Becoming Social

I tend to think I have things figured out just about every day and then something happens to tell me that I don’t know anything!  Experience is golden and learning from mistakes is essential to bettering ourselves as people. Same holds true for marketing and why, as direct marketers, testing is such a major part of what we do before committing significant budgets to attempt to optimize results. When I was a kid, I played a LOT of sports.  In those days hydration was not even a consideration.  As a matter of fact, coaches would stress NOT drinking water as a way to “toughen up”.  Post-practice or post pick-up game at the playground, a routine stop at 7-11 involved the thirst quenching treat of 64 ounces of high fructose corn syrup and massive quantities of other sugars loaded into a Big Gulp.  Today we scoff at such notions while imploring our active kids to drink plenty of fluids – ideally water – and shrug at Gatorade or other ‘sports drinks’ because at least they’re not soda.

My guess is years from now, when my 10 year old is recounting his youth, he’ll be shaking his head saying, “I can’t believe we used to drink Gatorade … what were my parents thinking?!”  We learn from our mistakes, or at least make smarter decisions by becoming better informed.

Long before Lester Wunderman coined the phrase ‘Direct Marketing’, Montgomery Ward figured out a way to reach rural prospective customers who couldn’t travel to their retail locations by sending a catalog to their homes through the mail.  This was the late 1800’s and the prospect of capitalizing on the inefficiencies of local retailers gave birth to the burgeoning catalog market that would define direct marketing for much of the next century and beyond.

His targeting was crude, simple, but highly effective:  Mail to anyone who lived too remotely to shop at Montgomery Ward retail stores.  The offer of convenience as well as lower prices (by cutting out the middleman that rural retailers depended upon to house their inventory) was the springboard to success.

Over the years direct marketers became vastly more strategic and effective by harnessing the power of data to more effectively home in on their target based on behavioral habits as well as demographic indicators.  This lead to analytic modeling where the goal to put the right offer in front of the right person at the right time became closer to possible, but still quite a ways from fully achieving.  Fast forward to the information age and marketers have been teased with yet another innovation that stands to eclipse the limitations of the past … social media networks.

As a direct marketing data provider, I have wrestled with this burgeoning opportunity for it presents what appears to be the golden goose that marketers have long sought:  Messaging to prospects at the optimal time, providing the best chance for response and conversion.

I believe that social media as a marketing channel is still in its infancy but is growing up quickly.  Sure, we can target users of a particular social platform based on their indicated preferences, etc. and we believe the reach to be exponential (potentially) based on interactions with others within our networks.  But the ad serving is fairly linear and does not harness the 2-way communication that social allows.

But that’s exactly where direct marketing is heading… the evolution from the Big Gulp to Gatorade to some as-yet-undefined alternative that is both thirst quenching AND healthy (and not named ‘water’ which seems the obvious choice but not yet embraced by 10 year olds) .

And we have arrived! We now have the ability to not only target social media users by the content of their posts (“Can’t wait to test drive the new Tesla today!”), but can cross reference other data points making certain posts more desirable than others with whom we must interact.  So rather than engage with 50,000 posts looking to test drive a new car, we can whittle down to perhaps the top 10,000 that are most likely to act upon our offer.  And by reducing the number of such interactions to just those most likely to close, we can now feasibly insert our offers into the conversation versus hanging a mere display ad that consumers have been conditioned to ignore.

Now we can personally engage with top prospects via social media and ‘put the right offer in front of the right person at the right time.’   Somewhere Aaron Montgomery Ward is smiling.