Traditional marketers don’t need to retire; they just need to change their thinking

We’re used to hearing that direct mail is dead, but with a recent article that calls for traditional marketers to retire, we feel the need to speak up.

In an article published earlier this month on, contributor Beth Romelus made the claim that traditional marketers should retire in the face of technology and rising consumer choice.

While we see the value in some of the points Romelus makes, we have to respectfully disagree.

Here is how we would revise her article:

Traditional Marketing is [Can Be] Outdated and Impersonal
Romelus supports this point with a description of her own mail habits: “Every afternoon when I go to the mailbox to find out what new things are in there, I usually get a bunch of direct mail flyers, cards, and posters. Where do they go after I see them? Straight to the trash!”

Despite what a lot of direct mail marketers would like to believe, this is likely the case for a lot of people. But it’s the next part of her that story stands out: “Why? Because these direct mail messages do not relate to me or any of the people living in my house.”

Ok, pause.

The messages that Romelus refers to here should be a reflection on the marketers who are sending the mail, not the medium as a whole.

There’s truth in Romelus’ point. Traditional marketing that isn’t targeted, relevant or valuable is marketing wasted; and it’s giving other marketing a bad name. But it’s also important to realize that just because some people aren’t doing it right, it doesn’t mean that direct mail as a whole is kaput.

Direct mail marketing can be targeted, relevant, and valuable. Traditional marketers have access to more data today than ever before, which means that mail can be personalized based on factors like psychographic and demographic criteria, as well as purchase history and other customer behavior. Plus, technology like variable data printing makes it easy to customize printed materials, including direct mail. Keeping both of these points in mind, marketers have no excuse to send mail to anyone if it isn’t at least reasonably relevant to her.

To close this section, Romelus states, “Consumers do not want to be sent messages that they did not ask for, participate in, or show interest in.”

To that, we’ll add, “…unless it could provide real value to them.”

Whether you’re just thinking about direct mail or already using it, ask yourself these questions (and be brutally honest with yourself when answering):

  • Have I segmented my audience as much as possible?
  • Is my product or service truly valuable to each audience segment?
  • Am I telling each audience segment about my product in a way that matters to them, right now?

If the answer to any of them is “no,” then take a step back and rethink your targeting and audience strategy. This thoughtfulness and strategy will be reflected in your return on investment.

Consumers Want To Break Up with [Bad] Marketers
Do consumers really hate marketing? Or do they just hate bad marketing?

We’re firm believers that good marketing can (and should) actually delight customers. When marketers provide something that is valuable, relevant, and maybe even a little fun, it has the power to get customers excited about a brand, product, or service. (Although at EYR, the jury’s still out on Mountain Dew’s #Puppymonkeybaby ad from Super Bowl 50.)

Romelus argues that technological advances like caller ID, DVR and music streaming services have served to help consumers ignore marketing messages, which is certainly a fair assessment. But what about events like the Super Bowl, where 78% of viewers said they prefer to watch the commercials over the actual game? Or the 59% of US respondents who agreed that they “enjoy getting postal mail from brands about new products”?

We’re not so naïve to think that everyone wants to see marketing messages everywhere, all the time, but we also know that, done right, marketing can provide entertainment, emotion, and incentive to its audience. So no, consumers don’t want to break up with all marketers – just the bad ones.

Providing Targeted Value is the New Marketing [but Making Sure People can Find it is Important, Too]
In her closing, Romelus makes the argument that “Marketers need to focus on providing value to their target customers in order to gain their trust and loyalty,” and that “This kind of marketing can be achieved through inbound marketing.”

This is certainly true. With the prevalence of content marketing and social media marketing, consumers don’t just expect value from marketers – they demand it. However, the nature of inbound marketing means that it is reliant upon one very important thing: customers coming to you.

Marketers can craft a killer blog post, share the most practical advice or host a webinar that offers everything a potential customer might want to know about a topic – but all of this is meaningless if people don’t know where to find it (or more realistically, won’t bother to search for it). Our own Dave Hytinen explained it well when he compared inbound marketing to “couch-fishing”. He says that hoping to attract new business via inbound marketing is like casting your bait (social media posts, content or ads) in your own living room and passively waiting for the fish (prospects) to find you.

That’s why we offer a different idea: Traditional (or outbound) marketing should be integrated with inbound marketing to drive customers to the targeted, valuable experience you’re providing for them on your website/blog/brand journalism site/newsletter, etc.

Rather than passively waiting for customers to find you, we suggest taking an active approach and going directly to them to promote your webinar series, show them the value of signing up for your newsletter, or pointing them to your social media accounts.

Proof (or inspiration) for traditional marketers
If you’re still not certain about it, here’s a success story that supports the idea of using traditional marketing to support your inbound efforts:

We had a client who ran a year-long campaign in 2014, which consisted of a postcard targeted at various groups who we knew would qualify to purchase their products. The postcard’s call to action was to schedule an appointment with a local representative to learn more. In 2015, we ran the same campaign with that client, but added a digital element: a personalized landing page where recipients could go to request their appointment. Adding the digital element improved the response rate by 600% and decreased the cost per acquisition by 50%.

Romelus might argue that the landing page would stand just fine on its own, but we’re not so sure. Without the direct mail element, our client’s audience wouldn’t know to visit their landing page. Perhaps some would find the landing page through a Google search, but we’d rather not take the chance associated with waiting for them to find us. Rather, our philosophy is to gently interrupt their day, and give them something valuable in return for a small amount of their attention.

Respectfully, Ms. Romelus, here’s our two cents: Traditional marketers don’t need to retire; they just need to change their thinking. In 2016, marketing isn’t just a well-placed call-to-action – it’s relevant, timely, valuable information, delivered to recipients where and how they want it.

What do you think? Should traditional marketers retire, or do you agree that they still have a lot to offer? Let us know in the comments below, or on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

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