Direct Marketers are Insane

One of the pop definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. One of the pillars of direct marketing is running continuous campaigns that hit the same consumer numerous times. That means any direct mail campaign that does not evolve and adapt over time is insane by definition. Today, I received in the mail my regular dose of United Airline’s credit card campaign–the same exact ugly piece of mail I’ve now shredded every couple of weeks for something like two years. It has *never* changed. I will *never* get a United credit card. People wonder why United is on the rocks? These people couldn’t market their way out of a paper bag.

Marketers love to measure campaign metrics, and every marketer knows that a successful campaign entails multiple impressions, often over many weeks. A good Direct Mail campaign might return conversion rates of only 1% and still be successful, but that rate typically goes up when the marketer adjusts the campaign with different messsages and offers. What marketers often ignore, however, is the equal and opposite measure of conversion. A vulgar but effective name for this might be the Peeing in the Pool metric. For every 1% of the market you convert, you annoy, anger, and alienate some percentage of your potential future market, which makes it more expensive for you to market in the future.

Although few actually track this metric, it’s probably close to the inverse of your rate of conversion on successive campaigns. As the curve of conversion drops, the curve of alienation grows. And I strongly suspect this effect is magnified when the repeated campaign goes on forever unchanged. Each repeated drop of the same message to an unresponsive customer becomes an annoyance associated with your brand. It’s like you’re actually paying to alienate future potential customers. And that is insane.

5 thoughts on “Direct Marketers are Insane

  1. Ron Shevlin

    Good points, Chris. Unfortunately, there’s a prevailing notion in the direct marketing industry that “if we can just find the right combination of offer and message…” then you will buy.

    To your “peeing in the pool” metric… why stop at direct mail offers? Why isn’t every annoying TV ad that interrupts the show I’m watching, or every print ad taking up space in the magazine I’m reading a “drop in the bucket” that contributes to the annoyance factor? For some reason, there are many marketers out there (ad agency folks, perhaps?) who feel that repeated exposure to ads enhances brand favorability, while repeated exposure to direct mail pieces diminishes that brand equity.

    Why aren’t the mass market advertisers insane as well? They continue to spend tens of millions of dollars on mass market advertising with no direct, measurable impact on bottom-line results. Some people might call THAT insane.

    Ron Shevlin

  2. Rob O'Regan

    Great post! But don’t single out United – they’re ineptness in direct mail is matched by Citi and BofA and Delta and American Express and countless others. For YEARS, Amex has been trying to get me to: get a Blue card, get a Platinum card, subscribe to Travel and Leisure, defer my payments, etc etc etc. All nicely packaged and personalized – and subsequently shredded. For as much information they have about me, they are clueless.

  3. Chris Kenton

    LOL. I was actually going to include AMEX. I’ve been getting their OPEN campaign every *week* ever since I subscribed to the print version of Wall Street Journal. WSJ has pimped my personal information more than my mortgage company, but that’s another story.

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