Direct Marketing Agency Triumphs Over ‘Mad Men’

“Wonder Who?” was not an unusual “Mad Men” reaction in 1960s when direct marketing agency Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, already at the top of the direct mail and mail order agency league table, might be mentioned in a social or business conversation. “What do they do?” was the usual semi-curious follow-up, if there was one.

“Wonder Who?” was not an unusual “Mad Men” reaction in 1960s when direct marketing agency Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, already at the top of the direct mail and mail order agency league table, might be mentioned in a social or business conversation. “What do they do?” was the usual semi-curious follow-up, if there was one.

In the sacred haunts of ad men (there were precious few women, but more on that later), the direct and data-driven marketing discipline just didn’t have the sex appeal that came with real advertising; especially real advertising that could be seen on television and bragged about over cocktails. It was an exciting world, where 30 seconds of peer-acclaimed, but unaccountable, genius had far more value than judgments based on the measurable and accountable return on marketing investment.

That we now live in a very different world could not be better illustrated than by the recent announcement that WPP has folded 150-year-old J. Walter Thompson, the citadel of “brand” advertising, into Wunderman, described by Adweek as “the first direct marketing agency” and “the darling of WPP.” The result will be Wunderman Thompson, with 20,000 people across 90 markets.

Wrote Avi Dean in Forbes: 

“This comes a couple of months after digital agency VML merged with traditional agency Y&R to form VMLY&R. While these are positioned as mergers of equals, they are essentially a takeover by the digital agencies of their older siblings.

“JWT’s demise is a metaphor of the demise of Madison Avenue.”

The ironies are too numerous to mention.

There must, incidentally, have been a compelling reason for the WPP management’s recent pairing of VML with Y&R to form VMLY&R. Could it have been that folding Y&R into Wunderman after Wunderman had been previously folded into Y&R might have been too much even for the traditional “Mad Men” to stomach?

The “demise of Madison Avenue” can be traced directly to the cultural clash between traditional agencies and their owners who looked down their noses at “mail order” and what became data-driven direct marketing. From the earliest days of the agency, its founder, Lester Wunderman, while optimistic, maintained a healthy skepticism about whether the chasm between these two cultures could truly be breached, given the opportunistic motivation driving most “mergers” of the disciplines.

In the early 1970s, when general agencies realized they needed to be seen to embrace direct marketing, Wunderman was acquired by Young & Rubicam. The embrace, however, spun to clients and the marketing world, was less driven by passion and an honest and sensitive understanding of the changes that were impacting the market than giving clients some comfort if, God forbid, they wanted some DM advice or service. There was — and to a lesser extent, still is — a historical incompatibility of two cultural systems.

The traditionalists mostly considered DM practitioners, if not second-class citizens, not to be the folk you would want to bring to a top client meeting — unless you had to. For those of us who experienced the “had to,” how the “essential” half-hour direct marketing portion of the big client presentation got reduced to 15 minutes and then to five (if there was still time before the client left to catch his plane), however demeaning, made our subsidiary status perfectly clear.

When Wunderman proclaimed that “Data is an expense. Knowledge is a bargain,” most of the traditional advertising world nodded their heads but didn’t quite get the “knowledge” part, or see how it would impact the future of every aspect of marketing. Writing about this future in the last chapter of his 1996 book, “Being Direct: Making Advertising Pay,” Wunderman said:

“The way of creating effective combinations of price and service is by creating knowledge-based direct channels between manufacturers and consumers, in which the media becomes the marketplace. The Industrial Revolution created the practice of branding, but in the Information Age, brand images increasingly provide only a thin shield against competition.”

The ever-expanding “knowledge” of the consumer and the market, made possible by the handling of data and of the accountable value of every advertising spend, are the forces that have propelled CMOs, as described by Avi Dean, to “care less about agency labels than ever before. They care about effectiveness and results.” So it’s hardly surprising that what we might call the “accountable” culture — making advertising pay — has overtaken the “image” culture. Or so it seems.

Because direct marketing had long been “down-market,” to quote an oft-used phrase, it attracted a disproportionate number of very talented women — many of whom knew they would never make it in the testosterone-dominated “advertising business.” Ironically, that’s all changed, as well, and two women have been appointed as “Chairman” (Chairperson? Chairwoman?) and CEO of Wunderman Thomson.

Some veterans of this culture war still insist that “brand” and “accountability” are, if not incompatible, not happily married, either. They mourn the loss of JWT and fear for the clients.

Quoted in the UK’s Campaign, Rosalind Gravatt, former director of communications, Lloyds Banking Group, said:

“I believe that the JWT brand name could have evolved and still has huge cachet (particularly among blue chip clients) in a way that the Wunderman name never will.”

Lindsey Clay, CEO of Thinkbox, was more emotional:

“It feels to me like someone I care about has died … I just hope that the brand guardianship and culture-defining creativity, which were central to the JWT ethos, live on beyond the name.

The loyalty to JWT is admirable, but the premise that brands will lose cachet and suffer when tainted by the Wunderman name and/or accountability, is a remnant of another age.

“Wonder Who?” is a question that isn’t asked anymore. What goes around comes around.

[Author’s Note: As the founder and first CEO of Wunderman Worldwide, the international arm of the original Wunderman company, and after the Y&R merger, the Wunderman member of the Y&R International Board, I’ve been privileged to have had a unique, if slightly prejudiced, view of the changes described above.]

The ‘Algorithmification‘ of Everything

If I had asked any of my schoolmates what an “algorithm” was, their eyes would have glazed over and they would probably have asked me what I had been smoking. Fast-forward a few decades and we’ve got the algorithmification of everything, including marketing.

If I had asked any of my schoolmates what an “algorithm” was, their eyes would have glazed over and they would probably have asked me what I had been smoking. Fast-forward a few decades and we’ve got the algorithmification of everything, including marketing.

Those glazed looks would’ve happened a long time ago, long before Facebook was a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye and he had started to bring together the more than 2 billion people who log in at least once a month. That Facebook population is now what Evan Osnos of the New Yorker says, were it a country; “ … would have the largest population on Earth … [and] as many adherents as Christianity.” When they log in, they are shaking hands with unnumbered algorithms and putting into those invisible fingers their faith and their data to be parsed, analyzed and manipulated, and hopefully not stolen.

What is an algorithm? Programmers like to say it is a word used by them when they don’t want to bother explaining what they do.

And because algorithms have become so ubiquitous, we seldom give them a thought — except when our IT colleagues start telling us why making any small change in our marketing program will take weeks or months and cost a bundle, or until something goes badly wrong as Facebook and others have discovered about their hacked data.

Our legislators, not usually well-versed on technology matters, have now started making a lot of noise about regulations: They are closing the server door after the data has bolted — an unlikely way to solve the essential problems.

Automation has always been the Holy Grail for marketers; not surprising when the ability, speed and relatively low cost of using artificial intelligence (AI) to number-crunch and manage segmentation of media and analysis of data gets better and better every year. eMarketer reports that: “About four in 10 of the worldwide advertisers surveyed by MediaMath and Econsultancy said they use AI for media spend optimization. This is another application of AI that is increasing among marketers as their demand-side platforms add AI features to increase the probability that a given programmatic bid will win its auction.”

Where is it headed? No one knows for sure. It’s all in the hands of the algorithms and they appear to be multiplying like rabbits. If you revere Darwin, as I do, you’ll expect them to get better and better. But before you totally buy into that, you would do well to read Melanie Mitchell’s thoughtful New York Times article “Artificial Intelligence Hits the Barrier of Meaning.”

There are more and more times when we applaud the use of the algorithms and can see that if properly created, they offer many benefits for almost every area of our marketing practice, as well as other areas of our lives. We really don’t have to panic (yet) about the machines and their algorithms taking over. As Neil Hughes wrote here last month; “The reality is that machines learn from systems and processes that are programmed by humans, so our destiny is still very much in our own hands.”

Machines screw up just like we do; and all the more so, because they are doing just what we told them to do.

All this machine thinking doesn’t come without dangerous side effects. Sometimes, when we try to communicate with inflexible AI systems supposedly designed to simplify and ease customer interactions, the “I” in “AI” becomes an “S,” replacing “A-Intelligence” with “A-stupidity.”

If, as defined, “an algorithm is a procedure or formula for solving a problem, based on conducting a sequence of specified actions,” we can only optimistically hope that the specified actions will take into account individual customer differences and make allowances for them. The moments when they don’t are when we start screaming and swearing; especially if we are on the customer end of the transactions.

As The New York Times wrote in a recent article: “The truth is that nobody knows what algorithmification of the human experience will bring.”

“It’s telling that companies like Facebook are only beginning to understand, much less manage, any harm caused by their decision to divert an ever-growing share of human social relations through algorithms. Whether they set out to or not, these companies are conducting what is arguably the largest social re-engineering experiment in human history, and no one has the slightest clue what the consequences are.”

However important algorithmification may seem to us, our marketing efforts and our use of AI and its algorithms are not very significant in the greater scheme of things outside of our limited business perspective. But don’t dismiss their growing impact on every facet of our future lives. As data guru Stephen H. Yu opined in his recent piece “Replacing Unskilled Data Marketers With AI”:

“In the future, people who can wield machines will be in secure places — whether they are coders or not — while new breeds of logically illiterate people will be replaced by the machines, one-by-one.”

You had better start to develop a meaningful relationship with your algorithms — while there is still time.

Indecent Exposure: A Brand Nightmare of Reputation Proportions

Into every marketer’s life, a brand nightmare must come. It starts with an old tale about a PR executive explaining to a client that the client has to make some more public and press appearances to get more exposure. “If I had any more exposure,” says the frustrated client, “I’d be arrested for indecency.”

Into every marketer’s life, a brand nightmare must come. It starts with an old tale about a PR executive explaining to a client that the client has to make some more public and press appearances to get more exposure. “If I had any more exposure,” says the frustrated client, “I’d be arrested for indecency.”

“Indecency” is about the mildest thing you can say about the events of the past few weeks, as the media has overflowed with stories about the brutal murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Turkey. Reports are that a hit squad of Saudis apparently flew in on private jets for their grisly purpose and then rapidly out again, perhaps with Khashoggi’s dismembered body in their hand luggage. For Saudi Arabia, a nation expensively trying to change its worldwide repressive image, and for the agencies serving it, it is a public relations nightmare. Crisis communications can hardly encounter a deeper brand reputation challenge.

If the business of public relations is to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and the public on whom their success or failure depends, the good news for the Saudis was that the exposure they were gaining pre-Khashoggi appeared to be effectively promoting positive change in the perception of the kingdom.

The bad news is that classic PR problem: If the client demonstrates he is not what he has been expensively pictured to be, the backlash can destroy all of the previous goodwill, and then some. The image management crusade becomes a shambles.

When the young Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman emerged as the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia in 2017 and announced his mission to modernize the country and make it an important part of the international community, no longer only recognized for its petroleum output, not surprisingly, voracious, business-hungry PR firms grabbed the next flight to the kingdom to share in what was certain to be a bonanza of fees.

The Financial Times reported in September that the kingdom’s information ministry was seeking “to promote the changing face of KSA to the rest of the world and to improve international perception of the kingdom.”

Although the world’s largest PR agency, Burson-Marsteller, already had a big contract with the Saudis, according to Media Group RT, other companies including The Harbour Group, Hill & Knowlton, King & Spalding, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, Fleishman-Hillard Inc. and Hogan & Hartson, all managed to get a piece of what was a lot of action. Some have already ended the relationship.

The resulting effort was a generally successful zillion-dollar “charm” campaign earlier this year. The brand reputation effort’s star attraction, Prince Mohammed, visited the U.K. and then extensively toured the U.S., meeting with President Donald Trump,  government and business leaders, dot.com and showbiz celebrities, and pitched the benefits of investment in his new liberalizing country. There were some anti-Saudi demonstrations. But generally, the reception was surprisingly good.

In addition to promising giant business contracts, the prince handed out invitations to the Oct. 23-25 Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, nicknamed “Davos in the Desert” and intended to be, as Khashoggi’s Washington Post commented; “a magnet for financiers, corporate titans, technology executives, government leaders and media bigwigs. It once boasted a list of attendees that resembled the crowd that converges each year at the Alpine playground for the global elite.” The PR companies must have been jubilant at the success of their efforts and all the positive media coverage.

Until the Khashoggi disaster, that was.

Suddenly, Prince Salman and his cronies have become toxic. With the tsunami of withdrawals by speakers and participants from the Future Investment Initiative, it looked to be a very lonely conference, anything but a Davos look-alike.

How now for the PR firms (if they are still willing to serve the Saudis) to unscramble these eggs? How are they to manage the reputation of the Saudi brand and of themselves? The PR textbook teaches us that crisis management is built on taking quick, honest, transparent and direct action. Admittedly, this is an exceptional circumstance. But by all accounts, the Saudis have been anything but quick, honest, transparent or direct. Feeling the blowback, they will now have to keep their heads down, find a believable narrative of accountability and take appropriate action.

At this point in time, the PR agencies, which generated lots of exposure for the kingdom and no doubt formerly wished for a long and profitable relationship with the country, are now having to deal with indecency and some at least are having second thoughts.

Capital Communicator reports that as a result of the Khashoggi incident, “The Harbour Group has ended its $80K per month contract with Saudi Arabia” and “WPP’s Glover Park Group and BGR Government Affairs have also severed ties with Saudi Arabia.” All who so recently had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads should be reminded of the wise adage: Be careful what you wish for.

Is Your Content Marketing the Right Length to Touch the Ground?

The content marketing debate revolving around length makes me think of a story. A curious little girl is said to have asked Abraham Lincoln how long one’s legs should be. After a moment’s reflection, the tall and lanky president responded wisely, “just long enough to touch the ground.”

The content marketing debate revolving around length makes me think of a story. A curious little girl is said to have asked Abraham Lincoln how long one’s legs should be. After a moment’s reflection, the tall and lanky president responded wisely, “just long enough to touch the ground.”

He certainly could not have realized that he was creating an unassailable template used endlessly ever since to provide dimensions for just how short or long any form of communication should be. Thorin McGee, Target Marketing editor-in-chief, recently explored how to find the right length for your content here and concluded — rightly, I would suggest — that the right length was as long as you can keep your audience engaged. Because when they become bored, they leave.

“Think like a reality TV editor,” he writes, referencing popular media for couch potatoes. He might have found a better frame of reference in the novels of Dickens or Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’, originally published in weekly installments in the popular press. To be certain readers would come back and buy the next installment, each had to end with a cliffhanger — would the hero/heroine fall off of the proverbial cliff or be saved, just in the nick of time, to continue the story?

There is no question that if the copy is engaging or compelling, if it makes promises and poses questions you feel you must have the answers to, length isn’t a primary consideration. Guru Frank Johnson’s classic rule is:

Tell them what you are going to tell them.

Tell them.

Tell them what you told them and what to do about it.

It never fails. And whether you do that in 100 or thousands of words depends only on the type of product, the medium but — most of all — on the ability of the writer to increase the attention and interest of the reader as the narrative continues, never letting him get bored. Johnson liked to remind us that great copy “tracks” — like a train going to the next station, it has to stay on the track or you have a fatal derailment.

Try this from TheDogTrainingSecret.com:

Hi Peter,

It gets me every time …

You see a homeless guy on the streets, a dog cuddled at his side.

Life has clearly not been kind to the gentleman, he’s wearing the rattiest, dirtiest jacket you’ve ever seen and shoes so old, there’s no way his feet could be dry.

His life’s belongings are gathered at his side, in a small duffle bag and maybe a weathered grocery bag.

He’s collecting change in a paper coffee cup.

Maybe $1.25 so far today.

Not much.

And as a result of hard living, he’s painfully thin. Much too thin, for a man living on the streets. And life is bleak.

Except for the one obvious ray of sunshine in his life:

That misfit dog, cuddled up at his side.

A dog with nothing but love, admiration and adoration for his master, pouring from his heart and eyes.

Has YOUR dog ever looked at you like that?

Like you’re the center of his world, the only thing that matters, the only person he trusts, his rock and the one person who’s worth 100% of his love and attention?

I don’t know about you …

… But that look of love you get from a dog?

I tell you, it’s a gut check for me every time.

And it’s this feeling that inspired the next designer T-shirt in our line-up:

Be The Person Your Dog Thinks You Are.

Because wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all stepped up and lived this way? And loved this way?

This T-shirt comes in 3 styles … kids, women’s and unisex.

In a variety of stylish colors.

Check them out …

It’s just 275 words. Is it too long, too short or just right? Can you possibly get bored as the story unfolds?

OK, not everyone loves dogs or will buy the T-shirt, but I’d bet many do. (Disclaimer: I bought one.)

So what is the bottom line of the long or short content length issue?

To this maverick marketer, it is simply that every commercial communication must have an objective supported by a narrative engaging and compelling enough to take you by the hand and lead you to the call to action and to the action itself. All of the theorizing about generational differences in attention spans and similar research pales against one simple thing: Does the story accomplish the objective; is it the right length to touch the ground?

Consumer Engagement, But Not Yet Marriage

How many times have we been asked (or asked ourselves) to come up with a valuation of a minute of a prospect’s time and attention, AKA consumer engagement? Almost all advertising is bought and sold using some version of the metric (cost per person, mostly expressed as CPM) and yet no one seems to have nailed an equation that can reliably be used as a baseline.

How many times have we been asked (or asked ourselves) to come up with a valuation of a minute of a prospect’s time and attention, AKA consumer engagement? Almost all advertising is bought and sold using some version of the metric (cost per person, mostly expressed as CPM) and yet no one seems to have nailed an equation that can reliably be used as a baseline.

It’s not that marketers haven’t tried. The most recent expression was reported in Media Daily News at the end of July. Advertisers and agency executives were researched to determine what they “considered” (perhaps better described as their “best guesses”) on the per-minute value of engaged consumer attention and they came up with $1.81. They even produced a bar graph to add verisimilitude.

consumer engagement chart
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

This didn’t impress one skeptical reader who commented wryly: “With a sample of 300 people AND no hard guidelines as to how anyone in the survey determined ‘value’ other than for a very narrowly-defined universe, this is just cocktail party fodder.”

Even after a couple of martinis, it would be hard to derive much value from this yardstick of consumer attention. As so-called “opt-in” and “rewarded” advertising models — which let the prospect have some free content before “opting-in” through a paywall or some other device to more content — are becoming increasingly fashionable, it is not surprising that marketers are trying to put some metrics in place to value them.

This illuminates the fact that in today’s multimedia marketplace the “value” of a minute or some other measure of someone’s time, and perhaps even more importantly, attention, depends on a basket of variables that will be unique to each prospect or cluster of prospects. If we can discover which ones are critical to the purchasing process and at what point they influence the customer journey, we may have the beginning of metrics which will intelligently inform our marketing actions. The question is how we get there and the answer remains elusive.

First we need to know what we mean by “engaged consumer”? We all have lots of experience with commercial messages (Wendy’s “Where’s the beef,” for example) which can be described as highly “engaging,” because the creative brilliance attracts the attention of viewers. But that attention has no value whatever for say, vegetarians.

How much the marketer would be willing to pay for an engaged customer, someone who has demonstrated interest in the marketed category and hopefully has the resources to purchase, is more to the point? The Lamborghini dealer should be willing to pay quite a bit more for that engaged minute than the corner taco vendor.

In a September column addressing marketing metrics and suggesting that we stop chasing our tails, I tried to put a figure on the real cost of reaching the target audience for an advertiser like Pampers. Using a $25 CPM cost of a TV spot reaching only women and, after eliminating all women who were neither in the last trimester of pregnancy nor had children under two years old, I came up with a ballpark figure of $208 per thousand. In fact, with a normal average viewing frequency of five times, capturing the engagement of each one of those thousand women for 30 seconds should be worth about $1 ((208*5)/1000), twice that for 60 seconds of attention, not far off of that $1.81 guess.

But will the “engagement” lead to a committed relationship, a marriage if you will, of consumer and brand? Certainly, if the prospect can opt-in or be rewarded with truly relevant and valuable content by clicking to visit the advertiser’s website, and the website can elevate interest to purchase, and the product satisfies and stimulates repeat purchase, the investment in getting that initial 60 seconds of attention will have a quantifiable value.

But putting a figure on that value is as likely to be correct as predicting the length and quality of the marriage.

As a friend of mine says, instead of trying to figure it all out in advance, just start dating.

Swimming in Amazon Shopping — for the Exotic and Different

Amazon shopping is its own beast. When I moved to Brazil, any mention of “Amazon” immediately conjured up visions of this great river teeming with hungry piranhas, surrounded by nearly impenetrable jungle; one of the last truly wild places on Earth, a great place to visit. But, as the expression goes, you wouldn’t want to live there. That was 19 years ago.

Walking in the Amazon
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Amazon shopping is its own beast. When I moved to Brazil, any mention of “Amazon” immediately conjured up visions of this great river teeming with hungry piranhas, surrounded by nearly impenetrable jungle; one of the last truly wild places on Earth, a great place to visit. But, as the expression goes, you wouldn’t want to live there. That was 19 years ago.

Say “Amazon” today and the 24-year-old behemoth that comes to mind is the largest online retailer in the world, a direct seller and digital marketplace with a piranha’s aggressive appetite. It is said to have chosen its name because the Amazon was “exotic” and “different.” It is both. This year, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and boss, reported that the company had achieved 100 million Amazon Prime subscribers, or 64% of households in the U.S. If any company can be said to have disrupted the retail landscape, Amazon is the one.

Swimming in Amazon
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

The unbroken growth of Amazon shopping worldwide demands the answer to the difficult question: which came first, a consumer desire to be able to conveniently purchase a wide range of goods with the convenience, price and choice offered online by Amazon and its principal competitors? Or Amazon’s brilliant marketing, which seduced the consumer away from brick-and-mortar retailers — even shopping malls — to the computer screen and convenient home delivery?

Amazon River
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

There is no doubt that sophisticated online shopping appeared at just the right moment in the digital revolution. Whether it will doom retail shopping is an open question.

A recent article in eMarketer Retail provides some clues to the direction where consumers are driving the online business model.

“According to ‘eMarketer’ forecasts, the gap between U.S. first-party sales on Amazon and third-party sales is widening. In 2017, direct sales grew 20.9% to reach $70.40 billion. By 2019, that total will climb to $95.08 billion. By comparison, marketplace sales jumped 41.4% to $129.45 billion last year. And marketplace sales are expected to log growth topping 30% this year and next. “

What is the “marketplace,” other than a digital shopping mall in your home or in your pocket? Why endure the traffic, parking problems, store clerks who frequently know less about the merchandise than you do and all of the bother that comes with it?

The answer would seem to be that consumers still find “shopping” fun, and welcome the live interaction with like humanoids. (What was that great one-liner? Christmas is the time people stop shopping and start buying things.) Last weekend, a visit to a nearby shopping mall found it teeming with happy families, kids and canines in tow, enjoying the experience.

But shouldn’t the generous loyalty programs offered by some online marketers overcome the temptation to go out and shop? It appears not always. Another recent article, also from eMarketer, said:

“Loyalty programs have a serious retention problem. Consumers are quick to sign up, but quick to forget about a loyalty program once they get their initial discount. Members, overloaded with points, miles and free shipping offers, are not necessarily consolidating purchases with one brand in order to accrue rewards.”

There is no simple answer, which is good news for resilient retailers. The many benefits of the Amazon marketplace model appear not to always outweigh the entertainment value of physical retail shopping. Social media is not really very social and you can’t buy the kids ice cream cones on your iPhone.

The piranhas may have to go hungry for a while longer.

humanoids on the Amazon
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Denny Hatch Takes on a Direct Brand With Direct Marketing

Harry’s is what’s now classified as a direct brand. But is traditional direct marketing more powerful? Politically correct or not, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” reminds us that the piece we write today may be chuck full of insight and wisdom now, but demands a fresh new look only a few milestones down the road.

Harry’s is what’s now classified as a direct brand. But is traditional direct marketing more powerful? Politically correct or not, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” reminds us that the piece we write today may be chuck full of insight and wisdom now, but demands a fresh new look only a few milestones down the road.

Denny Hatch’s name should not be an unfamiliar one here. Former Target Marketing editor, blogger and general gadfly, Hatch retains the mantle of data-driven marketing’s provocateur, par excellence, now sadly deprived of his joy at being able to limit his writings to twice the number of characters of the original Twitter. His new marketing blog is full of good stuff.

For his recent 700-character, “Getting Your Prospects to Say ‘Yes’ ” piece, he has turned his sights on Harry’s, the upstart direct-to-consumer razor company featured in this Maverick space almost a year ago. At that time I asked you, our readers:

Will the powerful copy and offer, the Harry’s against Goliath approach, go viral or sufficiently viral to extend the reach of the promotion well beyond the media that has been paid for? Will it bring the cost of trials and conversions down low enough to be “affordable,” attracting customers whose loyalty generates sufficient lifetime value to amortize the total marketing costs over that lifetime and let Harry’s end up with more than a sustainable profit?

direct brand Harry's
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Although headlined, “Make Your Bet on Harry’s or Goliath,” readers were only asked whether they believed that the soft, brand-focused approach would be enough to build a loyal and profitable client base. This direct brand ad and similar treatments break all of the DM101 rules and, because they keep appearing, either they are driving a satisfactory response or, sooner or later, the remains of Harry will be marketing history.

The Denny Hatch traditional direct marketing answer to the “will you bet your money on Harry?” question is a snarling “no.” And he is willing to put his “cheek” (so to speak) where his money is, by offering Harry’s a Denny original, an ad designed to test the “on your face” Free Trial offer against the company’s editorial lede with the same Free Trial offer.

Hatch’s proposed direct marketing ad, seen here, is a classic old school mail-order: “FREE,” “GUARANTEED,” “No Cost,” “No Risk,” “No Obligation.” The call to action couldn’t be improved: “CLICK HERE FOR NO-RISK FREE TRIAL.” And the copy appears to be signed-off by a real person. It’s got everything.

direct brand vs. direct marketing ad
Credit: Denny Hatch’s Marketing Blog by Denny Hatch

But is “everything” what moves today’s consumer, or is the intriguing narrative about changing a $13 billion industry better attuned to today’s sensibilities? Problem is: Will we ever know the results? At this writing, Harry’s soft-focus direct brand ads are everywhere I seem to go on the web.

If Harry’s would run a valid split test of Hatch’s direct marketing ad against one of its regular ads, we would know which one had the better clickthrough. And if we waited long enough, we would know which would have the better lifetime value. (A parenthetical aside: The trouble with measuring lifetime value is that, theoretically, you have to wait until everyone is dead. That’s likely to be longer than you care to wait.) Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some data in this case and share it with you sometime in the future.

When there is more to come, journalists advise you to “watch this space”!

LinkedIn or Out: Customer Service Fail Is a CX Fail

Target Marketing readers obviously like to be “connected,” and displayed an unusual interest in a piece a few months ago which was not as kind to LinkedIn as it might have been. I was rather caustic at LinkedIn’s repeated efforts to seduce its regular basic account (Free) holders to Premium usage. A one-month free trial is enticing, especially when promised a reminder before the free trial ends.

Target Marketing readers obviously like to be “connected,” and displayed an unusual interest in a piece a few months ago which was not as kind to LinkedIn as it might have been. I was rather caustic at LinkedIn’s repeated efforts to seduce its regular basic account (Free) holders to Premium usage. A one-month free trial is enticing, especially when promised a reminder before the free trial ends.

LinkedIn notice for Peter J. Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

So far, so good — until you try and cancel the trial. The problem — in this case, I was charged for Premium after having cancelled well before the trial expiration date. I wanted the charge refunded. Now it is like visiting the house of mirrors at a carnival. It’s a LinkedIn customer service fail.

LinkedIn two LinkedIn notice for Peter J. Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

My LinkedIn Customer Experience

The way through the Help facility is easy and inviting. But once inside, you are turned around and around with dizzying regularity — from one screen to another — always being asked optimistically if the problem has been solved: and being offered nothing new when it has not.

Clicking on the magnifying glass takes you immediately to this helpful screen: The “Cancel Subscription” button on the right seems like a light at the end of the tunnel.

LinkedIn three LinkedIn notice for Peter J. Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

But, alas, no! All it does is cycle me back to nowhere with nowhere to go … unless, of course, I want to “Try,” “View,” “Buy” or “Buy” one of the products. And I’m not going there again.

LinkedIn four LinkedIn notice for Peter J. Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

LinkedIn Customer Service Fail

What is truly amazing is that there is no contact with anyone, live or robotic.

The fairly incredible irony of a company, with a mission to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful, is in not allowing the customer to have any contact with any individual. It would be laughable if it weren’t so profoundly off-mission. But it is. Jane, one LinkedIn executive contacted informally, admitted ashamedly: “You can’t talk to a live person. Even I don’t have any CS direct contact.”

Will I be able to do anything about having been wrongly charged and unable to reverse it other than refuse to pay, spend some time in jail making direct contact with some of the world’s unsavory professionals, and be no better off at the end of the game?

All I can ask you is to comment, tell me what you think of this CX and, most importantly, watch this space.

Almost the Ultimate in ‘Not Interested’ Segmentation

If data is the fuel that is powering today’s marketing engine, Google has discovered a real gusher. Google, or any other AI-aided advertising sales effort, can add these datasets to already copious databases and use them as the almost ultimate tool to segment advertising messages to people most likely to be interested in them and to avoid sending ads in specific categories to those people who have signaled they are “not interested.”

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes.

Peter J. Rosenwald illustration one
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

That “i” with a circle around it and the accompanying “X” may have been there before, but I must never have noticed. They certainly didn’t leap off the page at me (that’s why I added the arrow) and would have had a hard time competing for attention with those cool 3D T-shirts.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

But there they were, hiding in the upper right hand corner of lots of ads, placed every five paragraphs or so by those lovable folks at Google, certainly intended to interrupt my reading of every salacious breaking news story about the White House and porn star Stormy Daniels (upright in real life, Ms. Stephanie Clifford).

Seduced away from learning the latest secrets of how to earn $130,000 for allegedly having a soft porn one-nighter with a presidential candidate who, between rallies imploring the U.S. electorate to make America great again, found time for a little R & R, I became intrigued by those mysterious letters and moved my cursor to discover what they were telling me.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

OK as far as it went, but by now in a state of aroused curiosity about the encircled “i” and accompanying “X,” I wanted to know more. Click on the encircled “i” and it takes you to AdSense, a website providing everything you ever wanted to know but perhaps never thought to ask, about Google’s targeted advertising and data protection policies.

Click on the “X” and here is what you get.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Google has now neatly positioned me to click on “Stop seeing this ad” or “Ads by Google,” un-highlighted and again accompanied by the encircled “i.” Addicted as I am to Sherlock Holmes, I felt compelled to move ahead and to click the “Stop” button.

But before I did, I began wondering; what’s in this for Google other than having delivered a possibly unwanted ad, then creating a nice warm “feel good” atmosphere. It’s rather like the guest who tracks mud into your living room, and then apologizes and promises to try not to do it again.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Now I get it.

It’s a brilliantly laid back survey generating invaluable data about;

  • Those “Not interested in this ad,” those on whom promotion money for this category should not be wasted.

The first time I clicked on “Not interested,” I was taken to a section of the site which showed me a wide range of interest categories and asked me to eliminate those for which I had no interest. As I’d indicate one, it would go away and another one would pop up in what became an endless five-minute project. Wanting to show it here, I tried again to find it, but Google had obviously gotten what it wanted from me and it mysteriously disappeared.

  • Those who didn’t have anything against the specific category but had seen it “multiple” times (too many), that number informing Google to limit the ad frequency for this person;
  • Those who consider the ad “inappropriate,” a clear signal to Google to send only “Jello’” ads here; no “Tamale flavored hot, spicy yogurt.”
  • When I clicked on “Ad-covered content,” I received a message that the ad had been ‘closed’ by Google, nothing else that might have explained what “Ad-covered content” might have meant.

If data is the fuel that is powering today’s marketing engine, Google has discovered a real gusher. Google, or any other AI-aided advertising sales effort, can add these datasets to already copious databases and use them as the almost ultimate tool to segment advertising messages to people most likely to be interested in them and to avoid sending ads in specific categories to those people who have signaled they are “not interested.”

It’s a win, win. For Google, because it should be a very sexy addition to its advertising sales platform. For advertisers, who must applaud a new ability not to spend the marketing budget talking to people who do not wish to hear their message.

Marketing Data Is Hanging Out There ‘Like’ Ripe Fruit

The storm raging around Facebook and the supposedly unauthorized use of data from 87 million members of its digital community by the British firm, Cambridge Analytica, is hardly surprising. That this data, scraped from Facebook’s files, was used to support Donald Trump’s election campaign just adds thunder and lightning and moves us one step closer to Big Brother not only watching us, but influencing our lives.

The storm raging around Facebook and the supposedly unauthorized use of data from 87 million members of its digital community by the British firm, Cambridge Analytica, is hardly surprising. That this data, scraped from Facebook’s files, was used to support Donald Trump’s election campaign just adds thunder and lightning and moves us one step closer to Big Brother not only watching us, but influencing our lives.

That Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, in two days of difficult testimony before the U.S. Congress this week had no reservation to say, ”We have made a lot of mistakes in running the company,” is no surprise either. The data genie has for some time now been out of the bottle and it is not going back in, no matter what Congress or Facebook manage to do to tame the beast.

Those of us in the business of tailoring promotional messages to tightly defined targeted prospects are likely to have a certain “and then what” attitude to all this (possibly even with just a smidgen of admiration for Cambridge Analytica, if its magic algorithms really work as advertised: no, certainly).

Like many of you, my day job, for more years than I like to mention, has been to find imaginative ways to sell things direct to consumers using all kinds of data to identify and communicate with the most likely prospects. It is no bad thing that the issue of just how private or public the data we have shared with Facebook and other digital friends has belatedly leaped into the headlines. The $42 billion plunge in Facebook’s share value over the first few days of the discovery certainly signals that the data issue is a serious one, crying out for resolution, and investors are getting nervous.

Writing on his daily blog for the New York Times, David Leonhardt says that Mark Zuckerberg sees himself as “a kind of enlightened despot.” He points out that while Zuckerberg says his only interest is in what’s best for Facebook users, this can conflict with his obligation to deliver the biggest bang for the investors’ bucks.

“So what happens when Facebook’s business interests and society’s broader interests aren’t aligned?” he asks. “I think the solution to these problems is clear in broad strokes — if still very uncertain in the details. Facebook, along with other huge technology companies, need stronger government oversight. Zuckerberg, to his credit, comes close to acknowledging as much.”

Before everything had grown to mega-scale, the problem was always who had the data and could it be used for marketing? When I started in this business, it wasn’t even called “data:” We had a bunch of mailing lists that had been collected, mostly from people who ordered a product for delivery, rented a television or joined an organization. I remember how proud I was when I got hold of the list of alumni from my university.

What I was certain would be a winning mailing to them returned not a single order, but one letter demanding that no further mail be sent to that person.

We know (although the public is becoming more aware) that what was then an unsophisticated industry of people ordering through the post has, along with the use of computers and advanced data technologies, grown into a huge, highly sophisticated (some might say too sophisticated) component part of the communications industry. The seller wants to know as much as he can about each person; not only the obvious demographics, but increasingly the more important psychographics, the emotional triggers that influence buying decisions often without the individual even knowing it. The seller wants to vacuum the web for the latest data. Total digital media spend increased from $16.9 billion and 6 percent of total media investment in 2007 to $83 billion and 36.7 percent in total media investment in 2016, according to eMarketer.

The now-removed CEO of Cambridge Analytica bragged “of being able to parse and influence the electorate through ‘psychographic’ algorithms derived from that data,” wrote The New Yorker. After Trump won, Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, crowed that the company’s psychographic algorithms had carried the day. His chief technical expert said: “We would know what kind of messaging you’d be susceptible to and where you are going to consume it and how many times we are going to have to touch you with it to change how you think about something,”

“What’s the currency of the world now?” quoted The New Yorker of a leading consultant. “It’s not gold, it’s data. It’s the information.” Collecting and using data has become an essential part of the marketing business. Orwellian or not, that has become a reality.

Netflix knows what movies you like just as Amazon knows every purchase you have made and every item you have looked at. Your travel, your choice of clothes, the type of restaurants you like, the frequency of visits, the friends with whom you exchange chat and pictures are all now out there on the web. While many companies promise you privacy, few can guarantee it. If Equifax or even the security services of the U.S. government can be hacked and the data stolen, confidence that your data is safe may be more optimism than realism.

You and the availability of your data are something of a simple trade-off.

If you don’t want Netflix to stream movies to you when you want them (and even to suggest others you may like based on those you have seen) nothing obligates you to subscribe. If you don’t want to have your groceries or that 50-pound package of dog food delivered, no problem.

The choice belongs to each one of us.

The price for the convenience of the digital benefits is that you will always be giving up data about yourself. Some database out there will know you have a dog, the kinds of groceries you like (and can guess with accuracy the size of the family), how many and which types of films you choose and on and on and on. And there is no way you can ever get it back.

We tend not to think about any of this when we fill in the coupon or complete an order form. And until we get used to it, we can’t understand how the merchant from whom we recently purchased something knows to put ads for similar items next to the emails flooding our inboxes.

Remember that data is the fuel that powers today’s marketing engine and your data is the low-hanging fruit for marketers. Don’t expect them not to harvest it, to their benefit and yours.