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Don't Pull Back on Push Marketing
Direct Marketing Association '08: In a down economy, marketers and advertisers have no choice but to look up.
Posted Oct 15, 2008
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LAS VEGAS — As part of the Direct Marketing Association's annual show here this week, Larry Kimmel, chief executive officer of advertising agency G2 Direct & Digital began a morning presentation on a relatively somber note. “If you are in marketing today, these are challenging and confusing times,” he said, before amending the notion by making it far more grandiose: “If you are alive today, these are challenging and confusing times.”

Kimmel's presentation, “Clarity in a World of Confusion: Fostering Growth in Turbulent Times,” was a feature of the DMA’s Thought Leadership Series, and was certainly presciently titled: In fact, the month of October will likely go down in history as the most turbulent on record, at least as far as the financial world is concerned. As anyone with a pulse — or a 401(k) — can attest, the stock market has been bouncing all over the place, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising a record 936.42 points in a single day, a one-day double-digit jump that would be more familiar as a full-year figure. Kimmel joked that his focus on “change” put him in the company of at least one presidential candidate — and he emphasized that change is necessary. Bringing the topic back to the subject at hand, though, he assured the crowd that the fundamentals of successful marketing continue to withstand even the worst economic scenarios. What it comes down to, he said, is whether you view the current circumstances as a danger or as an opportunity.

Kimmel reported that, according to industry studies, the majority of consumers believe the economy’s heading in the wrong direction. These consumers are therefore cutting back and spending less. Businesses, too, are tightening their purse strings, with 91 percent of advertisers surveyed anticipating their advertising budgets to remain the same or less, while 80 percent believe budget reductions will be felt far beyond the advertising department. Traditionally viewed as a discretionary expense, marketing isn’t helped by the fact that, even in 2005 -- when the economy was robust -- the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) found 73 percent of advertising dollars to have little impact.

And yet, despite these rather discouraging obstacles, Kimmel attempted to impart hope and inspiration: “As I look out upon you today,” he said, “I have no doubt that most of you will look at these unfortunate circumstances and create an opportunity for your company and yourself.” The backbone of any successful marketing team, he said, is the incorporation of the following three core beliefs:

  • Knowledge is power: “Facts don’t lie,” Kimmel said. A heavy reliance on analytics and consumer insight continue to top the charts when it comes to justifying dollars spent -- and showing immediate results.
  • Know your customer: “Our business is simple: Know and understand our customers and see what they do.” Know who you’re talking to and communicate with that customer in a way that brings her out from under the microscope. Understand them on a human level. At whatever level you segment your base -- individual (ethnography, direct observation), group (private community, affinity groups, social networks), or mass (online anthropology, Google trends, Technorati, blog-mining) -- the key is to listen and learn.
  • Please people profitably: Kimmel told the audience that, when he decided to let his daughter watch television on Nickelodeon, he was motivated by the fact that the channel had no commercials. What he didn’t anticipate was that the programming was an advertisement in and of itself. By spending less on direct advertising, Nickelodeon was able to increase engagement with its targeted audience and, as a result, increase its returns. 

Interestingly, Kimmel challenged the new-age marketing concepts that have dominated the industry in recent years, telling marketers in the room that they don’t have to be as passive as it seems. “Right now, your obligation is to make the most money for your company as quickly as you can,” he stated, matter-of-factly.

Though marketers may believe that leveraging new media and optimizing traditional media have reached some level of parity, Kimmel told the crowd that we're not there yet: The prevailing winds are still blowing offline, he said: Nearly 90 percent of advertising spend remains offline, and nearly 80 percent of marketing consumption still occurs there. In short, offline still carries significant impact -- especially television, which represents the top slice of that offline pie. And the offline behemoth even impacts the burgeoning online space, with 35 percent of online search driven by what people see on TV, according to Kimmel. Still, the game has changed: Even though the industry as a whole has become more conservative in its spending, the opportunity to leverage media has increased as air time and print costs have begun to drop.

Moreover, Kimmel added, while statistics say that consumers ignore many of the 5,000 messages that marketers pummel them with each day, not all advertising is irrelevant. “The idea that the only thing they’ll believe is their friends just isn’t true,” he said. Well-tailored messages that hit your target consumer are more than likely going to pique her interest.

Perhaps more reassuring to a marketer is to know that it’s “OK to ‘push’ a little,” Kimmel said. It's unrealistic to believe that the only acceptable practice is to wait for the customer, he added -- and what's more, marketers don’t have time to wait. “We have quarterly earnings to make, companies to save, families to feed,” he said. Kimmel admitted that "push" marketing may seem controversial and counterintuitive, but as an example of how “push” leads to success, he cited the impressive sales of two quirky inventions: “Doggy Steps” (mini-stairs for dogs) and “Clever Clasp” (a magnetic jewelry connector), two items that thrived under "push" marketing campaigns because consumers, left to their own devices, might never have stumbled upon them.

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