, and he will be sadly missed. We are lucky that his wisdom and teachings are indelibly woven into the fabric of two generations of U.S. and overseas marketers.

Lester Wunderman Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald. The two of us in 1997 at the DMA Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Lester (Right) and Me (Left).

It’s Not My Opinion, It’s My Money That Marketers Want

Why do so many marketers choose the path of least resistance, which often means communicating more, rather than better. Even “pushing the envelope” to get what marketers want — perhaps an inappropriate metaphor, in the digital world — and bending credibility almost to the breaking point?

Why do so many marketers choose the path of least resistance, which often means communicating more, rather than better. Even “pushing the envelope” to get what marketers want — perhaps an inappropriate metaphor, in the digital world — and bending credibility almost to the breaking point?

“Enough is enough!” my mother used to howl at me when some annoying thing I was doing had gone too, too far.

We all get there sometimes, and nothing turns our listener off more permanently than being subject to mindless repetition. Why do we frequently ignore this when “creating” (or not really creating) communications, which we may find boring as marketers, but which someone believes are necessary to fuel the customer journey toward us — rather than inciting an exodos to the hills or the spam button.

As a life-long Democrat, it pains me to use the party’s very questionable fundraising tactics as an example. But for the past couple of weeks, I have been assaulted (I can’t think of a more appropriate word) by what must be considered mindless email communications from the National Democratic Training Committee  and Boldpac, seemingly one of its tentacles. It seems as if someone switched on the automatic pilot, went out for coffee and forgot to come back.

There must be a lesson here for all of us on both sides of the aisle.

I received eight emails from them in just two days this week.

Isn’t enough enough? And this too much?

DESTROYING New York, Robert Mueller DOOMED, BIG announcement, Cohen GUILTY, Trump FURIOUS, Mueller THREATENED

(After Mueller was DOOMED in another message minutes before.) You get the idea.

Here are compelling BIG words capitalized as if they were copied and pasted from a Trumpian tweet. Of course they become wallpaper by repetition and lose any sense of the urgency we all want to see in promotion. The law of diminishing returns comes into play, and perhaps they deserve to be included in Melissa’s WWTT?

And dare I say it? These particular official-sounding messages are an inherently dishonest switch-sell.

“We’ve re-launched the poll,” says the message.

Come on, guys! Let’s get real here.

Can we even, for a moment, suspend disbelief long enough to accept that they (who?) “need to know” where I stand as of Dec. 9, or even give a damn whether I approve of Robert Muller or not?

Enormously complimented as I am supposed to be, perhaps I’ve become too cynical. But somehow, I find it difficult to accept that I have been fortunate enough to have been chosen to be part of a “Special Task Force!” to protect Mueller. (If I’m that fortunate, why don’t I ever win the lottery?)  I can’t help feeling that it is not my opinion they want; it’s my money. That’s why they also ask me to contribute, “in the next hour” $3 or $10 or even more or “chip in $10 (or even $3) today?” Doesn’t this have the sound of either desperation or the copywriter plodding mindlessly on and failing to stop and think?

I tried reaching out to the Training Committee, but it didn’t respond. Its members were obviously too busy “training” to bother to provide answers to some simple questions that might inform marketers. Among other things, I wanted to ask the real reason for the surveys, petitions and questionnaires the committee seems obsessed with, and some case histories of how this data was used to affect policy, to change opinion or to do anything? It says: “Every signature makes a difference. Add your name right now.” But don’t we want to know to whom it makes a difference?

Wasn’t the inclusion of a request for donations from “Task Force” members, I wanted to ask, the real reason for the surveys? And weren’t the obviously loaded questions asked only as a path to the switch-sell? Did the target market for these efforts have such a deplorably low intelligence level that it could be so easily conned?

Also, I was curious what the fundraising consultants who were paid $1.3 million in 2018 actually did for their money and who they were? (Blackops? Perhaps.) What percentage of the unspecified money raised did their cut represent? It certainly seems that the consultants were onto a good thing. Was it they who encouraged this aggressive headline; “Peter will vote for Trump in 2020?” knowing that the statement would be sufficiently irritating to catch my attention, even with a question mark hidden at the end?

As marketing professionals, we are often challenged with honestly answering the question: How far can I go in building my promotional messages and actions to generate the highest response at the lowest cost vs. where is the red line not to be crossed over using the powerful tools in our armory?

Sadly, as we see all too frequently in today’s world, mendacity trumps truth.

Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the pendulum swings back and our customers and prospects, even our potential voters, tell us that enough is definitely enough.