Direct Marketing for the Digital Age

We are all familiar with the pizza menus posted through our doors or the leaflets showcasing offers for new windows and doors tangled up with our post, but like with many other marketing and promotional methods, direct marketing has gone digital!

The best definition of direct marketing comes from Stone and Jacobs book ‘ Successful Direct Marketing Methods’ and cites direct marketing as:

“the interactive use of advertising media to stimulate an (immediate) behavior modification in such a way that this behavior can be tracked, recorded, analyzed for future retrieval and use.”

Although this is a very ‘marketing’ definition, the method of direct marketing can also be successfully implemented in a public relations strategy.

Direct marketing in the physical form isn’t all junk mail, and can be an extremely effective way to get your message out there. Ad Age estimated that in the US 25% of a marketers budget is spent of direct marketing. With studies, entire texts written on the marketing method and its own association, done correctly direct marketing is not something to be sniffed at and can be very powerful. Physical forms of direct mail are still used today and although in some cases it is junk mail, in other cases it is specifically targeted mail outs to an organisation’s target audience. These mail outs can contain special offers, vouchers or even just reminders of the organisation’s products or services. For example Nectar the loyalty scheme, sends out coupons for ways that their consumers can earn extra Nectar points. The more innovative the direct mail the more effective it usually, an Israeli charity wanted to raise awareness of babies being abandoned and so created this directing marketing campaign, leaving a picture of a baby on people’s doorsteps:

As today we spend more and more time on the internet, one of the best ways to target audiences is online. Direct marketing has followed the trend and gone digital. Cheaper and possibly more effective than the traditional method, digital direct marketing is gaining in popularity. Just like the traditional form, digital direct marketing can be used to target audiences with anything from vouchers, special offers and company news. You’ll more often than not see a link on a website to join a mailing list this is just one of the ways that companies can discover potential consumers online.

There are few tips that I would advise using when creating a digital direct marketing campaign and most of them are also transferable to traditional approaches as well:

1. Be Relevant or be deleted

With junk mail and spam filters becoming increasingly effective, make sure that your message is relevant to the target audience, or your message will be deleted before they even get to open it let alone read it.

2. Innovation

We see thousands of advertising messages every day, so to avoid your message being swallowed up in the mass, make it interesting. Some of the best direct marketing campaigns are innovative and make the recipient sit up and take notice of the message and in turn the organisation behind it.

3. Less is more

One of my own personal bug bears is a company that bombards you with emails. Make your newsletters monthly and do the same with your mail shots. If you’ve followed step 2’s advice then you don’t need to be sending out more than 2 or 3 of emails a month.

4. Have a plan and stick to it

Direct marketing isn’t something you should be throwing together in a day and sending out the next. Take time to plan the campaign, invest in a creative to design the graphic elements and a press officer to write the content. A well thought out message is going to be entirely more effective than an ad hoc one.

Although these tips aren’t extensive and don’t cover every aspect of digital direct marketing they do form a basis for a successful campaign. The one of the most important aspects of all forms of direct marketing is the call for action. However consumers won’t follow this call for action unless they relate to the brand and its message. This needs to be done with accurate audience targeting and innovative communication.

Digital direct marketing has the scope to be so much more innovative and effective than the traditional form. With new technology being invented daily (this may be a slight over exaggeration) incorporating things like augmented reality into direct marketing could be closer than you think. Laziness in digital directing marketing won’t cut the mustard, so to make sure your messages are communicated effectively pull your socks up and get creative!

Guerrilla Marketing

You would be forgiven for thinking that guerrilla tactics are something used when fighting the enemy, but today you are just as likely to see them being used by marketers and PRO’s as you are by soldiers.

Much like the military equivalent guerrilla marketing is usually a low cost and unconventional means of marketing. Some of the tactics used can include street art, graffiti, flash mobs and sticker bombing. The term was created by Jay Conrad Levinson in his book ‘Guerrilla Marketing’ published in 2007, where he outlines easy and inexpensive strategies for making profits for your business. The essence of guerrilla marketing is that you don’t need to shell out thousands of pounds/dollars to create an effective marketing campaign, sometimes the most effective campaigns are ones that use uniqueness over expense.

Guerrilla marketing can take all types of forms, as long as its spontaneous, inexpensive and seen by the public it’s a guerrilla tactic. They can range from QR codes being stickered on lamp posts to large scale flash mobs where hundreds of people descended on a public place. Guerrilla marketing can also be used by anybody, from small businesses to large companies like T-mobile and charities. These tactics started out by being used by smaller businesses as a cheap alternative to expensive marketing campaigns, but as their effectiveness became apparent they were adopted by large agency’s including Saatchi and Saatchi in the famous T Mobile flash mob television adverts.

So guerrilla tactics are nothing new, but why are they becoming so popular? Well as with everything, the internet has blown it out of the water. Now that internet enabled phones are as common as bank cards, when people see these guerrilla tactics out on the street they can film or photograph them, instantly upload them to YouTube, Facebook or any other social networking site and within minutes it has gone global. This has now became half of the appeal of using guerrilla marketing, most of the promotion is done free of charge by the public.

It’s not just sharing the tactics that digital technology has done for guerrilla marketing, it has also enabled new types of tactics. Augmented reality is the use of computer technology to enhance or change a real world environment. Thought to be more suited to computer game developers, the technology has now been adopted by public relations and marketing in promotional campaigns. Adidas used the technology to launch their new Scottish football shirt in a shopping center (click the picture below for the video)

Although an undoubtedly more expensive stunt, this use augmented reality technology is another form of guerrilla marketing. It spontaneously interacted with the public in a public place whilst promoting a new product, and it worked, the stunt went viral and Adidas uploaded their own footage of the stunt via YouTube.

Guerrilla marketing is a great way to break through the advertisement white noise that has been created. It’s very difficult to truly get the attention of your audience today, with so many adverts being forced upon us every minute of every day, we begin to block them out, but guerrilla marketing finds a way to penetrate this. A good guerrilla marketing campaign will catch your attention and promote an organisation without you realising it is essentially just another advert. It is truly refreshing to know that there are still traditional methods of promoting a business (even if it is helped along by digital media) that are cheap and effective.

Demographics: why you need to know who you are talking to.

It sounds obvious but sometimes I wonder if people actually think about who they are trying to talk to when they put out a message or campaign. Not only is it very annoying being targeted by something completely irrelevant to you, but it’s also a costly mistake to make.

One of the first things I learnt on my PR course was about publics and identifying your audience. So it seems bizarre that people would get something so basic so wrong. With online advertising becoming big business we are inundated with often irrelevant advertising that most of the time just annoys us. Public Relations thankfully has a more sophisticated approach to segmenting their target audience to ensure that the messages they are trying to get across, reach the right people. That’s not to say that PR can’t make some questionable audience decisions too.

With the internet making Global communications as easy as nipping down to the local newsagents, audience identification is important now more than ever. It’s all to easy nowadays to advertise your company on Facebook using the demographics tools they have in place, segmenting your audience by age, gender, marital status etc. but I have a problem with this. Being female, and engaged I am the perfect ‘target’ for wedding adverts advertising venues in Scotland and photographers in Cornwall (to put it into context I live in Cheltenham) Facebook even uses this scenario as a case study. My problem with this is they have used this tool to narrow down who they think would be interested in these products (no real problem so far) but 1. I don’t live in Scotland or Cornwall 2. I already have my venue and photographer 3. why only target engaged females, what about grooms organising their weddings or gay couples! It may sound like I’m nit picking here but when you’re paying out for an advert or campaign why not take a bit more time to work out exactly who you want to communicate your message with to get the best value for money.

Much like Facebook’s demographic advertising their are tools out there that can help you decide who you want to target:                                                                                            Geoplan offer a paid for service where you can identify demographics by using information from the 2011 census to target different variables (the more variables the more you have to pay) they also offer a customer profiling service where they use GIS mapping software to enhance customer databases.                                                             Experian offer Mosaic UK described as a “unique consumer classification based on in-depth demographic data” Mosaic uses trends within the UK to form it’s tailored demographics. They have 155 ‘Mosaic types’ in 67 ‘household types’ and 15 groups that create a 3 tier classification.                                                                                                  Adobe also have their own social media demographics tool Adobe SocialAnalytics. SocialAnalytics is part of the Adobe Marketing suite powered by Ominture. It uses customer insights to develop targeting strategies for new customers across hundreds of digital channels.

These are just 3 examples of the types of software available to help you identify your audiences. It’s important to remember that with any software like this, it’s likely that you will still miss out certain members of your potential target audience, like the earlier Facebook example. It’s beneficial to have degree of knowledge of the types of people that you think you need to communicate your message or product with before using one of these tools so that you can cross examine the results, a bit of a belt and braces method.

I’ll be honest the mention of socio-economic demographics doesn’t instantly inspire me to write a post, but audience identification is essential not just for a successful PR campaign but for a successful PR professional. If you can’t work out who you should be targeting your message to then your in the wrong profession! Although the tools out there can take most of the leg work out of segmenting your publics, it is always a good idea to check through the results and make sure that you have covered all of the publics you want to communicate your message with.

Is advertising still effective?

My experience in advertising is more from the other side of the fence. That is that I sell advertising space in the local fanzine I run, rather than create advertising for companies.

My personal experience as somebody selling advertising is that a lot of companies (especially small local ones) still like to pay for placing an advert and often don’t realise that they can get the same amount of coverage for free (if they do it themselves) by using PR and having an editorial piece written about them. I think this is because they can clearly see their advertisement, whether it be in a magazine, on the television or on a 40ft billboard. It’s also easier for small businesses to monitor to the success of an advert and judge whether it was money well spent or not.

As a consumer however, I have to question traditional advertising. It used to be that running an advert in an appropriate publication would be all it took to persuade consumers to buy your product.  The 1950’s had some great print advertisements like the shaving foam advert pictured. Nowadays I think it’s a lot harder for companies to run an advertising campaign that actually works. Consumer’s have learned to block out the constant advertisements they are exposed to every minute of the day. In an entire day, we’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2005/nov/19/advertising.marketingandpr) so an effective advert needs to stand out, but much more than that it needs to make the consumer go out and buy the product.

Humans are creatures of comfort, this is no different in their buying habits. Brand loyalty has a massive effect on consumer habits. For example PG Tips may have a great television advert that sticks out in your mind, but if you have always bought Tetley Tea then a great advert from PG Tips isn’t automatically going to make you change brands. In order to persuade consumers to buy into your brand you need create an emotional attachment to them.

As well as having brand loyalty we also like ‘impartial’ advice on products. Gone are the days when consumers relied on advertising to tell them how great a product is. Now we turn to industry experts or trusted bloggers to tell us which digital camera to buy. Consumers have become savvy to advertising and marketing techniques and that is where PR has picked up the reigns. By approaching journalists and bloggers to rate their products on their websites and telling their trusting followers what is the best product on the market to buy, companies are reaching consumers in a way they never have before.

On top of all of this, where do you put your advertisement? With so many different types of media, companies need their campaigns to be diverse and cover not just print or radio but online and social media etc. Viral adverts have become the latest trend with recent hits like the Muller yogurt advert which got almost a quarter of a million views in under 2 weeks. Something like this may not have immediately made consumers go out and buy Muller yogurts, but it has catapulted the brand into the consumer’s awareness which in time will translate into sales. With social media being big business a lot of companies are turning to Facebook and Twitter to advertise their products, but you cant rely on traditional methods when using these portals. WebTrends complied an interesting study on Facebook Advertising Performance one of the most poignant findings was that after 3 to 4 days the effectiveness of a Facebook advert dies off. This highlight the need for brands to change the advertisements a lot quicker than they ever had to when using print or television.

With all of these factors weighing down on the Advertising Industry it’s no wonder a lot of people are starting to wonder if advertising is on it’s last legs and PR is reaping the rewards. I however disagree. There is no doubt that successful advertising is more difficult to achieve than it used to be, but there are still creative advertisers out there coming up with amazing campaigns. Both Advertising and PR have their niches and for the moment I believe their is room for both of them to successfully work together.