8 ‘Modern Day’ Digital and Social Media Marketing Myths Debunked
Call me a heretic, but a lot of the "gospel of modern digital marketing" seems a bit too familiar to me.
Digital marketers have done a great job of discrediting "traditional" direct marketing in an effort to make what they're selling (pure digital) more palatable. I get it. They need an edge, and bashing channels like DRTV and direct mail, while building up search engine optimization, inbound and social makes sense for them.
But lets get real for a minute, shall we? Many digital marketers "coming up" don't even know where the rules they practice daily come from. Yet they still say traditional direct marketing is dead. Makes no sense, right?
To be a marketer these days you need to use any channel that makes sense for your products. By "makes sense" I mean where you can find a universe of prospects that have a direct affinity for your products, that's measurable, and allows for potentially lowered cost per acquisition (CPA) and increased customer lifetime value (CLTV).
Here are a few of the "digital concepts" translated back to where they came from:
1. SEO is a science: First off, all of us "digitally evolved old-school direct marketers" grew up on benefit-oriented copywriting. We wrote (and still do) compelling copy that drove response. We researched WHO our prospects and customers were and what their needs and desires were, not necessarily what keywords would be attractive to them. As part of the copy research and writing process, we naturally (from understanding our customers) sprinkled in the right words that would attract.
Crafting a direct mail letter, infomercial script, even a website or email was (is!) a matter of using EVERY word strategically, because each word and subsequent word had to lead to the end game — a response, order, lead ... a customer! As an old-school marketer, I believe trying to find the right mix of SEO keywords is cheating compared to good old salesmanship. Disagree with me if you must, but I'll pit "Ye Olde Skool" copywriting against SEO copywriting any day of the week.
2. Persona research: A great inbound tool, but direct marketers have been doing this forever. In my early days (circa 1993), I learned how to build customer profiles in my Creative and Media Strategies course at NYU. Same concept as persona research, except we did it as part of the creative brief process, a guide designed to help creative teams understand the how, who and whys of the prospects they were trying to reach.
3. Social media is still social: When I started marketing via social media back in 2008, things were VERY different. You digital guys can focus on reports — and feel free to continue using those timesaving tools and apps that keep you off your pages and feeds. I'd rather get into the trenches (just like I did then) and build relationships one engaged person at a time. I've railed about this in past articles, so I won't go into details, except to say that much of what I see passing for social media marketing these days is more about being an "info pusher" than a builder of engaged communities.
4. These days it's about inbound; outbound doesn't work: Sorry digital folks, call it want you want — traditional vs. modern, outbound vs. inbound, disruption vs. attraction — it's all marketing. I'm a marketing agnostic. To me, online or offline doesn't matter! Again, if I can find prospects, target them efficiently (i.e., lower my CPA) and Increase CLTV, I'm a happy marketer. Curiously, my two biggest sweet spots these days are social media marketing AND direct mail, so I know the value!
5. Speaking of direct mail: Direct mail gets the bum's rush with digital marketers every time. Again, its called passé, disruptive, ineffective and, of course, harmful to the environment (even though paper mills replant trees and reforest faster than paper is used, but let's leave that one for another article). Here's the truth: I built a diet company in the last few years with the lion's share of the customer acquisition (about 65 percent) done via direct mail. Took the company from $4 million in revenue to nearly $28 million in three years. Please don't ever tell me that direct mail doesn't work.
One of the biggest reasons people say direct mail doesn't work is how it's executed. I've heard too many horror stories only to find that the rules weren't followed. You can't just "buy" a list (if you bought vs. rented a list, you're in trouble from the get go), write some copy, print a postcard and think you'll make money. You need the right cost-of-goods-sold ratio, engaging copywriting, designers who design for response (not for beauty), and printers that specialize in direct mail (lest you pay a ton more for printing and postage). Lastly, you need a quarterback who knows how to put it all together.
6. It's all about the funnel: I'm kind of sick of hearing about "the funnel" too. We just call them leads. Some are hot. Some are warm. Some cold. The goal is to turn the warm to hot, etc. It's great to be able to "visualize your funnel," but we just call that segmentation. Coming from the catalog industry, we did a lot of segmenting of our customers. We created the precursor to the analyses done today, stuff like RFM (recency, frequency, monetary decile analysis), SQUINCH (square inch, which analyzes the real estate a product took up in a catalog and its subsequent contribution to profit), and so on. The catalog industry created many of the KPIs you all use today.
7. Catalogs ain't dead either: They're an amazing driver of sales, either to the call center or the web. In fact, according to a recent New York Times article, total catalog circulation increased 1 percent in 2013 and is expected to increase again for 2014 when the final numbers are in.
8. Big data? Isn't that just good old direct marketing on steroids? Don't make me pull out my "Successful Direct Marketing Methods" textbook by Bob Stone and Ron Jacobs, but direct marketing is a marketing methodology that's both direct-to-consumer driven and managed via a database so as to be a two-way communication. This I learned on day one in 1993 in my Principles of Direct Marketing class. And this is what I taught my students at Miami International University.
Here's the genesis of big data: "Scientific Advertising" (Claude Hopkins, 1923) > mail order marketing > direct marketing > database marketing > relationship marketing > one-to-one marketing > BIG DATA!!! Computing power, which has doubled every 18 months, has been the key driver of big data growth. Social media is the gasoline that lit the fire. We now can take everything we know, from transactional data to social media information to demographics and psychographics, pop it in a database and get some really tight targeting. That my friends is why all this digital marketing, which is just direct and database-driven marketing, is just direct marketing for a new generation.
Good digital marketers, and ones who want to become better, will recognize the past and look to apply it to the future. We ALL have our roots as marketers (direct or digital, I don't distinguish) in the mail order business AND the junk mail business AND those late-night infomercials. Sorry to bust your bubble.
Please note: No keywords were harmed in the writing of this article.
Jim Gilbert has been creating direct marketing programs that drive superior ROI for almost 30 years. Fluent in consumer or B-to-B, creative, operations, and analytics, he marries the strategic and tactical sides of direct and social media marketing in a seamless fashion that gets results. He's CEO of a multidiscipline direct marketing agency, Gilbert Direct Marketing, Inc., which focuses on direct mail, catalogs, DRTV, telemarketing, print, alternative direct marketing media and social media marketing.
Jim has been involved in start-ups, expansions and turnarounds, and is an expert in helping multichannel marketers get to the "next level." He's a former adjunct professor, teaching direct marketing at Miami International University, and is President of the Board of Directors of the Florida Direct Marketing Association. Jim loves to talk direct marketing, and has done many lectures on direct and social media marketing.