Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there. I’m so grateful for all of the things my dad taught me over the years, and I’m hopeful I’ve been able to pass some of it on to my boys. (They’ve certainly picked up some of my bad habits.) It’s appropriate to be writing this blog around Father’s Day as so much of what we do as a direct marketing agency is passed down from our forefathers in the direct marketing space. (We all especially owe a debt of gratitude to Lester Wunderman, one of the fathers of advertising, who sadly passed earlier this year.)
I personally need to thank my marketing mentors, Peter Nelson and Bill Cullen Sr., two of many people whose advice and guidance ring in my ears nearly every day—advice like:
“Learn as much from your losers as you do from your winners.”
“Direct marketing is a ‘what’ business, not a ‘why’ business.”
“Lack of discipline in test design is the biggest mistake marketers make.”
From people like Peter and Bill, I discovered that direct marketing is a practice learned by doing. Best practices are built over time and handed down to the next generation in hope they can avoid the mistakes of the past and thrive in the wonderful, occasionally volatile, world of direct marketing.
What’s Changed for Direct Marketing (and What Hasn’t)
Stephen King once said, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” It’s interesting to think about the direct marketing channel and what’s changed over the years, but it’s even more interesting to think about what hasn’t. The basic principles of the statistical method have not changed dramatically—they’re just better utilized.
Bob and Kate Kestnbaum made amazing strides in the direct marketing channel with their innovative metrics around database marketing and customer lifetime value. The mailbox has changed little, while the businesses that fill that mailbox have changed a lot over the years. We certainly still benefit and employ the tactics of the early catalog mailers, record clubs, and publishing sweepstakes mailings. To this day, we are benefitting from the innovation of the credit card marketing boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
To illustrate how far we’ve come, let’s contrast the IWCO Direct of yesteryear with our approach to providing direct marketing agency services today:
- We now measure our cycle time in hours, not days.
- We are evaluated more by the cost per account we generate than the cost per thousand of pieces produced.
- Forty percent of our production is now produced digitally.
- Innovative test ideas are table stakes and we now must bring in Full Factorial Multi-Variant Test designs with channel integration
- We can’t just bring one new control but have to develop a whole new control rotation.
- We now wear every direct marketing hat, from ideation and strategy through postal optimization, analytics and testing and analysis.
I look back in awe at what these pioneers were able to accomplish and build with such a manual marketing process. Similar to how I am in awe that we were able to land astronauts on the moon in a craft that had a computer thousands of times less powerful than my smartphone. The cycle-time and the supply chain to execute these projects were nearly as long as that trip to the moon.
While we’re doing more now than ever before (and in far less time), our commitment to nimble, accurate, goal-oriented direct marketing strategies remains the same.
Happy Father’s Day to you and yours, and thank you to Peter and Bill!
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